PAUL ROEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

Wildlife and Nature Photography

Posts tagged ‘Winter’

Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

IMG 2294 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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.  

chick - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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. 

IMG 2693 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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. 

IMG 2347 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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. 

IMG 2215 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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.

IMG 2644 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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

IMG 3135 Edit Edit 3 - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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. 

IMG 3477 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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.

IMG 2705 Edit Edit - Fresh Snow Provides The Perfect Backdrop For Photographing Birds

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,
Paul   

 

Subscribe To My Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to my Good Birding Blog & receive notifications of new posts by email.

Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

snowy - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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.

hl2 - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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.

Rlh - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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. 

red - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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. 

red - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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. 

coy - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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.

snowy 3 - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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. 

kestrel - Birding By Car: An Excellent Winter Option

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,
Paul  

    

Subscribe To My Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to my Good Birding Blog & receive notifications of new posts by email.

Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario

snowy 3 - Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario

December often marks the return of Snowy Owls to our area. With several sightings reported this week within a 30 minute drive of London, Ontario, many area birders will begin searching for these overwintering owls.

With December now upon us, birders across the region will be focusing their attention on locating one bird in particular, the Snowy Owl. Sightings from around our region were reported this past week from both the Strathroy and Lucan areas, two locations well known for supporting overwintering Snowy Owls in previous years. Early December can be a great time to search for these large white owls as the lack of snow makes locating them much easier.

When searching for Snowy Owls there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, patience is key. Once an owl is located, be prepared to return to the same location many times to achieve an optimal view or photo. Many times these birds will be too far from the road to get a great look or a decent photograph. By simply returning another day the same bird may be in a better location providing excellent views and photo opportunities. Remember to be respectful of property owners, fellow birders, and most importantly the owls. So often I see people chasing the owls out in the fields or from fence post to fence post hoping to get an optimal look or photo. Keep in mind many of these birds are on private property and land owners do not want birders trespassing on their land. Chasing the owls puts unnecessary stress on the birds, and denies other birders the opportunity to observe the bird. If the view or photo you are hoping for doesn’t present itself, return another day. Snowy Owls will stay in the same area until February or March if not disturbed.

snowy2 - Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario

Snowy Owls can be perched high or low, so take the time to thoroughly scan an area when searching for these large owls.

When you do come across a Snowy Owl and wish to photograph it, stay in your car. Snowy Owls are less stressed by humans in cars and you will be able to achieve better and longer views than if you try to approach on foot. If needed, circle back to position your vehicle in an ideal location so you are not shooting into the sun, but stay in your car. Again be patient. If you need to drive down the road to safely turn around, do so. There is no need to jam on the brakes and pull a U turn if you suddenly spot a Snowy Owl on top of a hydro pole. In fact, erratic car movements such as quickly braking, accelerating or turning are more likely to startle the owl and cause it to fly. Once in position, roll your window down but stay in your car. You might be surprised at how quickly a Snowy Owl will spook by the clicking sound of a door handle. Placing your elbow on the door’s armrest will help steady your camera to ensure a sharp image.

If adding a Snowy Owl to your year or life list is something you wish to achieve, the eBird species map is a great resource for finding recent sightings in your area. Simply type in the name of the species, in this case Snowy Owl, as well as your location. Reported sightings to eBird will then appear on the map. Zoom in on the map to then view specific locations where these birds were reported from. Submitting your observation to eBird will keep the database updated and help other birders locate Snowy Owls.

As I mentioned earlier, the area to the west of Strathroy, Ontario is a great place to observe Snowy Owls each winter. The large block bordered by Egremont Drive to the south, Cuddy Drive to the north, Seed Road to the west, and School Road to the east, has numerous Snowy Owl sightings every winter, including one this week. Roman Line, northwest of Lucan, Ontario is another location that typically has Snowy Owls overwintering annually. The section of Roman Line between Fallon Drive and Mooresville Drive is traditionally the most rewarding. Areas south of London, Ontario have also had multiple Snowy Owl sightings over the past two winters. Manning Drive between Wellington Road and White Oak Road near the city dump, is one area where I have seen several Snowy Owls in previous years. Further to the east, Westminster drive between Wellington Road and Old Victoria Road, and Scotland Drive between Wellington Road and Old Victoria Road, have also yielded great views for me.

snowy - Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario

By staying in my truck I was able to photograph all three of these Snowy Owls without stressing or startling the birds. I left the birds exactly how I found them, at ease on their perches ready for the next person to enjoy.

