This week our editor is our guest Backyard Birding author: While attending a family wedding near Glacier National Park in northwest Montana, it turned out that our hosts had a great feeding station setup with nectar feeders, sunflower seeds, and suet, along with fresh water. Everyone enjoyed the birds, and it opened a line of conversation in which cousins related the birds attracted to their feeding stations, which I dearly appreciated and thought worthy of relating their stories, along with an update of my own feeding station, post-July.
August birding festivals emphasize early hummingbird migrations in the Midwest, along with a couple of the biggest Arizona birding fests, which also highlight a variety of hummers that are hard to find anywhere else in America. Starting today, the Southwest Wings Birding Festival runs through Saturday in the Sierra Vista area, plus the Southeast Arizona Birding Fest is based in Tucson August 10th to 14th. Other fun birding festivals will take place emphasizing cranes and grebes, along with hummingbirds in Alaska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and California during August!
With almost 24 hours of sunlight per day in the Arctic this time of year, you can view the activities at an active Snowy Owl nest any time of day or night. This Snowy Owl nest is located near Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, and is part of the Owl Research Institute’s (ORI’s) long-term study on Snowy Owls and Brown Lemming ecology. This summer marks the 31st year of the Snowy Owl Project, the longest nesting study of Snowy Owls.
Wildlife Forever has announced the Official Bird List for the 2022 Art of Conservation Songbird Art Contest. Featuring bird species found in North America, the contest empowers art and creative writing by students from around the world. Young artists have the opportunity to win prizes and recognition while learning about songbirds, their habitats, and how they can help increase bird populations. Winners will be honored in 4 grade categories: Kindergarten thru 3rd grade, 4th thru 6th grade, 7th thru 9th grade, and 10th thru 12th grade.
During a wild trip that would take me 1,000 miles northwest to the border of Montana and Canada, before reaching Montana my first exciting avian encounter took place in the dramatic landscape of the Badlands, along a high ridge above the Little Missouri River in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While following the direct flight of an adult male Golden Eagle through my camera lens the resulting photos were uninteresting, but suddenly a spectacularly colored, very large female fledgling Golden Eagle winged in from the river valley.
The Nikon Monarch HG 8x42 Binoculars feature ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass for reduced chromatic aberration and high-quality multi-layered coatings on the lenses and prisms for improved resolution and light transmission for birding. The Monarch’s magnesium alloy chassis houses an optical system that provides 92 percent light transmission through fully multi-coated ED lenses, including field flatteners, scratch-resistant coating on the external lenses, and dielectric-coated, phase-corrected BaK-4 prisms.
Birders find the convenience provided by the rechargeable Firecel+ 3-in-1 Power Bank, Flashlight, and Handwarmer indispensable in the field and in your vehicle as it provides portable power to charge your smartphone, tablet, internet hotspot, and other USB-powered electronics. The Celestron Firecel+ also provides a helpful flashlight, and its blinking white and red lights provide an SOS alert. If you find yourself chilled while birding, the Firecel+ operates as a handwarmer that provides heat for hours on a single charge.
With the Ashman Premium Feeding Station, you can organize your bird feeders and bird bath as one attractive feeding station centered on a single pole. The durable, rust-resistant steel pole stands tall to hold a variety of twin hooks, 2 small arms, a bird bath tray, mesh tray, suet cage tray, and attachment prong. Simply install the durable feeding station by stepping the forked base into the ground. The rustic design will organize your feeders and simplify the look of your backyard feeding station that includes a water tray.
This is an especially exciting Rare Birds report, partly because it includes 2 weeks of rare sightings, and partly due to the impressive birds found beyond their normal range by alert birders. There were 15 new state and provincial records established, including 4 First State Records, along with exciting Euro-birds like a Curlew Sandpiper and European Golden Plover; a Crescent-chested Warbler from Latin America, and Asian birds such as a Bar-tailed Godwit, and not one, but 2 Steller’s Sea Eagles were present on opposite sides of North America!


An opportunity to photograph the interactions between downy hatchlings and attentive adult American Coots during prime lighting conditions provided a nice series of photos.

