Saturday, December 31, 2011

#83 Field Tip: Gumballs and Goldfinches

Walking a stretch of road through my local patch, I came across an expansive stand of Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua. This common, deciduous tree of the east-southeast grows straight and tall, reaching 100 feet in height, thriving in moist areas. 

Their picturesque, star-shaped leaves have long dropped by this time of year, exposing numerous spiky "gumballs" that attract birds, particularly finches in winter.

Gumballs are the fruit of the Sweetgum tree, and each one holds up to 50 small black seeds, a favorite of American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, and Pine Siskins.  Their small fine bills adeptly pry open the prickly gumball to get to the food inside.  

I marveled at the amazing acrobatics of birds hungrily searching for seeds, often hanging upside and jumping quickly from gumball to gumball.  Look for them this winter at your local park or woods - they are great fun to watch! 
 photo © adrian binns

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#82 Backyard Tip: Introducing Suet

Most birds have a high metabolic rate, and suet (or fat) plays an important part in their diet. Suet produces enough energy to help birds sustain higher activity levels, for longer periods between meals, during the longer, colder winter months.

While suet can be offered in a cage feeder or mesh bag, I prefer to rub the suet directly into crevices and holes on a snag (as in the photo) that I have placed near my feeding station.

Many birds enjoy suet, but I find that it is those that tend to cling to tree trunks - woodpeckers, creepers, nuthatches, wrens, titmice and chickadees - that are readily attracted to my suet, and it is not long before I have to gladly replenish the supply.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#81 Old Names, New Names

I have been looking through records dating back to the 1950's of bird species seen on my "local patch" - John Heinz NWR at Tinicum, in Philadelphia. Of interest were the names that some of these birds were known as, only 50 years ago.

Whistling SwanPigeon HawkSparrow HawkUpland PloverLong-billed Marsh Wren and Short-billed Marsh Wren were what Tundra Swan, Merlin, American Kestrel, Upland Sandpiper, Marsh Wren and Sedge Wren, respectively, were called in those days.

Myrtle Warbler was, and still is, an abundant migrant here in the east, but that was the old name given to Yellow-rumped Warbler, which was once 'split' into two species, the other being Audubon's (in the west). There is talk that they may once again be 'split' in which case it would go back to being known as Myrtle Warbler.

One bird that did regain its old name (from the 1950's) is Common Gallinule (above). Until recently this was known as the Common Moorhen. The naming committees are in the process of straightening out all the common names of birds around the world, so that no two species have the same name, as was the case with this bird.  So the North American bird gets its old name back, Common Gallinule, and its European counterpart (a seperate species) now goes by the name of Common (or Eurasian) Moorhen.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#80 A Murmuration of Starlings

During the winter months flocks of black birds can be seen congregating in large numbers, well into the thousands, especially late in the day before they go to roost.

These aerial displays, produced as they twist and turn in unison, can be nothing short of mindboggling. As the formation dances, and the cloud of birds lightens and darkens, it reminds me of watching the northern lights, another of natures truly spectacular wonders.

What's in a name? A group or flock of starlings is known as a murmuration, from the word murmur, meaning to utter a low continuous indistinct sound. This describes the rustle of thousands of pairs of starling wings perfectly.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#79 What's in a Name: Kiskadee

I recently visited the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, where I was delighted to become reacquainted with beautiful birds that I don't see in SE Pennsylvania.  Several common species seen foraging around feeders have peculiar names related to sounds that the birds make!

The Great Kiskadee, distributed widely from southern Texas through South America, is named for its distinctive, three-syllable song, 'kis-ka-dee.'

The large and gregarious Plain Chachalacas are also named "onomatopoeically," meaning that their name imitates the four-noted cackle that it makes. Central American Indians gave them this name upon hearing the same loud, screechy sounds that birders do!
photo © adrian binns

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#78 Conservation Tip: Building Birdboxes

I spent a wonderful morning with a group of PA Young Birders constructing birdboxes and discussing the importance of natural and manmade cavities for many species.