The previous two winters we experienced Snowy Owl irruptions (a dramatic unpredictable migration) with large numbers of these birds migrating south for the winter, and experts are predicting a third straight irruption year this winter. Wisconsin in particular has already seen an unprecedented number of Snowy Owls sightings with as many as 30 birds being reported as early as October. Snowy Owls irruptions are believed to be produced by an abundance of food during their breeding season as more available food leads to larger clutch sizes.

Take the time this winter to get out and search for Snowy Owls. Use valuable resources like the eBird species map to improve your odds and narrow your search. We have several months to enjoy these beautiful birds while they are in our area, so be patient and you will be rewarded with quality views. Remember when out searching for Snowy Owls to be respectful of property owners, other birders, and most importantly the owls.

Good birding,
Paul

Subscribe To My Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to my Good Birding Blog & receive notifications of new posts by email.

Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Watermark 1 10 - Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Time is running out to observe overwintering species such as Snowy Owls in our area.

As the days become longer and spring approaches, many of the birds that have been overwintering across our region will begin their migration north. There are currently great opportunities in and around the city to view some incredible species, but with every passing day the window of opportunity narrows. The frigid temperatures are partially responsible for the incredible winter birding we have experienced this winter; not knowing what next winter will bring it is best to act now if there are certain birds you still wish to see.

For the second year in a row, Snowy Owls irrupted throughout Southwestern Ontario including many sightings around London, Ontario. Recent sightings from south of the city in the Manning Drive and Wellington Road area, as well as the Old Victoria Road and Wilton Grove Road area have been reported. This past week I decided to check the area Northwest of Strathroy, a popular wintering area for these Owls, and located two.

If you still need a Snowy Owl for your year or life list, and you are not planning a trip to the Arctic, than I suggest heading out in the next couple of weeks as these birds will be migrating north very soon. Rough-legged Hawks are another raptor to keep an eye out for while driving the back roads. Breeding in the Arctic Tundra and taiga these large birds of prey are only seen in Southwestern Ontario during winter months.

Watermark 1 61 - Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Although a year round resident in our area, the Horned Lark is more easily observed against a snow covered background.

While searching for Snowy Owls be sure to keep an eye out for Snow Buntings. These predominantly white birds can be observed at the side of roads and in the fields adjacent to them. Snow Buntings return to their Arctic breeding grounds in early April leaving little time to see them across Southwestern Ontario. Flocks of Horned Larks can also be observed in the same areas as Snow Buntings; these ground birds can be found year round across our area, but are much easier to locate during winter months when the ground is covered in snow.

51 - Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Common Redpolls are among the many species that will soon be leaving our area.

Small songbirds including finches like the Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin will soon migrate north. These birds can be seen at backyard feeders feeding on sunflower and nyjer seeds. If your feeders are not being visited by either of these species, I am still observing good numbers of these birds along the banks of the Thames River feeding on Alder catkins. Many overwintering sparrow species including: White-throated, White-crowned, American Tree, and the Dark-eyed Junco will soon be absent from the region as spring approaches.

Watermark 1 81 - Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Rare birds such as the Harlequin Duck overwintering on the Thames River potentially offer once in a lifetime views.

Those of you that subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know what an incredible winter it has been for waterfowl on the Thames River in London, Ontario. With 20 species of waterfowl reported, the banks of the Thames has been popular with birders this winter. Many birders have been walking the banks in search of the Harlequin Duck. This rare duck is only the second ever recorded in Middlesex County, with the last reported in 1968. If you have not yet experienced the beauty of a Harlequin Duck, than I recommend heading down to the river as soon as you can. The eastern population of this duck breeds across Northern Quebec, Labrador, or Southern Baffin Island and is yet another species that will soon be gone.

It is not just the Harlequin Duck that will disappear from the Thames River. Some of the 20 species of waterfowl that will be leaving our area in the near future include: Common Goldeneyes, Greater Scaup, Canvasbacks, and White-winged Scoters.

Watermark 1 9 - Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Common Goldeneyes and other diving ducks will soon be leaving the Thames River to return to their breeding grounds to our north.

If there is a species that you are wishing to see this winter, but are not sure where to locate them than consult the eBird species map. This map is a great tool for birders to locate any species around the world, and is easy to use. Simply enter the species you wish to locate, and the location in which you would like to observe it. To narrow your search, select the current year. The map will then display all reported sightings of that particular species. You can then zoom in to see the exact location of all reported sightings nearest you.

