Looking at the Birds


 There is a difference from birding and bird watching. If you talk to someone that does neither, they will almost certainly call you a bird watcher. Truthfully all of us with feeders at our house are bird watchers. We enjoy looking at the birds that come to our feeders or nest in our yards. We can do watch birds from our kitchen table, deck, or a lawn chair.

   Birding is far more active. Birding is actively going out to find the birds. Going birding requires patience, skill and time. The more of these three things you have the better the birder you will become. To be a good birder you need to study. You need to know the field marks of birds that look similar so you can tell them apart. If you think bird watching and birding are the same, I challenge you to walk out to Napatree under a hot sun when the next rare bird is found there. All the while rushing back so you don't get a parking ticket. You will understand the difference.

   But here is the thing about birding, birders spend far more time looking for rather than looking at birds. Think about that for a second because it is true. All of us have gone to Trustom right? Think about how many minutes you take to look at birds through your binoculars during a two hour walk. How long are the eye cups actually over your eyes? Chances are that amount of time is less than a few minutes. Of course, there are many reasons for this. There are plenty of roots and rocks to watch out for. There are plenty of places where there aren't birds to look at. These are  valid reasons. 

   The other main reason we don't spend a lot of time looking at the birds is because subconsciously our main goal is to ID them. Think about it. How many times have you raised your binoculars only to say out loud "Robin" or "just a Chickadee". Chances are if it is a common bird, you lower the binoculars and move on. Yes, I am just as guilty as anyone else. There is only so many times I can admire a robin when my main goal is a Pileated Woodpecker.

   However, what I am really trying to do is watch and look at the birds in migration, even the common ones. For example, I seem to be seeing Rose Breasted Grosbeaks everywhere. I've probably seen ten over the last four after work walks. They are still beautiful even though I am seeing them every day. So instead of raising my binos and saying out loud "another Rose Breasted Grosbeak" and then moving on, I have been watching them. I have been admiring their beauty. I watched a male chase off another male at the Cumberland Monastery last night. It was fun

   While I was at Great Swamp on Friday I came across a very cooperative Black and White Warbler. It was feeding only feet from me and didn't care about my presence at all. I've seen dozens of them so far this year. But this one wanted to put on a show. So I stayed there and I watched it. It would sing while it was feeding doing that high pitched buzz. The whole show lasted a good three minutes. I am happy it decided to hang out with me for that time.

   Since warbler migration only lasts a month or so, I am doing my best to keep my binoculars up when I see a pretty bird. Just because orioles are everywhere, it does not take away from their beauty. I love seeing them, I love getting photos of them. So this spring once I ID them I'm going to keep my binoculars on them for a few more seconds and really enjoy the colors. I will be better off for it.

A Long Single

   

My favorite warbler, Black Throated Blue.

   If I were to use a baseball analogy to describe Spring Migration so far, I'd say we hit a solid single to the outfield. We have rounded first but know that for now second base is out of reach. For sure spring migration is here. There are warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, vireos, and thrushes. They just do not seem to be in big numbers yet.  I think between last week and today, I saw 18-20 new species for the year. This sounds good, but I think there are a lot of "easy" birds I still haven't seen.

    No complaining. There were plenty of birds to see, I just had to work a little harder for them. Today I birded my little heart out for twelve hours. I did about eleven miles (then I rewarded myself with Chinese Food, it's all about balance). 

This Osprey landed almost over our heads at Asa Pond

    I started my morning at Mia in Newport and ended it at Tri-Pond Park in South Kingston. My companions for most of the day were Sue Palmer and Tim Metcalf. We also birded with Carlos Pedro and Louise Ruggeri for part of the morning. 

   Mia was pretty slow all things considering. The highlight for us were two male Rose Breasted Grosbeaks. There was also a Black Throated Green Warbler calling before we got there, but we did not see or hear it. I also saw a Hummingbird. 

   

Thanks Little Buddy (Black and White Warbler)


From there we hit two land trust properties in Jamestown. Highlights were American Kestrel and my favorite warbler, Black Throated Blue. We could also see 53 Glossy Ibis flying around the marsh near Weedon Lane.  We did see or hear the more common warblers including Parula, Blue Winged, and Black and White.

   After buying lunch we stopped at Great Swamp but only hiked a little bit. There were multiple Redstarts and a Black and White that wanted me to take its photo. My main focus were Northern Waterthrush and Yellow Throated Vireo both of which we dipped on. 

