With the changing of the seasons it’s a good time to reflect on your yard, feeding station, and water feature to consider what worked well this year, and what didn’t. Consider your yard’s landscaping including flower gardens, shrubs, trees, snags, rocks, and nest boxes; plus your feeders, bird foods, watering options – and more. Ideally, you want to complement your yard so it is attractive for you, while providing a variety of attractions and benefits for birds, especially the birds you enjoy seeing the most season to season.
September 28th an adult male Bar-tailed Godwit completed a record-breaking flight as it touched down in New South Wales, Australia after a continuous migration of more than 8,100 miles that began in western Alaska. The godwit literally flapped its wings for 239 continuous hours to set the world record for the longest continuous flight recorded for any land bird! And the record-setting godwit isn’t done yet – in the next few days, the godwit that is fitted with a solar-powered satellite tracker is expected to end its migration in New Zealand.
Embrace the many birding opportunities during National Wildlife Refuge Week through this weekend by visiting a refuge near you or by making a pilgrimage to a refuge in coming days. Wherever you live in the United States, there is a refuge nearby, and our national wildlife refuges provide some of the most outstanding birding locations in the country – in the world! Nearly 60 million people visit our national wildlife refuges each year and contribute $3.2 billion per year into local economies.
This year’s fall count of the introduced Eastern population of Whooping Cranes is currently estimated at 81, including 19 wild-hatched Whoopers. At the beginning of October at least 63 Whooping Cranes were still in Wisconsin, 1 (possibly 2) in Michigan, and 4 in Illinois, with other Whooping Cranes in the eastern population unconfirmed during the past month. This exciting project to reintroduce Whooping Cranes has been led by the International Crane Foundation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and a broad group of other agencies, groups, and individuals.
Last Wednesday was a banner day for hawk and vulture migration above Veracruz, Mexico – we all should have been there – with 354,806 birds counted including 195,527 Broad-winged Hawks, 63,047 Swainson’s Hawks, and 66,891 Turkey Vultures among 11 different raptor species – all in 1 day! There is no doubt the Veracruz count site is the busiest in the Americas and the world, or that it lives up to its name of “River of Raptors!” During the following 2 days, raptor migration numbers remained high with totals of 146,240 Thursday and 135,157 Friday!
Monday Morning a north wind backed up the BirdCast forecast of a big migration overnight, as did a loose flock of about 40 American Robins flying above treeline then aloft to the southwest across the open plains. A couple adult Dark-eyed Juncos provided a pretty view as they perched amid the now red sumac leaves, a handsome Yellow-rumped Warbler perched near the feeding station, and a Chipping Sparrow was also active. The migration theme continued to play out during my afternoon birding drive.
The acclaimed Tamron 150-to-600mm G2 f5-to-f6.3 Ultra-Zoom Lens features user-friendly versatility for bird photographers with upgraded optical performance. The impressive vibration compensation (VC) feature enables handheld photography with remarkable photo quality. This dynamic zoom lens provides faster autofocus (AF) speed, fluorine coating, and the flex zoom lock feature that add to this impressive ultra-zoom lens that combines smart engineering and high optical performance with quality craftsmanship and durability.
MoreBirds has announced a sale on Droll Yankees Jagunda Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeders that provide a level of quality, design, versatility, and ease of use unlike any other bird feeder. This signature feeder features a unique squirrel-proof design with a 15-inch cover that shelters birds while protecting seeds from the weather, and the 18-inch feeder tray doubles as a squirrel baffle to prevent squirrels from reaching the seeds by climbing the pole. This dynamic feeder holds a 6-pound capacity of seeds and mounts securely to the included 5½-foot black steel pole.
The Bird Collective has a conservation ethic and provides a great place to shop for bird- and birding-themed clothing and gifts, featuring a variety of signature sweatshirts and T-shirts that feature collections of birds including Winter Finches, Woodpeckers, Ducks, Birds of Prey, Loons, Sparrows, and the Yurok Circle of Bird Life. Some products carry the “Birding is a Wild Life,” and “Find Peace in Nature” themes, and you can order a variety of caps with impressively embroidered birds along with a collection of embroidered Bird Patches.
Four First State Records and a First Provincial Record were established last week when local birders found a Golden-crowned Warbler in Louisiana, a young Kirtland’s Warbler in Maryland, a Kentucky Warbler in Saskatchewan, a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Georgia, and Nelson’s Sparrow in Nevada! Birders also found birds that created Second Provincial Records, including a Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Alberta and a MacGillivray’s Warbler in Ontario. A Third Provincial Record Steller’s Eider was also found in Quebec – and there’s more!


