It’s that time of year when if you hope to entice and benefit large cavity nesting birds – including some owls, kestrels, and some ducks – time is running short to install them in time for this spring’s nest box users. Who wouldn’t enjoy hosting a family of screech owls through the nesting season? Or a brood of Wood Ducks, or even the mini-falcons – American Kestrels. Nothing can be more rewarding for birders, and nothing can benefit cavity nesting birds more than ensuring there are plenty of nesting sites available this spring.
A valuable science project created for students of all ages has been developed for educators and students alike, aptly named “Thinking Outside the Nest Box.” This curriculum will introduce students to the world of nesting birds and engage them in STEM learning and citizen science through the construction, installation, and monitoring of nest boxes. As an educational resource created by NestWatch, a citizen-science program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, nest box science can benefit anyone from grammar school to college students.
Recent studies show that birds ranging from warblers to Whooping Cranes are initiating their spring migrations north earlier. For instance, Black-throated Blue Warblers are starting their spring migration about 5 days earlier than 50 years ago, about one day earlier per decade, according to new information analyzed by scientists and published last week in The Auk, Ornithological Advances. Monitoring Whooping Crane migration also shows these elegant birds have been migrating north noticeably earlier each spring.


Congratulations to teacher Tonya Luna and her students at North Street Elementary School in Geneva, New York! Tonya’s students come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and she shared that some students had no background knowledge or experience with their local birds. Through their participation in Project FeederWatch, she’s happy to report that her 5th grade students have been able to see and identify 15 different species of birds, and added that “Birds have become our overall classroom theme.”
New field research reveals that critically endangered Short-crested Coquette hummingbirds inhabit more diverse habitats than previously thought. A team led by Dr. Carlos Almazan of the Autonomous University of Guerrero in Mexico found that these tiny hummingbirds, which have only been found in the Sierra de Atoyac mountains in the state of Guerrero also inhabit semi-deciduous forests with pine trees, and cloud forests with pines.
My mid-week was filled with an exciting variety of birds as I made another pilgrimage from the border of the Dakotas to Minneapolis, searching for excitement along the way. The biggest thrill was like seeing a ghost in a white room – a seemingly pure white male Snowy Owl perched against a white sky above a white landscape. I barely noticed a flash of whiter white, but it jolted my attention to the owl as I passed the stunning Arctic owl at 65 miles per hour; or perhaps its piercing eyes blazing from its ultra-white face caught my attention.
The new Canon EOS Rebel T8i is the ideal introduction for birders looking for an affordable birding camera or upgrade. Equipped with a high-quality 24 megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor, DIGIC 8 image processor, and an ISO range of 100 to 25,600, the EOS Rebel T8i is Canon’s most advanced Rebel yet, delivering high-quality performance that kicks your photos and videos up a notch. Whether you’re taking bird portraits or photographing fast-moving birds in flight, you can trust this camera’s smooth and accurate auto-focus with high-speed continuous shooting up to 7 frames per second.
The Celestron Ultima 65 18x-to-55x Spotting Scope is the most compact and lightweight model in Celestron’s Ultima line, measuring just 13 inches long and weighing only 2½ pounds. The super-sized version of Celestron’s signature line of spotting scopes – the Celestron Ultima 100 model features a large 100mm objective lens that gathers more light for better views of birds, but with Celestron’s ergonomic design it weighs just 4¼ pounds. Both the Celestron Ultima 65 and Ultima 100 models are made with BaK-4 prisms and multi-coated optics that provide you with the brightest, sharpest images.
Perky-Pet has introduced a new line of wild bird feeders featuring Flexports, including the Perky-Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone Max Bird Feeder with four Flexport feeding stations, plus the Perky-Pet Finch Feeder, and Perky-Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone Max Pinecone Bird Feeder. The new Flexports prevent seed spilling with better shake-resistant feeding ports, and Flexports add a level of comfort for birds by providing more feeding angles than traditional feeding ports. These flexible feeding ports also prevent seed clogs, plus they’re weather-resistant to keep seeds dry.
Two First State Records take top billing among last week’s rare bird sightings: A First State Record Burrowing Owl has been observed regularly at a burrow near Allensville, Kentucky, and a First State Record Scott’s Oriole is visiting a feeder in Tallahassee, Florida. Birders have also been observing a Fifth State Record Harris’s Sparrow in Hammonasset Beach State Park in coastal Connecticut. A colorful male Vermillion Flycatcher was observed in Arkansas, and the third Garganey of the winter, a colorful male of this Old World duck species, has been sighted near Harrington in the Central Valley.

Thursday afternoon, on my way home from Minneapolis, it was near-perfect timing to photograph a while at the Monticello Trumpeter Swan photography site. The photo episode provided a fun diversity of birds that seemed to flow by (fly by) upstream along the Mississippi River. Swans, Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, Canada Geese, and Bald Eagles all provided prime photo ops, which I enjoyed in the company of another photographer – Blaine. It was a rare opportunity to photograph with another enthusiast, and we talked a lot as the action transpired before us. All the birds were hyperactive compared to recent stops I’ve made there, which made the chance to share the action and a back and forth discussion.