Our bird boxes help supplement the decline in natural cavities by providing a suitable alternative for cavity nesting birds like bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, titmice and tree swallows.

This activity offers a great way to engage and teach kids about habitat and conservation, and is a fun family project for the holidays.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#77 Field Tip: Scratching Sparrows

My wintering sparrows have returned in full force. White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Junco's in particular seem to be all over the backyard. 

While many birds feed by pecking the ground, sparrows have a slightly different method. If you watch them carefully you will notice that they use both legs to move backwards, enabling them to scratch the surface, in order to unearth or expose a seed. 
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#76 Keeping an Eye On..... Blackpoll Warblers

The last of our wood-warblers, Blackpolls, have now departed my yard in the Delaware Valley (PA/NJ/DE)  on a long and arduous journey to their wintering grounds.

Blackpoll Warblers breed in boreal forests across Canada and in the northeastern United States, and winter east of the Andes in northern South America. A distance of 5000 miles away!

Their fall migratory route takes them over the Atlantic on a transoceanic non-stop flight lasting up to 4 days and covering over 2000 miles! They are truly the champions of long-distance wood-warbler migration.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#75 Conservation Tip: National Wildlife Refuge

National Wildlife Refuge Week was officially on the calendar October 9-15, but really, every week is National Wildlife Refuge week!

With over 550 refuges in the United States, encompassing millions of acres of habitat, there is always somewhere to go, and something to see at a wildlife refuge.

Autumn is a great time to get outside and enjoy colorful fall foliage, see raptors soaring overhead, watch waterfowl paddling in cold waters, and peer at insects crawling on flowers.

Whatever your interests, National Wildlife Refuges offer wonderful resources to get outside and get back to nature!
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#74 Field Tip: Connecting Kids to Birds

There is nothing more wonderful than a kid's smile when he/she is really looking at birds. From the first sighting to the hundredth, kids are amazed by the interesting behaviors of our feathered friends.

From majestic Bald Eagles soaring in the sky, to brightly-colored American Goldfinches feeding on sunflowers, birds are easy to see and watch all year long in a variety of habitats.

Birding is an accessible hobby to kids in every location, demographic and background. It requires little money (a simple pair of binoculars to start) and only a willing and enthuasiastic mentor to guide the kids along. Take a kid out birding today and start a lifetime connection to birds!

photo © adrian binns            

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

#73 Backyard Tip: Safflower Seed

The easiest way to attract Cardinals is to introduce safflower seed to your feeders. This large white seed is their favorite!

Safflower has the added benefit of being too bitter for squirrels, and too hard to crack open for gregarious blackbirds, such as grackles and starlings - all species we associate with quickly depleting the backyard feeder stock!

While it is one of the more expensive seeds, I prefer to fill a feeder with just safflower to see which other birds it attracts. I have seen House Finches, Tufted Titmouse, chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Mourning Doves and woodpeckers. A more affordable way to introduce safflower is to purchase a seed mix that includes safflower, and these species will readily enjoy picking them out.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#72 Field Tip.... The Warbler that acts like a Flycatcher

The American Redstart is the most active of our wood warblers, with boundless energy, hovering, flitting about with wings half open, pirouetting,  conspiciously fanning its tail, flashing its bright colors (orange in males, yellow in females) as it darts from limb to limb, all in an effort to flush potential prey.

The way it acts while foraging could be interpreted as flycatching, and this is not the only unique feature of the American Redstart. It also has long rictal bristles at the base of the broad bill, suggestive of a flycatcher. These bristles act as sensors to help the bird catch flying insects and protect the eyes from debris and damage.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#71 What's in a Name? Booby

Boobies are pelagic seabirds associated with tropical warm waters. There are several species, that can be found within United States waters - Masked, Blue-footed, Red-footed and Brown, which has yellow feet.

