We thought you would delight in the story of how the gift of a simple birdhouse transformed a community of students and interested birders into dedicated bluebird landlords and citizen scientists: It all started when Kate Anderson was given a bluebird nest box as a birthday gift from her mother. Kate lives on a 135-acre farm protected under a conservation easement for open space near Yellow Springs, Ohio. The bluebird nest box she was given made her think about ways to spark an interest for birds and conservation in her community.
Centered in Arcata, California, this year’s Godwit Days Virtual Bird Festival will take place April 16 to 18, with free registration online now. One of the premier birding festivals, Godwit Days will offer a variety of 60- to 90-minute sessions, some live-streamed via Zoom and others pre-recorded and posted online. Some of the exciting session options include the Shorebird Fly-off at Arcata Marsh, Humboldt Bay Birding, Bird Songs and Calls, a Spotted Owl Search, Snowy Plover Research, Tips and Techniques for Sketching Birds, and Surveying Shorebirds at Humboldt Bay.
The Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy has developed an informative bird song course especially for beginners, but helpful for anyone. You can build your birding skills by learning unique new methods of identifying bird songs that you can apply to identify the birds by ear in your area – and other locations you may visit. This Bird Academy course provides self-paced instruction in 8 lessons provided in self-paced instruction that includes 24 topics, 2 helpful quizzes, and 25 instructional videos. You can even try a free sample of a birdsong lesson.
Biologists at Audubon’s Everglades Science Center recently piloted a new initiative to collect data using satellite transmitters and trail cameras to better understand Roseate Spoonbill behavior in Florida Bay. The new Roseate Spoonbill study has three key elements: 1) tracking adult birds to learn more about their movements; 2) conducting surveys and monitoring nesting colonies in Florida Bay during the nesting season to collect nesting data and population information; 3) advocating for significant public policy changes.
Deep in the heart of the Everglades, I reveled at the opportunity to study Wood Storks as they began their nesting period at their annual rookery, along with Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets, possibly in the company of Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, and Anhingas that were present but possibly yet to begin nesting. The rookery was about 200 yards away, so it was hard to ascertain all the activities among the trees and other vegetation, but the Wood Storks provided a wealth of exciting opportunities to photograph them as they flew by and overhead – what a thrill!
Considered Zeiss’ top birding binoculars, the Zeiss Victory SF 8x42 Binoculars are made with Zeiss’ new proprietary Ultra-FL glass lenses. A new 7-lens design with a field flattener lens provides edge-to-edge sharpness while yielding an impressive 92 percent light throughput. These dynamic binoculars are lightweight and balanced with a triple open bridge design that provides structural stability. The focusing system is smooth and precise, and to focus from close focus to infinity takes only 1.8 turns of the focus dial.
Scott Weisenthall’s new book, A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds provides an exhilarating exploration into the science and wonder of bird migrations worldwide. During the past two decades our understanding of bird’s navigation and physiology enable birds to cross oceans, fly above the highest mountains, or even remain in unbroken flight for months at a stretch has exploded through the use of new and improving technologies, and Scott has a wonderful way of sharing the extraordinary nature of bird migrations that everyone will enjoy.
The variety of orioles we enjoy in North America eat many types of food, but all orioles most often visit feeders that offer grape jelly and orange halves, although sugar-water nectar is another food of choice. The Wild Birds Unlimited Oriole Feeder offers a combination oriole feeder that provides nectar at several feeding stations, but also includes jelly wells in the top and a place to attach an orange half. It’s easy to hang and dishwasher safe, measures 9 x 10¾ inches in size, and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
An unusual swallow-like bird has created quite a stir in Brooklyn, where it has provided many birders with a first look at a Gray-breasted Martin, a First State Record for New York. The identity is at this point not absolute, but Gray-breasted Martin is being used uniformly as the species at hand. Not alone among state records last week, a stunning Barnacle Goose has been well-documented and much appreciated in Indiana, a Second State Record for the state. And a striking male Western Spindalis is being photographed by lucky Florida birders.


My first Florida birding location on my on-going Gulf Coast road trip was Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, located just north of the Kennedy Space Center on the central Atlantic Coast. Among the exciting mix of birds I encountered along the way, little did I expect to find one of the most captivating birds I’ve encountered in a wealth of time. At first it was no big deal; I noticed the bird’s unusual plumage from a considerable distance across an open water area. My first impression was of a Reddish Egret, but it had a crazy mix of white and gray feathers that made it uniquely attractive, but I could discern no more from that considerable distance with binoculars.

