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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24, 2019
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BACKYARD BIRDING
Prepping for Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on the way north, along with Broad-tails, Black-chins, Costas, Calliopes, and Rufous Hummingbirds – the primary stars of hummingbird feeders and gardens across the continent! Are you ready for migrating hummingbirds to arrive? Have you given thought to a new feeder to start the season off? Or adding a new array of flowering plants to attract hummers? Let’s make sure we have all the bases covered as we await spring’s biggest backyard day – the day the first hummingbirds arrive.


BIRDING LIFESTYLES
Warbler Records & Six Spring Warbler Hotspots

Recent reports have birders excited about the first mixed-species migrations of warblers and other neotropical migrants into Florida and Texas. At Fort Desoto in St. Petersburg, Florida, an exciting warbler list from last week included a beautiful male Chestnut-sided Warbler as a standout, plus Hooded, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Prairie, Tennessee, Blackpoll, Yellow, Black-and-White Warblers, and American Redstarts; along with outstanding migrant neotropical songbirds such as Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and a Dickcissel – Wow!


BIRDING NEWS
Two Male Bald Eagles Nest with a Female on Live Cam

The more we study a species, the more we learn, and live cams are providing some interesting opportunities to study the behavior of species, even yielding some surprising individual behaviors. Without video you may not believe it, but in this case, watching it first hand, you’ll be a believer too. One popular Bald Eagle cam has documented the nesting behavior of a trio of eagles that includes two males that hunt, feed, and protect their female mate, nestlings, and nesting territory on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

The Great Canadian Birdathon – Birding for Conservation

Join the fun with Bird Studies Canada during the Great Canadian Birdathon – as a team, an individual, or as a donor. Pick any day in May as your Birdathon day, then try to find as many different species of birds within that 24-hour period. Your Birdathon goals can be the number of different species you hope to find, the number of new people you introduce to birding, and the amount of money you hope to raise through the Birdathon. Funds raised support important bird conservation and research projects across Canada, such as an exciting project on Canada Jays.

Crane Conservationist George Archibald Receives the Arthur Allen Award

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology presented George Archibald with its highest honor, the Arthur A. Allen Award, to celebrate Archibald’s work on the conservation of the world’s 15 cranes, working for nearly five decades as co-founder, director, and now senior conservationist with the International Crane Foundation. “For a generation of ardent conservationists, George has represented one of the most dedicated, passionate, inspiring, focused, tireless, and inclusive practitioners any of us has ever met,” said Cornell Lab Director John Fitzpatrick during the ceremony.

Hummingbirds Use Big Brain Power to Hover

Hummingbirds are unique in many ways. Some of the smallest birds in the world, they are the fastest fliers relative to their body length, and they are also the only birds that can truly hover. To fly in this specialized way, hummingbirds have evolved several distinct adaptations, from a specialized wing shape to breast muscles that take up about 30 percent of their total body weight (most birds’ breasts weigh about 15 to18 percent of their total weight). Scientists have always suspected that the complex movement of hovering also requires a more complex brain.


EDITOR AFIELD
Join the Editor for Weekly Birding Highlights

After almost a week, last Monday provided an exciting second chapter for the Ferruginous Hawk update: The female appeared on site for the first time! After almost giving up hope that the Ferruginous Hawk pair might return and build a new nest, I was thrilled to see the big female Ferruginous Hawk standing on the hilltop 120 yards north of last year’s nest – where the Great Horned Owl was now incubating. Seeing the female return was very promising, and a moment later I spied the smaller male winging just two feet above the ground, headed straight for the female with an apparent ground squirrel in its talons.


GEAR & PRODUCTS
Allbirds Shoes for Earth Week

Described as “The World’s Most Comfortable Shoes,” Allbirds is partnering with Audubon, and donating all the proceeds from their new limited-edition collection of shoes to Audubon causes. Inspired by five species of birds being affected by climate change, including Mountain Bluebirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Allen’s Hummingbirds, Pygmy Nuthatches, and Painted Redstarts. The collection re-imagines the personalities and colors of the five birds in the popular “Tree Runner” and “Wool Runner” shoe lines, which are made from natural and renewable materials like eucalyptus fiber, merino wool, and sugarcane.

Bresser Junior 6x21 Binoculars for Kids

Spring is a great time to share your interest in birds and the outdoors with the children in your life. Inexpensive, colorful, light-weight, and easy to use, the Bresser Junior Binoculars for Kids feature 6-power magnification – plenty for young eyes – paired with study construction and a colorful rubberized coating. These kid-friendly binoculars fit well in small hands and feature a large focus wheel, foldable eye cups, and they come with a nylon pouch, wrist strap, lens-cleaning cloth, and manual. Nature and children go together, and birds offer kids colors, action, and mystery to view with their own binoculars.

EcoTough Bluebird Houses

Wild Birds Unlimited’s EcoTough Bluebird Houses are top-of-the-line bluebird nest boxes that are the ideal size for bluebirds, with a 1½-inch entrance hole for Eastern Bluebirds and a 19/16 opening for Mountain and Western Bluebirds. They provide proper drainage and ventilation holes to keep eggs and nestlings dry, and EcoTough Bluebird Houses feature a unique two-way opening system that makes cleaning, maintenance, and monitoring a snap. Rugged EcoTough nest boxes are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs.