We recently had a Brown Booby Sula leucogaster along the New Jersey coast, this being well north of its range.

The name Booby comes from the Spanish "bobo" for stupid. On the nesting grounds boobies were considered stupid or "boobies" for acting / walking awkwardly on land, as well as for just hanging around when sailors came to harvest them for food.

The scientific name Sula comes from the Icelandic for foolish or awkward person, while leucogaster is from the Greek "leukos" for the color white and "gaster" meaning belly, as noted on the adult Brown Booby.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#70 Keeping an Eye On....... Cooper's Hawk

I have watched birds scatter in all directions from my feeders as soon as one of them gives the alarm. Danger is in the air, and more often than not I find the culprit to be a Cooper's Hawk.

It is perfectly natural to have a predator such as a Cooper's stalk your feeders. Their long tails are adapted for maneuverability amongst trees and shrubs as they chase smaller birds.

While we do not like to see a finch, sparrow or dove succumb to a raptor, it is a fascinating part of nature that we may be fortunate enough to witness.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#69 Conservation Tip: Every Bean Counts

Every bean matters in our coffee-consuming culture. Shade grown coffee benefits birds and people far more than coffee grown in treeless, sunburned plantations.

The key message of this java jive is that shade grown coffee helps the long-term survival of neo-tropical migrants throughout central and south America.  Passerines, including endangered Golden-winged Warblers and Baltimore Orioles, need trees to survive, and without economic incentive for farmers to grow coffee under the canopy, our feathered friends may be doomed.

Buy shade grown coffee today, for your own caffeine fix, or as gifts for friends!  It's easier than ever to find shade grown coffee available from local retailers or nature centers.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

#68 Backyard Tip: Bins in the Kitchen

Some of the most enjoyable birding occurs right in my kitchen!  My backyard feeding station is close enough to see the birds well through the window, but occasionally I want a better look at an individual in action.

It's best to keep binoculars and field guide handy, to take advantage of any unexpected sightings when you want a closer look.  A pair of handy binoculars enabled me to pick-out a Clay-colored Sparrow last autumn, amongst a group of Chipping Sparrows.

Caution: Grease and food particles build up quickly in kitchens - keep optics in a safe, dry place to protect them!
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

#67 Keeping an Eye On... Acorn Woodpecker

Farmers aren't the only ones with granaries - Acorn Woodpeckers have them too!  This eye-catching species is adept at finding and storing thousands of acorns in custom-built granaries, ready for future consumption.

While other woodpeckers store seeds in crevices, cracks or cavities, Acorn Woodpeckers drill holes in a snag, tree trunk, telephone pole or the side of a wooden house, and jam the acorn into the hole!

Acorn Woodpeckers, found in oak woodlands in the southwest, California and Oregon, live in communal clans of over a dozen individuals. Their diet consist of insects, ants, fruit and copious amounts of acorns retrieved from the clan's storehouse!
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#66 What's in a Name? Gorgeous Godwits

With a remarkably long, upturned, half-pink bill, Godwits are amongst the most striking species of shorebird. The Marbled Godwit shown here is named for the mottled pattern on it's back.

The word godwit comes from the Anglo-Saxon, god meaning "good" and whit meaning "bird," literally "good bird" as in "good eating!"

The Godwit's genus name is Limosa, Latin for "muddy," refering to their habitat.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#65 Field Tip... Catching a Few Rays

What is that Blue Jay doing laying on the ground?  Is he injured?  It may seem peculiar, but such behavior is perfectly normal and quite common.  Birds often lay down, cock their head to one side, open their mouth, and spread their wings out like a fan in order to catch the sun's rays. This is known as sunning, and they may stay in this position for several minutes.

Sunning may be beneficial to birds in several ways.  It could be a way of regulating their body temperature.  The spreading of feathers may help dislodge parasites or loosen them for re-distribution.  It is also possible that sunning maximizes vitamin D, an essential nutrient to keep the bird healthy (humans too!).

