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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eastern Towhee Birthday Bird

I had been trying to get a good photo of this Eastern Towhee, male, that has been newly hanging around our property, with no success. It has either been in bad light, hidden in shrubs, just flown by the time I got my camera, etc. you know how it is. This morning it hopped up on our bird bath right in front of our window and I got this shot. Yes! It's my birthday and I couldn't have asked for a better bird photography op gift.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring "To Do" List for the Birds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
MIgrants are arriving all over the country. Baltimore Orioles and other orioles can be attracted with orange halves, especially when they first arrive from migration. Later, when they're nesting, they primarily eat insects.

Cardinals like to nest in dense shrubs.

Spring is here, so here's a few "to do's" to welcome the birds:

* Make sure all your bird houses are cleaned out.

* Put up new bird houses, since hole-nesting birds like bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, wrens, Tree Swallows, etc. are actively choosing houses now, plus there will be houses available for later arrivals.

* Try offering new foods, like mealworms, oranges for orioles, other fruit, jelly.

* Plant shrubs that provide nesting structure for birds such as lilacs, alders, dogwood shrubs, evergreens, willows, etc. Plant them in groups.

* Get up your hummingbird feeders now, (at the latest by Mother's Day if you live in the most northern sections of the country). Make sure to clean hummingbird feeders ever 2-3 days in hot weather.

* Plant red tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds, such as red salvia, red impatiens, trumpet honeysuckle vine, like Goldflame Honeysuckle (Lonicera heckrotii), trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), red bee balm, red fuschia.

* Plant composite-type perennials and annuals such as, Purple Coneflower and Rudbeckia, whose seed heads will attract finches and sparrows. Butterflies will come to Purple Coneflower when its in bloom.

* Make sure you have several bird baths filled with fresh, clean water all summer.

* Clean your bird feeder regularly with a mild bleach solution, rinse well. Keep them filled with sunflower, and quality mixes.

* Put a bench or adirondack chair in your backyard where you can sit with binoculars and enjoy the show. Get our new regional guides, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions to help you ID your birds. That could be your summer vacation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, property bird #200

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, property bird #200!!! We were just sitting on our deck talking to Henry Walters, ace hawkwatcher and official counter for Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, when he spotted this small, blue-gray bird and said "hey isn't that a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher?" The cool thing was this made property bird #200 for us on our list of all the birds we have ever recorded on our property. Not bad for an inland NH site. Coastal NH gets more birds, but we pride ourselves on managing our 48 acre southwestern NH property, which we call Bobolink Farm, to attract the maximum number of birds here. I grabbed the Canon SX 50 and managed to get these record shots.

"Okaleeee, Okaleeee, Okaleeee," And the translation is...

 "Oakaleeee, Oakaleeee, Oakaleeee"

"Oakaleeee, Oakaleeee, Oakaleeee"

Translation, "I am a Red-winged Blackbird and this is my territory. So stay out other Red-winged Blackbirds. If you are a female Red-winged Blackbird, come check me out because I have an awesome territory and would make an awesome mate."

(P.S. photos taken with Canon SX 50 HS this morning while I was in a kayak)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mr. Bluebird

Mr. Bluebird, oh so blue

You've found the mealworms, they're just for you

You have a wife, she's cute too

Taken with the little Canon SX 50 point and shoot camera.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Northern Flicker Golden Show, Canon SX 50 HS

Three Northern Flickers were displaying in the top of our maple tree this morning. There were two males and a female. Here is a photo I took of a male displaying. He would bob his head up and down and side to side, then fan his tail, showing the beautiful golden underside. Dramatic colors on a bird are often there because they have an important function in displays.
When this display is done between two birds of the same sex it is generally competition for a mate, as here. When done between a male and a female it is part of courtship. These displays are accompanied by the "woikawoikawoika" call and are done early in the spring before nest-building occurs. Look for this fascinating Northern Flicker behavior now.
Canon SX 50 HS photo (Av, 1/500, f 6.5, 195% digital zoom.) These birds were quite far away. So glad for the telephoto power of this point-and-shoot superzoom camera.