Watermark 1 11 - Time Is Running Out For Winter Birding

Irruptions do not typically happen every year. Take advantage of the few remaining weeks of winter to locate and observe some of the wonderful birds that are overwintering in our area.

One key factor that triggers bird migration is the amount of daylight. As the days get longer, overwintering birds will start making their way north to their breeding grounds. Many of these species will likely be leaving within the next couple of weeks. Our clocks go forward this weekend giving us an extra hour of daylight in the evenings to head out birding in search of some of these overwintering species. When it comes to Snowy Owls or the Harlequin Duck, take advantage of daylight savings and make a point to get out and observe these birds. There is no guarantee that these birds will return to our area next winter and present such incredible views.

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
February 22- March 1, 2015

Watermark 1 3 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

Common Goldeneyes are one of the many species of waterfowl currently overwintering on the Thames River

February departs as the coldest one on record for London, Ontario, but with cold temperatures came great birding opportunities. Once again this winter the volume and variety of waterfowl on the Thames River has been simply spectacular.

This past week I personally observed sixteen species of waterfowl on the river between Springbank and Greenway Parks. The regular overwintering species are all present as well as increasing numbers of the less common visitors. Redheads, Canvasbacks, Long-tailed Ducks, and Red-breasted Mergansers can now be readily observed at various locations on this stretch of river. Among the new arrivals to the river this week were four White-winged Scoters at Greenway Park.

Watermark 1 7 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

Male Canvasback shaking the water off after resurfacing from a dive.

A complete list of the waterfowl observed this past week on the Thames River is as follows:

  • American Black Duck

    IMG 5556 1 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

    Buffleheads are one of the smallest species of waterfowl overwintering on the Thames River.

  • Bufflehead
  • Canada Goose
  • Canvasback
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Common Merganser
  • Greater Scaup
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Horned Grebe
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Mallard
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Redhead
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • White-winged Scoter
Watermark 1 8 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

I watched this Red-breasted Merganser for several minutes as it struggled to swallow a small catfish.

The rare Harlequin Duck that was first reported on February 10 is still present at Springbank Park. According to local records, this is only the second ever Harlequin Duck recorded in Middlesex County with the last sighting in 1968. This really is a rare opportunity to observe one of these ducks close to home. If you haven’t located this bird yet, my last post Harlequin Duck Continues To Elude Some Area Birders offers suggestions on how to go about locating the Harlequin Duck.

Large, mixed flocks of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls were observed on the ice at Greenway Park. Present in this large flock were two Great Black-backed Gulls. Great Black-backed Gulls are the largest gull in the world and are easily identified by their black backs and white underparts. These Gulls are typically found to our northeast, with their year round range extending from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Coast. Overwintering Great Black-backed Gulls can often be found along the Lake Erie shoreline; like so many other species this winter they have moved inland due to the increased ice coverage on the Great Lakes in search of food.

Watermark 1 5 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

From its perch in a Spruce tree, this Red-tailed Hawk patiently waits for prey to appear below.

Raptor activity along the river has been impressive too. Red-tailed Hawks are readily observed soaring high above, as well as lower down perched in trees. Several mammals including Eastern Grey Squirrels have a hard time moving about in deep snow. As a result, many Squirrels are spending a considerable amount of time in and around evergreen trees where the thick branches have prevented snow from reaching the ground. It is here where these mammals forage on the fallen seeds from various cones, as well as peanuts left by park goers.

Red-tailed Hawks are using this as a perfect feeding opportunity. I recently observed these raptors perched 10-15 feet off the ground in the dense cover of the spruce trees. When an unsuspecting squirrel ventured out from under the tree, the Red-tailed Hawk made a short drop onto its prey. These birds appear to be having a much better success rate with this approach than if they were to dive from high above. As a birder and photographer I do not bait birds of prey, and am not leaving peanuts under the trees for the squirrels in an effort to bait the hawks. Other raptors readily observed are Bald Eagles, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Watermark 1 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

The patchy white feathers on this American Robin indicate it is leucistic.

A large flock of American Robins were located in the west end of Springbank Park next to the dam. These birds could be observed feeding on the berries from the invasive Common Buckthorn tree. Contrary to what many believe, robins are not a sign of spring as Southwestern Ontario falls well within their year round range. Robins are simply less visible during winter months as there diet switches to fruit and berries, and these birds move around frequently in search of food. In years when fruit is less abundant, robins may migrate south. One of the robins in the flock observed was of interest as the white patches on its plumage indicated it was leucistic. Leucism is the loss of pigment which results in these white patches. It differs from albinism in that it is a reduction of multiple pigments not just melanin, and the eye colour is not effected.

