Pine Siskins have already started to move southward across the United States as they are now being reported feeding on pine cone seeds and at bird feeders across the West, Midwest, New England, and even into the southern states of Louisiana, Texas, and coastal North Carolina. Low pine cone production in the boreal forest – the northern pine and spruce forests that stretch from Alaska across Canada and into the northern Great Lakes and New England – has forced Pine Siskins south in big numbers during the past 10 days. Can northern grosbeaks and crossbills be far behind?
Do you have your Big Day of birding planned for Saturday, October 17th? It’s the biggest fall birding event in the world! The October Big Day is a 24-hour opportunity to identify, count, and report all the birds you observe in coordination with birders from around the world. Although you may want to narrow down your interactions with other birders this year, you can make the OBD the most birding fun you have this fall. Use it as an incentive to see what birds you can find on your own, and what totals you can find at your favorite local birding sites, which includes your own yard, of course.
Observed the second full week of October each year, National Wildlife Refuge Week celebrates the remarkable network of lands and waters that conserves and protects Americans’ precious wildlife heritage. The National Wildlife Refuge System consists of 549 refuges that provide vital habitat for thousands of native bird species and other wildlife. National wildlife refuges offer outstanding recreation opportunities, and Refuge Week is a perfect time to see why tens of millions of Americans visit refuges each year to enjoy birding, hiking, wildlife watching, and more.
This month’s eBirder of the Month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, emphasizes participating in the October Big Day on October 17. This month Zeiss has generously doubled the prizes to help celebrate October Big Day and to encourage birders to try to set a new record for the number of people participating in this worldwide citizen-science birding event. Two winners will each receive a pair of new Zeiss Victory SF32 Binoculars with the winners drawn from a pool of participants who submit 5 or more eBird checklists on October 17th!
When do loons begin migration? A study of Common Loons in Maine and New Hampshire banded most of the individuals of 32 pairs of loons they studied so researchers could identify and study the behavior of individual loons. Overall, there was a lot of variability in the timing of loon departures from New England lakes, but there were also some general trends. Some adults start to leave their nesting lakes in September, while others stick around until late November. Fledglings tend to depart in late October and November.
Coincidence? I decided to start the new month by adding my seed feeder to my feeding station lineup, and within 10 minutes an active flock of Pine Siskins took over the site. It’s interesting that they mostly utilized the fresh water in my birdbath, two and three at a time, but a couple utilized the seed feeder too. Simultaneously, a Brown Creeper appeared on the lower trunk of the now-golden-leaved ash tree. That was a big indication of a morning fallout, and I hoped to see more new arrivals. Then the first Dark-eyed Juncos of the season appeared, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet! Hey, this is fun!
Fast, Versatile, Impressive, whether photographing birds in flight or taking portraits of birds in natural habitats, Canon’s EOS 90D Digital Camera is engineered to deliver excellent photo quality. Equipped with an enhanced 32 megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor and powerful DIGIC 8 image processor, this versatile Canon camera delivers sharp, detailed photographs under a variety of conditions. Perfect for photographing fast-moving birds, the EOS 90D camera features a 45-point cross-type AF (auto-focus) system, plus high-speed continuous photographing of up to 10 frames per second.
Hot off the presses, Mountaineers Books just released a pair of exciting new books by award-winning author and photographer Paul Bannick – Snowy Owl and Great Gray Owl. The photos in each book are unmatched and breath-taking, and the text provides information about the latest research, preferred habitats through the seasons, hunting behavior, mating and nesting behavior, information about nestlings and fledglings, and more. Throughout each narrative, Bannick’s time in the field observing and photographing these enigmatic birds comes to life in his evocative passages.
Here’s a fun addition to your feeding station from Perky-Pet, the Solar Lantern Feeder that lights up at night by using a solar-powered LED light to illuminate this unique lantern-shaped bird feeder. On sale now, the Solar Lantern Feeder features a durable metal frame with translucent panels to monitor seed levels, a circular perch, and a seed tray that limits seed waste and has drain holes to help keep seeds fresh during wet weather. The Solar Lantern Feeder holds up to 3½ pounds of mixed seeds or sunflower seeds.
Eight record-setting reports of rare birds were among the wealth of exciting rare bird sightings reported last week. Not one, but two First State Record Eared Quetzals were confirmed near Silver City, New Mexico, and a First Territorial Record Nashville Warbler was photographed in the Northwest Territories of Canada. British Columbia birders found a Second Provincial Record Red-legged Kittiwake at Deep Bay and a Third Provincial Record Nazca Booby offshore from Galiano Island. There were also exciting off-course birds from Asia, Latin America, and the Arctic reported.