Monday, April 15, 2013

NH Spring Birds Canon SX 50 HS

Common Redpoll, f.

Tree Swallows

Fox Sparrow at our feeder. (AV, 1/200, f 6.5, +.1/3, ISO 400, digital zoom 195%)

Dark-eyed Junco

Song Sparrow

Canada Goose on the pond

Ring-necked Ducks (female, l. male, r.) on a cloudy day on our pond, (AV, 1/400, -1/3, f 6.5, 400 ISO, digital zoom 400% 4800 mm equivalent, handheld.)

Returning home from FL to NH, here are some of the birds that greeted us. The feeders were busy with flocks of about 60 Common Redpolls and 50 Dark-eyed Juncos. Both will soon more on to their breeding grounds. A beautiful Fox Sparrow is visiting the feeders, one of my favorites. It too will move on to northern breeding areas.
Tree Swallows are here in numbers claiming their nesting boxes. We have about 15 nesting pairs and this time of year there is much fighting over boxes. Song Sparrows were singing. They breed here as do the Canada Geese. Ring-necked Ducks are migrants on our pond, so dramatic looking. This morning we had a Bald Eagle swooping on them, but it did not catch any.
All photos were shot with the Canon SX 50 HS. This camera loves good light and you can do pretty well in Smart Auto with good sunlight. The challenges are in low light. I mainly shoot in AV, as it gives you some of the most control over the camera. I use exposure compensation, often changing it, as well as ISO, in between photos to suit the lighting situation. With the Fox Sparrow I added plus compensation because it was a backlit bird. The Ring-necked Ducks were very far away, in low light, yet I still got a photo with a painterly quality, kinda dramatic. I handheld it at the far range of the digital zoom, where the camera goes to 4800mm. If you want my tips for using this camera, email me, email is at top right of blog.
Speaking of spring migration, will you be ready to ID all the birds you see? Our just published, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions will help you, especially if you take bird photos!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Blue, Blue, Blue: Indigo Bunting Mania Coming Your Way!

Indigo Buntings continue to pour into Florida. We have seen many the last 3 days at the Sanibel lighthouse park. They come in after their migration and stop in the dune sunflowers and eat the seeds.
So much blue, so much fun.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Here They Come! Buntings, Tanagers, Grosbeaks and More Migrants Flooding Into FL Now

Scarlet Tanager

Looking out from the Sanibel beach across the Gulf of Mexico. The buntings were landing in the dune vegetation.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting eating Dune Sunflower seeds

Palm Warbler

Blue Grosbeak

Red-eyed Vireo

Buntings, Vireos, Tanagers, Warblers, Grosbeaks, and more birds are crossing the Gulf of Mexico and flooding into southern Florida now. We just saw many of them at the Sanibel, Florida, lighthouse park and I took the above photos today. It is so very cool to be standing near the beach and suddenly seeing birds landing near you that have just made it the 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. I just wanted to cheer and congratulate them. Many of the Indigo Buntings were landing in the dune vegetation and eating the seeds of the dune sunflowers, chowing down and refueling after their long journey. Others, like the Red-eyed Vireo, were in the tropical vegetation eating the fruits of the Gumbo Limbo trees. It's very exciting and addictive to see these eye-candy birds, it just makes you want more. Well there are many more birds to come, so, if you live in Florida and the Gulf Coast states, get out there and look because here they come!
Note, all photos here taken with my Canon SX 50 HS camera. If you have this camera and want my tips for using it, email me. Email link is at the top right of this blog.

Friday, April 05, 2013

If You Need All The Help You Can Get Identifying Birds, Help Is Now On The Way!

We so often hear people say the phrase, "I need all the help I can get identifying birds." We see them struggle, scratch their heads, and come up with the wrong ID. We have just spent the winter in South Florida teaching many people about birds and also photography, so we feel their pain.

