Students who are attending online classes, part of the week or throughout the week, can add bird feeding and observations to their daily schedule. Getting outside and seeing what birds are in their backyards gives young learners a break from the routine (and the computer or tablet screen). Birding is a natural fit with science lessons, but it also promotes cognitive abilities related to discovery and physical activity, while at the same time providing a sense of calm. Feeding and studying birds makes learning more enjoyable and ties children to nature and the outdoors.
Last week was the week of Mississippi Kites, with tens of thousands migrating south through Corpus Christi, Texas and Veracruz, Mexico in a remarkable “river of raptors.” That’s not to discount the flights of Bald Eagles, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and others at northern raptor counting sites from Duluth to Cape May. This week attention will focus on the mega-Broad-winged Hawk flights that will intensify day to day by tens of thousands. During this week in mid-September, each year more than a half-million raptors are tallied at count sites across North America!
Every year thousands of people gather at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to watch one of bird conservation’s biggest spectacles – the release of California Condors into the wild. This year the celebration will go on virtually so anyone and everyone can observe the condor release live. The Peregrine Fund will release up to four California Condors atop the spectacular cliff ledges in northern Arizona at 11am local time on Saturday September 26, and it will be available for you to see live online on The Peregrine Fund’s YouTube Channel.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will hold its annual Migration Celebration virtually this year to emphasize the remarkable natural phenomenon we all enjoy – Fall Migration! During the next two weeks the Lab will host special online events, including migration activities, live events, and relevant articles. Cornell Lab migration specialists will present online talks and there are a variety of family-friendly activities so everyone can get involved.
Reducing or eliminating nighttime lighting can make migration much safer for the more than one billion birds that migrate through Texas. “Lights Out Texas” asks homeowners, businesses, and building managers to eliminate or reduce lighting at night from 11pm to 6am during the September–October migration period. Nationwide each year, studies estimate 365 million to nearly a billion birds are killed when they collide with buildings. The Lights Out Texas project will send you an alert in advance of nights when the most birds are migrating – when turning off lights helps most.
Too often, hurricanes create terrible weather emergencies, but their effects on birds has long been a point of interest for some birders because the storms blow coastal and pelagic species into inland regions where they would otherwise never appear. Affected birds may include species of terns, storm petrels, frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, gulls, and more. August 27th the powerful Hurricane Laura hit the coast of west-central Louisiana and eastern Texas, and by the next day, birders were documenting a variety of rare bird sightings in areas affected by the hurricane.
Standout sightings in the field included an adult Bald Eagle 8 miles south of my office late Monday afternoon, along with 2 first fall Cooper’s Hawks about 2 miles south. Tuesday afternoon’s drive yielded another Coop, an adult 4 miles south. Standout photo ops were mostly limited to wading birds throughout the week, including Great Egrets, an American Bittern, and Black-crowned Night Herons, including a yearling molting from first year plumage to adult plumage; although White-faced Ibis and Great Blue Herons were also in the area.
Celestron Nature DX 8x32 Binoculars offer relatively inexpensive roof-prism binoculars with excellent optical performance for beginning birders with smaller hands. The 8x32 Nature DX is compact, weighs just 18 ounces, and provides good light-gathering capacity. They feature fully multi-coated lenses, phase-corrected BaK-4 glass prisms, a durable shock-proof armor covering, and these binoculars are fully waterproof and fog-proof. The 8x32 Nature DX Binocular has a large 388-foot field of view at 1000 yards and close focuses to just 6½ feet.
We often refer to the Birds of the World website, so wanted to provide more information about this remarkable resource for birders as a product review, because it requires a small monthly subscription price. But if you’re a birder, a subscription to Birds of the World is a must – it’s like having access to the best bird library ever created, any time you wish. If you want to answer any question about a given bird species, this is your best source of information. All the birds you see at your feeders, and all the birds you find in the field are described in detail.
The Duncraft Seed & Suet Combo Hopper Feeder holds up to 3 pounds of seeds and 2 suet cakes to attract and benefit a variety of birds this fall and winter. You can fill this versatile feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts, whole sunflower hearts, or mixed seeds – just a few suggestions. The easy to fill hopper section features quarter-inch stainless steel mesh and a 9½-inch vinyl-coated hanger. Made from several shades of brown recycled plastic, it measures 5x7x8½ inches, and it’s available exclusively from Duncraft.
We are excited to share 14 records this week, along with many other exciting rare bird sightings! Foremost must be the First Lower 48 Record of a Gray Heron in coastal Massachusetts. Three more First State & Provincial Records were recorded, including a Common Ringed Plover in Vermont, a Brewer’s Sparrow in Pennsylvania, and a Bell’s Vireo in British Columbia. Plus many exceptionally rare sightings, such as two Gray-streaked Flycatchers on Unalaska Island, Alaska, and a Northern Jacana at Canoa Ranch Conservation Park in Arizona.

