While many of our northern feeding stations are surrounded by snow, birders in California and some areas of southern states as far east as Louisiana continue to enjoy hummingbirds in their yards – attracted by nectar feeders, flower gardens, and water misters – what luck! But some northern birders plan winter getaways to warmer climates where they can enjoy hummingbirds, often species they don’t see in their northern hangouts. If you’re southbound, pack a hummingbird feeder in your suitcase and see what you can attract during your visit to sunbelt hummingbird hotspots.
We all enjoy the changing seasons, keeping lists of the species we see and waiting patiently for the return of migratory birds. Certainly, bird migrations dictate so much of our birding seasons – and our daily observations. Among the more than 650 species that nest in North America, more than half are migratory. But do you know why birds migrate, or how they navigate during migration? Let’s take a closer look at bird migration, and in the process you may even wish to learn more about where the birds you enjoy most spend their winters.
Monday, the National Audubon Society and Nature’s Best Photography announced the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards Contest open from January 13 through April 6. So get your best bird photos ready, or start planning for your next photo field trip get your next best bird photos and get in the spirit to enter the contest by April 6th. Contest judges will score eligible photographs on technical quality (30 percent), originality (30 percent), and artistic merit (40 percent).
Whooping Crane numbers in the Central Flyway migratory population remained stable at an estimated 504 individuals according to Wade Harrell, the U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, who provided the following information: Last summer, a total of 97 Whooping Crane nests were counted during aerial surveys in their nesting area in northern Canada in May, and during August, 37 fledglings were counted with adult pairs before the population began migrating south.
It’s been an unusually poor winter for Snowy Owl sightings – some years I find as many as 89 different Snowys, but so far this winter, none. So when I learned of repeated sightings of a Snowy Owl in a location about 95 miles northwest of home, I reacted to the bright sunshine the next day by taking a field trip to the wide open plains near Steele, North Dakota. The information I had was two days old, but the adult female Snowy Owl had frequented the area for more than a week, so I had high hopes of seeing her – or maybe I would find a different one along my extended drive through prime Snowy Owl country.
Bird photographers will appreciate the versatility of the lightweight Tamron Model A035 100-to-400 Zoom Lens that features precision autofocus (AF). Vivid clear photographs are produced by this zoom’s low-dispersion glass coated with Tamron’s proprietary eBand coating. The exceptional zooming quality of this lens provides bird photographers with excellent magnification in the field and at your feeders, plus its versatility provides the option of photographing landscapes, family portraits, and cityscapes when you switch your attention from birding interests.
The ultimate reference book for backyard birders, The Joy of Bird Feeding offers practical information, tips, and solutions to attract and identify birds. You will learn about the best foods to attract the birds you want to see, and how to deter unwanted visitors to your feeding station. It guides you through setting up a thoughful bird feeding station, and provides comprehensive descriptions and photographs of feeder types and how to best utilize them – plus it has a species guide to 180 feeder birds with photos, detailed range maps, identification text, and each species’ preferred foods.
Check out all the new year deals on outdoor products ranging from birding optics to outdoor clothing and sporting goods for all seasons and climates, including sportswear by Nike, Under Armour, Columbia, Boulder Gear, and more – ranging from base layer clothing to insulated vests and stylish field jackets that double for everyday use. Lots of boys and girls clothing is on sale too, and check out their fan gear, shoes, and backpacks too! Stop by a Scheels store near you or visit Scheels online.
This new decorative is designed for finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and other smaller birds that will cling to the mesh to feed. Measuring 5½ x 9 inches in size, just pinch open the acorn hanger to open and fill this easy to fill and clean feeder that holds up to ½ pound of sunflower seeds or shelled peanuts. Duncraft’s Acorn-Shaped Mesh Feeder is a great addition to any feeding station, especially if you have a nearby oak tree to hang it from.
Last week a First State Record Common Murre was sighted at Lighthouse Point Park near Daytona Beach, Florida. Two other state record birds were observed last week, with a McKay’s Bunting photographed at Delta, British Columbia, that established a Third Provincial Record, and photos also confirmed a Sixth State Record Vermillion Flycatcher in Eugene, Oregon. Other exceptional rare bird finds included a European Crane, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Pochard, Tropical Kingbird, and a Rufous-backed Robin!

As the young Golden Eagle began to turn, you can see how the sun illuminated some portions of its plumage, but the head is out of the light, and more out of focus than lighted parts of the big raptor.

Photographers quickly learn that it’s difficult to get good bird photographs. We also learn it can be hard to judge when a given photo opportunity might yield a good photo, even after we’ve taken the images. That point still has me a bit confounded about a great photo opportunity with a striking young Golden Eagle last month. I spied the giant female from quite a distance away, and watched it flush a pheasant, then another, as it flew low over the edge of a cornfield in central South Dakota. I didn’t realize the beauty of the eagle until I was within camera range and noticed that it had the most expansive white coloration on each wing and its flared tail that I’ve ever seen.

