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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

When other birds are going to sleep, the night herons are just waking up. Here's a immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron leaving its daytime roost on Jekyll Island, GA and flying out for the night.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shorebirds: Relative Size

It helps to know the size of a shorebird in order to ID it. One of the ways to judge size is to look at the shorebird in relation to other birds near it, especially other shorebirds.
In the above photo there is a mixture of shorebirds and Sandwich Terns who have black bills with the yellow (mustard, get it) tips.
Start at the top of the photo and you will see two shorebirds who are large. They have long, grayish legs and bills that are longer than the length of the head. These are Willets, a fairly common, large shorebird who is about 15 inches long. Having the Sandwich Terns, who are 17 inches long, nearby, helps confirm that the Willets are a large shorebird.

It's helpful to get to know Willets because if you're trying to identify a shorebird and it's standing near a Willet, you can immediately get a sense of that shorebird's size ( large, medium, or small) compared to the Willet. We say a Willet can be a good "marker bird," one that helps you measure the size of neary birds. Get to know a few other shorebirds well that can also serve as your "marker bird."

In the middle of the photo are a large number of meduim-sized (compared to the Willet) shorebirds whose bills are about the length of their heads. These are Red Knots (who are only red in their breeding plumage, not this winter plumage).

In the front of the photo, you can then see two other shorebirds. The one on the right, with the rusty back and brown "U" chest mark, is slightly smaller than the Red Knots. It's a Ruddy Turnstone.

After looking at the Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstone, who are meduim-sized shorebirds, it becomes clear that the pale shorebird on the front left of the photo is quite a bit smaller. This bird is very white below with dark legs, a pale gray back and dark bill. It's a Sanderling.
Practice this judging of relative size the next time you're near shorebirds.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Shorebird observations

We have been talking about shorebird size and shape and some of your have been practising making observations on shorebird photos.
Regarding the photos from yesterday's blog entry -

Both birds are medium-sized shorebirds, which is hard to guess because there is no standard of comparison to judge them against. We'll deal with relative size tomorrow.

Both birds have relatively small heads compared to the size of their bodies. The top bird seems to have a more elongated body, the bottom bird has a thicker body and deeper chest.

The top bird does have a bill about the length of its head. The bottom bird has a bill that is considerably longer than the length of its head.

It is actually hard to see the wings of these birds because the wings are closed and covered mostly by the scapulars. In the top bird, the darker ends of the closed and folded primary wing feathers are visible above the tail. The second bird's closed primary feathers are barely visible at the very tip of the tail; they are mostly hidden by the tertials, including one tertial that is rufous and black, a sign this bird is beginning to molt into its breeding plumage.

The top bird is a Red Knot; the bottom bird is a Short-billed Dowitcher.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Size and Shape

Here are some more images to practice size and shape comparisons, both within each bird, and between birds. In making judgements about the size of a shorebird's bill, compare the length of the bird's bill to the length of the bird's head (when the head is viewed from the side.) What can you say about the length of these birds' bills? We will discuss this more tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

And More What Are You Seeing

The birds from yesterday were:
- Eurasian Collared-Dove on top
- Razonbill on bottom

Here's another photo to practice on. Describe what you are seeing based on the criteria in yesterday's blog entry.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Birding Tip: What Are You Seeing?

We recently took some friends birding who were very interested in birds and wanted to learn more. One of the first things we try to teach people is to describe what they see, BEFORE THEY NAME THE BIRD. The human temptation is to quickly plunk a name on a bird and often how "advanced" a birder is, is judged by how quickly he or she can identify a bird before anyone else has even raised their binoculars. Naming birds at the speed of light may be highly impressive, but it does not help beginner's build skills.
One of the biggest gifts Don and I try to give learning birders is an improvement in their observational skills and a sense of empowerment that they can learn birds on their own, even when Don and I are not with them.
So, for starters, we looked at birds and answered the question, what are you seeing, based on criteria such as:
- What size is the bird? Is it robin sized, crow sized, sparrow sized, etc.?
- What is it's posture, if it is sitting? Upright? horizontal across a branch? Upside down on a tree trunk?
- What is the shape of each feature of the bird? Does it have a long or short tail? A big or small head? Is the bill long, short, medium, down-curved, straight, conical, dagger-like, longer than the width of the side of the head, or shorter, etc., etc. Is it plump, slender-bodied, heavy-chested, elongated, bullet-shaped, etc.? Are the legs long, short, medium, thick, thin, etc.?
- How is the bird moving in flight? Flapping fast, slow, erratically, in regular bursts, undulating, straight, diving, etc. etc.? Are the wings crooked, slender, wide where they meet the body, rounded at the end, pointed and swept back, etc.?
Notice we haven't even gotten to color yet. We actually think it is best to try and first focus on the above items as they carry a great deal of information, often overlooked, about the bird and will help you sort out difficult species from one another.
Try answering these questions about the birds above. Don't worry about their names, we will tell you tomorrow. Building great observational skills will fast forward your birding and enhance your enjoyment of birds.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008. All content of this website © Lillian and Don Stokes, 2008.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Digiscoping Beginner Tips

