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Birds Like Hot Pepper Suet – Squirrels Don’t  

Suet provides high energy fat that can attract insect-eating birds to your yard or office, such as Yellow-rumped Warblers, Pine Warblers and Northern Mockingbirds to your feeding station along with such regular visitors as woodpeckers and nuthatches. During colder months, suet calories can help birds survive low temperatures, but squirrels may also develop a taste for suet and they can dominate the suet cakes at your feeding station.

Rocky Mountain Wildlife and Scenery Provides Exciting Life Experiences  

Every August the Northern Rocky Mountains seem to pull at my psyche more than other months. August is a time when many people take summer vacations, and the national parks in Wyoming and Montana offer a once in a lifetime trip for many people. Who can resist the iconic beauty of the Grand Teton peaks, the Yellowstone River as it flows through historic pine forests, and the tremendous scenery of Glacier National Park. For birders, there are many high-country western birds that make the Northern Rockies an even more exciting region to visit: Mountain Bluebirds and Western Tanagers, Great Gray Owls and Gray Jays, Steller’s Jays and Sooty Grouse, Spruce Grouse and Bald Eagles, and many more.

Beaver Ponds Create Important Habitat for Birds  

Beaver dams create shallow wetlands that promote the growth of young trees, shrubs and other vegetation that creates habitat for migratory birds, and the wetlands promote insect and small fish reproduction that helps to feed many birds, including warblers, ducks, kingfishers and wading birds. Researchers at the University of Montana’s Bird Ecology Lab studied stretches of small streams without beaver dams and those that did have dams, and found that bird species diversity and abundance increased dramatically where beavers have been active.

$18 Million in Grants Benefit Migratory Birds and Their Habitats  

Burrowing Owls, Gold-winged Warblers, Red Knots and hundreds of other species of birds will benefit from 29 new grants awarded in 16 countries across the Americas. More than $3.8 million in federal funds will be provided through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. These funds will leverage an additional $14.2 million from partners. The program was established specifically to benefit birds that nest in North America and migrate to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America during the winter season.

Win a Zeiss Binocular or Warbler I.D. Class in the New eBirder Challenge  

Ten lucky eBirders will win free access to the online class, “Be a Better Birder: Warbler Identification Series,” simply by submitting an eligible eBird checklist during August. Really ambitious eBirders may win a Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42 binocular by submitting eligible checklists with at least 50 photos or sound recordings.

California Birds Nesting Earlier to Offset Rising Temperatures  

Yellow Warblers and Western Meadowlarks are two species of California birds that are nesting a week earlier than they did 70 to100 years ago, apparently in response to rising temperatures. Earlier nesting offsets about a two-degree temperature rise they would have experienced had they not accelerated nesting times. This study reveals broad-scale climate change adaptation not previously recorded in birds. The discovery of this startling news is due in part to meticulous records kept by Joseph Grinnell in statewide surveys he led a century ago.

Hundreds of Protected Birds Impacted by Beachgoers  

Beach nesting birds such as Least Terns are highly vulnerable to disturbance. In such hot habitats, adults shade eggs and hatchlings from lethal temperatures. If the adults are spooked, eggs and hatchlings can die of heat stress. That seems to be the case for hundreds of Least Tern hatchlings and eggs exposed to the summer sun by beachgoers who set up a volleyball net and partied in the midst of what turned out to be Alabama’s largest nesting colony.

Northern Mockingbirds  

One of the most storied songbirds, Northern Mockingbirds are best known for learning and repeating other species’ songs, other mockingbirds’ repertoires and some non-avian local sounds. Some mockingbirds are known to sing more than 150 different songs, a few have been documented with more than 200 different songs and all mockingbirds appear to continue to learn new songs throughout their lifetimes.

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Deserves Our Support  

Most birders have heard of The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, but I wonder how many of us appreciate that this is one of the premier conservation efforts. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network is a system of internationally important sites used by shorebirds throughout their life cycles.

Join the Editors for This Week’s Birding Highlights  

A highlight of Wednesday afternoon’s birding drive was a Prairie Falcon sighted along the Lost Road. Prairies are very rare in this region, and I’ve never seen one at that signature area before. And now that I mention falcons, I had an incidental sighting of a male Merlin flying low overhead as I stepped out of the grocery store Tuesday. You never know what you will see next when you’re a birder.

