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The ABA Blog is Dead; Long Live The ABA Blog!

The ABA Blog launched all the way back in 2010 in a time of intense transition at the organization. Over the intervening decade it has been an integral part of the American Birding Association’s outreach strategy, providing an opportunity to learn about field marks and rare birds, to hear from our staff and friends, and to organize conservation initiatives.

But the internet is a different place these days and media consumption has changed. The characteristics that have defined “blogs” have largely been subsumed by social media. So we are changing too.

The ABA Blog will be archived at the end of the month. Starting in January 2020, we will be doing something different.

First, do not panic! The content that you have enjoyed this last decade is not going anywhere. You’ll still hear from all of us. We are integrating everything that you have come to enjoy from The ABA Blog into the main ABA website. So Birding Book Reviews, the American Birding Podcast, Ted Floyd’s How to Know the Birds; all of it will be found in a prominent place at www.aba.org, frequently in its own special portal. And yes, you can subscribe to the entire feed just like you did before. You can even comment like you did before (and we encourage that!).

 

The ABA Blog itself–all 3,000+ posts strong–will continue to exist in an archived form. All the links will still work. It’s just that we will no longer be adding to them.

We will be posting to both sites through the end of the year to make the transition as easy as possible. After that, you can find everything at our main website.

Thank you for 10 amazing years here at The ABA Blog. Onward and upward!

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Expert Advice for All Levels of Bird Photography

A review by Bill Schmoker

Mastering Bird Photography: The Art, Craft, and Technique of Photographing Birds and Their Behavior by Marie Read

Rocky Nook, 2019

340 pages, softcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14938

Given the explosive growth of digital bird photography in the last decade or so, there have been surprisingly few titles devoted to the topic despite the proliferation of birding books in the same time span. In her ambitious new Mastering Bird Photography: The Art, Craft, and Technique of Photographing Birds and Their Behavior, Marie Read has distilled decades of experience into a beautiful, well-organized reference on the topic. As more birders count their camera along with binoculars and scope as essential field gear, many begin by grabbing shots without much thought other than centering the bird as best they can and pushing the shutter, often using the camera’s auto mode. Shots obtained this way are great for ID reference, documentation, gripping off your buddies, etc. These are perfectly fine and fun reasons to employ photography in your bag of birding tricks (and I think it is important to remember that there’s no “right” way to do any art form as long as you enjoy yourself). There are bound to be some gems in the mix, but many bird photos taken without planning and technical consideration are disappointing or just so-so for a variety of reasons. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to push the easy button ad infinitum, but for those who want to step up their photography game this book presents a trove of practical advice for making wonderful images of birds and undoubtedly improving one’s percentage of winners from each day’s photographic haul.

The book’s 16 well-organized and illustrated chapters comprehensively cover nearly every consideration of bird photography. Included are treatments of suggested equipment, settings for said equipment, field craft, composition, editing, and ideas for using your photos once acquired and processed. I think the first chapter, “Getting Started in Bird Photography,” could stand by itself as a thorough article full of ideas for laying a solid foundation for pursuing this most difficult of photographic subjects. In fact, much of the solid advice in this chapter can apply to improving one’s birding skills in general.

Read’s chapter on “Equipment Essentials” has lots of good advice as well but veers slightly toward tricky ground. I love her opening statement that she considers “field craft, creative vision, and determination as contributing far more… than having the newest camera or biggest lens.” Read then states, and I fully agree, that photographers often want to talk about gear or get advice on what equipment to buy. The challenge here is that the landscape of camera models, lenses, tripods, and the like will inevitably evolve while the rest of the book’s information is essentially timeless. So I think the best parts of this chapter are the big ideas of what to look for in camera gear rather than the specific models given as examples.