Scientists are not exactly sure why birds sun themselves, but whatever the reason, it's a treat to witness this interesting behavior in a variety of avian species.  Keep an eye out for birds catching a few rays the next sunny day in the field!

photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#64 Backyard Tip: Humor the Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are easily attracted to backyard feeders, and will provide hours of enjoyment in watching them hover, feed and perch. While hummingbirds eat insects for protein, they need flower nectar for energy, and will readily feed on sugar water.

A wide variety of hummingbird feeders are available - most feature a clear plastic or glass container to hold liquid, and a bright red plastic base to attract the birds.  Some models have a perch on which the active hummers might pause for a moment.

Make your own homemade sugar-water solution by following this simple recipe of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.

Bring 4 parts water (2 cups) to boil, adding in 1 part white sugar (1/2 cup). Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Boiling kills bacteria, yeast and mold spores. Remove from heat and let cool for several hours.

Fill your hummingbird feeder with only enough solution that you think will be consumed in 3 days. Store remaining solution in the fridge. Change the solution regularily - every 3 days - and wash the feeders at that time, before adding a fresh batch of solution. Do not add any red dye or food coloring.

You will soon be well rewarded with hummers flitting around your feeder!
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#63 Field Tip: Binocular first, Field Scope second

Just about every birder enters into the hobby (passion? obsession?) using binoculars.  They are easy to handle, light to carry, and generally cheaper than fieldscopes.  Some birders will eventually add a field scope to their equipment list, to provide that extra magnification handy for looking at distant shorebirds, waterfowl or raptors.

Even when birding with a scope at hand, it's best to start scanning with binoculars first, before using the scope.  You'll cover more territory looking through your bins, and will be able to locate birds more quickly.  To get the desired view, first set the scope on wide angle - zoomed out - and pan to find the bird.  Then zoom-in slowly to bring the bird closer, adjusting the focus while you do so.  Keep in mind that a zoomed-in view is not always the best one, as this magnifies heat waves and motion, which could make the image blurrier.  You may prefer a farther-away but sharper view.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, July 29, 2011

#62 What's in a Name? Yellow Warbler

I am going to begin this series, What's in a Name? with one of my favorites - Dendroica petechia, the scientific name of the ubiquitous Yellow Warbler.

Birds, like all living creatures and plants, are given a two part scientific binomial name that is Latinized.

Whereas the common name can vary depending upon whether it is in English or the language of a certain country, the scientific name always remains the same.

The genus, describes something pertinent to the family, and a species name, usually suggests something about the bird.  Dendroica means "tree dwelling", which warblers certainly are! The second part of the name, "petechia" is a medical term and comes from the strongly marked dark red streaks on the breast, which reminded the person that named this species, Carl Linnaeus, of a rash on the skin!
yellow warbler © adrian binns

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#61 Field Tip: Join a Bird Walk

Instead of going out on your own, try joining an organized outing. Group bird walks offer excellent opportunities to learn about a new birding location, see a large number of species, and meet like-minded birders who are usually always willing to share information. You might be surprised at how much more you’ll see, with many eyes to spot things, and people to call them out.

To find bird walks, check out local bird clubs, nature centers, local parks and other wildlife-oriented organizations.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

#60 Keeping an Eye On.... Mourning Doves

Named for their haunting "coo" sounds, Mourning Doves are distributed abundantly throughout the United States.

Mourning Doves feed their offspring a protein-rich crop milk, which the chicks retrieve by placing their beaks down the throat of the parents - both mother and father.  The young thrive on this sustenance for about a week after hatching, after which the chick is weaned off of crop milk and fed a mixture of regurgitated seeds and fruits.

Doves and Pigeons are unique in that they are among very few bird families that feed their young with crop milk.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

#59 Field Tip: Birds at 2, 5 and 10 o'clock!

