Friday, December 31, 2010

#31 Field Tip: Take a New Birder Birding

Make a New Year's Resolution - Be a Mentor.

Take the opportunity to bring a new birder, young or old, with you the next time you go out birding in the field. You may spark a lifelong interest in wildlife, or at least enjoy a wonderful day together in the outdoors exploring nature.
photo © adrian binns

Saturday, December 25, 2010

#30 Backyard Tip: Don't Let Your Birdbath Freeze

These Mourning Doves are waiting for their Christmas present!

During the cold winter months birdbaths can freeze up quickly. Don't forget to keep your birdbath filled daily with fresh water, or purchase a heated bird bath (or heater) to keep the water from freezing.

photo © adrian binns

Friday, December 17, 2010

#29 Conservation Tip: Christmas Bird Count (CBC's)

The long-running Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the most important conservation activities ever, and the oldest wildlife census on the planet! Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, this 3-week long, international event brings together groups of birders to count individual numbers and species within designated count circles. Occurring annually from mid-Dec to early-Jan, the CBC offers a fun-filled holiday tradition to enjoy with friends and family. Over 100 years of data has been collected from CBC reports, reflecting important species trends, populations and distributions. CBC data has been used by scientists and law-makers to implement critical decisions about conservation policies; the ban on the toxic pesticide DDT was imposed in part because of CBC data.

The 111th Christmas Bird Count takes place on December 14, 2010 thru January 5, 2011. You can volunteer to participate by contacting your local bird club, or checking the website. You'll spend a day birding in the field with friends, while contributing incredibly important information for science and conservation. A winning combination!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, December 10, 2010

#28 Backyard Tip: Hand Feeding Birds

Want to have a wild bird land on your hand?

Try sitting still near your feeding station, putting a little seed in your palm, and holding your arm outstretched and still. With a lot of luck and patience, there is a possible chance that a chickadee, nuthatch or titmouse may very well land in the palm of your hand, pause a moment, and snatch up a seed.

Patience and practice is key. Wintertime is the best season to try this trick, and you may experience birds in a breathtaking new light!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, December 3, 2010

#27 Optics Tip: Protect the Eyepiece

Most good binoculars come with an eyepiece cap, also known as a rain-guard. You should immediately attach this rain-guard to the left neck strap and let it hang there, so that it will always be available to quickly fit over the eyecups, and protect the eyepiece when out birding.

This is especially handy if it rains, or the wind whips up fine particles of sand, or if you happen to be eating a sandwich!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, November 26, 2010

#26 Field Tip: Magazines make for Good Reading

There are many wonderful magazines about birds and birding such as Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birder’s World, Wild Bird, as well as Audubon, Birding and Living Bird, the latter 3 member publications.

Subscribing to any of these provides you with a wealth of information about identification, travel destinations, local hotspots, optical equipment, events and conservation issues. These magazines feature extraordinary photographs and thought provoking articles.

Friday, November 19, 2010

#25 Identification Tip: House and Purple Finches

Two species that can often cause identification problems at your bird feeders are the ubiquitous House Finch, and the less common Purple Finch. Size wise they are similar, though a Purple Finch may look a little bulkier.

Start by learning the expected species - in this case, for most of us, it would be the House Finch. Female House Finches (above) are a gray-brown color above with blurry streaks on the breast and underparts, that are about the same color as the birds back. It always reminds me of being an overall dingy color.

By contrast the female Purple Finches in the east (above) are browner and have a bold white supercillium and white whisker or malar. The streaks on the breast tend to be bolder, and stand out against a white underbelly. The similar looking female House Finch lacks the supercillium and is rarely white below, and overall lacks the contrast that female Purple Finches show.

The male House Finch (above) with its streaking resembles the female House Finch, but has a red or red-orange head and chest, usually brightest on the forehead. You will also notice on this bird that the undertail is streak - a characteristic of House Finches, and which is unmarked in Purple Finches.

Though this illustration of a male Purple Finch (above) may not be the best, it does clearly show some of the differences between the two species. The color has more of a raspberry tone which can also is found on its back. The underbelly is unstreaked, and as with the female, the auriculars behind the eye are dark and contrast with the rest of the head. One other point worth mentioning is that the tip of the tail on a Purple Finch is distinctively notched (V-shaped), whereas on a House Finch it is only slightly notched.
all photos © adrian binns

Friday, November 12, 2010

#24 Field Tip: Searching for Sparrows

Autumn provides some of the best opportunities to search for sparrows. The birds tend to congregate in mixed flocks, making it easier to locate their presence. Check weedy fields by walking slowly and quietly, holding binoculars close to your chin.

