Great Canadian Birdathon 2016 Results

My 2016 Great Canadian Birdathon was Monday, May 23rd. Armed with my scope and phone, I digiscoped all the photos I took during the day, though I wasn’t able to photograph every species I saw.

Tree Swallows were the first species to make the list and just standing outside our front door at 6 am I could hear Sprague’s Pipits, Western Meadowlarks, Killdeer, and an American Robin.

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A digiscoped American Robin

I started off scanning the mudflats at the slough across from our house where I was able to find Killdeer, American Avocets, Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers and a few Baird’s Sandpipers. Another flock of peeps flew in just a few hundred feet away, so getting closer I found a Stilt Sandpiper (FoS) and a Spotted Sandpiper. Along with all the sandpipers, there were Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teals, and Buffleheads on the slough.

I walked over to the woods and I added Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Least Flycatcher, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat (FoS), Warbling Vireo, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo, European Starling, and Eastern Kingbird (FoS). It started to rain very gently, but the birds didn’t seem to be affected by it.

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American Avocet

I stopped at the house for more breakfast and an opportunity to watch for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird that had been frequenting our window feeder for the past few days. The female hummingbird showed up shortly after I sat down at the kitchen table!

I walked south behind the house to Indian Lake to look for loons and other passerines. I hadn’t been at the lake at all this spring for actual birding and I was surprised to see how much water the lake is holding. There is no longer a shoreline and the water has reached into the woods.

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Tree Swallow,

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Other than Buffleheads, Blue-winged Teals, and lots of Eared Grebes, I didn’t find any new species. I did hear some warblers “chipping” in the trees, so I followed the vocalizations away from the lake. In the trees I saw more American Redstarts and Magnolia Warblers, Clay-coloured Sparrows, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow — a new species for the day.

Blue-winged Teal,

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I was just about to leave the woods when I heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing. I had never seen a grosbeak on any of my previous Birdathons before, so it was a really exciting to see not just one, but two!

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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Red-winged Blackbird

I drove over to our farmyard where I found Brown-headed Cowbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Vesper Sparrows, and Black-billed Magpies. Two male Cinnamon Teals have been feeding in a little slough near our house everyday for weeks, but as I drove to the farm yard they were absent. I did my morning chores and then drove around to the next township road where the slough crosses the road.

There were American Avocets all over the road and my suspicion that there were nests around was correct. There were multiple nests on the road and others on the edge of the slough. More shorebirds landed nearby and there were two new species in the flock, Least Sandpipers and a Red-necked Phalarope.

The nests on the road,

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I was still missing a few species such as Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and Pied-pied Grebes but found them at another slough down the road. Lunch time was rolling around and back at the house I decided to try again for the teals and there they were, and a Mountain Bluebird on the barbed wire fence to boot.

After lunch I drove to my grandparents’ yard after lunch where I was expecting to find some particular species. On the drive over, there was a Turkey Vulture soaring over the road, with a Swainson’s Hawk below it on a fence post, and an American Kestrel sitting in a snag.

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This White-tailed Deer has just crossed the river when it started bounding into the tree. I wasn’t quite fast enough to get a good photo, but I was fun to watch it,

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I found Pine Siskins, an Eastern Phoebe, and Yellow-rumped Warblers in my grandparents’ yard. From their yard I birded the Vermilion Provincial Park — a Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, and Purple Martins helped my list grow.

I also found this mass of tent caterpillars on a trembling aspen,

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I continued birding throughout the afternoon picking up new species here and there. It was getting later in the evening, and as I counted the species on my list I realized I was very close to 100 species for the first time ever in my Birdathon. There were still a few species I could try to find and one of those was Common Grackle. We have some land 12 kilometres north of our house where there’s a slough surrounded by lots of mature trees — it gives the impression of a Boreal Forest slough. There was a Common Grackle singing on there other side of the slough and I heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming on a log.

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A male Blue-winged Teal on the slough

There are occasionally some Snow Geese hanging around on the larger sloughs in the area and though I didn’t see any at the first one, after scanning the far shore of the second I did find a lone Snow Goose mixed in with the Canada Geese.

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Wilson’s Phalaropes were MIA all day but I finally found two females a few kilometres west of the large slough. The last species of the day was a Veery at our farm yard which was my last stop for the day.

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Altogether my Birdathon was excellent and I tallied 102 species (I originally tallied 101 species, but noticed when writing this blog post that I had mistakenly omitted Northern Pintail on the list).

My goal for the Birdathon was $1,575, with my funds earmarked for the Calgary Bird Banding Society and Bird Studies CanadaI’ve received great, generous support and generosity from birders across North America, raising $1,205 so far. Thank you very, very much to everyone who has supported my Birdathon this year — I greatly appreciate all of the donations and encouragement.

