Category Archives: Video

Unlike still photographs, videos of nature can help us study behavior and learn more about our environment.

Olive-backed Pipit

Christmas arrived early in Orange County this weekend when, on November 1st, local birder, Jeff Bray, made the find of a lifetime: an Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) at Yorba Regional Park. It may not sound like much, but it’s a really big deal.

Olive-backed Pipit – Previous Continental Records

Olive-backed Pipit 9565

Olive-backed Pipit, Yorba Regional Park, 01-NOV-14

For starters, there were only 3 previous records of this species in North America away from Alaska. (Here, North America is defined geographically as including Mexico – not the birding definition). Olive-backed Pipits had previously been found in Washoe, Nevada in 1967, in Baja in 1996 and on the Farallon Islands in California in 1998. So the take-home message is, these guys don’t show up very often! Whenever a call like this goes out, birders do their version of a ‘flash mob’, and the one at Yorba Regional Park on Saturday was very impressive! I was among the first 20 birders there, but soon birders began arriving from all over the map in minutes. And soon it was a who’s who of southern California birders. And why not? This little Olive-backed Pipit really put on a show! It led us a merry dance at first, flying from place to place within the park, landing in heavy cover and skulking around so low that often the only visible indication it was there was movement of the vegetation it was walking under. But eventually, it came out on the lawn between the picnic tables where it fed calmly for about an hour, giving everyone incredible looks. In fact, the bird was remarkably cooperative, seemingly oblivious to the constant whir of camera shutters and the quiet conversation of excited birders. Continue reading

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Dance of the Reddish Egret

When people find out I’m a birder, one of the most frequent questions is “What’s your favorite bird?” Sometimes I’ll give a flippant answer such as “My next life bird.” Other times, I’ll say that I love all birds and can’t pick a favorite – that each is special in its own way. I do have an affinity for Magnificent Frigatebirds, because seeing an adult male flying fifteen feet over my head while standing on a dock on Key West was the experience that triggered my choice to actively pursue the hobby of birding. But there are in fact some birds that are definitely cooler than others, be they prettier, uglier, sweet singers, or just plain quirky. One of these is the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufecens).

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Gone Fishin

We can learn a lot by watching animals. Unlike humans, they remain focused on their task at all times. This Green Heron, gone fishin’ at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, California was no exception. Green Herons fish for a living. They have to get good at it to survive. This one patiently waited, coiled like a spring and camouflaged in the bulrushes, for a fish to come within striking distance and then struck with lightning speed and precision.

The gone fishin’ video was digiscoped with a Panasonic Lumix G2 camera attached to a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope using a Kowa TSN-DA10 Digital Camera Adapter.

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Black-headed Grosbeak: Video using Swarovski ATX 85

Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park in Laguna Niguel, California is a wonderful place to go in the spring to see summer resident breeding birds. The habitat is a combination of coastal sage scrub with willow and cottonwood riparian areas along the creek that runs down the center of the canyon. Late March and early April is the perfect time to see and hear Greater Roadrunner, Least Bell’s Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Knowing this, I headed there one morning to try digiscoping with my micro 4/3 format camera through the Swarovski ATX Modular Eyepiece with the Swarovski 85mm Modular Objective. The Chats weren’t in yet, and the only Blue Grosbeak I encountered was high in a willow against bright marine layer clouds – a difficult background to work with.

As luck would have it, this Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus was posted up and singing with foliage in the background. The bird was so vivid and singing so beautifully that I immediately decided that video was called for. Mounting the camera to the scope was effortless, thanks to the Swarovski TLS-APO adapter, and I was rolling seconds after I had focused on the Grosbeak with the scope.

The pale gray downy feathers are part of the Grosbeak’s insulation system and the chill from the previous night had not yet left the air.

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Featherless Joy of Birding

The joy of birding doesn’t always include birds. After a successful three hour drive to Baker, California to see a White Ibis, we decided to check some other spots in the area that can often be productive. White-faced Ibis are the common species in California. Glossy Ibis is very rare. And this was the first White Ibis I’ve seen in the state in nearly 20 years of birding.

One of the stops was at the California State University Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx. The place was virtually bird-less, but on our way out, we chanced upon this particular joy of birding, a flock of Desert Bighorn Sheep. These animals are frequently very reclusive, so we stopped to get some photos and video. We were rewarded with some footage recording some behavior that few people get to see. The video was taken with a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera through a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope.

