Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Of Penguins and Men

I found March of the Penguins to be a beautifully filmed nature documentary – a veritable visual masterpiece. As a nature photographer, it’s impossible for me to watch such a film without wondering about the photographer’s perspective and also appreciating the technical and logistical achievement. I purchased the DVD last night and was very pleased to find an hour long documentary about the documentary titled "Of Penguins and Men" included in the special features.

I was gripped watching Luc Jacquet and his team endure the harshness of Antarctica. There were echoes of Shackleton watching them battle high winds while trying to artistically capture the penguins on film. Sans anthropomorphic fluff, I also learned the full extent of the hardship Emperor Penguins suffer in a year’s time – images that might have traumatized younger viewers and tested the G-rating of the movie. This time they didn't leave out the teeth, blood and brutal aftermath. A blizzard hits with whopping 90MPH winds killing nearly a quarter of the chicks - they show the fuzzy corpses dotting the landscape...Jacquet's solemn commentary, “It was like attending a funeral.”

Of course it’s upsetting, but as much as I appreciate documentaries showing the lighter side of nature, I don’t always want the experience to be sugarcoated with sentimentality. To me, telling the whole story of the survival of such enigmatic critters makes me revere them all the more.

Even more Snowy Owls!

Not only are Snowy Owls being presently seen across the state of Wisconsin, Ryan Brady and Nick Anich recently found four of them floating on the ice of Chequamegon Bay along a 2.5 mile stretch from the Ashland marina to Long Bridge. Both of them have been digiscoping the influx of Snowy Owls and have published their images on the web.

Link: Ryan Brady's Snowy Owl Images

Link: Nick Anich's Snowy Owl Images

Link: All about the Snowy Owl from Cornell Labs

Snowy Owl © 2005 Ryan Brady

Birdsong gives clue to breakup of habitat

"Birds in Spain and Morocco are having trouble hearing and copying each other's songs because of the way their habitat has been broken up, according to a study published today. As a result the birds are living in more isolated groups and only learning songs from their closest neighbours. The researchers believe that these changes in song patterns are an early warning of habitat fragmentation, which could lead to lower genetic diversity and inbred populations."

Link: Full Article from Guardian Unlimited

Singing Western Meadowlark image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Adapter Sleeve & DCA tip for AT/ST Swarovski Scopes

Here's a useful tip from Clay Taylor of Swarovski if you're using the Swarovski AT/ST series spotting scope with the DCA and Adapter Sleeve. I've tested it and agree with Clay that using the Adapter Sleeve without the upper collar/cap works much better!

Clay writes:
The Swarovski Adapter Sleeve is part # 660-0234A. I have been tinkering with it, and I think that it is better to use the Adapter Sleeve on the zoom ring WITHOUT screwing on the upper collar/cap (or whatever they call it on the instruction sheet). Two reasons:
  • With the collar off, you can reattach the rubber eyecup on the eyepiece. Attaching the collar makes using the eyecup impossible.
  • You can slide the DCA Inner Tube down the eyepiece so that the camera and Outer Tube will have a close enough spacing to allow the camera's zoom to get rid of vignetting easily. Otherwise, the upper sleeve stops the DCA Inner Tube from doing far enough down the eyepiece.
The upper collar was evidently designed to "clamp" the Sleeve to the zoom ring of the eyepiece, but once you attach the DCA Inner Tube, its thumbscrew serves the same function. I had no slippage as I turned the DCA / Adapter Sleeve to zoom the eyepiece. So, leave the upper collar off.

One more thing - in the initial setup, slide the entire DCA Assembly (Inner Tube, Outer Tube and Back Plate) down the eyepiece / Adapter Sleeve assembly until it stops. Now the Back plate is resting against the rolled-down eyecup. Now lock down the Inner Tube, which holds the Sleeve in place on the eyepiece. Remove the Outer Tube and attach to the camera, roll up the eyecup for viewing, and have fun!

Clay Taylor
Naturalist Market Manager

Swarovski Optik North America LTD
2 Slater Road
Cranston, RI 02920
Tel. 800-426-3089 x 2959
Fax. 401-734-5888
All images © 2005 Michael McDowell

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Re-discovering Forgotten Photos

(click on image for larger version)

That my digiscoping archive is a bit disorganized is an understatement. The 13,000 or so images I have accumulated are stored in folders by year and month on my computer. About the only index is my website showing dates individual birds were photographed. But every once in a while, either when I’ve come up with a new post-processing technique I want to try or get an idea for a blog article, I think to myself, “Hey, I think I know where that picture is,” it can take quite an effort searching through the images.

