WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2022   |   SUBSCRIBE    ARCHIVES   

BACKYARD BIRDING
Some cavity nesting birds will use nest boxes as roosting sites during fall and winter, and you can help provide an even better option from harsh weather with a specially designed roost box. Small owls, bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and small woodpeckers may seek refuge in roosting boxes, which differ from nest boxes in a few ways. The best roost boxes are designed to prevent a bird’s body heat from escaping, so the entrance hole is near the bottom of the box so the rising warm air produced by the bird doesn’t escape; plus it has fewer ventilation holes and is more air tight.
BIRDING NEWS
Each fall billions of birds undertake remarkable migrations south, providing unparalleled birding experiences. During the next week, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is providing birders everywhere with a full schedule of Free online activities during their annual Migration Celebration through September 22nd. A variety of informational webinars and entertaining family-friendly programs provide information, ideas, and resources for fall birding activities during migration. There is also a full day of activities on site at the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, New York this Saturday.
Birders are convening in Duluth, Minnesota, September 22 thru 25th to participate in the celebration of 50 years of fall raptor migration counting and banding during the Hawk Ridge 50th Anniversary Event and Festival. Located on the elevated ridge above the southwest point of Lake Superior, the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve was established in 1972, which was also the first year of full-time standardized fall raptor counts and hawk banding studies by the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, the management entity of the nature reserve.
The Digital Photography School announced the winners of this year’s Bird Photographer of the Year international competition, which includes a number of winners in several categories. The 2022 winning photos include an amazing collection of bird photos that range from scenic and portraits to close-up photos – all featuring dynamic birds. The contest received thousands of entrants, all vying for the “Bird Photographer of the Year” title and its $5,000 award.
EDITOR AFIELD
Three falcons in a day is hard to beat, but when you start with a sighting of a Peregrine Falcon in spirited diving flight into a strong south wind, it becomes a more likely possibility. After sighting an American Kestrel, I still didn’t expect to find a third falcon species, even though a Prairie Falcon or Merlin were possible along the Missouri Slope as I drove north to Bismarck. I struck out during the drive, but in Bismarck proper, when I least expected it, there was a young Merlin. There would also be interesting shorebird sightings along with many expected species last Wednesday.
GEAR
Barska Level ED 8x42 Open Bridge Binoculars produce incredibly sharp, detailed views for birders and feature user-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 with excellent contrast. The BaK-4 prisms ensure these images are sharp and distortion free, removing any strain on your eyes and allowing you to observe birds for extended periods of time. On sale now at half the regular retail price, the Barska Level ED 8x42 Open Bridge Binoculars have a lifetime limited warranty.
PRODUCTS
The Perky-Pet Large Dual Mesh Seed Feeder features 2 independent seed compartments that allow you to serve thistle seeds and sunflower seeds at the same time – or you can opt to provide the 2 seed choices you prefer. It's like having 2 feeders in one, and the large cobalt blue metal feeder provides superior durability and functional design. The top overhang helps to shield seeds from wet weather, and the mesh design provides ventilation as well as perches for clinging birds. A circular bottom tray has drainage holes and the rim provides more perching areas for a variety of birds.
Through fascinating text, dramatic color photos, maps, and other graphics, bird nesting colonies and communities are described in How Birds Live TogetherColonies and Communities in the Avian World. Providing a broad overview of social living among a variety of bird species and families, from long-established seabird nesting colonies that use the same cliffs for generations to the fast-shifting dynamics of flock formation, acclaimed wildlife writer Marianne Taylor explores the different ways birds choose to interact in numbers in this new publication by Princeton University Press.
RARE BIRDS
This week there were so many exciting reports of Asian birds crossing the Bering Strait to the islands of western Alaska that we added an extra heading just for Alaska’s rare sightings, topped by such exciting species as a Spotted Redshank and Siberian Stonechat; a Taiga Flycatcher and Gray-streaked Flycatcher. Seabird action has also picked up with many rare finds among them, including White-faced Storm Petrels offshore from Massachusetts and New York, and Nazca Boobys in Puget Sound, Washington and offshore from California – and there are many more.
 

BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY

It’s that time of the year when many birds have new basic plumage, what we often refer to as “winter plumage,” but either way it tends to be less colorful, less spectacular than their alternate “breeding plumage.” At first it may be a little disappointing to see the duller, tanner or grayer plumage that replaces the colorful feathers of the nesting period. But when you get a good look at the fresh new feathers that often show a lighter-colored trailing edge, you get a renewed appreciation for the form and activities of sandpipers and plovers of all sizes.

A simple portrait of a sandpiper in basic (winter) plumage – a first step, but it’s always worthwhile to wait for the chance to add some action photos, and some images that show some of the character of the species.

Even though it has been a poor fall in my area for shorebirds – sandpipers and plovers are collectively known as shorebirds; lately a few of the sandpipers I’ve seen have yielded nice photo opportunities, and they provided some basic scenes and activities that you will encounter when you are on a “shore” looking for birds to photograph. My surefire shorebird location has provided some interesting shorebirds, but only in small numbers – ones and twos, and sometimes threes rather than a flock. For example, I can’t remember the last time I found a single Long-billed Dowitcher. I’m used to seeing a half-dozen to 50 or more in a flock, but seeing a lone dowitcher is unusual.

This lone dowitcher was either tired or very trusting or both: When I encountered it, the Long-bill continued with its feeding probes into the mud a few inches below the water’s surface. Either way, it permitted me to get into position, relatively close, and while at first I expected to take a quick photo or 2, and move on, I must admit the bird captivated me. Viewed through the magnification of my camera lens, I began to appreciate its basic plumage and the subtle colors, and especially the delineation of individual feathers and varied markings on the tail and flanks. Its bill was an obvious feature, but when I noticed the position of its nostrils at the base of the bill, it was again informative (but not news).

