WEDNESDAY, JULY 8, 2020   |   SUBSCRIBE    ARCHIVES   

BACKYARD BIRDING
Have you ever imagined building a better bird feeder? Or building your own feeder? This is an example of how Greg, the man who invented the Perky-Pet Hummerbar, had a problem we would all like to have – there were too many hummingbirds visiting his feeders. It all started about four years ago after Greg realized he had a lot of hummingbirds to feed and, as a result, a lot of feeders to clean. As more hummingbirds arrived, Greg added more feeders.
BIRDING LIFESTYLES
It’s fun, refreshing, and it’s a great source of exercise – but biking anytime is a great option for birders looking for a break from their car, and the gas station. It’s amazing to realize the bird sounds you hear, and the birds you see with the clear view and quiet approach provided from the seat of a bicycle. It’s not news to many birders, but it’s interesting to find that some birders have taken casual birding by bike to another level, when they participate in Big Days, and even on guided tours by bike.
BIRDING NEWS
Join fellow birders by volunteering to survey a lake for just one hour or four hours during Vermont's 38th Annual LoonWatch Day, Saturday July 18. Each year on the third Saturday of July, Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) volunteers monitor more than 160 lakes and ponds statewide in the most effective way for VCE to document and track Common Loon populations. Citizen scientists will monitor ponds and lake from 8 to 9am, or 6 to10am for lakes larger than 300 acres, and the VCE could use your help.
Most species of birds have distinct songs and calls that tend to stay the same. It’s how birders can identify a species without seeing it. New research conducted across Canada, assisted by birders who have provided recordings to eBird, shows a species song can change over time. Over a period of two decades, White-throated Sparrows that nest across western and central Canada have changed one of their songs. The new song was first noticed among territorial White-throats in British Columbia and researchers have studied the spread of the new song eastward to Quebec.
Audubon California is providing three free video workshops that provide instructions about how to draw backyard birds, waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and owls. Each video workshop is about two hours long and provides a wealth of instruction and examples. Hosted by artist, naturalist, and educator John Muir Laws on YouTube, the videos provide easy to follow descriptions of how to drawing birds. Laws is quick to share the point that drawing birds is not about talent, it’s about spending time drawing – adding that you will be surprised at how quickly you will improve.
EDITOR AFIELD
On a windless evening I enjoyed the avian delights of the open northern prairie, then dropped down off the Coteau onto the open agricultural plains, moving from the past to the present in many ways. My destination was the Bald Eagle nest I have monitored this year and last, presumably by the same pioneering pair that fledged three eagles last year. Now there were two fully feathered nestlings ready to fledge – the young male standing on the nest and the comparatively huge female standing a few feet away on one of the large branches that cradled the grand nest.
GEAR
The stylish Celestron TrailSeeker ED 8x42 Binoculars feature fully multi-coated lenses for increased light transmission and better color response. The Extra-low Dispersion (ED) lenses reduce chromatic aberration, provide accurate colors and improved resolution, and the phase and dielectric coatings on BaK-4 prisms add to improved light transmission. These Celestron TrailSeeker EDs weigh only 23 ounces, they close focus to 6½ feet; the field of view is a wide 426 feet at 1,000 yards.
PRODUCTS
This new edition of the best-selling field guide features 25 new plates that illustrate the birds of Hawaii, the first to include the birds of our 50th state. For decades, the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America has been a popular and trusted field guide for birders of all levels. Featuring its famous Peterson Identification System and unparalleled bird illustrations by the “Audubon of the 20th Century,” Roger Tory Peterson, the text and range maps in this new Second Edition have been updated along with the new book cover.
Check out Duncraft’s Vintage Milk Can Feeder to add a new theme to your feeding station. Featuring 4 feeding ports with perches for goldfinches, chickadees, and other seed specialists. The Vintage Milk Can Feeder holds up to 4 pounds of any seeds, and the lid locks in place to protect seeds from the weather and mammals. Easy to fill and clean from the top, this unique all-metal white bird feeder is 12 inches tall and is embellished with a logo “Farm Fresh Milk.”
RARE BIRDS
There were several rare birds sighted in or near major cities last week, including a Tropical Kingbird in Boston, a Least Tern in Minneapolis, a Mississippi Kite in Las Vegas, a Purple Gallinule in New York (Long Island), and a Swainson’s Warbler east of Pittsburgh. There were some exceptional rare bird records too, with a First State Record Terek Sandpiper in Rhode Island, a First Provincial Record Gray Heron in Nova Scotia, and a First State Record Cassin’s Kingbird in North Carolina – plus an Oriental Greenfinch in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and more!
 

BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY

Periodically I’ve shared how the best photo opportunities often transpire when you encounter a very trusting individual that allows a relatively close approach, and permits you to share some time with it as you photograph. I call these birds “species ambassadors,” for providing the chance to photograph them – and share the photos with other people. By sharing the photos of “ambassadors,” with birders, family, friends, co-workers, social media contacts, and others we can share some interesting information about the birds, their biology, and behavior – and our enthusiasm for birding and birds.

With this “species ambassador,” it was possible to take a variety of photos in close proximity to the female shoveler and her days-old ducklings. It was interesting to see the individual variation between some ducklings, which was especially notable in their facial colors.

When you encounter a species ambassador, it quickly becomes apparent, and I dare say you feel a real connection with the bird. Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed an interaction with an ambassador, so want to share the experience along with things to keep in mind so you can make the most of such an interaction. Not only are ambassador episodes personally gratifying, they also provide great opportunities to change and improve your photo options and technical settings.

As you know, I’ve been taking advantage of any opportunities I get to photograph ducks with broods as this duck-rich region is nearing peak duck brood hatching. But last Wednesday I enjoyed and appreciated the chance to photograph a true duck ambassador – a female Northern Shoveler. Her brood of seven ducklings were equally important ambassadors, but like all ducklings, they followed the hen’s lead, and that’s what it came down to ultimately – the hen’s trust. I’ve already encountered more than 100 duck broods this season, but I’ve only found 2 ambassadors – this shoveler and, to a lesser extent, the Canvasback with four ducklings.

Little ducks sure are cute, and they grow fast. The opportunity to photograph the ducklings almost at arm’s length provided the first sharp close portraits of ducklings to date. The trusting hen brought the ducklings close, then allowed them to forage freely.

The Find and The Action

As I turned onto a side road at a very productive duck brood photo location east of Bismarck, I immediately caught the silhouette of a duck standing on the shore of the pond with a few ducklings at its feet. Initially, the hen looked like a teal, but I immediately stopped a distance away to wait for the shadow of a small cloud to pass. With the area still in the cloud’s shade, the hen and brood took to the water, revealing they were Northern Shovelers. It was nice to see that instead of vacating the area, or swimming farther into the pond, the brood turned my way with the female in their midst.

Even in the cover of the clouds, I took a couple documentary photos, but mostly just enjoyed the slow but steady advance of the foraging ducklings. The hen remained unconcerned with my mobile blind – but c’mon sun. By the time the brood was literally outside my window, the cloud passed and the light was perfect to photograph the brood. It was especially rewarding to have the ducklings so close, and they were oblivious to both the van and my camera. I photographed as they passed by, turned and passed back my way – woo-woo!

The brood was a little too close and a little too spread out to fit all the ducklings into the frame with the hen, but after taking the first couple photos I quickly changed my aperture from f8 to f10 to increase the area in focus to get more of the brood in focus. The ducklings were so relaxed that they spread out as they searched for food, making it harder to keep them all in the photo frame, and to keep them in focus. Therefore, I decided to emphasize taking photos of individual ducklings, and I was able to take the best close portraits of individual ducklings, as well as intimate portraits of the hen that nearly filled the frame. I particularly appreciated the trusting nature of the female and the chance to take photos that showed the subtle colors of individual feathers, the sharpness of her eyes, and the flaring form of her large spatulate bill.

