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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Birders: The Central Park Effect, a must see, get the DVD.

 Blackburnian Warbler

and Nashville Warbler, two of the beautiful birds shown in the documentary, Birders: The Central Park Effect.

Just saw a showing of the documentary by Jeffrey Kimball called Birders: The Central Park Effect, last night at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It's a film about birding and birders in Central Park, NY through the seasons.  It was great, you gotta see it. Beautifully filmed, great footage of birds, wonderful personalities (including Jonathan Franzen) articulately telling why birding grabs them. Like a love poem to birding, it will remind you why you are a birder.
Birders: The Central Park Effect is now available on DVD, click here.

The gorgeous video of warblers made us eager for the eye candy birds of spring migration. By the way,   we will be keynote speakers on Friday, May 10th this year at The Biggest Week in American Birding festival at Magee Marsh, OH, one of the top warbler spots of the country. Hope to see you there. Bring your cameras. I took the above warbler photos there.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Moonrise Bird Beauty

Went for a wonderful sunset cruise recently out of Tarpon Bay (nestled within Ding Darling NWR) Sanibel, FL, run by Tarpon Bay Explorers. We saw birds going to roost at sunset and this spectacular moonrise (taken with Canon SX 50 HS camera, photo not cropped. All photos were taken with this camera.)

Tarpon Bay (the setting for the Doc Ford novels by Randy Wayne White) stretches out before you. The pontoon boat we took is at the dock.

We passed this nesting pair of Ospreys atop a pole with a nesting platform. 

Then out to the rookery islands out in the bay where there were hundreds of birds, especially pelicans,

both White Pelicans,

and Brown Pelicans.

The birds were settling in for the night.

 The closer it got to sunset, the more birds flew in including may White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, other herons and more. The birds find safety at night on the islands and also a place to nest.

It was magical as the sun got lower.

and we had a spectacular sunset,

then moonrise. It was awesome being out in nature and experiencing the night ritual of the birds. Just us and them. Go if you can.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ovenbird Up Close, J. N. Ding Darling NWR, Canon SX 50 HS

Ovenbird on the ground, viewed from above, at the entrance ramp to J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Visitor's Center. This is such a cool view of that head pattern of the two dark stripes on either side of the orange crown. (Photographed with Canon SX 50 HS super-zoom point and shoot camera (cost $429), AV, 1/60, ISO 2000, f5.6, + 1/3, 100% digital zoom ratio.) This was a difficult photo situation and bigger, more expensive DSLR cameras like my Canon 1D Mark IV (cost me $5,000) would have produced better photos. Even for DLSR cameras, the low light, moving bird that was mostly obscured by twigs and brush, it would be a photo challenge. I only post these photos to show what is even possible with this little camera in a tough situation. If you want a camera that shoots in low light with better quality photos, get one of the more expensive DLSR cameras from Canon or other manufacturers. It you want a fun camera with an incredible zoom power (up to 1200mm, or 4800mm with digital zoom), weights a little more than a pound and costs a lot less, then you might be interested in the SX 50 HS.

This bird was walking on the ground under bushes and tangle in a shaded area, just the kind of place a wintering Ovenbird would like. Ovenbirds winter in Florida, the southern tip of TX, and farther south.

Can you find the Ovenbird? It was very camouflaged against the leafy, bushy understory. The lower light level made photography a challenge. 

I was amazed I got any clear photos at all. The bird was constantly moving, there were branches in the way, and the very low light levels meant I had a slow shutter speed. I bumped up the ISO to 2000 to increase shutter speed, but even then I still had shutter speeds of 1/60 or 1/50. I kept shooting, waiting for the few seconds when the bird paused and was somewhat still. This camera has image stabilization, which helped. I am constantly surprised at the photos I get with this camera.

Heres the ramp that leads to the visitor's center building and bookstore. The ovenbird was on the right side, near the top of the ramp, so we were looking down on it from above. 