Sparrows will often pop-up briefly before dropping back down out of sight. You'll need to react rapidly to bring the binoculars to your eyes, if you want to get a good enough look for identification before the birds disappear.

It takes practice to be able to I.D. sparrows, as many of them look superficially similar. To start, check bill color, breast markings (streaked or not-streaked), and head patterns. Eventually you'll learn to narrow-down the choices based on various field marks. Don't give up, as sparrows can be wonderfully challenging in Autumn and early Winter!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, November 5, 2010

#23 Backyard Tip: Baffled by Squirrels

I am often asked “What can I do about the squirrels on my feeders? They eat the seed that is for the birds and gnaw holes in the feeders.

The best way to keep them off your feeders is to make sure that you install a baffle on the pole and keep your feeders at least 10 feet away from anything that a squirrel can jump from. This includes other structures, feeders, trees and shrubs. Note in the photo, that the bird bath that a squirrel is in is places well away from the feeder.

There are two types of baffles - round, like a saucer, and cylindrical, like a tube (shown in the photo) - and both are effective. The idea is to mount the baffle below the feeder thereby prohibiting the squirrel from gripping and climbing over it.
photo © adrian binns

Sunday, October 31, 2010

#22 Field Tip: Follow that Sound

Jays and Crows are experts at detecting hawks and owls, and harassing them with endless calls, screeches and screams. Chickadees and titmouse also do this, as frantically, if not as loudly. This is known as mobbing, and they do this as a way to alarm others and encourage the raptors to leave, because they know that hawks and owls prey on roosting and smaller birds.

If you are out birding and hear an incessantly long jay screaming or crows squawking, follow the sound, as it may lead to an unexpected owl sighting!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, October 29, 2010

#21 The ABA needs you!

The American Birding Association (ABA) has arguably formed the backbone of the birding community for many years. In recent times, it has suffered from declining membership and lack of direction.

Today, the ABA is experiencing a new beginning! Newly-appointed president Jeff Gordon has jumped in with both feet to inject the organization with energy, focus, dedication and determination. Under his leadership, the ABA will once-again become a powerful voice by and for the birding community, promoting youth birding, supporting conservation initiatives, and facilitating the expansion and distribution of ornithological knowledge in many ways.

Take a fresh look at the ABA, and consider joining or renewing your membership today. Together, we can build a strong future for birds and birders alike. Your support is greatly appreciated. For details, go to

Friday, October 22, 2010

#20 Optics Tip: Test Drive Optics

When looking to purchase new optical equipment, always try out a pair of binoculars or spotting scope first. This will give you an idea as to whether you like the look and feel of the product.

Good-quality optics will last a lifetime and can cost a lot of money, so you'll want to make sure that you are satisfied with your investment before the purchase is complete. Good places to test optics are at Birding Festivals, bird and nature stores.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, October 15, 2010

#19 Conservation Tip: Outdoor Words of Wisdom

Spend only time.

Take only memories.

Leave only footprints.

Take the time to explore the natural surroundings - turn over a rock, feel the trunk of a tree, smell the moisture in the air, listen to the birds sing, watch a butterfly flutter from flower to flower, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty - Nature has so much to offer.

photo © adrian binns

Friday, October 8, 2010

#18 Travel Tip: Small Change

Always carry a small amount of cash in local currency, preferably in small denominations. This is very useful to cover tips, small purchases and haggling with local merchants where credits cards are not accepted.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, October 1, 2010

#17 Field Tip: Visit a National Wildlife Refuge

Some of my most memorable wildlife experiences have occurred at National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) here in the United States. Within an hour’s drive of every major city there is a NWR.

National Wildlife Refuge Week, Oct 10-16, 2010, is the perfect time to visit your local refuge. Invite a friend to join you or take the family, to enjoy a day out observing the wildlife and experiencing the beauty of these wonderful natural treasures. Don’t forget to take your camera and bins!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, September 24, 2010

#16 Optics Tip: Taking the Weight off your Shoulders

If your binoculars feel heavy when they are around your neck, consider purchasing a shoulder harness strap which allows you put your arms through the straps.

