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Florida Birding
Cleaning Next Boxes – Yes, No and When?

By now your bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, Tree Swallows and other cavity nesting birds have finished raising their nestlings and all that’s left in the nest box is the old nesting material. It’s time to clean things up, right? Not so fast!

eBird Enhances Birding Activities

When a small flock of Common Nighthawks flew overhead last week, I checked my personal eBird account to see if this was the time when they appeared in past years. Sure enough, with just a couple clicks on my tablet, I brought up a graph showing that early September was prime time for nighthawk migration. I then used eBird to enter the list of all the species I observed in the yard that day: 23 species, including a Northern Parula warbler!

Artificial Intelligence and Weather Forecasting Predict Bird Migrations

During fall migration, billions of birds including songbirds, flycatchers and swallows make their way to their southern wintering ranges. Waves of migration can now be accurately predicted up to seven days in advance using weather forecasts and artificial intelligence, according to a new study from biologists at the University of Oxford and Cornell University. The new information could be used to enhance conservation efforts.

The Endangered Species Act is in Political Crosswinds

Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act made the front page of the September 5th edition of USA Today, signifying just how important the landmark legislation is to both foes and supporters. One critic notes that a delisting success rate of less than 3 percent is evidence that the Endangered Species Act isn’t working. Proponents, such as the 400-plus groups who make up the Endangered Species Coalition, argue that 99 percent of the species listed have been saved from extinction. Bald Eagles, for example, reduced to fewer than 500 pairs in the lower 48 states when listed as Endangered in 1963, now number more than 10,000 pairs.

Last Call for the American Birding Expo: This Weekend, Sept. 21 thru 23

Join other excited birders who will attend the American Birding Expo next weekend in Philadelphia (September 21 through 23) to view an array of birding products, enjoy guided field trips, and test a variety of binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras. In addition to optics and photography gear, the 2018 American Birding Expo will feature birding cars and SUVs, outdoor clothing and gear, backyard products, birding tours and destinations, nonprofit organizations, book and app publishers, artwork and gift items and more.

Protecting Purple Martins Offers Solace to Biologist Following Personal Tragedy

Purple Martins sometimes roost in large numbers under bridges during late summer, prior to their fall migration to South America. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to collisions with passing cars. Alisa Esposito and her husband Christopher Lucash, both wildlife biologists, took action at a bridge near their home in North Carolina that resulted in the Department of Transportation reducing speed limits when the Purple Martins are present, dramatically reducing bird-car collisions.

The National 9-11 Memorial Lights Go Bird Friendly

The piercing beams of New York City’s 9-11 Memorial trace the outlines of the fallen Twin Towers and help us remember an American tragedy. Now, through research by Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists and volunteers at New York City Audubon, those lights pose less of a threat to migratory birds. Songbirds such as warblers, tanagers, vireos and thrushes migrate at night and navigate by the stars, but they can become confused by artificial lights, sometimes leading to fatal collisions with buildings.

Join the Editors for Their Weekly Birding Highlights

Tuesday I had a chance to photograph a few individuals of what appeared to be a family flock of Sharp-tailed Grouse, but I was surprised to see a young cock pheasant with them. It made me wonder, was this a chance meeting of the two species, or did a hen pheasant lay one or more eggs in a grouse nest? Ring-necked Pheasant hens are known to lay eggs in the nests of other large ground-nesting birds. In fact, a few years ago I found a Mallard nest that had three pheasant eggs among the clutch she was incubating. Wish I could have seen the look on the face of the downy pheasant hatchlings when the Mallard hen led them to water with their Mallard step-ducklings.

Instant Bird ID Help with Free Merlin Bird ID App

Having trouble identifying a bird? With the free Merlin Bird ID App, you just answer five simple questions and Merlin will come up with a list of potential matches; or submit a photo that you’ve taken and Merlin will offer a list of possibilities. Merlin also includes more than 8,000 images, 3,000 audio recordings and range maps to help you nail that identification and learn more about birds. Don’t go into the field without this great birding tool!

Celestron Ultima Spotting Scope for Birders

The most compact model in the Celestron Ultima series of spotting scopes, the 65mm lens features models with straight and 45-degree viewing angles and excellent mulit-coated optics packed into a portable, durable design that comes with an 18x to 55x zoom eyepiece.

Free eBird Mobile App for Smartphones

eBird Mobile is the easy way to record the birds you see in the field and link these observations with eBird, the global online database of bird records used by birders around the world. This free resource makes it easy to keep track of what you see, while making your data available for research, education and conservation. eBird Mobile is the only app that passes information directly from iOS and Android devices to your eBird account on the internet.

