Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bird News from around the World

Latest Bird News...

Robins, not crows, may spread West Nile

HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) -- The beloved American robin, not the annoying, raucous crow, may be the more potent source for West Nile virus, according to new research.

Link: Full Story from CNN

Courting bird sings like a cricket

A bird that lives in the Ecuadorian rain forest attracts mates by striking its wing feathers together behind its back, researchers say.

Link: Full Story from Nature

Praying Mantis Makes Meal of a Hummer

Check out these photographs of a Praying Mantis capturing and eating a hummingbird!

Link: Full Story from Birdwatchers Digest

'Penguins' march defies summer box office trend

At summer film box offices plagued by slow ticket sales, the hottest documentary this year is about a very cold topic: Emperor Penguins in Antarctica.

Link: Full Story from Yahoo News

Friday, July 29, 2005

Mike's Digiscoping Secrets - Stitching!

Ryan Brady writes: "I get a significant area on the periphery of my field of view that's OUT of focus. Even if the subject or other objects are on the same focal plane as what it's in the center of the scope, the outer edge is always out of focus while the center is sharp. Now we all know that you can get sharper pictures at lower magnification, but for me, 30x is perfect for a complete shot. The problem has really come to light with these Great Grays, which are so big and usually so close that I can barely fit them in the field of view. But if their head is anywhere near the top of the field, it gets out of focus."

That's correct, Ryan!

Edge distortion is a big problem when digiscoping larger birds, especially owls and other birds of prey. One thing that works to the digiscoper's advantage is that larger birds of prey are often very stationary (unlike most songbirds). This presents a technical solution to the problem that I've found to be effective. Because the sharpest area of the field of view is the middle, I will take one exposure by centering near the bird's face (image "A") and then quickly take another shot of the rest of the bird's body (image "B"). These two images are loaded into Adobe Photoshop and carefully stitched together.

The process is somewhat tedious, but with enough practice you can make it look seamless:
  • Load the two images to be stitched into Adobe Photoshop and then create a third image that is twice the size as one of the single images.
  • SELECT & COPY each image and then PASTE it into the large image. Automatically, image "A" is made into one layer and image "B" a second layer as they are pasted.
  • Use the MOVE tool to overlap the images.
  • Next, use the adjust LEVELS to match the brightness of the intersecting edges as closely as possible.
  • Using the ERASER tool, remove image data along the edge from the upper layer, revealing data from the lower layer. In detailed areas you often only need to erase a small portion to blend the two images together. In open areas, like a blue-sky background, you might have to erase more area for the blend to be successful.
Depending on the stitch, an added bonus is that the final image's physical print size will be increased. This technique may seem like a lot of effort, but it's pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Remember to think of this when you're in the field and you have a fairly cooperative perched bird that's too large to fit into the sharp-zone of your field of view. Take upper and lower shots and let the magic of Adobe Photoshop do the rest!

Link: Stitched result of multiple Cooper's Hawk images.

Cooper's Hawk images © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Digiscoped Tiger long last!

(click for larger image)

You never know when or where Nature’s next panoply of color will bring about an opportunity to photographically capture a rare moment. I try not to force the issue and this summer’s sizzling heat all but evaporated my motivation for fieldwork, but today’s cooler weather brought back a little inspiration in the form of a yellow butterfly in our backyard.

Enjoying a relaxing afternoon on the deck, I noticed a TIGER SWALLOWTAIL fluttering about the yard. It eventually lit on the spruce tree just a few feet off the ground and I admired it from a distance through our binoculars. But then it just stayed there…and stayed there…and then the moment transformed to that familiar feeling when the event ceases pure admiration and the drill is contemplated. Would it stay? Where is the digiscoping equipment? It was in my car…a mere 50 feet away, but seemingly as distant as the Andromeda Galaxy when at any moment chaotic forces of nature could cause the butterfly to stir. It might be a slight breeze, a cloud moving in front of the sun, or maybe one of the several skittish Mourning Doves disturbing the very branch suspending my quarry.

Skeptical it would stay, I still got up from my chair to fetch the gear and recounted the many digiscoping opportunities that rendered only the drill. You think birds are tough? Try butterflies.

