Wildlife and Nature Photography

Posts tagged ‘Birding’

Inaugural Photo Walk Reveals A Nice Mix Of Birds

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Black-capped Chickadees were among the first songbirds observed and photographed during the first photo walk in a series I have planned for area photo enthusiasts.

Thursday December 28, 2017, marked the first in my series of photo walks taking place at several of my favourite birding locations. During these two hours walks, participants are guided through the area while I offer birding and photography tips as we stop along the way to photograph birds and wildlife in their natural environment. To make sure everyone receives personal attention and instruction, group size is limited to six participants.

The inaugural photo walk took place in London’s Spingbank Park. This location was chosen due to the abundance of birds and wildlife found here throughout the winter months and the close proximity at which these species can be observed and photographed. The walk began at 10 a.m. as by this time the sun is high enough in the sky to clear the treetops providing excellent light on our subjects. Between 10 a.m. and noon also happens to be a time of day that I find birds quite active, often feeding, which makes for more successful birding and photography.

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Northern Cardinals were a favourite bird among the group. Several pairs of these birds were located along our chosen route.

This past week we experienced the first real cold snap of winter with wind chills between -20 and -30 Celsius every day. Fortunately on this day winds were quite light, and we were treated to the warmest day of the week so far. 

Heading west, we observed a variety of waterfowl on the Thames River including Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and Hooded Mergansers. These three species regularly overwinter on the river each year and with more cold weather in the forecast expect their numbers to increase as the Thames will be the only open water available in the area.

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Male Northern Cardinal.

Making our way through a stand of cedar trees, Black-capped Chickadees were the first songbird to be observed. Hearing the high pitched calls of the Golden-crowned Kinglet we looked up and saw several of these birds feeding on the seeds high up in the cedars. Even higher up, among the tops of the cedars, a flock of Pine Siskins were observed feeding.   

As we continued west past the defunct Springbank Dam, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches were seen and heard. Out on the river, hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards were observed. This particular section of the park is typically best for waterfowl, so our observations were quite typical.

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Despite being a species in decline, several American Black Ducks were observed during the photo walk.

In my last blog post, A Proven Hot Spot For Winter Waterfowl, I mentioned the small pond adjacent to Storybook Gardens and the wide variety of waterfowl I have observed here over the years during winter. This was our next stop to see if any unusual ducks were present. As we combed through all the Mallards a few American Black Ducks were observed.

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This male Northern Northern Pintail was the most notable dabbling duck observed.

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Male Northern Pintail preening.

As I scanned the far bank, a patch of white caught my eye. This easily could have been dismissed as snow on a fallen log, but as I looked closer I could see that this was in fact the breast and neck of a male Northern Pintail. This duck was sleeping comfortably with its head under its wing not presenting well for photos. We decided to leave this bird and look again on our way back in hopes that it may be awake and more acitve. Fortunately, we did later relocate the male Northern Pintail as it provided better views and images of its beautiful plumage. 

Northern Cardinals were a favourite bird of the group and several pairs were located on this day. At various locations, the light through the clouds illuminated these birds beautifully as we made our way through the park. Several questions were asked regarding proper exposure and I was happy to provide advice on this with participants quite satisfied with the images they were able to capture. 

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As is the case most times when walking through Springbank Park during the winter months, a Bald Eagle was observed. This juvenile provided great views as it passed by at close range.

Continuing along, a juvenile Bald Eagle made a close pass providing great views. Later in the walk, this bird was observed again soaring high overhead. A lone Belted Kingfisher was located perched high above the river on a wire and observed trying to capture food as it dove repeatedly into the water.

As we made our way back through the park in the direction of our vehicles, more songbirds were encountered. Dark-eyed Juncos were observed low to the ground feeding on the various seeds from this year’s wildflowers. White and Red-breasted Nuthatches were seen foraging along tree trunks while the calls of two Brown Creepers alerted us to their location. 

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Dark-eyed Junco feeding on the seeds of one of the park’s many wildflowers.

All in all it was a great day birding with several species observed, many of which presented great opportunities for photographs. Participants were happy with the birds encountered and the images they captured, while I was grateful to share my passion for birding and photography with the group. If you would like to be among the first to register for upcoming photo walks, please contact me and I will notify you once they have been scheduled. 

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The white feathers around this female Northern Cardinal’s eye indicate leucism, a condition where there is a partial loss of pigmentation.

I would like to express my appreciation for those who braved the cold weather and made this day such a success. With another photo walk scheduled next week at another location, I look forward to seeing more familiar faces while meeting a few new ones. London, Ontario truly has some excellent birding opportunities and sharing my knowledge of local areas is something I am really looking forward to in the new year. 

Good birding,

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Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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Belted Kingfisher photographed against a background of falling snow.

As our seasons change, we experience a variety of beautiful conditions for photographing birds. From budding trees in the spring to vibrant leaves in the fall, beautiful backdrops seem almost endless. For me, my favourite backdrop for photographing birds is snow, and I always eagerly await the first significant snowfall of the season. After three snow squall warnings for my area back in November that didn’t materialize, I was happy to see over twelve inches of fresh snow fall last week, presenting the exact setting I had been waiting so patiently for.  

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Black-capped Chickadees at the local park are quite tame and will even accept food from your hand. These small songbirds are perfect subjects if you are shooting with a shorter lens.