Probably the best bird of the day, Solitary Sandpiper

  We hit another land trust in South Kingston near URI that I do not remember the name of. By far the best bird was a Solitary Sandpiper. We should have reported it, because that is a very good bird. However, a dog/dog owner scared it off and it flew out of sight so there was no point. 

My last stop was Tri-Pond park in South Kingston. There were multiple Warbling Vireos. I saw some swallows, Chimney Swifts, and Yellow Warblers around the pond.

My day ended photographing this singing Warbling Vireo

   All in all, Today was fun. I saw many  species of migrating birds but I know it could be better. It's only going to take one or two nights with the right winds for everything to explode. Until then, I'm not complaining. It is still nice to see color in the trees.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, May goes by too quickly!!!

Spring Migration

 


All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know- Hemingway

   I had known that line before the Ernest Hemingway documentary came on PBS last week. However  it always confused me. Where does one start with the truest sentence they know? As you may have noticed I haven't wrote any posts for a while. There are a combination of factors including working crazy hours, not seeing much of anything worth writing about, but mostly writers block.  So I put to use Papa's advice and the truest sentence I can think of (at least for the near future) is: Spring Migration is the most fun part of birding throughout the year. 

Spring Migration is the most fun part of birding throughout the year. Right now we are in the beginning of migration. The early migrants came in late March and early April. These include Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow, Osprey, Great Egret, Wilson's Snipe,  and the toughest for me, Blue Winged Teal. 

   Throughout the rest of April we will start to get some of the migrants. Black and White Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and American Redstarts, and Broadwing Hawks are either starting to trickle in or will be soon.

   


However, May is what it is all about. There is nothing like the first three weeks of May. I write this now to give you advice to take some vacation days between May7-20. Peak migration only lasts for a short amount of time so try to spend as much time as you can in the field. 

Many people are already asking where to go. First off, these birds need a place to land, eat, and rest so they could be anywhere when the sun comes up. That said, there are obviously some migrant traps all around the state. Up north, the best place is Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. During May, the guards open the gates at 7 am to let birders walk in. There is a standard crew that is there almost every morning. Sometimes there are twenty five or more birders walking the roads. The best two spots are the North Woods and the paths near the Mausoleum.  Another good northern location is Hunts Mill in East Providence

   On the west side of the bay, Trustom is the hotspot. It can be very birdy. Some good rarities have shown up there such as Yellow Throated Warbler and Summer Tanager. 

In the middle of the state is Ponaganset Road in Scituate. For the life of me I do not know why it is a hot spot. It has woods habitat and a lake, but so do dozens of places around the state. That said, it is a great spot. You will likely see Scarlet Tanagers, a variety of warblers and thrushes while walking the road. The land on both sides of the road is off limits to protect the drinking water. So road walking is your only option. It is far away from the other hot spots but I do try to bird there a couple of times during May. A Cerulean Warbler was calling there for hours last year much to the delight of dozens of birders.  

In my opinion the best warbler spot in the state is Miantonomi Park in Newport. There is plenty of on street parking near the park. Swan Point used to be the place to be, but I think that has changed to Mia for whatever reason. On a good day you should see orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and many warbler species. Hopefully there will be a Swainson's Thrush around too. You can tell pretty quickly if the place has a lot of birds or is dead. If it is dead, go somewhere else because the birds won't arrive past mid-morning. Though, if Mia is dead, chances aren't too good for finding birds elsewhere. 

   Last May 16th was the best day ever in Rhode Island for spring birds. There was a massive fallout at Mia. You've heard the phrase "the trees were dripping with birds". Well that day it wasn't a cliché. Eighteen species of warblers were counted including Canada, Prothornatary, and Tennessee. There were multiple birds on every tree. One tree I was looking at had a Cape May, and Indigo Bunting, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Blackburnian!!! There were so many Bay Breasted Warblers, I stopped getting photos of them. There were cuckoos, vireos, and flycatchers. It was insane. 

   There had been northeast winds for over a week prior. These winds kept the birds grounded. There was a huge back up of birds south of us for a week just building in number. The evening of the 15th the wind turned southwest. All of these birds took off by the millions. They were all behind schedule. Unfortunately for the birds, around 10 pm the wind turned again and it started to rain. So the birds landed wherever it was safe and that place was Mia. Even the most experienced birders said they never saw a day like that. Will conditions line up like that again this year? Probably not, but if there is one place to be, it is Miantonomi .

