Is this the year for you to add a Big Nest Box to your property? Or to lead the charge for adding one to a nearby nature center or refuge? Big nest boxes provide another level of satisfaction as you try to attract the set of larger birds that nest in larger cavities, ranging from colorful Wood Ducks to miniature Elf Owls or big Barn Owls. Providing big nest boxes is a true conservation effort as you help cavity nesting birds during the most important part of their life cycle, by ensuring there are plenty of safe nesting sites available each spring.
Some big anniversaries are taking place during March, with special celebrations at the 40th Monte Vista Crane Festival in Monte Vista, Colorado, at the 25th Othello Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello, Washington, and the 20th Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival in Blaine, Washington – testaments to the popularity of birding festivals across North America. Other exciting festivals are taking place in Ontario, Texas, Arizona, and British Columbia in which communities and enthusiastic birders share their avian resources in social settings.
The legendary mid-migration concentrations of Sandhill Cranes along the central Platte River Valley in Nebraska are anticipated by thousands of people who make a focused journey to witness, hear, and photograph the remarkable concentrations of hundreds of thousands of Sandhills. With flocks stretching across a wide swath of the central Platte River Valley, many birders center birding activities at and near the Rowe Sanctuary, located west of Grand Island and east of Kearney, Nebraska.
Minnesotans are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of streaming the behavior of nesting Bald Eagles across the country and around the world via a live webcam that has provided intimate looks of the pair as they incubate eggs and raise nestlings, watching as they grow and eventually fledge. Initially, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Bald Eagle cam only attracted a couple of hundred viewers, but thanks to YouTube thousands of people from all 50 states and more than 150 countries have observed the nesting eagles.
Welcome to March! This month will surely highlight seasonal changes that will bring the first migrants north as remarkable concentrations of geese, cranes, and eagles congregate in the center of the United States, from Nebraska to Missouri and Iowa to Colorado, stretching out beyond the Platte River to the Missouri River and Rocky Mountains. It definitely seemed spring might be finding a foothold across the northern plains during recent trips to Bismarck and south of Pierre, providing interesting observations and warmer weather, but ...
Are you ready to take your bird photography to a new level? You will find immediate results as well as more fun than you’ve ever had photographing birds before with Tamron’s 600-to-150mm Ultra-Zoom Lens. Why? Primarily because of the high-magnification 600mm balanced with the internal vibration compensation (VC) that allows you to photograph without a tripod. Then add the utility and zoom options this lens offers, the exceptional quality of the photos you take, and the affordability of this versatile high-quality zoom lens.
Provide wood ducks, screech owls, or kestrels with a state of the art nesting site with this Pine Wood Duck House by Prime Retreat. Safe natural nesting cavities are in short supply, making every nest box large enough for Wood Ducks and similar-sized cavity nesting birds especially valuable. Made from classic pine, its oval entrance is an optimum 4 inches wide and 3¼ inches high, the deep body keeps eggs and nestlings beyond the reach of predators, and a most important feature is that one side panel opens at 2 levels for nest checks or cleaning.
Already economically priced, the new PaintShop Pro 2023 Ultimate photo editing software from Corel makes it easy to crop photos and make other photo editing adjustments, and it’s on sale now at 50 percent off the already low price. Preview, organize, and streamline your photo-editing workflow in PaintShop Pro’s Manage workspace; add keyword tags to your photos, create catalogs, review metadata and file information, and much more with this state of the art photo editing software – a must for every bird photographer – and it’s easy to use.
Three new state records were established by birders, including 2 First State Records: a Great-tailed Grackle in Florida and a Green-breasted Mango in Mississippi. In addition, a Fifth State Record White-winged Dove was photographed at a feeding station in Alaska. Aside from a Neotropic Cormorant found in Kentucky other rare birds excitement is generated by the variety of Continuing Rare Birds: the Steller’s Sea Eagle in Maine, the Red-flanked Bluetail in California, the Common Crane and Whooper Swan in Washington, and others.


The simplicity of photographing a Common Gallinule in a tranquil pond isn’t always so simple, depending on the time of day, sunlight conditions, and your position between the sun and the bird (photo info: 600mm zoom, f-8 aperture, 1/640 shutter speed, ISO 400).

My visit to Tampa, Florida was primarily a family visit, but it was also a working visit in that I produced a couple issues of The Birding Wire while I was there. So birding was a tertiary interest most days, especially during the many sunny days when I could spend an hour or 2, a half-day, or in one case a full day of birding, camera in hand. That said, I didn’t plan to travel throughout the southern part of the state as has always been my usual effort, which left me to find local birds to photograph day by day.

Although this adult Anhinga was present regularly at the church ponds, it may have been the least trusting of the variety of birds photographed there; it was also one of the only Anhingas encountered during this visit (600mm zoom, f-8 aperture, 1/1600 shutter speed, ISO 400).

I’ve already had the pleasure to share 3 Bird Photography articles that featured birds I found in the Tampa area, each illustrated with a series of interrelated images. But I was left with a number of quality images of birds I don’t get to see very often that I think are more representative of photos anyone might take during a short visit to Florida, a nice mix of birds.