Binocular Eyeshields Enhance Your View  

As if it wasn’t hard enough to separate the Western Sandpiper from the Semipalmated Sandpipers on the mudflat in front of me, I had to continually block the piercing morning sun penetrating the space between my eye and my binocular eyecup. If I shaded my eye with my right hand and held the binocular with my left, I couldn’t use the focus. No matter how I adjusted the bill of my ball cap, it didn’t get the job done. Eyeshields to the rescue!

New Homes for Used Optics  

Is a Harpy Eagle on your must-see list of amazing birds to see? How about a Crested Eagle? If so, and you find yourself in the Darien Province of Panama, Alexander might be just the guide to take you to these rare eagles. He’s spotted them nesting on his land, thanks to a used binocular donated to the American Birding Association’s Birder’s Exchange.

The ABA Rare Bird Alert’s Weekly Highlights  

In southern Maine, a strange raptor photographed by a novice birder turned out to be a first state record, but also only the second record of a Great Black Hawk in the United States! What’s more, the first United States record was observed less than four months ago in Texas, and it turns out this was the same immature bird! This great raptor obviously has stopped in other states along the way, but maybe the bigger question is: Where will it be found next? Great Black Hawks normally range from northern Mexico to northern Argentina – a long distance from Maine!

Enjoy Our Readers’ Favorite Bird Photos  

Thanks to birders who have sent photos to share with fellow readers of The Birding Wire! This week’s contributions show a lot of geographic diversity and some great photographic talents. Thanks to Scott Shuey and Milton Hobbs for sharing your impressive photos!

Birds of Prey of the West  

I have long been a fan and follower of Brian Wheeler, and this book can be counted as his best, especially when combined with its sister volume Birds of Prey of the East. Not only is this now the definitive field guide for birds of prey, but it provides a great wealth of information about raptors that readers can glean with gusto. At the heart of this new field guide are the beautiful yet functional illustrations by the author – Wow!

August Kingfisher Action

Kingfishers are wary birds that have only provided a few fleeting photo opportunities over the years. That changed when I found a male Belted Kingfisher that permitted me to spend time with it repeatedly during a fun August week while it hunted and “fished” and caught prey on the edge of a shallow wetland. From a variety of perches, the hunter/fisher watched for the movement of potential food on and below the water surface – large grasshoppers on the water; small fish underwater.

The grasshoppers inadvertently took flights over the water, landing on the surface to become stranded afloat and unable to jump or take flight again. The kingfisher reacted as soon as a grasshopper hit the water, launching downward from its elevated perch using gravity and rapid wingbeats to zip to the location and snatch the insect from the water, barely missing a wingbeat, and returning to a perch to dispatch and swallow it.

The kingfisher was even more spectacular when diving for small fish, sometimes initiated from a hovering flight, followed by a head-first dive into the pond. Almost instantly the kingfisher reversed direction from the water with a spray of water droplets shed from its rapid wingbeats – sometimes with a fish in its beak, sometimes without. Lots of great action to try to photograph!

A trusting male Belted Kingfisher provided ample opportunities to take a variety of action photos and a surprise portrait.

One key piece of technology that helps immeasurably while taking action photos is the auto-focus technology of my camera and telephoto lens. This super-tech auto-focus feature can actually track what my eye is focused on through the camera’s viewfinder, and coordinates the connection between the camera and lens to very quickly focus on the bird, and theoretically stay focused on the kingfisher as it flies or dives or hovers or perches.

In reality, automatically focusing on a speeding bird isn’t a 100 percent prospect, because getting that initial visual contact is tough at high-speed, and keeping the lens focused on the twisting-turning, diving or elevating bird is tougher yet. This kind of high-speed photography puts the auto-focus to the ultimate test, and when everything works right, it’s almost magical to see the resulting photos.

Believe it or not, though, the action photos came much easier than a portrait photo. Amid all the photos taken of assaults on small fish and large insects, after the first few days I still didn’t have a good portrait photo, at least not one that didn’t include the powerline wire that the kingfisher preferred to perch on rather than a natural perch.

