Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Good Time to Look for Birds of Prey

     When is the best time and place to look for birds of prey? Usually, the best place to find birds of prey is at a large field. Here you can find most of the birds of prey that live in your area. Generally, the best time to see birds of prey is when a field of some kind has recently been harvested or mowed. This flushes all the insects and mice out of their hiding places and they have a very long distance to travel before they reach the safety of the woods. This gives all the birds ample opportunity to grab as much food as they can. 
     At some fields, you can find them crowded with many birds at one time. For example, this Swallow Tailed Kite was part of a flock of about six other kites. Together, they ravaged the freshly mown field until all food sources were gone. Kites are very efficient in how they hunt. If you can time it right, get to a field right after its has been cut, and look out for the birds of prey. 

Thanks for reading everybody, and happy birding!

    Swallow-Tailed Kite by John Mark Simmons

Monday, May 14, 2012

GA Youth Birding Competition Full Strategy by the Mockingjays

The team that the Two Birders were on this year (the Mockingjays) won first place overall in the GA Youth Birding Competition. We finished the competition with 143 species after the 24 hour period of intense birding. 

When the competition started at 5 P.M. on Friday evening, the Mockingjays were positioned at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia. Once the clock struck five, the birding began. We got many inland warblers like Prothonotary and Swainsons Warblers, as well as Northern Waterthrush. 

After two and a half hours of birding there, we birded some other local hot spots to patch up our inland birds list before we went to the coast. Seventy species later, we started our overnight drive to the coast. At around 2 A.M. we finally got our missing Nightjar, Whip Poor Will, putting us at an even seventy species for the first day. We came into our campsite at three A.M. and got a little bit of sleep. 

At 5:30 A.M. we all got up and went to St. Simons Island for out first stop, seeing many specialties there such as:

  • Gray Kingbird
  • Whimbrel
  • American White Pelican 
  • Clapper Rail 
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Painted Bunting 

We then started our drive to Altamaha Wildlife Management Area. There we picked up another thirty or so species including our highlight of the stop, Least Bittern.  After braving the mosquitoes at Altamaha, we began the journey all the way back inland to Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center. 

On the way we picked up a couple raptors as well as Eastern Kingbird and Eastern Meadowlark. We arrived at Charlie Elliot an hour before the deadline (as planned) and birded the surrounding areas and got seven more key species. 

At five o'clock, we stopped birding and submitted our checklist to the judges. We are proud to say no species were taken off our list and we got all of the 143 species that we saw or heard. Partly because we had photographic evidence of many of the birds. 

   Great Egret in the morning sun by John Mark Simmons

    Summer Tanager by John Mark Simmons

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Diopters (Very Important Binocular Fixing Tip!)

    Think your binoculars are ruined? Think again, before you throw them away, try this binocular fixing tip. A diopter is what controls the things that you can focus on in your binoculars. If something is still not in focus even though you try and try to get it in focus by turning the ring, your diopter is probably messed up. The diopter can be accessed by twisting the ring on either the left of right binocular near the eye cup. This is where the diopter is located on most binoculars, but not all of them. To set your diopter:  First, find a stationary subject. Second, turn the focus wheel until you get the subject as in focus as you can. Third, twist the diopter wheel until the subject becomes as clear as possible. Once upon a time, by doing this, I saved a pair of binoculars that I thought were ruined. Make sure you try this before throwing the bins into the junk pile. You could save yourself a good chunk of money. Hope this helped and thanks for reading everyone. Happy Birding!

     Red-Winged Blackbird by John Mark Simmons

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bird Memory (Food Stashing)

Do birds have memory? As a matter of fact, they do. Although some birds have better memory than others, they all have it. The Rufous Hummingbird is a very skilled bird memory wise. It can remember exact spots to come back to where it was able to find food the previous year. Which is amazing since it migrates so far only to come back to the exact same spot. Another example of bird memory is the Tufted Titmouse. Sometimes, when you look at the spot where the branch of a tree connects, you can find bird seed shoved into the tiny holes or crevasses. It does this simply as a precaution and for convenience so it will always have some food on hand. One last example is the Clark's Nutcracker. It has a very good memory among birds. The Clark's Nutcracker can stash food in very specific places on any terrain, fly ten miles away, and then come back to the very same spot. This Gray Catbird below is very good at remembering food sources too, as well as general areas to nest. Some people have had the same pair of Catbirds a few years in a row before. Birds aren't as dumb as some people may think. Thanks for reading, and happy birding!

