"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Friday, January 13, 2017

Photographing hummingbirds can be tricky

A rufous hummingbird stretches for a landing. Photo by Steve Kaye
Here's my next column, scheduled to appear in the Orange County Register's Home & Garden section on Jan. 14. 

      Hummingbirds can fly at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, their tiny wings flapping about 80 times per second. They dart forward and backward, changing direction so quickly, it’s difficult to follow them.
      So how do professional photographers manage to capture stunning, close-up images of such fast-moving targets? It takes more than a long lens and a fast shutter speed, according to Placentia-based nature photographer Steve Kaye.
       His technique for capturing the perfect shot involves a great deal of patience, along with hours of watching and studying the birds.
       Kaye works without a flash, using only natural light. His premise: “Cause no damage, no disturbance,” he said.
       “I don’t want to want to startle or harass the birds in any way.”
       So he waits for the perfect shot.
       He took one of his favorites on a trip to Madera Canyon in Arizona. “It was after dinner at the Santa Rita Lodge and the light was just beautiful on a patch of thistle with purple flowers.”
       There he captured a resting male Magnificent hummingbird with its purple crown and metallic green gorget, or throat, illuminated in the light. Magnificent hummingbirds are a species that migrates to limited area of southern Arizona during the spring and summer breeding season.
      “I had to wait an hour for that prize,” he said.
      Photographers can plan their shots at home by planting a hummingbird garden with native plants in an area with good lighting. When the flowers start to bloom, set up the camera and wait.
      “Find where they like to perch,” he said. You can easily determine this if you watch them for a period of time, because they often return to the same spot.
      “Hummingbirds are easier to photograph than other birds, because they are quite tolerant,” he said. “Instinctively, I think they know they’re faster and more agile than others in the sky.”
       Kaye will share more of his photography secrets at the next meeting of Sea and Sage Audubon, the Orange County Chapter of the National Audubon Society, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20. His presentation, “Catch Me If You Can: How to Take Photographs of Hummingbirds,” includes a primer on basic photography with more than 100 still shots and several videos to illustrate the techniques.
       He originally developed this presentation for the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, sponsored by the Hummingbird Society, in 2015. The photos chosen for the talk were culled from thousands taken during multiple trips to Arizona. Since then, he’s been taking the material to camera clubs and Audubon chapters where he shares his photographic skills.
       Kaye’s nature photography can be found on his inspirational blog at stevekaye.com. And three of his photos appeared in the “Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America” by Stephen Shunk, which was released in May.
       The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the Duck Club at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, 5 Riparian View, Irvine. For more information, call 949-261-7963 or go to seaandsageaudubon.org.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Check feeders for moldy seed

We've been having some wet weather in California, so it's likely your bird feeders have gotten soaked. 

You might still be able to save the seed, if it's not moldy. Mold is not healthy for the birds, so it's best to put moldy seed in the trash. The birds are likely to reject it anyway.

To save wet seed: spread it on a cookie sheet and place in the oven at a low temperature for about 10 minutes or so, just enough to dry it out.  Stir the seed and cool.

Now that your feeder is empty, it's a good time to clean it; birds pick up diseases at dirty feeders. Use a 10 percent bleach solution to sterilize. Make sure the seed completely dry before replacing it in the feeder.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Drum roll please, California Audubon's 2016 Bird of the Year is...

Northern spotted owl  Photo courtesy of Audubon California
Members of Audubon California chose the Northern Spotted Owl as the 2016 Bird of the Year, and that’s the second big win this bird had this year. Now those wins are facing threats.

In August, this iconic bird was placed on the California Endangered Species List by the State Fish and Game Commission, thanks to the thousands of Audubon advocates who made their voices heard in response to the petition filed by EPIC. This adds much-needed protections to those the bird received when it was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List back in 1990. But these protections won't mean much without funds and people to protect them.

According to Audubon, we need to do more:
  • As climate change threatens to reduce the Northern Spotted Owl’s range, we will continue to push for stronger measures to address global warming.
  • We’re fighting for adequate funding for state wildlife management, because these new protections won’t mean much if there isn’t money to sustain them.
  • With California forests so vital for birds, we will continue to advocate for sensible forest management, not just in the Pacific Northwest, but in the Sierra and elsewhere. 
The new state listing should result in greater scrutiny of logging, forest management, and development within the bird’s range, increased coordination among public agencies and the possibility of additional funding for protection and recovery efforts.

Audubon California is ready to go to bat for owls and other threatened birds. They are ready to fight hard to defend sensible forestry practices and adequate funding for wildlife and environmental management.

