Binoculars are the most important equipment we need as birders, and when combined with a good field guide, you’re in vogue – ready to find and identify any bird that you encounter in the field, or that ventures into your yard or neighborhood. How are your binoculars treating you these days? As a means of answering that basic question, we thought it would be a good idea to take a very simple look at binoculars and to share what makes the biggest difference when selecting one model over others.
Wherever you are in the world this Saturday, it’s easy to join the biggest birding team during Global Bird Day – May 13th. Spend a few minutes, a few hours, or all day identifying and counting birds, then report them to the eBird hub of the GBD. During last year’s Global Big Day, 54,698 birders from 201 countries found a record number of 7,798 different species of birds during that single day! Information provided by birders during the GBD provides important information about the progress of migration during a peak day worldwide.
This weekend, May 13 & 14, must be counted as the biggest weekend of the year for birders. Starting with the Global Big Day on Saturday, it’s also World Migratory Bird Day, the World Series of Birding will be taking place, there are a host of birding festivals and other events taking place across the North America, and songbird action at The Biggest Week in American Birding will peak – plus Mother’s Day is Sunday, a perfect time for mothers and their families to enjoy a birding walk together.
Migration Dashboard provides a nightly report on bird migration, including summaries of radar-based measurements of nocturnal bird migration over your local county, your state, and across the entire Lower 48 States for the contiguous United States. The variety of interesting information provided includes estimates of the total number of birds migrating as well as their flight directions, speeds, and altitudes. You can watch migration patterns in near real time and Dashboard even provides a list of birds expected to migrate through your area.
After seeing the birds on hand during my previous week’s visit to Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t wait to get back during a sunny day, which was last Wednesday. I made the bird-rich refuge my sole destination that day as a photography destination, expecting the variety of grebes and ducks to be my primary interests, but there was no way of predicting the excitement in store for me. I made my usual survey of the refuge’s waterways with Eared Grebes, Western Grebes, and Horned Grebes providing exciting photo opportunities.
Tamron announces its Mother’s Day Sale – now through May 28th – for customers in the United States and Canada. Save up to $200 USD or $300 CAD instantly on 14 popular lenses designed for Canon and Nikon digital SLRs, and Sony E, Nikon Z, and Fujifilm X mirrorless cameras. Birders appreciate the quality and affordability of the Tamron super-zoom lenses, including the 150-to-600mm zoom lens and the two 150-to-500mm zoom lenses to get you up close to take high-quality images of birds.
Princeton University Press has been the leading publisher of high-quality reference books for birders for decades, providing a broad variety of books about birds. In addition, the Princeton Field Guides series is a growing selection of field guides to help you identify and learn more about birds from countries around the world. This month the Birds of Costa Rica had been published, and similar titles in the Princeton Field Guides series include the Birds of Southern Africa, Peru, China, India, the West Indies, Central America, and many more.
Add color, beauty, and design to your yard with a new Daisy Vase Vintage Hummingbird Feeder from Duncraft. Let the vibrant red luster finish on this vintage-style glass vase attract hummingbirds to your yard, office, or school. The attractive red finish allows you to fill the reservoir with clear nectar and still provide a red beacon to attract hummingbirds. Touting an 18-ounce capacity with 4 red daisy-shaped metal feeding ports, the brushed copper-colored base snaps apart for easy cleaning, and the wide-mouth bottle opening makes filling and cleaning a breeze.
Foremost among a long line of rare birds documented last week was a celebrated new First State Record established in Wisconsin – an adult female Flame-colored Tanager at Sheridan Park in Milwaukee! Normally found from northern Mexico to western Panama, the species has been recorded in Texas and Arizona, but Wisconsin is a far cry from our southern border. Other First State Records included a Baird’s Sparrow in Georgia, a Swainson’s Warbler in Minnesota, a Heermann’s Gull in Ohio, and a Red-footed Booby in New Jersey.


Consumed with photographing grebes swimming in glassy water, my excitement level was elevated after just finding a ‘rare in the area’ Clark’s Grebe that provided a couple nice images that rank above documentary. Eared Grebes, Western Grebes, and a lone Horned Grebe – all at close quarters – grabbed my photo attention as I idled down the lane that divided the main water body at Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge. But suddenly I spied a small whitish bird scrambling ahead of me. What? WoW! I certainly didn’t have a Piping Plover on my radar last Wednesday, but there it was, close!

