Category Archives: birding

Birthday Fun

Once a year we all reach that date where we mark that we have been graced with yet another year on this earth. I am generally not a big celebrator of holidays or birthdays. I like low key things not big celebrations or doing something fancy. This year I had no real plans as to how I was going to spend my birthday. The only thing I knew was that the day after I was going to run a race with my friends. However, for the actual day of my birthday I really had nothing special planned. I basically just wanted to relax and enjoy the day with the simple parts of life.

I had thought that my wife and I could spend part of the day walking our dogs. So we took our foster pup, Comet for a walk. When we got back home however, he decided he was not going to be coming back in the house until he was good and ready. Eventually I was able to coax him back into the house with some sliced ham. He knows how to get what he wants. But the delay it took to get him back in the house made it harder to have time to walk the other dogs and do anything else in the day.

I had thought that I would like to go hike at one of my favorite state parks, Watkins Glen State Park, but when I visited the website it stated that the gorge trail was still closed due to snowy and icy conditions and that was what I really wanted to do. So I was not sure what I was going to do for the rest of my birthday. Luckily I have an amazing wife who knows me really well and knows that I love nature and I love buying plants to spruce up our yard to attract wildlife and other critters to our yard, so she suggested we head out to one of our favorite gardening places, Horning’s Greenhouse & Garden Centers. She also suggested that we could stop and get something to eat at another place I really enjoy Seneca Farms in Penn Yan. We toured around Horning’s checking out their already impressive for so early in the season selection of plants. When you love nature and you are also a photographer you do things like pick out plants specifically for their potential use in photography. I wanted plants that were already in bloom so that I had some photography subjects to work with on some potential photography projects I had been thinking about. I also picked out plants with blooms that looked particularly interesting to me. I picked out some that were new to me and some that were plants I was not familiar with. Then once we were done picking plants/photography subjects we went and ate.

I thought that since we were already up that way we could stop by a state park I enjoy that I thought would be a nice place for some photography. So we ventured on over to Seneca Lake State Park in Geneva, NY. This park is nice because it has a nice long path along the northern border of Seneca Lake perfect for a walk or a run. We strolled along the path and I watched the birds, hoping that some of them would get close enough for some decent photography. The birds did not cooperate. My wife petted dogs. We took some photographs of the scenery. I even modeled a little in some photos for my wife, not something I normally volunteer to do but it was just such a nice day I figured why not.

After we were done at Seneca Lake State Park I realized it was just a short drive further to one of the best birding spots in our area, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, where eagles and osprey nest and you can see many different species of migratory birds this time of year. This was an unusual visit for me because normally when I go to Montezuma I am driving, which means I am driving a car, looking for birds, and balancing camera equipment all at once. This time my wife was driving and I actually sat behind her on the driver side, because most of the viewing opportunities would be on the driver side not the passenger side. It was a really nice change. It was like having my own private guided tour through the refuge with a chauffeur. We saw lots of different birds, most of which were too far away for good photographs. The lighting was also pretty terrible for photographs, but it was still a very enjoyable time watching the birds and enjoying nature. We did get to see one eagle perched in a tree and then take off. Seeing eagles is pretty much the highlight for my on any bird watching trip, so I was happy.

My birthday was a very enjoyable and fun day and I owe it all to my wife who knew I was getting disappointed when I thought we wouldn’t be able to walk all our dogs like I had wanted and still have time to do something else and then found out the trails I wanted to hike were closed. She suggested making a trip I hadn’t thought of and she was willing to roll with all my other ideas for things to do. She is always supportive of my adventures and ideas even when it is not my birthday. I could not have thought of a better way to spend my birthday this year then out exploring and enjoying nature with her.

Osprey Series

I was sitting at the lake doing some writing and I heard osprey calling off in the distance. I looked around but didn’t see anything. Eventually I saw this osprey perched in a tree across the park. I was able to walk over and capture a series of photos of the osprey perched and then as the osprey took took off and flew away over the trees. The photographs are nice and sharp unfortunately the background is drab. It was overcast and cloudy most of the time. I do really like how the light shines through the tail feathers.

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Last weekend Birding Photography

Last weekend I wanted to plan a trip to do some birding photography. I decided I wanted to go out to someplace where I would have  a good likelihood of being able to photograph Bald Eagles or Osprey. I decided that I would go to the Tioga-Hammond Lakes in PA because I know there are several nesting Osprey in that area and I have often sighted Bald Eagles there as well.

During my visit I was able to see several of the Osprey while they were on their nest and a few times off in the distance flying, however they presented themselves for close up photography. I did not see any Bald Eagles.

