The Cornell Lab Bird Academy Discussion Groups Bird Photography with Melissa Groo Practice Understanding Birds for Better Photos

    • Meghan
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Research helps me because i will know the perfect time to take a picture but yet at the same time be able to understand what enviroments i can find birds and also when birds will be in my area by what migration habits they have. Understanding those things are important to understand birds and photograph them. blackbird.
    • Kathleen
      Participant
      Chirps: 28
      C.Merganser I read about e-Bird sightings of the Common Merganser in a river at a large park in Ann Arbor (Southeastern Michigan). I had never seen one, but thought the male was stunning - with its large red beak, dark irridescent head & neck, black and white body and orange feet. So, I decided to research it and set out, hoping to find it. I have a beautiful new bird book, "Birds of North America", by the National Audubon Society. It has the unusual addition of conservation notes about every bird, which is important to me. I was interested that the Common Merganser is at the top of the aquatic food chain, meaning that its populations predict the health of their local habitat. Ann Arbor is known for its environmentalism, so the presence of mergansers is not surprising. I also read that Common Mergansers prefer wooded rivers, such as the one I hoped to find them in, and are often seen in flocks of 10-20. I read that they swim upstream and dive often for fish. So, I set off in search of Common Mergansers at the location they had been seen. As soon as I arrived at the river bank, I saw a beautiful male Common Merganser swimming and diving often. I'm sharing my favorite photo with you, which shows his colors the best.  He also seemed to be playing at times - just splashing a lot - and even went skidding through the water at top speed!
    • My first Western Meadowlark showing its bold black "V" on its yellow breast in the grassy fields was near Boulder, Colorado. This one is from Turri Road in Los Osos, California in the rolling pastures where Black Angus cattle roam. I did read that it may flock with other blackbirds. Some of those seen were feeding near the feet of the cattle on the other side of the road. During the spring mornings the lovely melodious songs are frequent. On an overcast windy late afternoon it was fairly quiet. I read that it feeds mainly on insects and caterpillars, with seeds and berries later on in the season. It hides a well constructed nest in a depression possibly a hoof print  which can be deepened a bit with its bill and covered with grasses that make a waterproof roof. Often other grasses overhang the nest for camouflage. DSCN1179
    • Louisa
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      I am hoping to photograph sandhill cranes as they come in to land.  Sandhill cranes migrate through my area in large numbers and can be found reliably at Roswell Marsh Wildlife Management Area near the Idaho/Oregon border and at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Because of COVID I can’t get to Malheur right now.  So I’m hoping to catch them at Roswell Marsh.  Access is limited but there are a couple of spots close enough to allow for decent photography.  Unfortunately, their comings and going’s are somewhat irregular as they fly out to feed in the nearby agricultural fields and then come back to the Marsh to rest and spend the night.  Late afternoon or early evening may be the best time to catch them coming in to land in the Marsh.
    • Deborah
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      I saw a Great Horned Owl female nesting.  I expected her to be low in the nest since it was snowing.  There was an owl upright blocking the entire hole.  On closer observation, I decided it was the male because I could see the tufts of a second owl in the tree hole cavity that looked to be lower as if sitting on the nest.  I knew from the research to listen.  It was the second time back that I saw the tree with the owls in it.