While looking for a particular image, I'm occasionally surprised by finding one I can’t believe I didn’t publish on my website. Take this Hermit Thrush photograph as an example of a picture I recently stumbled upon. Thinking back, I remember that day and taking the shot, but it’s interesting how I had completely forgotten about it on account of my sloppy archive system. Now I’m thinking about reorganizing the folders taxonomically, but I think I’ll save that undertaking for the next snowstorm.

Q: How do you organize your digital image archive?

Hermit Thrush image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Whooping Crane Spending 2nd Winter Lost

"HARLINGEN, Texas -- Wildlife biologists believe a whooping crane that got separated from its parents while learning to migrate is spending a second winter lost and in the company of friendly sandhill cranes. A bird watcher last week spotted the whooper near Hargill, about 110 miles south of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where the world's only naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes winters each year."

Link: Full Article from the Washington Post

Whooping Crane image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Few Backyard Birds...

The Northern Cardinals are always the first at the feeders, usually by 6:15 a.m. As soon as I walk outside, I’m greeted with an outpouring of chip notes – they seem anxious for me to put fresh food out. Or perhaps I’m just merely in the way? Yeah, that’s probably the case. They’ve often returned to the platform feeder before I’m back in the garage and have closed the door.

The Red-breasted Nuthatches are an entirely different case, though. They’re not shy at all. In fact, they’ll often perch atop the feeder pole and wait for me to finish replenishing birdseed. I know many people have had them take food from the hand, but I haven’t tried that yet. I’m amused by the little chirping sound they make in my presence and it encourages me to hurry. It’s almost like they’re telling me, “Get moving, pal! We’re on a mission here!” And what busy little mission it is - spending hours jamming peanut halves into the bark and branches. They are definitely my favorite of all our backyard visitors!

The American Goldfinches are donning their winter suits and are probably the most skittish of all the backyard birds. It seems you can’t even walk past a window without scaring them away. There are always plenty of them along with House Finches and yesterday there was still a lingering Purple Finch.

Usually in a group of four or five, the Blue Jays are often the last birds to arrive in the morning. They zoom in, perch above the feeders giving a few loud calls before scattering the other birds to the spruce trees. This is always just a temporary distraction. The finches and juncos quickly return to business once the jays have taken their turn.

These birds, along with Cedar Waxwings, Mourning Doves, American Crows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-bellied, Hairy & Downy Woodpeckers and an occasional Cooper’s Hawk will constitute backyard birds for the remainder of winter. There may be Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls, but I usually don’t see them in good numbers until February.

All images © 2005 Michael McDowell

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Bedside Book of Birds

(click on image for larger version)

Is birding a Zen-like experience for you? Do birds have you hooked to the point of obsession in one facet or it listening to their songs, feeding them, watching them or photographing them? If so, you'll enjoy this WBUR Boston/On Point radio program with novelist and birder Graeme Gibson on the long and intimate relationship, in life and literature, between humans and birds.

Program Link: The Bedside Book of Birds with Graeme Gibson

Gibson is the author the new book The Bedside Book of Birds

Northern Hawk Owl image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Mystery: Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?

(image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service)

"Thanksgiving feasters take heart. Contrary to popular belief, turkey's tryptophan dose doesn't cause drowsiness. In fact, the substance could possibly aid in the treatment of depression and multiple sclerosis."

Link: Full Article from National Geographic News

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Two Stops - Two Lifers!

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Upon arriving at North Point (Milwaukee), I found the RED PHARLOPE working the cladophora mats a few minutes into the search. The bird didn't seem to mind me approaching within 40 feet for a digiscoping opportunity, but the overcast skies made lighting pretty difficult to work with. Other birds at the Point included a pair of BLACK SCOTERS and an assortment of common waterfowl and gulls. Many of the ducks took flight when a group of kayakers paddled through, so we decided it was time to move on.

Our next stop was the South Metro Sewage Treatment Plant at Oak Creek to see if any CAVE SWALLOWS remained. Jesse Peterson saw two of them late yesterday so I thought our prospects were still pretty good. When we got there, we were pleased to learn that another group of birders had just seen the swallow within the past several minutes, so we figured it was only a matter of waiting.