With a fresh layer of snow already covering the ground and more flurries in the forecast, I grabbed my camera and headed to one of my favourite winter birding locations, Springbank Park in west London. This popular park boasts a variety of habitat including deciduous and coniferous trees providing the birds with plenty of food and shelter. The Thames River flowing through the park provides a dependable water source throughout the year as the river’s moving water prevents a complete freeze up even during the coldest weather. With the three necessitates of life: food, water, and shelter provided, Springbank Park is home to an abundance of birds. Songbirds, birds of prey, and waterfowl are all readily observed within the park’s boundaries. 

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Using the weather to my advantage allows me to observe more birds when I am out birding. Wind can make the location of Northern Cardinals and other songbirds extremely predictable.

When birding during harsh winter conditions, I like to put the odds in my favour by paying attention to the weather. Finding areas out of the wind with a food source greatly improves my success. During periods of high wind and snow, birds will seek shelter from the elements but must also feed regularly in order to keep warm. On this day, I searched for birds using a tree line and the near riverbank as a wind break. Songbirds were observed feeding on a variety of fruits and seeds including sumac, birch, alder, various evergreens, and goldenrod. 

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This Song Sparrow was one of the many birds I found feeding on the seeds of goldenrod and other native wildflowers.

After locating an abundance of birds in this food rich, protected area, it was just a matter of fine tuning my camera settings to achieve the proper exposure based on available light and snow cover. I always take a few test shots of the scene I am shooting even if there are no birds present. Doing so and checking my camera’s histogram ensures I have the correct exposure. This way when a shot does present itself I am ready. All I have to do is obtain focus (I always focus on the bird’s eye, because when the eye is sharp the image is sharp) and press the shutter. Taking these test shots and adjusting my settings before photographing the birds has been one of the biggest things I have done to improve my photography and consistently get better images. Before this, my images were almost always over or underexposed and by the time I adjusted my settings the bird was gone. 

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Blue Jays and other songbirds were located in protected areas during last week’s high winds and snowy conditions.

Given the conditions, I needed to overexpose my images to compensate for the white snow in most of the scenes I was shooting. If you find that your winter images appear too grey or underexposed it is because all cameras, regardless of price point, are made to believe a properly exposed image is mid-grey. Consequently your camera will automatically underexpose images not recognizing that snow is supposed to be white. Therefore, adjusting your camera’s settings so that the snow appears white is paramount.

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Mourning Doves were among the 27 species I observed while birding at Springbank Park during last week’s snow squalls.

Adjusting for snowy conditions to achieve the proper exposure is easier than you may think. I like to work in aperture priority mode as this allows me to fine-tune my settings quickly and adjust on the fly as the light conditions change. Once in aperture priority mode, I can over or underexpose my images by simply turning the large wheel on the back of my Canon 7D. Each click of the wheel changes my exposure by 1/3 of a stop of light. Rotating the wheel clockwise will overexpose or brighten my exposure while rotating the wheel counter clockwise will underexpose or darken my exposure. This is known as exposure compensation and is something every photographer should learn in order to achieve proper exposure in a variety of situations regardless of your subject. If your camera does not have a wheel on the back, most cameras whether a Canon, Nikon, or other brand will allow you to adjust the exposure compensation by holding down the AV +/- button (usually located on the back or top of the camera) while turning the camera’s dial simultaneously. How and when to use exposure compensation is one of the many aspects of nature photography I teach during my Nature Photography Workshops

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In my opinion, Brown Creepers are one of the best camouflaged birds found in our area. The patterning on their backs blends in perfectly with most tree bark.

In snowy conditions, overexposing by 1-1/3 to 2 stops of light (4 to 6 clicks of the dial clockwise) is often required to achieve proper exposure. This will ensure that the snow appears white and not grey in your final images. One question I always get asked is “can’t I just fix this later in Photoshop?” My answer to that question is this. You can change your exposure later in Photoshop; however, “fix” is not necessarily the correct word to use. Anytime you increase your exposure in Photoshop or any other post processing program you will increase the amount of noise in the image, drastically negating image quality. Getting the exposure correct in camera is one of the easiest ways to quickly improve your overall image quality. 

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Carolina Wrens can be a challenging bird to photograph due to their tendency to inhabit thick cover. I was happy to see this one emerge briefly providing me with an unobstructed view.

With my camera settings dialed in to achieve a fast shutter speed and proper exposure, I was ready to photograph the plethora of birds within the sheltered, food abundant area in which they were associating. By using the weather to my advantage and choosing the correct camera settings, I managed to locate 27 species and capture sharp, properly exposed images of almost all of them.

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Northern Cardinals are one of my favourite birds to photograph in the snow.

Next time you are out searching for birds in winter remember to use the wind and weather to your advantage. Successful birding has far more to do with formulating a plan based on conditions than it does with luck. When photographing birds, focus on the bird’s eye for sharper images and learn how to use exposure compensation to achieve proper exposure based on light conditions. If you are not getting the results you are hoping for from your camera and lens, consider joining me at one of my upcoming Nature Photography Workshops. During these two hour workshops I will show you everything you need to know to greatly improve your overall images. Group size is limited during these workshops for individual attention, and a few spaces still remain for early in the new year. Why not make it your resolution to become better with your camera and get the results you are hoping for? 

Good birding,


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Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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This Snowy Owl was observed perched high above a county road while birding from my car.