Other birders were parked in the area, using a spotting scope, but they weren’t focused on the mystery bird. Knowing that Reddish Egrets have white morphs, I thought it might be a “mixed morph,” so to speak. Or perhaps it was a partial albino bird. I watched it a few more minutes, then decided I would return with the hope the bird would move closer to the edge of the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Regardless of its identity, I really wanted to get some photographs of this intriguing wading bird.

It’s not often that a birder gets to photograph a true “mystery bird,” a real surprise, and a remarkable thrill. The egret/heron is well-documented in this series of images.

Not to take away from the other interesting wading birds, waterbirds, shorebirds, and ducks along the way, my interest in getting back to the mystery egret (or heron) fueled the ensuing hour. When I returned to the open water area, hoping for a closer look and some photos of the mystery bird, but there was no sign of it. A bit disappointed, I kept aware as I inched forward where the open water turned into a feeder channel no more than 30 feet wide and lined by fairly tall vegetation. That’s when I caught a flicker of white plumage, and in spite of plenty of other birds with white feathers, I imagined it might be the subject of my current quest. Yes!

I continued my slow advance and parked on the opposite side of the road, to uncharacteristically get out and follow the bird as it hunted deliberately along the shallow water edges. Now I had a great look at the bird, and it was truly spectacular, without question feathered in a unique pied plumage that intensified my interest in getting some impressive documentary photos. And with the bird so close and so trusting, I believed I was indeed getting some nice images. At that point I really wasn’t questioning my original impression that this was a partial white morph Reddish Egret, and I was far too absorbed in photographing the bird now to question its true identity.

Suddenly, a White Ibis erupted from beneath my feet, or so it seemed as it called loudly and landed a few feet ahead. I feared the “egret” would flush, but it kept hunting a few more minutes, then it did take flight, returning to about the same location as I saw it originally – far across the open water pond. There, it again acted as I expect Reddish Egrets to behave while hunting, dashing one way then spinning around, taking a little flight then pouncing toward prey. I probably should have continued my drive at that point, but now the mystery bird had a solid hold on my attention – no other bird compared – so I watched and waited. And the interesting thing was that almost immediately, the bird began making its way toward my position. It was tantalizing to think the bird might return to the roadside, but every step it took as it hunted brought it closer.

The unique “egret” moved into an open area lined by mangroves, and I thought it might be headed back toward the side channel, but suddenly it waded in the opposite direction – into the open water, in perfect afternoon light, and I was absolutely thrilled! I treasured the chance to take that series of memorable photos of this unique bird – what luck! It coyly stepped behind a tiny mangrove island and took flight, returning to its original location across the open water. I did get a couple photos of the bird in flight as it landed that revealed the mostly white wings with scattered gray feathers to accent its unmatched plumage.

The Mystery Intensifies

As the “egret” made its move into the open, a vehicle slowly moved into position near where I was standing, so after the bird flew off I waved hello and the lady pulled up so we could share our excitement that the beautifully colored mystery bird had provided such a great opportunity to photograph it at close quarters. I asked what lens she was using and eventually she remarked about the bird’s unsettled identity. She even described one birder as imagining it was a Western Reef Heron, a species rarely seen west of the coast of Africa.

Well that opened up a whole new line of thinking, but knowing how some birders question every identity, and how others – even beginners – throw out some fairly outrageous ideas at times on Facebook and other chat groups, I hesitated about suggesting too much. But it certainly made me think twice and thrice about the identity of this bird. A few miles down the road, after I digested the idea of this being a more unusual bird than I first imagined, I took a closer look at a few of my photos. It was immediately apparent that the mystery bird had a long slim black beak, and no Reddish Egret has a uniformly black beak, and there were other clues too, including its yellow facial color and pupils, not to mention its yellow and black feet.

My next move was to check my field guide, and happily it included a couple photos of Western Reef Herons, including gray morphs and white morphs. Aah, now I saw where that idea came from. But when I had a chance to look at other photos of reef herons on, my primary reference authority on birds, it was obvious that wasn’t the identity of this mystery bird. Then I checked eBird to see what birders were reporting from Merritt Island Refuge. The bird was being described as a hybrid, a cross between a Snowy Egret and a Tricolored Heron.

