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Snags and Dead Branches Benefit Many Birds

Dead trees, logs, and branches are valuable elements of bird habitats. Birds utilize nearly every part of a dead tree, log, or sizable branch to search for insects, larvae, and other foods in the bark and wood crevices, ranging from a host of warblers, orioles, nuthatches, creepers, woodpeckers, and more. A variety of woodpeckers and nuthatches excavate cavities in snags for nesting or roosting, and 88 species of cavity nesting birds benefit from natural or woodpecker-excavated cavities.

A Simple Look at Feather Molts in Birds

During late summer, after nesting, many birds molt some or all of their feathers in advance of fall migration. Molting keeps birds in top flying condition by replacing feathers that have become worn with completely new feathers. In addition to providing a new set of healthy feathers, molts often provide a new look to the bird’s plumage – even changing the dominant colors or patterns of some species, especially among adult males. Different molts can define a bird’s sex or age, thereby revealing some basic aspects of bird identification that birders use and rely on to identify birds.

New Endangered Species Act Rules Weaken Protections for Birds

The final Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulatory reform package, released last week by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce, will marginalize protections and reduce assistance for threatened and endangered birds by diminishing science-based decision-making and protections. “As a whole, the rule changes are political, unwise, and will only increase litigation,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation policy at the National Audubon Society.

BirdsCaribbean Conference Highlights Lessons Learned from Recent Hurricanes

More than 250 delegates from 34 countries attended the BirdsCaribbean International Conference on the island of Guadeloupe, where much of the focus was on the major hurricanes of 2017 and their impacts on birds, landscapes, and people. Convened every two years in a different Caribbean location, the members of BirdsCaribbean include teachers, scientists, and conservationists. All three groups shared important lessons learned during the last two years during five days of keynotes, discussions, field trips, and workshops.

Dire Concerns for Migrating Birds from Proposed Offshore Wind Energy on Lake Erie

The Icebreaker Windpower plan, proposed to the Ohio Power Siting Board, has raised dire concerns for millions of migrating birds that cross Lake Erie twice annually, along with wintering waterfowl. Proposed by a Norway-based energy company, the Icebreaker plan would install wind turbines in Lake Erie offshore from Cleveland, Ohio. This wind energy project would be the first offshore facility in the Great Lakes, only the second offshore facility in the United States, and it would raise international concerns from neighboring Canada.

Join the Editor for Weekly Birding Highlights

The most exciting observation last week was the first Canvasback brood of the season - three ducklings about a week-old with the distinctive hen five miles north of home. This is the first Canvasback brood I’ve seen in the area in some years, and it adds to the list of nesting ducks in the surrounding area this season. The Canvasback brood, a Wood Duck brood, and Ring-necked Duck broods represent three species I did not see during the previous two summers; however, this summer I have not seen broods of two species that I observed last year – American Wigeons and Hooded Mergansers.

Sale on Bushnell Engage 8x42 ED Binoculars

The Bushnell Engage 8x42 ED Binocular delivers top notch performance, both optically and ergonomically. The lens and prism systems provide exceptionally clear views with fully multi-coated ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses that transmit a high percentage of incoming light and minimize chromatic aberration, while the PC-3 phase-coated roof prisms help brighten the view and improve contrast. The Bushnell Engage 8x42 Binoculars feature a wide 426 foot field of view at 1,000 yards, which gives you a much larger view of the landscape than most 8x42 binoculars – and they are on sale now.

Provide Water with the Mason Jar Wild Bird Waterer

The Perky-Pet Mason Jar Wild Bird Waterer offers fresh clean water to attract a greater variety of birds while adding a rustic look to any yard, office, or school. The blue color of this bottle is reminiscent of vintage blue glass canning jars used in the 1800's. Most birders prefer to hang this waterer, which is simple to fill and clean – just unscrew the jar from the base, clean it if needed, fill it with fresh water, and screw the base back into position – it’s that easy! It’s also easy to hang and it takes up less room than standard bird baths.