Posted by John Mark Simmons. Photo Copyright John Mark Simmons

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


     Have you ever had trouble distinguishing a Mockingbird's imitation of a bird with the real one? Here are a few tips to help you sift out the confusion. Mimics can include anything from Jays to Thrashers but the most notorious one is most likely the Northern Mockingbird. The name fits very well. They can usually imitate a good 50% of the bird sounds in your yard. While they cannot imitate Warblers, mimics such as the Mockingbird can cause some confusing situations. The first and most simple tip is this. When you hear the bird sound that you are uncertain of, keep listening, until the song keeps going or it changes to a different song. If it changes to a different song within a few seconds, it is most likely a Mimic. A second tip is, when a Mimic imitates something, it is either louder or softer than the real thing. They are usually not perfectly in tune with the original sound. Although they are very skilled in imitating other sounds, this flaw is one that is easy to recognize sometimes.

Brown Thrasher (Mimics very often)
     Probably the most confusing imitation is that of the Blue Jay which takes on the sound of a Red Shouldered Hawk very often. If Blue Jays are not around where you bird, well, they aren't a problem. But for those who do have them and hear this often, here is some info about that. When the real Red Shouldered Hawk calls, it is very energetic and is constantly calling. Also, usually, when these Hawks are calling, they are flying. This makes it easier to see them. When a Blue Jay imitates it, they are softer, more hoarse, much less powerful, and they only call for a short amount of time. But the real Hawk can calls continuously for a long time.  One you begin to distinguish them on a regular basis, you will get the hang of it soon. Hope this helped with all those confusing imitations! Thanks for reading and happy birding.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Banding Codes

     While birding in the field, banding codes can be a tremendous time saver. If you are trying to write down bird species but need to get it done really fast so you wont miss birds, use banding codes. Here are some examples. The banding code for " Carolina Chickadee" would be "CACH." Why? Codes are rather simple once the basics are established. You take the first two letters of the first word, and the first two letters of the second word to make "CACH." However, that bird has a two word name. Other birds have three or even four word names. If the bird has a three word name like " Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker" the banding code would be "YBSA." Because for three word names, you take the first letter of the first word, the first letter of the second word, and the first two letters from the third word. This makes "YBSA." For a four word name, you simply take one letter from the beginning of each word. "Black and White Warbler" would simply be "BAWW." Thats it! A simple way to speed up your writing while in the field. One last example is this Yellow-Throated Warbler on the left. Its banding code would be "YTWA." We hope this helps you to be more efficient and to get more birds while in the field. Happy birding!

Posted by John Mark Simmons for TB

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eagle Optics Binocular Harness Straps

     Everyone needs some of the stress of their neck for awhile. But if you want to keep birding and your neck hurts cause of that itchy and irritating neck strap, how can you? These Eagle Optics harness straps can help to fix that. These straps put the weight of the binoculars on your back. They have two hooks that are easily attachable to your binocular's rings. As you can see in the photo, the design is specifically made to keep the stress off of your neck. After years of birding with a regular neck strap, the stress can really start to become apparent. Also, these straps are extremely comfortable and much less irritating than a neck strap. The weight is spread around as the the flexible straps mold to your body somewhat for a more custom fit.
     When wearing these straps, it is easy to put a DSLR camera strap over it. This does not impede the harness's flexibility and it allows you to easily access your camera for a quick bird photo without getting tangled up in a regular neck strap. While some companies have come out with neck straps that have a soft cushion integrated in them, these harness straps offer much more freedom of movement, comfort, and flexibility.

