Here’s a little video I made about watching owls. This is a compilation of some of the owls I’ve digiscoped over the years.
It’s one of those sorts of winters again: a northern owl species is heading into parts of the US in big numbers.
This time it’s snowy owls mostly along the east coast. Look at the above map from eBird. There have been some crazy reports, including 138 individual snowy owls found on Newfoundland and note the dot in the middle of the Atlantic there? That’s because at least 2 snowy owls have made it to Bermuda…that’s bananas!!
If you are not on social media you have missed anyone you know on the east coast reporting a siting or photo. Or you may have missed the outrage of birders all over the place angry about people getting to close to the owls. Or you have missed the many lamentations of birders to everyone to back off from owls, give them their space and if you ever find an owl in the wild, just don’t post it. Above is a picture of a snowy owl taken at a Wisconsin airport last winter. That lump on the left hand side of the roof is the owl.
Here it is through the scope (someone had banded and placed a patagial tag on this). Owls are a tricky issue in birding. They’re cool, we all want to see one, even non birders–they make a great intro into the fun and wonderful (tho sometimes vexing) world of birding. I love the number of times I’ve taken non birding friends to an airport and showed them a quick snowy–it’s a great way to show people that cool birds can be anywhere. It’s a charismatic looking bird, it has so much potential in a teachable moment. But owls need their space and we don’t often give it to them. I almost wonder if owls have some sort of hypnotic power so that even when someone has the best photo they can get, they have to know just how close they can get to this strange and mysterious creature and that compels them to get closer.
I think most of the time it’s just people who are new to birding, have access to birding locations and equipment like never before and simply do not know or realize that they are getting too close or are away of birding ethics.
I think it’s best to confront them at the time but do it in a way that assumes they know absolutely nothing about birds and in a calm way.
Instead of shouting, “HEY, JACKASS, GET THE F*** AWAY FROM THAT OWL BEFORE YOU KILL IT!”
Perhaps, start with, “Isn’t this owl amazing, you may not realize it, but getting this close to it is a problem for the bird and for others who want to see it.”
I know some people are immediately not going to respond well. No one likes to be told by stranger that they are doing something wrong. But If you can find a way to explain how they are one of hundreds of people a day seeing that owl, interfering with its ability to hunt and ability to survive, they might take that to heart.
Trying the approach of, “If we back off a little bit, we might get to see some really cool natural behaviors and interactions with other animals. We might get to see it hunt or we might get to see and film something like this:
I don’t think it’s going to be solved any time soon, but we need to get info out to people that they don’t have to get that close to owls to enjoy them.
Speaking of smartphones, my Verizon plan was up for renewal which meant I could finally get a iPhone 5s. I am enjoying using this so much for digiscoping, I’m tempted to hang up my Nikon V1 for good. I got the new phone right before I left for the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival in early November. If you saw the birding trailer I made for it, that was filmed and edited entirely with the new phone.
When the iPhone 5s was announced, my techie niece was wondering why anyone would care or want to have burst mode or slow motion video on a phone camera. I thought, “Man, birders are going to love this!” I already love the iPhone for its ability to capture images well in low light conditions, but slow motion video could be quite something to aid in identification.
Clay and I were down to teach a digiscoping workshop at South Padre Island during the festival and we arranged it so we’d not only be able to practice getting photos of birds in the afternoon light, but also play around with getting arty shots at sunset (one of Clay’s favorite pastimes). I was eager to see what this phone could do with my scope.
This was the sort of lighting conditions were were dealing with. You can see a concentration of gulls and terns just off the shore.
Kite surfers were working the winds and the birds roosting along shore didn’t seem to mind them. Above is a black skimmer, laughing gull, marbled godwits, willets and royal terns with kite surfers behind them. Made for some interesting shots. But it gets fun with the SloMo video feature on the phone. The videos are taken at 120 frames per second. On your iPhone, it will replay back easier, but if you have an older Mac operating system and you upload them to iPhoto, they may show at normal speed. This is easily fixed by opening the movies in iMovie and watching them at 25% speed.
Here’s a sample of what you can do with digiscoping through a spotting scope (it looks best if you select watching it in 720p HD or 1080p HD):
This is fun lightweight option to take in the field and with iMovie you have some fun editing options. Heck, one could almost film their own wildlife show with a phone and a good quality scope.
Check out an online seminar on the behind the scenes of Cornell’s Bird Cams. Learn some of the secrets this coming Monday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 P.M. Eastern, in a special live presentation from Bird Cams Project Leader Charles Eldermire.
Holy cow, I’m going from sandals to ear muffs! Fresh off of my trip to the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival (read my post about the uber rarity that showed up on 10000 Birds), I hit the ground running back into the swing of things in Minnesota and I’m so excited to help The National Eagle Center out with a fundraiser on Thursday, November 14–and you can follow along.
November 14 is Give to the Max Day in Minnesota where non profits ask for donations and many are eligible for matching grants! Scott Mehus and I will be out having a contest called Bird to the Max to see who can get the most points by seeing different bird species throughout the day. All the money raised will go to the inspiring new exhibit, Masters of the Sky: Raptors, Flight and Migration opening this winter at the National Eagle Center. I also just found out that they have a $5,000 challenge match from their Board of Directors! Every online donation on November 14th helps them “Max” the Match!
