Photography – When is good enough, good enough? A bird story

American Dipper bobbing for food
American Dipper at Seven Falls, CO – bobbing for food.

I have written about two of my interests, photography and bird watching, on the pages of this blog. When I speak of them, I describe myself as an “opportunistic” photographer and an “opportunistic” bird watcher.

What I mean when using such a phrase is that generally speaking photography and bird watching are not often the center of my activity. I am usually hiking, touring or visiting with friends. My camera is with me during most of these events so naturally, I like to capture photographs of things that are of interest me. I am not too hyper about my photography exploits however. I try to capture those images that will serve my artistic or educational purposes, but if I miss the shot…well, I miss the shot.

In the same light, a number of my photographs are lacking in quality for one reason or another. Perhaps my equipment is not up to the task. Sometimes I make a mistake and my settings are incorrect and the capture fails. While photographs taken under less than ideal circumstances may not have much artistic value and may not be worth placing on the Internet, they can be good enough. Let me explain…

We were recently visiting Colorado Springs, CO and during our stay, we went to the Broadmoor resort to hike their Seven Falls Park and it was very nice. As we walked the trail and came to an elevated platform called the Eagle’s Nest, there was a stream that ran along the base of the nearby mountain. Wading in that stream, looking for a good meal, was a bird I had never seen before: an American Dipper.

When I see a bird that is new to me, I like to capture a picture as “proof of sighting.” Quite honestly, at times I take a bird’s picture because I don’t know the bird and I hope to ID it later via a birding book, a birding app or the Internet. In this instance, I knew the bird was an American Dipper because of an explanatory nearby sign. I wanted a record of my sighting of the bird.

Here is my problem…the bird was relatively far away and the only camera that I had with a chance of yielding a photo that would be useable was my bridge camera, i.e. a Canon PowerShot SX50HS. As I have reported on this blog before, the camera does best with an ISO of 100, but may be passable at ISO 200. It also performs better with smaller aperture openings.

Unfortunately, this was a cloudy day and the time was getting late. Low ISO and smaller aperture settings were not going to work here. I could not use the settings I needed to get the best shot. What was I to do? My philosophy is “Take the picture anyway.” As long as the picture is able to be used to ID the bird and provide “proof of sighting,” it will be good enough.

Here are the pictures I was able to capture. They are not going to impress anyone or come close to winning any awards. They really aren’t even good enough for posting on Instagram, Flckr or anywhere on the Internet except for an educational article like this one.

The pictures are good enough for my purpose and when added together, enable me to identify the bird as the American Dipper. Whether or not a picture is good enough for you can only be determined by the goal(s) you set for yourself. I can use these photographs to validate that I saw and identified this particular bird and that was my goal!

American Dipper resting
“American Dipper at Seven Falls, CO – resting between bobbing for food “

American Dipper rejoining the search for food
“American Dipper at Seven Falls, CO – searching once more for food”

For comparison, below are two clearer pictures of an American Dipper. The yellow bill in my photographs indicate that my photos were of a young bird. The bill turns dark as they grow older.

American Dipper
American Dipper – Picture Courtesy of National Audubon Society

American Dipper
American Dipper – Picture Courtesy of the website of Joseph V Higbee

 

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See previous Photography posts HERE

Birds of Arizona – Wild Turkey (Melagris gallopavo)

Wild Turkey in Arizona

This colorful fellow came across our path as we were hiking in Brown Canyon which is part of the Coronado National Forest. There were a couple of females around and as we approached, he fluffed his feathers and put on quite a display. His wattle got redder and redder until it remained a deep, dark red. I never appreciated how colorful and perhaps a bit strange turkeys appeared.

There is one subspecies of turkey that is known to inhabit the area in which this particular bird was spotted and it is Merriam’s Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami). I am guessing that is the bird in these pictures, but I am not absolutely certain. Any comments that would help confirm this would be appreciated.

Below is close up of the tom’s head. It really is astounding to see all those vibrant colors and features!

Wild Turkey in Arizona - Head Shot

For more information, you can check Arizona Game & Fish Department web page.


My Personal Birding Philosophy

I enjoy birdwatching or rather bird identification. I am not an avid birdwatcher, but rather an opportunistic birdwatcher. What I mean by that is that my other hobby, photography, takes me to scenic places where I often see birds. I like to take several snaps of the birds and then return home with my birding books and try to identify the winged creatures I encountered.

I must confess that I am not one to travel far just to see a bird or two although I have done that on occasion. I would rather take them as they come and count myself lucky when I spot a new-to-me bird. I do admire birds and advocate for them whenever I can.

 
See additional photographs and posts about birds HERE.

Birds of Arizona – Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

Greater Roadrunner
The Roadrunner lives in our backyard with a mate. They are elusive, but surface from time-to-time and once or twice a summer with a lizard in their grasp.

You can read more about the Greater Roadrunner at this page from Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

 

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See previous JBRish posts and pictures about birds HERE

Young Barn Owls Learn How to Fly

Cute Barn Owl Learns How To Fly – Super Powered Owls – BBC

Barn owls are very pretty and unusual-looking creatures. This short video shows two young barn owls being raised from chicks by humans and now need to learn how to fly. Luna, the older, is first to experiment with flight. The unique head movements are curious and look at the size and sharpness of the talons!

A Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in the Desert

As followers of JBRish.com know, I live on the edge of the desert in North Phoenix only a few miles from Cave Creek, Arizona. As such, we have an interesting array of wildlife including many birds. One of my hobbies is trying to identify as many birds as possible when I can see them and/or capture them with a camera.

Today, a hawk landed on a telephone pole near the back corner of our yard. I have a Canon Powershot SX50 HS which has a very large zoom and allows me to get relatively close to birds even if they are far away. Since this bird was large, it made it just a bit easier.

I took these two pictures just before the hawk flew away.

 

juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

 

juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

It turned out to be a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

What birds reside in your area?


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Birds of Las Cruces, NM

NOTE: To read more about one of the birds presented and to see an alternative picture, click the link associated with the name of the bird in the article below.

 

NM Birding Trail Sign

During our hiking visit to the Las Cruces, NM area, I was able to focus my attention on bird photography as well; forgive the pun.

One bird that was a new sighting for me was a Scaled Quail.

Scaled Quail

I thought the pattern on the feathers was quite interesting.

Hiking along a canyon wash, I spotted a bird atop a wall.

Rock Wren

It had a somewhat familiar look because, as I later found out, it is a relative of the Cactus Wren. It was a Rock Wren.

Rock Wren

The smallish bird below sitting on a branch is a Western Wood-Pewee.

Western_Wood-Pewee

As a gust of wind came along I caught a shot of a Peewee from the other side.

Western_Wood-Pewee

We also encountered a… Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated_Sparrow

and a Chipping Sparrow as we made our way up and down the mountain trails.

Chipping Sparrow

At the nearby Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park we spotted additional birds

This Swainson’s Hawk was very high in the sky, but I did the best I could. The unique color pattern of the underside is a sure give away.

Swainson's Hawk

Several Barn Swallows were dodging in and out from under one of the roofs and the light was very dim, but this appeared to be a parent with some food for a nestling.

Barn Swallow

A Northern Mockingbird did not seem to mind as we moved in to get a closer look.

Northern Mockingbird

At a rest stop on the way home from Las Cruces this fellow was hopping from trash bin to trash bin looking for some goodies.

Chihuahuan Raven

Chihuahuan Raven

Hummingbird Banding and Study – SABO

During a recent weekend, my wife and I took four days to visit Sierra Vista and the surrounding area to do some hiking and birding. We enjoyed hiking in the Coronado National Memorial and nearby Brown Canyon. This area is a hotspot for bird watchers. Our Bed and Breakfast, Casa de San Pedro (CDSP), caters to nature enthusiasts and birding hobbyists.

Little did we know when we made our reservations, that on one of the days we would be visiting CDSP, there would be a hummingbird banding. This was exciting news indeed! I had no idea how they would go about capturing, assessing, banding and releasing these very tiny creatures. I was very interested to witness the process.