"Check out the Oriole at 2 o'clock!" Does this mean to go home for lunch and come back in a few hours?  Of course not!  Clock directions provide handy points of reference to share the location of a bird in a tree.

Make sure everyone is looking at the same tree, clump of shrubs, or even an obvious building - and use a conventional clock to describe the spot.  For example, 12 o'clock is the very top of the tree in front of you, and 6 o'clock is the lowest visible branches (not necessarily the ground). 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock are located as expect on the 'face' of the tree.

Clock directions can also be useful to give angles from a particular point.  For example, "the bird is at 7 o'clock, about 10 feet down from the highest point on the dark green tree."
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#58 Conservation Tip: Duck Stamp

It's time for Duck Stamps again!  On July 1st you'll be able to purchase the new federal Duck Stamp, valid July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012.

This year's stamp features Greater White-fronted Goose, a species that overwinters in Southern Texas and the Central Valley of California. It is an uncommon winter visitor to the east.

Your $15 Duck Stamp purchase not only gets you free access to National Wildlife Refuges for a year, but supports acquisition and conservation of critical wetland habitat.  This is quite a bargain for saving the future of America's wetlands.

You can also purchase a $5 federal Junior Duck Stamp to benefit student educational conservation programs.

Click here for further information about Duck Stamps 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#57 Field Tip: Basic Birding Equipment

Be prepared! This is a good motto to follow to maximize enjoyment and productivity while out birding.  Binoculars, field guide, notebook and pen are essential.

In addition, I suggest a hat, sturdy footwear, layers of outerwear that can be added or removed as conditions warrant, and a compact umbrella for unexpected rain. Sunscreen and insect repellent are also useful to have on hand. I never leave home without a water bottle and a snack!

All of these items can be stored in a grab-and-go daypack, or in the trunk of your car (except binoculars, which should be stored at room temperature), so that you always have them on hand.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

#56 Field Tip: Study the Bird, Not the Book

Out in the field, when you see a bird and you do not know what it is, it is tempting to immediately look in your field guide and try to identify it. Don't do this! Instead, study the bird in your binoculars or scope for as long as possible, before opening a book or IPhone.

Note the head, bill, wings, tail, legs and overall shape and structure in much detail. You'll need a clear picture in your head before the bird flies away. Then you can look in the book! This will also give you a better understanding of what you are trying to identify.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#55 Keeping an Eye On.... Waxwings

They are beautiful and sleek, with pointed crest, striking black eye-mask, and yellow-tipped tail.  There is rarely just one - they are most often found in flocks. Distributed widely across the United States, Cedar Waxwings inspire awe and intrigue.

Unique to this family of birds are the red waxy-looking "droplets" found on their secondary wing feathers, extending beyond the feather veins.  This characteristic is most pronounced on adult males. It is from their eye-catching, red, wax-like feather tips that Waxwings get their name.

Look for these lovely birds in neighborhoods, parks or locations with abundant fruiting trees, their favorite diet.
 photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#54 Field Tip: Use Naked Eye before Bins

You’re out birding with a friend, when he/she exclaims out loud with an exciting find.

You are eager to see what they are seeing and might be tempted to pan around with your binoculars. But trust me, it’s far easier to find the bird with your naked eye before lifting binoculars to your face for a closer view.

Your eye naturally has a wider field of view, enabling you to locate a small bird in a large area, especially if it is moving.

Always be ready! Keep your eye on the bird, hands on your bins, then lift your bins up to your eyes, this way the bird should now be in view in your binoculars.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

#53 Backyard Tip: Attracting Orioles

Orioles are one of North America's most colorful birds. Most, like the Baltimore Oriole (left) are summer visitors, breeding in the US, and returning to the tropics for the winter.

Being primarily nectar feeders it is unlikely that you will see them at your seed feeders. However, you can attract them to your backyard by putting out a small cup of grape jelly (they love it) or an orange.