Duncraft Solar Fountain Insert

Turn your bird bath into a water feature with a Duncraft Solar Fountain Insert. The sight and sound of moving water provides a tranquil setting among landscaping or on the side of a feeding station, but the sound of moving water also attracts more birds. A solar powered fountain permits you to avoid any electric connections, and features two fountain heads – a bubbler and a spray ring – both attractive visually and acoustically in your yard. The birdbath insert measures 9 inches in diameter by 2 inches tall and, being solar powered, it requires direct sunlight to operate.


OPTICS
Night Vision Optics

Ready for some nocturnal birding? It’s different; it’s unusual; but it’s interesting, and it may open a new option for a little birding by moonlight. But night vision binoculars might be helpful when you’re in the field in the early morning, waiting for the light to break; or when checking on the nighttime behavior of some birds of interest, perhaps at a night roost site or at a lake holding a migrating flock of waterfowl. You may even be interested in checking an owl nest site, or a nest box used by an owl; or perhaps you are interested in seeing what animals are checking out your feeding station under the cover of darkness.


RARE BIRDS
The ABA Rare Bird Alert’s Weekly Highlights

Most exciting among the rarest birds reported last week was an off-course Asian wagtail – a White Wagtail – about an hour north of Las Vegas on the north end of the Moapa Valley. This stunning wagtail is the second state record for Nevada, and cross-country another second state record appeared in Connecticut, a California Gull that’s been sighted repeatedly at or near Bradley Point in West Haven. Two Fork-tailed Flycatchers were found in southeast Texas last week, one among migrants at the famous spring birding site of High Island, and another near the popular Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Did we mention the Red-footed Booby sighted offshore Los Angeles County?


BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
Tern Flights
A Caspian Tern in mid-turn as it switches from hunting mode to diving attack.

Terns are known for their fast direct flights, quick turns, and their ability to hover and dive as they pursue fish, which makes terns excellent subjects for taking and practicing action photos. There is an interesting variety of tern species to enjoy, and all of them are usually associated with water, which may be inland lakes and wetlands, ocean coasts, or winding rivers – worldwide – even in the Arctic. After all, there are Arctic Terns, which are known for their long-distance migrations from the Arctic to the Antarctic realm, probably the longest migration of any birds. In short, you can find terns almost anywhere there is water, and they provide challenging photo subjects, especially in flight.

As with any challenge, keep pursuing terns, keep trying to record their essence, and up your game as you get more opportunities to photograph them. Of course, different species offer new inspiration, so new species always excite me to try to collect more tern images. I was lucky to spend decades of spring and summer seasons near a major multi-species nesting colony of terns. Located on a small island on a coastal wetland adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, namely Bolsa Chica Wetlands, a favorite birding location on the north end of Huntington Beach, California. There I observed and photographed five species of interesting terns, including Elegant Terns, Royal Terns, Caspian, Forester’s, and the tiny endangered California Least Terns.

Capturing the flair and speed of an Elegant Tern in flight is a challenge, and a fun exercise in bird photography.

At Bolsa Chica, the best tern photo location is along the wooden boardwalk that bisects the waterway. Terns fly to fishing areas north of the boardwalk, then return to the nesting island to the south, so there is a steady parade of four species of terns flying back and forth. That’s how the photo action begins, and how it continues throughout the day. Pick your time, and enjoy the photo opportunities that pass by you.

The timing of your photo session should be dictated by good light, which requires a sunny day. But the best light is provided by the angle of the sunlight, which is best when the sun is below 45 degrees – in the morning or late afternoon. Then, limit your photo efforts to birds flying into and through the area that your shadow points toward. (I always double-check where my shadow is when photographing; then I make sure I position myself so my shadow points in the direction of my photo subjects.) This strategy will eliminate most shadows and provide ample illumination for your photos – not to mention plenty of light to ensure a fast shutter speed.

Shutter speed is paramount to stop a tern’s action in flight, when hovering, or when diving into the water to catch a small fish. The faster the shutter speed, the better your photos will turn out, I’d say. Aperture helps to keep moving birds within the area of focus, but f8 is always a good bet with the idea of zeroing in on the best option under given conditions.

The most important technical aspect of photographing terns in flight is to get a sharp focus. This will mostly be left up to the auto-focus option of your camera and lens combination. But auto-focus still requires your attention. You need to get the fast-moving tern into your view finder, touch your shutter button lightly to engage the focusing mechanism while following the terns’ movements – then engage the shutter button to take a photo or short series of photos. It’s a great exercise of hand to eye coordination, and practice definitely helps to improve your chances of getting pleasing images.

Have some fun too, and get in the rhythm of the scene. Adjust your tern photograph to the birds and landscape in your area. In my present location in Dakota, I look for opportunities to photograph Black Terns and Common Terns at prairie wetlands, but the same techniques apply: Find your spot to intercept hunting terns, or terns in transit from a feeding site to a nesting area. The camera work is similar as well – fast-paced action with an awareness for lighting, shutter speed, and hand-to-eye coordination using auto-focus.

Ultimately, a California Least Tern is in search of the next meal, for themselves, a mate, or nestlings.

Of course, there are plenty of other birds to photograph at the same time you may be concentrating on terns. But this time of year, “tern” is the word, and photographing them is an exceptional birding activity.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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

 



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Tucson Bird Count
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Migration Celebration
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Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival
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The Biggest Week in American Birding
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May 4
Wings Over Weston
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May 4 - May 7
Red Slough Birding Convention
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May 4 - May 12
Delaware Bird-A-Thon
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Global Big Day
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Beaver Island, Michigan
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Sisters, Oregon
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Yakutat, Alaska
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