It was an excellent example of a potential photo opportunity suddenly arising. Would you have stopped to assess the potential of this avian scene? I passed by this wetland just 15 minutes earlier, but as I returned southbound I saw a pair of American Coots was feeding new hatchlings on the edge of a tranquil marsh. I saw this as a very attractive photo op at the peak of perfect evening sunlight; there was no hint of wind and not a cloud in the sky, so the water was sky blue and glassy, broken only by the movement of the birds. It proved to be a very rewarding photo session with a few surprises injected.

Coots don’t usually attract a lot of attention from photographers; they aren’t flashy looking or colorful, they are relatively common, and coots are rarely seen flying. But like all birds, they have their moments – and I could see that this coot family had real potential of yielding a classic photo, or maybe even an impressive series of photographs. Frankly, it was the new hatchlings that created the point of attraction. These bald-headed fuzzballs are clearly at the same time cute and colorful, while also being a bit repulsive-looking at times. At first, I could envision photographing the adults feeding the downy hatchlings in the beautifully colored calm water, providing a fine image or 2, but it probably wouldn’t warrant a series of images.

Instead, it turned out to be the surprising activities of the adults that turned this chance photo op into a full-blown photo session. I soon saw the adult coots weren’t just foraging on the surface, they were actually diving below the surface, staying beneath the water for an extended period, then surfacing with what might have been aquatic plant tubers to feed the downy hatchlings.

The repeated behavior of wing-flapping before diving below the water surface provided an impressive addition to the photo opportunities and interactions. Is the hatchling mimicking the adult with its tiny wings, or simply food-begging?

But the real surprise was that before diving for more food, the adults often rose upward and flapped their wings – then dived. The added action of wing flapping added another dimension to the photos I began taking during this early evening opportunity. At first, the wing flaps appeared to be a one-time action, or a random maintenance behavior, but it soon became clear that this action usually preceded a dive, so I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph this action, which I’ve never witnessed before.

The dual activities of feeding colorful new hatchlings and flapping their wings before diving below the water surface to find more food kept me busy, and the tranquil setting provided something of a meditative feeling, immersed in the beauty of nature in motion. Eventually the coots moved farther away, and I moved on down the road, alert for the next photo ops.

Another day, another time, I might have passed by these common birds, a species I have photographed many times before; but that evening I thankfully took the time to stop, and permit the action to progress, revealing an excellent photo opportunity. It’s a good example of why we should keep alert and remain open to the photo potential of birds we encounter, while taking advantage of the photos ops they create. And it just goes to show that you don’t need to travel a long distance to photograph nature at its best; I took these photos just 1½ miles north of my office.

Usually the pair were separated by several feet as they fed different hatchlings, but they did feed hatchlings in close proximity for a short period, providing something of a family portrait.

The Time and Setting

This photo session had all the important elements we hope for when photographing: The time of day when perfect sunlight emphasizes the natural colors of the birds and their setting. The wind was calm, which is the best possible situation when photographing birds on water. When it’s cloudy or very windy, I pass on trying to photograph because birds tend to shelter from the wind, and cloudy conditions don’t provide adequate light for quality photographs.

But during sunny mid-mornings and early evenings, when the wind tends to be calmer, I make the most of sunlight conditions, keeping the sun at my back as I photograph birds positioned in front of me – with my shadow pointing at the birds. Mornings and evenings also tend to be periods when most birds become more active.

Striking an eagle-esque pose, an adult American Coot shows its full wingspan at the apex of its wing-flap, providing a variety of views and photo angles throughout the observation period.

For these American Coot photos, taken under perfect conditions with very trusting birds, I used my usual 400 ISO setting, with an aperture of f8 for a wide area of focus, which resulted in a 1/1000 second shutter speed. I had the ISO and aperture pre-set on my camera, as I watched for evening photo opportunities that mid-July evening, and by using the Av setting on my camera that automatically sets the shutter speed in coordination with the selected aperture, I had plenty of shutter speed to stop action. With the first days of August at hand, I look forward to new photo opportunities and hope you search out local birds to photograph when conditions are right and time permits. But most important, try to make some extra time for bird photography as we enjoy this exciting period of the birding year.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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