I’m always leery about the concept of hybrids because they are usually ultra-rare; but this mystery bird was obviously ultra-rare too. There was also an eBird reference that described the bird as a hybrid Snowy Egret x Little Blue Heron, and some birders have suggested a Little Egret x Tricolored Heron hybrid due to its elongated head plumes that are longer than the usual Tricolor’s.

Next, I checked the American Birding Association’s Rare Bird Alert article for last Friday, and there was no mention of the sighting. Nor was there any note or photo of the mystery bird on the ABA’s Rare Birds Facebook Group. In desperation, Monday night, I googled the phrase: “Merritt Island egret x heron hybrid.” Miraculously, at least in my mind it was miraculous, an informative article popped up, written by Alex Lamoreaux and published March 25, 2013, with photos of a very similar bird taken almost exactly 8 years before by Joyce Stephancic. That must obviously have been a different bird, but it was very similar, and Alex makes a compelling discussion of all the identity options that came up then – similar to now (see

Alex was convinced – and is convincing – that the bird was a Snowy Egret x Tricolored Heron hybrid, and that is my take on this mystery bird too, for now. It turns out there was a similar bird that was photographed in 2019 too, so this appears to be a recurring hybridization with birds documented in 2013, 2019, and 2021 – all at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, all along the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Very interesting to say the least!

Little did I know what I was getting into when I saw that white and gray wading bird across the open water last Wednesday. Nor could I have imagined getting such fulfilling photographs of this special bird! And in my mind, it’s still a mystery bird – a most enchanting bird indeed!

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Imagine a raptor, a velociraptor, with wings! That’s what I was seeing through my camera’s viewfinder when I took a moment to really think about it. Deep in the southern edge of the Everglades, velociraptor after velociraptor winged by on steady wingbeats facing into the already strong north wind. The big dinosaur-looking birds with broad wingspreads and massive beaks offered the kinds of flight photos I was hoping for that sunny morning along the edge of an alligator pond that separated me from the new activity at a wading bird rookery filled with Wood Storks and fewer numbers of Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets.

But I’m not kidding about the dinosaur looks of the monster-sized Wood Storks. If you were a frog, you’d be absolutely terrified to see one of these tall feathered monsters stalking your way through the shallow water on branch-sized legs with a bare scaly black neck and face that extends into a massive black beak pointed at you – yikes!

A classic image of a Wood Stork in flight with the morning light providing nice contrast, but as the bird banked to one side, it eliminated shadows present in other photos taken during the same period.

Other birds in the area included White Ibis, Anhingas, and Tricolored Herons, all taking their turns flying by, along with an occasional Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Red-shouldered Hawk. This is the kind of place that I like to look for when I’m photographing in the field; a “pass” where birds are flying back and forth along a fairly predictable route where I can position myself with my camera. That morning – last Friday – Good Friday, was quite a thrill as these big birds flew by every few minutes.

I was surprised that Saturday, under similar beautiful morning light with a lesser north wind, the birds were much less active and flights past that location were greatly reduced. Of course, the moral of that story is that nature is relatively unpredictable, and bird behavior changes quickly at times. We need to take advantage of photo situations when they avail themselves, and roll with other options when necessary. But back to Friday morning’s flights: It was great that my primary species of interest that day was Wood Storks, and they kept me excited with many birds flying toward my position, then breaking to the right, into the wind and often tipping into the early sunlight.

With the birds flying above me, I immediately realized how nice it was to photograph from the elevated walkway adjacent to the High Island rookery the week before. Now I had to get re-adjusted to photographing from below the birds, with the sun’s angle getting ever-higher in the sky. The birds were beautifully illuminated, but with their wings ever-moving I tried to keep shadow angles in mind when I elected to take individual photos. I usually took 1 or 2 photos at a time, but a couple of times, as a stork made an especially nice flight before me, I took a series of 10 or 12 photos to get a full assortment of images with the bird’s wings positioned up and down and in between. Then, I could select the best with respect to the flight position and the play of the shadows mostly beneath the bird, or behind it.

Although not very evident in these stork images, some photos showed the “black” wing and tail feathers actually have an iridescent green in the right light.

