Bluebirds may be the most popular cavity nesting birds in North America, including all three species – Eastern, Mountain, and Western Bluebirds – all colorful, musical, and sure to attract the attention of any birders, actually any North Americans. When it became evident there was a shortage of suitable natural cavities and woodpecker-excavated cavities, an army of dedicated “bluebirders” rose to help en force to provide the best possible artificial cavities in the form of nest boxes – one by one, and eventually trail by trail.
As North American birds begin their spring migrations northward from wintering areas, stopping at traditional resting and feeding areas for periods of time as they make their way to nesting ranges, our interest in bird migration is piqued. As we see the first migrants appearing and as we anticipate the waves of migrants that will soon follow, let’s examine some simple information about bird migration, especially spring migration, and what triggers birds to make these impressive and dangerous journeys from wintering areas to nesting sites.
Last week we entered a new period of medical concerns in reaction to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the United States, Canada, and around the world. With spring birding events and festivals reaching a peak in upcoming days and weeks, it’s best to keep updated day by day about cancellations and postponements of events, as well as keeping up to date with the status of this medical emergency.
They’re back! An infamous pair of Barred Owls are back nesting in their big nest box in Indiana, and you can monitor their progress as often as you wish through the spring on the Wild Birds Unlimited live cam. The female began incubating after laying her first egg March 9th, followed by the second egg last Wednesday, and the third last Saturday the 14th. You can see the female incubating inside, and there’s even a second camera that permits you to view the occasional action outside the extra-large nest box too.
Early spring raptor migration has reached the west end of Lake Superior, and you can see the results in real time as biologists at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory’s West Skyline Hawk Count have initiated the spring count, which now totals about 1,600 raptors, mostly Bald Eagles. As of Tuesday afternoon 1,438 Bald Eagles passed along the ridge overlooking the great lake at Duluth, Minnesota, along with a somewhat surprising 103 Golden Eagles, followed by 23 Rough-legged Hawks and 23 Red-tails – and that’s just the beginning!
Tuesday’s birding thrill was the first Rough-legged Hawk of the season flying just three miles north of my office, but the real thrill of the week was Friday the 13th when the sunshine pulled me away from the office with Sand Lake in mind – hoping to see some migration in progress. Sand Lake, of course, is the fabled Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a remarkable waterfowl concentration site about 15 miles south of the border of the Dakotas, where the northern tip of the iceberg for the Great Plains goose migration had advanced, with a million more to come.
Real quality multipurpose binoculars: Swarovski SLC 8x42 Binoculars stand out among birders for their particularly high optical quality, and you will enjoy using these rugged ergonomically styled binoculars for years as they perform in any weather, every day. The Swarovski SLC Binocular models have had their optics and coating system optimized specifically for high contrast images and sharp focus. The 8x42 model stands out for its large field of view, rugged magnesium housing, and ergonomic design, which ensures optimum viewing and operating comfort, even over long periods.
Considered among the best nest boxes, the Nature’s Way Cedar Bluebird House with a Viewing Window is a classic nest box that provides a number of important features, including a new side panel that lifts upward to reveal the clear plastic viewing window that makes it safe and easy to monitor nesting activity. The classic shape and sturdy cedar body ensure this robust nest box will benefit bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds, featuring a one inch thick predator guard that surrounds the 1½ inch diameter entrance hole, creating a secondary physical barrier for potential predators.
Be the first to sport the newest birding shirt and spread the word about World Migratory Bird Day featuring the striking WMBD art on a deep blue T-shirt made with recycled plastic bottles (50 percent content). The 2020 design includes a dozen WMBD focal bird species with the slogan “Birds Connect our World” printed in both English and Spanish on the front. The Environment for the Americas and Partners in Flight logos and “World Migratory Bird Day 2020” are also printed on a sleeve. Share your interest in birds and be sure to review all the impressive projects supported by Environment for the Americas.

This article is as much for me as it is for you – it’s one of the things I need to address as soon as possible, but it’s also a worthy practice to share with you, so here goes: Taking photographs of birds is fun, challenging, rewarding, sometimes disappointing, but always worthy of our time and efforts. To be a good photographer you also need to be organized, and get your photo files in order. An annual plan is good, as long as you have kept up with your photo editing and photo filing after each photo session. However, who among us can raise their hand to acknowledge that’s the case?