In my last blog post The Best Gloves For Winter Birding and Photography, I shared which gloves I wear to keep my hands warm while birding during cooler weather. If despite being properly dressed you still don’t enjoy getting outdoors for winter birding there is another option. Birding from the comfort of a warm car can be incredibly rewarding.

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Horned Larks are regularly observed feeding in open fields and on spilled grain along area roads and highways.

With the vast majority of county rounds surrounded by open farmland and woodlots, expect to find birds specific to these types of habitats when birding by car. Birds of prey, Wild Turkeys, and songbirds including Horned Larks and Snow Buntings are all readily observed when birding by car.

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Rough-legged Hawks breed across the arctic tundra, but return to Southwestern Ontario each year to spend the winter months.

When birding by car, it is generally the larger birds that I search for, those that are more easily observed from a distance. Birds of prey can be easily located and viewed from a vehicle simply by driving down area roads. During the winter months, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Rough-legged Hawks, and Snowy Owls are all readily observed along county roads and highways throughout Southwestern Ontario,  Whether perched on a wire, in a large tree adjacent to a farmer’s field, or sitting on the ground, these birds are easily found. 

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Red-tailed Hawks are regularly observed while birding by car. Look for these raptors perched along forest edges adjacent to open fields.

While many of these birds can be found just about anywhere based on the abundance of suitable habitat throughout the area, there are a few resources available to improve your success. The Middlesex/Elgin/Oxford Observation Group is great for keeping up to date with recent sightings from within these three counties. Another great option for following recent observations is the eBird Species Map. Simply type in the species you wish to observe and the area in which you intend to look, and all reported sightings will appear on the map. You can narrow your search further by choosing a custom date range. Having a quick look at these websites before heading out will greatly increase your success. 

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Travelling area back roads in the comfort of a warm car often reveals an abundance Red-tailed Hawks.

There are a couple of things to be mindful of when birding by car. First and foremost, be safe. Pay attention to other vehicles including snowplows sharing the roads with you. I constantly check my mirrors for faster moving vehicles approaching from behind, and if safe to do so, pull over to let them pass. Choosing some of the less traveled roads is a great way to avoid traffic and increase your safety. Be aware of the weather and road conditions and drive accordingly. When pulling over to let other cars pass, make sure there is room for your vehicle and not a deep ditch waiting to engulf your car. Snow covered shoulders can be deceiving and having to call a tow truck will result in a long wait and an expensive bill. 

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Eastern Coyotes and other mammals are often bonus finds when birding by car.

Another thing to keep in mind is to be respectful. This applies to both landowners and the birds. Most of the land surrounding these roads and highways is privately owned, so observe the birds from the shoulder only without wandering across lawns and fields.  In the case of Snowy Owls, these birds have traveled hundreds if not thousands of kilometers from their breeding grounds in search of food. In many cases owls are exhausted, hungry, and already stressed. Chasing them from their perch only adds to that stress. If you cannot get close enough for a decent view or photograph remember the area and return another day.

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Despite a large number of Snowy Owl sightings around the Great Lakes already this season, it is important to remember this species is now listed as vulnerable suffering a 64% population decline since 1970. Giving these birds space and not causing them added stress is of utmost importance.

Snowy Owls will remain in an area all winter if not repeatedly disturbed and often return to the same area each winter. With a little patience and multiple visits to the same area, great views and images will be obtained without stressing the birds. I have said this before in previous blog posts, but will say it again, stay in your car. Snowy Owls are far less likely to flush from their perch if you observe and photograph them from within your vehicle. Approaching on foot for a closer look will only cause the bird to fly resulting in lost views and unnecessary stress. 

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The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon. These birds can be easily found perched on wires throughout our area.

If heading outdoors in the cold and snow is not your cup of tea, but you would still like your fill of birding this winter, give birding by car a try. Southwestern Ontario’s back roads are surrounded by an abundance of ideal habitat to attract and sustain a variety of birds and wildlife. Grab your camera, binoculars, a warm drink, and hit the road. Remember to be safe while driving during winter conditions and to respect the birds. If you have never tried birding by car, give this method a try. I think you will find it incredibly gratifying and you may just record a new species or two along the way.

Good birding,


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Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
November 10 – 17, 2017

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The movements of Cedar Waxwings can be incredibly predictable during the month of November. I often find flocks of these birds each year in the same fruit trees.

I have always enjoyed birding in November. Sure the big push of migrants has already moved through and the weather can be fickle at best, but great birding opportunities exist for a variety of species. It is at this time of year that I have some of the best views of Cedar Waxwings as their movements can be extremely predictable.

With seasonal temperatures not conducive to insect activity, waxwings are easily located feeding on fruit. Find fruit trees and you will most likely find waxwings. That being said, be extra observant when searching for Cedar Waxwings in November. During spring and summer months waxwings will regularly give away their location with their high-pitched whistles, but at this time of year they tend to remain almost silent as they gorge themselves on berries. 

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With most of the leaves now gone from the trees, locating birds is less challenging and one of the many things I like about birding in November.

This week I decided to check one of my favourite locations for finding Cedar Waxwings and in particular a few specific trees. Sure enough, as in previous Novembers, waxwings were present. Also observed among the sizable flock of Cedar Waxwings were large numbers of American Robins also enjoying the bounty of fruit.

As I watched this feeding frenzy I heard the occasional soft call of a robin and the odd whistle from a waxwing, but otherwise this group of hundreds of birds was silent. Cedar Waxwings will not remain in one area long at this time of year though, as once the berries are gone so too will the birds. Finding more fruit trees in areas that are close by and following the flock is key to achieving continued views over the course of the month. 