A tall wall barricades the entire treatment plant and the swallows have been observed flying above the settling tanks (where there are insects for them to eat). Because of the wall, getting a picture would be super tough. When Aaron Stutz discovered a swallow perched on a railing, I quickly hoisted my spotting scope (with help) to the top of the wall. I secured two tripod legs over one of the wall's 90° bends, the other leg and the center-post on the opposite side, firmly locking down my scope and digital camera atop the barrier wall - it was almost as good as a car window mount! I only managed to get one shot off at 4 X optical zoom and 20X on the eyepiece while the swallow was perched on a railing:

(click on image for larger version)

So here we are November 20th and we also found THREE warbler species (first seen by Aaron Stutz and Tom Prestby) along the wall and in the grass on the beach! Who expects to see YELLOW WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER this time of year? When Tom Prestby reported the warblers to the Wisconsin Birding Network, the "Keeper of the Records" announced the following:
"If the Yellow Warbler reported today (November 20th) is long form documented and accepted by the WSO Records Committee, it would go into the state records as the ONLY Yellow Warbler ever reported in Wisconsin in November. As one might notice on the following paste, there is one valid winter record for Dec. 4, 1999."

-- Bob Domagalski, Menomonee Falls
We scoped through the gulls on the beach for a while, but nothing new turned up.

Species observed from the plant:

Common Loon
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Horned Grebe
Canada Goose
Snow Goose
Bonaparte's Gull
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
American Kestrel
Song Sparrow
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Cave Swallow

All images © 2005 Michael McDowell

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Hummingbirds have left!

(the Black Earth Rufous Hummingbird)

Here's an email I received from Kathi & Michael Rock:

Greetings from the frozen tundra of Madison, Wisconsin!! Yesterday we enjoyed a high of 10 degrees and today it's a balmy 29 degrees with a light snow cover!! For us, hummingbird and gardening season are definitely over, but we are looking forward to all those gardening catalogs arriving in December and are already planning for 2006!

You might be interested to know that both Rufous hummingbirds that were reported in Wisconsin (one in Milwaukee and the other in Black Earth) have now departed for warmer temperatures. It was great while it lasted, but it's just too cold right now for these little guys to survive here and we wish them well in their travels. We would also like to thank the dedicated and caring people who hosted these beautiful birds and permitted us to come and observe and photograph them.

On a lighter note, you might enjoy the following fun link about a couple of dedicated hummingbird watchers in northern Wisconsin (we don't endorse the red nectar though---just sugar and water are best for the birds!) Enjoy!

Look for your December "Dane County Nectar News" soon. We wish you and your families a very happy and safe Holiday Season!

Best Wishes,

Kathi & Michael Rock
Madison, Wisconsin

Rufous Hummingbird image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Friday, November 18, 2005

Butterfly wings work like LEDs

"When scientists developed an efficient device for emitting light, they hadn't realised butterflies have been using the same method for 30 million years. Flourescent patches on the wings of African swallowtail butterflies work in a very similar way to high emission light emitting diodes (LEDs).These high emission LEDs are an efficient variation on the diodes used in computer displays and TV screens."

Link: Full Article from BBCNews

Butterfly image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Snow and Loons

Yesterday we had our first snowfall of the season and this morning's temperature was a rude 10°F. While everything outside sort of looks and feels like we're already at winter's apex, the fall has been mostly pleasant with good birds and successful digiscoping. Can't complain too much! Anyway, this afternoon I braved the cold temperatures, bundled up and went to Marshall Park to see what I could find on Lake Mendota.

Lake Mendota birds - Marshall Park (Middleton) 11/17/05:

Common Loon (6)
Canada Goose (100+)
Horned Grebe (2)
Bufflehead (50+)
Common Goldeneye (3)
Redhead (5)
Canvasback (1)
Ring-necked Duck (10)
Northern Shoveler (1)
American Black Duck (2)
Mallard (100+)
Hooded Merganser (6)
American Coots (100+)
Herring Gull (3)
Ring-billed Gull (10+)
Bonaparte's Gull (5)

As I stood at the rocks along the shore scoping the water, a Winter Wren popped up and gave me a quick look - an aptly named bird definitely in its element today! I could barely take standing out there for an hour wearing three layers. How this tiny wren endures when its this cold is a marvel of nature to me.

