Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Biggest Week in American Birding....Coming Soon!

The Biggest Week In American Birding is coming upon us beginning May 6, 2014.  It is the time of year when birders and nature photographers from the Midwest and around the world congregate in a tiny area in Northwestern, Ohio called Magee Marsh.  The other name for Magee Marsh is "The Warbler Capital of the World!"

Why?  Well, for starters, take a look at a few of the warbler images throughout this article that were  captured last year on the Crane Creek boardwalk trail within the park!

Hooded Warbler on the Crane Creek Trail - Sheen's Nature Photography
Magee Marsh is right next to Lake Erie and is a significant stopping and resting spot for migrating birds.

How easy is it to see the warblers and other birds on the trail?
At the visitor center, swallows are very people-friendly with nests right above the entrance door.  Purple martins abound in their houses along with other migrating birds on the visitor center trail.

 Official Greeter at the Visitor Center - ©Sheen's Nature Photography
On the Crane Creek trail it is very easy to see the warblers and other migrating bird species.  Of course, birds fly, dart quickly and can be elusive.

On the trail there are guides that are happy to assist in pointing out and identifying birds.  There are also many avid birders who graciously share their passion and knowledge when a bird is spotted.  

Just in the parking lot alone last year I saw chestnut sided, bay, yellow and black-throated green warblers.  This was in addition to seeing the scarlet tanager and northern oriole.  Then the trail walk began!

Photographers:  Heads Up!
Photography opportunities exist throughout Magee Marsh.  The visitor center, in the parking lot alongside the woods, the trail and along the water ways and Lake Erie all offer easy access to bird viewing.  On the boardwalk trail, it is very crowded so if you need a tripod with the big lens, you may want to use a monopod or go with a 300mm.  In the parking lot and other trails, the tripod works well.  The boardwalk can be very shady in spots so a speed light can make a difference.

When is the best time to go?
We try to arrive around 7:30 - 8:00 a.m. as that's about the time the birds start getting active.  My personal observation is that they sleep in a little longer here since it is such a great little haven.

If you can go during the week, it's highly suggested as it can get congested on the weekends.  But don't let that stop you from going on a Saturday or Sunday.  More people means more bird spotters.

Playful Yellow Warbler - ©Sheen's Nature Photography

Activities during The Biggest Week In American Birding:
Here is a link to the guide of activities during the week.  Additionally, there are numerous sponsors that donate resources and time to this event.  Exhibition booths are at both Crane Creek and the visitor center.

Some of the biggest names in birding will be there including Kenn Kaufman and his wife Kimberly.  Along the trail, experts come in all ages and sizes.  It's energizing to see our youth tackle this hobby as well as the seasoned veterans.

Another terrific participant is the non-profit wildlife rescue group Back to the Wild, One Rescue at a Time.  In past years they have brought rescued raptors, eagles and owls for educational purposes.  If you have an opportunity to be there the day they are, please give a donation.  They do great work!

Prairie Falcon Courtesy of Back to the Wild, One Rescue at a Time
©Sheen's Nature Photography

What to wear?
Be prepared for anything.  It could be rain, chilly, windy to warm and pleasant, and that's just within a 30 minute window.  I recommend a lightweight rain poncho just in case.  It's right on Lake Erie so the temperature is always a bit cooler.

May is a huge bird migration month, so even if you can't make it to Magee Marsh, nothing's stopping you from taking your binoculars, camera and going for a hike in your local nature areas.


All images were captured using:  Nikon 5100, Nikon 7100,  Nikon 70-300mm and Sigma 150-500 lenses.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Go the Real, Old West

Raw, dusty and rock laden terrain points toward blue skies that stretch as far as the eye can see.  Muted shades of many colors roll across flat lands that quickly enfold into mountainous ranges and ancient limestone canyons.

Vermillion in Full Sun
Nikon 7100, Sigma 150-500, ISO 160, f/8, 1/250
Big Bend National Park rests in far west Texas alongside the Rio Grande river. Quietly, she waits to share desert delights of blooming cacti, hundreds of bird species and onyx nights filled with diamonds in the sky.

She surprises with pockets of riparian habitats offering close ups views of many wildlife species. The Cottonwood CampgroundRio Grande Village and the Chisos Basin are the three largest primary riparian areas within the park.

Our first stop in the park was Cottonwood Campground.  The reward? Vermillion flycatchers that zipped from campsites, to barbed wire fences to low hanging branches.

My first step was to observe their flight patterns and poses.  From there, I determined my plan of locations, camera settings, lighting and lens.  As I had recently added a Nikon 910 Speedlight to my arsenal, it was a well appreciated tool in the shady Cottonwoods.

While photographing birds, I almost always use Aperture Priority mode.  Given the shady conditions in the campgrounds, the best images came from those with f/stops that ranged from f/7.1 to f/10.

The lower the f/stop number means a larger amount of light coming through the lens.  The more light, the faster the shutter speed.  With more light, the depth of field is more shallow which means your foreground is sharp and the background is blurred.

The male vermillion below was captured using an Aperture of f/7.1.  The bird is in focus and the leaves and branches are very soft and blurred.  The female was captured using an Aperture of f/9.  You'll see a bit more branch detail behind her but with some blurring.  It was very windy and I wanted to capture the surroundings to share her delicate strength as she gripped the branch.  The Nikon 910 Speedlight was used in these two images to get more detail of the feathers.
Nothing Boring about the "Bird on the Stick," Vermillion Flycatcher
Nikon 7100, Sigma 150-500mm, ISO 250, f/7.1, 1/250 sec

Female Vermillion hangs on in the West Texas Breeze
Nikon 7100, Sigma 150-500mm, ISO 250, f/9, 1/640 sec
Our next morning was spent at Rio Grande Village searching out the Common Black Hawk nesting in the Cottonwoods.  Even though the Vermillion flycatchers danced to my right, left and overhead, I only had eyes for the black hawk sitting in a cluster of branches.  As a birder, it was a first time sighting.

As a photographer, it was a rare gift to capture and now share.

Black Hawk Preening for its Mate
Nikon 7100, Sigma 150-500mm, ISO 250, f/7.1, 1/200 sec

That afternoon was spent in the Chisos Basin where a winding, steep downhill led to nesting pairs of Mexican Jay's.  These jays can be found in oak woodlands in Western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Always sassy and full of spunk, the Mexican Jay's vibrancy glows against the desert background.

Mexican Jay peering around an oak
Nikon 7100, Sigma150-500mm, ISO 250, f/9, 1/250 sec 
From sunrise to sunset, Big Bend National Park is a bird and nature photographer's delight and escape.  To get there, be prepared for a journey.  It's a solid seven hour drive from San Antonio or a four hour drive from El Paso.  Everything is bigger in Texas, including the drive.  But the roads travel fast as it's legal to go 80 miles per hour along I-10.

Since it is remote and vast in scope, planning in advance is highly recommended. We stayed at the Big Bend Casitas at Far Flung which is just outside the park in Terlingua, Texas.  The cozy casitas (cabins) were well appointed with small kitchens and very clean.  The grounds observed the 'no lights outside' so you could rock the time away gazing at the stars from your private porch, relaxing in a rocking chair.  

The real west awaits....

Happy Trails and Happy Shooting!