Spring is the time of year when we get most excited with each new species that appears before us, in our yard, our neighborhood, at work, area parks, and in the great outdoors beyond urban and suburban settings. What new birds showed up at your feeders and in your trees this week? We birders tend to be record keepers, at a variety of levels. Many of us get most excited about how many species we can see from within their property lines. Some people’s birding interests are fueled by adding new species to their yard list, their annual list, their life list – you know how it goes.
As the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) marks its 30th year, the organization is kicking off a celebration of birds protected, habitat conserved, and the people who made it happen. After 3 decades of working toward the conservation of wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas, ABC’s mission-driven work has benefited more than 3,000 bird species to date – about 30 percent of the world’s total – that have been recorded at sites protected by ABC and its dozens of valued partners.
Every spring and fall, billions of birds migrate through the United States and Canada, mostly under the cover of darkness. This mass movement of birds must contend with a dramatically increasing, but still largely unrecognized threat: Light Pollution. Why is light pollution dangerous for migrating birds? Light pollution attracts and disorients migrating birds, confusing and exhausting them as well as making them vulnerable to collisions with buildings, and other urban and suburban threats. Each year, an estimated 1/3 billion to 1 billion birds die in collisions with buildings!
The “Focus on the Good” Binocular Program is an excellent new initiative created in partnership with Land Sea and Sky and Houston Audubon to collect donated binoculars to refurbish them to their full potential. The rejuvenated binoculars are distributed to underprivileged birders in the Houston area and birding guides in developing countries who truly need binoculars. Helping to promote ecotourism over deforestation, this program empowers local communities to appreciate and protect their natural habitats, fostering a sustainable approach to economic growth while preserving their environment.

Never before have I seen such a beaming bright shining rainbow, offset against the dark sky; but it was the 160 closely swirling Turkey Vultures, seemingly held back from advancing their migration north along the James River by a thunderstorm cloud that provided the equally impressive rainbow and sky view. Upon seeing the double rainbow, my first thought was, “How can I align the energy of the gracefully soaring vultures together with the magnificent colors of the rainbow in a single photo frame?”
Birders will appreciate the exceptional Kowa BDII-XD Wide-Angle 8x42 Binoculars with their stand-out large field of view – 429 feet at 1000 yards – that provides class-leading wide angle performance. Coupled with a range of enhanced optics that utilize Kowa’s premium XD lenses, Kowa BDII-XD Binoculars feature ED (Extra low dispersion) glass to improve optical performance, but XD objective lenses are made of high-resolution ED glass that contains large amounts of fluorite crystal – the best material available for light transmission that ensures an image with edge to edge sharpness.
Enjoy a better view of hummingbirds as they feed from the Aspects High View HummZinger Hummingbird Feeder from BestNest. Perfect for beginning and experienced hummingbird enthusiasts, the bright red lid helps attract hummingbirds and 4 feeding ports on the lid are surrounded by raised flower images. A slightly elevated perching ring surrounds the feeder, creating a comfortable feeding position for the birds and providing an unobstructed view of the hummingbirds for you. Holding a full 12 ounces of nectar, the see-through polycarbonate nectar reservoir allows you to easily check the nectar level from any side.
The artistic flare of JP Brammer shines in the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher image that appears on hoodys, sweatshirts, T-shirts, tank tops, and more, now On Sale and available from the National Audubon Society. Keep warm and comfortable with the fleece knit Hoody made of 50 percent cotton and 50 percent polyester (pre-shrunk) that features a double-lined hood and a kangaroo pocket for storage. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher’s dance-like pose is meant to evoke the Native American pow-wows that Brammer relished attending as a kid in Oklahoma, where the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is the state bird.
Birders were thrilled to find a Southern Lapwing, an impressive Latin American species, which established a Second North American Record and a First State Record for Texas. A Townsend’s Solitaire that was documented in South Carolina established a Third State Record, while birders continue to find more European birds in Newfoundland, including a flock of 5 Black-tailed Godwits and a Graylag Goose. Other exciting rare birds included a Piratic Flycatcher, Mexican Violetear, Flame-colored Tanager, and more!