Humming Bird Evaluation and Banding

(photos are below the narrative)

The first step is setting up the capture feeder is for one of the volunteers to place a capture net over the feeder.

SABO volunteer setting up capture net

The top of the feeder has a battery-operated mechanism which uses remote control to drop the net. When the bird is at the feeder, i.e. inside the net area, the net is triggered. (yellow arrow points to battery compartment)

View of capture net and battery holder

The remote control device stands at the ready.

Remote control is ready to be triggered

The Director of this program is Sheri Williamson, author of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America (Peterson Field Guides)

Sheri Willaimson's name badge

Sheri Williamson explaining the process

The banding was a collaborative effort. Volunteers worked to record specific data about each bird, collect donations from attendees, assist in transporting captured birds from the feeder area to the work station and finally safely releasing each bird.

Work table with SABO volunteers

Once the net is dropped around the feeder, the bird is placed inside a laundry delicates holder to safely move it from one area of the field to another.

Captured bird in delicates bag

Sheri works to band a female Black-chinned Hummingbird. The yellow arrow points to the thin bird bill.

Assessing the bird

A variety of measurements were taken including the length of the bill, the length of the bird, the length of the wing, etc.

Measuring the bird

More measurements and assessment.

More measurements

Here is a look at the record book (rotated to make it more legible (if zoomed in for a look).

Recording the data

Sheri explains the examination process. …According to SOBA’s website:

The band is applied to the bird’s “leg” (actually the tarsus, equivalent to the long bones in our feet) using specially made pliers. The fit is checked, then the bird’s vital statistics are recorded: species, age, sex, lengths of wing, tail, and bill, weight, plumage condition, molt (loss and replacement of feathers), amount of visible fat, pollen color (if visible) and location, signs of impending or recent egg laying in adult females, and any peculiarities such as scars, odd-colored feathers, or presence of parasites. Pollen may be collected for later identification to help us understand what natural resources the birds depend on during migration and nesting.

Explaining the procedure

A straw is used to separate the feathers to check for parasites, evaluate plumage, etc.

Blowing through a straw to look under the feathers

The female Black-chinned Hummingbird had an egg which could be seen through the translucent skin although it is not readily visible in the picture.

Female's underside had an egg visible

Each captured bird is weighed. These hummingbirds weighed between 3 – 3.5 grams; a fraction of an ounce. According to Wikipedia, a penny weighs 2.5 grams.

Weighing the bird

Before release, each bird is offered a drink for their journey back home.

Bird is offered a drink before release

The second bird trapped was a male Black-chinned hummer. While it may be difficult to tell them apart, especially when upside down, the white tipped tail feathers are a reliable indicator.

Male Black-chinned hummingbird

From above the bird, the feathers create a very obvious pattern and enhances the male plumage.

Male Black-chinned hummingbird feather pattern

Sheri Williamson shows admiring onlookers the beautiful feather patterns of this male Black-chinned hummingbird.

Another view of the male Black-chinned hummingbird tail feather pattern

Sheri checks the band on this bird to assure that it is loose enough to be comfortable.

Checking the ID band for fit

The small band is encircled in this photo.

ID Band is very small

Banding attendees are offered an opportunity to release a bird. The bird is very carefully placed in a hand and…

A bird in the hand prior to release

then released (yellow arrow points to the bird)

Hummingbird being released

Read More:

Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory

Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory Hummingbird banding page

Sheri L. Williamson’s Website

 


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Critical Role of Migratory Birds – Texas Hot Spot

From the YouTube Video Notes (emphasis added):

“Published on Jun 19, 2015 – Did you know the coast of Texas is the most important spot for migratory birds in the U.S. and Canada? Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center staff journey to this small island annually to study songbirds returning from their tropical wintering grounds and share this experience with local schoolchildren. Understanding these species and teaching the next generation about them is critical to their survival. Learn more in this video made possible with the support of ConocoPhillips. #WeSaveSpecies #StateoftheBirds”