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This Bald Eagle was observed along the Thames River in Springbank Park. This is one of my favourite sections of river for observing these majestic raptors all winter long.

November is also when Bald Eagle activity along the Thames River in London, Ontario begins to increase. Eagles that have migrated from our north are often attracted to the river due the fact many sections remain open year round, offering a sustainable food supply throughout the winter months. Combine this with the local population consisting of many first year birds from several nest sites in the area and chances of spotting a Bald Eagle along the river are pretty good. This week I had great views of a mature eagle as it flew downstream in Springbank Park. 

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This Blue Jay added a touch of colour to an otherwise grey day.

Other plentiful birds around the Forest City in the past seven days were Blue Jays. These birds are often quite vocal revealing their whereabouts making them an easy bird to locate. Speaking of vocal birds, I was treated to great views of a male Red-bellied Woodpecker as it called from high up in a dead tree. Northern Cardinals were yet another songbird heard long before they were seen. 

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A male Red-bellied Woodpecker takes a break from trying to extract a meal from beneath the bark of a dead tree.

Waterfowl numbers on the Thames River really seemed to increase this week, with mostly Canada Geese and Mallards observed. I always look closely at these large flocks for any ducks that look slightly different as November is when I often find the odd Gadwall or other dabbler mixed in with all the Mallards. This week I did locate an American Black Duck/Mallard hybrid while birding along the river. Within the next month, good numbers of overwintering waterfowl including mergansers and Common Goldeneye will appear on the river for another season. 

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This male Northern Cardinal was busy foraging on cedar seeds that had fallen to the ground.

If you are not convinced that great birding opportunities are available throughout the month of November, I encourage you to get out and give it a try. Resident birds are always abundant and overwintering species will continue to arrive in the area as the weeks progress. Dress accordingly to the day’s predicted forecast and always be prepared for rain or wet snow as weather in November can change at a moment’s notice. Be extra observant as sometimes birds can be right in front of you while not making a sound, as evidenced by the Cedar Waxwings.

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Cedar Waxwings are just one of the many songbirds I target at this time of year.

Birding in November has always been rewarding for me and is why I look forward to the change in weather so much. I think if you visit your favourite natural area this month you too will agree November birding is incredibly rewarding. 

Good birding,

*If you were unable to attend one of my November workshops, I have added more dates in January. If you were able to participate, I have added a couple of new workshops that might interest you as well. Please view my upcoming events for more details.*

Green Herons Present Phenomenal Views At The Westminster Ponds ESA

Green Herons will soon be leaving our area for their wintering grounds to our south. Fortunately, these birds are currently providing exceptional views at an area ESA. 

Over the past three weeks, I have been enjoying incredible views of Green Herons. In fact, the views achieved have been the best I have experienced. If you are unfamiliar with these birds, Green Herons display the most beautiful combination of iridescent blues and greens combined with a reddish brown neck. Standing only 18″ tall, Green Herons are often a challenge to locate within the swampy habitats they prefer despite their colouful plumage. This however is not the case currently at the Westminster Ponds ESA located in south London. 

Under the right light conditions, the iridescent plumage of the Green Heron becomes quite evident.

Throughout September, I have seen as many as four Green Herons, both adults and juveniles (juveniles are heavily streaked on their necks and breasts) at one time at the west end of Saunders Pond. On most visits, these birds have been viewed within 20-40 feet of the path running alongside the pond. Green Herons will soon be leaving our area for their wintering grounds in the Southern United States, Central, and South America, so opportunities for these close encounters are running out.

The mix of cattails and fallen timber on the west side of Saunders Pond provides the perfect habitat for Green Herons.

The easiest access to these Green Herons is from behind Tourist Information located at 696 Wellington Road. From the parking lot head north on the paved path until you reach the boardwalk. Continue north on the boardwalk and begin scanning the fallen timber to your right and the cattails to your left. My best views have come from just north of the boardwalk along the dirt path where Saunders Pond comes to an end. Both sides of the path throughout this area have provided satisfying views.

When alarmed, Green Herons will extend their necks and raise the crests on the top of their heads. This particular bird heard children playing in the area and exhibited this classic behavior.

In my experience, time of day does not matter for viewing these Green Herons as I have found these birds both in the morning and afternoon. If you are wishing to photograph these birds, I would recommend waiting until about mid morning as this will allow the sun to get high enough in the sky to light up the birds nicely while achieving a faster shutter speed, If you cannot make it in the morning than late afternoon has been quite good too. Try not to leave it too late though as once the sun drops low in the sky the area becomes quite shaded. Great views of these birds can still be obtained, but your image quality may suffer due to the lack of light.

Click on the two above images to enlarge these photos of a Green Heron with a Northern Leopard Frog. 

These particular Green Herons at the Westminster Ponds ESA are not overly wary of people, but moving slowly and speaking in a soft voice is still recommended to avoid stressing the birds.These Green Herons are in this area feeding heavily in preparation of their long migration south, so remember to respect their space and allow them to feed in order to accomplish this feat. The only times I have seen these birds startle is when a group of children ran by while shouting in loud voices. Even then the birds did not move far remaining in the area where there is an abundance of food. While watching and photographing these Green Herons I have observed them capture small fish, tadpoles, and Northern Leopard Frogs.    