The advantage of digiscoping here is that we were able to keep our distance and avoid spooking the sheep. That turned out to be a good choice as we were able to get video of Desert Bighorn Sheep doing things that are not often seen. Be sure to follow along with the narration in the video as we point out such behavior as the ram asserting his dominance and insisting on submission from one of the younger males.

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Season of Shorebirds – Summer 2011

image5The summer of 2011 is shaping up to be a fabulous season of shorebirds in California. The season was kicked off with the appearance of the Lesser Sand-Plover in Orange County, CA, a cooperative bird that stayed a total of 8 days in late June, delighting many observers.

July has been even better with the appearance of two Little Stints, both in northern California. On the 23rd, Kimball Garrett discovered another one at Piute Ponds on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base in northern LA County. On the same day, a Wilson’s Plover was found at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve in Carpinteria, unfortunately in a restricted area where only a limited few could get access. The Little Stint was too good to pass up, so a group of us got up before dawn the next day and made the trek north, arriving on the site by 7:15. The bird was re-found within minutes of our arrival and we began watching this rather reddish adult shortly after. After about an hour of digiscoping pictures and video, one of the observers got a phone call saying that Guy McCaskie had found an adult Curlew Sandpiper on the salt basin at Imperial Beach, south of San Diego. You could look at the birders around you and just see the wheels turning as they all began calculating time and distance, or perhaps gauging spousal approval. Continue reading

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Western Screech-owl calling

Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl

Last month a couple of us went into Silverado Canyon to try and capture video of a Western Screech-Owl with the new Canon 7D camera. We found this cute little screech-owl right next to the road and used it to test our night-time video skills.

Night photography is always a challenge but with this camera in video mode, it was surprisingly simple to get great footage “fresh out of the box”. We set out this evening with only a small flashlight, camera, and tripod. For a first attempt with so little equipment, we were very pleased with the results.

The Canon 7D represents a big technological jump in digital photography. This camera delivers video and photo capabilities that give professional results at a reasonable cost to any amateur photographer.

We have now spent enough time with this camera to know that the rave reviews we hear about it are well justified. We took this video in the field at low light levels with minimal equipment, thus limiting the impact on the subject. The Canon 7D did a great job, producing high-quality video of Western Screech-owl under compromising conditions.

Western Screech-Owl has the highest population density in the foothills of our local area. He is a common resident of oak habitat in the Western United States. He is very similar to the other three species of screech-owls found in the US. The most obvious and defining characteristic of all owls is their call. The “bouncing ball” call of the Western Screech-Owl is very distinctive and make his identification very simple. Although common he is often missed visually by the birdwatchers. He is very well camouflaged, lives in dense wooded habitat and can be very difficult to locate by voice.

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Digiscoped Video – American Oystercatcher

On Saturday, May 22, 2010, I followed up on a report of an American Oystercatcher at a few locations in Laguna Beach. I tried Crescent Bay first, and was fortunate to find five Oystercatchers on the rocks below the point. Three were Black Oystercatchers, the other two looked pretty good for Americans. The problem is that Black and American Oystercatchers interbreed and their hybrid offspring can be anywhere on a cline from pure Black to pure American. Deciding what these birds were required some examination. A rating system developed by J. R. Jehl, Jr. is used by ornithologists to determine where on the cline a given bird falls. Because there are several genetic variations that are involved, ten different characteristics are judged, nine of them being rated 0 to 4, the belly coloration from 0 to 6. A score of 0 to 9 rates as a pure Black Oystercatcher, 30 to 38 as pure American, and everything in between as a hybrid.

This video was taken with a Nikon CoolPix P6000 attached to a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope at a distance of 96 yards measured by a Zeiss Victory PRF laser rangefinder.

The American Oystercatcher that is the main subject in this video has white upper tail coverts (Jehl’s score 4), basal half of all retrices were white (4), chest sharply delimited black to white on upper chest (4), belly entirely white (6), undertail coverts entirely white (4), thighs entirely white (4), greater secondary coverts 6-15mm (3), white present on some of inner primaries (3), underwing coverts entirely white (4), axillaries entirely white (4). Jehl’s score is 36 out of 38.

The hybrid Oystercatcher, seen on the left as the video starts, has upper tail coverts black (Jehl’s score 0), retrices mainly black with some white in the vanes (1), black chest bordered by jagged edge on upper chest (3), belly entirely white (6), undertail coverts mainly white (3), thighs entirely white (4), greater secondary coverts 6-15mm (3), white present on secondaries but not primaries (2), underwing coverts mainly white (3), axillaries entirely white (4). Jehl’s score is 28 out of 38, so close, but not close enough.

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