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Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Photo Tips Through The Window

I was asked in yesterday's comments, for more tips for photographing birds through the window. Many of these apply to photographing birds not through the window also, but here they are:

* Put up bird feeders or a bird bath to lure the birds in, then put up a perch up outside the window. Ours is a piece of driftwood we placed in a planter on our deck, which is visible out the window. The Blue Jay above is on it. You can also change the perch material periodically to provide different photo ops.

* Make sure you take the photo when there is full sunlight on the bird, preferably. The sun should be coming from behind you, not in front of you, so the bird is not backlit and any spots on the window made obvious.

* It helps if the bird is fairly close to you, so it is covering at least a third of the frame. Shoot at a low ISO like, 100 or 200 and keep the camera steady with a tripod, or support. I lean my elbows on my desk to steady the camera and I have a Canon 300 mm image stabilized lens.

* and, oh yes, a squeaky clean window helps.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Through My Window

Right outside my office window is a bird bath and also a tray feeder. They're a wonderful distraction from work (sometimes too much distraction!) and provide photo ops through the window, if the light is right.

I watched this Blue Jay come to drink. It dipped its bill in the water then lifted its head up, as in this photo, and let the water trickle down its throat. This is a typical way most, not all, birds drink.

Add bird baths to your yard, fun for you and a necessity for the birds. Hint for keeping the water clean — place your bird bath close where you can easily reach it with your hose, then hose it out and scrub with a small brush once a day, then refill. I keep the brush near the bird bath. Anything to make the task easier and keep the bath clean! The birds will thank you and more will use it.

Photo, © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Barn Swallow At Work

The Barn Swallows at Crane Creek that were collecting mud were using it in their nest construction. It's always amazing to watch how they neatly deposit the little blobs of mud in the nest.

Have a great weekend!

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

And another

And here's another shot of a Barn Swallow carrying nesting material, that I took from the same place.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Barn Swallow

While at Crane Creek/Magee Marsh recently, I found Barn Swallows nesting at the visitor's center at Crane Creek. They're one of the most challenging birds I have photographed in flight because they're such swift and erratic flyers. I found an area where they were coming in to land on a bank to get some mud for their nests, so they slowed slightly. I tried to zero in on the small patch of water they crossed and kept trying to get the autofocus to lock on them. I kiss my Canon Mark II and its super fast autofocus and high speed mode for this photo.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Baltimore Oriole

And right after I posted the photos yesterday, a male Baltimore Oriole came to the tray feeder and started eating the orange. Yeah! We do not get orioles very frequently eating oranges, even though we offer them every year. Some oriole take to them, some don't. So don't be discouraged if your orioles are not attracted to oranges. In general, once orioles start breeding they eat mainly insects and feed insects to their young. The best chance of getting orioles to oranges is in the early spring.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Recent Visitors

Recent Visitors to our feeders were a pair of migrating Evening Grosbeaks (male left, female right), chowing down on sunflower seeds and, just moments ago, I took this photo of

this gorgeous male Indigo Bunting. Wonder if he's the same one we had on friday? We're using mixed seed in the feeder, so the sunflower keeps the grosbeaks happy and the indigo is eating the millet in the mixture. Hope he may stay and consider breeding. We have some nice shrubland habitat for him.

Photos © Lillian Stokes

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Blue" Bird

Here at home in NH, we have been getting good looks at migrant birds who are being held back by our cold rainy weather. Yesterday, this lovely, male Indigo Bunting showed up. There's nothing like that blue, so deep and radiant. Just can't get enough of it! Not only did we have an Indigo Bunting, but Phoebe's breeder, who lives in our town, called us up and said she had two! Then another neighbor called today and reported two more. So we have had a little "fall out" of Indigo Buntings in our corner of the world.

The "Prairifire" Crabapples are in full bloom and we have had Baltimore Orioles drinking the nectar from their blossoms. If you want to attract more birds to your yard, plant Crabapples, birds drink the nectar and then, in fall, the small apples attract Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Thrushes, Grosbeaks and more. Pink Impression tulips, my favorite, nicely compliment the Prairifires.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2007

People, Magee Marsh/ Ottawa NWR

One of the fun things about birding, in addition to all the beautiful birds you see, is meeting other birders and sharing the birding experiences. We had such a great time at Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. People there are friendly and accomodating (even when the boardwalk is crowded) and happily point out the birds to one another. The grand spectacle of all the migrating warblers and other birds draws together birders from all over the country. We saw friends and met people from FL, IN, IL, MI, OH, CA, VT and many other states.

Birders put out oranges on bare branches and migrating Baltimore Orioles come to feast

Don birding with our good friend Bill, from FL. I both birded, and did photography, quite a balancing act.

I ran into Jennifer Brumfield and her father and mentor, Dave Brumfield. I first became aware of this talented young birder and illustrator when Don and I were judges for the American Birding Association's Young Birder of the Year contest, which Jennifer won in 1998. Jen was much encouraged in her birding and art by her father and other mentors and it paid off. She now teaches kids and others about birds and her beautiful illustrations have been published in a number of books. We talked about how important it is for all of us to encourage and mentor the next generation of birders.

