Especially as the first signs of winter approach, a dramatic shift takes place across the middle of America, where a fairly distinct line can be drawn between many aspects of backyard birding to the north and to the south. The southern tier of states from Georgia to southern California offers a variety of different late fall and winter feeding station options that include providing hummingbird nectar and cut fruit in addition to seeds and suet – plus fresh water to satisfy the interests of resident, migrating, and wintering species.
Birders Be Aware: Just as we watch for northern finches and other birds that are moving south in significant numbers this year, very interesting information is accumulating that indicates mountain birds are moving onto the southwest Great Plains. By mid-October this irruption was mostly concentrated in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, but there’s no telling how far traditionally montane birds might range this fall. It all started with Mountain Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, Pinyon Jays, and Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays.
A new study confirms that most birds synchronize their migratory movements with seasonal changes in greening vegetation. Expansive plant green-up in the spring is controlled by changes in temperature and precipitation; while during fall die-back of vegetation is controlled by temperature change and reduced hours of daylight – all important factors in the timing of bird migrations. It was the first study to cover the Western Hemisphere during the year-long cycle of North American migratory birds that feed on plants, seeds, flower nectar, insects, or meat.
Join an interesting lunchtime presentation: “Winter Raptor Survey,” on Wednesday November 18 at 12 noon EST. Presented by Vic Berardi, “Winter Raptor Survey” will be presented live as a Zoom meeting, or if you prefer you can watch on Facebook Live too. It’s coming up soon, and it’s free of charge, presented by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) as part of their Virtual Lunch and Learn Series. All birders, especially people interested in hawks, eagles, kites, and falcons, will find this an informative and entertaining way to enjoy your lunch.
A new study published last week describes giant seabirds with wingspans that spanned up to 21 feet wide that flew above Antarctica and the surrounding ocean about 50 million years ago. The newly discovered birds were somewhat similar to modern-day albatrosses, but they had much larger wingspans that would have allowed them to glide for days or even weeks at a time over the open ocean. By comparison, the largest modern-day albatrosses have wingspans of about 11 feet – about half the size of the pelagornithid monster birds.
As I slowly approached the Whooping Crane hangout, there they were, two Whoopers in flight! I pressed forward to try to get to a better position in relation to the sun to take some documentary photos in the clear afternoon sky. I didn’t get far before the grand white cranes turned north – perfect. I photographed their broad wingbeats, slow and stylized as they caught the full sun as they passed by and even angled closer to my position. I was excited to say the least, but simultaneously in awe of these majestic birds, the tallest birds in North America with one of the largest wingspans.
There is a super-sale on Barska Level ED 8x42 Open Bridge Binoculars that produce an incredibly sharp, detailed view with birder-friendly handling. The fully multi-coated lenses are made of extra-low dispersion (ED) glass that captures almost all incoming light to create bright images of birds with excellent contrast. The BaK-4 prisms ensure images are sharp and distortion-free, reducing strain on your eyes and allowing you to observe birds for extended periods of time. These fine binoculars are covered by Barska’s Limited Lifetime Warranty.
This remarkable book could literally change the way state bird publications are prepared. It is a mammoth undertaking and a publication that can be held up as the best of all states’ bird guides! Birds of Maine is the first comprehensive overview of Maine’s incredibly rich birdlife in more than seven decades, providing a detailed account of all 464 species recorded in the state. It is also a thoroughly researched, accessible portrait of a region undergoing rapid changes, with southern birds pushing north and northern birds expanding south.
Made especially for birders who want to attract more birds, and available exclusively from Duncraft, the new Double Delight Feeding Station features a clear-view plastic roof and platform to view visiting birds easily, and see when it’s time to refill the platform feeding area and the two suet cages. This unique feeding station includes a 5-piece sectional pole that can extend 72 inches, along with all the mounting hardware. The Double Delight Feeding Station measures 15 x 11 x 9½ inches, and holds 2½ pounds of the seeds of your choice, along with 2 suet cakes.
Would you believe two Second North American Records were established last week?! A migrating South American flycatcher – a White-crested Eleania – flew far too far north, all the way to northern North Dakota to be exact! It also appears this individual belongs to the Chilean subspecies, which means it likely began its unorthodox migration in southwest South America! Just as shocking may be a Red-backed Shrike that originated no closer than Mongolia in middle Asia – found in British Columbia! It’s a First Record for BC, and a First Record for Canada!