This will take the weight off your neck by distributing it across your upper body for maximum relief and comfortability. Your binoculars will feel lighter and easier to manage, especially during a long day of birding.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, September 17, 2010

#15 Backyard Tip: Window Silhouettes

Just as you and I can see through windows, birds can as well. Unfortunately, the difference is that the birds do not realize that there is a pane of glass. This sadly leads to many injured birds and fatalities, as birds fly at top speed and hit the glass head-on.

We can help our feathered friends by placing silhouette cutouts of raptors on the windows, or draping a fine netting over the glass. Both of these serve to break-up the view, and deter the birds from flying that way.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, September 10, 2010

#14 Conservation Tip: Counting Hawks

Fall (mid August-late November) is the perfect time to watch kettles of hawks and streams of raptors migrating south. During this time, official hawk watching sites, such as Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Cape May in the east, and the Goshute Mountains and Hazel Bazemore in the west, are engaged in counting numbers and documenting important information about population trends and species distribution.

Raptors are at the top of the biological food chain, and sensitive to environmental changes; they serve as a great biological indicator of the overall health of our environment. Monitoring raptors helps identify potential problems, and better understand ongoing conservation challenges. Visit a local hawk watch to enjoy some great birding and learn a little more about the importance of raptor conservation.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, September 3, 2010

#13 Travel Tip: Less Laundry

If you spend a whole day in a location where you can expect high humidity, without going into great detail, I recommend traveling with quick-dry clothing - shirts, shorts, pants, socks, etc.

These can easily be washed in hotel or lodge sinks and left to dry overnight. This reduces the number of articles of clothing that one needs to pack and travel with - lightening the load!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, August 27, 2010

#12 Optics Tip: What do the Numbers Mean?

Every pair of binoculars is described by a set of numbers, for instance 8 x 42, as above. The first number refers to the magnification – the object will appear 8 times closer when looking through the binoculars. The second number is the effective diameter of the objective (front) lens in millimeters, meaning the size of the lens through which the image enters the binocular – 42 mm. The larger the lens size, the greater the field of view, and the brighter the image will appear.

In the case of binoculars, bigger is not always better! If you choose to use a higher magnification (i.e. 10 power) you may see the bird closer and larger, but the field of view will be smaller, and you must hold your hands very steady to keep it in focus. And a large lens size (42-50+ mm) offers a wide field of view, but the optics will be much heavier for it. Choose a pair that is most appropriate for your needs.

The number 7.7 degrees references the field of view, which in itself is not usually a decision-making factor for most birders.  And speaking of numbers, Nikon also includes the 7-digit serial number of the individual equipment on their optics, which is useful if you need to reference them.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, August 20, 2010

#11 Field Tip: Stop-Look-Listen

I have found that when out birding with friends or in group outings, be mindful of the amount of noise that you are making. We see and hear the most while walking quietly. Idle chatter reduces our powers of observation and alerts wildlife to our presence.

The sounds of nature are all around us, and we will be able to absorb them better if we talk less, pause often, and listen more.
photo © adrian binns

Monday, August 16, 2010

#10 Identification Tip: Dowitcher Structure

When scanning through a large flock of shorebirds, the first thing I do is look to see how many different sized birds there are. By looking at structure and shape I determine if the flock is pretty much all one species or made up of say, godwits, willets, yellowlegs, dowitchers and peeps (small sandpipers). We recognize these birds because they are of different size and postures. Just the way that you could recognize five family members, just by their silhouettes.

In this photo we have 3 larger birds which are American Avocets, and 4 smaller shorebirds mainly in feeding postures with their bills deep in water to their bellies, and one with a long straight bill.  Being considerably smaller, chunky looking, and having a long straight bill, makes it easy to call these dowitchers.  

Closer study shows some interesting observations.  Two of the birds - front left and back right - are noticeably larger than the other two, suggesting Long-billed's. The bellies of the larger birds are higher out of the water, meaning their legs are taller.  The structure of their bodies is bulkier and rounder (hump backed) than the other two; Kevin Karlson describes this as shaped like a tennis ball.  These are, indeed, Long-billed Dowitchers. Compare to the Short-billed's, whose bodies are more stretched-out,  oval shaped, and leaner.  These two points are often clear enough to separate and identify Long-billed Dowitchers from a distance, in silhouette.

For further information about dowitchers and shorebirds, I highly recommend the excellent book, The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, August 13, 2010

#9 Backyard Tip: Study the Common Birds First

How well do you know a bird? Can you describe a common bird that you have seen a million times? Do you recall all the details of its plumage or field marks?