If you’d like to add more to my total for the worthy cause of bird conservation (as a reminder, donations over $10 are tax deductible), you can visit my team page.

A list of all the species I saw on my Birdathon (in taxonomic order):

Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Gray Partridge, Ruffed Grouse, Yellow Rail, Sora, American Coot, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Avocet, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Veery, American Robin, American Pipit, Sprague’s Pipit, European Starling, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

The other day while working on my second to last chapter of my Cornell Lab Home Study course in Bird Biology, I would periodically look out the kitchen window at the slough across the road. Among the Mallards, Northern Pintails, American Avocets, and Greater Yellowlegs were two Black-necked Stilts. Black-necked Stilts aren’t all that common in this area, but I’ve seen at least one every spring at this same slough for a few years in a row now.

I took a break from the birds on the page for some digiscoping of actual birds. I used my Swarovski ATM 80 scope with the 20-60 zoom eyepiece and Phone Skope adapter to get this photo.

One of the Black-necked Stilts,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

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The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

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Backyard Bird Blog

The Morning Side of Life

Anotherdayinparadise

A Day in The Life

A Crash Course in Digiscoping

I started digiscoping several years ago with my Swarovski scope, point and shoot Canon camera, and a homemade adapter. Now that I have an iPhone, I’ve been using it for digiscoping both handheld and with adapters. With some practice, determination, and a little luck you can get some really great photos.

My homemade adapter,IMG_4467_2

Digiscoping is a photography technique using a camera with a spotting scope or binoculars to take pictures. The word “digiscoping” is a combination of “digital camera” and ”spotting scope”. Digiscoping started out with DSLR cameras, but advances in smartphone cameras and sensors have made digiscoping incredibly easy with a camera that many have with us all the time. So often, the best camera is the one that is closest to hand.

For handheld digiscoping, extend the eyecup on the scope to provide some “relief” for the phone; this helps focus the camera and also prevents scratching the scope’s lens. Hold the camera back until you see the point of light through the scope, then slowly move the phone down until the bird or whatever you’re photographing comes into focus on the camera. Once you have the phone in position, zoom in a little and tap the screen to focus.

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A Snowy Owl digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Phone Skope adapter

Using a digiscoping adapter eliminates the whole process of aligning both camera and scope and makes it much easier to keep the phone in place for an extended period of time. Many companies make adapters for their scopes, including Swarovski, Kowa, Opticron, and Meopta. And PhoneSkope makes adapters for almost every make and model of phone and scope. Viking Optical, NovaGrade, SnapZoom, and Carson Optical make universal adapters which are great for digiscopers who have various phones or scopes, or who bird with others who want to get digiscoped photos. Universal adapters, however, do require adjustments in the field.

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A Black-capped Chickadee digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Phone Skope adapter.

Vignetting is the dark circle around your view through a scope or binoculars. In digiscoping, vignetting can be eliminated by increasing the magnification on the scope or camera until you no longer see the dark edges. It can also be edited out in iPhoto or Photoshop or whatever you use to crop images.

Smartphones are particularly good for taking photos in low light, but the quality of your optics still has a big impact on your photos. A scope with good light-gathering ability is optimal for photos taken at dusk or on an overcast day. Try to have the sun at your back when digiscoping as this will ensure good light on the subject. Backlit photos can be very nice as well, so try both types of lighting.

Practice using your camera’s exposure adjustments. If you tap where the image is brightest, the iPhone will self-adjust to the correct exposure. If you are photographing a subject that’s a little too dark or too bright and the camera doesn’t accurately guess the exposure, use the slider to make adjustments by dragging your finger up and down the screen. You can lock the exposure by holding your finger until you see “AF/AE Lock”.

While the iPhone camera works well, if you want more control over your camera and photos, try the Manual, and ProCamera, and Camera+ apps.

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A Black-capped Chickadee digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Viking Optical Universal adapter

Camera shake is a terrible problem for many of us. Anything that shakes your setup will greatly increase the risk of blurry, or unfocused photos. Many people don’t realize that the headphones that come with the iPhone (the volume buttons) can act as a remote shutter release. This is a great technique to use if you want to reduce contact with the phone. There are also remote shutter releases that can control your iPhone camera via Bluetooth or use voice commands to take photos with Android devices.

If your photos need some help, try photo editing apps. Upload photos to apps like PicTapGo, SnapSeed, or Hipstamatic to make minor adjustments. These apps can fix and enhance contrast, exposure, and sharpness quickly and easily. Instagram can also turn a lesser quality photo into something great with a filter and some editing. For videos, hold your phone horizontally to take video as most uploading sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, are designed for horizontal clips.