This week started out with a bang in the form of a series of sunny days without much wind, with new species and new flocks of birds arriving daily. That meant that I was even more enthused about photographing birds that stop for a while – hours or days – before continuing their migration, along with birds that are already establishing local territories in advance of nesting. There are birds everywhere, but the biggest attraction and the greatest numbers of birds assemble in prime wetlands – mostly consisting of the 17 species of ducks on hand now, with a variety of shorebirds, songbirds, and waterbirds beginning to arrive.

Finding a Red-necked Grebe was initially exciting, as was taking some morning photos of the uncommon species between dives. But the best series of photographs were realized when the lone grebe suddenly produced a spirited call (600mm zoom lens, f-9 aperture, 1/1000 shutter speed, 400 ISO).

So exciting are the photo opportunities that Thursday through Sunday I did a late morning birding drive with photography a priority, returning home to shower and take care of a few work tasks, then return to the field for a late afternoon photo drive. It’s been great fun and quite fulfilling with many surprises in the form of new birds to try to photograph, as well as finding out which birds would permit me to park nearby to photograph them under prime sunlight conditions.

The birds encountered and the photo opportunities appreciated were so diverse that I have provided some descriptions in this week’s Editor Afield article in this issue of The Birding Wire, along with some more photos to see. The photos that illustrate this article were almost all taken Sunday, which will be a memorable day in the field to cap off what must have been the peak of early spring migration here in southeast North Dakota.

Having made getting a quality image of Ring-necked Ducks a priority for the weekend, on my way home Sunday afternoon I found a sprightly drake swimming through an area with pleasing background reflections. The late afternoon sunlight helped to highlight subtle colors and accent the details in this Ring-necked Duck portrait (600mm zoom lens, f-8 aperture, 1/1600 shutter speed, 400 ISO).

Sunday proved to be a day to remember, a day to celebrate as a premier day of spring birding close to home, starting with a morning photo session and ending with a flurry of premium afternoon photo ops. After a slow start, the big surprise Sunday morning was a Red-necked Grebe feeding near the road! Rare in this area, and positioned a little too far away, with some patience, the Red-neck provided an excellent photo series during a half-hour that I really enjoyed. The peak of excitement and the best photos were taken when the grebe suddenly began calling, while facing me with its head low, then raising its head as it obligingly turned broadside for the sun to highlight the action in the late morning light.

The rare opportunity to photograph Hudsonian Godwits required some quick planning and a bit of hiking, but it produced some surprising results. Once in position to photograph, which was not a given, an f-14 aperture was used to get a wider area in focus with the hope of getting as many birds in focus as possible (600mm zoom lens, f-14 aperture, 1/250 shutter speed, 400 ISO).

I thought there might be more first-of-the-year birds in my future Sunday afternoon, but didn’t expect to find anything so impressive as a flock of 16 Hudsonian Godwits, essentially as I was headed home. I almost turned around before checking Swan Marsh, but decided I should continue another half-mile to check if the American Avocets were present, even though they weren’t on hand during my morning visit. I glassed the north shoreline with binoculars and sure enough there were 3 avocets and a yellowlegs quite a distance away. But when I looked up from my binoculars, there was a tight flock of dark-colored birds with long pointed wings flying above the far west shore. My mind first flashed American Golden Plovers, but when I raised my binocs I could see the long bills – godwits, but with dark bellies – Hudsonian Godwits!

Exciting to see them to be sure, but no chance for photos, or so it seemed as they actually landed along a bare shoreline at the northwest corner of the marsh. The sun was on the other side of the godwits, which meant they were showing as mere silhouettes; plus the godwits were about a quarter-mile away, so what would the chances be of hoofing it in a round-about way to get into position between the sun and these remarkable birds?

Aligned on the same focal plane, these female Hudsonian Godwits proved to be in sharp focus as they waded from the flock’s feeding area toward the shoreline (600mm zoom lens, f-11 aperture, 1/800 shutter speed, 400 ISO).

The idea seemed like a long shot, but I could access the birds by circling through the prairie to the north, where my friend Herb grazes cattle later in the summer. And the gate was open, inviting me to drive in the quarter-mile, then walk a half-circle to try to get into position without alarming the birds. But these Hudsonian Godwits seemed wary, and they flew up and circled back to land again in a tiny bay along the northwest shore, essentially where they originally landed.