For digiscoping, take your spotting scope, here it's our
Stokes 15-45 x 65 mm Sandpiper Scope,

focus the scope on a still bird, hold your digital camera up to the eyepiece of the scope,

look through the view-finder on the back of the camera (you can crop out the black circle in Photoshop, or zoom out the camera a little to make the circle disappear), hold the lens of the camera and the eyepiece of the scope together to steady the camera, then take several photos in a row.

The image, such as this Double-crested Cormorant, can be cropped in Photoshop or another digital editing program,

and sharpened and made ready for your blog.

We were asked about how to get sharp photos by hand-holding the camera to the scope for digiscoping, see our tips below. Digiscoping means taking a photo with a digital camera through a scope.

Some people use adaptors to hold the camera to the scope. These hold the camera more steady, often making a sharper image, but if the bird moves, you may need to take the adaptor off, refind the bird, refocus on the bird, then attach the adaptor and camera again. (Some adaptors and techniques can get around this, but here we're keeping it simple.) There are all kind of adaptors and they make for more reliably sharp photos because the camera is held steady by the adaptor. For an adaptor which goes with the Stokes Sandpiper Scope click here.

For easy digiscoping-on-the-go you can hand-hold the camera, as I was saying in yesterday's blog entry on the digiscoped Cardinal photos. Here are some tips:

1. Find a bird that is sitting still and focus the scope so the bird is sharp and clear through the scope. Do not zoom out the scope.

2. Keep the tripod fairly low so it is more steady. Digiscoping works well with a scope with an angled eyepiece.

3. Place the digital point and shoot camera (without the camera lens zoomed out) against the scope eyepiece and look through the camera viewfinder screen on the back of the camera. Try and slightly manuever the lens so the bird looks centered and decently lit. If there is a black ring around the bird, you can leave it as is and crop out the ring in Photoshop, or you can zoom out the camera lens a little until the ring disappears. Sometimes my best photos are with the camera not zoomed. I just crop the circle out.
Big hint: It helps to steady the camera lens by holding the barrel of the camera lens joined together against the eyepiece of the scope with one hand, while you take the photo with the other hand.

4. Click several photos in a row, sometimes only one will be sharp.

5. If the bird moves, you will need to lift off the camera, an easier task if it is not clamped on the eyepiece with an adaptor, look through the scope to find and refocus on the bird, then put the camera back on the eyepiece.

This is digiscoping kindergarten level, but it's easy and you may come up with some fun images.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cardinals digiscoped

Here are some Cardinal images taken at Jekyll Island, GA recently at a bird feeder. In this situation I basically following the rules for digiscoping which are:

- Digiscope in sunny conditions
- You should be no more that approximately 50 - 75 feet away from small birds, 100 - 150 feet from large birds.

Actually it wasn't always sunny, sometimes it was cloudy, hence the differences in the photos. Usually, when I am this close to birds, I have my big Canon 500 mm lens and Canon Mark II camera, but this was an unexpected situation and I only had a scope and my Canon A620 point and shoot camera, so I took it as an opportunity to digiscope. Usually, I only digiscope in extreme situations, such as when we saw the Kirtland's Warbler and it was very far away.

When we were at BirdWatch America 2008, I learned that many people either have heard of digiscoping and do not know how to do it, or they have never even heard of it. I spent some of my time there, teaching folks about it. In it's simplest form digiscoping involves taking photos with a camera through your spotting scope. Most people use point and shoot cameras, and either manually hold then up to the scope or use an adaptor to connect the camera to the scope. Some people use digital SLR cameras to digiscope but this may require special attachments.