What a secretive and wonderful bird and so special to know it's making a living wintering in this national wildlife refuge. Many people walked by us, not knowing the ovenbird was below. Some stopped to ask what we were looking at. When we said "Ovenbird" some people knew what we meant and were thrilled to see it. For other people, when we had to explain "It's a warbler that walks on the ground," they responded "Can it fly?" We realize there's still so much education about birds to do, and we're happy to do it.

FYI, the AOU (American Ornithologist's Union) has changed the classification of warblers and this is included in our new field guides, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region, which will be for sale on March 26th. For example, Ovenbird is the first bird in the warbler section, followed by Worm-eating Warbler and the two waterthrushes. The genus Dendroica is gone. The Genus Setophaga, which used to include only the American Redstart, now also includes Hooded Warbler, two species from the genus Parula, and everything that used to be in the genus Dendroica. So, if you want to be current, get our new guides which you can pre-order here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Think Spring!

As our friend said when she saw a photo of our view of palm trees at our Florida home, "you live on a different planet." As northern areas are under a blanket of snow and northern bloggers, like our friends at Juniper Hill Farm, write about keeping warm by the fire and browsing internet garden images, we are in a land that has a different rhythm. The Cardinals in our yard are singing in the Bougainvillea and getting ready to breed.

Gulf Fritillay butterflies are on the wing, nectaring on newly opened wildflowers.

The Red Kapok Tree in a tropical garden here, is in bloom.

But soon the North will change and Yellow-rumped Warblers will return.

Down here they are in small to large flocks and eat insects and berries, getting ready for their journey.

Tree Swallows wintering here by the thousands,

will return to their breeding grounds, bringing spring with them.

So, think spring wherever you are.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Northern Shoveler, Isn't She Lovely?

Northern Shoveler, female, photographed at Bailey Tract, Sanibel, FL.

Isn't she lovely? Somehow that song plays in my mind when I look at her and think, from the perspective of a Northern Shoveler, male, it's true.

Here she is with a Blue-winged Teal, male. Two different types of bill, each adapted for a specific type of feeding. Photos taken with the Canon SX 50 HS point and shoot super-zoom camera. Nature is wonderful.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sora, Bailey Tract, Sanibel, FL. and Canon SX 50 HS.

Sora, Bailey Tract, Sanibel, Florida. I had fun at this location photographing this rail and other birds yesterday with my Canon SX 50 HS point and shoot super-zoom camera.

Soras are usually secretive birds that stay in the shadows, but this one came out into the sun and the open at the end of the day, hunting for food before the cold (for here) night set in.

Soras are beautifully colored and I love their tail. It reminds me of a White-tailed Deer's tail.

The Sora was on the first water area on the right on the main trail. Here's a long view with an immature White Ibis for scale.

There were many ducks there. I will post more about them tomorrow. Here's a female Mottled Duck, resting in the grasses, but still alert. One of the things I like about the Canon SX 50 HS camera is the fact that it zoom out to 1200mm (and beyond in the digital range, up to 4800mm) which allows you to get close photos of birds without disturbing them. This is a big plus in bird photography.

An immature Osprey sat on a dead tree, surveying the scene, eyes alert. I always am paying attention to the way the light falls on the bird and what subtle and unique photos it makes. One does not always have to have a perfectly front lit bird for an interesting photo.

Here it is showing the whole body.
This immature Tri-colored Heron still has rust colors in its plumage and was dramatically posed in the late sunlight against the dark water.

Photography is so much fun. I enjoy playing with the effects of light and shadow and capturing intimate glimpses of birds.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Great Review, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds:Eastern and Western Region

We just got a great review of our all new, portable regional field guides, The Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Region. calls them, "Jam-packed with some of the best bird photography out there... (they) provide the most current and up-to-date information on birds... Both guides follow the same format with the western boasting 2,400 photos to the eastern's 2,200... The best part of the guides, other than the superb photo quality, is the display of birds in various plumages and ages. When applicable, differing male and female plumages are shown as well as age cycles of gulls and other obvious plumage variances among specific bird species."