It’s always nice to get full-frame photos of birds when that’s possible, but realistically that doesn’t happen often. At the same time it’s productive, even complimentary, to utilize any space you have within your photo frame to show surrounding landscape or vegetation. Even some open sky to one side for a bird to look into or fly into often adds dimension and design to your photo composition.

This is a technique you can use in the field while photographing in a live situation, and it can be used when editing your photos, as you crop and reframe photographs. In some cases it may result in a few inches of extra photo space; in others it can be many feet, or an expansive landscape that shows the bird as part of a part of a bigger picture.

This photo shows an extreme case of providing some extra off-center space, but it effectively shows the Sanderling and its reflection in its surroundings. During a single photo opportunity, you may be able to zoom in and out to compose a number of photos in the field.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you in this article is to try not to center your subject in a photo frame. Centering is a natural product of photography, but it is also a bit of a rookie practice that lacks attention to composition. A simple design option is to use “the rule of thirds.” It’s not a rule, but it’s a good guide to appreciate positioning your subject off-center. This simple practice is to visually divide your photo frame into three parts, horizontally and vertically. The vertical division is usually most important in bird photography, and it gives you a guide to start from; then you can change the positioning of the bird in the frame as you wish.

Off-Center Framing

If you find yourself initially centering the bird in your frame, in part to focus on it; simply move your camera slightly to position the bird to the right or

You can also crop the same photo in the way you prefer using photo editing software. Note that there is still extra space to the right of the bird to provide an off-center composition.

left of center. For the most part, the bird will dictate whether you want to position it to the right or left. In essence, if the bird is looking right, it’s usually best to position the bird to the left of center, thereby providing a little more space to the right – or a lot more. Likewise, if a bird is flying to the left, it’s usually best to leave some extra space in front of it so it has some space “to fly into.”

If you are using a zoom lens, when you have an opportunity to photograph a trusting bird, after taking your close-ups, zoom out to take some photos with a broader background, thereby adding more landscape or surrounding vegetation. Try a couple different zoom options, perhaps even a photo where the bird is a small part of the overall view – if the surroundings constitute including them, of course make them part of your compositions.

Warblers are such small birds that invariably their surroundings become part of any photo may take of them. An early spring setting for this Canada Warbler provides a subtle flow to the image that would be missing if the bird was centered.

Sometimes, this off-center framing can be fairly subtle; other times it can be more dramatic. Overall, it comes down to what looks good to you in each circumstance. There will be times when it may be interesting to leave some extra space below or above the bird as well as to one side. Photo compositions should all be part of the creative thought process that goes into your photography day by day, in the field and in the digital darkroom. With time, you will find yourself keeping this kind of off-center framing as a part of your natural photo inclinations.


Cropping for Space

Sometimes in the field, the action may be too fast to frame a photo or series of photos in just the position you would like them to be. Even in the best of conditions though, there will probably be extraneous space in a favored image. That’s when cropping during your photo editing process provides a great opportunity to frame any photo just the way you see is best for the image. At the same time, there may be more than one option as to how you crop, and thereby frame, a given photo.

Although Snowy Owls are always exciting subjects, the extreme landscape creates a dramatic winter photo that would not be as effective if the owl was centered in the image.

Even with the same original photograph, you can crop and frame it one way, save that image; then go back to the original photo and crop it a different way, and save that image too. Ultimately, you can be just as creative – even more creative – when cropping a photo; and in the process you will create better photos, while keeping space and positioning in mind. My hope is that you can go into your existing photo files, and make some immediate improvements to some of your photos, simply by creating space at one side or the other by moving the subject off center. Try it, you’ll like it.

Showing the action of an ungraceful landing places this Greater Yellowlegs in a uniquely off-center position in this photograph.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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