Sunday, November 28, 2010

Backyard Kestrel

 I have checked Malden Park a few times since last weekend for another look at the Shrike with no luck. I did not scour the grounds, but rather did a quick 20 minute walk along the Northwestern Quadrant of the hill where I originally saw it. Today's walk just had the regulars BCCs and a few Downy Woodpeckers. The one above looks like he was in the midst of making a duplex.

While working in my backyard today, I was shocked today to see a raptor like bird glide across the sky and land in a neighbor's tree about 5 houses down the road. I could not tell what type of raptor is was, but I knew it was a raptor because I noticed large talon reach out to the branch as it landed. I grabbed my camera and walked down the road to discover a beautifully perched American Kestrel!
Av / F11/ ISO 200
Av/ F9.5 / ISO 400

I've been wanting to talk about 'Digital Workflow' for a while now. Basically I 'm trying to find the sweet spot for my lens to get as much detail as I can when I photograph a bird. I use Aperture Priority when I shot and typically set the ISO to 800. Lately, I have been realizing that maybe I should set my ISO to 400 or 200. When I see a cool bird though, I don't really have the mindset to try different settings and look at what gives the best outcome.

Has anyone ever experimented with the similar birds in similar lighting conditions and changing the ISO settings and Aperture settings?

I've been running with ISO 800 and F/9 as my typical starting point (in Av mode). If the lighting is low, I might open up the aperture to F5.6 and move ISO to 1600. Do any readers mess around with manual settings on their cameras? Or are you in a simple Portrait or Automatic mode?

This site discusses this discussion much better than I am doing ( and section 6.1 is really where this is touched on. My problem is that I feel like the settings I've been running with are not the most wisely selected.

Any thoughts?

Good birding,

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The one that got away...

Just a short posting today. I went out to Holiday Beach for one last attempt at a Rough legged Hawk with no luck at seeing it. On the way to Holiday Beach though, I stopped near a farmers field because many birds flying low over the roadway caught my attention. There were many Horned Larks around. I photographed the one above but many of my other photos did not really turn out very well, I think my lens fogged up a little. It's funny, Horned Larks are supposed to be common in Essex County, but this is only the third time seeing one.

 As I entered Holiday Beach, I noticed a Northern Flicker was flushed from beside the road and flew into a nearby tree. I had great looks at it but every time I grabbed my camera, it flew away further. A (late?) Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Downy Woodpecker and a Tree Sparrow were hanging around as well.

On the tower, I was happy to see Jim P this morning and we talked about birding while watching distant Eagles around the marsh. I was complaining to Jim I've never really gotten a good photo of a mature Bald Eagle. I've even gotten nice photos of Golden Eagle but no luck with the resident Bald Eagles. As we were scoping distant eagles, I saw something dark over my head 15m above the tower... Mature Bald Eagle...  By the time I got focused on him, he was well past the tower. (hence the photo above of this Eagle flying away from me). He's the one that got away. Poppycock! ...Balderdash!....& Horsefeathers!

Good birding!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Northern Shrike at Malden Park

Click for larger view

Wow, what an exciting lifer! This beautiful bird is #214 on my life list.... spotted after 1.5 years of birding. I almost dropped my camera when I realized what I was looking at!

I learned about this bird during a Mid-Summer walk that I took with the Essex Field Naturalists group in 2009. The group leader (his name escapes me) told us that Northern Shrikes could be heard singing at Malden Park during the Winter if they 'erupt'. A local birder posted a sighting about 1-2 weeks ago and this encouraged me to come out and find it for myself.

This morning was relatively quiet at Malden Park. I saw the usual suspects: American Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal, Downy Woodpeckers and Dark eyed Juncos. I was on my way out of the park and figured I would check a small stand of evergreens for a Saw Whet Owl. Then I heard a warbling bird call I've never heard before so I checked out a 'lump' in a nearby tree with my binoculars. Sure enough, this masked northern- butcher-watchman was perched about 50 ft from me! These are the moments that birders cherish. I'm new to birding but this just seems like a very rare bird in Windsor. How exciting!