  An often overlooked place is Great Swamp. Great Swamp has everyone of the early migrants I mentioned at the top. However, it can be good for May migrants also. I usually go someplace else in the morning and make Great Swamp my afternoon walk. Birding is not as good as it would be in the morning, but it is still a beautiful walk.

  I started this post with the truest sentence I could think of so I will end it with a few more. May goes by way to quickly. Spend as much time birding as you can. Home improvements can wait till June and you can do your garden in the afternoon. Enjoy it while it is going on because in the birding world, NOTHING is going on in June in Rhode Island.


Red Crossbills at Conimicut Point

 

The best photo I got today.

    It has been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog. There have been a a variety of reasons for my lack of writing. Last week I worked a ton of hours and slept when I wasn't at work. When I did get a day off, I didn't have very good luck finding my targets. I wanted to do a post about wood frogs but the vernal pool closest to my house was frogless. This weekend I went to Provincetown to watch for migrating whales but all I found was a strong east wind. 

  Finally, today, I have something to write about. After work I went to Conimicut Point in Warwick to look for the Red Crossbills. The Crossbills have been there for over a week. There are a couple dozen Pitch Pines along the parking lot that are loaded with pine cones. The good news is the birds feed on the pine cones most every day. The bad news is they don't seem to stay at Conimicut when they aren't feeding. 

   Luckily for me, after about half an hour of looking through the pines I found a small band of Red Crossbills. They have been very cooperative for many photographers and I have seen some fantastic photos. However, while I was there, the birds seemed to stay in the deepest part of the tree. It was tough to see the whole bird never mind get great photos. None the less, the Crossbills stuck around for at least forty five minutes and I was patient..

   My friend Richard Tucker showed up and we watched the birds until they flew off. As best we could tell there were at least two females, one adult(ish) male, and two juvenile males in the tree. With the two of us looking through binoculars and camera lenses, we drew quite a crowd. At one point we had a dozen other people staring into the tree with us. When the birds flew away so did we.

I know the Crossbills were very cooperative this morning though I do not know the time. I was there from about 3 pm until 4:25. I probably saw the first one about 3:45. If you go, there is plenty of parking. There aren't two many trees to look at so if they are there you should find them.

Dip, Dip, Dip, Reward

 

Snow Geese, one of the species I didn't see 
this weekend.

When I started this blog I promised honesty. Well, I had the last two days off and up until the last hour I couldn't find a target bird to save my life. I am not keeping a year list this year, but I still want to see the rare birds like everyone else. 

    My "weekend" started yesterday morning at Francis Carter Preserve. There had been a Northern Shrike there on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It was not seen on Thursday but I hoped it was just overlooked and would be around Friday. The weather on Wednesday was pretty warm. Even during the night it was in the 40's and the wind was SW. This would be perfect conditions for the shrike to head home. Still, I went to Carter with a positive attitude. For no other reason, it would be a lifer for me. Three very cold hours later I left knowing I tried my hardest to find it. While I was at Carter I ran into Joe Koger. We decided to bird the Moonstone Beach area. He was hoping to see Snow Geese, Short Eared Owl, American Bittern, or possibly the Rough Legged Hawk that was around last week. I had seen all these birds but Joe hadn't. 

   

One of the many Lesser Scaup at Trustom

   We dipped on them all. There weren't any geese in the fields. Then we walked up Moonstone Beach Road hoping to find something good like a Rusty Blackbird but all we found were a few feeder birds. Joe went to Deep Hole and I went to Trustom. I was hoping to get the Canvasbacks that have been there since ice out. I walked out to Osprey Point with my scope. I saw the large flock of Scaup close to the shoreline. I scanned them at least five times but there wasn't a Canvasack to be had. I then moved in the other direction but there were very few ducks on the windy side of the point. After dipping at Osprey Point I walked over to Otter Point and saw two Green Winged Teal.

   This morning a bunch of my friends and I met at Great Swamp at 8am. We were hoping for any early migrant but really wishing for Blue Winged Teal. Though it was cold, we were pleasantly surprised the wind had died down overnight. To make this long post come closer to end, I will summarize. We did not see any migrants including teal. The best bird we saw was a soaring Bald Eagle. However as we were walking out, we found out  that a pair of Blue Winged Teal were at Mill Pond.

