NestWatch is looking for more information about nesting birds that you may be interested in monitoring this season, including information about birds you may find in your yard or neighborhood, such as nesting robins, bluebirds, mockingbirds, chickadees, wrens, cardinals, swallows, and more. Anyone who has monitored nesting birds knows how enriching the activity can be, and knowing your efforts add to a valuable citizen science project make your participation all the more fulfilling.
If you’re eager to find out when the first of each species of warblers reaches your neighborhood, or state; or the first tanagers or hummingbirds, there is a great eBird Tool that provides information gleaned from the birding reports of birders across the country, and actually, around the world. You can easily narrow your search down to your immediate area by selecting the Hotspots option, which will clue you into many parks, refuges, and local birding areas too.
It’s a great time of the year for birders as many of us celebrate by joining the excitement of the annual Global Big Day, the biggest day in birding, this Saturday, May 9. Celebrate the birds around you, wherever you are, and wherever you go Saturday by identifying and counting all the birds you see at each stop you make, including home, to participate in the Global Big Day. Last year birders from 173 countries recorded a grand total of 6,967 different species of birds!
During May it’s interesting to see what individual birders are reporting from east to west across North America with respect to on-going bird migrations. One of the most enjoyable locations to monitor the actions is the American Birding Association’s “Birding News” website that provides birder’s personal reports in real time. Most reporting sites are listed state by state, and province by province, and it’s particularly interesting to monitor some of the migration descriptions and species lists from people’s personal reports. For example ...
The annual World Series of Birding (WSB) Special Edition 2020 has been designed for people to be outside, enjoy birds, and raise money for conservation. For the 37th year in a row, starting at midnight on Saturday, May 9th through the following midnight, birders will be looking and listening for as many bird species as possible. At the same time, participants’ health and safety is the highest priority for the day, so participating birders will not congregate in a traditional team manner, along with some other special changes.
Warblers! The first warblers arrived! Hooray! What a treat! Sunday was filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers, plus a few Yellow Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a male Common Yellowthroat. The Yellowthroat and Yellow Warblers were a big surprise so early, but I was especially impressed by the numbers of Yellow-rumps. What fun I had watching and photographing them. In addition, there were three first of spring species – Western Kingbirds, Harris’s Sparrows, and Clay-colored Sparrows.
Now through July 15, with the purchase of a complete Zeiss Victory Harpia Spotting Scope with an 85mm or 95mm objective lens, birders will receive a free Zeiss Victory Pocket Binocular representing up to an $880 retail value! The Zeiss Victory Harpia Spotting Scope features a slim eyepiece that provides comfortable viewing with a safe, secure eyepiece-to-scope connection. DualSpeed focusing enables automatic switching between rapid and fine adjustments for fast and precise focusing.
The Warbler Guide enables you to quickly identify any of the 56 species of warblers found in the United States and Canada. This award-winning guide has proven to be the favorite among birders and features more than 1,000 stunning color photos with extensive species accounts, and a new system of vocalization analysis that helps you distinguish songs and calls. Learn all you can about this interesting group of songbirds through the 560 pages of this authoritative book. There is also an associated App for you to download to your mobile device or cellphone.
BestNest’s newest feeder offers the ultimate oriole buffet – grape jelly, sliced oranges, and sugar-water nectar in one feeder with the large Songbird Essentials Ultimate Oriole Feeder. The orange color helps attract orioles to your feeding station and its hard plastic construction features a built-in ant moat, and the feeder lid lifts off the base for refilling and cleaning. The Ultimate Oriole Feeder will surly turn your feeding station into an oriole haven.
The last week of April provided many rare bird sightings, including a First State Record Black Phoebe in Nebraska. Four new Second State or Provincial Records were also reported: a Second State Record White-faced Ibis in West Virginia, a Second Provincial Record Worm-eating Warbler in Manitoba, a Second State Record Bell’s Vireo in Virginia, and a Second State Record Hooded Oriole in Michigan. And would you believe that three Crescent-chested Warblers are being seen in southern Arizona?


As I approached the pheasants’ position, they moved a short distance that must have been an unconscious compromise between keeping a “comfortable” distance from my vehicle and acting on their considerable antagonism toward one another.

Lately, I’ve been emphasizing the need to be aware of what’s happening around us, and being prepared for something out of the ordinary. Spring may be the best time for just these kinds of surprise events that transform before your eyes. During the past week there has been a big increase in the activities among Ring-necked Pheasants in my area of the Dakota borderlands – just north of South Dakota where this colorful species is recognized as the state bird.

Last Wednesday I turned the 2-hour drive to Bismarck into a 6-hour drive by emphasizing a search for photo opportunities at Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, McKenzie Slough, and a couple marshes east of Bismarck. I eventually spent some time along the road that cuts through the center of McKenzie Slough, where there was a great variety of ducks, grebes, and nesting Canada Geese. With perfect lighting from the low sun of late afternoon-early evening, I became caught up with photographing some common species, displaying and singing blackbirds – Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds. I almost left a couple times, but continued to stay a little bit longer, kind of waiting for something more to happen among the variety of birds during this time of prime lighting. I was about to leave again when I heard a fight break out among a small growth of saplings just beyond the very south end of marsh – a cock fight!