Additionally, Read focuses on Digital Single-Lens Reflex (AKA DSLR) rigs, which even someone unfamiliar with the jargon would recognize as a large camera body with separate interchangeable (and usually big) lenses. While I think that DSLRs indeed still offer the greatest photographic potential, new formats such as mirrorless interchangeable lens systems are fast approaching DLSR performance in a smaller package. Many birders opt for even simpler, smaller, and more affordable all-in-one super zooms (or “bridge” cameras, that bridge the gap from small, cheap point-and-shoots to DSLRs). Digiscoping or phonescoping are also powerful and effective ways to capture compelling bird photos. So the takeaway from the book is to pursue DSLR photography if you have the budget, strength, and desire, but I would add that most of what this chapter and the rest of the book suggest applies to these other types of photo gear as well! For example, bridge cameras have most (if not all) of the shooting modes and options that DSLRs have, even if many folks don’t commonly access them. To sum up, this book will have ample ideas for getting the most out of any photo gear you choose.

Besides questions about gear, I also get frequent inquiries about difficulties with bird photography such as blurriness, being too light or too dark, not capturing enough detail and/or compelling behavior, or trouble tracking flying birds. Read has chapters to address these areas, including “Focusing and Image Sharpness,” “Seeing the Light,” “Exposure,” “Composition Basics,” as well as chapters on “The Big Picture,” “Weather, Water, and Mood,” “Shooting Outside the Box,” and “On the Wing” (flight shots). Each are loaded with gems of knowledge, practical ideas, and teeming with images to illustrate her points on these subjects. Often, simply getting close to a subject addresses many of these challenges, and sure enough Read includes a fantastic chapter on the subject. Her suggestions of choosing locations where birds are used to people, moving carefully and blending in, using hides (portable blinds, vehicles, and boats), and attracting birds all can contribute to ethically narrowing the distance to your subject. Getting close also helps to even the playing field between more modest camera rigs and big guns.

Complementing the “Getting Close” chapter is “Beauty Close to Home,” which promotes staying home in a bird-friendly backyard to get great photos. Recognizing that not everyone has a back yard, I suppose most of these ideas could also apply to patronizing your local patch. Some of my favorite photos are in this chapter, paired with a wide shot of the feeder, perch, and sometimes the blind setup used to get them. There are some great ideas here for setting up what amounts to a wild bird photography studio right out the back door, and even though the examples may be specific to Read’s property, I’m sure folks’ minds will envision adapting the ideas to their situations. Essentially, Read pulls back the curtain on some really cool tricks of the trade here, which I think nicely illustrates the sharing nature of birding (versus, say, the mystery of a magic trick and taboo of sharing the secret behind it). As a contrast with backyard bird photography, we also find a chapter on “Bird Photography Hotspots,” with 11 famous sites in North America detailed as well as a handful of briefer suggestions for well-known bird photography destinations and tips for finding your own target-rich hot spots.

As if all of this wasn’t comprehensive enough, Read includes chapters on “Basic Image Editing” and “What’s Next” (ideas for using your photos). Her image processing workflow is laid out in a well-organized sequence, with well-chosen photos showing key steps along the way. The focus here is on using Adobe Photoshop, while Adobe Lightroom also gets an endorsement (though no specific treatment). I slightly fear that beginning photographers may be a little daunted by this chapter, which to my eye jumps in at an intermediate level of editing software comfort and competency. As potential relief there are three excellent suggestions included for books to get novices up to speed on these two Adobe products. If someone is using different editing software, including one of the many free online options, I would suggest paying attention to the big picture here instead of the exact tools and commands tailored to the Photoshop world. Getting to the reasons and results of her steps here may be more important than the specifics, especially as one develops their own workflow with their software of preference.

The last chapter has lots of creative ideas for what to do with one’s photos now that all of the other steps from gear selection through editing have been thoroughly addressed. Ranging from online sharing and making cards or calendars to entering contests and giving talks, I quite enjoyed this section as a beautiful way to wrap up the whole package presented in this book. It is rewarding to see your photos doing something besides languishing on a hard drive somewhere, so I applaud Read’s choice to finish with this topic and appreciate her concrete tips to put photos to use.