The first Belted Kingfisher of the season provided photo ops at 3 different perches as it hunted along the edge of a lake. Although the sky was mostly cloudy that afternoon, a week ago, the sun broke through periodically, including just as this photograph was taken. An f-6 aperture was used to blur the background and highlight the kingfisher (600mm zoom lens, f-6 aperture, 1/4000 shutter speed, 800 ISO).

Well, I figured that if I could get between the birds and the sun, I’d have a chance to photograph the rarely encountered godwits in flight when they bolted next. And maybe I could get a documentary photo as they were feeding if they didn’t over-react to my cautious, slow, angled approach. The open prairie offered no hiding place, so maybe the godwits would get used to my semi-circular rambling in the pasture – what were the chances?

Keeping the sun at my back and watching my shadow point the way for my best photo angle, approaching from the west I was able to get pretty close to the northwest shore without alarming any of the assembled birds. There were actually 4 Pectoral Sandpipers close, directly in front of me, along with a Baird’s Sandpiper, and an avocet walked closer as it foraged in the shallows surrounded by now-glassy beautiful light blue water – so naturally I photographed these gimme subjects, even though the real prizes were a bit farther away.

Looking eye to eye with this Lesser Scaup created a pleasing portrait that is set off by a tranquil, bright water background (600mm zoom lens, f-8 aperture, 1/1250 shutter speed, 400 ISO).

Thankfully the shorebirds were all trusting, and I was surprised that a pair of Giant Canada Geese that were loafing near the Hudsonian Godwits didn’t raise an alarm at my circuitous approach before they entered the water and swam off without a sound. The godwits were aware of me, but they weren’t concerned, continuing with their rather frantic feeding as I took a couple photos, slowly eased forward 7 steps facing away from the godwits, took a few more photos and slowly eased forward 7 more paces ahead.

I was pleasantly surprised that All the birds accepted me, and while the godwits were feeding in a fairly tight group, 1 male soon waded the few steps to the shore to begin preening, then placed its head and bill on its back to rest. Other godwits followed suit, until half were preening or resting while half continued feeding. In fact, some Hudsonians actually began feeding a little closer to my position – a good sign of acceptance.

It was hard to tell how well the photos were working out; I could see the lighting and colors were good, but it was hard to judge how the flock fotos were turning out overall. When in doubt, take more photos. I was using an f-14 aperture setting on my camera to try to get as many godwits in focus as possible, and even while I was literally in the field (Herb’s field), I was looking forward to seeing how the photos would turn out when I checked them later on my computer screen – how exciting!

A newly arrived Wilson’s Snipe calling on territory provided a pleasing action photo. The bird was emphasized by using a narrow f-6 aperture to blur the background out of focus to emphasize the snipe. Note how high the eye is positioned in the snipe’s head (600mm zoom lens, f-6 aperture, 1/2500 shutter speed, 400 ISO).

This was only the third time I’ve had a chance to photograph Hudsonian Godwits. The first photo ops of Hudsonians were in 2017, the first spring I spent back in Dakota, and some of those images turned out to be remarkable, partly because I could get quite close to those godwits on consecutive days. The second flock of Hudsonians I found I couldn’t get close enough for quality images; but those godwits fed in a meltwater pool just a quarter-mile south of my house for a few migration stopover days.

Now, as I stood before the flock of Hudsonian Godwits, it was hard to leave the big sandpipers already flew north from their wintering range in southern South America; and they still would need to migrate to the nesting areas in the Arctic Tundra directly north. But the Arctic will remain ice-bound for another month, so perhaps the Hudsonians will stopover a while, and perhaps there will be more – we’ll see. Surely other shorebirds will follow, maybe Buff-bellied Plovers or American Golden Plovers. But gosh, whadda day I had, with chances to take some classic Red-necked Grebe photos, along with some Hudsonian Godwit fotos(!); plus nice portraits of Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Pectoral Sandpipers, Baird’s Sandpipers, a Killdeer; yes, whadda day!

And it’s been a memorable week of early spring migration that I’ve had the chance to take full advantage of with my camera and zoom lens, and I can only hope that you have had some exciting birding episodes too. During this advent to the peak migration weeks, there is really only one suggestion for me to share – Go Birding!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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