Blaine was most interested in the goldeneyes, probably because the other birds are pretty easy to photograph, while Common Goldeneyes are the least likely to fly close to the river’s edge. During my visit, two special things happened: A hen Mallard led a dozen drakes on a meandering pairing flight that provided plenty of action; plus about 100 Mallards took flight in two successive waves, and sure enough, a big adult Bald Eagle appeared low overhead, providing a nice flyby photo opportunity as it winged broadside in beautiful light. We were lucky to get some goldeneye action too – more than I’ve ever had there, which Blaine especially appreciated.

If only you could hear these grand Trumpeter Swans calling – the largest and loudest of all waterfowl.

Turn of the Century Changes

We were talking about our lenses when Blaine raised the question about the turnover from film to digital photography, and suddenly I felt like a historian describing the difference between using a typewriter and a computer. I kept it pretty simple, but then Blaine asked if I was a film holdout, or whether I was quick to switch to the digital photography world. That made me recall the four or five year period when photographers began switching over, which required a new camera purchase; but thankfully, we could use the same lenses with the new digital cameras. And best of all, the same lens magnified a bird 1.4 times, making an 8x (400mm) telephoto lens create an 11x magnification – thank you very much!

Continuing, I explained that at first digital quality wasn’t very good. I can remember in the late ’90s that reputable photographers wrote about how digital photos would never rival the quality of slide images. That notion persisted among a few holdouts a couple years, but no longer. The second generation of digital cameras that provided better quality, better than slides at that point. After the turn of the century, the quality of digital photos was clearly improved to the point where the switch became pretty universal.

Common Goldeneyes provided opportunities to take action photographs of males flying, landing, and swimming (no females ventured close).

Looking back, it’s actually surprising how quickly the turnover from 35mm film cameras to digital cameras happened. And in two or three year increments, digital cameras continue to become better and better. I find myself buying a new camera body in those two or three year increments to get use the best possible balanced with my personal economics. Actually, it’s amazing the quality of photos we get from reasonably priced camera models – and they keep getting better.

Some years ago Kodak stopped manufacturing 35mm camera film, and camera companies don’t market 35mm cameras – this historic photo equipment is now museum fodder, although mine resides in the back of the walk-in closet in my “museum,” along with a few of the handy little plastic film canisters, lead-lined X-ray proof film bags to hold your rolls of film when passing through airport scanners, and other outdated products.

Then too, as I am always quick to point out, digital photography made a computer teamed with photo editing software our modern digital darkroom. Sure, although I always took color slides and prints, while in college I occasionally took black-and-white film photos and printed enlargements in the darkroom using the series of chemical baths – literally in the dark. Eventually I even processed a couple rolls of color slide film – just to do it – but I didn’t want to take the chance of making any mistakes processing slides, so strictly used a photo lab to do the processing. Hey, we don’t need to visit the local photo lab anymore, if you can even find one, unless you have a given need for a quality print enlargement or a selection of photos you wish to give to others. Early on, by using photo paper and our computer printers, we’ve been able to take care of many of our photo printing needs.

As many species of ducks choose mates, the accompanying displays are often accented by pairing flights. Here a female Mallard lead a cohort of males on a low undulating pairing flight.

Futuristic Options

Today’s cameras offer an amazing array of features and options, with WiFi and Bluetooth connections between your camera and computer, your camera and cellphone, and between your camera and printer; plus you can post directly to Facebook or other internet pages, or to the cloud. So now, not only are cameras computerized, they are computer connected and, of course, they double as video cameras!

I keep it simple; I have always preferred still photography and consider video a whole different animal, and these days as long as I have a quality digital camera with an up-to-date sensor and processor that create high-quality photos – with auto-focus, continuous shooting at 5 frames per second or better, and an advanced light meter with an aperture-priority setting, I’m in business and using my treasured digital equipment in the field every week, if not every day.

But I guess the big question is: “What will bird photography be like in a decade? What will transpire by 2030?”

Any time flocks of birds flush without apparent reason, look overhead to see if a bird of prey is approaching. In this case, after about 100 Mallards flushed, an adult Bald Eagle appeared and flew low in beautiful afternoon sunlight.

Look at the bag of worms that Blaine opened when he brought up the transition from film to digital photography! (ha-ha) After about 40 minutes, as the light for photography was waning, I dismissed myself due to cold fingers, toes, and face. But it was a productive and enjoyable photo episode, and it was great fun to share the action, and some historic insights in the process. Give your camera a workout as March progresses!

Article and photos by Paul Konrad

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Event Calendar

International Festival of Owls

Houston, Minnesota

Monte Vista Crane Festival

Monte Vista, Colorado

Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend & Boat Trip

Gloucester, Massachusetts

MARCH 11-15
North American Bluebird Society Meeting

Kearney, Nebraska

Birding America Conference

Chicago, Illinois

MARCH 20-21
Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival

Kearney, Nebraska

MARCH 20-22
Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival

Blaine, Washington

Othello Sandhill Crane Festival

Othello, Washington

MARCH 21-22
Waterfowl Weekend

Brighton, Ontario

MARCH 27-29
Matagorda Bay BirdFest

Palacios, Texas

MARCH 28-29
Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Festival

Eagle Lake, Texas

Mackinaw Raptor Fest

Mackinaw City, Michigan

Great Louisiana BirdFest

Mandeville, Louisiana

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