   So off we went. When we got to Mill Pond we split up. Sue, Jan, and Linda took the blue trail overlooking the pond. Tim and I went towards Route 1 and scoped the pond from inside the guard rail and we bushwacked to the waters edge. Both of us paid the price for that decision by stepping in mud well past our hiking boots. Despite two hours by all of us, we never found either Blue Winged Teal or the Green Winged Teal they were associating with. 

Redemption

   Everyone else left by the time Tim and I made it back to our cars. Tim decided to go home for lunch. It was still only 1 pm so I decided to go to Beaver River Park. My luck changed as I opened the door to my car. I heard a Red Shouldered Hawk. When I walked past the playground to the woods, the hawk flew right over me from behind an landed in the closest tall tree to me. I didn't get a photo but it was so close that I could make out field marks with the naked eye. When it turned in my direction and saw how close it was to me it took off. I watched it through my binoculars as it flew to the other side of the park. 

 

Lucky view of a Woodcock

   I walked a little further down the trail and saw a small mixed flock. I waited around for a minute and saw a Rusty Blackbird hopping around the mud of a small stream. I've seen Rusty Blackbirds before, including the amazing flock in Cranston last month, but this was the first one I've found without a report. Not a bad first five minutes at the park. I also found eight Wood Ducks, two Fox Sparrows, and a feeding woodcock. I was having so much fun that I decided to do the trails a second time! 

   Today was one of those reasons I love birding. I spent the better part of the last two days dipping on every bird I hoped to see. Then all of the sudden I run into some really great birds. Other than the Wood Ducks I didn't see anything I haven't seen this year. However, I really enjoyed seeing them. The Rusty Blackbird was hopping around only about twenty feet from me and the Woodcock was feeding in an open woods. Needless to say, with the warm weather next week we should start seeing those early migrants we jumped the gun on today. The next three weeks will be fun!

      

Going for the Redwing in Maine and other birds, a Fun Adventure

   

Redwing, Capisic Pond Park,
Portland, ME

  



 As I have mentioned before and probably will again, I bird every single day off from work, weather dependent. Almost all of that birding is in Rhode Island. I would not use the word monotonous, but when you bird the same places over and over year after year, mundane is the rule not the exception. When there is an opportunity to do something different and go on an adventure, it does not take much to persuade me. 

   A month back a Redwing was spotted in a small park in Portland, ME. The name of the park is Capisic Pond Park. Redwing's are a Eurasian species. They like open farmland, open woods, and fields. They are common as far west as Iceland. They do stray to the Canadian Maratimes once in a while but are far more rare in the US. There have only been a few sightings in the Lower 48. I could not get an exact count, but the number of sightings in the states is probably just over five. So it is rare!

   When it was found (I believe on a Thursday) many Rhode Island birders drove up to Maine the following Saturday. They all took separate cars and met at the lot. I could not go because I had to work. My friend Sue could not go because she had to babysit her grandchildren. It was during that cold snap where the high temp was eight degrees and the wind was blowing about 20 mph. Needless to say, I am glad I did not have the chance to make a decision to go or not. They found the bird and got great looks at it, but it was so cold, they were back in their cars in a little over an hour. 

  Two weeks ago, Sue suggested we go up on Saturday February 20. I was willing, so we made plans to go. Neither of us had any desire to drive alone so we each got a Covid test so we could carpool. Once we got our negative results we were rearing to go. Besides the Redwing, there are two other interesting species at the park, a pair of Dickcissel has been there all winter and so has a Black Headed Grosbeak. So even if we dipped on the Redwing, chances were good the trip wouldn't be entirely in vain. Sue lives in Westerly and I live in North Attleboro, so she picked me up. We left North Attleboro at 7:15 am.

Dickcissel

    We made it to Capisic Park before 10 am. We got out of the car and walked down the trail. When we turned a corner right in front of us about fifty yards were birders with their binoculars up all facing a bush. Needless to say we had a good idea of what they were looking at.  Sure enough, when we walked up there the Redwing was feeding on berries. We watched it and photographed it for about fifteen minutes before it got full and flew across the pond.