Then one day, as I drove slowly along the edge of the wetland searching for the kingfisher, I spotted him perched low, just a few feet from my position. By the time I saw it and reacted, my van had passed the kingfisher’s position a bit; so I slowly stopped, shifted my van into reverse, and crossed my fingers that the kingfisher would permit me to back into position for a portrait attempt. He did! I took two quick images, one with his crest raised a bit, before he repositioned to another fishing perch. What luck! Gracias amigo!

A big plus for the portrait photos was the water background at that low angle that was far enough away that it is out of focus, making a very simple and pleasing inert blue background. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had the option to do some planning. Never again did I see the kingfisher perch like that on the edge of the wetland. Be ready, be prepared, be lucky.

My favorite aspect of spending time with a kingfisher is when it calls. When it raises its distinctive crest, tips its tail up and emits its sharp rattling call of the wild that always brings a smile to my face and alerts me to the next opportunity to watch the antics of these interesting blue flying predators, camera in hand.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your birding photos and stories at editorstbw2@gmail.com

Aug. 18
Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah
Henderson, Minnesota
Aug. 18
6th Annual Indiana Audubon Young Birder's Conference
Carmel, Indiana
Aug. 18 - Aug. 19
Silt, Colorado
Aug. 19 - Aug. 26
Vancouver International Bird Festival
Vancouver, Canada
Aug. 23 - Aug. 26
Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration
Fort Davis, Texas
Aug. 24 - Aug. 26
Plumas Audubon Society Grebe Festival
Chester, California
Aug. 24 - Aug. 26
Tara Wildlife Mississippi River Nature Weekend
Vicksburg, Mississippi
Aug. 25
Wonder of Hummingbirds
Knoxville, Tennessee
Aug. 25
Sutton Avian Research Center WildBrew
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Aug. 30 - Sept. 2
Yampa Valley Crane Festival
Steamboat Springs & Hayden, Colorado
Sept. 3
Labor Day Observed, No Wires
Sept. 7 - Sept. 9
Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration
Holly Springs, Mississippi
Sept. 7 - Sept. 9
Princeton Whooping Crane Festival
Princeton, Wisconsin
Sept. 8 - Sept. 9
Audubon Society of Rhode Island's Nature Center and Aquarium Raptor Weekend
Bristol, Rhode Island
Sept. 13 - Sept. 16
30th Rockport-Fulton HummerBird Celebration
Rockport-Fulton, Texas
Sept. 14 - Sept. 16
Puget Sound Birding Fest in Edmonds
Edmonds, Washington
Sept. 14 - Sept. 17
Hawai'i Island Festival of Birds
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Sept. 15
Feliciana Hummingbird Celebration
St. Francisville & West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
Sept. 15
Diamondhead Hummingbird Festival
Diamondhead, Mississippi
Sept. 15
Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration Festival
Pateros, Washington
Sept. 15
Seatuck Long Island Birding Challenge
Islip, New York
Sept. 16
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Migration Celebration
Ithaca, New York
Sept. 21 - Sept. 23
Delta Birding Festival
Catalonia, Spain
Sept. 21 - Sept. 23
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Hawk Weekend
Duluth, Minnesota
Sept. 21 - Sept. 23
American Birding Expo
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sept. 26 - Sept. 30
Western Field Ornithologists 43rd Annual Conference
Ventura, California
Sept. 27 - Sept. 30
Birding Festival of the Keys
Marathon, Florida
Sept. 28 - Sept. 30
Monterey Bay Birding Festival
Watsonville, California
Sept. 28 - Oct. 4
Fall Birding Days on Little St. Simons Island
St. Simons, Georgia
Sept. 29
Wings Over Willapa
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Oct. 3 - Oct. 6
Alabama Coastal BirdFest
Fairhope, Alabama
Oct. 5 - Oct. 7
BirdFest and Bluegrass Celebration
Ridgefield, Washington
Oct. 8
Columbus Day Federal Holiday - No Wires
Oct. 12 - Oct. 14
Florida Birding and Nature Festival
Tampa, FL
Nov. 12
Veterans Day (Observed) No Wires
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