Whether they’re a helpful part of your winter feeding scheme or a novelty to display in your yard, our big bird feeders are so impressive they’re hard to resist. If you’re interested in upsizing, there’s probably a very big feeder for you – tube feeders, hopper feeders, hummingbird feeders, window feeders, and platform feeders. Maybe it becomes a part of a big feeder collection or perhaps you’re just into big things and want the biggest feeders to go along with your big house, big truck, and big dog. How can you resist such a conversation piece in your yard – and who knows, maybe you will only need to refill it once a month.
With an inch of new snow glistening in the morning sun, adding to the three feet of cold white stuff piled below it, I packed my car in suburban Minneapolis for a Minnesota Northwoods owl adventure. Although it was an opportunity to find a number of special winter species in the boreal forest, I was focused on finding two birds – a Northern Hawk Owl, one of the tougher birds to find in the continental United States, and a Great Gray Owl, another rare owl that ranks among the largest owls in the world. I had never seen either of these spectacular owls before, so they would be “life birds,” if I could find them.
Attending a birding festival is one of the best ways to improve your birding skills, experience new locations and new birds, participate in field trips, attend workshops and speaker presentations, and get in touch with area birders. After the holiday lull in birding festivals, an abundance of events are scheduled in coming weeks from south to north and west to east. Many upcoming birding fests are taking place in the sunbelt population centers in the states of Florida, Texas, and California, although there are several options beyond these states.
An annual rare bird hotspot during spring and fall, a total of 19 first North American records have been documented on St. Lawrence Island, 7 during spring and 12 during fall. Located between continental Alaska and Russian Siberia, birders on this Arctic isle also have recorded many second and third record sightings as well as observations of a number of North American species previously unrecorded in the Bering Sea region. Now, a new book, Birds of Gambell and St. Lawrence Island, Alaska provides a comprehensive review of the island’s avifauna.
With the goal of drafting a 10-year Crane Strategy and Action Plan for the East Asian Flyway, more than 150 participants from Chine, Russia, Mongolia, North and South Korea, and Japan convened during a three-day workshop focused on four threatened crane species – Siberian, Red-crowned, White-naped, and Hooded Cranes. The international conservation event was held at the Beijing Forestry University and was jointly organized by the University’s Center for East Asian–Australasian Flyway Studies and the International Crane Foundation.
Blizzard birding is not my favorite, but Saturday, as the wind roared and blew several inches of snow across the landscape, I enjoyed periodic visits by my usual feeder birds as I wrote and edited this week’s issue. As the sundogs flared on each side of the setting sun, a Brown Creeper slipped into view at the snow-blasted tree next to my feeding station – a day early and a half-hour later than expected (I’ve had a creeper visit each of the past two Sundays at 4:40 and 4:30 respectively. But the highlight of the week was an exciting expedition into the whiteness of an Arctic bird’s winter realm.
If you’re ready to upgrade your camera to another level of quality, consider the versatile Canon EOS 90D, equipped with an enhanced 32 megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor, a powerful DIGIC 8 image processor, and an ISO range of 100 to 25000 – you will surly have the right gear to get sharper, more detailed images in a variety of settings. Canon’s 90D model is perfect for photographing flying birds as well as the details of quick-moving avian subjects, featuring a 45-point cross-type autofocus (AF) system, plus the option to take high-speed continuous photography up to 10 frames per second (fps).
The Super Spiral 18-inch Sunflower Feeder from Songbird Essentials provides a patented spiral perching feature, a squirrel-proof patented locking lid, and it holds three quarts of sunflower seeds. The twist-and-clean bottom can be removed for easy cleaning, and the aluminum and stainless steel parts have a lifetime warranty on workmanship and normal wear and tear. The easy to use looped wire hanging cable is attached to the cap and has a test strength of 150 pounds – it’s a well-built feeder with a unique style that birds prefer.
Considered the modern day Roger Tory Peterson, master birder and illustrator David Sibley is renowned for his series of field guides, beginning with The Sibley Guide to Birds. Now, for the first time, a selection of his beautiful paintings are presented as giant high-quality collages of birds printed on 100 pound matte paper as a wall posters. Published and distributed by Scott & Nix, the six Sibley wall posters include Sibley’s Backyard Birds of Eastern North America, which features 98 common species in 144 illustrations. Other wall posters include Sibley’s Western Backyard Birds, Owls, Hummingbirds, Raptors, and Waterfowl.
Last week Hammond’s Flycatchers and Pink-footed Geese dominated the rare bird sightings, along with a diversity of other off-course birds. Florida’s Third State Record Hammond’s Flycatcher was photographed at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southeast Florida – with some deliberation of its true identity. Pink-footed Geese were reported at two locations in Pennsylvania and one in Connecticut, and a Redwing was found in Newfoundland. California also received a second winter visit from a Garganey, which returned to a West Sacramento pond.