    • Zane
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
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    • Mary-Louise
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      I chose the belted kingfisher.  There is one along the brook near our backyard.  I first encountered it during the spring shut down 2020.  I even observed one kingfisher chase another one.  I've learned that that is a courtship behavior.  I learned that they need clear water to find prey.  I knew they perch on overhangs.  There are power lines that run across the brook and that is one of its favorite perches.  I learned that they nest in exposed vertical banks along water and roots of upturned trees (there are plenty of them around here.)  They are one and done with nests.  There aren't many tall banks along my brook and the ones we do have are close to trails.  I have consistently seen or heard a male kingfisher year around.  Now that breeding season is upon us I will keep an eye out to see if I spot two of themIMG_9036
    • Geary
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      I often bird in a local City Park, which contains a wetlands and quiet wooded trails, and which is in walking distance from my home. Over the past 6 years, I've observed approx. 110 species of birds, including migrants which show up for a few days in Spring or Fall, then move on, and birds which nest here. For the assignment suggestion, I chose the Red-winged Blackbird. Typically they show up here in March, although I've already seen them (Feb. 26) at another location about 15 miles from here. They're pretty much gone by August, and then I see some in October, which I believe are birds that have nested north of here, and are on their way south as part of the Fall migration. In past years, I've seen males in early March, then it seems like the females show up a week or two later.  However when I saw the ones (25 or so) on Feb. 26, there were males and females together.  When the ice clears from the wetlands in the above referenced Park, I'll be watching for the return of the Red-winged Blackbirds, and looking to see if the females show up right away, or later.female Red wing Blackbirds
    • Danya
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      I chose the Eastern Bluebird to research, and my husband chose the White-breasted Nuthatch, which is becoming his favorite bird at our feeders.  We only get the bluebirds at our feeders in Ohio when there's snow on the ground every year.  I learned that they like mealworms.  Perhaps they have trouble finding food when there's so much snow, and that's why they are coming to our feeders now.  The snow is melting now, but my husband was ready with his camera when we learned that we would be getting a big snowfall, and sure enough a family of them showed up.  The nuthatch is a frequent visiter.  One tip to getting him is to know that he will be facing down the tree, will fly in quickly for a seed or peanut, and then be off to the tree to eat it.  Here are our best photos from the last two weeks of each bird. IMG_1177 IMG_0937
    • Carey
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Late in the afternoon, on February 21, a flock of cedar waxwings visited our neighbor's arrowwood viburnum bushes and made short work of their bountiful harvest of berries.  From our kitchen window, I was able to take a few photos as the waxwings were cooperative (somewhat still and came close) and seemed practically drunk with the bounty of berries.  They all started out in a large nearby bare oak tree and in small groups swooped in for a fruit course before heading back and swapping places with their compadres.  At first the closest individuals were wary but after I'd sat still watching for a few minutes, they rapidly returned to their feast.  In spite of their numbers, they seemed relatively quiet.  The entire feeding episode took about 30-45 minutes and although they didn't quite strip the branches bare of the berries, they certainly depleted most of them.  Once they'd all finished eating, they returned group by group to the oak tree, seemed to digest for a few minutes and flew away in one group as the sun set.  However, they came back in smaller numbers over the next two or three days to take care of any remaining tidbits.  I see how cedar waxwings are very effective disperser of the seeds of fruiting plants. Cedar Waxwing (1)Cedar Waxwing 2
    • Dotsie
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Hi! My bird is the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. I've only seen them here in NH since 2015. They've been gradually extending their range northward. Literature says they will eat from seed feeders and suet feeders in winter, and indeed the male and female I see do just that. This week (Feb 19) they have just started singing their quavery spring song. Glad they think it's spring, but it's snowing!Woodpecker_Red-bellied_20210104-1
    • Belinda
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      I chose Pileated Woodpeckers for this lesson.  We have a pair living in a small wooded area on our property and they come each morning to feed on suet then often come to the birdbath. They also are large enough that the slower movements and size are easier to capture, especially through a window. It was surprising to learn from Bird's of the World and Sibley's Guide to Bird Life and Behavior that not much research has been done on the displays of these magnificent birds. The Peterson Sound Guide helped discern the keek, whinny, and drum. Two were observed going through some sort of ritual dipping and spreading and my research indicated this was possibly pair bonding. I did observe that while they were participating in this behavior with each other they were less concerned with me. They traveled both on the ground and in the trees repeating the behavior.  Their caution was readily visible going up and down tree and I learned to recognize and predict their next move or position to prepare to photograph. Additionally, I was able to view photos made prior to beginning this course to re-evaluate how I might have handled the behaviors differently in the photos.2021 Jan 8 Pileated Woodpecker Pair 1R2020 Nov 26 Pileated Woodpecker 14R2020 Nov 21 Pileated Woodpecker 147R