Birds of Prey

Pete Dunne is one of America’s great story tellers, who takes readers beyond the usual birding text to compelling literature with a flavor spiced by his vast personal observations and understanding. Returning to his original interest in birds of prey, Dunne has crafted a benchmark book, Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and Vultures of North America with the aid of one of the best bird photographers, co-author Kevin Karlson, who is also an acclaimed raptor and birding specialist and a popular writer.

The ABA Rare Bird Alert’s Weekly Highlights

An exciting find for Canadian birders was a Second Provincial Record Common Ringed Plover, which was photographed in Algonquin Park, Ontario. A Fifth State Record Tufted Duck was also photographed near Exeter, New Hampshire. Two rare hummingbirds caught many birders attention along our southern border, including a Berylline Hummingbird along Crystal Cave Trail in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeast Arizona; and a White-eared Hummingbird was visiting a feeder at the Davis Mountains Preserve visitor center in west Texas. Interesting off-course birds from Siberia and the Caribbean were also reported!

Photography as a Bird Identification Tool -- A Second Look at Teal Broods

A couple weeks ago, I checked out a favorite corner of a shallow marsh; and although I didn’t see any promising photo ops, as I slowly moved forward, a couple tiny ducklings popped out of the shoreline cover closest to me, followed by a female teal and more downy duckies. They quickly moved into formation with the hen leading the way with her brood in tow, so to speak.

Of course, I quickly began photographing the attractive new brood, and I took a series of photos as they slowly, but deliberately swam a short distance away. My initial reaction was: Another fine Blue-winged Teal brood provided a fulfilling birding experience and a nice photo series from which I can glean a nice image or two. I probably have more photos of Blue-winged Teal broods than any other ducks, so I was a bit reserved about the surprise encounter. I continued on my way and enjoyed a nice field trip with many other enjoyable sightings mixed with a couple nest site updates and more photo ops.

A Green-winged Teal hen and brood of ducklings provided photos that Paul used to re-visit his initial identification of the species.

A few hours later, when I reviewed my digital photos in my laptop computer, I selected the first photo featured in this article to crop the surrounding water a bit, name and date it, and file it. I named it “Ducks - Blue-winged Teal brood 8-19” plus a couple filing notes. Thinking there might be a second image I could edit from the teal brood series, I took a second look at them and, to my surprise, I noticed a portion of telltale iridescent green speculum feathers on the female’s wing – it was a Green-winged Teal, making this the first Green-wing brood I’ve seen in the area for a couple years – and my first good photos of a newly hatched Green-winged Teal brood! Whoo-woo!

So I really didn’t question my ID “miss” too much, it was innocent enough – I was caught up in the excitement of the moment – the photo opportunity before me – and I may have been a bit complacent, considering that every other teal brood I had seen this season and last year was a Blue-wing. Plus, whether you’re viewing birds through an 8x binocular, a 15x spotting scope or a 400mm camera lens, there’s a fine line where we might make a mistake identifying a given species, even one we’re familiar with.

I almost always identify duck broods by identifying the hen, but we all know female ducks only offer subtle differences. Even so, after seeing and identifying a minimum of tens of thousands of female ducks, I almost never have a problem identifying female ducks. If you see ducklings without a female, that’s a different story. I’m quite familiar with the 14 species of ducklings I might encounter here in the northern plains, but I wanted to check the differences in the look of newly hatched ducklings – were Green-wings very different from Blue-wings? So I went upstairs to my library to check my waterfowl references, and found that the artwork used to illustrate teal ducklings, showed what appeared to be a couple very subtle differences.

Next, I looked back at some recent Blue-winged Teal brood photos I’ve taken this summer and last year, and found that while the single reference book illustrations of each duckling species were accurate, there was more variability in the markings and coloration of ducklings in the field, even among ducklings in the same brood. However, the Green-wing ducklings have a telltale second linear mark underneath the eye stripe, plus they are a bit darker, although that can be variable depending on the light. Blue-wings also appear to have more of a yellow hue in the lighter portions of their down.

