A Trip North
I saw some fantastic birds, but unfortunately didn't take images of too many as I was guiding trips. I personally find that I take far less photos when guiding (and generally have quicker views) because when you spot a bird you quickly step out of the way and give up the scope for participants who are lined up and waiting. Then you spend time helping others with scopes get on the bird as well. If (and only if) the bird stays long enough for all participants to get their fill, and another bird hasn't been found that requires repeating the process, and you haven't used up all the time you have allotted for this specific spot, then I may be able to rattle off a quick shot or two (typically not though).
Despite a general lack of pictures and limited personal scope views it was a fantastic birding event with spectacular specialty birds. For example, trips to Felton Prairie offered outrageous views of Marbled Godwits, Horned Larks, Bobolinks, Greater Prairie-Chickens, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs (my personal favorite). Other personal highlights included great opportunities for study. One of the best was at a drained down pool at Agassiz refuge that was chock full of shorebirds. By the time we'd finished we would tally 24 species of shorebird here including opportunities to compare White-rumped, Baird's, Least, & Semipalmated Sandpipers side by side in the same view. There were at least 90 Hudsonian Godwits in the pool with lesser numbers of Marbled Godwits, and at one point we had three close Hudsonians in varying plumage alongside a Marbled which was enlightening for all. An alternate female Red-necked Phalarope spun like a top alongside the numerous Wilson's Phalaropes. This was wonderful as it allowed you to appreciate comparative size and structure differences between these two (I never realized how much larger the Wilson's were). Late one evening as the sun was going down and a light mist was beginning to fall I was also able to compare 3 Tundra Swans swimming with 4 Trumpeter Swans. This was another personal highlight as it offered a refresher on separating these two similar species.
Along with the more ubiquitous species like the Goldfinch above I also tracked down a good number of breeding and migrant passerines including 20 species of warblers, 3 species of Vireos, 2 Orioles, a Tanager, and Cuckoo oh my!
In the little free time I had following the festival, I was able to capture some neat images like the one above. As a Florida resident, I miss hearing the voices of the northern breeders like the Black & White Warbler. When the majority of the warblers pass through Florida they never sing, so I find I tend to forget the songs but am getting more in tune with the single call notes they give. I also miss out on opportunities to photograph these birds easily as a result. During migration they are quickly bouncing through the tree tops and digiscoping is a real challenge. Birds singing on territory like this guy will often perch up and sing from a set spot. Giving you time to set your scope, mount your camera and fire away!
Digiscoping passerines is still difficult, however, when you do get your subject in the scope it offers one ENORMOUS advantage over a standard DSLR rig.... magnification. In the image above I ran my camera zoom out to the maximum 100 mm equivalent and had the scope set to ~30x magnification. As a result, this image was taken at an approximate 35 mm equivalent of a 3,000 mm lens (30x 100 mm)! I then took the image and cropped it to a vertical image from the original horizontal (landscape mode) so it has been magnified a bit more. The 7 megapixel image allows me versatility to blow up and crop easily, as compared to a 3 or 4 megapixel camera.
I ran into a male Eastern Towhee with an odd albinistic spot on the black breast while creeping around in an open pineland. Also here were numerous singing Nashville Warblers, Clay-colored & Chipping Sparrows, Common Nighthawks, as well as small groups of Red Crossbills!
Brown Thrasher nest photographed with Leica C-Lux 2 camera, May 2007
Breeding season was in full gear and during the event I spotted many other nests including Northern Flicker, Black-capped Chickadee, Western Meadowlark, Red-necked Grebe, Trumpeter Swans, Marsh Wren, Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and others. Great fun from a Florida perspective to see some of these northern species once again displaying and breeding. If you've never made a trip to this area I highly recommend it!