To take a series of photos, I merely held the shutter button on my camera down for a couple seconds, utilizing my usual continuous photo setting. As for the other settings, I never use an automatic setting, but set the Mode Dial to Av, which is an Aperture Priority setting that automatically provides the corresponding shutter speed. With ample sunlight I used my standard aperture setting of f-8, and the resulting shutter speeds varied from 1/1200 to 1/1600 of a second, providing very sharp flight photographs.

As usual, high-speed still photos provided me with a chance to see some features of Wood Stork plumage that included faint peach-colored feathers along the underside of the wing muscles. Also, primaries and especially the secondary wing feathers that usually look black were revealed to have an iridescent green shine when the sunlight hits them just right. This is also true for the “black” tail feathers. It’s a part of photography that I greatly appreciate after the action in the field – analyzing the finer points that are revealed in the resulting photos.

As with any bird photography, the right lighting is critical to show the iridescent colors of a Purple Gallinule amid equally vibrant green vegetation. Positioning yourself with the sun at your back and your shadow pointing at the bird is also paramount to using the sunlight at its best.

Speaking of iridescent colors, there was another chapter to my Friday Florida photography safari. By noon, with the sun directly overhead until later in the day, and with extremely high winds affecting the birds in the Everglades, I decided to interject another photo location into my afternoon planning. I decided to try to squeeze in a stop at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of Boca Raton and about 2 hours north of the Homestead entrance to Everglades National Park. All that repositioning was part of my search for one of the world’s rainbow birds.

All the Colors of the Rainbow!

Gray clouds rolled in from the Atlantic Coast as I drove north, and it even sprinkled a couple times along the way, but I hoped for a sun-break in the clouds by the time I reached Loxahatchee. I chose a walking trail after an initial short drive to canvass the area, and by the time I hit the trail, the sun broke through and the wind was less of a factor in the recesses of the water lily-covered ponds I trekked by. With a few Glossy Ibis here and a Tricolored Heron there; a couple Common Gallinules and some American Coots worked their way through the shallows between the lily pad leaves and stems, and I watched for a Limpkin or Snail Kite, 2 of the 3 birds I was most interested in finding at the refuge.

A close-up of a Purple Gallinule feeding apart from its usual tangles of water lilies provides a sharp portrait of the tropical species.

Suddenly, there it was – a Purple Gallinule – its vibrant iridescent colors reflecting in the 4pm afternoon sunlight as it plied its way through the maze of lily leaves in search of large insects and small frogs, but especially water lily seed pods. I was relatively close, and the rainbow bird was aware of me but continued with its walk through the pads, using its splayed super-elongated toes to walk atop the broad lily leaves.

At first it was hard to get a clear photo of the gallinule as it weaved its way through the lilies, plodding along as each foothold slowly sank under the weight of the bird. If it kept moving, it was able to stay mostly above the water surface.

Now my photo subjects were in a completely different photo landscape than the morning birds in flight, and that might require different camera settings. There was no blue sky background, or even a monotone setting, but lots of vegetation – beautifully colored green emergent aquatic plants. I reduced the aperture slightly to f-7, which provided a shutter speed at 1/1250 to 1/1000 of a second – a little slower than the morning’s stork photos, but there was less action to stop than in the flight photos. The changes were small, but appear to be just right considering the rich colors of the birds and the plants.

It’s important to have a little fun with your photography too. Try moving the bird to one side or the other as you compose images. This can be done in the field, or even when cropping photos using photo editing software.

I eventually observed 8 Purple Gallinules along shallows bordering the hiking trail, some feeding among water lilies and other feeding among different plants. I tried to be creative as I composed some of the photos I took later, trying to show the bird immersed within its natural elements and trying to show some character in individuals as well.

So between the 2 primary species I photographed last Friday – the dinosaurs and the rainbow birds – it was quite a day, offering 2 different settings (sky and plants), and 2 different activities (flying and feeding) with dramatic eye-catching birds in both locations. Friday was a day I will long remember for the birds that entered my field of view. It’s important for us to plan ahead to visit a location where we can enjoy similar special bird photography outings as we enjoy our spring birding activities. April will be filled with exciting birds for us all, for there are flying dinosaurs and rainbow birds to be found across the land and seas.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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