Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Takin'm where they land (pics for yesterdays post)

Some of these photos (Canada, Blackpoll) I like a LOT more than others (Redstarts).. All fresh from this past spring at Pelee/Pelee Island.

(I really like this one too)

 Most of these probably wouldn't be too popular on the forums, but it's all about what you like! I learned HOW to get the photos I wanted there... Just keep an open mind and learn!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nature Photography Forums

An older blog posting (spring photos) prompted some discussion about online bird photography forums. Specifically, if they're good as a learning resource. I've decided to approach the topic from my own personal experience:

It was a warm summers day when I first starting taking pictures... (too far?) ... but soon afterwards, I joined a Nature Photography forum ( I had very little knowledge about bird photography, and poured over the forums on a daily (or even hourly) basis. I think they may have been more popular at the time (at least for long-time photographers) and there was a treasure of information I could pull from.

I learned some styles, I learned what individuals were able to take, with the equipment they used, where they got the photos etc. I started posting photos of my own, and received limited responses until I finally figured out what made for a "good" photo.

So, in short, I learned quite a bit from the forums, and I figure most people could probably learn a lot as well!


At the same time, I think I fell into a trap, where I started to think that "popular" photos were always the best. Eventually, I was barely taking photos because I didn't have the energy (or desire?) to do the ultimate "set ups" to control everything and make the photos exactly as I wanted. (or cloned in/out enough things)

In my opinion, Alan Murphy has a huge collection of the best bird photos in North America:

But I eventually had to break free of the "nature photography forum" mind set, and realize that it wasn't the photography I wanted to do, and I would still be extremely happy taking the birds "where they land"...

Doesn't seem like an earth shattering personal discovery, but it was amazing how much I had fallen into the mindset.


Now, I hardly look at the forum. Yet I don't think I would be taking the photos I take today, without the things I learned there about the technical side of photography. There are a handful of forums that I know, that I could write a quick biased opinion of:

(no hotlinks eh? Well then you don't get a picture!)

Naturescapes was the forum I was talking about! I'm not 100% sure how things have changed, but I'm sure it's still a great place to learn. Post photos for critique, and try to not argue! Just take whatever you need from it to make the photos you want down the road. Probably not something they'd like to hear, but I'd recommend not paying for a membership (at least for a while? I never have...) and use an online web service to host your photos (flickr, picasa) if needed. 

Keep an open mind about what people say, yet pick and chose the things you want to apply to your own work. Also remember all o these places are a bit of a "pat eachnother on the back" kind of place, and the number of comments don't always reflect the quality of photo!



This is a forum I check from time to time, but could be an example of a generic "local forum" to use as a resource... You'll learn a fair bit, especially local locations for photography. I've now graduated to trying to find places WITHOUT people for photography, but that wasn't the case for 5+ years at the start. (and isn't always the case now)


A forum I've never really taken part of, but it looks great. A huge website, with lots of people taking part. I never want to pay for anything, and the "non-paying" option for the forum is pretty limited... But I've always been pretty impressed with some of the photos that turn up there.


I'll keep this one short. Obviously a popular forum for bird photographers... I joined up when it was first created. After reading several posts from some of the owners saying "Ok, I've just given you my opinion, now you should buy a membership since you profited from my wisdom" ... or "I don't critique photos unless you're a paying member" I eventually got into a spat with a few of them, and was handed down a 30 day ban and never returned :P

May seem like a bit of a personal experience, but I know of several others who have had similar experiences (including two of the OWNERS of the site) have since left because they don't really agree with how it's run (or have been banned)....

I'm sure you could learn a fair bit here, but I wouldn't exactly recommend it! I think the $$$ is bigger here than all the others combined.


So there you have it! My personal feelings about naturephotography forums. Yes, they'll tell you to remove every single stick from the background of your bird pictures, clone out feeders, use small rodents as bait etc. etc. etc. But you'll just have to pick and choose the stuff you want to use in your own photography! Then, it's just a great tool to add to your arsenal of photography goodness.

(an old set up of mine.. Used tapes, a stand, cut the branch and duct taped it in place).. But I really like it!

(A 100% natural image, with a *spark* I could never have planned, even if I wanted to)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Misc Spring Migration Photos

I've run out of ideas on writing about spring photos. The visitor counter on my website tells me you're as bored with these as I am!

