Monday, May 18, 2015

The Master of Crappy Warbler Photos

Monday, May 18, 2015

'Tis the season when our in-boxes and social media accounts are flooded with gorgeous bird imagery from our shutter-buggy friends who are sharing their most recent photographic tours de force. From well-known migration hotspots like High Island, Magee Marsh, and Central Park, an almost constant stream of bird photographs (usually of male warblers in their spring finery) floods your world. 

At first it's wonderful to see these striking images—they whet the appetite for your chance to get out there for a swim in the river of spring songbird migration. Then your reaction transitions slowly to one of envy, even jealousy. And by the time the final stages (grief and anger) hit you, you're thinking about giving up birding, photography, and social media for good.

Why do THEY (your talented photographer friends) get to spend endless days frolicking through the woods, marshes, and parks snapping away to their hearts' content while you have to sit here in your cubicle at work, cursing yourself for not taking the entire months of April and May as vacation/sick/personal emergency days.

But the joy keeps building. When you finally get out there with the birds, it's rainy and cold and the migration is pretty much over. You get some dark shots of American robins and red-winged blackbirds and one shot of a Canada goose family. But that's it. Maybe you're like me and you're struggling with an older camera that's not as easy to use [idiot-proof] as some of the newer DX/FX Mark XXVIII with the 800 fixed and a 1.4 converter with the Beamer thingy and a 'roided-up battery pack that lets you take 2,750 frames per second. I've got a Canon 30D with a 300mm fixed lens that has a mind of its own. Its auto focus takes longer than the 17-year locusts. When the shutter finally clicks, it sounds like one of the doors slamming shut in the intro to Get Smart. Canon keeps e-mailing me saying they want it for their exhibit at The Smithsonian Museum of Ancient Technology. It will sit right next to the cotton gin and the rotary phone.

It's at this point that you know—in your heart of hearts—that if one more person says "You shoulda been here last Saturday! It was a HUGE fallout" YOU. WILL. MURDER. THEM.

Rest easy, fellow non-traveler. I am here to assuage your feelings of being left out and left behind. To wash away that bitter taste left from seeing the 347th stunning shot of a male Blackburnian warbler, in deep tones of black, white, and Valencia orange, making duck lips at the camera. 

For I am just like you. I am a taker of crappy bird photos. I am a misser of migration. I am a gainfully employed, never-gonna-retire, working-for-the-weekend, gazer at the passing parade of nearly pornographic bird images as they drift past my open digital window. And I feel your pain.

Here is my antidote. I am posting, below, my crappiest warbler photos from two days this past week when I walked the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. During the past 10 days the photos coming out of Magee and The Biggest Week in American Birding have been stunning. And I took none of them. You perhaps did not either. 

So, like Jamie Lee Curtis proudly showing off her middle-aged, unretouched body and face, I am sharing these unedited images as a way to strike a blow for us normal bird photography folks. This is how OUR photos look. And they are realer than real, man. I only hope the world can handle them.

Male blackpoll warbler, imperfectly backlit.

Male Cape May warbler, butt-only. Shout-out to my buddy Dave, who specializes in burdbuttz.

Please Mr. Autofocus, focus on the stick, NOT on the bird. Thanks! Cape May warbler male.

This would be a perfect shot of sunlit ash leaves but for the blurry chestnut-sided warbler that photo-bombed it.

Magnolia warbler, fleeing the frame.

Beheaded magnolia warbler.

Yes, that's a male northern parula. Trust me.

Black-throated green playing hide-n-seek.

Perhaps the first photographic evidence of the ghost of an male American redstart.

So there you have it, friends. My photographic tour de farce. And I give you my word that none of these images was processed or tweaked in any way—because I'm sure you were wondering.

Peace, my brothers and sisters, and I'll see you out there with the birds (and without my camera).


Monday, April 27, 2015

Birding Expo-Sure!

Monday, April 27, 2015
Ok. That's a rather clumsy play-on-words. I suppose I could have called this post "Expose Yourself to Birding" but that has a funny ring to it.

Those of you who are of a certain age will remember the wonderful TV series "Northern Exposure," which probably wins the prize for giving the most normal and realistic portrayal of bird watching in its episodes. When the show was still in production, we got a call here at Bird Watcher's Digest from one of the production assistants asking us to send some sample copies that they could put on a coffee table in some scene involving Holling and Ruth-Anne, the show's two birders. We never did see our "nice little bird magazine" in the show, and soon—like all good things—"Northern Exposure" came to the end of its run.

The Birding Expo-sure play-on-words is my way of introducing you to the inaugural American Birding Expo, which we're calling "a celebration of the birding lifestyle." The Expo is coming up this fall—October 2 to 4 to be exact—in Columbus, Ohio at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center. Modeled after the wildly successful British Birdwatching Fair held each August in central England, the Expo is designed to give birders and nature enthusiasts an opportunity to shop among vendors offering all the products, goods, services, destinations, and anything else associated with a nature-oriented lifestyle. And, boy, there's going to be a lot to choose from...

