Articles for the Month of April 2015

New – Major update to Bird Photography Tips pages

I admit I had been letting some pages on my main website languish for far too long.  I always upload new photos when I get them, and I’ve slowly been completing species account pages for every species seen in North America (over 820 done, “only” ~130 to go!).  Some of my other content has been static for, well…too long. One of the sections that desperately needed an update was a page I had on Bird Photography.  The page was meant to provide tips for taking photos of birds.

How long had it been since I updated that page?  Well, one section of the Bird Photography tips page discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using film vs. using digital cameras!  Yeah, it was time to update that section of the website.  I’ve extensively modified the material that was on the old page, and have added a lot of new material as well. The new Bird Photography pages can be accessed here.  The content is now broken into three sections:

  • Equipment Advice – This section provides advice on the necessary equipment to shoot photos of birds, including camera bodies, lenses, flash, tripods, etc.
  • Shooting Birds – This section provides advice on how to get close enough to birds in order to take photos, and also tips on camera settings that ensure you’ll be prepared to get the shot.
  • Photo Stories – Experience is the best teacher. This section provides stories of how individual photos were achieved, including how I got close enough to the bird, and how I used my tools to get the shot.

I hope the vast improvement in this section is useful for those just starting out in bird photography!  When I first started I was feeling my own way around and it took a while to become proficient.  I hope this information shortens the learning cycle for new photographers!!!


The Ultimate “Yard Bird” for New Mexico Birder

Hoary Redpoll - Acanthis hornemanni

My best yard bird, a Hoary Redpoll that showed up 2 years ago and stuck around for several weeks. A great yard bird, but it doesn’t top Joe Fitzgibbon’s new bird.

Do you have a yard list?  A lot of birders keep a yard list, a tally of the different species they’ve seen or heard in their yard.  With the advent of eBird and the ease of entering bird sightings on my iPhone, iPad, or desktop, it’s awfully easy to keep track of a yard list, or other area list. I really didn’t ever formally keep ANY list, until I started entering bird reports in eBird.  Now I not only know how many species I’ve seen in my yard, but I also know how many I’ve seen in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, and the U.S. as a whole.  A handy tool that made a “lister”  out of a non-lister in myself!

My yard list isn’t all that fantastic. I only have 52 species.  We’ve lived in our house for 8 years now, so 52 species isn’t all that impressive.  It’s a new house, with landscaping I myself put in 8 years ago when we built the house. Without mature landscaping and bigger trees, you do limit the species you can find!  I do have a few nice “yard birds” though.  There’s an active Bald Eagle nest just a mile from my house, and it’s not rare to see one of them soaring overhead. When we first built the house and moved in, it was an incredibly rainy September and there were no other houses built around us yet.  there was a Lesser Yellowlegs in the muddy pools in the backyard.  Nice to get a shorebird in a suburban backyard!  The best yard bird was from 2 winters ago though.  I’d never had Common Redpolls in the yard, and it was a tremendous winter for Redpolls across the region.  I had a group of about a dozen Redpolls regularly visiting when one day, my young son looked out at the feeder and said “what’s the white one”?  It was a Hoary Redpoll, a real rarity, and a bird that really stood out from his “common” cousins. A great yard bird, and one that several folks came over to see.

An even better yard bird happened to land in the back yard of a good birding friend from work.  Alas, it happened before I became a birder and I never saw it, but he had birders flock to his yard from across the region to see the mega-rarity.  A lifetime birder who had never seen a Great Grey Owl, my friend looked out one winter, and lo-and-behold, a Great Grey Owl was perched in his backyard.  Why is this better than my very rare Hoary Redpoll?  Up until my friend’s backyard visitor, the ONLY Great Grey Owl ever seen in South Dakota was a dead one that was found.  His was the first live bird ever seen in the state, and to this day it remains the only Great Grey Owl seen in South Dakota.

The Hoary Redpoll was a nice addition to my yard list, and the Great Grey Owl certainly was a highlight for my friend, but neither can touch the new yard bird from Joe Fitzgibbon in New Mexico.  An avid birder, he had recently made a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona to try and spot a California Condor.  He didn’t have any luck.  A little while later, while at home, he saw a very large bird land in his backyard.  It was…you guessed it…a California Condor!! It was the first Condor seen in New Mexico in likely over a century. Not a bad yard bird!  In the pecking order of great yard birds, I’d say Fitzgibbon’s Condor trumps my Hoary Redpoll and my friend’s Great Grey Owl!!

That’s part of the excitement of birding.  You never know what you may find when you venture out on a birding trip.  And on occasion, just a casual glance out the kitchen window might yield the surprise of a lifetime.