For the photos above, I used the scope on the lowest power, focused it on the bird, then held the lens of the camera against the scope while looking at the screen in the back of the camera. When looking at the screen, you may see a black circle around the bird. That can be cropped out of the photo in Photoshop or other editing program. Or, you can zoom out the lens of the camera a little and the circle will disappear. I tried to hold the camera as steady as possible, then took a few photos in a row, hoping some would be sharp.

There are many more details about digiscoping on the internet which you can learn about, just google digiscoping. Or, just have a little fun using the down and dirty digiscoping method I did.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Accipiter Alert

Sharp-shinned Hawk, a type of Accipiter

Cedar Waxwing tight flock

Flying Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

We are visiting the Southeast and this morning, a very tight flock of Cedar Waxwings swooshed and sharply turned over our heads. Our first though was how thrilling, Cedar Waxwings are cool birds and we estimated there were about 30-40 in the flock. But a deeper awareness, one honed by our years of watching bird behavior, quickly kicked in.....the reason they might be in such a tight flock was because there was a predator in the area. Don uttered the thought, we searched the sky, and on cue, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew over our heads and landed in a tree next to us. It was a young bird, we could see the tell-tale brown stripes down its breast, probably hungry for a waxwing meal.

The Cedar Waxwings protective mechanism was to form a tight flock, as there is safety in numbers. They also were flying very fast with tight turns and manuevers, another safety behavior. The message here is to look beyond the immediate and let the bird's behavior lead you to a deeper and more dramatic story.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BirdWatch America 2008 part 2

At BirdWatch America 2008, here's Don helping a retailer understand the fine points of our Stokes Birding Series Binoculars and our Stokes Sandpiper 15-45 x 65mm Spotting Scope. At the show, manufacturers sell their products to birding retailers, many of whom run small wild bird stores. Many retailers were interested in adding spotting scopes to their store merchandise, but they didn't necessarily know how to use scopes. So it was our job to teach them, so they could in turn teach their customers. Our Stokes Sandpiper scope is lightweight but clear and powerful. It's great for any situation where the birds are too far to see through binoculars, or you just want a really close-up look. Birders use scopes for looking at birds at the seashore, lakes, marshes, prairies, from mountain tops for hawk-watching and in any opens space situation.

Here's Scott Pomtier who owns The Wild Bird Store in Poulsbo, WA and who wrote to us before we went to BirdWatch....."I'll be looking forward to meeting you this weekend, our Corgi Lili insists that we get a photo of Phoebe." Well here is Scott with Phoebe (who is licking her chops for some reason, maybe anticipating a cookie.) Phoebe had to stay in the car but got lots of walks and, of course, cookies.

......and here is a photo of Lili, nicely posing, that Scott sent to us. Hi to Lili from Phoebe.

Amy Hooper is here in her booth for Wild Bird Magazine. Amy does a great job as editor and the magazine has lots of beautiful, large bird photos.

The Rainbow Mealworm Company had a booth where you could come and say hi to their mealworms.

I looked at the meduim-sized gang of mealworms and wondered if I stuck my hand in them, would I qualify for the Fear Factor TV show. Seriously though, mealworms are a great, under-utilized bird food and bluebirds love 'em. We have fed mealworms to bluebirds many times and also to other species of birds. Mealworms are like little caterpillars with a smooth skin, but actually are the larva of a kind of beetle (Tenebrio molitor.) Mealworms come in containers with their own food and you keep them in the refrigerator where they remain inactive until you're ready to put them outside in a dish for the birds. Mealworms are for feeding in warmer weather, not winter.

And lastly, I have to mention a very worthwhile company, Women of the Cloud Forest, which is a Fair Trade project working with rural women in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The 70 women in the project produce hand-embroidered bags and jewelry made from rainforest seeds. The project allows the women to work at home at their own pace and be able to care for their families.

They have a wonderful assortment of hand-embroidered bags with color accurate reproductions of birds, butterflies, frogs and insects from North and Central American species.

I'm partial to raptors, so I liked this bag with the Red-tailed Hawk. As I said, this was a show for retailers so comsumers could not buy anything here. Look for these products and other new items at your local wild bird stores.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

BirdWatch America 2008 part 1

We had a fun time at BirdWatch America 2008. It was our pleasure to introduce new retailers to our Stokes Birding Series of Binoculars and to greet and thank those retailers who already carry our line.

