Showing posts from November, 2011

Dowitchers: Oh, For the Love of Birding!

Whenever I go to Merritt Island, I cross the Max Brewer Bridge and stop just after the bridge in the little parking lot on the north side of the road.  It doesn't look like much, but I frequently see Dunlins, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Dowitchers and other shorebirds, as well as Gulls, Black Skimmers, Ospreys and a few herons.  A couple weeks ago, some Dowitchers graced us with their presence.   There are two species of Dowitcher, the Long-Billed and the Short-Billed, and it's notoriously difficult to distinguish between them, especially in their winter (basic) plumage.  On average, the Long-Billed (LB) has a longer bill than a Short-Billed (SB), but there is variation in the sizes of the bills in both species.  Female bills tend to be longer than male bills in both. This means that male LBs have bills that significantly overlap in size with female SBs.  Since their bill sizes overlap in length so much, they are not a very reliable indicator of the species.  So I did what…

Editing Exposure in Lightroom

I strongly believe in the "garbage in, garbage out" principle in photography.  The more you expose your photographs properly when you take the picture, the less you have to do and the more you can do when you have your photographs in the computer.  In the field, I'm not as concerned with taking pictures that look pretty right out of the camera as I am with taking pictures that retain detail in both the light and dark areas of the photograph, if possible, and I'm especially concerned with the light and dark portions of the bird.  Now there are exceptions, like when shooting silhouettes, but generally speaking, that's my goal.

The following description of how I edit photographs will be based on Lightroom, but there are many software programs that do all the same things I describe here.  They may have different names, but you should be able to find the the right controls in your software program to do what I've displayed below.  If you click on any of the imag…

Identifying Night Herons

In two previous posts we looked at how to identify white and non-white herons; here we want to consider Night Herons.  Night herons are typically chunkier herons with short, thick necks and short legs.  They are called Night Herons mostly because of their nocturnal feeding habits, eating mostly at dusk and night.  Adults tend to be black, grey and white, while immature Night Herons tend to be brown with white spots and streaks.  There are two species of Night Herons that are found in the United States.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Herons are easily identified by their "chunky" look and black crown.  They also have a black stripe down their backs and yellowish legs.  Immature Black-Crowned Night Herons are brown with white spots on the wings and a light belly with brown streaks.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Yellow-Crowned Night Herons have darker wings than Black-Crowned, and they have a black throat and face with a white cheek and a yellowish-white crown, thoug…

Identifying Non-White Egrets and Herons

In a previous post, we looked at how to tell the difference between the white-colored herons and egrets that you can find regularly in the U.S.  In this post, I'd like to look at those that are not white. To save space, we'll consider the night herons and bitterns in future posts.   With herons and egrets that are not white, your task to identify them is much simpler.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons are the largest herons in the U.S.  They are blue-grey on their backs and can be reddish-grey on their necks with a whitish head and a black stripe that extends from their eyes to the back of their head.  Their bills are thick and are dark on the top and yellow on the bottom.  As we said in the previous post, there is also a white morph  in Central and South Florida.

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Herons are smaller, and adults are entirely blue-grey in color.  Their bills also become dark toward the tip.  And as we said before, immature little blues are all white during their fir…

Viera Wetlands, 11/24/2011

Yesterday my son and I started what I hope will become a Thanksgiving tradition.  We went to Viera Wetlands.  Nathan rode his bike and I took my camera around the wetlands photographing birds.  We were only there for a couple hours--thanksgiving festivities had to be observed--but I'm glad we made the trip.

We didn't see anything spectacular there, though the click ponds had several species of ducks, including Canvasback, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked, Lesser Scaup, and Hoodies.  They were too far away for good photos, though.  My favorite part of the day was seeing several Little Blue Herons, Osprey and Caspian Terns.

Here are the birds we saw during our visit:

Blue-winged Teal X
Northern Shoveler 2
Canvasback 5
Redhead 2
Ring-necked Duck 4
Lesser Scaup 4
Hooded Merganser 5
Pied-billed Grebe X
Wood Stork 1
Double-crested Cormorant X
Anhinga X
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Snowy Egret X
Little Blue Heron 4
Tricolored Heron 4
Cattle Egret 3
Green Heron 1

Identifying White Egrets and Herons

I became interested in birding and bird photography largely because of the beauty of herons and egrets, or what is known as the family Ardeidae (herons, egrets and bitterns). Herons and egrets are not biologically distinct from each other; an egret is basically a heron with pretty breeding plumage pretty--pretty enough that they were hunted to near extinction in order to make feather hats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of the species of Ardeidae commonly found in the United States, there are three species of Egret that are typically white in color as adults. I thought it would be helpful to show pictures of all three to help you distinguish between them.

"Standard" White Herons/Egrets Great Egret
The Great Egret is the largest white egret in the United States. A Great Egret can be distinguished by its large size, yellow bill and black legs.

Snowy Egret
The Snowy Egret is significantly smaller than the Great Egret, and it has a black bill with yellow feet.

Cattle Egr…

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel is the ABA Bird of the Year for 2011.  Kestrels are one of the most brilliantly-colored raptors, so they are always a joy to find.  They are small, though, perhaps about the size of a Blue Jay.  In fact, they are the smallest falcon in the U.S.  You can find them perched on dead trees branches and tall poles, but it's very hard to get close to them.  Even from my car I have to photograph them from a considerable distance.  My best photos were shot in my car with my 400mm lens propped on a pillow resting on the window.  I put a 2x extender on the lens (making it an effective 800mm lens) which requires me to manual focus.  When manual focusing over a great distance, it's best to use live view and zoom in on the bird.  This can be a challenge when not being able to use a tripod, but I know if I get my tripod out, he'll fly away.  The effort, though, is more than worth it.  Here are some of my favorite images of American Kestrels.  All of these images wer…

Glossy Ibis

The Glossy Ibis is a beautiful bird; I love the glossy look that makes the color of the feathers look different in different lighting situations--well, at least to my color-blind eyes.  You can find these birds throughout Florida and near the coasts of eastern Gulf states and southern Atlantic states.   As beautiful as these birds are, they can be a challenge to photograph.  In fact, any dark bird can be difficult on your autofocus.  There have been several times when I know I focused properly on the bird, but the photo was still slightly blurry.  Their necks and faces have more texture, so you'll have more luck there (I generally focus on the bird's eye whenever possible).  And there's a trick you can use for stationary birds in this situation--use live view mode, zoom in on your subject and focus manually.   Here are some photos that I took at Viera Wetlands last week.

Zebra Longwing Butterfly

The Zebra Longwing is the Florida state butterfly, and for good reason; it's a very beautiful butterfly.  I've seen them several times over the last couple months, but I've never been able to photograph them.  I've always found them in places that were infested with mosquitoes poorly lit.  But last week I was able to find one at Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, FL.  This one cooperated with me pretty well.  I didn't have much light for photography, so I used my tripod and took lots of pictures to makes sure I captured him when he was still.