When this time of year rolls around, my photography instincts wish me back to a little lake in Minnesota that held a small population of some of the most beautiful birds in the world – Wood Ducks. My niece Katy, who is a professional naturalist, tipped me off to the pond and its stunning ducks; so surrounded by colorful autumn leaves, I stood behind sparse shoreline cattail cover and waited for closer approaches by Wood Ducks – with remarkable success.

The detail and colors of this drake Wood Duck provided the kind of photo that makes you want to return to that place and time to photograph in the perfect fall light with blue sky reflected in the clear water.

Being in the right place at the right time is what successful bird photography is all about, and while that may happen occasionally out of sheer luck, it’s usually a matter of planning, and reconnaissance. I checked out the location in advance, saw where the Wood Ducks were concentrated, assessed the area to determine the best time of day to visit to take advantage of the best lighting, and even approached a few ducks to get an idea of how wary the Woodies were.

Mid-morning the next day, with the sun at my back and Wood Ducks positioned in front of me, I enjoyed a couple hours photographing. I appreciated the chance to take many nice portraits of female and drake Wood Ducks on the water. It was exciting to be in position to appreciate the birds in close quarters, and I so enjoyed hearing the Woodies voice their whistling calls throughout the period.

The colors of a female Wood Duck have a more subtle beauty, while the lone yellow cottonwood leaf adds a touch of the autumn season.

Of course, the vibrant iridescent colors of drake Wood Ducks are famous, but in person they are stunning. It’s impressive to see how the varied hues of color change as a Woody turns its head or swims in different directions – Wow! So it was great to try to get different lighting angles on birds to try to get different rainbow reflections of the light on their specialized feathers. After being overwhelmed by the bright iridescent colors of the males, I concentrated on the equally beautiful females with beautiful wing colors as well as the tan and gray shades of their plumage broken by tan spots and white eye rings and throat – and they are cute too.

It’s quite rare to get a close portrait of the face of a drake that reveals the full rainbow of colors and the sweep of the stylish crest feathers, accented by its colorful bill and striking red eye.

Photographing Wood Ducks swimming is very similar to photographing any swimming or wading birds surrounded by water. Trust your light meter, and be aware of the reflection of the bird in the water, which shows up as a mirror image below the bird. It can be worthwhile to frame the bird with ample space below it, so you get images that show the reflection, especially if it is a windless still day.

Also be aware of the color of the water reflection; it may be blue if it is reflecting a clear blue sky; it may be green if reflecting cattails or other green plants, or it may be yellow if the leaves have turned color with autumn’s magic. All of these options can be nice, so when you have the chance, photograph the ducks with a variety of reflected colors and see what looks best during your photo review process.

A female Wood Duck making an aggressive lunge at another duck provided an opportunity for an action photo.

Although I certainly appreciated being so close and getting nice portraits, I also hoped for some action photos. I tried to anticipate when Woodies would rise up and flap their wings, and started concentrating on ducks in flight. Both options were pretty rare though, and I didn’t have very good luck with either of these action photo options.

I also tried to get photos of more than one Wood Duck in a frame – a female and male pair, or a couple males in proximity – maybe even with a little aggressive behavior between them. But again, I had poor luck with that plan too. But that’s the way bird photography works, you give it a try, get the best photos you can, and any photo ops that weren’t forthcoming or successful during one photo session, may be the rule during your next opportunity. It becomes a reason to return.

An option to the blue water settings was presented when the alert and calling drake slipped into an edge of the pond that reflected yellowed vegetation.

If you are only photographing one bird, you can use almost any aperture ranging from f5 to f14, but when you’re photographing in good sunlight it’s probably best to take a middle route and stick with a standard f8 in case a pair of Wood Ducks flies by. At the same time, if the action is relaxed, you can certainly switch to an f11 or f14 to ensure more depth of field when a second bird swims into the scene. Just remember what aperture setting you are working with as you change f-stops so you can adjust back to your preferred setting. If you’re working in the Av mode (aperture priority mode) – which I always recommend – the shutter speed will be automatically matched with the f-stop you choose with reference to the current light conditions.

One of the pluses about photographing during autumn is that there are no mosquitos to contend with, and no sweat dripping down your face. The air is fresh, the birds are active, and the direction and angle of the light is good for photography during a longer period of time. Actually though, any time you are in the company of Wood Ducks with your camera in hand, you know it’s prime birding time, especially when you take some memorable photographs. Enjoy these weeks of fall color, and enjoy the birds around you!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your bird photos and birding experiences at

Event Calendar

Virtual Bird Camp

Boulder, Colorado

Virtual Hawai’i Island Festival of Birds

Kailua–Kona, Hawaii

Birding Wire - 2271 N Upton St., Arlington, VA 22207
Copyright © 2020, OWDN, All Rights Reserved.