Be sure and comment below on what you think about the harness straps. As always, Happy Birding! -TB

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bird Songs and Calls

     Some birds make a variety of different sounds. For example, the Carolina Wren makes at least five main songs, plus, all the little chirps that it makes. It may take a while to memorize every combination of sounds that a bird has. In fact, it takes many years to memorize all the different sounds. Then after that, when you venture to foreign areas of the country or to other countries entirely, its like starting over. Don't be discouraged over this. Everyone has their area of expertise when it comes to bird sounds.
     Once you memorize a bird's song, you have to work on its call next. This is best accomplished by not just listening to a recording but going out and spending time watching the bird your trying to learn about. The more time you spend with the bird, the more familiar you will become with its sounds. A bird's call is usually made after it sings its song several times from its prominent perch, and is then moving to a more covered area. Once it is in a well covered area it then begins to call. Some birds have more than one call also. Calls are usually a small "chip note", which, to beginners, can get very confusing because so many birds make chip calls. Just spend more time working with the birds you want to learn.  Learn it yourself.  Listen for something, if you don't know what it is, then go find it!  It is extremely different from having someone else teach you. If you figure out the bird by yourself, you will then easily recognize it once you hear it. Hope this helps those who are struggling somewhat with bird sounds.

Thanks for reading everybody, and be sure to leave a comment!

Posted by John Mark Simmons

Canyon Towhee by John Mark Simmons

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Active Birding

To find more birds you need to do more than sit around and hope for a good report of birds in your area. Get out and find the birds yourself. Active birding will increase your chances of getting more birds and you can have lots of fun in the process. After all one of the most fun things in birding is getting to go to cool places to find them. If you use more active birding tactics you can get more birds and see more cool places. You can car pool with birding friends to help with transportation! It is a great way to save on gas. I guarantee that if you do this rather than sitting at the computer hoping for a report, go and make the report yourself. Someone has to make the reports, and it might as well be you. Thanks for reading our blog!
Posted by John Mark Simmons

Eastern Wood Pewee

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Photo Tip: White Balance

Here is another tip using our cooperative Red Shouldered Hawks again. This time hunting in my garden. It was a very cloudy and rainy day so the lighting wasn't that good. I first took a few photos with my white balance on AUTO. Then I took the rest of the pictures with my white balance on CLOUDY. I want to know your opinion on this. Does it look better with or without the white balance on cloudy. If you set your white balance correctly it usually makes the lighting look nomal. But sometimes it doesn't and ends up making it worse. My shutter speed was low and I didn't want to raise my ISO to much to fix it or else it might be too noisy. So I shot with ISO 400. There might be some barely noticeable blur and that is because of the shutter speed. But my main point is about the white balance. So leave a comment down below and say what you think looks better. Thanks for reading everybody! Please help spread the word about Two Birders and Binoculars.
John Mark Simmons for TB

With white balance on CLOUDY
 With white balance on AUTO.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Depth of Field (DOF)

Here is a quick tip about depth of field. This photo that I took in Colorado was at the F stop 5.6 Most people just say F5.6. You will probably notice how blurred everything else is except the head. This is because of the depth of field F5.6 creates. Especially at 300mm. The LOWER the f stop number is, the higher your shutter speed is and the shallower your depth of field is. The HIGHER your F stop number the lower your shutter speed is and more things will be in focus. When it is a higher number like F8 the depth of field will not be so shallow. More things will be in focus. Many landscape photographers use high F stops like F22 or higher because it gets the whole landscape in focus. But for wildlife photography, it is usually best to shoot with as low of an f stop as possible. Because it increases the quality of the photo and makes the subject stand out more. If this lizard photo had been taken at F 8 or higher, I probably wouldn't like it so much. Because usually when more is in focus, the more boring the photo is. This is a principle of bird photography, I  do not speak for other forms of photography. Although this a is a pretty general rule.
Posted by John Mark Simmons

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Creative Nests

The Carolina Wren has been known to use many different and unusual objects for its nest. Here is an example of my favorite one so far. This nest was built last year in an old hiking boot on my shoe rack in the garage. Thankfully they didn't nest in a shoe I was currently using. The lighting for this was pretty bad, so I hooked up my external flash. My shutter speed was 1/60 of a second which is just what I needed to get the shot.  I am curious where they will nest this year! I know that there are many birds out there that make more creative nests than the Carolina Wren's but since this one was right outside my door, I wanted to share it with everyone. Feel free to leave a comment about some of the most creative nests that you have found.
Posted by John Mark Simmons