Anyway, I used a nearby evergreen as a blind and took a bunch of photos and left him alone to continue hunting for food. Hopefully this bird overwinters here! More info on the Northern Shrike can be found here: (right click, open in new tab)

Good birding!

PS: If you stand at the top of Malden Park's hill in West Windsor and look due West, you will see "Zug Island" which is a steel refinery on the American side of the Detroit River. This along with chemical plants and Oil refineries are within 5KM of west Windsor. It dawned on me only in my 20's that these plants were positioned so that the downwind communities were Windsorites that (I'm guessing) had little input on the location of these plants. Brighton Beach is the white box in the left-bottom of this photo. The new DRIC Bridge crossing will be just to the left of Brighton Beach Power Generation offering nice views to international travellers.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Last trip to Holiday Beach?

I stopped by Holiday Beach this morning, even though I knew the wind and fog conditions were not condusive to good raptor flights.

It was a slow morning as I anticipated, but it was really beautiful out. It was a wonderful morning to behold. Some noteworthy birds seen were Winter Wren (with banding), Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle (Mature and immature), several duck species including Ruddy Duck, Red tailed Hawks, Carolina Wren (heard), along with the regulars at this time of year, a generous assortment of sparrows were seen as well, including American Tree and Swampies.

I guess with the lul in good winds, that the next strong northerly wind might bring many raptors, but that will probably be a weekday that I will surely be working. I really wanted to see a Rough-legged Hawk and a Northern Goshawk, but I don't know if that will happen this year.

Good birding!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mid November Birding

A short walk at Malden today turned up an American Kestrel. The plumage on this falcon is awesome isn't it? It's got a chestnut coloured back, slate-grey sides, and a buffy breast, all covered with diamond-plate markings. This guy is pretty common at Malden Park during certain winters.

The photo below shows a female Red bellied Woodpecker taking some nuts from a tree (I wish I knew the tree species... Pignut Hickory?), and then cracking them in a particular hollowed out branch. Could the Red bellied Woodpecker below be using a specially carved tree trunk as a tool to help it shell nuts? I noted this woodpecker behavior at Ojibway Prarie Reserve. White breasted Nuthatch were really abundant as well tonight.

Thursday evening, I stopped by Holiday Beach ... only to be a little disappointed at how quiet it was. I hardly saw any birds! The gate was locked so I had to walk to the tower. When I got there... nobody was there! Anyway, I did see a Brown Creeper, lots of vocal BC Chickadees. I also saw a pair of Hermit Thrushes, which I thought were late, but later realized they are common in November (at least according to Ebird). Red bellied Woodpeckers were seen as well.

On the way back to my car, I heard loud woodpecker drumming. I couldn't help but follow the sound. I later discovered a squeaking, drumming, agitated Hairy Woodpecker ( In Audubon's time, they called it a Canadian Woodpecker ... a better name IMHO).
 What was agitating it? Possibly this Cooper's Hawk that was perched 20m away from this tree.

Good birding!

PS: Have you ever heard about apparitions of certain figures in people's cinnibuns, french toast etc? My wife called me over after dinner on Wednesday night claiming there was a bird in a piece of chicken that had fallen under my son as he was eating in booster chair.  Do you see a bird? Possibly a Pileated Woodpecker or a Blue Jay??? LOL

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hindsight is 20/20 ...

Two lifers in Hindsight....It dawned on me recently that I have photographed a Purple Finch (PUFI) at Ojibway. I was really unsure if indeed they were PUFI's, but the female PUFI's are what have me sold. Seeing these were anti-climatic. They are not as pretty as I imagine they might be in the spring in mating plumage. A recent FLICKR photo that I was looking at convinced me that these were more than just House Finches. These were photographed Oct 30th 2010.

Another bird that I realized I had lifered last year at this time was a Snow Bunting at Malden Park. At the time, I thought it was a Lapland Longspur but now I realize it is indeed a Snow Bunting. When I photographed it, my white balance was set to incandescent lighting, creating a bad colour cast on this bird. I still remember this bird hopping along the ground 10m in front of me, almost refusing not to take flight.