    Fifteen yards down from where we saw the Redwing I saw a flock of House Sparrows. Knowing Dickcissel will associate with House Sparrows I waited and watched. Within two minutes a Dickcissel came out of the undergrowth and posed in the bushes. Again, we watched and took pictures before it flew into some more bushes across the path. Thirty minutes in and we were two for two!. We spent the next ninety minutes looking for the Black Headed Grosbeak. It hadn't been seen for a couple of days but we still looked hard for it. We never found it but did come across the Dickcissel again even more out in the open. 

There are benches dedicated to people around 
park. The Redwing is near the Henry Bench.
Sue was quite pleased to see a bench dedicated
to a Susan.

   At this point it was still before noon. The Redwing hadn't been seen again which was disappointing some long distance travelers hoping to see it. So we decided to go birding elsewhere.(* the Redwing was spotted again later in the afternoon) Driving back down I-95 in Maine we saw a bunch of hawks and we were so happy to see a highway Raven we did an ebird report.

   Once we got to New Hampshire we went down the coast. Sue was hoping to get some New Hampshire State birds. Our longest stop was at Hampton Beach. We got Common Eider, Loon, and Horned Grebe in the river that runs along the beach. Our best birds were an Ipswich Savannah Sparrow along the dunes, and about a dozen Purple Sandpipers along a rocky outcrop a few yards from shore. 

  After (hopefully) finding the Redwing, the plan was to bird the NH coast on the way to Salisbury Beach. Salisbury Beach has had a lot of very good species there this winter. There have been Red Crossbills, Snow Buntings, Common Redpolls, and Red Breasted Nuthatch in the campground all winter. There are at least two White Wing Crossbills flying around. The marsh has had a Snowy Owl  and Short Eared Owl the last couple of weeks also! Lastly, in some pine trees near the parking lot a Long Eared Owl has been sleeping away the days for a couple of weeks. So in short, there were plenty of reasons to go to Salisbury Beach.

   I had actually been to Salisbury Beach twice in the last month. I had seen all of the above birds mentioned except the Long Eared and Short Eared Owl. I wasn't worried about the Short Eared Owl. It only starts flying at dusk and I have seen them in MA and RI multiple times. I did see the White Winged Crossbill my previous trip. I didn't get a photo because I was pointing it out to my friend Laurie when it flew. I really wanted to get a photo if Sue and I had time. However, the real prize for me would be the Long Eared Owl. It would be a lifer. The previous times I went to Salisbury I scanned the pines multiple times throughout the day but never saw it. 

Photo of Long Eared Owl blown up at least 
800 %

When Sue and I got there, our first stop were the pines the owl lives in. There are cones set up around the parking lot to keep people from bothering the owl. The cones are a very respectful distance away. Luckily for us, the Long Eared was out!!! It wasn't "out in the open" but it was within view. There was about an eighteen inch opening in the brush where you could see it from behind the cone line. Step two feet to the right or left of that eighteen inch box and the owl was not in view. Needless to say, from that distance and that small of a window my photos are awful. However, I was thrilled to see it. Two lifers in one day, and this was the one I've been trying to see for a couple of years. It meant a lot. 

  The Long Eared Owl was a lifer for me but not for Sue. In our binoculars it really wasn't much more than a reddish/tan spot in a pine. Sue got her scope out and we got a great look with that. She was kind enough to let others look through her scope providing they didn't touch it with their eye. At least a dozen people got a lifer Long Eared thanks to Sue's generosity.

Red Breasted Nuthatch

   To make a long story less long, we didn't see any of the other birds I mentioned except the Buntings and Nuthatch. The Crossbills were seen earlier in the day but we couldn't find them. I'm sure the birds were much more active in late morning than they were when we were there. None the less, we had a fantastic day!

  Important info-

  Salisbury Beach is about 1 hr 40 mins from MA/RI border.

  The exit for Capisic Pond Park is almost exactly an hour past the exit for Salisbury.  The park is only five minutes off of the highway.

   If you do go to Capisic Pond Park use the location on ebird reports. It will take you to a parking area. Follow  the water with it on your left for five minutes. The Redwing hangs out at the pond near a bench dedicated to a fellow named Henry. Chances are, others will be there and/or let you know where it was last seen. 

   The park is only eighteen acres and only has a couple trails. It looks to be a little natural oasis in a sea of suburban neighborhoods. I don't think you could get lost if you tried. 

   If you go owling at Salisbury- The Short Eared Owl and Snowy Owl hang out in the marsh. The marsh is huge, maybe a full square mile. Your best bet is to go down the access road and see if others are already looking at them. If not, plan on spending a lot of time scoping for them. 