It was also great to see friends in the business of birding and to walk the floor and see what products were new. Here's a interesting new product, the Seed Hoop, which catches bird seed that is dropped from a feeder.

There are many folks who do not want the mess from feeders to fall on their deck, patio, lawn or landscaping. So this is a neat, literally, idea. Since it has a screen surface, it will drain water. Seems easy to wash off and clean, which it would be important to do to prevent build up of debris and bird droppings. This and many feeders are not squirrel proof, so remember to put your feeders on a pole with a squirrel baffle and place 12-15 feet or more away from any place a squirrel can jump, to keep the furry bandits off the feeders. Speaking of keeping landscaping clean from feeder mess, we have an article coming out in the next issue of Birder's World Magazine on bird feeding on decks and patios.

Tilley Hats

An important, but often overlooked, part of a birder's outfit is a hat. Hats are not just about pretty, even though these are very nice looking hats. Hats protect a birder from the sun's harmful rays and they help keep your pupils more dilated, which helps you see the birds better through your binoculars!
Coming tomorrow, BirdWatch America part 2.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

BirdWatch America 2008

Here we (and Phoebe) are at BirdWatch America 2007

We will see you at BirdWatch America 2008, a big trade show for retailers in the birding industry. If you are going, stop by and see us and our new Stokes Birding Series binoculars! We will bring you news and info. about the show afterwards.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Irruptive Species, CBCs

Pine Siskin below, American goldfinch above

As the results from the 108th Christmas Bird Count (held Dec.14, 07-Jan.5, 08) come in, it's clear this is a fantastic year for seeing irruptive species of birds. Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and more are being seen widely across the country.
You can go to the results page for the Christmas Bird Counts here and look up the results by state, or by species of bird.
Some of the preliminary results so far:

Pine Siskins are being seen in AZ, NC, OK, KS, IA, ME, MA, NH, CT, IN, AR, IL, TX, VA, NC, CO, CA, MN, and other places.

Pine Grosbeaks are being seen in MA, NH, MI, ME, CO, MT, NY, WI and elsewhere.

Common Redpolls are being seen in CO, WA, MT, MN, WI, OH, IA, IL, RI, PA, NY, MA, ME, NH, CT and more places.

Watch your feeders for Common Redpolls. We had a flock of 12 at our feeders this morning (it's below zero here). Pine Siskins are finches who also like bird feeders filled witn thistle (nyjer) seed and sunflower seed.
Pine Grosbeaks do not usually come to feeders but can be seen in crabapples and other fruiting trees and shrubs.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Purple Martin

Purple Martin, male

Someone recently asked us about Purple Martins in NH. Here, they are very rare, only occurring in a few places. In Florida, where the above photo was taken, they are common and much easier to attract if you put up the right housing in the right habitat.

Amazingly, while we are sitting here in NH with record snow accumulation and frigid (2 degrees) temps., some Purple Martins have already migrated back to the U.S. and been spotted in several locations such as Punta Gorda and Naples, FL. The Purple Martin Conservation Association website has a cool page where you can report your Purple Martin's arrival dates and view other's reports so you will know when Purple Martins are arriving in different areas of the country, click here.

In general Purple Martins arrive in Fl by Jan., the middle of the country by March 15th, and the northen part of the country by early May. See this map from our Stokes Purple Martin book.

Purple Martins can be attracted with the right housing and know-how, if you live in an area of the country where they are found. So even if you are buried in snow, think about spring, Purple Martins and putting up housing for them by the time they arrive.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Snow Buntings

A few days ago, we had 40 Snow Buntings land in our large, weedy field in front of our house. These beautiful, pale little sparrows breed in the arctic tundra and come down into this country in winter. It was such a treat to see them fluttering across the field, their brown and white winter plumage making them so camouflaged against the snow and brown weeds.

Photo @ Lillian Stokes 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Happy New Year!

We hope you have a wonderful 2008, and that you see and enjoy even more birds than last year! We will continue our efforts to try and bring you a blog full of beautiful bird photos, inspiring birding information, our adventures and, oh yes, the magic of Corgis.
From Lillian, Don and Phoebe

P.S. We got this group photo by Don holding the camera at arm's length and we all squeezed into the frame. Below is the blooper out-take of Phoebe kissing Don.