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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Stokes

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We are taking off the rest of the holiday season and will see you
all in January 2012!

Lillian and Don

Saturday, December 17, 2011

CBC, and then a Ruffed Grouse flew up

We just finished doing the southern NH Christmas Bird Count (where teams count all the birds in a given circle) bird census. We had a great day. These grab and go photos are some of the highlights. Cedar Waxwings were everywhere! We saw several big flocks, including a flock of 77 at our house. 

Robins were one of the most abundant birds of the day. We saw lots of big flocks. At one stop they were paired up with a flock of Cedar Waxwings. They were eating crab apples and winterberry holly. Then, out of the blue, a Northern Goshawk flew over, our best bird of the day.

Meade and David, part of our birding team, were counting robins and waxwings.

Don heard a chup note in a hedgerow by a horse farm. We patiently waited and up popped a Song Sparrow, another surprise bird, they are usually gone by now.

We have been participating in Christmas Bird Counts for over 30 years, and loving it.

Juncos were also in numbers. We had 20 in our yard.

The only Tree Sparrows were at our feeders. We had 5.

At the end of the day, we had a Red-tailed Hawk land in the tree in the middle of our field. I quickly grabbed the camera and got off a shot as it flew, didn't have time to change the ISO for speed. Then I went behind our barn and reached over to pull a weed off our garden and flushed a Ruffed Grouse, a great bonus bird! We saw 29 species of birds on our team's section of the count circle. Other teams on this count had other species, so total species number was higher. Conspicuously absent were any of the winter irruptive finch species. Only a few teams saw a few Pine Siskins.

Our view from our deck just before dusk, the birds had just about gone to bed. Time to go to the count down party.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa Wood Stork, ho-ho-ho

Santa Wood Stork

Wood Stork ad., in flight

The above photo of a juvenile Wood Stork, resting with its neck feathers fluffed out, reminded me of Santa Claus. Wood Storks are an endangered species in the U.S. and breed colonially, mainly in FL, GA, SC, but can wander to other Gulf Coast states. They will nest when water levels are just low enough to concentrate fish shallow pools in sufficient numbers to successfully feed chicks.
This is a bird that looks so beautiful in flight, not so close up, but does a good imitation of Santa.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Bird Counts are coming up

What birds will show up to be counted for the annual Christmas Bird Counts about to happen? This Hairy Woodpecker and American Goldfinch are sharing the Stokes Select bird feeder.

Busy, busy time for everyone right now, but don't forget the Christmas Bird Counts are about to happen. That's where birders from an area (the country is divided into count circles, each with its own count date, usually in Dec.)  go out and count all the birds in that area during a 24 hr. period. Our count here in southwest NH takes place next Saturday. Birds numbers at feeders have been down, since it has been unusually warm here in New England. Birds still have plenty of wild food and no big need for the extra calories demanded by very cold temps. Some lakes and water areas are still unfrozen so there may be lingering waterfowl. We shall see what turns up, that's part of the fun of counting every bird you see on that day. For more information on how you can join a Christmas Bird Count in your area go here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse, this photo of mine appears on page 59 of our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America
I just saw a Ruffed Grouse sitting in our Prairie Fire crabapple tree, eating the apples, on this rainy afternoon. Cool!!

That's a bird you don't often see, but that doesn't mean they're not around. These grouse have a range across much of Canada, northern areas of the U.S., and down into the Appalachians. We hear them drumming in spring, a very low-pitched sound. Only occasionally do we see them fly across an open space, or, as a special treat like today, find them foraging.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Gray Catbird, where are you now?

Gray Catbird where are you now? You breed on our property here in NH, flit conspicuously about our yard, and eat the oranges we put out for you. Will I see you in Sanibel, FL this winter? These are the questions I wonder about the birds which I see here in spring and summer in NH, but they are gone in winter.

Gray Catbirds are common breeders across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. They winter in coastal areas of the states from about the mid-Atlantic through TX and also winter in the Caribbean and Central America. Catbirds are relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers and, like them, have the ability to mimic the sounds of other species, incorporating these sounds into their own song. Catbirds love thickets and eat insects and fruit and berries.