This Crossbill photo is from the last time I was
there. When they are around, they make 
wonderful photo subjects.

  If you are looking for crossbills, check out the pines along the edge of the campground just past the pump out station and also individual trees in the campground as the flock can be anywhere. The roads between the sites are not plowed but four wheel drive vehicles drive up them easily. If snow is still on the ground it will be uneven and icy and difficult to walk on. Walk slowly and deliberately, but the effort could pay off with a Crossbill or Redpoll encounter.

   As for the Long Eared Owl, when it first arrived it was being harassed. People were going into the pines to flush it and make it fly. Environmental Police had to be called in to protect it. Fortunately the cones around the parking lot are working. People are staying behind the cones and the owl is comfortable sleeping the day away. It seems to be in view more often than not based on ebird. However, it took me three trips to see it. If you go, please give it the space. Hope to see the owl but understand it may very well be hiding in plain sight. 

   Lastly, just a reminder, Matt Schenck is doing aShorebird ID Zoom seminar for Ocean State Bird Club members on Thursday March 4. It should be awesome.

Photo Upgrades- A Fun Never Ending Project

 
Photo upgrade of Orange Crowned Warbler
from January



    Despite carrying around a huge camera, I identify as a birder more than a photographer. When I see a bird, I always raise my binoculars before my camera, well at least ninety eight percent of the time. I enjoy identifying the bird when I see it. That said, I also love taking photos. A photoshoot with a good bird will put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. 

   A couple years ago I decided to turn my love of "shooting" into a project. I have been trying to get photos of every bird I have seen in Rhode Island and put them into a photo album. When I get a photo better than the one I have of a species, I replace the old one with a new one, a photo upgrade. The beauty of this project is I can always improve on a photo unless I've gotten a "perfect picture". 

   I got this idea from Rhode Island resident and amazing birder Carlos Pedro. Carlos and I were birding together one day and he took a photo of a bird and called it a  "photo upgrade". He explained how he will replace his "last best" photo with a better one on his computer. I thought about this for a while and took it a step further and decided to make an album with prints. Conveniently, you can buy an album that holds 300 photos. This about the exact number of species that will be seen in Rhode Island by the best listers in a year. Not so conveniently, it is not the exact same three hundred species that will show up in a given year. So eventually you will need a second album. 

   I am going to explain how I set up my album and what works for me. Please take it with a grain of salt. If you think it is a cool idea to make an album of your best bird photos, do it however way you like. There are no rules and the point is to make it your own anyway, I have other ideas on how a photo album could be set up below how I do it, but again they are mere suggestions.

   To begin with, I started with two albums. The "second album not only has "overflow birds from Rhode Island" but also species I've photographed from other states such as South Dakota and Florida.  As I said,  there are more than 300 species that come to Rhode Island so I had to make a decision on how to organize these albums. So in my second album I put photos of the most common birds. These include feeder birds such as Titmouse, Juncos, Cardianls, etc. Also really common are Mallards, Pigeons, Herring, Ring Billed, and Great Black Backed Gull, and Mourning Doves. This saved about fifteen species from my main book. Also of note, I did not include photos of the three destructive invasive Starling, Mute Swan, or House Sparrow.

 
I didn't get Audubon's Shearwater, but it was 
awesome seeing this young Long Tailed
Jaeger over two thousand feet deep water. 

  I set up my main photo album much the same as most field guides are set up. I started with waterfowl, grebes, alcids, gulls, etc. The back of the book has warblers and sparrows. I wrote in the margins each species I either saw or know is a good possibility IN PENCIL. I then put a photo if I had one next to each bird's name. It turned out I had a lot less species than I thought barely going over two hundred. This sounds like a lot, but in a three hundred page album, that is a lot of blank space. 

   This is where it got fun. I put a list together of the species I had either terrible photos of, or none at all and started working on it whenever I was out birding.  You will be amazed at how many photo opportunities will present themselves when you are looking at all the birds and not just target birds. 

   When writing species names in the margins I wrote down species many people might not go for. An example is Audubon Shearwater. They are really only seen a hundred miles out on the ocean near the canyons. However, I love pelagic trips and took one to the canyons this fall. Although Audubon's Shearwater is normally a sure bet out there, we didn't see one, so that spot is still blank in my album. For those people that may be afraid of boats or get seasick, you could save room for other species by removing most Shearwaters and Jaegers from your album if you know you may never see them. 

