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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Canon SX 50 HS, 200x magnification ability at sunset

See the small heron in the bottom of the sunset photo with the shorebirds?

Well, just zoom out and magnify it 200% with the Canon SX 50 HS camera. It's a Roseate Spoonbill!

Just got the incredible Canon SX 50 HS. It actually has a 200x magnification ability. Wow. Went and photographed the sunset at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Look what it can do.
Can't wait to use it more!
The Canon SX 50 is a brand new point and shoot super-zoom camera that has a 50x zoom lens which is equivalent to a focal length of 24-1200mm. The optical zoom is 50x. The Digital Approx. 4x (with digital tele-converter approx. 1.5x or 2.0x and Safety Zoom). combined Approx. 200x

Friday, January 25, 2013

Clapper Rail, Yes!

The rail show continues at Bailey Tract, east pond, Sanibel, FL. Now there have been 3 Clapper Rails and 2 Soras seen. Plus there may be 2 Wilson's Snipe also. This Clapper Rail walked out into the sun and right by all the birders, much to the delight of the photographers there. Usually the rails stay hidden in shadow in the cattails.
Rails are awesome birds and it was such a delight to see one in great light.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Short-tailed Hawk Surprise!

Short-tailed Hawk, what a nice surprise for visiting friends.

We saw one, then two soaring together.

Short-tailed Hawk is not easily seen on Sanibel, so this was a treat.

It soared up high surrounded by the hundreds of Tree Swallows.

We also saw 4 Bald eagles, here's one of them, a first winter eagle.

Julie, Phil and Laurel. Is that a cute baby or what!

We also saw three Clapper Rails, all in the east pond at Bailey Tract, Sanibel.

And a Sora, who, true to rail habits, liked to stay in cover.

A Rail tail!

There was also a Wilson's Snipe. This shows how beautifully camouflaged it is in the habitats where it feeds.

A Short-tailed Hawk appeared, what a great surprise! We went birding with visiting friends, Julie Brown, Site Coordinator for Hawk Migration Association of North America, her husband, Phil Brown of NH Audubon, and their adorable baby, Laurel ,at the Bailey Tract, Sanibel, FL. After seeing 3 Clapper Rails and a Sora, the raptor show began. First we saw 4 Bald Eagles, then a Short-tailed Hawk, spotted by Phil appeared. As we all looked up a second Short-tailed Hawk joined it in the air.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A "Rail-ly" Good Day: Clapper Rail and Sora

Clapper Rail

The chin is not white and does not contrast strongly with the breast.

The eye is reddish and the auriculars (cheek area) are gray.

Hunting for small fish.

Rails really like to be stealthy and stay hidden, which challenges the autofocus systems on cameras.

Don showing people the rails. Pretty soon a crowd was gathering and for some birders, who had never seen these bird species before, these were life birds.

A bonus was the Sora, another species of rail.

It was smaller, with a smaller yellow bill.

It also stayed in the grasses and hunted.


Wow, two rails in the same binocular view, a Clapper Rail and a Sora. This turned out to be a "rail-ly" good day, as my pun-prone husband said. On a tip from SWFLBirdline listserve that someone has seen a Clapper Rail at the Bailey Tract on Sanibel Island, FL, we headed over there today. We approached the east pond and saw someone looking at birds. Voila, out came a Clapper Rail, then a Sora. It was a grayish overcast day, just the type of light level rails prefer and photographers don't. I had my Canon SX 40 HS point-and-shoot superzoom camera (which zooms out 840mm and beyond to 140x) with me. These were photographically challenging conditions, not the least of which was that rails like to stay hidden. I I was hand-holding the camera. This camera does not take as high quality photos as a digital SLR, but its ability to zoom out and take close-ups of birds leads to more intimate views which are great for studying identification.

You can learn a lot about bird identification from your photos. It's like taking the bird in your hand back home with you. Make sure and take lots of photos of the bird from different angles. Here is some information on the rails, based on our field guide.

Clapper Rails are divided into two groups of subspecies: the Western North American Group (with 3 subspecies) which has rich reddish brown underparts and auriculars and a contrastingly white chin and the Eastern North American and Caribbean Group (with 5 subspecies) which is slightly smaller, has grayish auriculars, from gray to pale reddish brown underparts, and a less contrasting whitish chin. By range alone, this bird is in the Eastern North American and Caribbean Group. It is also in the very dull gray end of subspecies in this group. This most likely places it in the subspecies crepitans. Birds in this subspecies breed on the Atlantic coast from MA to NC and winter along the southeast coast. The picture in our Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America at the top of page 159 was taken on Sanibel, FL (several years ago) also in January and looks very similar to this bird. Could it be the same one?

Soras are monotypic, that is, they do not have subspecies.

By the way, as we just said in our last blog post we have great news. We are coming out in March with two portable new guides, The NEW Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Edition, that are a split of our national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America (which came out in 2010). These new regional guides will contain all the same wonderful photos and text of our national guide and will be the most current of all bird field guides available. (By the way, these are not at all the same as our previous Stokes Field Guide to Birds, eastern and western regions published in 1996 which are going out of print.)

Have fun taking bird photos and through them learn how to better ID birds.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Announcing, 2 new portable field guides, The NEW Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Region, Just Published!

Order Now! The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region, click here.

Order Now! The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region, click here.

Announcing 2 new Stokes Guides – The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region – Just Published!

Reviewers are calling them "Jam-packed with some of the best bird photography out there... they provide the most current and up-to-date information on birds"

"Written and created with intelligence and exacting care... Expands on their record of excellent books about birds. I was impressed by the depth and authority of the species descriptions... I highly recommend trying one."
10,000 Birds

"Don and Lillian Stokes hit it out of the park with their new... guide"
Thermal Birding

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Region are the most complete photographic guides to the birds of eastern and western North America ever written. These lighter weight, portable editions are based on our best-selling national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. They feature thousands of stunningly beautiful photos showing all the field marks and every significant plumage of each species and they include the most up-to-date and extensive identification information of any field guide. (Note, these are entirely new books and not the same as the former Stokes Field Guide to Birds eastern and western regions published in 1996.) We are so excited to bring to you these all new, lighter, more portable field guides, just in time for spring migration. These guides are what you have been asking for. You can pre-order them now!

They have multiple beautiful photos per species.
These are more portable guides. 

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region is less than an inch thick. Size is 5.6 x 8.5 x .08 inches, Pages: 513, Photos: 2,200+

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region is an inch thick. Size is 5.6 x 8.5 x 1 inch, Pages: 593, Photos: 2,400+

Here they are on top of our red, national guide The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

These guides include everything birders want,
- Over 2,200 gorgeous photos in the eastern region and 2,400 photos in the western region, carefully chosen for each species to show all distinct field marks and plumages including, male, female, summer, winter, recognizable ages, morphs, important subspecies, and birds in flight.
- More photos per species for hard to identify birds. Difficult species, such as sparrows and flycatchers are shown from every important angle.
- The most complete and extensive identification text of any North American field guide,  either photographic or drawn.
- Handy Quick Alphabetical Index inside the front cover.
- The only North American field guides to include complete information on all subspecies and hybrids.
- Special sections with identification tips on identifying more difficult groups of birds.
- Cutting edge emphasis on quantitative shape as a way to fast-forward bird identification.
- The newest scientific names.
- Habitat descriptions.
- Special help for identifying birds in flight through important clues to behavior,  plumage, and shape.
- Detailed descriptions of songs and calls.
- The newest range maps.

Frequently Asked Questions,

1. Why did you write these new guides?

We wanted to give people lighter, more portable guides to take into the field, so we split our larger national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, into two regional guides, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. Plus, each of these new regional guides contains only those species found in the respective halves of North America, so you have less species to look through when trying to identify a bird. This makes it easier to identify birds in your area.

2. Are they the same as your national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America?

Yes, they contain all of same features as our national guide, the wonderful photos, layout, incredible information, and unique features that have made our national guide a best-seller. We have added a few new photos and the latest scientific name changes as of their writing. Best of all, these regional guides are much lighter and more portable. To further this end, we have omitted the extreme rarities from these regional guides (all of which are in our national guide) and included just the species you are most likely to see in the eastern or western regions of the country. For those who want all of the extreme rarities, we recommend getting our larger national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which was published in 2010.

3. Why should I buy these guides?

These guides are the most complete and up-to-date regional field guides available. They have stunningly beautiful, carefully chosen photos, with multiple photos per species which show all the important field marks and plumages of each species. We give more, not less, photos for the difficult species. The information is the most complete of any field guide available and hailed for it's incredible accuracy. Photos are the new standard in bird identification and our photos are correct, labeled as to
age, sex, season, morph, subspecies, location and month of the photo. We give detailed and complete information on subspecies and hybrids, which no other guide does. Our layout, with photos at the top and no distractions, allows you to look closely at the real bird and all of its variations while trying to ID it. In summary, in terms of quality, information, and user-friendly layout, there are no other guides like these available. If you already own our national guide, you will want to get these new, portable, regional guides to take into the field with you.