    • John
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I chose a couple of species to apply the lesson. In winter a lot of activity may be found on the river, in this case the Bow, which flows through Calgary where I live. So morning pictures from the east bank were productive. I chose the Goldeneye which are plentiful and fun to watch feeding in the current I was hoping to find a Barrow’s Goldeneye which are uncommon, although there have been recent sightings. Also along the river are Bald Eagles swooping on their prey from the shore. In this case what looks like a second year immature.677D7B8F-FD81-47A5-9043-34F24069F15C F59BB17C-5E20-4E5E-81C7-975DDEA7DA9C
    • Kasey
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      IMG_20210126_091403 Discussion on "Practice Understanding Birds for Better Photos": Did your sightings surprise you? How do you think the research you did might help inform your photography? Black turnstones, sited January 26, 2021. I hadn't yet chosen which bird I wanted to study when I came across this group of about 10-15 black turnstones while walking on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail in central California. As I stopped to watch them, I realized they are a species I don't know much about, so researching a little bit about their lives was a treat. They're wintering here now, as they do all along the Pacific coast, from southeastern Alaska to Baja California, but by spring they'll head up north to breed in Alaska. They prefer grass to rock for their ground nests, but while they're overwintering here, they'll stick to the rocky coastline. They prefer a variety of aquatic invertebrates to eat, as is the case with a lot of shorebirds in this area, but the turnstones have a unique adaptation: their bill is short and slightly upturned, and they use it to turn over small rocks and debris to find food underneath (hence the name "turnstone"). This group was hunkered down on the rocks to avoid a particularly strong storm swell and high surf, so I didn't get to observe this behavior. Guess I'll have to come back at low tide one day and see if I spot them again!
    • Beth
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      My daughter and I were in the Faroe Islands and serendipitously misread the ferry schedule for the small island (Nolsoy) we had just popped over to. We ended up having to wait an extra 3 hours for the ferry back. My daughter suggested we head overland to the other side of the island. We were excited when we saw some Atlantic puffins playing and diving off the cliffside into the wind. I started to take pictures from a distance, but I noticed they seemed to jump off every time I tried to get closer. I decided to make my moves into them much more gradual, taking one step about every 5 minutes. They actually became more curious and almost seemed interested in me. After about 45 minutes I was able to capture some great moments. I learned the lesson of respecting their space and being rewarded. Four puffins
      • Jeanne C.
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        great photo and story. Thank you so much for sharing.
    • Sarah
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      Northern shovelers! I first noticed these birds in Central Park a couple months ago (early November) because a pair was engaging in a mesmerizing behavior of swimming together in circles with their beaks down, almost in a dance-like spiral. I originally researched yellow-bellied sapsuckers for this exercise, but on my latest bird outing (January 1) I did not see any sapsuckers and instead saw the shovelers at it again, spiraling together beaks-down, this time in a group of three with a few other individuals joining in occasionally. Inspired by these two observations, I researched shovelers retroactively, but I'll continue to stay on the lookout for sapsuckers. It’s not cheating, it’s investigating a new observation in the spirit of inquiry. ;-) And one takeaway from not seeing sapsuckers is that I need to work on my tree IDs because I learned they favor hickories, pines, and oaks in the winter, so I’ll probably have better luck if I hang around those trees. Was pleased to learn the shovelers were in fact feeding by filtering small crustaceans through comb-like structures called lamellae on their bill. This is something I knew flamingos did, but I didn’t know some ducks also do. From my research also learned that shovelers are long distance migrants who are only in NYC in the winter. And they favor shallow wetlands, which makes sense because I saw them in a shallow part of The Lake both times. Now I know where and when to find them again. :) Jan 1, 2021 observation: northernshoveler_CentralPark_210101_3JPG
      • Dana
        Participant
        Chirps: 12