Watermark 1 6 - Good Birding Report: London, Ontario <br> February 22- March 1, 2015

This past week saw an increase in the number of Redheads on the Thames River. These diving ducks feed on aquatic vegetation.

My birding adventures as of late have been limited to Springbank and Greenway Parks. With such a wide variety of birds and the plowed and well packed trails, I have seen little reason to bird anywhere else within the city. As temperatures warm and the snow melts, I look forward to exploring more of my favourite locations and reporting my findings from them.

The time left to view many of these incredible waterfowl species, including the rare Harlequin Duck, so close to home will fade as temperatures increase and spring approaches. Don’t leave it too late or you could miss a once in a lifetime opportunity. Layer up, grab your binoculars or scopes and head down to the Thames River. There is no such thing as a bad day birding along the river. I am quite certain that you too will be impressed with the variety and quantity of waterfowl present on the Thames.

Good birding,
Paul

 

Harlequin Duck Continues To Elude Some Area Birders

Watermark 18 - Harlequin Duck Continues To Elude Some Area Birders

I was able to photograph the Harlequin Duck in flight as he followed a flock of Common Goldeneyes downriver.

Since speaking with Wei Chen this past Monday on CBC’s Ontario Morning about the rare Harlequin Duck overwintering on the Thames River, I have received several emails from fellow birders looking for assistance in locating this bird. Let me start by saying that locating this bird is not as easy as many think. I have been fortunate to locate the male Harlequin Duck most days, but it has required quite a bit of leg work.

If you still need this bird for your life list and are hoping to find it at Springbank Park in London, Ontario I would like to offer a few suggestions based on my experiences. Begin your search at Storybook Gardens and walk the section of river between Springbank Dam and the old pump house. I personally have had the best luck locating the Harlequin Duck early to mid afternoon. Most days I chose the afternoon only because I wanted to wait for the temperatures to warm up, making walking more comfortable. On the few occasions I set out in the morning I was unsuccessful locating the Harlequin.

Watermark 1 23 - Harlequin Duck Continues To Elude Some Area Birders

The fast moving water west of the pump house is a favourite spot of the male Harlequin Duck. There is a lot of tree cover on the bank and this duck is often tight to it. A methodical search in this area is often rewarding.

Be sure to look very close to the near bank as the Harlequin is quite comfortable close to shore in areas where there is thick tree cover. The section of Thames River between the parking lot at Storybook Gardens and the old pump house has a lot of tree cover on the near bank, so take your time and look as closely to the bank as you can. I have had a lot of success locating the Harlequin in the fast moving water west of the pump house, only a few feet from the bank. In open areas, the Harlequin Duck is more likely to find security mixed in with the other waterfowl on the far side of the river. It is here where scanning with binoculars can reveal its location. I personally have not seen the Harlequin Duck upstream from the pump house, so once you reach this point I recommend turning around and heading back downstream.

Further west towards the dam I have repeatedly located the Harlequin Duck in tight to shore, where the the lower road curves and carries on to the dam. If you are not familiar with this location, to the south there is a building up on the hill with washrooms and another parking lot directly behind that. The tree cover on the bank here is especially thick, but a favourite location of the Harlequin Duck. This is the most westerly location in which I have seen the Harlequin; I have yet to see it as far downstream as the dam.

Watermark 1 34 - Harlequin Duck Continues To Elude Some Area Birders

On cloudy days the Harlequin Duck’s plumage camouflages well against the dark water. Here the male Harlequin slips past some Mallards and Canada Geese.

The Harlequin Duck has been associating with a small flock of Common Goldeneyes. Scanning these small flocks will often reveal the Harlequin. Pay attention to flying Goldeneyes too. The wing beats of the Common Goldeneye can be heard when taking off. Learn to recognize this sound and immediately look in the direction when you hear it. On several occasions I’ve observed the Harlequin Duck as the trailing bird in a group of Goldeneyes as they move up or down river.

Despite the Harlequin Duck’s colourful plumage, it appears quite dark from a distance. On cloudy days the dark, shadowed water provides excellent camouflage; looking for its white markings is critical. On sunny days, the slate blue feathers blend in with the bright blue water, making sightings challenging under these conditions as well. Again, the white markings on the head and back are what best gives away the Harlequin Duck’s location.