Cut an orange in half and spike it on a stick. Be sure to have a perch nearby so that they can easily access it, and you will soon be enjoying another backyard visitor.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#52 Field Tip: Always Prepare for Foul or Fair

Be prepared for all types of weather. Temperatures and conditions can change drastically and quickly, in wilderness or suburban areas. Temperature fluctuations are greatest during Spring and Fall; last weekend’s lows can be this weekend’s highs, and visa versa.

Basic birding necessities include hat, sunscreen, bug spray, water bottle and plenty of layered outerwear. I never go anywhere without gloves and umbrella – they live permanently in my car!
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

#51 Keeping an Eye On..... Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

Two very similar woodpeckers visit my feeding station - the Downy (left), and the larger, less common Hairy Woodpecker. On a Hairy (below), the bill is longer and considerably bulkier than a Downy’s, and if you look closely, the Downy has several small black bars on the outer tail feathers, while on a Hairy they are plain white. Both of these features help separate these two species.

On the males of both species, I notice that the red nape patch of a Hairy (right) is separated by a black bar (at least in the East), while on a Downy (above), this is not the case.

Keep an eye out for these male woodpeckers, and see if you notice this as well.
all photos © adrian binns

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

#50 Field Tip: Following Fast-Movers

Birding along a wooded hedgerow during migration season can feature an exciting array of species. But it can be frustrating when the warblers, kinglets, and vireos are moving through at break-neck pace, making it difficult to get on them. Don't despair.

First, pre-focus your binoculars on the foliage so that you are ready when a bird comes by. Use your eyes to spot movement, and keep your eyes on the target while bringing binoculars up to them. Once you've locked on the bird, it's easier to follow it through the trees. If it flies out of sight, lower the binoculars, and re-find it with your naked eye.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, April 29, 2011

#49 Field Tip: Bright Colors

If it is easy for us to spot fellow birders in the field, think what it must be like for birds - especially if we are wearing brightly-colored attire. Wear clothing that blends in with the environment. Neutral, earth-toned colors are best, while white or bright colors tends to attract notice, and possibly scare-away wildlife.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#48 Field Tip: Birding Festivals

Birding Festivals provide an excellent excuse to visit a place you’ve always wanted to see, but weren’t quite sure where to go or what to do when you got there!

Just about every major birding destination features an annual festival, usually a 2-4 day event that includes exciting speakers, programs and field trips. They offer ample opportunities to learn about a wide variety of birding topics and meet other enthusiastic birders. Festival field trips usually amass long lists of species, including regional specialties.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#47 Keeping an Eye On..... Mockingbirds

"There is a mockingbird singing songs in a tree,                      
there is a mockingbird singing songs just for you and me....."

Today I could not get this song out of my head, as I listened to the strong, clear, bursts of melody, of this amazing mimic.  Imitations included a wonderful repertoire of the birds in my neighborhod - cardinal, blue jay, red-tailed hawk, tufted titmouse.....
lyrics from Mockingbird by Barclay James Harvest
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#46 Backyard: O' Bare, Dead Tree, Leave It Be

The leaves shrivel and drop.             The bark crumbles to the ground. Exposed wood withers.

In short, the tree is dying.

You may think it useless, but think again. Dead trees, aka snags, are precious homes for a host of birds such as wrens, chickadees, bluebirds, screech owls and Great Crested Flycatchers.

Woodpeckers often create the holes that are so important for these cavity nesters. Won't you please leave your trees be?
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#45 Keeping an Eye On..... Carolina Wrens

The Carolina Wren that inhabits my backyard has been singing a lot lately - “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.” He sings because winter is ending and he is eager to pair up for the spring.

His bright white supercilium (eyebrow) is the most obvious feature on his rich brown body, as I watch him eating from my peanut feeder. The subtle barring on his tail and wings earn my admiration. Like most wrens, he moves like lightening, disappearing in a flash into the shrubbery.