Birding reports etc. should return eventually! But for now, here's an odd collection of photos I took this spring, that haven't yet been presented on the blog (as I stall for material) -- I actually have about 10 blog posts pre-written and ready to be released, 1 day at a time.... Maybe this one will give some extra attention to the book review from yesterday!?

Check out the blue in the mouth

A YB Fly  I didn't have ready for the initial fly post. 

A sitta for you

I'm slowly gaining a respectable collection of the dullest spring female warblers EVER

With a small insect goin for a ride!

A strange and random collection to say the least. The b-sides of Spring-2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The beginning of the end? Or the beginning of the book reviews?

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
Listed on the book at $35.00 USD
~530 pages (640 species?)
~10,000 photos used
Size: Huge

Thanks to a sweet deal with Princeton Publishing, I now have a free copy of the Crossley ID guide, which I can relay my feelings towards you!

At first, I didn’t like it... Which I’ve learned over the years means it’s probably going to be something I end up liking... And I did! I was worried it was “too much”, with 10’000 bird images loaded into a massive book. If you don’t want to read any further, here’s the skinny:

I don't think it's going to "change birding as we know it", but:

It’s a worthwhile book for any birder. Birders are known to add lots of books to their collection, and in that sense, this book is a MUST. Heck, it’s probably a much better stand-alone field guide than dozens of other books on the market. But since most of us have “collections”, there’s no doubt what so ever that it’s worth adding (for a really good price...)

Anyways, here’s some more of my thoughts, expanded:  

Who should buy it:  in this case, it’s easier to say who shouldn't buy it! I see various groups of people who can use the book:

Casual birders: can find more of what they’re looking for in this book than any other photo field guide out there. I can’t imagine trying to use other photo-field guides that have a single image per species to identify birds. (Eg,/ how can you identify a Black-bellied Plover in its gray non-breeding plumage with only a photo of a breeding plumaged bird? They’re nothing alike!) It is a very useful addition to their collection.

Intermediate birders: can use the book largely to the same degree. I’m sure we all reach a point where there is only so much inside a book that we can learn from, but clearly this book has more to glean from than any other.

Even for the most advanced birders, this book has a surprising amount of things to pull from it. There is no one who can argue that having 10000+ images of birds couldn’t be put to good use, but I found myself already searching through for things I could find amongst the masses of images. I noticed the female Orchard Oriole (big image, listed as female) is actually a fall juvenile bird (notice the Juvenal-gape showing). Or how some “breeding plumaged” shorebirds are shown in fresh plumage (April/May) or worn fall migrants (July/August) under the same label. I’m sure there is a lot more I’ll turn up as I search through more of the collections.

Who shouldn’t buy it: anyone who is thinking of just starting as a birdwatcher. I can’t imagine buying this book for a friend who has never been out birding once before. It might scare them  away. It is a limited case where buying a pocket-sized illustrated field guide would probably be a better way to go!

Overly critical: Baird’s Sandpiper is front/centre a Juvenile, White-rumped Sandpiper is a spring adult. It would be nice to have some sort of theme to how the birds are placed (eg/ adult breeding plumage always in the bottom right) – but this probably wasn’t realistic to the author!


Biggest critique: remove distracting background elements from some of the photos! Not really a big deal at all, but some strange things like the huge wreckage in the background of the Bonaparte’s Gull image. Why not just open water for more open water birds? Or “beach birds” on a plain beach? (eg,/ Bar-tailed Godwit has people in bathing suits behind it)

(Not the best example, but this image could maybe have been stronger without the boats? I dunno...)

Things someone like me would notice:

Ad. Male Hornemanns’ Hoary Redpoll isn’t an Ad. Male

Griseus SBDO is not fully in breeding plumage

The adult Red-necked Stint is a worn adult in breeding plumage (eg,/ July/August) like the vagrants we see in North America, while Little stint is "spring breeding plumage" (eg,/ early May) seen in Europe? It doesn't really show the observer what a Little Stint would look like in North America... 

Some birds (Thayer’s/Iceland – are really good). And I mean really really good considering how troublesome groups of birds like this are, never mind explaining it in a field guide.....

(ICGU/THGU page)

Anything else?

