Anticipation – we find ourselves thinking about what birds we can expect as the season progresses toward winter, and what kinds of birds we can hope to attract. For any birders, the answer is a product of geography, the winter range of the species in question, and having the right stuff – a variety of foods and water. Foods include a quality seed mix that emphasizes black oil sunflower seeds, a tube feeder filled with nyjer thistle seeds, suet, peanuts and other nuts, and in some areas where hummingbirds overwinter, a nectar feeder. But what birds can you really expect?
The exciting discovery of an exceptional Whimbrel roost and spring staging area on a coastal island offshore from Charleston, South Carolina, recently led biologists to document nearly 20,000 Whimbrels concentrated during spring migration. This roost site at Deveaux Bank attracts nearly half the Atlantic Flyway population of Whimbrels, and a quarter of all Whimbrels that nest in North America. Long recognized as critical bird hab­itat, Deveaux Bank is a coastal island that is already protected as a state bird sanctuary and a designated Important Bird Area.
The Owl Research Institute (ORI) is celebrating the 10th year of Northern Saw-whet Owls at their Missoula, Montana banding station where they are studying migrating Saw-Whets. This year the ORI banding team caught and banded 135 Northern Saw-whet Owls, including 5 recaptures of banded Saw-whets. Studying Northern Saw-whet Owls is challenging because they are nocturnal, secretive, and have irregular seasonal migrations. For example, males and females migrate at slightly different times, and migrate different distances to different locations.
As blizzard winds blew the first snow of the season across the northern prairie last Thursday, it was fitting to see the first 4 Snow Buntings of the year fly up, showing their telltale winter plumage only to land just 3 feet away. Across the lake I could see about 2,000 Snow Geese feeding on the edge of the wind-blown water, 1 of at least 4 expansive flocks of geese made up of 5 species within 4 miles of my office. That’s when another transfer from the Arctic appeared, a Rough-legged Hawk that was facing west but sailing south, propelled by the intense north wind.
Now through January 2nd, Tamron USA announces up to $100 Instant Holiday Savings on a number of their popular super-zoom lenses for birders, including their award-winning Tamron 150-to-500mm super-telephoto zoom lens for Sony mirrorless cameras. You can also get a $50 rebate on the Tamron 18-to-400mm All-In-One Zoom Lens for Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras. These versatile zoom lenses will open a new dimension for any bird photographer, especially birders who also like taking landscape photos, portraits, and sports action along with wildlife photos.
Credova, a buy now, pay later provider that specializes in outdoor recreation products including quality optics, recently announced a new initiative under which the minimum salary of any full-time employee of the company will be $75,000 per year. Addressing and solving social issues like earning a livable wage, family leave, and adequate health coverage are becoming privatized by companies like Credova, as described in its new initiative.
Enjoy this New York Times Bestseller: A World on the Wing is an exhilarating exploration of the science and wonder of global bird migration. During the past 20 years, our understanding of how birds navigate and their physiological feats during migration has exploded. What we’ve learned about bird migrations – how some species migrate across the globe on impressive flights that may continue for hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of miles between hemispheres on an annual basis – is nothing short of extraordinary.
Any birders will be interested in checking on the variety of Owl Research Institute (ORI) T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies – plus hats, caps, and more. If you are interested in owls, you will definitely want to show your interest by wearing the well-designed ORI shirts that illustrate everything from Snowy Owls and Great Gray Owls to Northern Pygmy Owls and an interesting selection of Owls of the World. It’s also a good way to start an interest in learning about on-going owl research projects, and how you can get involved with the Owl Research Institute.
Four impressive First State Records were documented last week, including a Groove-billed Ani in North Dakota, a Razorbill in Vermont, an American Woodcock in Arizona, and a Eastern Towhee in California. In addition, birders found a Third State Record Long-billed Dowitcher in St. John’s, Newfoundland, only a few feet away from a Sixth State Record Western Tanager! There was also a Fifth State Record Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in West Virginia, plus a Sixth State Record Sprague’s Pipit in Michigan – and there’s more!




A beautiful portrait of a richly colored Rough-legged Hawk was possible due to the trusting nature of the raptor while the photographer positioned between the sun and hawk.

After 3 days of rain, snow, and intense wind, as the sun tried to break through the light veil of clouds I was interested in what might have ‘blown in’ on the windless Sunday afternoon. Just a half-mile south of my office, even before reaching ice-covered Melody’s Marsh I could see a hawk perched atop a lone cottonwood along the road – likely a Rough-legged Hawk fresh from the Arctic. You never know how a bird will react as you approach it, but this colorful raptor’s attention was focused in the opposite direction, so I slipped into the best location to take advantage of the afternoon sunlight, which was filtered by an ever-changing veil of light clouds.

This Arctic hawk proved to be one of those remarkable birds we all hope for when we encounter a bird with photographic potential – an individual that I like to call a “species ambassador” – a bird that allows you to spend time with it and photograph at will, as though you were invisible. In reality though, the hawk was accepting a white van with a zoom lens poking out of an open window. The van was obviously larger than a person, but less concerning than me standing in the same position.

After catching a rodent and feeding on it, the Rough-legged ruffled its feathers when it returned to its preferred perch.

As a result of the Rough-leg’s trust, I followed it during its hunting forays at 3 different perches within 100 yards of one another. During that period the Arctic visitor made 4 short hunting strikes, 3 of which were successful – a pretty impressive percentage. That gave me a chance to photograph the hawk perched in a number of positions, as well as in flight, and on the ground with prey. As a photographer, it’s important to spend extra time with these trusting birds when you find them, to try to get the most out of the shared time.

You couldn’t ask for a better photo opportunity, and the conditions were good, but not great, due to varied levels of light cloud cover. But that just made me monitor the varying hues of light that added brighter color or muted colors, and I emphasized taking photos when the sunlight was on the brighter side of the light spectrum.

During 1 of the 4 hunting strikes witnessed during the photo session, the hawk had just pinned the rodent to the ground with a foot and took a quick look around before turning its attention back to its prey.

Throughout the photo period, which lasted about an hour, I monitored my camera’s tech settings to make sure I was getting a fast enough shutter speed in case the bird took flight. Starting with an ISO of 400 and an aperture of f7 I appreciated shutter speeds of 1/1000 to 1/1600 of a second. As the sunlight began to fade I turned the ISO up to 800, which helped increase the shutter speed, but only to 1/640 – but that was plenty fast for a perched bird fluffing its plumage a bit.

The flight photos didn’t turn out very well, not because of tech settings but because of chance more than any other reason. I took several flight photos but none stood out that I thought were worthy of sharing with you. That happens sometimes, but the other photos offer some nice insights into the potential of the kinds of close-focus images you can take when you find a true species ambassador.

The outline and pattern of the wings are most evident in this photo as the hawk prepares to feed. This Rough-legged Hawk was a very successful hunter during this photo period, making 3 successful hunting strikes in 4 attempts.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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