A new year is a great time to review your feeding station and consider if you, your family, and the birds are getting the most out of your efforts. You don’t need every kind of bird feeder, but it’s good to know your options and make sure you have your favorites featured at your feeding station. Even within a category of feeders, hopper feeders are diverse in form and function, and there’s always the option of using a combination feeder to save time and space at your feeding station.
While looking for inspiration for the new year, even the new decade, we often take time to reflect on past experiences. As I considered birding opportunities for the new year, I enjoyed recalling many of my favorite experiences over the years, so while my weekly Editor Afield article often describes relatively local birding observations, I thought I would review some of my favorite birding expeditions that give me a world view to augment my local and national birding experiences.
Congratulations to the first winning class of ‘FeederWatch in the Classroom’ this season – teacher Michelle Gallagher and her students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado! Over the summer, Michelle was researching activities focused on birds to share with her zoology class, when she found Project FeederWatch – a perfect fit for her classroom. “I have used Project FeederWatch to help students learn about local birds and how to be involved in citizen science,” Michelle explained.
Bird-safe materials that greatly reduce collision risks for migratory birds will now be required for construction of new buildings and major renovations to existing buildings that include modifying existing glass – and it applies to construction across the city’s five boroughs. The New York City Council recently approved Initiative 1482B, a new policy that requires materials used in new buildings meet bird-friendly standards that greatly reduce collision risks to birds, especially migrating birds.
A study using weather radar data collected over the past quarter-century detected bird migration changes on a continental scale according to a team of researchers that revealed the timing of spring bird migration across North America is shifting as a result of climate change. The study found that spring migrants were likely to pass certain locations earlier now than they did 20 years ago. Temperature and migration timing were closely aligned, with the greatest changes in migration timing occurring in regions warming most rapidly due to climate change.
The northern limit of wintering birds of prey in the Great Plains provided another exciting overnight trip to the heart of my SoDak winter hotspot, which revealed some familiar faces along with many new birds to dazzle my senses. These birding trips certainly underline my belief that “timing is everything,” and when birding, “you never know what’s around the next corner,” or down the road a piece. My cue to head to SoDak is when at least two consecutive sunny days are predicted, hopefully with the least amount of wind possible – that’s when the eagles, falcons, and hawks provide the best winter birding around Dakotaland.
Famous for telescopes, but equally well-known for an impressive line of birding binoculars and spotting scopes, Celestron provides quality optics for the field and for your yard. Among the most notable of Celestron’s binocular lines are the Nature and TrailSeeker series. Both models are offered in a number of magnification and objective lens combinations, including the popular 8x42 options deaturing extra-low dispersion (ED) objective lenses, multi-coated optics, phase- and dielectric-coated BaK-4 prisms – and they’re tripod adapted – all with a limited lifetime warranty.
As the newest state publication in the impressive photographic field guide series, the American Birding Association’s Field Guide to Ohio is expertly written by Ohio birder Ethan Kistler and filled with exceptional color photos of each species taken by Brian Small, one of the best bird photographers in America. This ABA series of state field guides is considered the top option for anyone interested in learning more about the natural history and diversity of Ohio’s birds, along with when and where to find each species. Already, 17 state guides have been published in this exciting ABA Field Guide Series.
The Perky-Pet Holly Berry Gilded Chalet Feeder provides a rustic design with an embossed holly berry pattern that looks great in any yard and holds up to two pounds of seeds. The circular seed tray provides 360-degree feeding options so a number of birds can eat at the same time. The attractive antique gold finish has a UV inhibitor to prevent fading and the Sure-Lock cap locks the lid in place. The twist-off base and removable lid ensure the Chalet Feeder easy to refill and simple to clean.
This week’s report includes rare bird sightings from the past three weeks with many exciting record birds, including a Northern Giant Petrel sighting that was truly gigantic as the First Record of the species for North America, the North Pacific, and Washington state! A number of other First State Record birds were confirmed including a Snail Kite, Western Tanager, and Tropical Kingbird in Georgia, Delaware, and Arkansas respectively. And guess where these exciting species were discovered recently: a Streak-backed Oriole, Common Pochard, King Eider, Gray Kingbird, and Yellow-billed Loon.