All images © 2005 Michael McDowell

USF&WS - Environmental Impact Statement on Resident Canada Geese Management

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the release of a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that outlines various alternatives to reduce, manage, and control resident Canada goose populations and reduce related damages. Of the alternatives, the Service's proposed action will allow state wildlife agencies, landowners, and airports more flexibility in controlling resident Canada goose populations."

Link: Full Text from USF&WS

Feds develop plans to kill Canadian(sic) geese

"Wildlife officials estimate there are more than 3.2 million Canada geese in the United States. The plan, designed to cull that number to about 2 million during the next decade, will provide states with the option of assuming control over goose-reduction methods."

Link: Full Article from United Press International

Canada Geese image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dead jaeger ends identification debate

(image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Jaeger identification presents one of the greatest birding challenges out there. For anyone who has ever been involved with identifying a mystery bird, or deciding upon two or three extremely similar looking species, it’s a very gratifying experience to arrive at a definitive identification.

Here's an interesting story regarding such a case that came to an absolute conclusion on account of the bird being found dead. Tim Avery originally photographed this jaeger series northwest of Willard Bay State Park, Utah on September 11th, 2005. At the bottom of that page you can read various opinions as to the identification of the bird. However, a few days later Tim found the deceased bird, collected it and returned with it to Salt Lake to photograph and document it:


Primaries from the outer wing:

Body (backside):

Body (under side):


Undertail coverts:

Under wing:

And so, it turned out to be a PARASITIC JAEGER!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

3157N versus 200USS

Yesterday a birder brought in their high-end spotting scope with a mangled foot and stripped threads from repeatedly over-tightening the 3157N Bogen quick-release plate. I see this all the time - it’s the bane of birders everywhere. It’s annoying setting up your scope and tripod only to find the scope a little wobbly atop the tripod head. You've got to pop it off the quick-release, tighten down the D-ring, snap the scope back on...and who knows what bird you've missed by the time this takes. Not twenty minutes will pass and it seems like the blasted thing loosens up again.

Those of us who have used the 3157N plate understand how frustrating this problem is. The guide pin included with the plate is completely worthless, as spotting scope manufacturers do not place a corresponding hole on the foot that is specifically designed to mate with it. If you must use the 3157N plate, I suggest removing the pin as it generally ends up scratching the heck out of the scope's foot, and you'll get an even better cinch without it!

Bogen certainly didn't have three-pound spotting scopes in mind when they designed the 3157N quick-release plate. While it isn't recommend that you carry the scope and tripod around attached, I know everyone does it. Hey, I do, too! But the reason I no longer have this particular problem is because I've ditched the 3157N plate in favor of the Bogen 200USS Universal Anti-twist plate. It's the best $52.95 that I've ever spent on my scope and has saved me countless headaches, especially when digiscoping.

The 200USS plate is a pretty ingenious device, actually. The bottom plate is formed similarly to a 3157N plate, but it is grooved on the upper-side to match a second plate that has two rubber-padded locking bolts attached to it. The D-ring will tightening a ¼"x20 screw into the bottom of the scope's foot, then you tighten the two locking bolts to one surface of the scope's foot for a super grip that will not come loose.

Link: See the 200USS attached to my Swarvoski AT80 HD spotting scope

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cave Swallows seen in Wisconsin

There is very exciting birding news coming out of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Yesterday, about 15 to 20 probable CAVE SWALLOWS were seen at the South Metro Sewage Plant/Pier. If accepted by the WSO Records Committee, these birds would be new to the state list, as well as one of only a few mid-continent records for the species. No telling whether these birds will stick around, but apparently there are plenty of insects above the treatment tanks for the swallows to eat. If the birds are still present by Thursday, I might have to take a look for myself!

You can follow the unfolding drama on the Wisconsin Birding Network.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Lake Michigan Birding

Long-tailed Duck

Jesse Peterson and I went on a birding trip along Lake Michigan this morning, with stops at Sheboygan, Harrington Beach and Milwaukee. The best finds at Sheboygan were a few LONG-TAILED DUCKS and two WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS. An hour or so later we headed to Harrington Beach State Park and right away we found a single DUNLIN hanging out with several SANDERLINGS. They were foraging on the cladophora mats, which also looked very promising for attracting Purple Sandpiper. Off the rocky point we found four BLACK SCOTERS.


There wasn't much to add at Milwaukee's North Point, but we did get a prolonged look at a PEREGRINE FALCON riding the wind - very cool. We also picked up SURF SCOTER for all three species in one day. The winds picked up and we decided to head home. One of our target birds was the previously reported Harlequin Ducks, but it looks like Racine was the place for them today.