It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities provided by species ambassadors. This portrait was taken during the 4:00 photo session, while the following image was taken about 6:30; and each photo period provided different water colors, wind conditions, and light intensity.

A critical point came when the brood passed by me the second time. Now, I wanted to follow their lead, which would require me to test their trust a bit more. I held my breath, turned the key, and started my vehicle – no reaction from the ducks – then moved forward about 20 feet. I turned off the vehicle, raised my camera to the window opening, and not a duck blinked an eye in response, so I resumed photographing as they continued to forage atop the shallow water, occasionally dunking their heads below water to grab food.

I have many photos of shovelers, but I knew this hen was exceptional – a true ambassador – and that I should make the most of photographing her and her ducklings. For now, I took all the photos I wished, then left the shovelers on their own with the idea of returning later. This first photo episode was earlier in the afternoon than I usually photograph, so I moved on with the hope of a second photo period a couple hours later.

Timing, Lighting, Color

I photographed the shoveler brood twice, once about 4:00pm and another time about 6:30. In essence, I had to return to take advantage of the opportunity the female shoveler ambassador provided – if they were still there. The biggest change between the two photo sessions was the lower direction of the light and its effects on the color of the water, and to a lesser extent on the colors of the birds. The wind was a lesser factor as it calmed from a light breeze to no wind during the second session. The resulting photos were especially pleasing with the calm water colored a beautiful deep blue, providing a perfect setting.

I was glad to re-find the shovelers in the same location, and they acted in much the same manner. This time, I took more close portraits of the female, and a couple of the feeding ducklings. After a few minutes, the female was so relaxed with my re-appearance that she began bathing and preening quite actively as the ducklings foraged. Soon, the ducklings bunched together loosely, watching the hen’s antics, and in a few moments the little ones relaxed into siesta mode on the tranquil water.

It’s hard to image more beautiful water colors than were available during the two photo sessions. The female Northern Shoveler provided a series of intimate portraits during perfect lighting conditions – certainly an unexpected treat.

In Retrospect

Even with so much time in the company of the shovelers, I must point out that I made a big mistake while photographing them: In retrospect, after seeing the resulting series of photos, I should have switched to my zoom lens, at least for some photos. I was so close to the brood that I couldn’t fit them all in the frame, but with a zoom lens, I could have zoomed “out” to a wider angle view to include all the ducklings with the hen.

I also could have – “could-a, would-a, should-a” – heck, I managed a nice collection of photos of the 8 ducks, and I have plenty of other photos of shoveler broods in a variety of ages in which all the ducklings are in focus within the frame – ‘cuz they were not very close, frankly. This was a different opportunity, and I’m happy with the outcome. But for instruction’s sake, it’s worth considering what more I could have done – and being prepared for “next time.”

Obviously, I will check back on the Northern Shoveler ambassadors weekly, especially since this has been the second best photo location lately, after McKenzie Slough. This wetland provided views of a Mallard brood, a Blue-winged Teal, 2 Canvasback broods, and a Hooded Merganser brood last Wednesday, but there were more broods I did not see, I’m sure, making it a duck brood hotspot for sure. Even so, I wasn’t able to get anything more than long-range documentary photos of other broods – making the shovelers all the more unique.

Summer bird photography provides a plethora of photo subjects in a variety of conditions and settings. We make the most of them all, and appreciate the shared tranquil moments the best. For more information about photographing duck broods, you can also refer to last week’s Bird Photography article for a list of technical and field methods to consider.

It was a simple joy to spend time with such trusting and accommodating ambassadors, and I look forward to seeing them again next week, camera in hand. You can’t pick your ambassadors, they kind of pick you when you approach them your camera. When they do show you favor, savor that time and take some of the best photos of your year.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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

Birding Wire - 2271 N Upton St., Arlington, VA 22207
Copyright © 2020, OWDN, All Rights Reserved.