Snow Bunting Lifer #212
Purple Finch #213

Malden Park can have some nice birds. Last November (2009), I photographed this American Kestrel (as well as the Snow Bunting above). I will be looking for these as well as Northern Shrike over the next few months.

Looking back at my "Photo life list" of 80 birds just back in January, I've come a long way. Next year, I might have to delve a little deeper into identifying gulls. I'm also considering some early summer trips to various birding hotspots in Ontario and possibly out west.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Good looks at a Golden Eagle & a surprise lifer!!!

This morning, I headed out to Holiday Beach to join the Ojibway Birding group led by Paul Pratt. I showed up late and caught up with the group as they walked into the park. The park gate was locked so we enjoyed a nice walk to the hawk viewing tower.

Some birds seen today are:
BC Chickadee
Northern Flicker
Downy Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Great Egret
American Coot
Wood ducks & Various ducks
Common Moorhen
Sora Rail
Wilson's Snipe (Lifer!!! #211)
Golden Eagle
Bald Eagle
Red Tailed Hawk
Great Blue Heron
Rusty Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Various other blackbirds

I really enjoy birding with other people. More eyes see more things. At one point, we were standing on the turtle crossing bridge, and looked out to see some American Coot ducks. Over the next 15 minutes, the group called out bird after bird that showed up or made themselves known. Paul reminded me that there were many Pine Siskin in the evergreens where we parked our cars (stay tuned at the end of this posting for more on that).

Regarding the Golden Eagle shot above, I took that in a fleeting moment that took place as we were still walking to the tower. Paul saw this way from the far right periphery, and it slowly glided (at tree-top height) from left to right. For about 15 seconds, we had nice clear views and then of course, obscured views by the trees. I have about 20 photos of this bird, but this was one of the best. You can really see the copper coloured feathers on its nape, as well as a growth or feather tuft near its beak. I hope its ok!!!

This Wilson's Snipe is an exciting lifer. Through the scope, you could see the cryptic plumage on this bird. Also, you could watch is do its eating dance, where it bounces and waddles to disturb the mud and bugs in the mud just below the surface. I could barely even see this bird with my binoculars, that is how hard it is to see. Props to Paul for even seeing it!

Bald Eagles are resident at the park and are almost easily seen, although this photo shows a nice, close flyby. 
As I left the park, I noticed several pairs of Red-bellied and Northern Flicker woodpeckers. Very cool!

 Sure enough, several hours later when I arrived at my car, I took a good look at the evergreens in front of my car (as Paul had suggested earlier) and wham... Pine Siskin. Paul... you are good!!!

Good birding!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Searching for Northern Shrike at Malden...

Is it just me or do Golden crowned Kinglets always look upset? LOL! Anyway, I read with amazement on Friday night that a Northern Shrike was spotted at Malden Park. Wow! I went as early as I could on Saturday morning, but had no luck finding it!

I will go back and check throughout the Winter. I would love to see a Northern Shrike. I've seen a Loggerhead Shrike in Florida, but they are almost easy to see if you go to Titusville, one hour east of Orlando.

Anyway, on my search, I took some photos of common birds including:
Downy Woodpecker
Golden Crowned Kinglet
House Finch
Tufted Titmouse
American Tree sparrow (first for this Fall)
and some others.

I did not see my Northern Shrike. I will have to continue looking!

Good birding!

PS: Here is a Loggerhead Shrike I saw in Florida in March 2010:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hawktoberfest Over?

I found this great resource from Lake Erie Metroparks Hawk Observatory Website ( and figured I would share it. It orders the raptors in the order that they arrive between September and November.This park is located Southwest of Holiday Beach, so it should represent the basic pattern of migration at Holiday Beach.

I would love to see a Rough Legged Hawk and a Saw-Whet Owl. A better look at a Golden Eagle & Red shouldered would be nice as well!

The Ojibway group is going to Holiday Beach this Sunday. If the winds are good, I might try to join them! Perhaps I will finally see a Purple Finch :-).

Good Birding,


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