Watermark 1 42 - Harlequin Duck Continues To Elude Some Area Birders

The Harlequin is often seen associating with a group of Common Goldeneyes.

Locating the Harlequin Duck typically takes a fair bit of legwork. You may be one of the lucky ones who gets out of your car and there it is, but be prepared to spend a few hours searching. On days when more birders are searching for the Harlequin there are many people scanning the river and sharing their sightings, but the increase in foot traffic makes the Harlequin more wary. It is on these days I have found searching as close to shore as possible the most successful.

It looks like we are in for plenty of sunshine on Saturday, so I imagine Springbank Park will be quite busy again with birders hoping to add the endangered Harlequin Duck to their life lists. If you are one of them, keep these suggestions in mind while you search and I think your chances of success will be much greater.

Good birding,
Paul

 

Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

11 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Male Common Redpoll perched on a cluster of alder catkins.

The Common Redpoll is a small finch that breeds throughout the boreal forest and Arctic tundra to our north, but can be found across our area during winter months. Similar in size to an American Goldfinch, these birds are identified by their red foreheads and the black feathers surrounding their small yellow bills. Males are distinguished from females by the rosy feathers that extend down their necks to their breasts. Similar species include the House Finch and Pine Siskin, however the small but distinct red forehead quickly identifies them from other finches.

51 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Key field marks help distinguish the Common Redpoll from other finches. Note the red forehead, yellow bill, and the black feathers that surround it. The lack of rosy feathers on the neck and breast indicate this Common Redpoll is a female.

Common Redpolls are a highly irruptive species whose southward migration is driven chiefly by food. Common Redpolls are regularly found in pine, spruce, birch and alder trees where they feed on the seeds found in the cones or catkins by removing them with their tiny bills. Redpolls frequently visit backyard feeders and prefer a tube style finch feeder filled with small seeds such as nyjer or thistle. Sunflower seeds are also consumed at feeders by Common Redpolls. Hulled sunflower or sunflower chips are a great option for redpolls and other finches as these seeds are easier to consume out of the shell for these small billed birds. If you have backyard feeders, be sure to look closely at any of the finches visiting for the previously mentioned field marks to make sure you haven’t mistaken any Common Redpolls for House Finches.

31 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Seeds are the main source of food for redpolls. Here a female Common Redpoll prepares to extract a seed from an alder catkin.

Besides offering seed that finches enjoy, planting native trees is another way to attract these birds to your yard. As mentioned earlier Common Redpolls and other finches regularly feed on the seeds found in spruce and pine cones, as well as birch and alder catkins. If you wish to attract redpolls and other finches to your yard, consider adding any of these trees to your landscape this coming spring.

21 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Female Common Redpolls can easily be confused with Pine Siskins or House Finches. Paying close attention to the yellow bill and red forehead will ensure proper identification.

In previous winters, I have had luck finding Common Redpolls in the stands of spruce trees on the various trails at Fanshawe Conservation area. Park gates are open 8am-4pm through the week until mid April granting free access to visitors wishing to do some winter birding. Although the gates remain closed on weekends, admission to the conservation area is still free, with plenty of parking in the large lot just before Fanshawe Dam.

This past week I had success locating Common Redpolls along the banks of the Thames River within Springbank Park. One small flock was observed feeding on the catkins of a Speckled Alder adjacent to the footbridge crossing the river to Thames Valley Golf Course. The brown streaking on these birds provides excellent camouflage, and if not for their quick movements these birds would have gone unnoticed. Learning and listening for their calls is very helpful in locating these winter finches as Common Redpolls can be quite vocal.

41 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

The rosy feathers on the neck and breast of this Common Redpoll indicate it is a male. The lack of red on the rump, smaller size, and black feathers surrounding the yellow bill distinguish it from the male House Finch.

With winter not quite half over, there is still plenty of time to get out and search for these beautiful little finches. Be sure to keep your feeders full and look closely at any visiting finches to identify potential Common Redpolls. Attracting more wildlife, including birds, to your yard can be aided by planting native trees, shrubs and flowers. Winter is the perfect time to research which plants will attract various species and put together a spring planting plan. This winter, why not devise a plan to incorporate one of the native tress mentioned in this post into your landscape, and make your yard more finch friendly.

*click on the images in this post to view larger*

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

 

 

Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

1 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

Great opportunities for viewing Bald Eagles along the Thames River are currently taking place. Winter months are my favourite for eagle watching in the city.

