As far as we can tell, all birders are backyard birders: We don’t know of any birders who are not backyard birders. Even the most hard-core listers, eBirders, and photographers also enjoy their feeding stations and bird baths while actively trying to make their yards more attractive for migrating, wintering, and nesting birds. The real factor of what kind of birder you are may be more a matter of geography than anything else: Like birds, some birders have small territories, while some of us have expansive home ranges.
Triple digit totals of Peregrine Falcons migrated past the Florida Keys Hawkwatch daily for 10 straight days from October 8th to 17th – totaling 2,430 Peregrines in 10 days! Most of us consider a sighting of a single Peregrine a great accomplishment, so imagine daily tallies of 117 Peregrines October 8th, 287 on the 9th, 609 on the 10th, 296 the 11th, 126 the 12th, 137 the 12th, 239 the 14th, 113 the 15th, 134 the 16th, 142 on October 17th. And that’s not all, with many other raptors gracing the sky, including Ospreys, Broad-winged Hawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks.
The biggest event of the winter – Project FeederWatch – begins this Saturday, November 13th with thousands of eager birders reporting during this 35th season! If you haven’t renewed or if you are a first timer, you can sign up now to report the birds coming to your feeders or bird-friendly habitat; it’s easy and it’s fun to participate, regardless of your age or where you live in the United States or Canada. It’s easy too; simply monitor your feeder, birdbath, or birdscape to identify and count the birds during your selected times on certain count days each month.
Young birders and budding bird artists ranging from high school to kindergarten are encouraged to enter Wildlife Forever’s 2021 Songbird Art Contest through November 30th. Students can create an original illustration of 1 of 5 species, including a Black-Capped Chickadee, American Robin, Wood Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, or Veery. For students in grades 4 through 12, you must include a one-page creative writing essay about the bird you illustrated. Art and creative writing emphasize the Art of Conservation Program established by Wildlife Forever.
It’s official as of Thursday, my house is now surrounded by huge flocks of geese – to the north, south, east, and west, and farther north. Did I mention overhead? Night and day! Thousands and thousands of geese – 5 different species of geese, 4 of which are in transit from their Arctic nesting sites to wintering areas along inland and coastal wetlands along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, White-fronts, Cackling Geese, and northern Canadas (true Canada Geese). I love this time of goose magic and goose music!
Take a serious look at the 3 models of Monarch Binoculars from Nikon, ranging from the Monarch 7 ED Binoculars, The Monarch HG model, and the most affordable Monarch 5 Binoculars, described as “Nikon’s most popular birding binocular.” All 3 of these Nikon Monarch Binocular models are designed to combine high-grade ED glass and multi-layered coatings with a rugged magnesium chassis for outstanding views while birding. It’s a great trio of Nikon binoculars for birders to choose from.
Enhance your birding experiences this winter by providing fresh water in a clean bird bath, even during the coldest months, with this Heated Bird Bath with Metal Stand, Outdoor Cord Connector, and Cleaner Kit from BestNest. You can use this rugged and versatile bird bath all year, just unplug it during warmer weather. It features a generous 18 ¾-inch diameter basin with a textured surface that gives birds a more secure grip, and the contoured rim provides perching for larger birds.
Try one or all of the five unique blends of Shade-grown Coffee from the American Birding Association (ABA), including a de-caffeinated roast. Certified shade-grown coffee means that the coffee farms are seamlessly integrated into the forest, providing habitat for an impressive community of birds, including northern songbirds wintering from Colombia to Guatemala. By drinking shade-grown bird friendly coffee, you support the farmers, the efforts of the ABA, and the countless birds they are protecting through shade-grown practices.
A spectacular Steller’s Sea Eagle has been moving through southeast Canada for a couple months, creating new records in each province it visits. Last week it provided the First Provincial Record for Nova Scotia birders, far from its normal range in northeast Asia. Missouri birders found 2 record birds, including a Second State Record Black-chinned Hummingbird and a Third State Record Sage Thrasher. Birders also found a Brambling in rural Oregon and a Black-faced Grassquit in Key West, Florida – and there’s more!


Last week 5 species of geese surrounded my office in every direction – one of my favorite times of the year. I savor the sights and sounds, and make the most of the opportunity to get into position to photograph the birds in a number of different situations: In flight, swimming, feeding; in family groups, small flocks, and huge flocks. Lighting is pretty good most of the day now at this norther latitude just south of Canada, as long as the sun is shining and it’s behind you pointing your shadow at the geese.

This week, I tried to emphasize taking photos of each of the 5 species of geese in the area – to get representative photos of each plumage, such as adults vs immatures. In the case of Snow Geese it gets a bit more complicated, which is a good thing; it includes photographing adults and young birds of each color morph – white and blue – as well as representative hybrids, created when a blue adult pairs with a white adult. The resulting generation of adults tend to resemble a blue morph with varied amounts of white on the belly, and sometimes extending up the neck or across the entire underside. It is very interesting to photograph the differently colored Snow Geese nonetheless.