Here we are, six months out from the Expo and already there are 85 different vendors committed to the event, representing more than 25 countries. But it's not just destinations and travel. All the major (and minor) optics companies will be there as will many makers of outdoor gear. You'll be able to buy a new, state-of-the-art bird feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited, a new spotting scope from Eagle Optics, a rotating backpack from Mindshift Gear, and book a tour with Rockjumper Birding Tours Worldwide.

Did I mention that there's no charge to attend the American Birding Expo? That's right, entry is free!

But wait... there's more.

If you're a member of the American Birding Association, you'll be able to attend the ABA Members' Summit just prior to the opening of the Expo and you'll get a special early-access VIP pass so you can beat the crowds! This event is also free to ABA members. And if you're not an ABA member, this will be an excellent time to join!

If you're part of a bird club, you can register your club and be eligible to win The Ultimate Fundraising Prize Package. If your club wins, you get to take these fabulous prizes back home to raffle off to raise money! Plus, you can attend our Saturday afternoon Bird Club Coffee Break and Brainstorm to share and swap ideas with other bird club leaders to help make your club more robust and successful.

We'll be raising funds (through voluntary contributions, games, silent auctions, and raffles) for bird conservation causes, including helping the mega-rare hooded grebe in South America with our friends at BirdLife International.

So consider this your personal invitation to the American Birding Expo. Like I said, entry to the Expo is FREE, but if you register for the Expo on our website, you will have the chance to win some fantastic prizes!

I'll be there at the Expo, kibbitzing with all of my friends and talking about birding, and all the places we want to go, things we want to buy, and birds we want to see. And I hope to see you there, too.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Episode 49 of This Birding Life Podcast

Friday, March 20, 2015
This Birding Life podcast episode #49 "A Visit to the British Bird Fair, Part 2" is now available for your ear-filling pleasure over at Podcast Central and in the iTunes Podcasts section.*

This episode is, as the title suggests, part 2 of my visit last August to the British Bird Fair held annually at Rutland Water Reserve in central England.
David Lindo, The Urban Birder, is interviewed in the new episode of This Birding Life.

This event is amazing for a birder to attend—so many vendors offering everything even remotely associated with birds and nature. A few years ago I can back with the following: two plastic animal masks for the kids, seven bird art books for Julie, an equal number of nature books for me, two new bird feeders, a collection of bird sound CDs, a new squall jacket, several sets of bird-themed notecards, a handful of hats, more birdy stickers for the birdmobile, a bucket list of a dozen world birding hotspots I hope to visit, and about 75 new birding friends. Needless to say I did not bring back much of the money that I went over with.

The Bird Fair was started by my friends Tim Appleton and Martin Davies more than two decades ago. Since then it's grown into the single largest annual generator of conservation funding for birds. So it's not only an amazing event, it has also raised incredible amounts of money for conservation and contributed to some critically important conservation efforts, especially in concert with BirdLife International. Visit the Bird Fair website to learn more about this wonderful event.
The Falkland Islands stand (or booth) at BirdFair.

Back to this podcast episode: It contains interview with several Bird Fair vendors from around the world, including England, Australia, Malaysia, Israel, and the Falkland Islands. It also includes a bit of traditional English country music recorded at the Saturday night barn dance at Bird Fair.

In our own modest way, we're trying to emulate the Bird Fair with our inaugural American Birding Expo, which will be held October 2 to 4, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. The Expo is free and open to the public to attend. It's a commercial, retail event for birding and nature consumers to meet and engage with companies, organizations, destinations, manufacturers, retailers, publishers, and artists all of whom wish to market themselves to birders. There are currently more than 70 confirmed vendors representing more than 25 countries worldwide. So it's going to be a very interesting gathering of bird and nature people from around the globe.

In the days just prior to the Expo, the American Birding Association will host its first-ever Members' Summit right on the Expo grounds. This gathering is also free to ABA members and will feature seminars, panel discussions, and field workshops in addition to some fun birding field trips. Details on the ABA Summit can be found here.

And speaking of bird clubs, there are several special reasons for bird clubs to consider attending the Expo en masse. Those reasons can be found on this page on the Expo website.

You'll certainly be hearing more about the American Birding Expo in the months to come. And I hope you'll make plans to be there, too. If so, I'll see you there. If not I'm sure I'll see your somewhere out there with the birds.

Special thanks to Bird Watcher's Digest and Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for their sponsorship support of This Birding Life.

*[Sidebar: My podcast episodes are also apparently shared on a substantial number of podcast aggregators on the Web, which may help explain the rather staggering number of downloads it receives annually: more than 750,000!]