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Project FeederWatch – 30 Years of Study

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders across North America that takes your interest in feeding birds into regional and continental scientific discoveries. Participants periodically identify and count the birds they see at their feeders and send their information to Project FeederWatch. Your bird counts help you keep track of what is happening in your own backyard, but also help ornithologists track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. In that way your observations become part of something bigger.

Join in Audubon’s 119th Christmas Bird Count

Be among the thousands of birders who will help to conduct Audubon's 119th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) from Friday December 14 through Saturday January 5. Anyone can participate, and if you’re a first-timer, you will be partnered with some of the best birders in your area, so the Christmas Bird Count is a learning opportunity, and a social experience too.

Wintering Hummingbirds in West Texas are Gaining Attention

Western Texas is gaining notoriety quickly as a hummingbird center. Overall, 16 species of hummingbirds have been recorded in the Fort Davis area of West Texas. Most of those species usually are seen from mid-March through early November. But now, nine of those species have been observed during the winter months. The most common wintering species in the region include Rufous, Anna’s and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds; but six other species have been found during winter, including Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Violet-crowned, Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Costa’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds.

National Climate Assessment Released – People and Birds Affected
The National Climate Assessment, a collaboration of 300 experts including 13 governmental agencies, was released the day after Thanksgiving. The report includes a study by National Audubon Society’s Senior Climate Scientist, Dr. Brooke Bateman, who said “We are studying how birds are already changing their patterns, as well trying to predict the places that will become even more important to birds as global temperatures rise. These studies will help us determine where to put resources to create the best outcomes for birds and people.”
New eBird Status and Trends Maps and Analyses

During November, eBird and all collaborators collectively achieved a new milestone for eBird Science: eBird Status and Trends. These new resources cover 107 species of North American birds, providing an unprecedented depth of information in four key areas: Abundance maps, population trend maps, habitat association charts, and range maps. eBird Status and Trends highlights analyses by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology of continental bird abundances, range boundaries, habitats and population trends.

Join the Editor for Weekly Birding Highlights

We’ve all had a “bad” day of birding, but I had a bad week of birding. Weather plays an integral part in birding and in our birding “successes.” Last week was dominated by fog, for days and days, with no sunshine all week. Is that even possible? (Ha-ha) But despite the weather, Thursday offered some brighter possibilities when I flushed a flock of about a dozen Snow Buntings – the first pure Snow Bunting flock – the other Snows I’ve seen this season have been in big mixed-species flocks.

Eddie Bauer Outdoor Clothing and Equipment Sale

Take advantage of lots of sales on women’s and men’s clothing and outerwear, outdoor gear, shoes, boots and even household products. Eddie Bauer has always emphasized quality and style in its products ranging from clothing to camping gear. Fleece, sweaters and more are 60 percent off; and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Ready for some holiday shopping and outdoors fun?

Kowa 20-to-40x Zoom 50mm Spotting Scopes on Sale

Weighing just 14 ounces, the Kowa TSN-501 and TSN-502 50mm Spotting Scopes are lighter than full-sized binoculars, but much more powerful – and they’re on sale now. The 20-to-40x zoom eyepiece is permanently mounted, which helps with water- and fog-proofing. The body is polycarbonate with standard glass and fully multi-coated lenses, featuring dual focusing knobs that provide both coarse and fine focusing speeds. If you prefer a straight eyepiece, choose the 502 model, or the 501 model for the angled eyepiece. These fine Kowa Spotting Scopes are on sale now for the holiday season.

Birds of North America Poster

This colorful full-sized poster illustrates 740 species of birds found in North America in relative scale. Covering North America's amazing diversity of birds from colorful orioles to rare birds such as a California Condor and Whooping Crane, this impressive poster is three feet wide and two feet high. The intricate illustrations that took 400 hours of artwork by Ben Gibson and Patrick Mulligan was printed using vegetable-based ink and 100-pound FSC-certified archival paper. Get an artful look at all North American birds and more in one big picture!

Snapzoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount  

If you're looking for a way to steady your binoculars, Snapzoom has you covered. Simply strap your binoculars onto the tripod mount, and enjoy a steady hands-free view. When you’re birding from a static location, Snapzoom comes in handy too. In case you haven’t mounted binoculars to a tripod before, there’s a convenient video that demonstrates how using a Snopzoom mount can make a real difference at your window or on your next birding trip.

You Need a Macaulay Library Guide to Bird Songs

Buying a field guide to identify birds by sight is standard operating procedure for all birders. But to learn how to identify birds by ear, nothing beats having an extensive library of bird songs as a guide. The most useful bird song tool for birders in North America is the “Cornell Guide to Bird Sounds: Essential Set for North America.” This information-packed reference includes 1,379 audio files in MP3 format for 729 species with accompanying photographs of the birds.

What’s in a Name?

We feature a lot of optics models made and marketed by an ever-growing wealth of optics companies. For birders, the variety can be daunting. For the most part, there are so many options for birders and other outdoors-oriented people that today we are certainly product rich. Which means we should be able to find the ultimate optics when we’re looking for a new product or an upgrade or update for our current optics. Lucky us! But with so many options, where do we start? And how do we narrow our choices down quicker?

The ABA Rare Bird Alert’s Weekly Highlights

It was a big week for vagrant raptors, not least of which because of the dramatic return of the immature Great Black Hawk in Maine, rediscovered in a Portland city park hunting and feeding on tree squirrels after eluding birders again for a few more weeks. It is exciting that this bird persists in our northeastern-most state, even after cooler weather. Perhaps it will persist a while in Portland. But the real excitement last week was a first in the North America realm, coming from St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, where a Eurasian hawk – a Long-legged Buzzard – was photographed far from its closest normal range of central Asia!

National Geographic Kids – Fly With Me

Young birders – or children who might become birders – will be dazzled by the amazing photographs, artwork and bird lore in Fly With Me - A Celebration of Birds through Pictures, Poems and Stories. Written for kids aged 4 to 8 years old, this nearly 200-page hardcover book is a celebration of all things birds.

Migration to the Texas Borderlands
A Green Jay is an iconic borderland bird and always an exciting find in southern Texas.

December. When you live in the Northern Plains, December means winter, and I tend to get an urge to take flight – southbound. With the last migrating birds passing through the Great Plains, I want to join the migration south. December before last, I did just that. I pointed my van south and didn’t stop until I reached the Mexican border.

A soaring White-tailed Hawk provided a bright photo of its ventral side.

South of McAllen, Texas, I was focused on a special marsh in the midst of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge that borders our southern border – the Rio Grande. There I hoped to find a number of the birds I wanted to photograph: Green Kingfishers and Ringed Kingfishers, White-tailed Hawks and Harris’s Hawks; Crested Caracaras and Great Kiskadees, Green Jays and Brown Jays, Altamira Orioles and Black-crested Titmice and, of course, Aplomado Falcons.

Santa Ana Refuge is about 90 minutes west of the Gulf Coast, so naturally I also focused on coastal wetlands behind South Padre Island that provided photo opportunities with an array of wading birds including Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, Little Blue Herons, plus a variety of wintering ducks, songbirds and raptors.

The borderlands weather was a relief, if only for a while, and each sunny day I was intent on photographing the area’s varied and abundant birds. At Santa Ana, the Green Kingfishers were my primary focus, but I took advantage of opportunities to photograph Golden-fronted Woodpecker’s, Plain Chachalacas, Altamira Orioles, Black-crested Titmice, White Ibis hunting, and a surprise dark-brown female Merlin in flight.

I was happy I was in a location where I could keep almost constant contact with Green Kingfishers, which provided that jolt of adrenaline every photographer searches for. These little fishing specialists are fast and wary and tough to get good images of because they are so small, and that’s part of the reason I put a lot of emphasis on spending time on the shoreline most utilized by the tiny greens. Throughout my visits to the site, I a little luck with the little Green Kingfishers in beautiful December weather, but none really warmed up to me and yielded a top-end photo – but I enjoyed the effort and managed some acceptable images.

During past photo trips to the Lone Star State, I had poor luck with White-tailed Hawks, but this trip I had an abundance of memorable photo opportunities. I enjoyed many close encounters with adults and immature White-tails, often in the company of Harris’s Hawks and Crested Caracaras.