For those of you that follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you will have seen my frequent posts about Bald Eagle sightings across the city. As mentioned previously, winter is my favourite time of year to view these majestic raptors within the city. During winter months, Bald Eagles will congregate in areas to feed and roost with the Thames River corridor providing a perfect location for both. When the breeding season arrives, Bald Eagles aggressively defend their territories from a variety of wildlife including other eagles. With multiple nest sites along the Thames River eagles can be observed year round, but winter is when the highest concentration of eagles are present.

Watermark - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

The solid white head and tail indicate this is a mature bird.

I try to incorporate a walk along the Thames River into my daily routine. I find that combining walking and birding has great health benefits, both physical and mental. I can count on one hand the number of days that I have not made it down to the river this calendar year, and am happy to report at least one eagle sighting from every visit. My favourite stretch of river for viewing eagles is between Sanitorium Road at the west end of Springbank Park and Wharncliffe Road at the east end of Greenway Park.

Bald Eagles can be observed flying up and down the river as well as perched in trees along the river bank. A common roosting location is in the section of tall Poplar trees across from the Greenway Pollution Control Plant. The pathways throughout Springbank and Greenway parks are plowed and salted daily when needed, leaving bare asphalt exposed which makes for easy walking.

2 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

The mottled plumage shown here is indicative of a juvenile Bald Eagle in its 2nd or 3rd year.

There are various year classes of Bald Eagle present along the Thames River this winter. Adult Bald Eagles reach maturity at five years of age, and are easily identified by their solid white heads and tails. Juvenile birds can be trickier to identify as their plumage varies considerably. Many people who I have spoken with along the river often confuse the young eagles for other large raptors, such as Red-tailed Hawks.

6 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

Adult Bald Eagle making its way upstream along the Thames River.

On a recent walk through Springbank Park I observed a total of six Bald Eagles. Now before you go accusing me of counting the same bird repeatedly I can explain my observations. I started out from the parking lot at Storybook Gardens heading upstream. I stopped to observe and photograph a small flock of Common Redpolls feeding on the seed cones of a Speckled Alder tree. As I looked up an adult Bald Eagle passed by overhead. I was able to quickly adjust my camera settings and capture a few images as the bird passed.

Minutes later, I observed another eagle approaching from downstream with the first eagle still visible further up river. I waited patiently for the second eagle, it too an adult, to pass hoping for more photos, but unfortunately it flew behind me. I would have been shooting directly into the sun so I did not attempt any photos, and was content to just watch the second eagle pass by. I continued to photograph the redpolls before turning around and heading downstream.

3 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

The brown streaking around this Bald Eagle’s eye suggests it is a 4th year bird.

Further downstream, just east of the Springbank Dam, I saw an eagle approaching from down river. Thinking at first that one of the previous two adults birds must have circled back down river without me noticing, I raised my camera and starting taking pictures. As the bird passed by overhead, I noticed that its head wasn’t completely white. This particular eagle still had several dark markings around its eye indicating that this bird was not fully mature and likely a fourth year bird.

4444 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

The streaks of brown are still evident on the head and tail of this 4th year Bald Eagle. Also note the few remaining white markings under the bird’s wings.

After completing my walk, I headed back to my truck and proceeded to pack my camera back into its bag. I looked up into the sky and saw another Bald Eagle about to pass over the parking lot. I scrambled to get my camera back out of the bag and began snapping photos. This eagle was mostly dark underneath with some white under its wings and tail, a dark iris, and dark beak indicating a first year bird. As I photographed the eagle, two more juvenile eagles came into view. There were now three juvenile eagles circling overhead. I watched as the three young eagles soared; chasing and diving at one another as if playing. All three of these birds shared the same field markings, leading me to believe they could be siblings that fledged earlier this year from one of the area nest sites.

5 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

This 1st year Bald Eagle displays a mostly dark plumage with white under its wings and tail.

On previous days observing Bald Eagles on this stretch of the Thames River, I have noticed two other juvenile birds. These eagles vary from the other juvenile birds in that their plumage is more mottled, and their irises are transforming from dark to yellow. The field markings of these birds suggest they are in their 2nd or 3rd year.

4 - Perfect Time To Observe Bald Eagles In London, Ontario

2nd or 3rd year juvenile Bald Eagle perched in a Spruce tree.