This young eagle’s large size and extensive white markings made it an especially attractive photo subject, and I was lucky enough to intercept it as it turned, flaring when it was close enough to fill most of my photo frame. I took a series of images, and as it repositioned for another sweep of the area for potential prey I was excited to take a number of other photos of the memorable eagle in flight as it came ever-closer – then watched it circle upward until it was far beyond the range of my camera lens. What an exciting and hopefully productive photo episode I thought!

My hopes were quelled when I quickly reviewed the photos on my camera’s rear monitor screen, which revealed the resulting photos were not very sharp. The photos showed blurred edges along the outer feathers and head. I find that any hint of blurring on the miniature images on the camera’s rear monitor screen tend to be even more out of focus on a computer screen when you’re reviewing and editing photos. Darn; but maybe one image or more will be salvageable I hoped with likely hyper-optimism.

After enjoying several hours of birding that included more photo opportunities, I settled in for the evening and began to review the photos I took that day. The photos of the young Golden Eagle proved to be a big disappointment; they only underlined how stunning this big bird was, and how good the photos could/should have been if they had been in sharp focus. So what was the problem?

What didn’t work during this extended photo opportunity?

As the eagle turned northwest, the sunlight coming from the south did not help to provide a sharp image, and the vibration of the running vehicle attributed to blurring the image.

Was I not connecting the autofocus with the bird? This happens, but during an extended photo session it normally corrects itself quickly. I even consciously tried to reconnect the autofocus on the eagle, which shouldn’t have been a problem considering the bird was large within the photo frame. Was my autofocus to blame? Possibly; but the next flight series of a male Rough-legged Hawk was sharp.

I was working with a moving bird, freely following the eagle without a tripod, but I did brace my lens against the window frame and held my breath, which should have steadied the camera appropriately. Using a tripod would have impacted the situation even more by not providing the maneuverability to follow the eagle’s free-form flight.

Usually, when I have good sunlight coming from the right direction to illuminate the bird, it provides ample shutter speed and aperture options – which the fine winter sunshine did. So what was the problem?

In hindsight, after careful thought about all the variables, I think I was able to reconstruct the fast-paced action as I photographed the memorable Golden Eagle.

While soaring out of range, the autofocus may have been more of a factor in the out of focus images.

As I drove into position, it felt like I was a moment late intercepting the eagle as it flew my way, so I failed to do something I always do – I didn’t turn my vehicle off immediately. Instead I raised my camera to focus on the big eagle before turning the ignition key off – big mistake. After the eagle made its turn, I quickly turned the vehicle off, but the damage was done. The vibrations created by the running engine appear to have been a considerable factor.

After reviewing the eagle photos, another factor appears to have been the direction of the sunlight, or my position in relation to the direction of the sunlight. The sunlight was coming from the south, but I was positioned southwest of the eagle, which did not provide an adequate lighting angle to get quality photos. I was in the best position I could get to under the circumstances – I couldn’t drive or run through the cornfield to get into a better position, so that’s the breaks. But in retrospect, the direction of the sunlight made a big difference in getting quality photos too. That was especially obvious with the lack of sharpness in the head and beak as well as the lack of details in the plumage and individual feathers.

The above photos of the first-year Golden Eagle should have looked more like this image, which was taken of a similar first-year Golden when the direction of the sunlight, the autofocus, and shutter speed all helped to provide a much sharper image and a technically better photo.

I obviously don’t over-analyze every missed photo opportunity, but this episode was disappointing, and I thought I’d share it to make the point that one of the ways we become better bird photographers is by learning from our mistakes. It also underlines the fact that bird photography is a difficult aspect of birding, but if it were easy, we might lose interest after a few months or years. Instead, bird photography is such a consuming activity that people tend to enjoy it throughout their lives. It’s like birding – I’ve never met a former birder. Long ago it was clear that only a small percentage of photo opportunities are successful, but there’s always tomorrow, and next week, next month, and next year to improve on that missed photo op. Keep trying, keep improving, and enjoy the process!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your bird photographs and birding experiences at

Event Calendar

Everglades Birding Festival

Davie, Florida

North Shore Birding Festival

Mount Dora, Florida

Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival

Mount Dora, California

Rains County Eagle Fest

Emory, Texas

Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival

Birchwood, Tennessee

Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway

Chico, California

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival

Titusville, Florida

Eagles & Agriculture

Minden, Gardnerville, and Genoa, Nevada

Wings of Winter Birding Festival

Springville, Tennessee

Reelfoot Lake Eagle Festival

Tiptonville, Tennessee

Galt Winter Bird Festival

Galt, California

Laredo Birding Festival

Laredo, Texas

Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival

Meadowlands and Duluth, Minnesota

Winter Wings Festival

Klamath Falls, Oregon

Whooping Crane Festival

Port Aransas, Texas

San Diego Bird Festival

San Diego, California

Birding Wire - 2271 N Upton St., Arlington, VA 22207
Copyright © 2019, OWDN, All Rights Reserved.