Surprise, Surprise – a Piping Plover! The camera settings were the same for every photograph of the plover: Paul zoomed his lens to 550mm after selecting an f-8 aperture, which provided a 1/2500 shutter speed using the Av (aperture priority) Mode setting and an ISO of 400).
A moment after taking the first photo above, the plover stretched its neck forward, providing an interesting view of its extended neck ring. It was probably showing a bit of concern, but only because it was walking ever-closer before it continued past Paul’s mobile blind.

I checked the exceptional shorebird’s behavior with binoculars and held my breath lest it might react unfavorably to my presence – that is the presence of my car, my mobile blind. It was the peak good lighting period on that sunny, mostly windless late afternoon, but the Piping Plover was located between me and the sun – an impossible photo situation for me. I needed to be on the opposite side of this rare bird. What were my options?

That’s when I realized a big truck pulling a cattle trailer was closing in behind me, the only vehicle I had seen during my time at the refuge, and its legal access to the narrow refuge road was highly questionable. Nonetheless, I could tell it was not going to stop for anything, much less me or the tiny plover, so I inched to the edge of the water and hoped I might prosper when the plover repositioned – perhaps circling behind me? The truck and trailer barreled by, flushing the plover, although it didn’t seem too alarmed and I had the feeling it wouldn’t fly far, so followed its flight through binoculars so I wouldn’t lose sight of it.

A classic image of a Piping Plover scurrying across an open area is exemplary of how the plover was not only accepting but also accommodating, providing a variety of photo options.

Ah, it landed 20 yards ahead at a point where there was a little more of a shoulder on each side of the road. After letting the Piping Plover settle in and begin foraging a minute or so, I began inching forward and got the impression that I might be able to ease past the plover, thereby getting on the other side of the bird where the afternoon sunlight would provide perfect lighting for photos. I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and although I was ready to stop my progress if I perceived any distress from the plover, it stayed on one shoulder of the narrow road, and I gingerly passed by it on the other shoulder. It worked! What Luck!

A front view of the Piping Plover, similar to the original view of the bird when first discovered. But getting to the opposite side of the bird where the sunlight provided the most accurate coloration seemed to be an unlikely possibility at first.

About 50 feet on down the road I turned my car sideways since there was no sign of other vehicles, so I could poke my camera lens out the open window to focus on the rare plover. The piper was already showing signs of indifference to my pass by and positioning my mobile blind, and it actually walked closer as it foraged along the edge of the road. My first photos were among the best I took, providing nice portraits of the Piping Plover that rank better than any I’ve taken of the species since digital photography became an option. But I stuck with it, of course, and next I managed photos of it on gravel, then running low in plover fashion – what a bird!

Next, the endearing little plover stood facing directly toward me, then moved forward to peck at a morsel, thereby providing a different action angle. When it uprighted again, the plover provided what might be the best portrait of the photo series (the first photo that illustrates this article). And that’s when it seemed to balk at moving forward for a moment, and stretched its neck forward, which extended the width of its black neck ring. The neck stretch suggested the plover was a bit concerned, probably because it was walking very close to the front of my vehicle; but then it made a little run past my car, and back into the terrible back-lighted side of the world.

Now what? Try to slip past the little one again? I actually needed to do that regardless, as my route to leave the refuge was pretty much limited to exiting in that direction, so I gave the plover some time to settle in before regrettably repeating my cautious pass by the plover. I went a bit farther past the obliging shorebird this time, to watch it from a distance, giving it more space. But it quickly caught up to my position, so I resumed photographing a bit, then decided I should leave this special Piping Plover to its personal activities without further attention from the white car with the camera and the ecstatic birder.

Throughout the photo session, the Piping Plover found bits of food, but it was always facing away as it grabbed a morsel – except this time. The fast shutter speed stopped the action of the plover foraging.

The Piping Plover was not only a very big surprise sighting, and linked with an almost unimaginable chance to reposition to take optimum photos, it was a remarkably rewarding opportunity and a huge thrill. I couldn’t dream this stuff up. I’ve only had a few chances to see and photograph Piping Plovers over the years, and this episode was the best by far. I hope my good luck rubs off on you the next time you take an afternoon photo trip – Good Luck!

This initial photo taken of the Piping Plover shows a relaxed bird during a pause between foraging movements. We all hope for the chance to take a series of photos of a rarely encountered bird that accepts our attention, and we savor it when the opportunity arises.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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