I’d have no hesitation recommending this book to anyone heading out birding with camera in hand. It offers plenty of takeaways for the casual photographer, even if they don’t find every chapter or suggestion applicable. But I think its real strength is having the comprehensive expert advice to give someone the tools to make the transition from being a birder with a camera to becoming a serious bird photographer (or to just progress anywhere along that continuum). Even experienced photographers will gain nuggets of wisdom and validation from a master of Marie Read’s caliber, not to mention enjoying the inspiring selection of photos and easy-to-follow prose. The well-organized chapters and detailed table of contents will make this a useful reference to go back to repeatedly for tune-ups or to refresh one’s memory on a topic as well—I envision my copy becoming dog-eared over the years. Thank you, Marie Read, for distilling your expertise and vision into such an accessible form in this terrific book.

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Bill Schmoker is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Bill is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA’s Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor. He teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado.

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Excellent Essays and Fantastic Photos Reveal Threats to Western Hemisphere Birds

A review by Mark VanderVen

Bringing Back the Birds: Exploring Migration and Preserving Birdscapes throughout the Americas, by Owen Deutsch and the American Bird Conservancy

Braided River, 2019

208 pages, hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14928

 

“We are a dying symphony.

No bird knows this,

But us — we know…”

 

Margaret [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: January 17, 2020

Continuing rare birds in the ABA Area include the La Sagra’s Flycatcher (ABA Code 4) in Florida and a female Garganey (4) in California.

Florida’s 3rd record of Hammond’s Flycatcher had been masquerading as a Least Flycatcher in Collier for several weeks before someone noticed that the wings were a little too long.

And [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: January 10, 2020

Continuing rarities in the ABA Area include a Garganey (ABA Code 4) in California, both La Sagra’s Flycatcher (4) and Antillean Palm-Swift (5) in Florida, and a Streak-backed Oriole (4) continuing to visit a feeder in Arizona.

Not much in the way of ABA rarities this week, but New Mexico saw the return of a [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: January 2, 2020

Welcome to 2020! As is typically the case, we ease into the rare bird world at the top of the year. But there are a couple nice state firsts for those birders looking to get their year lists off right.

In Georgia, a young Snail Kite in Charlton is the state’s long-anticipated 1st record. This [read more…]

How to Know the Birds: No. 24, The Owl of the Decade

What: Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus When: Wednesday, December 18, 2019 Where: Fountain Creek Regional Park, El Paso County, Colorado

Well, another decade is in the record books. Or it will be in a few hours. I hope yours was good. Some personal highlights for me:

• My kids are teenagers now, how’d that [read more…]

Birding Photo Quiz: November 2019

For the last Birding photo quiz of the 2010s, we turned the proceedings over to four teen birders who were recent participants in the ABA’s Young Birder of the Year program. Each one of them took a whack at the Nov. 2019 Birding Featured Photo, and each one of them pretty quickly got around to [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: December 27, 2019

As we head into the end of 2019, there are still a handful of rare birds in the ABA Area to note. A Crimson-collared Grosbeak (ABA Code 4) continues in Texas. California has both a Garganey (4) and a Red-footed Booby (4) and Florida birders have kept tabs on the continuing La Sagra’s Flycatcher (4) [read more…]

American Birding Podcast: The ABA at 50

The end of 2019 means that we’re coming to the end of the ABA’s 50th, looking forward to the our next 50. Any big milestone encourages taking stock of where you’ve been, where you’re going. And here at the ABA we’ve been doing a lot of that internally, and in our various publications this year. [read more…]

A Global Birding Pioneer Finally Tells His Tale

A review by Frank Izaguirre

Roads, Peoples, Birds, Mountaintops, & Billabongs by Dean Fisher

Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2018

500 pages, hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14925

In To See Every Bird on Earth, author Dan Koeppel, while chronicling the first globetrotting birders, describes Dean Fisher: “When I first heard about Fisher, [read more…]