The heavy streaking on this Green Heron’s neck and breast indicate it is a juvenile bird.

If you are hoping to achieve great views of a Green Heron, I highly recommend visiting the Westminster Pond ESA soon. As mentioned earlier, these birds won’t remain in the area much longer, so time is running out for potentially the view of a lifetime.

Good birding,

*My 2018 calendars have arrived and are now available for purchase. To see the images featured and to purchase click here.*


Shorebirds Abound At The West Perth Wetlands

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Lesser Yellowlegs and other shorebirds can be found in large numbers throughout August as they migrate across Southwestern Ontario.

When it comes to shorebirds many species begin their fall migration in late June with Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs being the first to make their way south. As summer progresses, shorebird numbers steadily increase throughout Southwestern Ontario and by August shorebirds can be found in large concentrations throughout our area. Consequently, this is when I begin my search of area drainage ponds, sewage lagoons, and wetlands hoping to observe and photograph these long distance migrants.

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This Pectoral Sandpiper was among the many shorebirds I recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands

One of my favourite places to observe shorebirds is the West Perth Wetlands located in Mitchell, Ontario. A series of shallow ponds and exposed mudflats provides an ideal habitat for shorebirds looking to rest and feed as they migrate south. Navigating around the wetland is quite easy thanks to a network of meticulously maintained mowed grass trails that sit on top of the berms surrounding each pond. Not only does this make for easy walking, it also provides an excellent vantage point for observing and photographing birds and other wildlife readily located along the edge of each pond. Naturalization of the sloping banks from the top of each berm to the water’s edge has occurred consisting of variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs all of which attract a nice mix of both songbirds and butterflies. 

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Lesser Yellowlegs were by far the most abundant shorebird I observed on a recent visit to the West Perth Wetlands.

After checking eBird and seeing that good numbers of shorebirds had been reported at the West Perth Wetlands, I grabbed my binoculars and camera and made the one hour drive from London hoping to observe some of these birds. Upon arriving at the wetlands, I could hear the echoing calls of several birds coming from the other side of the berm as I strapped on my camera and binoculars. Following the trail from the parking lot up onto the berm the first pond came into sight, and so too did a large flock of shorebirds.

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Shorebirds at the West Perth Wetlands are always on the move, providing excellent opportunities for flight shots.

Raising my binoculars and scanning the first pond, it became evident that Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most abundant of the shorebirds as dozens of these birds could be seen foraging on the large mudflat in the centre of the pond. After observing these birds for several minutes, I began to circle the pond in hopes of locating more shorebirds.

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While some shorebirds have already started to migrate, others including Killdeer are still raising their broods. This young Killdeer was one of three observed. 

As I made my way down the trail I observed a lone Killdeer watching over three small chicks. In my opinion, you can’t find a cuter baby bird than a Killdeer. These tiny balls of fluff were a treat to watch as they foraged in the mud and waded in the shallow water.

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Great Blue Heron

Coming to the end of the pond, I scanned through the abundance of vegetation with my binoculars and counted the heads of four Great Blue Herons. I decided that if I made my way to the other side of the pond I would be able to get an unobstructed view of at least three of the birds. As I rounded the corner a fifth heron flew in from the east. I raised my camera and captured several images of the bird before it landed in the middle of the pond.

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This image demonstrates the wide variety of shorebirds I observed at the West Perth Wetlands. From front to back are Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs. In the upper left corner of the frame just in front of the green vegetation is a Least Sandpiper.

Continuing east deeper into the wetland, I came to the second pond. As I looked down at a small section of mud bank in the near corner of the pond, I was treated to an extraordinary view of four shorebirds perfectly lined up from smallest to largest. Fortunately these birds were not moving around too much and I was able to capture several images of this unique scene. As mentioned, Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most prevalent shorebirds present on my visit, but I was also treated to exceptional views of Spotted Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers.

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This male Common Yellowthroat was one of two warbler species observed.

The West Perth Wetlands is a great place to bird and not just for shorebirds. Songbirds are also plentiful in the mixed habitat within and surrounding the wetland. Warblers including Yellow and Common Yellowthroat were both observed. Other notable species observed included an Eastern Meadowlark, Chimney Swifts, and two Green Herons. Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches were plentiful in the row of evergreens located at the southeast end of the property.

mobo - Shorebirds Abound At The West Perth Wetlands

Monarch Butterflies were the most abundant butterfly observed around the wetland.

A collection of butterflies were also observed, and to my delight Monarchs were the most abundant. Swallowtails, Viceroys, and both American and Painted Lady were all photographed. Dragon and Damselflies were present in good numbers with a variety of each observed.    

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This male Widow Skimmer was one of the many dragonflies observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

The West Perth Wetlands really is an impressive place to get out and enjoy nature. Whether you are searching for birds, insects, reptiles or amphibians there is something for everyone. One non nature observation I made that I think is worth sharing is that of a gentleman using an electric mobility device to get around the wetland, demonstrating that the well-maintained grass tails are accessible to everyone. If you are searching for a fully accessible location for birding, the West Perth Wetlands is a great option.

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This Killdeer was one of dozens recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

Throughout August and September, look for shorebird numbers to increase further in Southwestern Ontario as they make make their way south. Area wetlands, sewage lagoons, and stormwater management ponds area all great places to observe shorebirds as they are drawn to these habitats to rest and feed. If you are looking for a place where great views of an abundance of shorebirds can be obtained, I highly recommend a visit to the West Perth Wetlands.