1/60 of a second shutter speed, f4.5, with Vivitar 283 Manual external flash.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Photo Quiz (Eastern North America) #2

This was taken in a small field and this bird was numerous among the species that were present. The answer will be posted Feb 24. Good luck!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Common Birds are Pretty Too (Just Look Closer)

Today's post is to liberate the common birds from their place of shame that they are usually placed in by many birders. Many people focus on harder to find birds or rare birds that count as lifers. This is definitely the case with me also, but lets shed some light here on the birds we see everyday. Now some of you may not see White Throated Sparrows every day but I'd say most people in the U.S. do. When you see a bird this common usually it is not considered worthy of time or energy to look at. Well, I spent a little time to get this picture and I love it. I've never gotten a sparrow photo with more detail. I am glad to have gotten this photo because these sparrows will be gone rather soon. I hope you might be inspired to give the common birds a little more credit for the beauty that has been carefully placed in them. Thanks for reading everybody, you inspire me to keep going. 
Posted by John Mark Simmons

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Advantages of Manual Focus

     Here is an example of a good time to use manual focus on your DSLR camera. When there are many branches or sticks in the way it is best to use manual. Too many leaves or sticks can confuse the AF system and it will focus where you don't want it to. As for me, I always use manual focus because my camera's AF is rather slow. I can beat my own auto focus so I use manual. Here is a picture of a Palm Warbler where I was glad I always use manual. There were not a substantial amount of sticks in the way but manual helped a lot to nail this bird. On average it is good to use AF for the majority of your shots. Unless you want to take it as a challenge and go manual. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.
Posted by John Mark Simmons

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photo Quiz (Eastern North America)

See if you can ID this bird thats chowing down on this suet feeder. Leave your answer in the comments below. The real answer will be posted Feb 1. Thanks everybody for reading.
John Mark Simmons for TB

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Birding in the Neighborhood

On a perfect Saturday morning, my friend and I went through his neighborhood going from lagoon to lagoon searching for birds and getting pictures!  After an hour the camera died and we were not able to get pictures of many Black Crowned Night Herons, Wood Ducks, or Pine Warblers, but we did get a bunch of pictures of Hooded Mergansers, Pied-Billed Grebes, and Double Crested Cormorants.

- Sam Brunson

 Double Crested Cormorant
 Hooded Merganser (male)
  Hooded Merganser (male and female)
Pied-Billed Grebe

Friday, January 20, 2012

GA Bird Trip Part 3

Here is part 3 of my trip. The overall trip was awesome. My favorite part was obviously the pelagic that I went on. But I really love birding on the beach. More photo opportunities arise when your on a beach it seems like. Follow our blog for more photos and cool posts. Any questions always welcome. 
Posted by John Mark Simmons
 Manx Shearwater
Female Buffleheads 
Photos by John Mark Simmons

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

GA Coast Birding Trip Part 2

Here is the second part with more photos. I used manual focus on all the photos. The reason being my auto focus is rather slow on my camera and I have learned to master M focus. We are considering opening up a photo ID section where you can send in photos " from Eastern North America" and we will help to ID the subject. We are also going to start doing our own quizzes. First one is being posted today.  Hope you guys like the photos. If you do please follow and help spread the word about this blog.
Posted by John Mark Simmons
 Sunrise White Ibis
 Red Phalaropes
Boneparte's Gull

Sunday, January 15, 2012

GA Coast Birding Trip Part 1

 During a beautiful weekend in January I went to Tybee Island and surrounding areas to do some winter birding. I found a total of 11 life birds. Here are some of my pictures from the pelagic trip I went on. The Razorbills were my favorite bird of the trip and a rarity for Georgia. The boat trip was fun and successful despite all the sea sickness that passed around the boat during the first few hours. Hope you enjoy the photos and happy birding everyone!
- John Mark Simmons.
 Manx Shearwater
Boneparte's Gull