Life Photo of a 
Blue Grosbeak
   As I mentioned, the album is full of photo upgrades. Chances are if  I have a bad or so/so photo I can not wait to get an upgrade and take the old photo out. For example, the first Blue Grosbeak I got a photo of was in June at Carter Preserve. It was near dusk, thirty five feet up in a dead snag with a darkening sky. The bird was nothing more than a tiny silhouette in my photo, but it counted as a life photo of a Blue Grosbeak. Three months later at Snake Den Jan StJean and I saw one on a wire, It was much closer, and even with the grey sky behind it, the photo is ten times better. Out with the old and in with the new. Its a decent photo of a "brown" Blue Grosbeak, so there is still plenty of room for improvement. 
Blue Grosbeak
Photo upgrade at Snake Den



   As I said above, you can make an album anyway you want and follow whatever rules or guidelines you want. My album is only birds I have seen in Rhode Island (as I said I have a separate album for Florida and West birds). Of course there could be a New England Album if you prefer. It could be species you've seen everywhere in the USA or world all lumped together. Maybe your album could start with the first species you got a photo of and keep going and dating the margins (that sounds kind of fun). For me, it is strictly species I have seen in Rhode Island (for Album 1). However, not every photo is from Rhode Island. Example- I usually see Eastern Meadowlarks a couple times a year in RI, but my best photo of one was in the Everglades. We were walking through the parking lot to the Visitor Center and one popped up right in the swamp twenty feet from me. I got a frame filling photo. I don't have anything close to that from RI so I put it in my album. There are a few species I've seen in Rhode Island but my best photo might be from another state. Maybe a purist would be offended, but as I have repeated numerous times, it is my album.
Though I've seen Meadowlarks in RI for
many years, I've never had one pose like this one 
in the Everglades


   Sometimes I may get a photo that isn't better than the one I have, but is different. Maybe one, the bird is closer but in the other I have better light. Maybe sometimes, you just like both photos. So I may get a copy of both photos and switch them back and fourth. In that way, the album is always changing also. 

   One disadvantage of writing all of the expected species in an album is what to do with mega-rarities. I have to tell ya, I didn't see that problem forthcoming. Never did I expect Red Necked Stint, Little Stint, Terek's Sandpiper, Common Cuckoo, and Varied Thrust to all show up in a six month period. Besides those birds I saw a Ruff in Westport, MA and a Western Kingbird in Barrington.  I added a section in album 2 for mega-rarities. This is not ideal because the "best birds" are not in the album that I spend the most time upgrading and looking through. I may have to rethink how and where I put these photos, This is why I used pencil in the first place so the book could always be evolving. 
Admittedly, this photo of a couple pages in
my album isn't going to win me any prizes, 
but it gives you an idea. These pages are 
dedicated to plovers. The bottom right one is a 
Wilson's Plover found in April 2020


   If a photo album of photo upgrades is something you are interested in, here are some specs. Walmart and Michael's both sell photo albums, but because they sell a lot less they don't always get restocked when they do sell out. The best place to get a 300 page album is Walmart.com. I think they are only eight or nine dollars. You can get photos developed at multiple places on the web. There is Snapfish, Shutterfly, and Walmart, and probably a bunch of other places. CVS and Walmart have photo developing services. Walmart photos are nine cents each. I usually get an order of prints when I build up enough life photos and upgrades to make it worth while. Usually that is in the thirty-forty range. Sometimes I'll wait for a certain date, like June 15 after spring migration or after December 31. Mostly I decide to get an order when I want to upgrade.

   There you have it, my never ending project. I love everything about this project. Even if I have a bad day birding, believe it or not, there is usually some bird that put on a show for me. It may be a really common Least Sandpiper or a Carolina Wren, but usually something good happens. Today a Pink Footed Goose was reported by April Alix in Johnston, RI. I was in South Kingstown looking at Snow Geese but the PFG was on my way home so I stopped. I had only seen one before but had gotten good photos of it. This one was so cooperative and swam to within ten feet of me. It walked on land and the pink legs were obvious so despite thinking I couldn't improve my photos I did. But, I also got a twofer! In the flock of geese and ducks a Black Duck came swimming by and I got a photo upgrade of that bad boy also.
The pink legs of the Pink Footed Goose.