Good birding,



A Look Back On Spring Birding 2017

rose - A Look Back On Spring Birding 2017

Seeing so many first of year species makes spring birding incredibly rewarding. This male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was photographed on one of my many visits to Cavendish Woods. 

With spring coming to an end, I can’t help but reminisce about some of the fantastic birding I experienced over the past several months. With record breaking temperatures in February, many of the birds we typically don’t see until March arrived early, but as the weather returned to normal, so too did the arrival of spring migrants.

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The Eastern Phoebe is the first of the flycatchers to return to our area each spring.

April saw the return of Eastern Phoebes to our area. These birds are always the first flycatcher to return each spring. I was pleasantly surprised to see my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year on Good Friday as it hovered over my yard. This was the earliest I can remember ever seeing a hummingbird in the area. As the month progressed, aerial insectivores including swallows and Chimney Swifts were observed throughout the area.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler showing off the yellow rump for which they are named.

As May approached, I patiently waited for the return of warblers to Southwestern Ontario. First to arrive this year, as is the case each year, were Yellow-rumped Warblers. In the days following, Yellow Warblers and Palm Warblers were also observed in good numbers.

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Palm Warbler

Due to some stretches of unseasonably warm weather, leaf cover this spring was further along than in previous years, which made photographing warblers and other songbirds more challenging, but I am always more than happy to just watch these colourful birds through a pair of binoculars as they flit from branch to branch.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

Westminster Ponds ESA is my favourite place to bird anytime of year, but especially during spring migration. With an abundance of mixed habitat, songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey can all be observed in good numbers. During migration, it is not uncommon to see 50-70 species in a single day.

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Virginia Rails prefer to stay hidden among thick vegetation making them a difficult bird to observe and photograph.

One morning in early May as I made my way along the boardwalk behind Tourist Information on Wellington Road, I observed a Virginia Rail as it walked through the emerging cattails in this swampy section of the Westminster Ponds ESA. These secretive birds are fairly common in our area, but are extremely difficult to find as they typically stay hidden within the thick vegetation of their preferred marshy habitats.

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Male Wood Duck photographed at the Westminster Ponds ESA.

Early May was also great for observing Wood Ducks within the Westminster Ponds ESA. Looking through the wood cover surrounding Saunders Pond revealed many pairs of these beautiful dabblers. Since Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, several of these ducks were inadvertently seen high up in trees adjacent to the pond as I scanned the branches for warblers and other songbirds. Surprisingly, I also found a few late overwintering ducks on Saunders Pond with a pair Long-tailed Ducks and a lone female Greater Scaup observed. Both of these waterfowl species breed far to our north and are typically gone from our area by this time of year. 

rbgb - A Look Back On Spring Birding 2017

While enjoying the many trilliums emerging from the forest floor in Hawk Cliff Woods, I observed this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak on a fallen log.

If asked what bird I look forward to seeing most return each spring, my answer would be the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The unmistakable plumage displayed on the males of this species is simply stunning, and I was happy to see these birds once again back in our area in early May.

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This heavily cropped image represents only a small portion of the flock of 250-300 Whimbrels I observed on the east breakwater in Port Stanley, Ontario.

Each May, Whimbrels can be observed in large numbers along the north shore of Lake Erie as they pass through the area on route to their breeding grounds across the Arctic. The largest flocks are typically observed around the Victoria Day long weekend give or take a few days. In years past, my timing has always been off just missing these large shorebirds by a day or two. On May 17, I took a short drive down to Port Stanley, Ontario and to my delight between 250 and 300 Whimbrels were resting on the east breakwater at the mouth of the harbour. Other shorebirds present were Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstones, and Least Sandpipers.

pw - A Look Back On Spring Birding 2017

This particular dead tree proved to be a favourite for this male Pileated Woodpecker as I observed it drumming on the hollow trunk on several occasions.

Birding this spring wasn’t just about the many migrants returning to or making their way through our area. Resident birds are always fun to observe and I was treated to excellent views of many, including Pileated Woodpeckers. These crow-sized woodpeckers truly are a sight to see and can readily be found within the Westminster Ponds ESA.  

nf - A Look Back On Spring Birding 2017

Woodpeckers including the Northern Flicker are among the many resident species that can be observed in good numbers throughout our area long after spring migration is over.

Just because spring migration has come to an end doesn’t mean that great birding can’t still be enjoyed throughout our area. With so many birds spending at least the summer months in Southwestern Ontario, productive birding will continue right through the summer leading us into fall migration.

As the temperature warms up, I recommend getting out as early in the day as you can to not only avoid the heat, but this is when birds are most active. Summer birding can be incredibly satisfying as this is this only time of year to witness interactions between adult and baby birds. You may have to be a little more patient to see some of the birds through the leaf cover, and daily species counts may not be as high, but birding during the summer months is just as rewarding as birding any other time of year.

Good birding,




John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

jeprh - John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

Red-headed Woodpeckers are currently listed as special concern on Ontario’s species at risk list. This particular bird is one of three I observed last week while birding at John E. Pearce Provincial Park.

Last week I decided to pack up my gear and head to Elgin county with John E. Pearce Provincial Park my destination. Situated on the north shore of Lake Erie and only a short drive from my home in London, this park is an area I had never birded before. With migration numbers having already peaked I was unsure what to expect, but knew this Carolinian habitat would be home to variety of birds.

balt - John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

Baltimore Orioles could be seen and heard high in the treetops as I made my way through the park.