In a full banking stretch facing into the sunlight, the size and strength of a Turkey Vulture is impressive. At times, the 6 vultures appeared to be more playful than deliberate in their low circling flights.

After sending off last week’s issue of The Birding Wire last Tuesday afternoon, with a very strong south wind blowing up the road I had second thoughts about looking for the “black hawk.” With that wind I figured raptors would be seeking shelter and exceptionally hard to find, only to look up and see 2 Turkey Vultures gliding low overhead, tilting this way and that above my yard! Then another came into view to the north headed my way. With my camera in hand, I realized this might be my best photo opportunity of the afternoon – now, here.

I raised my camera and trained my lens on the incoming vulture as it veered to the east a bit, and before it was in focus it slipped behind a tree. I waited for it to return, checked for the others to the south, but none were in sight so I hopped in my vehicle to see if I could relocate the vultures. As soon as I cleared the trees I could see 4 or 5 Turkey Vultures swirling and zooming and bucking the strong south wind 150 yards to the east. By the time I drove 100 yards, the vultures were making very long circles just above tree line – headed my way.

To make headway against the strong south wind, the vultures used gravity to propel themselves forward by angling downward without ever beating a wing. Although only the head of this vulture was illuminated in this image, it is a good example of how vultures often look in flight.
Shadows were a concern while photographing the Turkey Vultures, and in this 2-photo series you can see a shadow beginning to form on the wing below the bird’s body.

I stopped, stepped out of my van, and quickly picked out one of the vultures to follow through my camera lens, taking photographs when the bird tilted in just the right way to catch the late afternoon sunlight. I followed one vulture until it left the best-light zone or banked away, only to focus in on the next closest vulture as it glided southbound, and there was another one after that, followed by the next one – what fun! Fast and exciting foto fun!

I soon realized I was reacting to a half-dozen circling vultures gliding against the strong south wind, using gravity to move forward by angling slightly into a dive for a couple hundred yards, then banking into the sun and following through in a circular route. Gliding back into the south wind the vultures would teeter this way and that, veering to the right, then the left and rising upward to glide forward using gravity. Now consider this action multiplied by 6 in close association and you will better envision the fast-action vulture flights I was immersed in photographing.

Then they were gone; and I was back in vehicular pursuit, relocating another 100 yards east and 80 yards south where I could photograph the Turkey Vultures as they approached from the northeast. The sunlight provided primetime lighting at 5:15, and I could vividly see when the underwings of the vultures caught and reflected the sunlight. I also tried to watch for when shadows were formed on the birds, especially the wings, and when shadows were eliminated. The action was fast, exciting, fun, and it filled me with a burst of adrenaline.

Turkey V Tech

Within a second, the shadow turned the lower wing black, although it is still a fine photo with the upper wing fully illuminated by the low angle of the late afternoon sunlight.

As always, I never use an automatic camera setting, but I almost always have the Mode Dial turned to the Av setting; then set my aperture (f-stop), and the camera automatically provides the associated shutter speed with respect of the amount of available light. In this case, I preset my aperture to f7, which provided a 1/1600 second shutter speed – very fast – using an ISO of 400.

Although 1/1600 is a very fast shutter speed that stopped the flight action of the vultures, as I handheld my camera and lens while standing outside photographing in the open, I braced my elbows against the sides of my chest to provide an added level of stability. As always, I also held my breath whenever I was taking a photo, or anticipated snapping a photo or a series of photos.

Suddenly, the vultures were out of view again, and I tried to follow, but they zipped northward propelled by the south wind and it was pretty obvious this exceptional photo session was a wrap. In the end, the wind was so strong that I knew an extended birding drive would most-likely be futile. I also knew that I had just enjoyed 20 minutes of fast-paced photography that provided a wealth of images to review, choose the best, and edit some in a simple fashion – primarily just by cropping extraneous sky from the photo. Rather than my usual 2 or 3 hour afternoon birding drive, I decided I did the best I could under the super-windy conditions – fueled by the lively Turkey Vulture 6.

So, yes it can happen, when you least expect it a photo opportunity can suddenly appear overhead on black and silver wings. Keep the sun at your back, your shadow pointing at the birds, and all that’s left is for you to react with your camera and enjoy the opportunity!


Some people don’t like the look of vultures, but when you study the birds during their best gliding flights, you must appreciate their aerial prowess and the thrill of photographing them in action.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your bird photos and birding experiences at

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