We really like helping people learn how to identify and appreciate birds, that's why we have spent the last 31 years doing so. That's why we have just come out with 2 new field guides, 
The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. That makes 34 books on birds and nature that we have published! We hope you like our new regional guides and we hope you don't mind if we tell you a little about them. We sometimes hear people say, "who needs another field guide," as though they have all they need, there are too many out there, or what could possibly be useful about another field guide since it's all been done. But our guides are truly different and we would like you to know how they would help you.  Believe it or not, in today's world where you are bombarded every day by more information (on the internet, twitter, blogs, facebook, etc.) than you can possibly look at or absorb, it's not always easy for you to find out about new books you would be interested in.

Our new guides are based on our highly acclaimed, national best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, which came out in 2010, contains over 3,400 photographs, got rave reviews, and was hailed as "among the best photographic guides to North American Birds ever" (Rick Wright, American Birding Association). Here's some information about our new guides and reasons why you might enjoy them. 

1. Information rich text

Our new guides have the most detailed and complete text of any field guide on the market. The text is not split up over the page, but all joined together and very readable. This is important, for it is easier to get all of the information in one place and not have to glean over a page to find hidden clues. Unique aspects of our text include: detailed analysis of shape; complete information on ID clues; details of aging and sexing; the names, characteristics, and ranges of all subspecies; all known hybrids; and the rarity code of the American Birding Association for each bird.

2. These are photo guides

The photos have been carefully selected by us to be of exceptionally high quality and usefulness in bird identification, are clearly presented in an uncluttered way, and show each bird from the important angles for identification. There are over 2,200 photos in The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and over 2,400 photos in The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. "Nowadays,... there is such an abundance of good — even great — photographic material available...  that scrupulous selection... can produce comparisons as precise as any set of paintings" (same ABA review as above). 

Going beyond that, photographs show the real bird. This is especially true when it comes to shape, that complex of proportions and outlines that make up a bird’s physical appearance. Illustrated guides (and no disrespect to the beautiful artwork that is in illustrated guides) often do not get the length and proportions of the bill, the proportions of the head, and the outline of the bird's body correct. This is why the illustrated bird never quite looks like the real bird when you see it. Shape and plumage are the two most important aspects in bird identification, and both may be compromised when looking at illustrations. Almost all birds in illustrations are shown in pristine feather condition, a state that exists only immediately after a complete molt. In the real world, almost all birds have varying amounts of feather wear; in juvenile and immature birds it can be extensive. Thus, the illustrated birds, as shown, simply do not exist in the wild.

We have multiple photos for each species, showing all important plumages with more photos and info. given for the hard-to-identify birds. Here's 2 pages for Cape May Warbler

3. Our photos are labeled and vetted

Some people say that they just go to the internet to look up photos of birds to help them identify a bird. There are many reasons why our new field guide will work better than this. The main one is that all of our photos have been vetted and verified by the very best experts in the country. This means when you look at all of the photos of gulls in all ages and perched and in flight in our guide, you can count on them being accurate. This is not the case on the internet where even species are often labelled incorrectly. Our photos also have additional information in their labels, such as the sex and age of the bird, the subspecies when known, and the location and month in which the photo was taken. Neither the internet nor any other field guide gives you this much information this accurately.

4. Up-to-date

Many aspects of field guides become obsolete over time, including common names, scientific names, phylogenetic order, splits in species, maps, and ID clues. Our new regional guides are the most up-to-date of any field guides, including the new scientific names and phylogenetic order of the warblers.

You can tell Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs easily apart by our "quantitative shape" approach in our new guide. 

5. We have an emphasis on shape

American birding has been obsessed with color for identification. But there are other great tools for identification that have been neglected. Shape is at the top of the list. While colors of a bird change with age, sex, season, wear, and morphs, the shape of a bird remains constant through all of these. A detailed analysis of shape is the best way to better your ID skills, really!  Our guide even takes it further by introducing what we call “quantitative” shape. This involves comparing a measurement of one portion of a bird to a measurement of another portion, such as the length of the bill to the length of the head. This new approach will fast-forward your birding skills and is the key way to distinguish between look-alike species.

6. Maps

Not all maps are equal. Some are better than others. Our maps were done by the established authority on bird distribution, Paul Lehman, for our national guide. They not only show up-to-date summer and winter ranges, they also show migration routes and extralimital wanderings.