When we go to Sanibel, FL in winter, there are many catbirds wintering. Mainly they lay low in vegetation during the day. But just at dusk, you can hear them calling before they go to sleep for the night. Suddenly you are aware there are a lot more catbirds in the area than you knew. I look forward to that.

By the way, are any of you seeing Gray Catbirds now?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Photographing Birds in Flight, Tips

Pileated Woodpecker

Roseate Spoonbill

Bald Eagle, larger birds are easier to photograph in flight.

Groups of birds, such as these Black Skimmers, are fun to photograph in flight. When photographing them, increase your depth of field.

American Robin. Zero in on one bird in a flock.

Snow Bunting

Upland Sandpiper flying over Kennebunk Plains WMA, Maine

Tree Sparrow. Focus on your bird feeder and anticipate when a bird will leave.

Red-shouldered Hawk, juv.

Great Shearwater, a pelagic species you need to go out on a boat to see. It's challenging taking flight photos from a moving, rocking boat, so it helps to brace yourself against the boat.

Tree Swallow in flight over our fields. Swallows, with their erratic flight, are a challenge to photograph.

Cedar Waxwing. Pick up a bird when it is quite distant and track it with your camera's auto focus and start shooting as it gets a little closer. If you wait until it's upon you, you will never get the photo.

Roseate Spoonbill, coming in for a landing.

My favorite type of bird photography is photographing birds in flight. Above are a few of my photos and here are some tips.

How do photographers get such photos? Here's what you need:

- High speed digital SLR cameras like the Canon 7D, or 1D Mark IV (which I have). The faster, and the more continuous frames per second your camera will shoot, the better. Get a camera the shoots at least 5 frames per second, preferably more. Know your camera dials and settings very well. For most flight photos you need to have at least 1/500th of a second shutter speed, preferably 1/1000th or more. Set the ISO high enough to attain this shutter speed.
Set the camera on continuous shooting mode. Most people use auto focus for birds in flight. Set the camera focus mode to AI Servo AF. This allows you to focus and lock on the bird as it moves, by depressing the shutter half-way. Put the camera dial on AV (aperture priority) to give enough depth of field to have the whole birds in focus. Most people use an aperture of f/8 in good light, but may go to an aperature of f/5.6 in duller light. To take the photo, depress the shutter all the way.

- A good telephoto lens that is at least 300mm long, or preferably 400mm or more (some add a 1.4 teleconverter to a 300 mm lens.) Some photographers use longer lenses, such as the Canon 500mm or 600mm IS lenses for flight photos. If you have those, you need a good tripod with a smooth moving head, such as those made by Whimberly, Bogen or Kirk Enterprises. A few strong photographers can actually hand hold the 500mm lens. If you are using a tripod you lack some mobility, so it helps to shoot at a good location, such as that at Ding Darling NWR or other national wildlife refuges, where a lot of birds fly in, in a predictible flight route. Set the lens AF/MF switch to AF (auto focus.) Some recommend setting the minimum focusing distance of the lens to its furthest setting.

- Good situations for photographing birds in flight, such as open areas of water or open sky where you see birds coming from a distance and can get on them early with your auto focus, plus you will have a clear blue background. Keep the sun at your back. Try to shoot with the birds moving along a predictable flight path that is perpendicular to the front of your lens.

- Good eye-hand coordination and fast reflexes. Find the bird by spotting the bird when it is at a distance, and I mean very distant. Do not wait until the bird is close, because by then it will be moving too fast for your to get on it. After you spot it, raise your camera to your eye and lock the auto focus on the bird. Most photographers set the camera's auto focus selection point (AF point) on the center point because it is the most sensitive of the points and allows you to keep focused on the bird. Also your camera will be less likely to lock onto the background as you try and stay on the moving bird.

- A willingness to practice lots and take lots and lots of photos, only some of which will turn out. (At least with digital you are not paying for film.)

- A strong motivation and desire to take flight photos.

- The expertise and programs to process your digital photo to make it look its best. Most photographers use programs like Adobe Photoshop.

My advice is even if you don't have all or some of the above, try anyway. You might find it addictive like I do.

Most importantly, have fun!!!