Upon arriving, I parked in the large lot on the north side of the road next to the Backus-Page House Museum. I was instantly greeted by the songs and calls of several birds with Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers being the first identified. Before strapping on my camera and binoculars, I walked over to a large sign containing a map of the area in order to formulate a plan of where to begin. I decided to commence my hike on the Spicer Trail, a 1.5 km loop that circled the north side of the property. This trail would take me through a mixed habitat of meadow and hardwood forest before leading me to the entrance for the trail on the south of the road overlooking Lake Erie.

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Yellow Warblers were one of the most prevalent birds observed within the park.

As I entered the Spicer Trail, a House Wren was observed perched on the sign marking the trail entrance. I could hear a loud ruckus of breaking sticks and shaking grass just ahead of me to the right. Glancing through the trees and shrubs I saw a White-tailed doe as she ran through the meadow and into the cover of the thick timber. A variety of wildflowers lined the trail where several butterflies were observed including an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. From within the dense thicket as the meadow transitioned to forest, Gray Catbirds could be seen and heard. Once in the forest, ostrich ferns and moss covered logs concealed much of the forest floor. Great-crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos could be heard singing high up in the canopy. Deeper in the forest, I saw a White-breasted Nuthatch emerge from a tree cavity, presumably in search of more food for its brood.  

ets - John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails were among the variety of butterflies observed.

After exiting the Spicer Trail, I crossed the road and picked up the path on the lake side. Again, Great-crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos were heard high overhead. A Hairy Woodpecker called as it flew in front of me and landed on a leafless branch. The sound of rustling leaves on the forest floor directed my attention to an Eastern Chipmunk. At the midway point of the trail I stopped at an opening in the trees overlooking Lake Erie. Due to erosion, a fence has been installed running parallel to the lake keeping visitors away from the edge of the bluff. As I looked past the fence out over the lake I could see several Bank Swallows, a species at risk in Ontario, circling the sky. As their name suggests, Bank Swallows build their nests in the high banks after burrowing a tunnel in the sand. The addition of the fence will also prevent park visitors from disturbing the nesting colonies of this threatened species.

Heading back towards the road a flycatcher grabbed my attention as it flew from one side of the trail to the other. I watched as the bird landed in a small tree, one of only a few in a isolated group in this otherwise mature forest. I raised my binoculars hoping to get a better look and identify the species. As the sun filtered through the canopy onto the bird, I could see that it was greener than other flycatchers and displayed a thin eye ring. Given these field marks and the surrounding habitat, I was thinking this bird might be an Acadian Flycatcher. I watched this flycatcher for several minutes as it seemed quite content on its chosen perch. Before taking flight and moving to the next tree it let out a distinctive “peet-sah” call. I knew at that point that this was in fact an Acadian Flycatcher, a species currently listed as endangered in Ontario. Excited by this sighting, I continued down the trail as I did not want to disturb this bird especially if it was nesting in the area.    

ib - John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

There were plenty of colourful birds to see on my visit to John E. Pearce Provincial Park including this male Indigo Bunting.

Exiting the woods, I scanned the trees and shrubs as I followed the main road back to the parking lot. This is not a busy road and the shoulders are quite wide, so I felt safe with my decision. Hearing the song of an Indigo Bunting I glanced up and saw a beautiful male singing from a tree top. Sensing my presence, the bird dropped down into a low lying area beside the road surrounded by the forest. While trying to relocate the bird I noticed a second male bunting perched low in the grasses not far from a female. This area had all the characteristics of typical nesting habitat for buntings, so I was not surprised to find three of these beautiful birds in such a small area.

jeprh2 - John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

Red-headed Woodpecker

Continuing along the gravel shoulder, a bird flying from south to north across the road caught my eye. After watching it land in a tree adjacent to the road, I raised my binoculars. To my delight the bird was a Red-headed Woodpecker. This was the second Red-headed Woodpecker I had seen in as many days as I had observed one the previous day in my backyard. As I lowered my binoculars and raised my camera I could hear a second Red-headed Woodpecker calling from across the road. While watching the first bird move to another tree, I picked up yet another Red-headed Woodpecker in my line of sight. Tallying three of these birds, currently listed as special concern in Ontario, in such a small area was one of the many highlights of my visit. 

I was certainly impressed with my first visit to John E. Pearce Provincial Park, and will definitely visit again. The park’s geographic location and Carolinian habitat make it an incredible place to bird any time of year, but I can only imagine what it must be like during the peak of spring and fall migration not only for songbirds, but birds of prey too. I am already planning on returning in September to observe the large flights of raptors that make their way down the Lake Erie shoreline each year on their journey south. I highly recommend John E. Pearce Provincial Park to anyone that has not visited. It truly is a beautiful park loaded with wildlife and offers an excellent opportunity to observe some our province’s most fragile bird species.  

Good birding,

Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend

cd - Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend

Birding so far this Family Day Weekend has been quite productive. Northern Cardinals can be heard actively singing throughout our area.

Last week when I saw the forecast for the Family Day long weekend I knew it was going to be a great weekend for birding. Above seasonal temperatures and sunshine would be a nice change from the what seems like never ending cloud cover we have experienced so far this winter. What really peaked my attention about the forecast was the predicted winds, which were to be out of the south. I was optimistic that the combination of warmer temperatures and south winds would bring a few migrants back to our area ahead of schedule.  

rbn - Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been seen and heard in good numbers so far this long weekend.