I would love to see your digiscoped photos, so please link to yours in the comments below!

Swans and Digiscoping

Our yearling heifers have been on pasture 45 minutes away from our farm since June. Every couple of days, we check on them to make sure none has crawled through the fence or needs medical help. I checked them on Saturday and enjoyed driving around the countryside on a beautiful fall day. I brought along my scope, Canon SX50 HS camera, new Viking Optical Universal digiscoping adapter and new Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter release.

The heifers are well trained and expect treats, so they all came running toward me as soon as they saw the truck. I gave them their hay which they all enjoyed.

The herd is a mix of crossbreeds including Shorthorn, Black Angus, and Speckle Park,FullSizeRender-3FullSizeRender-4 FullSizeRender-2

Birds were few and far between, but on the way back from the pasture I finally found something to photograph/digiscope. A large group of Tundra Swans were feeding and preening on a slough (pond) north of our farm.

I used my Canon camera for these photos, but the wind picked up and it was tough to keep everything stable.

There were over 100 Tundra Swans on the slough and even though they were on the far side I was able to get some decent photos,IMG_9868 IMG_9874 IMG_9877

I hauled out my scope, iPhone, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter release to digiscope some shots of the swans.

The Bluetooth shutter came in the mail from Phone Skope on Friday and this was my first chance to test it out. The shutter release removes all contact with the phone to prevent shake and blurry photos. It’s very handy and an excellent tool for digiscoping.

Getting the correct exposure on white birds can be tricky, especially on water. These photos are a little overexposed and there’s also a bit of chromatic aberration outlining the swans. I took photos of the swans three different ways with the iPhone’s camera, with the Pro Camera app, and with the Manual app, playing around with the exposure and other settings.

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the Manual app

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the iPhone’s camera

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the Pro Camera app

I drove to another slough, where there were only 10 swans, some Mallards, Northern Pintails, and this muskrat house, which is at least three feet tall,IMG_9880Though there were fewer swans, these were a little more co-operative as they were closer to the shore,

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They weren’t too concerned by my presence and were busy preening and spreading their wings. This is one of my favourite shots from the afternoon,IMG_9906  IMG_9915

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, Phone Skope Bluetooth Shutter, Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and the iPhone’s camera

Viking Smart Phone Adapter: First Impressions

:: I received a Viking Optical Smart Phone adapter from the company for review; all opinions and writing are my own ::

Viking Optical is a UK company that makes scopes, binoculars, and optics accessories including their Universal Smart Phone Adaptor, which is designed to allow any smart phone to attach to a spotting scope. Viking is an independent company in the UK with a long history of supporting conservation organizations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International, the species champion for the Forest Owlet and Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher.

This digiscoping adapter is comprised of two elements — a platform to support the smartphone and a collar that twists and locks onto the platform.

Viking Optical has a choice of five collar sizes designed to be compatible with five scope models: 39mm (RSPB AG), 48mm (Viking ED Pro Zoom, Viking AW Zoom),
55mm (Swarovski ATS/STS Zoom; Kowa TSN 770/880 Series, Zooms and 30x),
56mm (Leica APO Televid 65/82 Zoom; RSPB HD Zoom), 59mm (Swarovski ATX). The collars will also work with other brands. I was sent the 55mm and 56mm collars as we weren’t sure which would fit my older-model scope. The 55mm collar fits best on my scope’s eyepiece and provides the most support for the platform.

Just align the phone’s camera with the centre of the adapter’s opening. Secure the phone in place by tightening with the four adjustable flexible rubber clamps which are tightened to hold the phone in place. The clamps can be removed and placed in different sections for a better fit no matter the design/model or thickness of the phone. Once secured, the camera is able to rotate within the adapter, alternating between portrait and landscape shots.

This adapter would be great to share on birding walks with other birders since various phones can be switched in and out to get digiscoped photos.

Another benefit to this adapter is that I’m able to leave on my protective phone case while using this adapter. Setting up the adapter for use is simple, and the adapter is both lightweight and sturdy. It also fits inside a larger jacket pocket, and comes with a detachable lanyard in case you find yourself pocketless.

The Black-capped Chickadees at my feeders are great for practicing my digiscoping technique.

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Viking Optical Universal adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

Almost all of the geese have left the area for the season except for these Snow Geese,IMG_9839

More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds

JG Birds+

4forfeathers

Backyard Bird Blog

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

A gang of Black-capped Chickadees have started visiting my feeders and sometimes they sit long enough for me to digiscope a few photos.

Here’s one of my better ones taken through our kitchen window with my Swarovski ATM 80 scope and Phone Skope adapter,IMG_0006

More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds