THIS BIRDING LIFE: Black Skimmers- My Enigma Bird

Story and Photos by Budd Titlow

A colony of black skimmers holds tight against a gusty wind on a beach in Florida’s Fort De Soto Municipal Park. © Budd Titlow

A colony of black skimmers holds tight against a gusty wind on a beach in Florida’s Fort De Soto Municipal Park. © Budd Titlow

Black skimmers are my enigma bird. Just when I think they couldn’t possibly be around, they show up in droves. Then when I think it’s a perfect day to see some, they’re nowhere to be found. Continue reading

Secrets for Capturing Stunning Photographs of Birds

Story and Photos by Melissa Groo

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© Melissa Groo

Enjoy this Interview with Melissa Groo who will be judging NANPA’s View Bug photo contest- Birds Of A Feather Photo Contest- open now for submissions. Melissa is an award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, teacher and speaker. She writes a regular column on wildlife photography for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and her photos have been published in many magazines, including Smithsonian, Audubon, and National Wildlife. Issues of conservation and ethics in photography are passions for her, but more than anything, she loves revealing the soul of her wild subjects and sharing that with others. Continue reading

Photographing Wintering Swans

Story and photographs by Bob Feldman

In late October, the last of the cabbage white butterflies flutter through the gardens and are gone. With their departure, the ground soon begins to get frosty, and the time to head for the river to look for swans is near.

The Huron River starts in a Michigan swamp, runs through five counties, and empties into Lake Erie. Its course takes it through Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I live. As the fall lengthens into winter and the leaves fall from the trees, large stretches of the river that have been concealed by foliage become visible from a riverside road.

A mute swan takes off on the snow.

A mute swan takes off on the snow.

 

I look for swans along the local stretch of the river and its impoundments. Generally, two species of swans are harbored here: introduced mute swans and native trumpeter swans. The mute swan adult is easily distinguished from the trumpeter by its bright orange bill with a black knob. The trumpeter’s bill is black. Both are big birds, with individuals weighing more than 20 pounds each. Continue reading

INTERVIEW: Gerrit Vyn on Multimedia Storytelling in The Sagebrush Sea

Strutting male Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The display of this speceis differs significantly from that of the Greater Sage-Grosue and led researchers to declare it a unique species in 2000. Gunnison County, Colorado.  Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Strutting male Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The display of this speceis differs significantly from that of the Greater Sage-Grosue and led researchers to declare it a unique species in 2000. Gunnison County, Colorado. Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Story by Andy Johnson; Photos by Gerrit Vyn

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Multimedia Production team has spent the past three years producing an hour-long documentary about the iconic sagebrush steppe of the American west. On May 20th, at 8/7c, The Sagebrush Sea aired nationally on PBS, as part of the award-winning series, NATURE. Check your local PBS station for future viewing times. You can also stream the film online for free on the PBS / Nature website.

Gerrit Vyn, photographer and producer at the Cornell Lab and iLCP fellow, has spent much of the past few years documenting the sagebrush steppe for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Sagebrush Project included a magazine article in Living Bird, educational web interactives, and an hour-long documentary for PBS / Nature, The Sagebrush Sea. In today’s shifting media landscape, increasingly rooted in web and multimedia, conservation itself (in turn, rooted in communication and education) is also expanding its media toolbox.

I recently sat down with Gerrit to discuss how the intersection of conservation photography with filmmaking and web production can benefit a core message. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: Caught Between Lunch and a Flock of Snow Geese

Story and photographs by Jim Clark

Expect the unexpected. All nature photographers, regardless of skill level, have had moments when the unexpected happens. Nature provides no script beforehand or studio that we can set up the way we want. What happens is not announced ahead of time. We know from experience that unforeseen and special moments will occur, so we improvise and use what we have to make the best of the situation.

Through our knowledge of the natural world and our willingness to endure whatever challenge is placed before us, nature photographers make it work. We know that going directly from point A to point B rarely happens in nature, and we are blessed for it.

I had planned to photograph a northern harrier frequenting the marshes of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia this past winter. For days, I watched this raptor as it swooped and glided over the salt marsh. Yet, I was never able to get set up in time to photograph it.

One picture-perfect morning I hiked along the bay side of the seashore determined that some feathered creature would not defeat me! My only challenge was that I had to be at a friend’s house for lunch at noon, and he would not appreciate my being late. The day held the promise of fun exploring this side of the coastal barrier island. Then, something unexpected happened. Continue reading

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.

WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN: Making the Snow Come Alive!

Images and Story by Budd Titlow

I’ll never forget the day the snow came alive beneath my feet.

It was a Sunday morning in February just after sunrise and I was heading up into the mountains for a day of cross-country skiing. The previous day’s blizzard had dumped more than a foot of snow on Colorado’s high country. But the morning air was surprisingly pleasant—almost balmy—considering it was midwinter and the nearby sign read: Guanella Pass Summit—Elevation 11,699 Feet. Continue reading

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting © Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting © Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.

SAGE GROUSE – Happy Hour on the High Plains

Image and Story By Budd Titlow

Sometimes Mother Nature provides a perfect microcosm of human life.