Look for all this next time a Carolina Wren visits your backyard.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#44 Field Tip: Keep Your Distance

Can you find the Long-eared Owl in the picture above? This photo was intentionally taken from a distance of about 60 yards away.  It is especially important to keep a good distance away from owls and raptors this time of year, as they are focused on nesting and raising young.

Stay well away to avoid frightening or flushing them, which could have devastating effects on egg incubation or chick raising. Use a spotting scope or binoculars to view them from a safe distance.

If you wish to photograph wildlife, consider digiscoping - using a point-and-shoot camera with a scope. Or invest in a long camera lens (400mm).

Using a scope or long camera lens allows you to "bring" the subject closer and keep a safe distance away without disturbing the bird.
all photos © adrian binns

Friday, March 25, 2011

#43 Keeping an Eye On....... American Robins

American Robins are back in our area in full force. In many places, they never really left. They are combing the lawns, head cocked, looking and listening for worms. They are vocalizing loudly, announcing the Spring season, and thinking about breeding.

Do you see the bold, conspicuous, white arcs around the eye? Have you noticed that the upper and lower arcs do not join up, and that the upper arc is broken?

When I see one flying away from me, and I cannot see the brick-red breast, I can still tell that it is an American Robin by the shape and the white at the corners of the black tail.

Look for these field marks the next time you see robins, and you will learn to ID this bird in flight.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, March 18, 2011

#42 Field Tip: Birding by Bike

Consider doing something different, that is not only healthy for you but also good for the environment.

Leave the car at home, and bike to bird!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, March 11, 2011

#41 Backyard Tip: Clean out Nest Boxes

As the winter months draw to a close, and the weather warms up, birds begin to search for places to nest. Some, such as Bluebirds, do so early in the season, as they will raise multiple broods. If you host bird houses in your yard, late winter is the best time to clean them for the upcoming nesting season.

Scoop out all old nesting material to ensure all parasites and mold are removed. Scrape off any beehives that might be attached to the house. Parasites and bees can kill baby birds.

Clean your birdhouses BEFORE the birds begin looking for a nesting site. Otherwise, your activities may disturb and discourage them from using that birdhouse.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, March 4, 2011

#40 Field Tip: Storing your Scope

Detach the scope from the tripod when transporting in vehicles and storing at home.

This ensures that the adjustment knobs on the tripod are not unduly stressed by shifting or jarring.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, February 25, 2011

#39 Conservation Tip: Birds on the Road

Michigan has a Common Loon, New Jersey has a Red-headed Woodpecker, Minnesota has a Black-capped Chickadee, Texas has a Great Blue Heron, Oklahoma has a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Pennsylvania has a Saw-whet Owl, and West Virginia has a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. What are these stately connections? Conservation License plates!

Proceeds from the sale of wildlife conservation license plates, which only cost a few extra dollars, benefit state non-game wildlife programs, and go a long way to raising substantial dollars each year. Next time your vehicle registration comes up for renewal, consider purchasing one of these.
photo © adrian binns

Friday, February 18, 2011

#38 Conservation Tip: Report Banded Birds

There’s something exciting about seeing a banded bird, knowing that someone has taken information about that particular individual, hoping to find out where it has travelled or how long it lives.

If you see a banded bird – a goose, sandpiper or maybe a raptor - take careful note of the band(s). On which leg is the band? What color is it? If there are letters or numbers, write them down in careful order. Also note the date, time and location of your finding. If you know the bird’s gender or age, be sure to note that too.

Scientists band a whole lot of birds, but get back only a small percentage of data for their efforts. You are greatly helping the cause of research to report your findings. Report data to the national Bird Banding Lab, website:
photo © adrian binns

Friday, February 11, 2011

#37 Optics Tip: Keep Binoculars around your Neck

Do not swing your binoculars by the strap, as the strap may break causing the optics to fly onto the ground. Your optics are a serious investment, and should always be handled carefully. Always have the strap over your neck.
photo © adrian binns