In stead of searching the area for Osprey I became preoccupied with some of the small song birds that I saw making their way about in the trees. I didn’t plan on spending most of my time photographing song birds but the song birds were what made themselves available for photographs. So I adapted to the reality of the situation and instead of going home empty handed I was able to capture some nice photographs of the song birds native to the area.

I went out to photograph the raptors but I stayed out creating photographs for the song birds.

Redpolls and Flash Photography

I passively monitor biding issues and sightings locally by receiving email from a list serve set up by our local chapter of the Audubon Society. I read or at skim the emails as they come in to see if there is anything interesting going on in the area. Sometimes information that peaks my interest comes through. Recently there had been several emails sent out of people in the area reporting Redpolls in the area. I found this interesting because I had been fortunate in the past to see Redpolls for a short period of time where we currently live shortly after moving here. I had not seen them since, so I am always interested when hearing of an opportunity to see them again.
 

As I began to see an increasing number of reports on Redpoll sightings coming in I started to get hopeful that they would return to my feeders as well. I began to be more diligent about making sure there was seed in my feeders so that if they did show up they would find food and hopefully stick around instead of moving on.
 
One day I looked out the window at the feeders and quite unexpectedly saw that there was a Redpoll mingling with the other birds that are commonly seen at the feeders. A few days later I happen to look out at the feeders and saw there were now two Redpolls in the mix with the other birds at the feeders. This pair appeared a few more times over a few days.
 

I did not initially go out to photograph the individual that showed up or the pair I saw. I did not want to scare them off. I was hoping that the presence of the ones already here would draw in more individuals. I had read reports of large flocks of Redpolls and I was hoping for a large flock sighting of my own at my feeders.
 

One day I was on the phone with my dad and I noticed movement outside in the treetop where my feeder is. I walked towards the window to investigate, while talking, not really thinking much about it. When I got to the window I exclaimed to my dad that I had a huge flock of Redpolls in the tree. Now the flock probably wasn’t really huge by comparison to other sightings but it was certainly more than I had ever seen at one time and I was excited and I am sure I exaggerated due to my excitement.
 

I began to try counting the number of Redpolls in the flock but it was difficult. The flock was in constant motion. Every time I would get into it, they would move.  I could only confirm a count of 20 but there were clearly more than that present. I enjoy birding but I am by no means an expert. I have never really tried to count a large number of birds all at once.
Despite my challenges with counting the birds this is the opportunity I had been waiting for. I wanted to get out there and take some photos. However, my gear was all packed up as I had not used it recently and this being upstate NY in the middle of Winter with several inches of snow on the ground, it required me to scramble around to dress quickly in boots, coat, gloves, and hat. Once I was geared up I quietly went out the side door as opposed to the door leading directly to the location of the flock because I didn’t want to scare them off. As I cautiously moved around the house to where I had seen the flock, they were nowhere to be found. This was clearly a disappointment.

I went back in the house, but this time I kept all the needed gear in easy reach in hopes that the flock would return. As luck would have it my hopefulness and preparedness this time was rewarded. After a few hours, I looked out the window and saw that there were once again Redpolls at the feeders. It was not as big a flock as before but it was still a significant number. I decided against wasting time trying to count them and immediately got dressed and snatched up my camera and went out seeking photos of these elusive birds.
 

In this region of upstate NY in the winter it hasn’t been sunny very often. The sky is often overcast and gloomy. There has not been much nice light for photography. For my photography, I prefer to use natural light whenever possible, as probably most photographers do. While the light was sufficient to get at least decent photographs, I decided to go against my instinct stick with all-natural lighting photography because I thought I could get better photos if I used a flash. My preference is to stick to the KISS philosophy, which was drilled into me at a young age. Keep It Simple Stupid. To me adding one more variable such as flash just complicates matters and increases the likelihood something will not work out quite right.
So there I stood watching the feeders as the Redpolls flitted about snatching up seed. These little buggers were not an easy subject. A few of the Redpolls were content to sit on the plat form feeder and eat for several seconds at a time so I snapped a few photos of that behavior as documentation type photos. However, that was not the photo I was after. I wanted photos of Redpolls perched on branches with the darker background of the woods in the background out of focus. I stood still and visually tracked individuals as they approached the feeder. They would flit from branch to branch getting progressively closer. I watched to see what path the Redpolls often took. I wanted to be able to anticipate where the Redpolls would land and be ready when they landed there. Sometimes I was spot on and got the shot and sometimes I was not ready or simply not fast enough and missed the shot. It was a fun experience to photograph this group of birds that I do not get to see often. I am hoping they will be back to provide me with another opportunity to learn their behavior and improve my ability to photograph them.