A Tricolored Heron in season with breeding colors and plumes is a real prize for anyone to photograph.

Wading birds – primarily species among the herons, egrets, ibis, storks, cranes, and spoonbills – are great birds for beginners to interact with, camera in hand. They are large, relatively common in their normal ranges, and they are sometimes quite approachable. Advanced bird photographers are always happy to encounter wading birds because they are impressive photo subjects that can be photographed hunting, fishing, and catching prey, or mirrored in calm water, emerging from tall vegetation, and during a variety of nesting activities.

Especially along the Gulf Coast, many wading bird nesting colonies are beginning to enliven more as the nesting season approaches. Through the following months photographers can document a variety of activities from a safe distance – recording birds in flight during nest building, food gathering, performing mating displays, incubating, tending nestlings, and eventually sharing the shallows with fledglings. Nesting colonies are sometimes species specific, but many have a dominant species with other wading birds sharing colony nest sites. Any photographer can take impressive images of a number of species if you find the right locations with the right lighting conditions, and the edge of a nesting colony is a great place to practice photo skills in the field with a lot of action as the birds fly this way and that.

To photograph large wading birds along wetland shallows or in flight, you will have the best results when you use a zoom lens to compose photos of the action. A 100-to-400mm zoom lens might be the best bet, but whatever zoom you have is best for you. The action of physically zooming the lens adds another dimension to your photography, but with a little practice, you will surely appreciate the versatility a zoom lens provides when photographing large wading birds at relatively close quarters.

Documenting a hunt in a series of photographs can produce a photo like this White Ibis as it secures a crayfish above water. By positioning your camera near water level your photos provide the perception that the viewer is part of the scene.

Even when photographing a single bird, say a Great Blue Heron stalking through shallow water, you can take a variety of photos – full frame as it steps cautiously through clam blue water, as it bends its neck downward. Then zoom in to focus on the bill, head, and neck; then zoom out a bit to include the shoulders, just as it strikes at a fish and you record the action of the splash and as the heron retracts with a struggling fish in its bill. Zooming is an option when photographing birds in flight too. Take a series of images as a Great Egret flies by, recording the bird’s flight with wings up, then down; and zoom closer to get just the front of edge of the wings and emphasizing the head and bent neck.

In close quarters, a zoom lens permits you to compose images that feature the natural design elements of the plumage and face of wading birds like this Great Blue Heron. In this case, even more than usual, focusing on the eye is a must.

Keep your telephoto lens handy too though, especially if you’re photographing a nesting colony from a distance, or if the spoonbills are staying beyond your zoom’s reach. Then too, where you find wading birds, you often find a variety of other birds to photograph, including smaller shorebirds, maybe a rail, some passerines, a few ducks – maybe an Osprey flyby.

The safety and well-being of nesting birds comes first, but with a telephoto lens you should be able to photograph the action at a nesting colony without disturbing the birds, such as these Great Egrets.

The thing about wading birds is that there is an interesting variety to photograph, including Tricolored Herons, Reddish Egrets, Wood Storks, Green Herons, White Ibis, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets – what fun they all are to search out and photograph. Take your time, spend an extended period with a wader when you can – you never know what might happen next. Soon many wading birds will begin getting enhanced breeding colors on their bare facial skin and growing lacy plumes to display as they engage in pre-nesting behaviors and begin the nesting season.

Taking photographs of wading birds in flight can yield impressive images, and when you can take a photo that combines a flying Sandhill Crane performing a spirited flight display while calling, it provides a wading bird photo trifecta.

Wading birds across the sunbelt provide birders with photo opportunities throughout the year, and soon they will provide photographers with flashes of spring behaviors and nesting drama during the coming months. As spring breaks, northern wetlands will see the return of migrating wading birds too. Be sure you have your camera ready, your shadow pointing toward the birds with the sun at your back – and enjoy all your opportunities to photograph wading birds – winter, spring, and year-round.

Article and photos by Paul Konrad

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Event Calendar

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

High Plains Snow Goose Festival

Lamar, Colorado

Teatown Hudson River Eagle Fest

Croton-on-Hudson, New York

Eagle Expo

Morgan City, Louisiana

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

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