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The Ultimate Big Nest Box

The ultimate in patience may be required to experience the ultimate big nest box experience. If you added a big nest box to your yard recently, don’t be disappointed if it remains unused this spring. It may take a couple seasons to attract the interest of a cavity nesting species – perhaps a Wood Duck or Eastern or Western Screech Owls. But the ultimate patience can be credited to Jim Carpenter, the founder and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited, who waited 8 years before his big nest box attracted a pair of nesting Barred Owls to his property – but he has had Barred Owls using the nest box most springs for almost 20 years since!

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are Thriving in Western Montana

Researchers are studying a thriving population of Lewis’s Woodpeckers that nest along the riparian bottomlands of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers in western Montana near Missoula. That’s exciting news, especially considering this species is declining across much of its western range. While studying about 55 active nest sites to date, Megan Fylling with the University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab, has found a common thread among the nest sites selected by Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

BirdCallsRadio Presents the First Thrushy Award to Kimberly Kaufman

Positioned uniquely to survey much of the birding world today, BirdCallsRadio established a new award that celebrates people who deserve greater recognition for their significant contributions in the realm of birding, conservation, the environment, natural history, and science. In response, BirdCallsRadio presented the first Thrushy Award to Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) May 9th during The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival in northwest Ohio.

The Wild Birds! Revolution Shares Remarkable Bird Photos Weekly

Today, birders are using amazing affordable digital cameras with telephoto and zoom lenses to deliver brilliant digital bird photographs to online communities. The mission of the Wild Bird Trust’s newest bird-oriented program is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems they depend upon. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to a million people by the end of the year with the help of the National Geographic Society and other organizations.

Join the Editor for Weekly Birding Highlights

After the exciting Big Week-end on the southwest shore of Lake Erie, last Monday was cool, rainy, and cloudy; so I waited for the Tuesday morning sun to focus on an influx of Blackburnians, Black-throated Blues, and a dozen other enthralling warbler species. Some people read novels; I prefer to read the woods – woodlands filled with migrating songbirds. During what was still early migration, the variety of warblers were almost exclusively males (the females will follow), so it was great fun to hear them singing in earnest – throwing their head back and seemingly giving each song their best effort.

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ1000 II Digital Camera

The Lumix FZ1000 II is a 20 megapixel hybrid camera that boasts a large 1-inch sensor and 4K photo and 4K video recording capability as the latest member of popular high-zoom FZ series. This camera boasts a 16x optical zoom with its Leica lens providing a 35mm camera equivalent of 25mm to 400mm, integrated to achieve high detail and resolution to the corners of your photos and videos. The Lumix DC-FZ1000 II Digital Camera has a fully articulating 3-inch touchscreen display and an optical image stabilizer.

Kestrel & Owl Nest Boxes

BestNest offers a broad selection of big nest boxes for cavity nesting birds including American Kestrels, Barred Owls, Eastern and Western Screech Owls, Barn Owls, and more. The illustrated Woodlink Screech Owl & Kestrel House provides screech owls and American Kestrels with a nesting cavity, plus a winter shelter for owls. The 3-inch diameter hole is perfect for screech owls and kestrels, and the nest box has been designed according to Conservation Commission specifications. The sloping roof of the nest box sheds water and overhangs the entrance hole, protecting the birds from direct sun and the elements.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America

A book that many birders and ornithologists intently welcome, Raptors of Mexico and Central America provides a wealth of information in its life history and identification descriptions, along with all-important illustrations and photographs from in the field. Look into the eyes and lives of tropical birds of prey, including the dramatic Crested and Harpy Eagles, Bat Falcons, White Hawks, Ornate Hawk Eagles, Tiny Hawks, Laughing Falcons – 69 species in all. To have such a broad treatment of Middle American raptors in one volume is a true breakthrough.

A Survey of the Most Popular Birding Optics

Considering that he just spent a week surrounded by considerable numbers of birders from across the country, and from the heartland of the Midwest, we thought it would be interesting to ask our Editor, Paul Konrad, what appeared to be the most popular optics among birders attending The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, especially including the people birding around the infamous Magee Marsh boardwalk during the peak of spring migration.

The ABA Rare Bird Alert’s Weekly Highlights

Canadian birders were excited to find a First Provincial Record Burrowing Owl in Quebec last week, and skilled Kentucky birders added a First State Record Brewer’s Sparrow. Members of the Ohio Young Birders Club showed their prowess when they found and photographed the Fourth State Record Townsend’s Warbler on their field trip during The Biggest Week in American Birding to the delight of many Ohio listers. There were also some Eurasian and Latin birds in last week’s rare bird highlights, including a Common Crane, which has apparently appeared in Arizona for the third year at Morman Lake.

More Songbird Excitement
The super-color of a male Blackburnian Warbler beams from a forest perch as the fast shutter speed and morning sunlight yield a stunning image.

A week among the songbirds of Magee Marsh provided a remarkable bird photography recharge, especially for the small neotropical migrant warblers that stopped at this impressive songbird “migrant trap.” The almost unlimited photo experiences provided a considerable three-pronged workout – physically, mentally, and even hand to eye exercising, along the southwest shore of Lake Erie.

My way of photographing at Magee and similar locations is to walk slowly, searching for a promising photo subject, or a rare bird I want to try to photograph; then I stick with it for as long as seems productive. I stop and wait, hoping it will forage in my direction; sometimes that works, often it doesn’t, but I study the bird and how it behaves, enjoy its form and colors and how it interacts with the landscape; then I search for the next potential photo subject. Sometimes during the waiting period, another bird attracts my attention, or a new bird flies into view, and I shift gears as the birds dictate.