Florida is a special place for all bird photographers, but it’s an especially good place for beginners to improve and practice, and become more confident in their photo choices and technical settings. Just what we all need! Florida birds also offer beginners with a great variety of waterbirds and wading birds that are larger in size, therefore they are easier to find and photograph. They are usually located in open wetland edges that often provide clear watery backgrounds – another plus – and they tend to be bigger birds that don’t always require a high-magnification lens.

Something else that became immediately clear was that birds in Florida seem to be more trusting than almost anywhere, whether they are wading birds, waterbirds, shorebirds, raptors, or songbirds. I share these insights as someone who has spent extended periods birding in the Sunshine State every 2 or 3 years. As for conditions, winter is a great time to appreciate the warm weather with lots of sunshine, but March and April might be even better months as many wading birds become more colorful, with more vivid facial colors and lacey plumes added to their regular plumage.

Having limited my travels to the greater Tampa area, I emphasized photographing locally and there was one location in particular that provided exceptional neighborhood bird photography opportunities for wading birds and waterbirds – the small shallow wetlands that surrounded my sister Rose’s church, just 2 miles down the road from Jim and Rose’s home.

The full length of a gliding Osprey’s wingspan is exciting to document in the moment. Rarely seen in the Great Plains, Ospreys were a common sight in the Bay areas of Tampa (500mm zoom, f-8 aperture, 1/640 shutter speed, ISO 400).

In fact, 4 of the 6 photos that illustrate this article were taken on the beautifully manicured church property – the images of the Common Gallinule, Anhinga, Tricolored Heron, and Florida Sandhill Crane were taken there, along with many other photos of many other species.

The Local Congregation

I already described the church wetlands in my Editor Afield article a couple weeks ago in the February 15 issue of The Birding Wire, which shows several additional bird photos I took there. Just the same, it’s important to provide a short refresher about this surprising little bird photography hotspot:

The beautiful new church is centered on an extensive acreage accented by 6 small ponds, of which 3 were regularly used by birds while I was there. One pond attracted an ever-changing mix of species including an especially surprising assortment of water-oriented birds. Measuring maybe 300 feet long and 100 feet wide and surrounded by mowed grass, the shallow open waters have a central outcrop of cattails and reeds. It’s a pretty wetland with an avifauna based by territorial Common Gallinules, a few Mottled Ducks and Blue-winged Teal, and an adult Anhinga.

The eye of a fish hunter shows prominently in this close look at a Tricolored Heron. Showing advanced plumage coloration as the nesting season approaches this heron was quite animated at times, but the action photos didn’t make the final edit to appear here (photo info: 600mm zoom, f-7 aperture, 1/2000 shutter speed, ISO 400).

With those species predictably present, others come and go, mostly as individuals: a Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Florida Sandhill Crane, Snowy Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, White Ibis, Cattle Egrets, a Great Egret, Mallards, American Coots, and regular flocks of Glossy Ibis. After sunset, overnight guests include 3 Wood Storks, the Florida Sandhill Crane, and some evenings an adult and a near-adult Roseate Spoonbill arrive. There are many, many ponds in the area, but none attract such a variety or density of birds as this beautiful little pond!

The close proximity of the church ponds permitted me to break away from my editorial work periodically to see what birds were present and what birds I could photograph. The church birds were pretty trusting, as long as I stay in my car. So luckily, there is an access lane from the street to the church parking lot along the south side of this active marsh, which provided a best-case scenario for photographing birds with the sunlight coming from a southerly direction throughout the winter days. I often parked on the side of the lane to photograph whatever species were in the pond or adjacent to it during a given 10 minute period – and every 10 minutes a new bird or birds arrived to keep the congregation fresh. Church activities were mostly limited to Sunday mornings, Tuesday mornings, and Wednesday evenings, so any other time I often was the only person/car at the property, so didn’t disturb anyone and wasn’t disturbed by anyone.

Among the first Wood Storks to arrive at a north Tampa nesting rookery, this adult shows the huge beak indicative of the species (350mm zoom, f-8 aperture, 1/2500 shutter speed, ISO 400).

The reason I emphasize my time at the church pond is that it represents the kind of overlooked gem of a photo site we all need for easy access close to home. I have many hotspots like this near my Dakota home, but they tend to last for a short time, and I’m guessing the church ponds provide a more year-round attraction for many birds, especially considering that many of the birds I encountered there were non-migratory.

Whether it’s a short-lived hotspot or one you can count on seasonally or even year-round, any time you can find and photograph an ever-changing mix of birds, appreciate it, protect it, and enjoy photographing the birds. For now, see what kind of a mix of birds you can photograph during the next 2 weeks, at one location or at many sites. Make it a fun incentive to spend more time outdoors, listening to and observing birds, and creating a personal mix of photos that you take, edit, and share with others. It’s all a wonderful part of birding with your camera. Good Luck!

Knowing a wing flap would be a part of finishing a preening session, Paul waited for the Florida Sandhill Crane to show the expanse of its wing-loading capabilities to take this photo (550mm zoom, f-7 aperture, 1/1250 shutter speed, ISO 400).

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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