7. Tips on ID-ing groups of birds

Scattered throughout the guides are special inserts that help you learn how to identify the various groups of birds. These are called Identification Tips. For example, the gull identification tips tell you how to age gulls; the sparrows box tells how to identify sparrows by Genus and behavior. The beginner will find these especially helpful.

8. Special help where you need it

We know birders struggle more with identifying some birds than others. So we give more, not less, photos and information in the accounts of hard-to-identify birds. For example, for the gull species, we show every age of each gull species both perched and in flight. As one reviewer said of these new guides, "this guide does an excellent job with the gull plates... if you live in the east, this feature alone is worth getting the guide for." (Thermal Birding)

9. Portable

When we wrote the national guide, our main goal was to make the most complete guide available and as a result the guide was quite big. With our new regional guides, our goal was to make the guides easier to use and easier to carry. Dividing the guides into eastern and western regions made them thinner, lighter, and easier to use. But they still have all of the depth of information and great photos of the larger national guide, (minus the extreme rarities, which, if you wish, you can get in our national guide.)

10. Good for ID-ing your digital photos

Many people today take digital photographs of the birds they are watching or trying to identify; it has become an integral part of their birding experience. After taking the photos, they often want to know the name of the bird. This is where a photographic field guide is very helpful, for you are comparing photographs to photographs and not photographs to illustrations. It is much easier to ID the bird.

Speaking of digital photographs, the other new trend that is happening in birding and bird photography is the use of point and shoot super-zoom cameras, Like my Canon SX 50 HS, which I, Lillian, have been using extensively and taught about this winter. Don and I will be at The Biggest Week in American Birding at warbler capital Magee Marsh, OH, this May 10th giving a keynote address and book-signing and we will be talking about "Birding and Photography, the best of both worlds." So we will have a lot to say to help you be better at both. Hope to see you there. It will be fun!

If you are an experienced book reviewer and would like review copies, email us and we will have the publisher get in touch with you.

Thanks for listening and good birding!
Lillian and Don

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Northern Parula, Canon SX 50 HS, Up Close!

So here's another up-close-and-personal photo, uncropped, of a Northern Parula, female, at the Sanibel Lighthouse yesterday, taken with my Canon SX 50 HS at 200x (4800mm equivalent), 400% digital zoom, handheld, AV, 1/500, f6.5, ISO 400. Note, this is way beyond the usual 50x optical range of the camera, into the far end of the digital range. Challenging shot, because, as you know, warblers don't hold still. This one was feeding, moving through a dense bush, then paused for a moment. That's when I zoomed in for this shot.
Yes, I know, at that powerful a telephoto range the photo is more painterly and not as detailed an image as a DSLR (like my incredible Canon 1D Mark IV) would take. Then again, I would never get this close a photo, without cropping. I am addicted to getting these eyeball type shots, they give you such an intimate and magical view of the bird. I love the power of the telephoto on the Canon SX 50 HS, yet it is so light and portable.
(P.S. If you have this camera and want my tips on how to use it, email me. Email link is on top right of this blog.)

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawk, Canon SX 50, Up Close

Here's a Red-shouldered Hawk, juv. in our yard yesterday, taken with my Canon SX 50 HS camera. I call this the "eyeball" camera because it allows me to get such close photos of birds from quite a distance. This is an uncropped photo, taken at 200x (4800mm equivalent) handheld. (P.S. If you have this camera and want my tips on how to use it, email me. Email link is on top right of this blog.)

Monday, April 01, 2013

On The Move: Fox Sparrows! Look For Them!

Fox Sparrow taken at our feeder in NH

Note rufous color on body and tail

This individual has a prominent breast dot

Migration update - Fox Sparrows are on the move and are being reported from many birding listserves. Look for them at your bird feeders. The birds we see in NH have that wonderful foxy color. Not all subsecies of Fox Sparrow are this rufous, some are considerably darker. (See our just published The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions for complete subspecies and extensive photos.) One of the eastern subspecies of Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca iliaca) is the most rufous. We're always thrilled to get a close look at these large, beautiful sparrows. Look carefully at the sparrows at your feeders and see if you have any Fox Sparrows. They like mixed seed and will often feed on the ground.