Duncraft Pole Holds Four Feeders and Flower Basket

Duncraft’s new “Four Arm Heavy-Duty Pole with Twister Auger & Flower Basket” supports four hanging feeders and features a 12-inch flowerpot holder, perfect for a flowering plant to attract hummingbirds or finches. The 68-inch tall all-metal pole features a black powder-coated finish that won’t rust. With four arms, you can offer two different kinds of seeds plus suet and nectar to attract a diversity of birds. The kit includes a 12-inch flowerpot holder; four 12-inch hand-forged wrought-iron hangers; a heavy duty, all metal sectional pole; and a 20-inch twister ground auger for stability.

Compact Spotting Scopes Pack a Punch

The wetlands at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park in Georgia are great for wading birds including Glossy and White Ibis, shorebirds including Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and raptors like Bald Eagles. When I go birding at this hotspot, I prefer to carry a spotting scope for high-magnification views. But my hikes there are often five or six miles long, so carrying a full-size scope that distance is a drag. New developments in compact spotting scopes offer an appealing solution for long hikes. Compact spotting scopes are also much easier to pack when traveling, particularly via airlines with luggage limitations.

The ABA Rare Bird Alert’s Weekly Highlights

Watch for bright yellow flycatchers in your neighborhood: Canadian birders were wildly surprised to find Great Kiskadee at Rondeau Provincial Park in southern Ontario. (The park is located on the north side of Lake Erie, east of Detroit, Michigan, and north of the state of Ohio – so be aware if you’re in that region. A smaller flycatcher was reported in the southwest United States, where Nevada birders found a Tropical Kingbird in the town of Primm, south of Las Vegas.

Bird Photography on Safari

First, give me credit for being able to focus on birds while surrounded by elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, lions, crocodiles, baboons, cheetahs and a variety of interesting antelope. The fabled Serengeti Plains provide the ultimate wildlife experience for anyone. But, not to take anything away from other wildlife, there is an exceptional avifauna to experience – more than 1,100 species of birds have been recorded in Kenya – fewer in Masai Mara National Park where I spent eight September days. Indeed, memorable birds were a part of each day, in camp and in the field: Gray Crowned Cranes, Secretarybirds, Ostriches, Lilac-breasted Rollers, Malachite Kingfishers, Yellow-billed Storks and Long-crested Eagles to name a few.

The Superb Starling is aptly named and among the most beautiful birds Paul photographed in southern Kenya.

I knew what to expect and what to prepare for, having conducted an expansive field project for five months across the nations of Zambia, Botswana and South Africa a couple decades before. Actually, bird photography is similar wherever you travel: 1) You need sunlight, or you need to get the most from muted sun under periods of cloud cover; using a flash is an option. 2) You need a good Land Rover driver who appreciates your interest in birds, and 3) you need to photograph what you encounter when you encounter it in relatively quick order.

“Get your photos and go” is the theme, unless you are on a personal tour or a specialized bird photography tour. I was happy to share my vehicle and driver with other travelers from around the world who were not necessarily excited to stop for all the interesting birds we encountered. As usual, though, my interest in birds was inspiring, and people were quick to ask me questions about the impressive birds we encountered here and there between observations of gazelles, impala, buffalo, wildebeest and monkeys.

Gray Crowned Cranes are among the crowned jewels of African birds.

My driver Lucy, who has a degree in wildlife biology and ecotourism from a nearby Kenyan college, and who belonged to the local Masai community, was a super guide and driver; and she could change a flat as well as anyone in the field (I helped, of course). Lucy was likewise interested in birds and was a great help to my photography endeavors – avian, mammalian and reptilian – and she was patient about me asking her to stop the engine to reduce camera shake.

* Turn off the engine – A key practice for any vehicle-based trip afield – in East Africa or east Arizona – is that the engine of the car, truck, van and, especially, a Land Rover must be turned off to stop any vehicle vibrations that can affect your photos.

* Keep the sun on your subject, preferably during morning and late afternoon when the sun is at the best angle for photography. Make sure your driver knows that it’s best to maneuver into position so the sun is behind you and your shadow is in front of you, whenever possible. Some drivers are already aware of this preference or, once informed, they move into the best position automatically. Of course, there are always some situations where it’s not possible to get into a preferred position, but that’s part of the photography challenge sometimes – take what you can get and work with it the best you can.

* Timing of your visit can make a big difference for you to get the most out of your photo trip. The time of year you visit can help with the percentage of sunny days during your trip. Timing can also dictate the color of the plants and landscape (green vs. brown or yellow); and whether the sky is clear blue or smoky gray (traditional dry season fires create a hazy or smoky landscape and sky). Many people avoid the rainy season, but I found that there are just as many sunny days, rain usually only lasts for part of a given day, the landscape is lush green, there is no smoke or haze, and the birds tend to be more active because many species nest during or after the rains.

Bee-eaters are very active hunters of flying insects in the Old World, although this Little Bee-eater was photographed during a quiet moment.