Magnolia Warbler

I chatted with top birding expert Jon Dunn (left), who had his eyes glued to every bird, noting age, sex and subspecies. He was leading a tour for Wings Birding Tours and thinks Magee is one of the top warbler hotspots. Jon is the author and chief consultant of the National Geographic Field Guide To Birds and co-author of the Petersen series Warbler Guide.

I hung out with Don in a sunny spot. "What'cha looking at Don"? "An Orange-crowned Warbler"! He was a happy camper. Of course, I only got the above underside shot, it never did give me a long enough view, unobstructed by leaves, to get a photo showing its head. Photography here is challenging and often the birds are obstructed by leaves and branches, so you need a camera that focuses fast, and you need to find the seconds the bird gives you a good, unobstructed view.

We went to the awesome, new Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building, which was having its grand opening. This is a spectacular new facility with state of the art educational displays and spaces and even a high balcony off the back where you can get a tree-top view of a Bald Eagle's nest. Stop by the next time you're near there.

Ottawa NWR sells our books and Stokes Birding Series Binoculars, so we helped them sell our books and binoculars. These happy birders bought our Stokes Sandpiper angled spotting scope,

and asked us to sign it! It's rewarding to see people get good optics because we know it will so enhance their enjoyment of birding, that's why we have an optic line.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Magee Marsh/Crane Creek Warblers

Here are more of my photos from our recent trip to the Magee Marsh/Crane Creek warbler hotspot. One of the most abundant warblers we saw there was the Bay-breasted Warbler, quite a treat since they're not as commonly seen elsewhere as are some other warblers. This one's a male, you can tell by his big, black mask. The name "Bay" refers to the chestnut color on his sides.

Here's an adult female Bay-breasted Warbler looking similar to him, but note her mottled blackish cheeks and split eye-ring, a good way to tell the adult female. The nice thing about spring warblers is that they're so colorful, unlike fall, when many change to duller and more difficult to ID plumages.

Here I am with hubby on the boardwalk that goes through a small patch of woods where all the warblers are, right at the edge of Lake Erie. For you camera tech heads, I have my Canon 1D Mark II camera with a 300 mm IS lens, and a 1.4 teleconverter. I also have a Canon flash with a flash extender on it. Since the warblers were often in shadow, or dim light, I used the flash for a soft, "fill flash" effect and bumped up the ISO to 400 in order to use a faster shutter speed. Using a fast shutter speed is essential because, as you know, warblers move fast! Using a slower shutter speed would make their photos blurry. I was struck by how many, many birders had cameras with them, maybe about a third to half the birders there. I often got asked about my flash unit and what that thing was on it, the flash extender, sometimes called the Better Beamer.

Here's a male American Redstart. Love the way his tail is fanned, something Redstarts frequently do. Look at the interesting undertail pattern of black undertail coverts, then an orange band, then a black tip. The majority of looks at warblers in this environment is from the underside. So knowing the pattern of the undertail coverts of warblers can be a big help in identifying them. That's why we put a drawing of each warbler's undertail coverts in our Stokes Field Guide To Warblers.

Here's a beautiful, female Black-throated Green Warbler, but where's her black throat? She's a first year female and does not have as black throat yet as do many adult females. The throat on females is variable, from less to more black, but not as much as the adult male shown below. First year spring female warblers often have more subtle colors, and their identification is more diffcult. We heard a number of birders struggling with the ID of some of the first spring female warblers.

Adult male, Black-throated Green Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler. We saw lots of these.

Northern Parula Warbler, male. The males vary in how much black and chestnut they have across their breast.

This adult female has only a trace of chestnut

Magnolia Warblers were plentiful. Sweet, since this is one of my favorite warblers.

High in a tree we saw this Cape May Warbler, male, with his striking chestnut cheek patch. You can see why we call warblers the crown jewels of the avian world.

Warbler photos, © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mad Warbler

This photo I took of a Chestnut-sided Warbler on our recent trip so reminds me of the famous photo of the Mad Bluebird, only this one is the Mad Warbler.
More trip photos coming later today or tomorrow.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Warbler Trip

Cerulean Warbler, female

Magnolia Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler


Ovenbird, top view

We had a wonderful time at our trip to Crane Creek/Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge warbler birding hotspot in OH. Here are a few of my photos. There were many warblers and challenging photography conditions. The Cerulean Warbler was an unusual find, and I was happy to get a photo of the female. Magnolia Warblers were thick there, and so were Chestnut-sided Warblers. An Ovenbird, a ground dwelling warbler that usually is heard, not seen, came out in the open, giving photo ops. I like the top view showing the neat rufous stripe down the center of the crown. We'll have more for you when we get home, we're still on the road.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Warbler Mania