Take a moment to write down, or draw, what a Blue Jay looks like, and compare your notes to its image in a field guide and see how well you have done.

Start in your backyard and study the common birds first. Know them well. This will help in being able to identify similar looking and less common species, as well as enhance your birding skills and enjoyment of our wonderful passion.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, August 6, 2010

#8 Conservation Tip: Keep Cats Indoors

This is the only way cats should interact with birds - from behind glass! Outdoor cats pose a major threat to our bird population. Keep your cat indoors at all times.

Friday, July 30, 2010

#7 Travel Tip: Traveling Lite

While it is tempting to bring every article of clothing or equipment for every possible climate or condition, it is not practical to carry excessive baggage. Too many bags are burdensome not only for yourself but for trip organizers and companions who must load, unload and keep track of every piece.

Airlines are “helping us” to pack smarter by enforcing baggage weight restrictions and adding fees. Consolidate clothing into a few essential layers. Choose footwear carefully wearing your main shoes and bringing only one additional lightweight pair. Use a carry-on back pack for books and fragile items such as binoculars and camera. In short, take only what you need!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, July 23, 2010

#6 Optics Tip: Mind the Bug Spray!

In certain seasons, in some areas, greenheads and mosquitos are out in full force. You reach for the bug spray immediately upon opening the car door, frantically attempting to repel the vicious biters. In doing so, always spray outdoors, never in an enclosed area or inside your car.

Don’t forget to put your optics or camera out of reach first, so that the spray does not touch your valuable equipment.

If you get bug spray on your hands, be sure to wipe it off with soap and water and dry them thoroughly before picking up your bins or camera. The powerful chemicals in the bug spray will quickly erode the equipment. And keep this in mind when spraying around children or pets - bug spray can be harmful!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, July 16, 2010

#5 Field Tip: Beware of Ticks

Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease, is a concern in many areas of the country. It is carried by pinhead-sized deer ticks, not the larger wood ticks.

The best way to protect yourself while out in the field is to cover up with long pants, trouser legs tucked into your socks, long-sleeved shirts and a hat. In addition, some insect repellants may be effective deterrants. Don’t forget to do a tick search on your body once you get back home!
photo © adrian binns

Sunday, July 11, 2010

#4 Optics Tip: I’m All Fogged Up!

There is nothing more frustrating than getting out of your vehicle in this heat and humidity, lifting up your bins to look at a colorful oriole, and finding that your bins are fogged up! This occurs when moving between an air-conditioned enclosure and the humid outdoors.

To reduce or even eliminate the amount of fogging, I have found it helpful to wrap towels or clothes around optical equipment, or bury them deep inside a travel bag when traveling - and keep them in their case. Essentially this keeps the optics warm, so they are less “shocked” when encountering hot, humid weather. Carefully dab a soft chamois cloth on the glass to wick up condensation.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

#3 Backyard Tip: Keep your Birdbath Filled

Summer is here and we are currently in the middle of a scorching heat wave. It is hot! Not only for us but also for the birds in our backyard. We should all be helping out our feathered friends by cleaning and keeping a birdbath filled with fresh water on a daily basis. This will not only ensure that they have clean water to drink but it will also allow them to take a refreshing cool bath.
photo © adrian binns

Saturday, July 3, 2010

#2 Conservation Tip: Duck Stamps Save Wetlands

Help save critical wetlands for birds! A federally-issued Duck Stamp is available every year beginning July 1st. 98% of the $15 cost goes towards the purchase of wildlife habitat. Since the program began in 1934 $750 million has been raised to buy 5.3 million acres. Birders can do their part by purchasing a Duck Stamp which also entitles them to visit National Wildlife Refuges free for the year. It is a win-win deal, and the best bang for your buck!

Duck Stamps can be purchased at National Wildlife Refuges, Post Offices and Sporting Goods stores.
photo © adrian binns

Sunday, June 27, 2010

#1 Field Tip: Baby Birds, Leave Them Be

Spring and summer are when birds are raising young ones. It is a time when we are likely to come across a young fledgling, out of its nest, that is begging for food and looks helpless without its parent. Leave it alone! There is good chance that one or both parents are very close by keeping an eye on it. When they feel safe, they will feed it. The quicker it grows the sooner it will be able to fly. This is nature’s way and we should not interfere.
Northern Mockingbird © adrian binns