One of my first observations of the weekend was that several birds were beginning to vocalize much more with Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens heard signing loudly throughout many of my favourite areas. While the wrens were a challenge to see and photograph due to their propensity to remain in heavy cover, many of the cardinals were observed singing out in the open. Blue Jays are regularly observed all winter long in our area, but I noticed increased numbers as several large flocks moved through a local park. I couldn’t help but wonder if these flocks may have been birds that overwintered to our south and were making their way north. Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches were also seen in good numbers and much more vocal than in previous weeks.  

rwbb - Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend

The above seasonal temperatures and south winds brought several birds back to our area ahead of schedule.

On Sunday I drove down to Port Stanley, Ontario to see what species may be present on or along the lake. As soon as I stepped out of my truck I could hear the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds, my first of the year, echoing from a patch of phragmites near Little Beach. Song Sparrows could also be seen and heard calling from the shrubs adjacent to the rocky shoreline. As I walked out further towards the lake, a lone male Redhead swam close to shore. A pair of Common Mergansers passed by overhead while a few Canada Geese landed on the east breakwall. As I glanced out at the hundreds of gulls, mostly Ring-billed and Herring, that stood on the remaining ice, I heard the call of an Eastern Meadowlark, another first of the year for me. I turned and located the bird singing from one of the few remaining tall trees on the far side of the meadow. As I raised my camera to take a very distant shot, the bird dropped down into the thick tangles of grasses and brush below before I could press the shutter.   

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This male Redhead was observed in Port Stanley, Ontario near Little Beach.

While driving back into London, I observed a few Turkey Vultures soaring over the open fields. Turkey Vultures are known to overwinter in Port Stanley and I have observed them there in previous trips this winter, but these were the first birds I have noticed inland, leading me to believe that maybe these birds too were ones that have recently returned to Southwestern Ontario. 

ss - Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend

Song Sparrows are among the many birds that have become more vocal with the warmer weather.

Seeing the first wave of migrants arrive back in our area ahead of schedule has made for an exciting start to the long weekend. With more beautiful weather in the forecast for holiday Monday, it looks like yet another great day to get out birding. In fact, most of the week looks nice with continuing warm temperatures and more south winds. If the forecast holds true, we should see even more early migrants arrive back in our area. If you get the chance this week, I highly recommend getting out and enjoying the sights and sounds this beautiful spring-like weather has brought with it. 

Good birding,

Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

hw - Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

This male Hairy Woodpecker is one of the many birds I have enjoyed watching feed from a seed cylinder I recently hung in my backyard.

As an avid birder I spend a lot of time at various locations around the city looking for, watching, and photographing birds. One of my favourite locations to view birds is in my own backyard. Since purchasing my house in 2007, I have slowly transformed my yard from an area void of vegetation, to an inviting bird habitat filled with a variety of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Along with the natural habitat, I have also added a water feature and several bird feeders.

nf - Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

Several woodpeckers including this male Northern Flicker are regular visitors to my peanut feeder. With an abundance of woodpeckers in my yard, I wanted to provide another location for these birds feed.

Of the birds that visit my yard, woodpeckers are among my favourites. In fact, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, a common visitor to my yard, is my favourite bird. Other species of woodpecker that regularly visit my yard include Downy, Hairy, and Northern Flicker. Late last year, I decided I wanted to add another feeder for these birds to feed at. With ten feeders already spread out across my yard, I couldn’t justify spending a lot of money on another feeder. Already having suet and peanut feeders I wanted to find something different. After considering several options, I decided to go with a simple seed cylinder and holder.   

dw - Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

Even with eleven feeders in my yard, birds like this female Downy Woodpecker still must wait for an opportunity to feed.

Seed cylinders, also referred to as seed logs, are made from various seeds and held together with an edible binder. They are similar to suet cakes, but much more dense. One advantage to this is that birds have to work a little bit to free the seed, which provides longer views than a feeder where the bird can simply grab a single seed and go. Since I was wanting to attract mostly woodpeckers, I decided on a seed cylinder that consists chiefly of peanuts, but also happens to contain hulled sunflower seeds and cut corn. The holder I purchased is a simple metal design that slides through the cylinder and doubles as a perch. The cost of the holder was $7 while the log itself was $10, so for just under $20, taxes included, I found an inexpensive option.

rbwp - Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is my favourite bird and one I quite enjoy watching in my own backyard.

Only a few hours after hanging the cylinder I noticed the first bird feeding on it, a male Northern Flicker. Since then, several other birds have found it and have returned regularly to feed. Along with all of the woodpecker species previously mentioned in this post, other birds that I have noticed using this feeder have included American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, and Carolina Wren,    

amg - Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

American Goldfinches have been attracted to the hulled sunflower seed in the cylinder I selected.

Much like other bird feeders, seed cylinders can be hung just about anywhere. A tree branch, shepherd’s hook, or even from your eavestrough in front of a window, are all great options. As with most feeders, choose a location where it is not accessible to squirrels, unless of course you don’t mind feeding them too. Seed cylinders are made with a wide variety of seeds so choose one based on the birds you wish to attract or the birds in your area. 

If you are looking to add an inexpensive bird feeder to your yard, I highly recommend considering a seed cylinder. I have enjoyed watching the birds feed at mine over the past month, and my only regret has been not purchasing one sooner.

Good birding,