Many years ago, I was invited to observe an annual ritual that had all the elements of happy hour at your favorite neighborhood bar. Totally full of themselves, the males were strutting around in tight circles with their hairless chests puffed out. As they walked, they repeatedly made burping and belching sounds while aggressively posturing toward any other males that came too close to their domains. Meanwhile, all of the females skittered demurely in, out, around, and through all of the absurdly displaying males—acting as if the showboats didn’t exist.

Rather than watching patrons in a dark, after-work bar, I was driving along a Colorado high mountain sagebrush prairie at sunrise next to a “lek,” which is, appropriately enough, the Swedish word for “play.” And the clientele I was observing were chicken-sized wild birds known as sage grouse.

The largest grouse in North America, sage grouse live on the high plains of the American West—at elevations of four thousand to nine thousand feet—including populations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and western Colorado.

Like many wildlife mating rituals, the “dancing” of the male sage grouse around a lek is all about influencing female choice. Leks are circular open areas in dense stands of sagebrush where sage grouse have been performing every February through April for eons. Here, male sage grouse spend their time puffing out their large colorful breast sacs and proudly displaying their sharply pointed tail feathers while aggressively defending their territories—leaping high in the air with feet and spurs fully extended and striking out at their nearest competitors for feminine attention.

While the female sage grouse pretend that they don’t notice, in the end, only the males with the showiest exhibitions—typically less than 5 percent of those trying—mate with all the females. After a few hours, the losing males skulk off to recoup their grouse-hood in hopes of faring better when the next day’s dances begin.

Because they tend to be such show-offs, sage grouse are the subject of many tales—both tall and otherwise—told far and wide in the high plateaus of their Rocky Mountain homeland. Many western riders swear that sage grouse sit hidden in their sagebrush hollows secretly plotting the precise moment to burst up with wings beating wildly askew in front of horses galloping across the open range. The result of this supposed comic plotting is of course that the horses rear up, violently tossing their hooves and manes wildly and summarily flinging their riders—derrieres first—into the nearest clumps of sagebrush.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now lists the sage grouse as a “candidate species” for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The primary reason for the decline of this species is the wholesale loss of its high plains habitat throughout much of its native range.

A Professional Wetland Scientist (Emeritus) and Wildlife Biologist, Budd Titlow is also an international/national award-winning nature photographer and a widely-published writer/author. Throughout his career, Budd has shared his love of photography and nature by presenting seminars, workshops, and field trips Nationwide. He has also authored four books: BIRD BRAINS – Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN 978-0-7627-8755-5), SEASHELLS – Jewels from the Ocean (ISBN 978-0-7603-2593-3), ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK- Beyond Trail Ridge (ISBN 0-942394-22-4), and ENVIRONMENTAL SUPERHEROES: Now Climate Change Needs A New One (In Press). Budd’s work is featured on his web site (www.buddtitlow.com).

NATURE’S VIEW: Photographing the Virginia Rail of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Story and photographs by Jim Clark

The notes of the rail came loudly to my ear, and on moving toward the spot whence they proceeded, I observed the bird exhibiting the full ardor of his passion. Each time it passed before her, it would pause for a moment…and bow to her with all the grace of a well-bred suitor of our own species.—John James Audubon, 1840

What Audubon witnessed is something most folks will never see as this secretive marsh bird is heard more than it is seen. In 1926, ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent wrote this about how to see a Virginia rail: “Take up one’s station near a pond or marsh frequented by them and watch patiently, silently, and immobile….” Wow, patience. What a concept.

Virginia rail at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.

Virginia rail at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.

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Cranes of the World by Mike Endres

Greater Sandhill landing to roost at Bosque del Apache NWR, NM. This image took over 160 tries to get using manual focus & exposure and a Nikon D3 shooting 11 fps once the birds became visible in moon. Image © Mike Endres

Greater Sandhill landing to roost at Bosque del Apache NWR, NM. This image took over 160 tries to get using manual focus & exposure and a Nikon D3 shooting 11 fps once the birds became visible in moon. Image © Mike Endres

Images and Story by Mike Endres

Aldo Leopold once said, “When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.”

Cranes are among the most graceful and symbolic birds known to man. That they’ve been around for some 10 million years is a testament to their hardiness in the face of numerous geological events that have challenged or even lead to the demise of other, perhaps lesser, genera. Found on every continent in the world, with the exception of Antarctica and South America, the 15 species are frequently incorporated into local culture and mythology as they help humans better understand their connectedness to the natural world around them. Continue reading

Nature’s View – Top Secrets of Bird Photography, Story and photographs by Jim Clark

What the Pros Don’t Want you to Know

With the professional bird photographers hot on my trail, I’m going to reveal, right now, the top secrets of bird photography. I’m ready to sacrifice myself for the betterment of every one of you who want to photograph birds. All are welcome, but if anyone asks, I had nothing to do with this.

Sincerely,

Jim Clark, uh, I mean Ansel Wolfe Lepp.
P.S. You never heard this from me.

Continue reading