Weekend Shorebirds and Waders

Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus

A Lifer (for South Dakota!). A lone Black-necked Stilt has been hanging around for several days in Minnehaha County.

It’s still a bit early for a lot of the songbirds to be moving through (particularly for warblers, the group I love to look for in the spring), so my recent birding efforts have focused on shorebirds and wading birds.  South Dakota is actually a great place for shorebirds in the spring and the fall, as we have such a great variety of migrants that move through here. In addition to the common ones, you never know when you might find a rarity.

Over the last several days there has indeed been a rarity that I’ve found, a first for me in the state!  There’s been a lone Black-necked Stilt hanging out at a wetland in northwestern Minnehaha County, a bird that was nice to enough to hang around for a return visit 4 days after I initially found him!  I say “alone”, but in fact he had buddies.  His buddies just happened to be a different species, as he was loosely associating with several American Avocets that were also using the wetland.  It’s always great fun to see and observe Avocets around here.

It’s actually been a bit slow for shorebirds overall though. Part of it is undoubtedly the water conditions.  It’s been very dry here, and several of my favorite shorebird spots don’t even have any water right now.  Despite that, there have been some scattered shorebirds around, with a nice mix of variety (in addition to the Avocets and Stilt).  There have been a few Willet, which always seem kind of drab until they unfold their wings and take flight, showing that gorgeous black-and-white wing pattern.  I have yet to see any Hudsonian Godwits, but I have seen a few scattered Marbled Godwits. There are always plenty of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs around, and Pectoral Sandpipers always seem to be pretty common as they move through too.  Baird’s and Semipalmated Sandpipers are also around as usual, with a few scattered Least Sandpipers too.

American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana

Always a fun one to see, and watch as they feed…an American Avocet.

There are three other kinds of shorebirds I’ve found too that are some of my favorites.  I ran into a group of about 15 Semipalmated Plovers, probably the most I’ve ever seen at once, as they normally seem pretty solitary.  They always look so dapper to me and couple with their very small size, they’re just so darn cute.  Another favorite are Wilson’s Phalarope which are pretty common around here right now.  The birds themselves are beautiful, but it’s their behavior that’s such a great attraction, with flocks of them sitting on the water’s surface and spinning around like mad-men as they try to swirl up food items in the water column.  One more favorite are Dunlin, seemingly yet just another small shorebird until you see that distinctive black belly patch.

A nice variety overall, but there are still quite a few shorebirds I normally see in the spring that I haven’t seen yet.  Bigger wading birds are starting to arrive too, including a nice group of White-faced ibis I saw the other day (a species I don’t see all that often).  Black-crowned Night-herons have arrived, as have Great and Snowy Egrets.

White-faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi

Two of five White-faced Ibis found at Lake Thompson, actually the first I’ve seen there.

I’ve also had some nice luck not only hearing, but seeing a couple of species that are normally pretty camera shy!  Sora are something you hear pretty frequently in wetlands, and although I thought it was a bit early for them, I was fortunate this week to not only hear them in two different spots, but to actually see and photograph them.  Nice to add to a relatively sparse number of photos I had of the species!  Virginia Rails may as well be the Sora’s “Twins” in terms of shy behavior, but I also heard a rail and caught a glimpse of him moving through the wetland.

The weather’s been lovely, and the birds are arriving! I can’t wait for the coming days as the full-fledged songbird migration adds to all the fun that the shorebirds and wading birds have given me!




Eegads!! Feathers and Folly hacked!! A new blog…

ACK!  My old blog, “Feathers and Folly”, was hacked!  I started receiving notices from Google that my overall site had been hacked, but I had no idea what the issue was. I brought up all my web pages, and they looked normal.  It wasn’t until I went onto a Google Forum and asked for help that someone pointed out the problem.

When you looked at my old pages, they seemed fine, just how I wanted them to look.  But some searches involving my site on Google including some pretty awful stuff, links that would redirect you from my site to other, pretty nefarious sites.

I’m looking at this as an opportunity to start fresh!  Given that I didn’t update my old blog very often, I’m starting anew.  I deleted all “Feathers and Folly” material and this will be the new companion blog to South Dakota Birds and Birding. With a fresh start, I hope to post more often, including the following:

  • Recent birding trips and photos
  • Photo stories, describing the experience of getting a specific photo
  • “In the News”, news stories involving birds and birding
  • Conservation issues, involving news or related material about conservation of habitats and the creatures that live in them.
  • Science/Research, highlighting new research in ornithology and related topics.

Check back soon and I hope to keep the NEW South Dakota Birds Blog updated frequently!!

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