Refer to the second photo in this article, which shows a female Blue-wing with her similarly week-old brood, so you too can compare the ducklings and the females. Actually, different hues of light probably depict the birds more differently than anything else, and even the water color and the amount of movement on the water makes a difference in visual perceptions of the ducks.

By comparison, a female Blue-winged Teal's brood of ducklings show a different cheek pattern and lighter-colored down, including a yellower hue on the lighter-colored areas.

So having written that, the Green-wing female is a bit more compact with a little different head shape and shorter neck overall, and probably slightly darker colored, but that’s a lot easier to judge in an enlarged photo than while photographing a moving subject in the field and not really paying attention to identification details at the time.

Anyway, we don’t get many Green-winged Teal in south-central North Dakota, but Blue-winged Teal are usually one of the four most common nesting birds, and given past history when I’ve encountered very very few Green-winged Teal broods, it was a quickly made, honest mistake, which I was able to catch through the use of photos – an important aspect of birding, and even bird biology.

Overall, a camera fitted with a 400mm (10x) telephoto lens can be the most important equipment for birders in the field, because you can look through the camera lens to get a magnified view of any bird – plus you can take a photo or two to Document the bird, so you can take an even closer look by enlarging the image and get a still (inactive) look for identifying characteristics. Certainly, getting a documentary photo of a rare bird is the bottom line for verifying any rare bird sightings, and a photo can be used to verify any birds you have questions about in the field. Reviewing your photos becomes part of the birding experience too.

Yes, the camera and lens combo you use for bird photography may be the most important birding equipment in the field – not to mention that photographing birds may be the most fulfilling aspect of birding.

Addendum: Luckily, Cinnamon Teal don’t nest this far east, because the females are pretty identical to Blue-winged Teal hens without an attendant drake next to them. As for Cinnamon Teal ducklings, they appear to be pretty identical to Blue-wings too – my favorite reference book shows no discernable differences; but that’s another can ‘o worms, or another box ‘o ducklings.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your bird photographs and birding experiences at editorstbw2@gmail.com

Aug. 21 - Aug. 25
Conference of Western Field Ornithologists
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Aug. 22 - Aug. 25
Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration
Fort Davis, Texas
Aug. 29 - Sept. 1
Yampa Valley Crane Festival
Steamboat Springs and Hayden, Colorado
Sept. 6 - Sept. 8
Hummingbird Migration & Nature Celebration
Holly Springs, Mississippi
Sept. 13 - Sept. 15
Puget Sound Bird Fest
Edmonds, Washington
Sept. 13 - Sept. 15
New York State Ornithological Association Conference
Kingston, New York
Sept. 13 - Sept. 15
Taking Flight: Birding in the Catskills
Kingston, New York
Sept. 14
Seatuck Long Island Birding Challenge
Long Island, New York
Sept. 14
Princeton Whooping Crane Festival
Princeton, Wisconsin
Sept. 14
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Migration Celebration
Ithaca, New York
Sept. 14 - Sept. 15
Manomet Bird-A-Thon
Manomet, Massachusetts
Sept. 19 - Sept. 21
Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens Birding Festival
Midland, Michigan
Sept. 19 - Sept. 22
Rockport-Fulton Hummer/Bird Celebration
Rockport, Texas
Sept. 20 - Sept. 22
Monterey Bay Birding Festival
Watsonville, California
Sept. 20 - Sept. 22
Hawk Weekend Festival
Duluth, Minnesota
Sept. 27 - Sept. 29
Wings Over Willapa
Ilwaco, Washington
Sept. 27 - Oct. 4
Little St. Simons Island Fall Birding Days
St. Simons Island, Georgia
Oct. 17 - Oct. 20
Florida Birding & Nature Festival
Tampa, Florida
Oct. 19
Global Big Day
Oct. 30 - Nov. 3
Yellow Rails and Rice Festival
Jennings, Louisiana
Nov. 6 - Nov. 10
Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
Harlingen, Texas
Nov. 20 - Nov. 23
Festival of Cranes
San Antonio, New Mexico
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