Approaching at eye level, an adult White-tailed Hawk provided an exciting photo opportunity.

Conversely, my luck with Aplomado Falcons was nil. Although I put in a lot of time and canvassed all the best-known Aplomado areas along the coastal plains south of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Laguna has long been a favorite refuge of mine, but I was terribly disappointed that during this trip the refuge’s infamous long wildlife drive was closed for questionable reasons, reducing the attraction to this avian haven and photo hotspot to near zero. Darn!

As a bird photographer, you tend to take advantage of the birds that present themselves, and I eventually focused on the areas where I had the best luck, the wetlands inland from South Padre Island, the terribly rough road immediately west of Laguna Atascosa Refuge, the wetlands in Santa Ana Refuge, and a newly harvested sugarcane field east of Santa Ana – a raptor hotspot during that period.

Photo highlights featured pairs of resident Mottled Ducks, a Least Grebe, Black-crested Titmouse, a surprise White-eyed Vireo, a White-tailed Kite in a variety of flight positions, flocks of Glossy Ibis and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Black-necked Stilts and Long-billed Curlews, and Long-tailed Grackles bathing in water colored by a reflected sunset. Of course, I saw many other birds, but I’m just naming the species I managed to photograph well.

A female Green Kingfisher was one of several "little greens" that provided a special photo test at Santa Ana Refuge.

The rarest birds I observed were a female Vermillion Flycatcher, plus a male Vermillion many miles apart. Certainly the borderland region is a true rare bird hotspot where many Mexican and Latin American species have slipped across the border to the delight of American birders. Just this fall, the borderland has yielded a Blue Bunting, Roadside Hawks, a Golden-crowned Warbler, two Fork-tailed Flycatchers plus a White-crowned Pigeon. What exciting species from down south will appear next?

The southern tip of Texas is a region I always appreciate returning to, and it is always a fun and productive photo destination. The cities of Harlingen and McAllen make excellent centers from which to plan daily forays into the field, and the south end of South Padre Island is also a fine winter hideaway. Wherever you live, whether it’s a cold weather location or a mild winter clime, whether you have an abundance of birds or a dearth of aviana, South Texas is calling, and you will prosper from your experiences birding the borderlands.

Article and photograph by Paul Konrad

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

Dec. 21
Final Wire Editions for 2018
Jan. 4
Outdoor Wire Digital Network Initial Editions for 2019
Jan. 17 - Jan. 19
Wings Over Willcox
Willcox, Arizona
Jan. 17 - Jan. 21
Everglades Birding Festival
Davie, Florida
Jan. 18 - Jan. 21
Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival
Morro Bay, California
Jan. 18 - Jan. 21
Wings of Winter Birding Festival
Springville, Tennessee
Jan. 19
Rains County Eagle Fest
Emory, Texas
Jan. 23 - Jan. 27
Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
Chico, California
Jan. 23 - Jan. 28
Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival
Titusville, Florida
Jan. 25 - Jan. 27
Winter Wildlife Festival
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Feb. 2
Galt Winter Bird Festival
Galt, California
Feb. 6 - Feb. 9
Laredo Birding Festival
Laredo, Texas
Feb. 7 - Feb. 10
The High Plains Snow Goose & Heritage History Festival
Lamar, Colorado
Feb. 8 - Feb. 10
Birds of a Feather Fest
Palm Coast, Florida
Feb. 14 - Feb. 17
Winter Wings Festival
Klamath Falls, Oregon
Feb. 15 - Feb. 17
Matagorda Bay Birdfest
Palacios, Texas
Feb. 15 - Feb. 17
Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival
Meadowlands, Minnesota
Feb. 21 - Feb. 23
Eagle Expo and More
Morgan City, Louisiana
Feb. 21 - Feb. 24
Whooping Crane Festival
Port Aransas, Texas
Feb. 23
California Duck Days
Davis, California
Feb. 23
Burrowing Owl Festival
Cape Coral, Florida
Feb. 27 - Mar. 3
San Diego Bird Festival
San Diego, California
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