I'm just back from eight (8!) days of nonstop immersion into Nature. Sorry if I've not responded to emails etc. but I've mostly been off the grid or too busy to deal with the usual stuff. First up was a day and a half at the Ohio Ornithological Society's annual conference at Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. That was a great time, and thanks to Julie Davis, all of the speakers and guides, and everyone else who made that conference a success. Be sure to attend next year.
Then it was straight off to southern West Virginia and the New River Birding & Nature Festival. I think this was the 10th year I've helped to lead trips at this event, and it is always an excellent time. The return rate of attendees speaks for itself - 52% of this year's people had been before, and a much larger percentage of total festival attendees over the years have been back multiple times. As always, event coordinators Rachel Davis, Keith Richardson, and Geoff Heeter bent over backwards to make things flow smoothly and ensure that everyone had a good time. CLICK HERE for complete festival information.
This action took place high up on Sugar Creek Mountain, an incredibly birdy locale. The group stares slack-jawed at a stunning male Blue-winged Warbler. The bird was singing away as he foraged in small trees at close range and near eye level. At one point, it plucked and ate four caterpillars in about two minutes. We challenged co-leader Keith Richardson (back, orange cap) to find just one caterpillar. In ten minutes of searching the same type of foliage, Keith came up empty-handed, and he has extremely sharp eyes. That's one reason we're not birds, I suppose. We'd starve.
Mark Garland of Cape May, New Jersey briefly explains bog ecology in the big meadow at Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. Mark is a walking encyclopedia of natural history knowledge. Also in just this one group as leaders is Connie Toops and Jim Rapp, both of whom excel at natural history guiding. CLICK HERE for a complete rundown of NRBNF talent.
The local Swainson's Warbler's clear forceful whistles punctuated the air as soon as I exited the vehicle. As always, I took time to orient to the sounds around me, and figure out the patterns of the singers. The short snappy warbles of this Canada Warbler came from an especially dense rhododendron tangle not far from the singing Swainson's Warbler. By largely remaining still, silent, and in one spot, in two hours time I had made passable images of the three warblers in the latter three photos. Without using recordings.
In addition to (usually) being a solo activity, bird photography requires some patience. Charging from the vehicle and immediately blasting back the calls of the singers from an I-pod is a mistake. These new and unexpected sounds throw an element of chaos into the situation. It may work briefly, but the artificial sounds upset the normal behavior of the birds that one might wish to photograph, and puts an unnecessary element of stress on them. Two hours in a gorgeous haunt was hardly an ordeal, and ultimately the photos ops are better by remaining still and silent. One learns the patterns of the singers, and it becomes easy to predict their movements. The Swainson's Warbler had a favorite sapling as a singing perch, and it was out in the open. I set up nearby, and it wasn't long before the bird dropped in and teed up beautifully. The little Canada Warbler was harder, but great fun to watch as it fluttered and fly-catched in the shady gloom of the rhododendrons. Finally, as if wondering who the large biped was, it popped out on a sunlit limb and regarded me with curiosity, and I got some shots. The Black-throated Blue Warbler did much the same.
I can't remember next year's dates for the NRBNF, but I'm sure it'll be posted on their website before long, RIGHT HERE.