* Season – The availability of certain species and the total variety and abundance of bird species depends on the season you choose to visit. Many species from Europe and Asia migrate to Africa during the Northern Hemisphere’s fall and winter. During winter, you can appreciate photographing individuals and flocks of several species of migrant storks and shorebirds, plus a variety of raptors. For instance, Steppe Eagles, Amur Falcons, White Storks, Black Storks, Abdim’s Storks, Curlew Sandpipers, Ruffs, Wood Sandpipers and many more. Then too, prior to and during the nesting season the colors of bare skin and plumage of native species is colored at its best, and you will be duly impressed with their behaviors, songs and calls.

* Luck is the final ingredient to a successful bird photo safari. Bird behavior and availability, weather, the time of year and the varied parameters of any trip abroad are all such big variables that luck must play a part in any fulfilling photo trip, or even during individual photo opportunities.

Beyond the field and even before you begin any international trip, make sure you have a second charged battery for your camera, and extra batteries if you use an external flash. Likewise, take two photo cards (one in your camera, and a spare in your photo backpack or case). I like to copy photos from my camera’s photo card to a flash drive just to have a back-up of the photos I take, and I take my laptop and copy photos to the computer hard drive too. When you spend thousands of dollars to get to a site and manage to take priceless photos, you should do all you can to assure you have a back-up or two, just in case.

Long-crested Eagles were relatively common in the northern Serengeti, and it was a species Paul always hoped to photograph.

I also always keep my photo equipment with me on the plane, and as close as possible while I’m on the ground. I like to have my camera within reach so I know where it’s at and that it’s ready to use. I even take it to the meal table with me, mostly to be prepared when an exciting bird shows up unexpectantly.

It’s an amazing opportunity to observe and photograph the remarkable native birds of East Africa, along with species that migrate there from northern latitudes – especially when surrounded by elephants, leopards, bushbucks, lions and other amazing wildlife. Looking at my photos brings back vivid memories of each species and many individual birds, and I’m excited to share some images with you today. Can’t wait to return!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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

Sept. 21 - Sept. 23
Delta Birding Festival
Catalonia, Spain
Sept. 21 - Sept. 23
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Hawk Weekend
Duluth, Minnesota
Sept. 21 - Sept. 23
American Birding Expo
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sept. 26 - Sept. 30
Western Field Ornithologists 43rd Annual Conference
Ventura, California
Sept. 27 - Sept. 30
Birding Festival of the Keys
Marathon, Florida
Sept. 28 - Sept. 30
Monterey Bay Birding Festival
Watsonville, California
Sept. 28 - Oct. 4
Fall Birding Days on Little St. Simons Island
St. Simons, Georgia
Sept. 29
Wings Over Willapa
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Sept. 30
Birding Festival
Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge Las Vegas, Nevada
Oct. 3 - Oct. 6
Alabama Coastal BirdFest
Fairhope, Alabama
Oct. 5 - Oct. 7
BirdFest and Bluegrass Celebration
Ridgefield, Washington
Oct. 6
October Big Day Worldwide
Oct. 8
Columbus Day Federal Holiday - No Wires
Oct. 12 - Oct. 14
Florida Birding and Nature Festival
Tampa, FL
Oct. 12 - Oct. 14
Ding Darling Days
Sanibel Island, Florida
Oct. 12 - Oct. 14
Cozumel Bird Festival
Cozumel Island, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Oct. 13 - Oct. 14
Sandhill Crane & Art Festival
Bellevue, Michigan
Oct. 14 - Oct. 20
Indian River Bird & Nature Art Show
Sebastian, Florida
Oct. 14 - Oct. 20
National Wildlife Refuge Week
Refuges across the United States https://www.fws.gov/refuges/visitors/RefugeWeek.html
Oct. 16 - Oct. 21
Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival
North Carolina
Oct. 19 - Oct. 21
New Jersey Audubon's Autumn Festival/The Bird Show
Cape May, New Jersey
Oct. 31 - Nov. 4
Yellow Rails and Rice Festival
Jennings, Louisiana
Nov. 2 - Nov. 4
Annual Sandhill Crane Festival
Lodi, California
Nov. 4
Fall Migration Celebration
Augusta, Michigan
Nov. 7 - Nov. 10
Alaska Bald Eagle Festival
Haines, Alaska
Nov. 7 - Nov. 11
Rio Grande Birding Festival
Harlingen, Texas
Nov. 12
Veterans Day (Observed) No Wires
Nov. 14 - Nov. 17
Festival of the Cranes
Socorro, New Mexico
Nov. 15 - Nov. 18
Central Valley Birding Symposium
Stockton, California
Nov. 17 - Nov. 18
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival
Mission, British Columbia
Nov. 22 - Nov. 23
Thanksgiving Holiday Observed No Wires
Nov. 22 - Nov. 25
Waterfowl Weekend at Chincoteague NWR
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
Dec. 1 - Dec. 2
Eagle Days
Forest City, Missouri
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