Whenever you visit an ocean shore in America through fall to early spring, you have a good chance of seeing a Black-bellied Plover, or even a few of them. They are relatively wary and tend to be spaced out individually rather than in flocks, so they make good photo subjects if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. The immediate question may be how do you get close enough to get quality photos, and how can you portray these interesting plovers in action. The first thoughts you may have are to get a good portrait or two, a feeding photo, and flight photos – and that’s exactly right.

Although winter birds in basic plumage lack the namesake black belly, Black-bellied Plovers are handsome birds that attract many birders’ attention along wetland edges and beaches.

Getting close enough to take quality photos of a Black-bellied Plover can be a challenge in itself. Often, we see these winter gray plovers in the distance on the shore of a shallow open wetland or on a flat low-tide beach. My best results have been at locations where the plovers are limited to a shoreline, where they follow the waterline searching for small prey. It’s also always best to pick your location at a well-visited natural area where these wary plovers get accustomed to people passing by. This may happen at a popular beach or at a coastal wetland with walking trails; or you may find a trusting individual plover that either permits your relatively close approach or is comfortable enough to approach your stationary position as you sit or stand motionless at a location where you have seen these plovers following the water line in search of food.

Black-bellied Plovers usually don’t get much more than their toes wet; they prefer to stay on the edge of the water, or where water barely covers the sand or mud. Finding the right plovers and the right place to photograph them may take a bit of advance scouting and observations, but that’s always part of the fun. Plus, you will probably return repeatedly to try to get new photos of the birds in action. If you are making a short visit to a location that holds wintering plovers, for a couple hours or a couple days during a vacation, make the most of opportunities these interesting birds provide.

Black-bellied Plovers are known for their fast direct flight, which makes photographing these shorebirds in motion a real challenge.

Of course, while Black-bellied Plovers may be the focus of a birding trip or afternoon break, there will probably be many options for you to photograph other birds that use the same shallow-water wetlands, including other plovers, sandpipers, avocets, stilts, and godwits, plus wading birds including egrets and herons, not to mention terns and gulls, and even ducks. So enjoy all the photo ops and take advantage of all the birds that present themselves while you search for the next Black-bellied Plover to avail itself.

As always, try to use natural sunlight to your advantage, keep the sun behind you and your shadow pointing at your photo subjects. Focus on the birds’ eyes, try getting down on the birds’ level for some photos, and be sure to steady your camera and lens as best you can while holding your breath while pressing the shutter release button; and try not to disturb birds by approaching too close – allow them to fly on their own, but not as a result of your approach.

During late spring, Black-bellied Plovers molt into their dramatically different alternate plumage, but a lucky birder might get an opportunity to find and photograph a pair during a brief migration stop. Although the second plover is outside the field of focus in this photo, it adds a dimension to the bird that is sharply focused.

During winter, Black-bellied Plovers lack the rich black ventral plumage that provides the foundation for their name. Winter Black-bellies in their basic plumage tend to have a mottled gray and white coloration accented by a black bill, eyes, and legs. Their overall gray appearance best characterizes their Old World name – Grey Plover. Obviously, the American name came from a bird in alternate plumage, while the Eurasian species name came from birds in winter plumage.

Most of us don’t get to see these impressive fast-flying shorebirds in the splendor of their alternate nesting plumage, during late spring and early summer when Black-bellied Plovers nest and raise young on open expanses of Arctic tundra. Rarely do wintering Black-bellies exhibit black breast feathers in the Lower 48 or southern Canada.

A pleasing portrait of a wintering Black-bellied Plover may lack action, but it provides a classic photo of a classic shorebird in a pleasing setting.

I have a special connection with Black-bellied Plovers that makes me appreciate them more than most birders, but perhaps by bringing these interesting shorebirds to your attention, you will become a fan too. Of course, you may already have your own favorite plovers or sandpipers to lure you to wetland shores and beaches time and time again. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see and photograph Black-bellied Plovers in their dramatic alternate plumage in the latest stage of their migration north to the Arctic. Good Luck!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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