While attending The Biggest Week in American Birding last week, we were on a digiscoping mission. Associate Editor Kirsten Sweet and I had never digiscoped before, so we couldn’t wait to try it for ourselves. (By the way, digiscoping is just a way to take digital pictures using a spotting scope.)
It was a really easy set-up. The great people at Eagle Optics lent us a scope and an adapter so we could take pictures with our iPhones. Then they gave us a quick, 30-second tutorial on how it works. (Yes, it really is that simple.) After that, we were on our own!
We don’t claim to be digiscoping experts, but it was pretty amazing to get some photos of birds that we’d never be able to get with an ordinary camera. The trickiest part was just finding the birds in the scope before we’d place the adapter on and snap a photo. Take a look at some of our images, but don’t judge us too harshly! We’re thinking with a little practice, we might eventually get a picture good enough to put in the magazine.
This handsome hawk is named a Broad-winged Hawk for it’s rather broad wings. Adult Broad-winged Hawks have distinctive bands on their tails that is found on both the light morph as well as on the rare dark morph birds. These light morph types have dark barring on their underparts and this one was heavily barred which I think added to it’s beauty.
Broad-winged Hawk are found in eastern areas of the United States but their range extends further west in Canada so some do migrate up through Colorado. I found this hawk a few weeks ago in south central Colorado where it stopped over for a few days during it’s migration north to Canada where it will breed.
A recent study attached satellite transmitters to the backs of four Broad-winged Hawks and followed them as they migrated south in the fall. The hawks migrated an average of 7,000 km (4,350 mi) to northern South America, and traveled an average of 111 km (69 mi) each day.
During the fall Broad-winged Hawks gather in large flocks that can have as many as thousands of individual birds. The Audubon website states that, “…more than 19,000 were counted in one day as they passed over the lookout at Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania.” That’s a whole lot of hawks!
Last week, during a rare weekday visit to one of my favorite birding hotspots (Fort De Soto County Park in Florida), I was able to catch a few lucky shots of one of our more interesting songbirds, the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus).
Adorable, right? It’s about the size of a chickadee, but this oh-so-fluffy and cute little bird has some very vicious feeding habits, leading some to call it the “Butcher Bird”.
Take a look at that open beak. See the sharp hooked point? It’s used to tear apart fairly large prey like lizards, snakes, mice, and even other birds. Once the Shrike has the prey, it subdues it by impaling it on something sharp, like the thorn of an acacia tree or a barbed-wire spike. Sometimes, it leaves the prey there to slowly die and decompose, making it easier to eat later on. You can see this feeding behavior in action in this video by National Geographic.
The Loggerhead Shrike is pretty easy to identify from its black “mask”, which sets it apart from Northern Mockingbirds. Males and females look alike, with juveniles only distinguished by a slightly duller gray plumage. In the summer, you’ll find it across much of the U.S. and Mexico, as well as parts of lower Canada.
Clockwise from left: magnolia warbler, Nashville warbler, American redstart, chestnut-sided warbler. These birds were spotted at the Magee Marsh boardwalk and taken by Deb Neidert.
You know how we’ve told you time and time again about how Northwest Ohio is the “warbler capital of the world?” Well, in case you didn’t believe it before, believe me now. This place is AMAZING. Some say it is “raining warblers” during this migration timeframe, and they are right! Put this festival on your bucket list. Right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Now let me tell you about the birds. Birds & Blooms editor Stacy Tornio and I kept a running list of all the bird species we saw throughout our 3.5 days at The Biggest Week in American Birding. We were very strict about this list, too. One of us had to have gotten a good look at it or it didn’t make the cut. We spent a full day birding some of the private properties in the area. The owners were gracious enough to let us walk their properties where we saw cool things like bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows and an eastern kingbird.
Palm warbler taken by Deb Neidert.
Are you ready to hear our final number? Drumroll, please! 101! We saw 101 different species of birds. We’re well aware that birding pros saw many more species than that, but we’re happy with our 101 and we’re pretty proud of it (it did take a little bit of last-minute birding before we hit the road to head back to Wisconsin, though). I think my favorite sighting was the indigo bunting. Or the chestnut-sided warbler. Or the northern parula. Or the eastern meadowlark. Shoot. I guess I can’t pick a favorite.
The red-headed woodpecker was our 100th bird.
It was hard to say good-bye to our bird friends and all of the readers and fellow birders we met on this trip. But we’ll be back to see the warblers again next year. See you in 2014, Biggest Week! And to all of our readers: We hope you’ll be able to join us next year.
Look closely and you’ll see Kenn and Kim Kaufman and Don and Lillian Stokes! We were lucky enough to bird with them.
I don’t believe there is a deeper and more brilliant blue than the plumage of male Blue Grosbeak in their spring finery. Male birds need to impress females by both their bright plumage and singing that they are the healthiest male birds around so the females will choose them to father their offspring. So many male landbirds don their brightest plumage during spring. I photographed this bird near my home in Colorado on May 10 so he was all decked out in fresh colorful feathers.
Adult male Blue Grosbeak in breeding plumage are deep blue overall with bright rusty bars on brown wings. They have very large silver colored conical beaks that identify them as one of the grosbeak species.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology range map above shows that Blue Grosbeak can be seen during the summer breeding season throughout most of the mid-West as well as more southern states to the east and west. They begin to show up in April in the most southern parts of the U.S. but more north to their breeding areas from April through May.
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Meet Rob Ripma, our newest featured blogger. The Birds & Blooms staff was able to meet Rob at The Biggest Week in American Birding. Rob, along with his brother Eric, write the Nutty Birder blog where they share photos from their birding adventures both near and far. Check it out: Nutty Birder.