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews of the book, but I’d guess it’s more peoples surprise at how “new” this style of field guide is. (afraid of change?) No, I don’t think it’s going to change the birding world, but yes, it’s a superb addition to a collection!

Check out the Crossley website for more info if you're curious:


So yeah! That's my quick review of the book. I'll update the blog if I have more time to search through it and find anything new. It's the first time I've reviewed a book, so please feel free to critique my review! I'd like to know what you think!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Return of Crazy Bird Theories

After Ken Burrell picked up 3+ Dickcissels down in the Wheatley area, I've noticed a great trend:

Dickcissels on the move!

So why?

Well reason #1 (and the only reason): Drought!

Check out the current USA drought monitoring map:

beyond extreme!

They're getting baked out of the south. Dickcissels are being reported left-right and centre in Ohio, which is probably going to continue to spill over into Ontario a bit. If you live in the SW part of the province, check out those weedy hay fields and maybe you'll get lucky. 


So what else can we look forward to? It's tough to say. Some things I've noticed:

Neotropic Cormorants are currently in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois (2!).... Are they getting baked out of the SW too? Could we expect more in Ontario into the summer? Would be nice. 

Little Blue Herons have been on the move as well... One was reported a few days ago in Michigan, and several adults have been reported from Ohio. Bill Whan posted on Ohio-birds that during a huge drought in 1930, 1100+ Little Blue Herons were reported in the state in July and August! However, all of those were white juvenile birds, unlike the adults being reported now. 

So yeah, I don't really know what it means, other than we have some hope for a good to great flight of waterbirds from the south in their annual post-breeding dispersal... I've never seen a Little Blue Heron in Ontario, so it would be nice to find one!

Come on LBHE's! Let's just hope they all don't get stuck in the typical water levels of Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio..... 


Not much else to report. Aside from my little jaunt to Amherst on the weekend, I've been intentionally trying to just complete my work (breeding bird surveys) and then relax and head back to the hotel/cottage etc. This time of year is fairly slow for rarities, and I'll just re-charge my batteries for later in the summer!

Speaking of "summer", it's a great time for birding in Ontario- because it doesn't really exist. While winter locks us in an icy grip for 6-8 weeks every year, we can thankfully totally avoid summer and get right back to fall migration. 

A recent report from Alan Wormington sheds light on the situation: (Amherst Island): 3 White-rumped Sandpipers and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs together. The White-rumps are going north to breed, but those darn Yellowlegs are already migrating south! To heck with summer! In a few weeks, I'll bring out some old data on how exciting early shorebird migrants can be!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Different = Rare ?

A valuable lesson I once learned about this birding game, is that learning the common species in your area will help you prepare to recognize when a bird is different, and potentially find a "rarity".

It really does work, but there's serious danger in that method as well! Different doesn't always equal rare!

I can't say how many times I'm shocked to find a rare subspecies, morph, aberrant plumage (leucsitic, melanistic) hybrid, backcross, abnormal molt, or just downright "messed up" bird, before finding a bonafide "rare bird"... The biggest case of this for me is every year at the Niagara River, looking at Gulls. I spend days and days down there searching, and find dozens of oddball gulls, multiple hybrids, yet never find the real deal (still waiting for a Slaty-backed Gull!!!!!) Whereas someone finds (or reports) a wide variety of rarities down there every year.

I don't usually mention these birds, but I managed a photograph of one at Pelee Island this spring that I was compelled to share:

The expected birding crew was at the Tip of Fish Point (the Burrells, Dad, Jenn) when we had this Common Loon fly directly over our heads. It was pretty obvious that the bird had a very pale (dare I say, Yellow) bill. Despite this, none of us really got all that excited .I managed a few photos as the bird flew past just for fun, but it became pretty clear to us that the bird looked like a Common Loon, other than the slightly funny bill colour. 

Looking at the photos later, I also noticed the bird has a lot of pink on the feet! (A quick look in the Sibley guide etc. shows Loons with dark/black feet). So even more proof that just because this bird is different, doesn't mean it's the mega-rare Yellow-billed Loon, just a silly Common Loon...