Although its bill is hidden as it probes substrate for small worms, the lone Long-billed Dowitcher switched quickly from feeding to preening, to resting, providing a variety of images in a short time (photo info: zoom 600mm, aperture f7, shutter speed 1/1250, ISO 400.)

I settled in with this Long-billed Dowitcher, hoping it might provide a variety of photo “poses” as it switched from probing to preening – after cleaning the light cover of mud from the lower third of its bill, it began reaching here and there, obscuring the end of its beak as it preened feathers and plumage areas, dipping its bill into the water periodically to clean it and to add a bit of fresh water to its preening action. That’s when I was on high alert for the bird to do a full-on wing flap as is the norm after a period of preening – but this lone sandpiper merely ruffled its body feathers and called it good – no spread wing action, alas.

That’s another thing that stood out about this photo session though: This bird provided subtle actions in concert with its subtle coloration, both of which I had a better appreciation for, during and after our time together. Sometimes subtle is good, and in this case it certainly provided some pleasing photos I wanted to share, with as much excitement as I have for some other images that include bird flights and even bird fights. Here’s a bird doing simple bird activities – feeding, caring, and resting – that’s plenty sometimes, and it’s more a part of everyday activities.

Preening can’t be easy for such a long-billed bird, but as it preened and probed feathers across its body, it was quite dexterous. Notice the lack of shadows produced with the sun directly behind you and the bird positioned directly ahead.

Basic Water, Timing, & Sunlight

Water tends to be a basic element in shorebird photography; sandpipers and plovers are most often observed either wading in shallow water, walking along the shore with water behind them, or in front of birds. Some species might enter deeper water where they swim, most notably phalaropes, but also avocets and, rarely, other species. The color of the water is helpful in ‘painting’ a colorful setting for the bird or birds, and of course, the color of the water is created by the reflection of the color of the sky above.

Water ‘quality’ also changes with its ‘texture’ in the form of ripples, waves, or a glassy smooth surface. When there is water directly between you and the bird, or adjacent to the bird, a mirror image often comes into play. This mirror image may be exact, in which it can be utilized as you compose your photos, which can be very impressive. But the mirror image can also be distracting at times, or it may be an indifferent element. You can reduce its affect by cropping most of it out of the photo during editing. Therefore, in addition to composing with the reflection in mind, you should also remember that you can re-compose and design an image using your photo editing software to crop areas, or not crop them from any image.

In the end, the trusting sandpiper rested it long bill beneath the feathers on its back after what may have been a long flight south from an Arctic nesting territory, or a stopover marsh in southeast Saskatchewan or southwest Manitoba.

As for lighting, you will get the best, brightest, and most accurate colors of birds and their surroundings with sunlight provided 1 to 4 hours after sunrise and between 4 and 1 hour before sunset during prime summer hours. In that way lighting and timing is tightly connected. During these hours, the sun is at an angle between 30 and 60 degrees above the level horizon. Now, as summer turns to fall, the sun is already in a more southerly position during midday hours, which will improve during the next couple months to the point where we can photograph throughout the day because the sun is at that prime 30 to 60 degree level in the southern sky.

Photographed in mid-dunk while foraging in water too deep to wade in, it’s hard to identify the shorebird in this photo until it raises its head.

Another timing element that I always point out is that when it’s overcast – when the sunlight is not right I refrain from bird photography. In my experience it’s a waste of time to photograph during overcast weather because resulting photos lack quality, color, and detail. It’s also important to watch for sunlight periods by monitoring weather forecasts, especially when planning bird photography trips, near and far, because if there is no sunlight, any photographs taken will be strongly compromised.

Even with the best sunlight, positioning is paramount. A best-case situation is to position yourself between the sun and the bird or birds – with the sun at your back and the bird in front of you. Keep that in mind any time you are photographing, and a handy reminder is to use your shadow as a pointer: Check your shadow and position yourself so your shadow points at your subject. That’s so you utilize the best sunlight, and so you eliminate shadows on your subject. Of course, you may find yourself at one side of your subject from time to time, but do the best you can, and sometimes if you watch the sunlight highlighting the face of the bird as well as the body as it turns this way and that, you may find a good alternative position that provides good photos.

The basic plumage of a Wilson’s Phalarope provides a completely different look from its alternate (breeding) plumage, yet its subtle coloring is most pleasing in good light. The best position to utilize direct sunlight was several feet to the photographer’s right, but unable to reach that location, he watched for bird to turn at an angle when the sunlight highlighted the face and side of the bird, without shadows no less.

Phalarope Light

Case in point, last week when I found about a dozen Wilson’s Phalaropes in basic plumage feeding near the shore of a wetland, I did my best to get into direct position between birds and the late afternoon sun. I was positioned to the left of a direct angle, but I couldn’t enter the water without scaring the feeding sandpipers to utilize the best sunlight direction. However, I found that when the swimming phalaropes turned in my direction, the sunlight brightened their face and full body – bingo!

As with any birds we photograph, it’s important to try to get action photos in addition to species portraits, but ultimately, take the photos the birds provide, and spend a little time waiting to see what happens next. You don’t need to spend a bunch of time; just don’t leave prematurely. Give the bird a few more minutes, then make a judgement on whether to stay or leave. I always figure that if there is a trusting bird within photo range of your lens, in good sunlight, in a nice setting, you really have a best case scenario before you – make the most of it. And that’s a good adage to have in mind as we photograph throughout the fall season – make the most of it!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your bird photos and birding experiences at editorstbw2@gmail.com

 
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