Species list for the three stops:

Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Canvas Back
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Peregrine Falcon
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

Harrington Beach

All images © 2005 Michael McDowell

Friday, November 11, 2005

Outtakes and Bloopers - Volume I

Personal selection is an important factor when compiling a gallery of your work, especially when your aim is bird portraiture like I enjoy doing. While there are approximately 300 digiscoped images on my website, a file scan of my archive will tally over 10,000 bird pictures that I’ve taken over the past 4 years. I know what you’re thinking and, yeah, that’s a pretty embarrassing hit to miss ratio, isn’t it? Well, it’s not like the other 9,700 images are absolute disasters. In many cases I may have gotten 10...20 or more good shots of a bird but selected 1 or 2 to publish from that series. But if you’re wondering what some of the other outtakes are like, have a look:

I must have a few hundred of these...

Sometimes you’ll encounter a bird that’s just not having any of it…

Other times capturing an aggressive display can define a whole new perspective on a bird…yikes!

Those bizarre ruffled feather shots are always fun…

With digital photography you can delete the mistakes or undesired shots, but I like keeping them all. They can be fun when you capture interesting behavior, or in other cases they make excellent quiz pictures. So I encourage you to archive them all, but remember to backup your efforts and treasured work!

All images © 2005 Michael McDowell

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ancient Penguin DNA Reveals Microevolution on Ice

"Using perfectly preserved, ancient DNA, scientists have demonstrated microevolution in a single species over a span of some 6,000 years. The researchers examined well-preserved bones of Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) found in Antarctica and compared them to the birds' living descendants. The scientists discovered small changes in gene frequency, the relative percentage of an allele compared to nearby genes."

Link: Full Article from National Geographic News

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Seal Meat May Help Save California Condor

"The California condor began eating seals and whales after the Ice Age, when its regular meals of land animals were wiped off the menu, according to a new study. If the birds - among North America's biggest and rarest - return to eating sea-mammal meat, the flying scavenger's range could expand northward along the Pacific Coast as far as Canada, the study authors say. This would bring the condor's range closer to what it was hundreds of years ago."

Link: Full Article from National Geographic

California Condor image courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Digiscoping warblers and other small birds

(click on image for larger version)

A reader writes:

"I really enjoy looking at your pictures on your blog. You seem to put a lot of thought into good composition/light. I was curious as to the difficulty you have of taking pictures of warblers, etc. with your digiscoping setup. I am not too keen on hauling around 25lb of camera equipment. I like to bird first and picture take second. And the weight factor makes me lean toward digiscoping. Thanks for your reply."
As a birder, I think you're right on the mark by considering lighter weight digiscoping equipment versus conventional DSLR and big lens gear. Of course there are pros and cons to each, but I'll save that for a future post and address your question regarding difficulty with small birds.

They are very tough, aren't they? Perhaps the greatest challenge digiscoping small birds is acquiring and following them via the LCD viewfinder on the digital camera. A strategy I like to employ to overcome this is to repeatedly use the same location; one with good lighting, open perches and visual markers - a veritable studio in the field.

You might be surprised to learn how many birds in my digiscoping gallery were photographed on or near the very same branch! It will work further to your advantage if an area you've selected draws in the migrants - habitat that naturally encourages birds to visit. As a birder, you may already have in mind particular areas you know birds frequent during migration.

Once I've setup my digiscoping gear, I'll focus on a particular branch and practice moving the scope around to nearby open sticks and twigs - establishing a sense of how much relative movement needs to be made to each one. While doing so, I'll take note of the various color tones of different branches or if there are any distinguishing visual markers like a particular leaf, branch fungus, etc.

I'll patiently monitor birds as they move in and out of the area until one gets close to one of my visual markers. The practice drill of memorizing relative positions of markers and gauging how much the scope needs to be moved to each - guiding you to the bird - will help you capture more hits in the field. The more often you visit the same areas, the better you'll get. By having several such areas unique in habitat and visiting them at different times during spring/fall migration, you will collect a larger species library of images.