Kites are beautifully aerodynamic with their long pointed wings and a long tail that gives kites an especially elegant look in flight, often rivaling and even surpassing falcons for their aerial prowess. Swallow-tailed Kites and Mississippi Kites are mostly limited to the southern half of the United States during spring and summer months, although White-tailed Kites can be seen throughout the year. Kites provide photographers with wonderful opportunities to document them in flight, plus they offer the potential for extreme flight photos.

As if with an element of joy, a glide turns into a dive with a surprising twist and half-flip as a Swallow-tailed Kite pulls its wings in to use inertia and gravity to guide its forward motion.

There is really no way to plan for radical kite photos; it’s a matter of being aware of the potential that kites offer, and to be prepared when opportunities present themselves. Usually, radical kite flights can be attributed to hunting, but sometimes they seem to be just having fun. There may also be some opportunity for radical flight photos if you encounter kites during a mating episode, but clearly, taking dynamic kite photos is a matter of being in the right place at the right time – and being ready and alert.

Although this article is geared toward kites, you can certainly use this information when photographing other birds including raptors, swallows, swifts, nighthawks, and others that do a lot of diving, high-speed twisting and turning, and other aerial acrobatics.

Radical Flights

A fast shutter speed, accurate autofocus, and attention to a kite’s flight through your camera lens can combine for some radical flight photos.

Swallow-tailed Kites can be especially acrobatic fliers; they are built for it, and when in flight they seem to be in constant motion, gliding on the wind, tipping their tail gracefully to balance, then diving, turning, dipping, and streaming on the wind. Even while hunting these Swallow-tailed Kites are graceful and seem to be weightless; they grab a flying insect with a talon and pass it to their mouth in a single movement. And as if with a joyful zest a glide turns into a dive with a surprising twist and half-flip as it pulls its wings in to use inertia and gravity to guide it forward; then, righting itself the kite turns upward into a peaked rise before using its wings to propel it forward again.

Who knows when that dive begins or that the kite will fold its wings and roll over in the air to turn its back to the ground and its belly to the sky? But you gotta be ready for things like that, follow the birds’ progress as long as they are within range, then watch for the next opportunity.

As it pulled out of the dive, the kite zoomed upward to a peak altitude before settling into a gliding flight again. Following the bird’s movements accurately was essential to documenting its flight postures.

White-tailed Kites tend to be a little more practical in their flights and much more apt to hover, but as one breaks out of a hover into a strong west wind, the result may surprise you as it folds a wing to redirect itself into the gale. White-tails utilize hovering to locate and pursue small mammals and other prey, unlike the insect-eating Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites. Nonetheless, ya gotta be ready when you’re in position and a hover turns into fast action – don’t miss it.

Radical Photos

Obviously, from a technical point, you want to be ready with a fast shutter speed. The birds are in flight against the sky, so there should be plenty of light, and if you use an f7 or f8 for example, you should have plenty of shutter speed to stop most or all movement. However, some photos that show some blurred motion can also be effective, but that’s a choice you usually make after your photo session is over, as you review phots during editing process.

As a White-tailed Kite breaks out of a hover into a strong west wind, a resulting photo may surprise you as the aerodynamic raptor folds a wing to redirect itself into the gale. Be ready, have fun, and good luck!

Similarly quite obvious, you need to rely on your autofocus with split-second timing involved, but it helps if you are already following the bird, keeping the autofocus active and spot on the action, ready for when the kite makes a turn, a dive, or twists into a barrel roll. Keep in touch with the bird, its motions, and try to anticipate a burst of action – or at least be ready and aware.

Does a zoom lens help? It depends on how close you are more than anything. If you find yourself keeping the zoom at full magnification, a telephoto lens will be as good and may provide faster shutter speeds in a given lighting scenario. A telephoto also simplifies the photo action by taking the zoom out of the equation, but a zoom adds a dimension that may be attractive for many photographers. Then too, many photographers use a zoom lens exclusively, and that’s fine too; just emphasize the positive aspects of a zoom lens in that case.

One more thing; it’s not technically related, but physically relevant: Let your adrenaline kick in to speed up your reaction time, increase your level of excitement, and add to the potential for exceled results. At the same time, enjoy the experience, have fun, and Good Luck!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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