        Sarah - I loved your description of the northern shovelers in Central park. I live in Irvine CA (south of Los Angeles, north of San Diego) and was birding in February 2021 at a local park (Mason) which has a large manmade lake. There were dozens of northern shovelers doing the behavior you mentioned. I thought this must be courtship behavior (as it was most common with pairs) but later read that groups do it (see photo). So fascinating to understand more about what you see with birds.noshovelergrp
    • Discussion on "Practice Understanding Birds for Better Photos": Did your sightings surprise you? How do you think the research you did might help inform your photography? I was already somewhat familiar with American Coots but was surprised to see them cross a busy trail, leaving the freshwater Adobe Creek habitat (in the Palo Alto Flood Control Basin) to get to the salt-water Charleston Slough (Santa Clara County, California).  They ran across the trail the same way they run on water before taking off in flight.  I reviewed Melissa Groo's six areas (habitat, food, season, behaviors, sounds, migratory) using allaboutbirds.org.  Many of the Coots in each habitat were foraging in the mud but I don't know if they were finding the same food in each habitat.  In the future I will trying to photograph what they are eating.  Doing some research is very helpful. MAR07654-20201229-1523hrs-CootsCrossingTheTrail-edit-crop
    • Paul
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Decided to focus on the Inca Dove that we have here in southern Louisiana, at the eastern edge of its distribution.  I read that it typically likes to feed on the ground, which is where I typically see them feeding.  One or more though feed on the bird feeder at times. One of the pictures shows it sitting on top of the feeder. It then slides down the roof of the feeder and  tries to jump on the platform of the feeder on its way down.  Doesn't always work, but at times it does.  Guess the lesson is to be prepared to see your target bird outside of its typical habitat.DSC02644DSC02619
    • Sasha
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      My dad and I went to look for the continuing White Winged Scoter off the Huntington Beach Pier, near where I live in Irvine, California. This female was associating with 80 or so surf scoters. Periodically, a group of scoters (including the white wing) would dive near the pillars holding up the pier, probably to feed on the mussels under the water. wws_2
    • Bob
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I went to look for a Ridgway's Rail, and to my surprise, I actually found one. I went out at low tide, and this one was taking advantage of the exposed mudflats to search for bits of food.RidgwayRail
    • Audrey
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      I photographed this Red-Bellied Woodpecker in my yard. I had tried previously to find one on a trail, and had no luck. So knowing I sometimes see them at my feeder, I got up early and waited. Luckily I got to see one! It was hopping around a Popcorn tree picking the seeds and hiding them in crevices. DSCN2421 (2)DSCN2459 (2)DSCN2422
      • Jeanne C.
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        fullsizeoutput_81e8 I love these birds they are so pretty and fluffy. Great photos, thank you for sharing Audrey
    • John
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      These are a few shots of a Superb Lyrebird in the Dandenong Ranges not too far from home in Melbourne, Australia. These birds tend to be shy and difficult to spot. Getting close can be an issue! This male crossed a track just in front of me and stopped a few metres into the scrub, started to sing and display. Magical to listen to the variety of calls and watch the display.75K_177375K_177775K_1742
    • Doug
      Participant
      Chirps: 13
      I have only seen a brown creeper a few times. Happened on this one high in a tree and was intrigued by the particular shape of his beak and his habits. I found out his particular foraging method is to glean for insects in crevices of bark which he is actually doing in one photo.  Another aspect that I found interesting is that they nest in mature forests and build their nest under loose bark. They are challenging to photograph as their  particular feather pattern seems less than sharp in photos. That speaks to their camouflage abilities. Given their diet of insects I was surprised to see they actually can be found in winter in Quebec as I would have thought they would head south where insects would be more plentiful. Research has taught me a little more to keep looking for them in winter and to be aware of their nesting habits come the spring. brown creeper and grapesbrown creeper and bugbrown creeper and foraging
    • Mary
      Participant
      Chirps: 90
      I was reading about crested caracara after learning other birders have seen them in agricultural lands about an hour away from where I live in Tucson Arizona. I looked at photos which helped me first realize I was in the area of the birds when I saw one fly over. It was about 2 hours later when I finally found an area where they were feeding. Very exciting and thanks to research and hearing from other birders I was motivated to drive those dirt roads!DSC_0299DSC_0367
    • Mac
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I was looking for Mountain Bluebirds in Yellowstone National Park (it's an hour from where I live) and was having no luck despite visiting areas where they normally hangout, so I decided to park in a pullout near Yellowstone Lake to take a mid afternoon nap; was tired from a very early start that day. As I closed my eyes I saw something fly by out of the corner of my eye, and lo and behold it was a Mountain Bluebird! Research, persistence, and a bit of luck helped me get this photo. DV1_5519-2400px