Tiger Swallowtail image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Monday, July 25, 2005

Please keep your bird feeders clean!

It seems so inherently unfair that people who choose to feed birds may be creating problems for finches. With a little periodic effort, you can safely provide food for them but please keep your bird feeders clean! In the past few weeks I've noticed a substantial increase in the number of House Finches coming to my backyard bird feeders. So here's a reminder on why we need to be diligent in keeping the feeders clean for our hungry feathered friends.

Brief History: Since January 1994, when House Finches with red, swollen eyes were first observed at feeders in the Washington, D.C. area, including parts of Maryland and Virginia, House Finch disease has spread rapidly through the eastern House Finch population. Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, as the disease is commonly called, is caused by a unique strain of Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a parasitic bacterium previously known to infect only poultry.

Bird Feeding Guidelines to prevent Disease:
  1. Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
  2. Clean your feeders on a regular basis with a 10% bleach solution solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) and be sure to remove any build-ups of dirt around the food openings. Allow your feeders to dry completely before rehanging them.
  3. Rake the area underneath your feeder to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
  4. If you see one or two diseased birds, take your feeder down immediately and clean it with a 10% bleach solution.
Link: House Finch Disease Survey

Link: FAQ about House Finch Disease

Link: All about the House Finch from Cornell Labs

I've since discarded the tube feeder that you see in the above image and went with a larger mesh-style one as pictured below with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. There is less crowding and the birds don't have to stick their heads into the dispenser holes, plus it's a lot easier to clean.

House Finch image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Albatrosses in Peril

"Supersize" mice are eating seabird chicks alive on Gough Island, one of the most important seabird colonies in the world, UK conservationists report. The rodents are taking out one million petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses each year on the UK Overseas Territory, in the South Atlantic.

Link: Full Article from BBC News

Albatross image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Backyard Rose-breasted Grosbeak

(click for larger version)

Much needed rain is moving through Wisconsin today, but I did get a chance to get some birding in this morning at Nine Springs. There were 8 shorebird species, low in numbers though. New "south-bound" bird was SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. Sadly, there was a dead GREAT BLUE HERON at the back pond...I immediately suspect West Nile Virus, but who knows. For an hour's walk I finished the morning with 49 species around the settling ponds. When I got home from work last evening, I finally digiscoped the ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK [female] that has been raiding my safflower feeder all summer. Check out the beak on that bird!

Link: All about the Rose-breasted Grosbeak from Cornell Labs

Rose-breasted Grosbeak image © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Red-cockaded woodpecker on the rebound!

Hey, how about some GREAT news!

"We have turned the corner," said Ralph Costa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's red-cockaded woodpecker recovery coordinator in Clemson, South Carolina.

Link: Full Article

Red-cockaded Woodpecker image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Monday, July 18, 2005

The First Migrants of Fall

(click for larger image)

Yesterday the heat index reached over 100F here in southern Wisconsin - too hot for doing much of anything outside. The summer solstice has passed and the days are getting shorter once again - we are definitely reaching the zenith of summer's dog days, and so buzz the cicadas.

(click for larger image)

For many shorebirds, the shorter photo-period is innately sensed as a signal for the beginning of their great trek back to their wintering grounds - fall migration has arrived. Indeed, having had a look around at some of my favorite Dane County shorebird haunts in the past week already revealed SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, LESSER-YELLOWLEGS and LEAST SANDPIPERS. Many more species are on their way.

(click for larger image)

The drought here has brought down some of the larger ponds north of Waunakee and I'm optimistic that this fall we'll once again be graced with BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS at the V-Pond. This shorebird species nearly became extinct around 1920, but they've made somewhat of a comeback. So far the habitat at the V-Pond looks excellent, I just hope it doesn't dry up completely before the influxes of shorebirds arrive.

Quote of the Day: "There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before." - Robert Lynd

Link: All about the Short-billed Dowitcher from Cornell Labs

Link: All about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper from Cornell Labs

Link: Help Manomet and help shorebirds.

All images © 2005 Michael Allen McDowell