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Birding Tip: Something New

I am going to present a challenge to you. Try to identify as many birds as you can without thinking about color. Richard Crossly likes to bird without using color as a field mark. By not using color as a field mark you will become more accustomed to tougher identifications. It is not as easy as it sounds. Birding without using color is hard. Think of pattern, shape, size, and range rather than color. It may sound weird at first but it is a great training exercise. I hope you try this! It should make a difference in your birding. Because sometimes you can't see the colors of a bird, by doing this exercise you can hopefully identify those birds more easily. Thanks for reading everybody and have a good day. And check out Richard's bird guide for Eastern North America! It's the best yet.
John Mark Simmons for TB

Dark Eyed Junco ( Brown Adult) by John Mark Simmons

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Operation Bye Bye Blackbird Kills Millions :(

Over the course of the past few years the USDA ( United States Department of Agriculture) has poisoned a variety of starlings, blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles. The reason? Crop damage caused by the birds has enraged farmers that grow massive amounts of plants. The USDA took action against the birds by poisoning. I am not sure exactly how this was done but it left the lifeless bodies of birds scattered throughout cities. There are numerous news stories dotted around the internet about the event. Birders are enraged at the drastic numbers of birds that were slaughtered. The USDA kept their mouths shut until now, claiming responsibility for the millions of dead birds. Although many people including me are upset I can see some reason in it. Look at it like this. Your a farmer that just planted a hundred acres of corn, wheat, and beans. Here comes a giant flock of birds that demolishes all your hard work. So you can understand right? I'm not trying to completely defend the bird poisoning for it has a devastating effect on birds like the Rusty Blackbird. But I wanted you to see it from the killer's point of view. Thanks for reading this today everybody and you have just been filled in on the biggest news about birds.
John Mark Simmons for TB

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Ok here is a top and bottom comparison. I wasn't able to do side by side but you can still see the difference. These are not both the same picture but they are both similar enough to show as an example. They were both taken within a second of each other. As you can see the one on the bottom is over exposed and the light is harsh on the bird's front. But with these two things changed: exposure compensation down half a stop and white balance changed to "direct sunlight" you can see the difference. It may not seem that significant to some people but if you want to enter one in a contest or something, you have to change your settings to adapt to the lighting situation. If you have any questions on how to do these things please comment.
Posted by John Mark Simmons

With settings changed
Without settings changed.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Photo Tip: Direct Sunlight

Today I came across a group of six Red Shouldered Hawks in my yard today. Two of them offered great photo ops. So I come up to one and he shows no signs of flight so I keep approaching until I am as close as I can get. The lighting situation was direct sunlight. The sun was shining directly on him from the front. This is the lighting that you want. But since the light was a little harsh I brought my "exposure compensation" down half a stop. Which is just one turn of the command dial on your DSLR. This brought my exposure level to an even state. I also put my white balance on the setting "direct sunlight" which helped balance the colors. So whenever the light is at a good angle but too harsh on the birds feathers try these two things and see the difference. To really see what difference white balance makes, read the post titled "White Balance." Thanks to all who read TBAB and happy birding everyone!

Posted by John Mark Simmons

Red Shouldered Hawk by John Mark Simmons

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution

Hey everybody,
The TB team took a little bit longer of a Christmas break than originally intended but we are finally up and running again. How many of you have any "bird related" resolutions for the year of 2012. I certainly have one. I plan to write down in my lab book every bird seen for each day of 2012. The location, the date, and how many birds of that species will also be reorded. It is definitely going to be a hard task to do the entire year. But I always just think of how valuable this info will be when I am done. Im sure not all of you would like to assume such a task but you can do something smaller and easier to do. As long as you identify a good amount of birds every day your skills will stay fine tuned. Don't wait two weeks and then go birding once, then another two weeks and so on. Think of something creative, something that not many people have done. Best of luck to all who crate a new year's resolution. Happy new year!

Posted by John Mark Simmons

Tree Swallows by John Mark Simmons