Nashville Warbler image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Monday, November 07, 2005

Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trail - Map #2

Hey look! The second Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail map is hot off the press from the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI). This second edition, in a series of five regional maps, details the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers – among Wisconsin’s most beautiful geography to offer. Though I seldom ever donate my bird photography, I made an exception to my policy for WBCI. So you'll probably see some familiar pictures should you pick up a copy. The company I work for, Eagle Optics, is a proud endorsing partner of WBCI’s important conservation work.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Northern Shrike!

(click on image for larger version)

There were two EASTERN MEADOWLARKS at Pheasant Branch Conservancy this morning. Probably not exceptionally late but still a species I wasn't expecting to see early November. The NORTHERN SHRIKE remains the hunter of the fields, mostly spending its time perched on utility wires near the parking lot. I could barely believe my luck when it perched right above me as I was walking back to my car.

Northern Shrike #2

Northern Shrike #3

Species List:

Canada Goose
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-necked Pheasant
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren (by the small springs)
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow (dozens)
Fox Sparrow (few)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow (1)
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Northern Shrike images © 2005 Michael McDowell

Save the Albatross!

100,000 albatrosses die each year on fishing hooks. They are being killed in such vast numbers that they can't breed fast enough to keep up. This is putting them in real danger of extinction. 19 of the 21 species of albatross in the world are threatened with extinction largely because of longline fishing. BirdLife International compiles the official list of threatened birds. Currently, 2 albatross species are Critically Endangered, 7 are Endangered and 10 are Vulnerable.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Probable Ross's Goose X Lesser Snow Goose

(click on image for larger version)

It's November and you find a small white goose on a pond in your neighborhood. It's even smaller than a Cackling Goose that paddles by. It has a small bill, but is it small enough? There is a slight grin patch and the Sibley Guide seems to suggest variability with this field mark. Does that mean other field marks can show variability within that species? The question of identification seems clear: Snow Goose versus Ross's Goose.

This mystery goose seen at Stricker's Pond in Middleton this past weekend fooled several experienced birders, myself included. It was initially reported to the Wisconsin Bird Network as a Ross's Goose, and since it was close by, Jesse Peterson and I decided to look. The first hint of a puzzle came at the scene when another seasoned birder stated, "I just can't turn this into a Ross's Goose." Given the small size of it, Jesse and I thought it was unquestionably a Ross's, but I still digiscoped it for closer study at home.

The group of birders who first reported this bird as a Ross's Goose had also taken photographs and posted them to the Wisconsin Birding Network. The identification was further scrutinized and Milwaukee's John Idzikowski came to the rescue:

"The white goose in this shot shows a great deal of intermediacy with Snow Goose showing a small grinning patch and a bill shape pattern where the cheek feathering rounds in towards the tip of the bill; this should be straight in Ross's with no or only a very small grinning patch. The bird overall is not very petite with a clean small triangular bill as expected for Ross's and while we have only a poor context of size next to what is probably a mid-size or giant Canada Goose, it seems too large and the neck too long and thick.

I remember when Ross's were truly rare occurrences in migration in Wisconsin and very few birds were recorded each spring. In the last 30 years we have seen an increase in Ross's ID's; how many of these are smaller but still hybrid Ross's x Lesser Snow and not true Ross's? Ross's has expanded its range to the east in the last 50 years and now nests along Hudson Bay having moved into the range of Lesser Snow due north of Wisconsin, probably with an increase in hybridization - so there's more value to this exercise than just challenging the ID."
Link: Discussion of Ross's X Snow from Cornell

It may not have ended up on my year list, but it was still a neat bird and also a great lesson!

Hybrid goose image © 2005 Michael McDowell

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sneak Preview - Leica's new Digiscoping adapter!

(click on image for larger version)

Here is a sneak preview of Leica’s digiscoping adapter, designed specifically for Televid series spotting scopes. No ETA yet from Leica on when the adapter will become available for purchase, but I’ll keep you posted here.

(click on image for larger version)

The sleeve setscrew (middle) holds the expanding sleeves in place. This is loosened and adjusted with the camera mounted to get the proper distance between the camera lens and eyepiece lens (for camera zooming, too). The other two screws (left) drive the individual "jaws" of the clamp together, which hold the camera in place.

Pretty nifty, huh?

Eagles: A soaring story of success, especially in Minnesota

"Minnesota's bald eagle population increased by 28 percent during the past five years, officials of the state Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday. Scientists counted 872 nesting pairs last spring, 191 more than were found during the last survey, in 2000."

Link: Full Story from the StarTribune

Bald Eagle image © 2005 Michael McDowell