Just a little fun on a mid June day. A recent discussion of a photographed bird brought this topic to the front of my mind, which I won't mention here, but thought it'd be fun to do a post that different doesn't always equal rare!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


More new spring photos. One beautiful thing about birding Pelee Island this spring was the steady song of a Prothonotary Warbler (or two) coming from the wet woods at Fish Point. We enjoyed looking just about every day, but only once did I have my camera out and ready for some photos:

This stunning male had set up shop, and we decided to walk down for a visit. When we arrived, he was on the "wrong" side of the road from his box. It wasn't hard to plan my next move, and I set up my tripod on the road as he slowly worked closer to me. Eventually he stopped at the edge of the road, allowed half a dozen photos, before taking flight and continuing to feed on the "right" side of the road!

As he took flight, I managed a lucky shot (that I was actually really pleased with):

PROW in flight! I found something pleasing about the flight feathers in this image. I usually feel like most people don't like these "odd" shots as much as I do... What do you think, is it good? 

 They have to be one of the very most spectacular warblers we get to see!

It was already pretty late, so we watched him feed for a while longer.... Getting dark, my Dad and I were really stunned to see him (apparently) find a place to sleep for the night ?? 

He moved up against the trunk here, stopped moving all together and started closing his eyes! Is this how warblers sleep at night? We watched for a good 20 minutes before we were ready to leave ourselves, and he didn't budge (even when large vehicles drove past 25 feet away!  Not something you get to see everyday.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A mobile blog posting!

Still no guarantees on internet usage, so here's a quick birding (yes, real birding) update:

The date: June 19th

The place: Amherst Island, KFN property

The birds:

Semipalmated Sandpiper: 1
White-rumped Sandpiper: 2
Dunlin: 1
Short-billed Dowitcher: 1
Semipalmated Plover: 2
Wilson's Phalarope: 4 (breeding)

Plus Killdeer, Spotties, Snipe and Woodcock for a 10 shorebird species day! Pretty great for June 19th...

We also turned up a few late ducks, including 8 Common Goldeneye and 4 Red-breasted Mergansers.

Not bad at all!

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

photographing water

Back in early May, I stopped to check Blenheim Sewage Lagoons... The conditions made me consider breaking out the camera gear, and I managed to take a few hundred photos of the pond water there. 

Very rarely, if I was lucky, I could get an out-of-focus Swallow (like this Tree Swallow) inside the frame

And 800 photos later, I had a few flight shots:

And even one of these things! (Barn Swallow, coming to a "Threatened-Listing" near you soon!)

Cool and cloudy doesn't usually mean flight shots, but the high-ISO capabilities of my camera made these shots possible. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My real website

Is still getting attention as well. I found some motivation, and put the best of my "other" collections back online:

Butterfly index:

Mammals and Herp's Gallery:

(I didn't have enough to index them, so I just put my favourites in the above gallery....

And of course, Dragonflies:

My recent posting about dragonflies in Ontario (and the Ont-odes group) managed to sneak out a few new members. It's the best thing we have in Ontario for odes, and it's 100% free!

I'm sort of guilty for having very little to post there in the last year or two, but I still encourage anyone and everyone to join the group!

The old two birds theory

More new spring photos... Two birds here with different stories... An Eastern Wood-Pewee and a Bay-breasted Warbler...

This is something that happens with my nature photography pretty frequently. Below are two of my absolute favourites from this spring (Pelee Island, Mid May) :

Taken in the afternoon at Fish Point, the light was excellent, and the bird was being just cooperative enough for some great photos. Even at this fairly large web-size, it doesn't do the photo justice at how silky smooth these photos are at their highest quality. Every feather shows excellent detail, and there is almost no visible grain in the background! 

And what's really great, is I now have two really nice (slightly different) photos of this Pewee to add to my collection. This happens a lot, where some of my collection (eg,/ Lawrence's Warbler) is 7 or 8 photos of the same individual bird! With a bird like a Pewee, you'd never really notice much of a difference from one Pewee to the next, so it works out great. Bring on this bird:

An ultra-dull female Bay-breasted Warbler that hung out in the same spot of the Woodland Nature Trail (Pt Pelee) during the cold snap, for multiple days. I managed a few "different" photos of this girl, but it's painfully obvious in my BBWA collection that 3 of the 5 photos are of the same bird!

Not a big deal, but just one of those things that happen in nature photography that may not always be obvious when looking at photo collections.