From my observations so far this winter, I think it is safe to conclude that at least eight different Bald Eagles are frequenting this section of the Thames River: two adults, two second or third year juveniles, a fourth year bird, and three first year juveniles. Sightings have been reported along other sections of the Thames River, including the south branch through the SOHO neighbourhood as well as along the north branch.

As winter wears on and the breeding season approaches, the young eagles will search for a territory of their own as the mature birds that nest in the area drive them away. Bald Eagles begin nesting early in the year; if you wait too long you will lessen your chances of seeing one of these amazing birds. Their numbers seem to be peaking right now, so if you get the chance in the near future I highly recommend a walk along the banks of the Thames River.

*Click on the images in this post to view them larger*

Good birding,
Paul

Subscribe To My Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to my Good Birding Blog & receive notifications of new posts by email.

Taking Care Of Backyard Birds During Cold Weather

IMG 8755 1 - Taking Care Of Backyard Birds During Cold Weather

Blue Jays are one of the many colourful birds easily attracted to a backyard feeder.

It looks like we are in for a bitter cold week across Southwestern Ontario. High temperatures in the negative teens are forecast, and strong winds will make it feel much colder. As homeowners, there are a few things we can do to make it easier on our feathered friends during adverse weather.

IMG 8728 1 - Taking Care Of Backyard Birds During Cold Weather

Black oil sunflower seeds are a favourite of many birds, including Northern Cardinals.

Birds keep warm in several ways during cold weather. One of these methods is by shivering. Shivering raises their metabolic rate, which keeps them warm but uses their fat reserves. Offering a high quality seed will help replenish energy used during this process. Be careful where you buy your seed from. You may be tempted by what seems like a low price to purchase mixed seed from a big box store. The truth is, seed from a big box store is never fresh, often dusty, and contains several cheap fillers that is less desirable to birds. You may think you are saving a few dollars a bag, but do yourself and the birds a favour and purchase your seed from a bird seed retailer. When you purchase seed from a bird seed retailer, it is always fresh and doesn’t contain cheap fillers. Your backyard birds will consume every seed making it a far better deal than the discount seed that gets scattered on the ground as birds search for the few good seeds.

Your local seed retailer can also advise you on what seed is best for the birds in your area. I like to offer a variety of seed because it attracts the widest variety of birds. Some of my favourite seeds to offer are: black oil sunflower, peanuts (both in the shell and halves), safflower, white millet, nyjer, and suet. If you are reluctant to feed the birds because of the seed shells left behind, many retailers offer a mixed seed that contains no shells. Again, the price may seem a bit high, but remember you are only paying for the weight of the seed, not the shells.

IMG 8870 1 - Taking Care Of Backyard Birds During Cold Weather

Dark-eyed Juncos are a species found in our area during winter months. They are a common backyard visitor that often feeds on the ground, cleaning up seeds spilled by other birds.

Fresh water is equally important during cold weather and often attracts more birds to your backyard than food. A heated birdbath is a great way to offer water to birds during winter months. Remember to change the water frequently to ensure that it is fresh. Heated bird baths can also be purchased from your local seed retailer.

IMG 8898 1 - Taking Care Of Backyard Birds During Cold Weather

Providing high quality seed to backyard birds helps supplement their diet and is more nourishing than other foods.

Birds require shelter during extremely cold temperatures. Shelter protects birds form the cold, wind, snow, freezing rain, and predators such as hawks and cats. Evergreens are a great source of shelter for birds year round, but especially in winter. If your yard is lacking evergreens than adding shelter is quite simple. The easiest way to provide shelter this time of year is to put your Christmas tree outside. Juncos, cardinals, wrens, chickadees, and sparrows will all quickly seek shelter in the thick branches of a Christmas Tree. Standing these trees upright may be more aesthetically pleasing, but is not necessary; laying the trees down on their sides provides adequate shelter. Adding multiple trees around your yard is even better. Watch for your neighbours to place their trees out to the curb or gather a few from one of the local recycling depots. Positioning them out of prevailing winds and in the sun makes an excellent spot for birds to keep warm. Place a few closer to your feeders to give birds a safe spot to dive into in case a raptor takes a swipe at them. Make sure the trees are far enough away from your feeder that squirrels can’t use them to gain access. Trees can then be placed at the curb in spring when the city resumes picking up yard materials.

IMG 8843 1 - Taking Care Of Backyard Birds During Cold Weather

Black-capped Chickadees are one species that huddle in groups for warmth and will benefit from a roost box.