Protections for Northern Spotted Owls have benefited hundreds of other species – birds, reptiles, mammals, fungi and plants have all been protected from destruction when the forests were left in peace.

To support these efforts, go to: Audubon California.

Happy Birding!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Mistletoe is important to birds

Bright green clusters of big-leaf mistletoe cling to a cottonwood tree in Modjeska Canyon. Photo by J.J. Meyer

A reprint of my column that ran in Orange County Register on 12/23/2013:           

             Kissing under the mistletoe may be a popular custom this time of year.  But did you know the plant has a more direct connection to the birds and the bees?
Birds rely on mistletoe for food and shelter, while native bees and butterflies seek its nectar and pollen.
And while the plant may have a romantic notion, its name does not. “Mistel” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “dung” and “tan” is the word for “twig.” Thus, “dung-on-a-twig.”  The name originated from the fact that birds spread the seeds of the plant through their droppings.
            “Usually you find mistletoe high in the trees because that’s where the birds perch,” said naturalist Kurt Miethke of Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.  Birds feed on the berries then excrete mistletoe seeds on the host tree.  The seeds then root into the tree, allowing the parasitic plant to tap its host for water and nutrients.
            Mistletoe berries develop this time of year, providing food for birds such as Western bluebirds, cedar waxwings, mourning doves and American robins. 
            “The phainopepla, a silky-flycatcher, is most tied to it,” Miethke said.  They use it for nesting in the spring and they rely on mistletoe berries almost exclusively for food during the winter.
Phainopeplas are flashy birds with shiny black feathers, long tail, a distinct crest and red eyes.  They breed in the desert areas in early spring.  “We tend to see them in the late spring and summer, when it gets too hot in the desert,” said Miethke, who leads bird walks at the sanctuary.  “They move into cooler habitats and raise a second brood.”
Small gray bushtits build well-disguised nests in the mistletoe at the sanctuary.  Its dense cover provides protection against predators and the elements. Hawks and crows use it as a base and have built their nests on top of it.
            While there are many species of mistletoe worldwide, only two are found in Orange County, he said.  Those are the big-leaf and oak, also known as hairy mistletoe.  Big-leaf mistletoe infects alder, cottonwood, walnut, willow, and sycamore trees, while and the oak mistletoe typically infects oak trees and woody chaparral shrubs such as Manzanita, California bay laurel and sumac.
Big-leaf mistletoe can be found in the canyons and foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, as well as the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.  The oak variety can be found in areas with coast live oak trees such as Limestone Canyon.
“I've only found the big-leaf type on our property, none of the oak mistletoe,” he said. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Helping kids make free pine cone birdfeeders

A Northern mockingbird pecks at the Bark Butter on the pine cone feeder.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
Bring the kids to Wild Birds Unlimited this Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to make a pine cone feeder that birds go nuts over. The project is quick and easy. First, the kids smear Bark Butter (it's like peanut butter, only better for the birds) on each layer of the pine cone. Then they sprinkle it with shelled sunflower chips. Tie a string to the top and there you have it! A tasty treat for the birds. We'll even wrap it so children can give it as a gift. 

I'll be on hand to help with this event at the Wild Birds Unlimited store, 24451 Alicia Parkway, Mission Viejo.  For more information, call (949) 472-4928.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Songbirds in Snow Stamps

Make your Christmas cards more beautiful this year!

The Songbirds in Snow stamps feature four birds: the golden-crowned kinglet, the cedar waxwing, the northern cardinal, and the red-breasted nuthatch. Illustrator Robert Giusti painted the original designs in acrylic on canvas board, depicting each bird perched on a snow-covered branch.

The forever stamps come in books of 20. Purchase them at: USPS.

Happy Birding!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vote for Audubon California's 2016 Bird of the Year

Vote for Audubon California's 2016 Bird of the Year

Which bird will take the title: California Coastal Gnatcatcher, California Scrub Jay, Double-crested Cormorant, Eared Grebe, Western Sandpiper, or the Northern Spotted Owl? You can vote as many times as you like through Dec. 16.

My vote is going to: The Northern Spotted Owl, which is something of a conservation legend, playing a huge role in the battle to save old growth forests in its range in the Pacific Northwest. While it’s a bird that is more commonly thought to occupy Washington and Oregon, we do get a good number here in California – as far south as Marin. Because of this species dramatic declines, it was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. The California Spotted Owl has been identified as a distinct subspecies.

Happy Birding!