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Region will be published March, 26, 2013, just in time for birders and spring migration! These are entirely new guides and based on our best-selling, national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, published in 2010.

Order now,

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region

We hope you enjoy our new guides and Good Birding!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Here are some Valentine's Day images from us. The top photo is of Bonica Roses from our extensive bird gardens at Bobolink Farm our 48 acre NH home. The second photo is of a preening Roseate Spoonbill (pronounced rose-ee-et) that looks like a big Valentine's day heart. It has it's right wing raised and is preening it's belly so you can't see its head, only its eye is visible peeking out from its left side. Spoonbills are one of the celebrity birds here at Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel, FL. They are not flamingos, as many tourists assume because of their pink color. Below is a photo of one in flight. Roseate Spoonbills feed by sweeping the spoon-shaped bill back and forth in the water, then snapping it closed on a fish they locate by touch.

This is also our 7 year blogger anniversary. Lillian has been writing this blog plus taking all the photos, for 7 years, starting on Feb. 14, 2006!
Happy Valentine's Day and Good Birding to All!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

American Kestrel and Northern Mockingbird

American Kestrel sitting in a tree, near the Bailey Tract, Sanibel, FL, minding it's own business.

Hey, there's a Northern Mockingbird in my tree.

No, there's an American Kestrel in my tree. Kinda gutsy of the mockingbird to think about messing with a kestrel. However it did not, then left.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge Stokes Photo Tour

As a fundraiser for the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, on Sanibel, FL, Don and I led a birding and photography tour through the refuge yesterday. This was a special treat for all as the refuge is closed to the public on Fridays. Ding is one of the crown jewels of the National Wildlife Refuge system, has incredible opportunities for birding and photography and is a safe haven for the birds.

Participants were first treated to a yummy breakfast buffet in the beautiful refuge headquarters.

Then we headed out in to look for some of the fabulous birds Ding has to offer, such as this Reddish Egret.

Our trams were provided by Tarpon Bay Explorers, who offer their own excellent tours. My tram was for the photography participants. My challenge was to teach photography to participants who hand many different levels of skill and kinds of cameras, some of them DSLRs, some point-and-shoots. I was helping people learn about the tools of photography like exposure compensation, Aperture Priority, ISO, etc. I also took photos myself with my Canon SX 50 HS, which is the new point and shoot super-zoom that can reach 24-1200mm in the digital range and up to 4800mm in the optical range. All the photos here were taken with that camera. 

Photographing white birds in bright light is tricky as it is easy to overexpose the photo. Participants learned about using exposure compensation settings on their camera which can help avoid this.

There were opportunities for flight photography. This Magnificent Frigatebird, 3rd-4th yr., soared overhead at a distance. I zoomed in on it and used the SX 50's "Sports Mode" to capture these photos.

This is hardly cropped, that's how close the zoom got.

Don led the tram and taught bird identification. We made frequent stops to look for birds and photo ops.
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron was hunting for crabs and fish in one of the ditches. Even though birds in Ding Darling are very used to humans and allow close approach (unlike most birds in other places), we cautiously approached this bird. The American Birding Association has an excellent written code of ethics to help birders and photographers know how to treat birds.

Since the camera I was using has a powerful telephoto lens, I was able to get eyeball shots, while staying a distance. A big benefit of telephoto lenses is that you can keep a good distance and not disturb a bird, yet photograph it. The Canon SX 50 HS is also lightweight at 1.31 pounds.

This bird hunted slowly then exploded into action, catching this unlucky crab!

At the tower pond, many shorebirds were resting on the sand bar. Willets, a common shorebird with black and white patterns on their wings, kept flying in. I like this photo where it looks like angel's wings. Drama in the midst of dullness.

White Pelicans are some of the stars at Ding. Many of these beautiful, big birds winter there then return to their western breeding areas. This one was preening. Photo shot at 195x. For more on the SX 50 HS go here. Have fun with photography and continue to learn more and experiment with your cameras.

We are thinking of all of you in New England, our home, please stay safe in the blizzard!!