Blackburnian Warbler

As we said, we're going to Crane Creek/Magee Marsh warbler birding hotspot for the next several days. Located on the south shore of Lake Erie, it is one of the premiere places in the country to see migrating warblers, those crown jewels of the avian world. We will be doing a booksigning on Saturday, May 12th at 1:30 pm, and showing our Stokes binocular line at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge new headquarters, located right next door to Crane Creek. So come see us and the warblers.
We will be busy and blog when we can, and bring you lots of photos when we get back.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

White-crowned Sparrow

This beautiful White-crowned Sparrow popped up on our deck yesterday, just for a second.
What a treat. We don't see many of these here. This one was on migration to its breeding grounds in northern Canada. Have a safe trip.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

In the Driver's Seat

The photo above is of a House Wren who nested in our friend's weathervane. He made the weathervane shaped like a tractor and installed in on his lawn in front of his house. The wren thought this was just a perfect place to nest, and would comically land on the tractor seat before going into the nest.

Today our first House Wren showed up. This is always a mixed blessing. Love the bubbly wren song, which fills the garden. However, all heck breaks loose with our resident birds who nest in our bird houses, since wrens love to claim many bird houses and stuff them with sticks. So there's squabbling over houses, the residents defending their nests from the wrens.

One way we deal with this is to put out some extra bird houses close together in our garden when the wren arrives, to keep him busy. Male wrens make "dummy nests" of twigs in several bird houses before the female arrives, sometimes stuffing them so full, you wonder how he can get into the box. She then chooses one and adds a lining and that becomes the place they raise their family. So today was a mixed blessing.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Friday, May 04, 2007

Black-throated Green Warbler

This morning as we were sitting on the deck drinking our morning coffee we heard... "zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee", a Black-throated Green Warbler. Oh, goody, some of the start of warbler migration here. We long anticipate this wondrous event and every morning brings new anticipation. What will we see and hear? We tune up our ears and refresh our memories of warbler song by listening to our Stokes Field Guide To Birds CDs.
Black-throated Green is an easy to learn, fairly widespread warbler. Greenish yellow above with the yellow face and black throat, more prominent on the male. The song is memorable and distinctive, unlike many other warbler songs. Really does sound like zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee.
You gotta start somewhere to learn warbler song, this is a good place to start. Learn it and you will have a very good chance of hearing it in the next several weeks.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Today we had the first Rose-breasted Grosbeak male arrive, what a thrill! This is a bird that wows people and we often get lots of emails from people telling us they have seen one, or wondering what they are.
What a gorgeous bird the male is, and so aptly named. The big rosy red chest mark so dramatically stands out on the white of his breast, and look at the size of that beak, all the better to crack big seeds. Mrs. Grosbeak looks like a big sparrow with a white eyebrow, her subtle coloring camouflaging her on the nest.
Hope he stays and sets up a territory.

Photos @ Lillian Stokes, 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hooded Merganser Nest

Female Hooded Merganser in nest box

Leaving the box to go feed

Remember back in April, we saw a pair of Hooded Mergansers flying together around our property, Bobolink Farm, and hoped they would nest here?

Well we have suspected that they might be nesting because we've seen Mrs. Hooded Merganser fly from near our barn out to the pond. Last night around 7 pm, I actually saw her coming out of the large bird house we have near the barn. Yeah! She's nesting.

She's remarkably secretive about it and only leaves the box a few times a day to go down to the pond to feed, so unless you're standing looking at the box at that time, you wouldn' t know she was there. Originally we had put up that box for a Screech Owl but these are quite rare in our neck of the woods, and Mrs. Merganser doesn't care if it was an owl house, it suits her just fine.

Incubation is about 32-41 days. The baby ducks can't fly when they fledge but just jump out of the box. They're specially adapted to withstand the fall and not get hurt. They then walk with momma down to the pond. They're what is know as "precocial" young, that is, they're born fully feathered and can feed themselves. Mrs. Mergansers's job, once they are born, is to keep them safe from danger. Birds such as American Robins have what's know as "altricial" young, who are born helpless and practically featherless, and are fed by the parents while in the nest.

It's such fun to think Mrs. Merganser is in her snug nest right near our garden, listening to our conversations as we walk around, just secretively going about her business of making more Hooded Mergansers. It would be so great to see the babies jump out of the nest, but we don't know when her first egg was laid and when they will hatch. So, without watching the box constantly, or extreme luck, we probably won't see it. But who knows.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Osprey Migration

Ospreys are migrating north, up our pond (which is a dammed up part of a river). Ospreys follow rivers and water bodies on migration because they are fish eaters and can stop and hunt for a fish. Yesterday we had 11 Ospreys in one hour. Even from quite a distance you can ID Ospreys by the way they frequently hold their wings in an "M" shape. A lot of people mistake Ospreys for Bald Eagles, but eagles are bigger and have a black body. Love the big yellow eyes of the Osprey. Keep looking up if you're near water areas, you might see an Osprey.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007