Now this isn’t a typical bird-a-thon…no, the National Eagle Center thought it would be fun to bring math into it by assigning extra points for certain bird species:
Masters species (species listed above that are featured in their new Masters of the Sky exhibit) we will get 10 points for each individual bird we see.
Bald Eagle hour is 10am-11am and we get 20 points per bald eagle seen in this hour.
Golden Eagle Hour is 3pm-4pm and we get 20 points per golden eagle seen in this hour.
For all other species we get 1 point throughout the day.
So I’ll be out with my iPhone 5s, PhoneSkope adapter and Swarovski ATX spotting scope and will try to tally more birds than Scott. He keeps better tabs on golden eagles than I do, so I think that is where I might lose some points. But I found out that Neil’s house falls within the boundaries of where we can bird and know his yard and birds like the back of my hand…I just might prevail.
If you have any tips for any of the Masters of the Sky species for extra points, please let me know.
We have had a bit of a dry season here in Minnesota. Some would even say we are in a moderate drought. On one of my bike rides in September, I noticed some freshly hatched snapping turtles on the Cedar Lake Trail–most of them were in various states of flatness from bikers running over them. I paused to examine one of the smashed one and noticed one in the yellowing grass that hadn’t crossed the paved trail yet. I nudged it with my shoe and it barely moved. I picked it up and it was very dry, I wondered if it was dehydrated and wouldn’t make it to the safety of water. Cedar Lake was closer, but all the smashed turtles seemed to be heading towards another nearby lake called Lake of the Isles. I placed the nearly immobile snapper in one of my many travel cups in my bike satchel and poured in a little water. With in ten seconds the turtle perked right up. I didn’t put a lot of water in, just enough to stand in and keep its head above water.
Not sure what to do I took the tiny snapper home, made a make shift pond in a giant pasta bowl, filled it with some small pieces of turkey and a few pieces of earthworm. It took bites of both. I placed some lettuce leaves in from my farm share and the turtle seemed content to hide under that. When I moved, the snapper would dart under the lettuce. If I stayed still while typing, it would slowly creep out and extend its neck just enough so its tiny nostrils were above water.
Non Birding Bill came home and saw it on the kitchen table and said, “We’re not keeping it…right?”
“No,” I said, “just wanted to give it a bite or two before I send it off to Lake of the Isles.”
I posted some pictures on my various social medias and a friend who doesn’t know animals very well but loves all things cute sent a message, “Tiny turtle! Wait, turkey? They’re not vegetarian?”
I then had the fun task of informing them that snapping turtles are omnivores and those baby ducks they find so cute…snapping eat those too. Something so tiny and cute will grow up to be a monster in dark murky water. But that’s ok, ducks have their own dark sides when they grow up–every animal has a dark side.
After a night at Chez Stiteler, I took the tiny snapper to Lake of the Isles. I found a nice shallow spot with lots of vegetation for it to hide in and some good insect larvae potential. The turtle was anxious to get away from me and start life. I stuck around a few minutes to watch how it would acclimate to such new and large surroundings. It wanted as far away from me as possible. Understood, big things mostly mean to eat you, tiny turtle. Here’s some advice: don’t trust a heron.
The last photo. Tiny turtle surveys the big world of Lake of the Isles.
People have asked for it and I can only be in so many places at once, so here it goes. Would you like to have some one on one time with me for digiscoping practice? I’m now offering private digiscoping workshops. If you are in the Twin Cities metro area and would like to have a half day or full day with me to practice the technique with a smart phone or digital camera with your spotting scope, email me at sharon at birdchick dot com. If I am available we will visit local areas that are good for practicing the technique.
These are not tours specifically to get you life birds. We might get some new birds for you while you are with me, but if you are looking to add a bunch of flycatchers to your life list–I am not the droid you are looking for. If you would like to get sharper images of birds, get birds in better light, get closer to birds without stressing them out, learn some basic editing techniques, learn more about how exactly your camera phone works–I am the girl you are looking for.
Rates vary based on where you would like to digiscoping and how long you would like to spend time with me. If you are not in the Twin Cities and you’d like to hire me for a birding/nature festival or a class, I have rates for that too. I digiscope quite a bit and teach workshops all over the world. Many of the images in my birding books are digiscoped by me. Here are some examples:
How to use your iPhone headphones as a remote shutter release.
Rose-breasted grosbeak digiscoped with Nikon D40, DCA adapter and Swarovski ATM 80mm spotting scope.
Common cranes digiscoped with an iPhone 4s and Swarovski ATM 80mm spotting scope.
Wood duck digiscoped with Nikon V1, TLS APO adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope.
Common yellowthroat digiscoped with iPhone 4s, PhoneSkope adapter and Swarovski ATX 85mm spotting scope.
We can even play with video if you’d like. I’ll even show you how to send your photos around on the various social media sites.
Email me at sharon at birdchick dot come for more details.