By being positioned a little farther away than preferred, it was possible to keep both birds’ long tails and spread wings within the photo frame during their interactions.

Only by ear did I identify the action, but I was excited by the potential I imagined might transpire. I tried to slip quietly closer using my mobile blind (vehicle), but the pheasants reacted by walking east, into the open, and began facing off again, displaying by spreading their tails, and tipping their bodies toward one another. Then they erupted into a long series of fights, mostly jumping over one another, then clashing by kicking and pecking. They were just a little too far away, but I made the most of it and enjoyed documenting the action – what a thrill. I’ve seen such fights several times, but this was by far the longest battle I’ve witnessed, and it was my first opportunity to photograph the intensity of the territorial battle.

When I returned home I was excited to see the resulting photos on the big screen of my laptop computer. It was great fun to see the images, and I promptly selected and edited what I considered to be the best 10 photos, and I selected the 5 best to illustrate this article. I tried to present the photos in an order that provides something of a visual story, as well as a documentary illustration of a rarely observed and almost never photographed territorial fight between Ring-necked Pheasants.

Phight Settings

Two primary things made my photos as successful as they were: 1) Again, I was so lucky the sunlight was just right to provide fast shutter speeds with an adequate field of focus to include all the spread wings and tails of the two sparring males; and 2) I was equally lucky the birds were on the correct side of the road, with the pheasants in front of me and the low sun behind me.

Much of the “fight” involved various levels of bluffing, jumping, wing-flapping, and tail spreading with little real contact, but the action provided thrilling photo ops.

With full sunlight at a 45 degree angle from behind me, I knew I would get a corresponding fast shutter speed if I used a rather wide f8 aperture, and the resulting shutter speed was 1/2000 of a second – fast enough to stop most motion. I double-checked all the settings a couple times as I photographed, which I could readily see on the base of my camera’s viewfinder frame as I composed the photos.

I braced my camera lens against the vehicle’s window frame, held my breath, and let the autofocus do its thing. I tried to anticipate the action, which was surprisingly easy to do, and when the interactions became heated, I held the shutter release button down to allow the camera to take a continuous series of images at a rate of 3 to 5 photos per second. Although I would have liked to have been a little closer, being as far away as I was allowed me to keep both birds, including their long tail feathers, within the photo frames as I photographed.

Pheasant Phantasies

At times the action became more intense within close quarters, but contact still seemed rare. Good lighting allowed a fast shutter speed to stop the action with adequate depth of field to keep the birds in focus in most photographs.

I must admit that I had enough time as I photographed them, that I imagined how cool it would be if these Ring-necks were an even more exotic pheasant, say Golden Pheasants or Lady Amherst’s Pheasants – how’s that for fantasizing? (ha-ha) And that flash of thought provides an opportunity to highlight the family of pheasants, which is expansive, centered in southeast Asia, and made up of 22 primary species that also include Reeve’s Pheasants, Copper Pheasants, Swinhoe’s Pheasants, Silver Pheasants, and Elliot’s Pheasants; plus 4 eared pheasants, and 8 peacock pheasants. I have visited northeast China, and even saw a Ring-neck there, but wouldn’t it be remarkable to search for Goldens and Reeve’s and Mikado Pheasants – and frankly all the rest!

OK, back to reality, and back to the territorial Ring-necks, which were originally introduced to North America in the late 1800’s. I checked the time stamps on the series of photos I took of the sparring pheasants and found their bout continued about 7 minutes. During the time I photographed, I didn’t see any flying feathers but expect there must have been some light scratching and bruising. But overall, there was mostly a lot of bluff and fluff, jumping, wing beating, and kicking; although most of the kicking and wing-beating seemed to catch little more than fresh air, as evidenced in my stopped-action photos.

In the end, the apparent victor in the territorial battle merely chased after the bird that chose to turn tail, until they ended up running down the road in front of me. They dipped back into the grassy ditch, and separated by about 20 feet, both standing upright in the now yellowing light, which gave their colorful feathers a glowing hue. After a moment the winner flew north and the second-place finisher ran south, and that was that.

A final flash of fight seemed to prove the difference between the victor and the vanquished. What an exciting opportunity to take a series of action photographs that reflect the birds’ intensity during the rites of spring.

There’s always a bit of a let-down when a photo session ends; I take a deep breath or two, regain my composure, then think about what just happened – whoo-whoo! Invariably I take a moment to check a couple photos by “rewinding” to check for sharpness and color, and even though the small 3-inch monitor screen can be misleading, it’s somewhat reassuring to view some images and it can elevate my level of excitement again. Then I thank the birds and shout “What Luck!”

Spring migration and its lead into the mating and nesting season is heating up with the advance of May. I’ve already had my share of photo luck this spring, but I expect the best is yet to come. In the meantime, enjoy your time afield with your camera in hand!

Article and photos by Paul Konrad

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