This flight photo of a flock of Snow and Ross’s Geese shows nice form and action in the afternoon sunlight. Can you find the Ross’s Geese? The top 4 are Snow Geese, and the bottom 6 are Ross’s Geese, including 2 young birds.

Then, to keep your eyesight sharp, there is a percentage of the huge Snow Goose flocks that are actually Ross’s Geese. It’s often hard to differentiate between the Ross’s Geese from Snows in the field, especially when they are flying, due to Ross’s similarity to white morph Snow Geese. However, Ross’s Geese are pretty easy to pick out of photographs you take. These white geese with black flight feathers stand out due to their much smaller size – they are half the size of a Snow Goose, and the difference is more obvious when you compare the sizes of the birds’ head and bill. Ross’s Geese have a comparatively smaller head and bill, which you can see in the accompanying photographs – but when they’re flying it’s surprisingly hard to distinguish the 2 species. When they are swimming, it’s easier distinguish the 2 in the field.

There is a similar size differential between Arctic-nesting Cackling Geese and the larger Canada Geese. Generally, Cacklers tend to be about half the size of Canada Geese too, and in flight photos the difference is most obvious when you check the length of the neck, and the size of the head and bill.

White-fronted Geese can resemble Canada and Cackling Geese from a distance, but the closer you get the easier it is to distinguish White-fronts from the 2 black-necked species. Within family groups and larger flocks, adult and first year White-fronted Geese can be differentiated fairly easily because young White-fronts lack white feathering on their face and black stripes on their belly, both of which distinguish adults. The thing that really separates White-fronted Geese from other species is their high-pitched calls; once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it, and it’s a favorite sound for me.

Several Ross’s Geese are easy to find in this photo, along with immature blue morph Snow Geese (dark-colored without white heads) and white morph (light gray) Snows.

Pass Photography

With geese in every direction, when the sun is right I tend to check flocks a couple miles to the north, then I spy on flocks up to 2 miles south, then a mile east – if I get that far. Usually, I am short-stopped by a good photo opportunity. Sometimes I enjoy photographing flocks as they settle into an after-feeding rest period on an area lake; sometimes I photograph on the edge of a big feeding flock. But the option that has paid off the most photo dividends has been to position myself with the sun at my back between a big water loafing area and a feeding site to photograph flocks as they fly from one location to the other. Some geese invariably fly low and within range of my zoom lens.

It’s obviously best to have the geese flying toward you or broadside rather than flying away, but it’s worth mentioning I think. I find myself zeroing in on family groups of 3 to 5 geese, usually a pair with young of the year. Of course, I also take advantage of larger flocks of geese, although I tend to focus on a part of the flock, usually the leading birds and however many others fit into the photo frame.

Three examples of hybrid blue morph and white morph Snow Geese photographed swimming in beautiful afternoon water. A true blue morph Snow Goose doesn’t have any white plumage below its neck, similar to the middle bird. The other 2 geese show a white belly (right) and a white neck, breast, and belly (left).

I usually photograph from inside my vehicle, which geese accept much more readily than a person standing in the open. Geese are very keen-eyed, and even if you try to hide, any level of motion is easily detected and avoided. While in my mobile blind, I usually brace my camera lens on the open window frame; and of course, my vehicle is turned off when photographing to eliminate engine shake. I also hold my breath when pressing the camera’s shutter button to reduce any body shake.

Shutter speed and aperture are always a balancing act, but this week I’ve been using an f8 aperture, which usually provides a fast shutter speed of 1/1600 or faster. When photographing flying geese I tend to take 2 photos at a time – click-click – 2 or more that is. While photographing flying geese, the action is fast but I try to watch for shadows, try to anticipate when the wings will be up to avoid shadows created by the wings, and I watch for how birds line up so they don’t overlap in resulting photos.

As these White-fronted Geese take flight they show they are all adults with white plumage surrounding their bill and black lines across their belly. This photo was taken with a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second and an aperture of f8.

The action can be pretty fast and furious at times, forcing me to choose which flocks to focus on as they pass by. Sometimes it’s even a bit of a relief to catch my breath and take a look at the broader view around me, right. The sights and sounds of the geese from the Arctic charges me up in many ways, perhaps transferring some of that natural energy that we all crave from nature in the process.

It’s quite surprising that each spring and each fall when thousands of geese arrive in my neighborhood, I get just as excited year after year, decade after decade with the prospect of taking hundreds more photos of geese. You’d think I’d become satiated eventually, but for me, geese strike what seems to be an innate chord, and I can’t get enough. You may understand, but even if you don’t share my enthusiasm for migrating geese, they do offer great photo opportunities, and they provide exciting contacts with the great outdoors.

The perfect mixed flock of Cackling Geese and Canadas shows the size difference between the 2 species, especially when you look at the length of the neck and the size of the head and bill of individuals. Arctic-nesting Cacklers also have a different high-pitched call that easily separates them from the honking calls of Canada Geese.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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