4. Which area is covered by each region, so I will know which one to get depending on where I live?

The dividing line between the coverage of the two regional guides is a straight line from the eastern two-thirds of TX up through Canada, including most of OK, KS, NE, SD and ND. The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region covers species found east of that line and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region covers species found west of that line. There is a map on the back of each guide showing which area of North America it covers.

5. Are these the same as your previous Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and Western Region published in 1996?

No, these are completely new and much more extensive identification guides with all new photos and information. That's why they are called The NEW Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Region. Our previous guides have not been updated since 1996. They are not being republished and will go out of print. The previous guides had less information and photos. They did have some behavioral and nesting information.

6. When can I get your new guides?

The publication date for The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region is March 26, 2013, which means it will be fully available all across the country by then. You can pre-order it online now or get it from your local bookseller.

Praise for The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America,

The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America is "Unequivocally the most spectacular compendium of North American bird identification photographs ever assembled between two covers...this volume significantly resets the bar for North American field guides."
Wayne Peterson, Massachusetts Audubon Society

Thursday, January 17, 2013

PAINTED BUNTINGS from every angle, eye candy

Painted Buntings are my favorite bird. That's why a Painted Bunting is cover image of our best-seller The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America. They're just an "Oh Wow!" wonder.

They're one of the most sought-after species for birders coming to Florida in winter.

We're lucky in that we have attracted them to our yard there. There a number of places where they can reliably be seen in winter, most notably at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL.

Here's a female Painted Bunting.

Painted Buntings can be attracted to bird feeders filled with white millet, a seed they favor. Here's a photography tip. Set up some perches near a bird feeder in good light with a background at a distance. Use a long telephoto lens and stay back quite a bit so as not to spook the buntings, or set up a photo blind. Then wait for the bunting to land on your perch.

Painted Buntings winter in the southern half of Florida and Cuba, Mexico and Central America. During spring migration, Painted Buntings may be seen at coastal southeast migration hotspots. The breeding range includes coastal southeast states, Gulf Coast states and up into OK,  KS, AR and MO. Occasionally they wander out of this area and have even been seen in New england. Wherever you see them you're lucky.

Unfortunately the eastern population of Painted Buntings has been in decline for several decades most likely due to habitat loss. A group of scientists are studying this population. You can help if you live in NC, SC, GA or FL by reporting your Painted Bunting sightings to the Painted Bunting Observer Team website.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Birds in Flight Photography Tips

Osprey with fish. I use a Canon 1D Mark IV camera for most flight photos.

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 autofocus 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.

Peregrine Falcon taken with a Canon SX 40 HS point and shoot. I anticipated it leaving the branch.

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 (or the equivalent for other makes of camera). 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. In general 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.

Some people are now using superzoom point-and-shoot cameras, like the Canon SX 40 HS (which I own), to take bird photos. These cameras do well for birds that are relatively close, in good light and not moving fast. These cameras are harder to use on birds in flight for many reasons, such as they're slower to find and track birds. You can still get decent photos of birds in flight in some situations, such as photographing larger, slower moving birds in good light. So do try flight photos with these cameras.

Other photographers may have other tips or slightly different methods for flight photography, these are just the tips I generally use.

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

Most importantly, have fun!!!
Lillian Stokes

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Young Birders Unite!

There is now a Young Birders Network whose goal is to provide resources for young birders to connect and learn, while giving adults resources to help them. It's important to get kids involved in birding, as they are the future of this hobby and the future guardians of birds. Birds, like this Bald Eagle, can be such a magnet for budding birders. 

Kids need to be taken out into the field, allowed to look through optics and get close-up views of special birds.

Don letting some kids look through his scope.

They need to be guided by caring adults, who will be role models for the kids.

Martha Kreik, right, is a third grade teacher, who encourages lots of kids to learn about birds and says these children are the ones who will take care of these birds in the future.

There are many resources for young birders, ranging from school and nature organization programs to the young birders clubs springing up across the country.
The newly formed Young Birders Network is a coordination between Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for kids from 12-18. The young birders themselves wrote much of the content. There is even a Young Birders Club Toolkit for adults and young birders wanting to start their own club.
There is also a Young Birders Home Page of the American Birding Association website for kids 10-18, where kids can sign up for the ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest, find out about their Young Birder Camps, read their blog and connect with other young birders.
So if you are a young birder reading this, or an adult who wants to help young birders, what are you waiting for, get started soon!