A rare moment of inactivity -- just a moment -- yielded a vertical portrait of a Black-throated Blue Warbler. Usually these birds are horizontal as they search and probe and move quickly through vegetation.

When a songbird is close enough to photograph in good light, I follow the bird through my camera viewfinder snapping a photo when it moves into the open, or taking a series of photos if I’m lucky. In the process it’s usually necessary to pull my eye away from the camera when the bird takes a leap or short flight out of my viewfinder; then I refocus on the moving bird when it settles into foraging again. Usually, the warblers are constantly moving so fast! As I follow them, I also try to predict their next movements and where they might pass through an opening in the vegetation. Sometimes this predictive technique works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but when it works, there’s usually a big payoff.

Sometimes the period I stay with a bird may only last a few moments, or a few photos, before the bird moves on. In the most enjoyable circumstances, I’m able to stay in the company of the bird, following its movements along multiple branches of a tree, or along an extended stretch of habitat. Some of my favorite examples of this type of photo opportunity yielded the photographs of the birds on this page, and many more.

Last Tuesday morning, an extended photo session with a brilliantly colored male Blackburnian Warbler offered an opportunity to follow its movements for more than 10 minutes and provided me with a memorable photo of the episode. Simultaneously at times, I followed the movements of a radiant male Scarlet Tanager that tended to forage a bit higher than the warbler, but to my surprise, the tanager dropped to the ground at one point, searching among moss and leaves, although I managed a better image when it perched against the blue morning sky (you can see that photo in the Editor Afield article in this issue). Another birder described the scarlet plumage as plush, and when I reviewed my photos, I had to agree.

I had a similar experience with a second Blackburnian, but an even longer follow-up with a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. This was a trying experience at times because the “blue” was almost constantly moving, usually behind thin bare twigs that deemed any photo attempts worthless – mostly in the shadows; moving, moving, moving – mostly low or on the ground. But I stuck with it for more than 20 minutes, enjoying the bird itself, appreciating the beauty of the blue dorsal plumage balanced by the white belly and black throat, face and sides – then it flew.

Never imagining an opportunity to follow a Prothonotary Warbler through the swamp, Paul's resulting photo series provided a memorable shared time with such an enigmatic species.

I haven’t been around many Black-throated Blues, so I certainly savored these kinds of interactions, and I’m sure I stopped to spend time with each one I encountered. I really appreciate the beauty of the male Black-throated Blues, and that particular episode did a lot to help me to understand the species better. It was especially hard to photograph it beyond the shadows in sunlight, but the 20-minute blue stopped for just a moment to perch upright, turn its head slightly for another photo, then off to the races again. Thankfully, I managed three nice photos as it took an uncharacteristically vertical stance; usually these birds are more horizontal as they search for invertebrates among the twigs, leaves, branches, bushes, and trees.

During these days of migrating songbird photography, I mostly increased my ISO level to the next highest level to gain some shutter speed in somewhat subdued light in the woods. I also reduced my aperture to f5.6, which also provided more shutter speed, but reduced the area in focus so the background of photos blurred and blended to tans and green hues. This technique also tends to highlight the birds, and in some cases it makes the bird “pop” or stand out distinctly from the background. This plan worked well for me throughout the warbler week in the swamp and woodland edges.

My most enjoyable follow-through photo episode was with a rare Prothonotary Warbler, a striking male with a glowing yellow head and breast and subtle olive and gray-blue hues. It likewise stayed low and was constantly on the move. The fact that the Prothonotary male stayed low and even below my positions as it worked from overhanging twig to twig just above the edge of the swamp worked to my advantage. I almost took a break from photographing last Wednesday when the sun was overhead around noon, but with the warbler foraging below the level of the boardwalk, the sunlight illuminated the colorful songbird perfectly, mostly against the tranquil brown water.

The warbler was quick, but sometimes it stretched to reach for a food item, even dipping its beak into the surface of the water at times. In fact, in some of the later photos I took, you can see the feathers above its bill are wet. What a thrill to have an opportunity to observe and photograph such a dynamic tiny songbird for about 25 minutes – and then it was gone.

Throughout most of the time I photographed in the Magee Marsh boardwalk area, I shared such photo experiences with other birders, which was a great birding experience, and a change from my usual solo field trips. I trust my fellow birders were as successful and enjoyed the experience at least as much as I did.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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

May 24 - May 26
Beaver Island Birding Trail Festival, Warblers on the Water
Beaver Island, Michigan
May 24 - June 2
Huron Fringe Birding Festival
Port Elgin, Ontario
May 30 - June 2
Acadia Birding Festival
Somesville, Maine
May 30 - June 2
Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival
Sisters, Oregon
May 30 - June 2
Yakutat Tern Festival
Yakutat, Alaska
May 31 - June 2
Mountain State Bird Discovery Weekend
Davis, West Virginia
May 31 - June 2
Great Adirondack Birding Celebration
Paul Smiths, New York
May 31 - June 2
Northern Landscapes Festival
Grand Marais, Minnesota
June 1 - June 2
Cerulean Warbler Weekend
Hastings, Michigan
June 5 - June 7
Wings Across the Big Sky Bird Festival
Glasgow, Montana
June 6 - June 9
Adirondack Boreal Birding Festival
Hamilton County, New York
June 7 - June 9
Rangeley Birding Festival
Rangeley, Maine
June 14 - June 16
Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua
Lee Vining, California
June 24 - June 28
American Ornithology 2019 Meeting
Anchorage, Alaska
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