Among a few of the photos that Paul overlooked during his photo editing last May, was this intimate image of a female American Redstart.

Review – I’m always pretty close to being up to date, but at the end of each year I always make the time to go back through my photo files for a “quick review” to tighten things up the way they really should be rather than leaving a few things undone. Don’t put it off any longer; doing a final review of 2019 photos can be fulfilling, help you recall enjoyable days afield, and when you’re done you will have a real sense of accomplishment.

At the top of my list is to find a few gems that I overlooked or kind of forgot about; or maybe I just didn’t take the time to do a proper review that day or week. Sometimes I get excited about a photo or a couple photos I’ve taken during a given photo session, but overlook a gem or two that would stand out any other day – and hopefully the review reclaims these sleepers for editing.

Edit – When you find a photo worthy of elevating to the “keeper” files, give it a proper edit. Photo editing in the digital camera world means using photo editing software on your computer. I prefer to do light editing to preserve the original qualities of the photo. That primarily means cropping the photo, which enlarges the bird’s image. Sometimes, if needed, I sharpen or brighten a photo, but if you are doing things right in the field, you shouldn’t need to make many changes to photos.

An important part of editing is naming the image, which everyone does a little differently as per their preferences. First though, it’s good to keep the original photo in your file so you can always refer back to it and, if necessary, make another edited version. Keep the original photo in its original file with its original numeral designation that was assigned automatically by your camera. Before editing the image, open the original photo in your software, then rename the file before editing it and save that copy with a new name. For the record, I name my photos in the following fashion: Songbirds – Common Yellowthroat male ND 5-19. In other words, I add the bird group, the species name, its sex, its activity, the state, and the month-year.

This photo was probably not selected during the initial review because of the “busy” vegetation that surrounds the beautiful male Canada Warbler, but the details of the bird are remarkably sharp, making it a good candidate for future editing.

Delete – During the review process, I delete all worthless photos. Essentially all blurry or out of focus images, photos of flying birds with the wings in weird positions; some with serious shadow or lighting problems, some specs in the distance. Overall, I try to keep as many photos as possible, partly as a photographic “history” of my birding trips or of the different birds I photographed on a good day. But what you keep and what you delete is totally up to you and your personal tastes and interests. When I started editing digital photos, I only kept the photos that were worthy of editing, and didn’t keep the original image. I soon found that option left me wondering about the context of the photo and other relevant information; and I no longer have an original photo to re-edit under different circumstances for different reasons – so I adjusted my deleting and filing behavior.

File – I’ve shared the way I file my photographs before, but to keep this article complete, I’ll just share that I divide each year into four “seasons” made up of three months each. Winter is January through March, spring is April through June, etc. Then within each season, I use file names that include the dates that photos are downloaded, such as January 1-15, January 16 to 31, etc. Then I add short descriptions of the main birds photographed, not necessarily using the full species names.

With so many photos to review and a variety of species to pay attention to at once, a few gems were initially overlooked – this image of a colorful Yellow Warbler among them. It’s always worthwhile to give your photo files an annual review.

Just Do It – Having shared the above information, we get down to the real crux of this effort, which is to go through each file, and review photo after photo with relative quickness; stopping when you want to delete a blurry photo, copy a photo for editing or write down the photo number for future editing. Before you know it you’ve made your way through the first file, then the first month, and soon you’re through one of four seasons of photos. If you’ve kept up with your photo editing after each photo session, the review process shouldn’t take too long and it should be fulfilling, especially on a rainy dreary day, when it can be a nice escape.

Copy – Finally, double-check that you have copied your 2019 year of photos with your other years of photo files into a second drive – an external hard drive that you can keep in a location separate from the first – a fireproof safe or safety deposit box is a good idea. I also like to copy a group of the best photos I take during a given trip, season, or year into a “Best of” file, and you can do this for any group of photos you wish to stand out, such as “Best of Ohio,” or your favorite photos taken within a given year, such as a “Best of 2019” collection.

So on the next rainy day when you wish you could be photographing birds, consider giving your photos a once-over review, do a little updating, copying, even some editing. It’s all part of the bird photography process – an enjoyable part – that makes your photo files all the more valuable and easy to use.

Article and photos by Paul Konrad

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