Roost boxes provide excellent shelter for birds during winter. Roost boxes are similar to nest boxes, but have perches inside and the hole is located at the bottom. Several birds will enter, then huddle on the perches for warmth. The hole located at the bottom helps to retain heat. Rising hot air is trapped in the box making it that much warmer. Chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches and other birds typically use roost boxes at night to stay warm. I have noticed birds on cold windy days and during snow squalls enter my roost boxes to escape the elements. I built my roost boxes with reversible fronts, so they can be converted to next boxes in the spring, but commercial boxes can be purchased at a seed retailer. Roost boxes should be placed out of the wind and in the afternoon sun so they will warm up of for the birds to use at night.

Having a backyard refuge for the birds has several benefits. Not only will you be helping wild birds survive when it is unbearably cold, it is also a great way to enjoy nature from the comfort of your warm living room.

Good birding,
Paul

Conditions Are Ideal For Locating Snowy Owls

IMG 8389 1 3 - Conditions Are Ideal For Locating Snowy Owls

One of three Snowy Owls I located in an area where these birds typically overwinter.

While many people may have been dreaming of a white Christmas, the lack of snow in our area has made locating one bird much easier. Snowy Owls have returned to overwinter and new sightings are being reported daily throughout Southwestern Ontario. These large owls are often found sitting on the ground in open fields, and are much easier to locate without any snow. Increased sightings and a lack of snow make now the perfect time to search for these owls.

I decided to check out a well known wintering area west of London for Snowy Owls last week, and quickly located three in a couple of kilometer stretch of road. Knowing that Snowy Owls also like to perch high up on hydro poles, on fences posts, and even on top of agricultural buildings, I scanned high and low searching for these owls. Two of the birds were perched high up on hydro poles, and one was on a fence post. The bird on the fence post could have easily gone unnoticed if there was snow in the background. With no snow accumulation in the forecast for our area until late in the week, I recommend getting out there and searching for Snowy Owls. To see if any Snowy Owls have been reported In your area, you can search the list of recent sightings reported to eBird here.

IMG 8377 1 - Conditions Are Ideal For Locating Snowy Owls

When searching for Snowy Owls it is important to look high and low. These owls often perch on hydro poles, fence posts, agricultural buildings, and even on the ground.

When searching for Snowy Owls there are a few things to keep in mind. Patience is key. Snowy Owls will stay in the same area until February or March if not disturbed. Once an owl is located, be prepared to return to the same location many times to achieve and optimal view or photo. Many times these birds will be too far from the road to get a great look or a decent photo. By simply returning another day the same bird may be in a better location providing excellent views and photo opportunities. Remember to be respectful of property owners, fellow birders, and most importantly the owls. So often I see people chasing the owls out in the fields or from post to post hoping to get an optimal look or photo. Keep in mind many of these birds are on private property and land owners do not want birders trespassing on their land. Chasing the owls puts unnecessary stress on the birds, and denies other birders the opportunity to observe the bird. If the view or photo you are hoping for doesn’t present itself, return another day.

11408596914 f515214053 b - Conditions Are Ideal For Locating Snowy Owls

This Snowy Owl, photographed last winter, demonstrates how well camouflaged they are in a snow covered field. Increased sightings and a lack of snow make now the perfect time to search for these owls.

When you do come across a Snowy Owl and wish to photograph it, stay in your car. Snowy Owls are less stressed by humans in cars and you will be able to achieve better and longer views than if you try to approach on foot. If needed, circle back to position your vehicle in an ideal location so you are not shooting into the sun, but stay in your car. Again be patient. If you need to drive down the road to safely turn around, do so. There is no need to jam on the brakes and pull a U turn if you suddenly spot a Snowy Owl on top of a hydro pole. In fact, erratic car movements such as quickly braking, accelerating or turning are more likely to startle the owl causing it to fly. Once in position, roll your window down and shut off your car. Use the top of your door to help steady your camera. Turning the car off will eliminate any camera shake caused by engine vibrations.

By staying in my vehicle I was able to achieve great views of this Snowy Owl and managed several photos. The owl was not stressed by my presence and casually turned its head from side to side as other vehicles passed. Satisfied with my views and photos, I carried on leaving the owl unstressed and in the same location for others to enjoy. Would I have preferred a more dramatic background than a cloudy, rainy sky? Of course I would, but I know I can return multiple times this winter to this area and find the same owls perhaps against a different backdrop. It is more important to me as a birder to put the best interest of the birds first, than to achieve the “perfect shot” as a photographer.

Good birding,
Paul