The Bufflehead Birder

May 24, 2008

Honk if You Love Harlequins

Filed under: Main Posts — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:20 am

I wish there were a bumper sticker that shouted “honk if you love Harlequins”. I’d buy it and actually put it on my car. Had we seen such a bumper sticker one Saturday last March my brother and I would have been leaning on the horn all the way up Long Beach Island Blvd up to Barnegat Light and back. It’s not hard to see why.

Adult male Harlequin ducks have striking white slashes and facial patches that give their plumage a Mardi Gras look. In overcast light the colors appear to be poured on.


Harlequins spend the summer in arctic regions, but these cool diving ducks hang out on the Atlantic coast in the winter as far south as New Jersey. They like rocky shorelines and that’s good for us because that make the jetty off the Barnegat Lighthouse a popular hang out for the ducks.

The Barnegat jetty is notorious for the winds that cut across the bay, but last March there was one Saturday when the wind was mild and we were able to join up with folks from the Delaware Valley Ornithology Club (DVOC) on a bird photography outing led by Steve Kacir.


The jetty was deceptively slick and the careful foot placement involved in walking out gave a workout to the quads that surpassed lunges. There were a couple of places where I could just stand and let my feet slide sideways on the slick rock surface. Reminded me of skiing in Vermont with its blue ice. Only in this situation it was more than a bruised hind end if I fell; like a mother with her children, I had to think of my beloved scope and camera.

Clusters of Harlequins were found on the mossy wet rocks where they would take a breather from diving for fish. The female Harlequin has brown plumage but still has little white cheek patches and it looks as if the male next to her has not fully come out of his first winter plumage.


An ocean idyll

I could have spent all day no problem just photographing harlequins. But there were other birds - Longtail Ducks (Oldsquaws), Eiders, Common Loons, a Northern Gannet, Purple Sandpipers, mergansers, Herring and Black-backed Gulls. One of my favorite birds is the Oyster Catcher. I think it’s the brilliant red bill and orange eyes.

oyster-catcher.JPG gull.JPG

The above photos are of an American Oystercatcher and a Herring Gull. I can’t tell if the oystercatcher was in resting mode or truly did have only one leg. My attention was soon distracted by some Dunlins that were clumped together on the other side of the jetty, along with some Purple Sandpipers that wouldn’t stay still for a shot.


It was fairly windy out. By this time I has already purchased the video mount for my tripod which gave my scope more stability than the previous ballhead mount I had. But there was still some camera/scope shake.

Although that little droplet of precipitation on the end of the one bird’s bill and the way they are huddled with feathers fluffed makes the little bunch appear cold, they are summer breeding arctic birds and the New Jersey shore is their balmy Florida. If you want to see more photos of the Harlequins and other birds go to my photo gallery. I hope to have it ready in a week or so.

The first Barnegat Lighthouse was built in 1834 and by 1857 was falling into the sea as a result of sandbank erosion. The second one was finished in 1859 and is now the 2nd tallest lighthouse in the U.S.


For some interesting history on this lighthouse go to

dscn1567.JPG dscn1568.JPG

Barnegat Lighthouse is no longer a working lighthouse. But it was open to the public and I did my workout for the day going to the top. I love the surprises when things are seen from a completely different perspective.

I am in the process of learning how to edit my video clips and will soon have more of them uploaded into the Nature Video Clip category. Meanwhile, I did post one of my video clips of the harlequins.

And after that is a fun puzzle of one of the friendliest mailboxes I’ve ever seen. It makes up, I’m sure, for all the attack dogs postal delivery folks have to face.





Harlequin Ducks - barnegat light

Filed under: Main Posts — admin @ 11:19 am

Weekly Puzzle - may 24, 2008

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — admin @ 11:09 am

Please click on image below to do this weekly puzzle. 

Mail For Me

May 22, 2008

Where the Birds Should Be

Filed under: Main Posts — admin @ 10:08 pm

Please take heart.

The next few images you will see on this post are confined to this post only because this post tells about my first attempt at digiscoping, which did not have shining results, of course. The point of this post is the story, so have fun and when you get to the end there is a surprise.


When you first go out to try your new digiscope set up, there are two rules to follow:

1. Do not read the manual. Take it with you, but do not read it ahead of time - this may give the idea you might have a clue or two about setting up your gear.

2. Pick a bone-chilling day with high winds to try out your digiscope gear - obstacles and challenges make us better learners.

Although I had actually read my Nikon Coolpix manual and had gotten comfortable with my point and shoot, I did adhere to the above two rules admirably. The first weekend after my scope arrived back in February, I went to a nearby preserve called Prophecy Creek where there is a pond with plenty of cooperative Canada geese and ducks for me to practice on.

I set up my scope on my tripod and attached the camera to the adapter. Ok, I lied a bit. I had read my spotting scope instructions a bit during my break at work the day before, but somehow missed the part about how the adapter is supposed to have one piece permanently attached to the scope just below the eyepiece, which unscrews, and then the other piece of the adapter attaches to the camera lens (after you remove the lens ring). The idea is to be able to slip the camera right over the eyepiece and screw in the ONE adapter screw. Meanwhile, I have both pieces of the adapter nicely attached to my camera and while it will still fit over the eyepiece, it’s clumsy and wiggly, and I had to tighten two screws to secure it. Frankly, I thought it was a bizarre set up, but decided Swarovski knows what’s it’s doing.

So, then I scanned the pond with the big ol’ Canada geese floating all around. How hard could it be to sight in on a couple and snap off a few shots?

But it didn’t work quite that smoothly. First off, the geese were swimming or being swept by the wind along the water’s surface and did not stay in the scope’s sight. I was new to attaching the camera with adapter onto the scope eyepiece, and there was a delay in the point and shoot’s shutter release, and I could hardly tell what I was seeing through the LCD screen on my camera. Oh, and there was some severe camera shake and wiggly scope syndrome.

The results were lots of goose hind ends or empty space, although I did get a nice abstract of a Mallard. But even that Mallard was a stroke of luck.


Lucky shot aside, I needed a break from the drifting subjects. I caught sight of some starlings high in an American Plane tree (similar to a Sycamore) and wondered if maybe they might not be easier because at least, they were sitting. I sighted them in easily enough and even managed to attach the camera without too much trouble. However, I still couldn’t see much in the LCD viewing screen, so forget focusing; it wasn’t even a factor here. But I snapped off a shot anyway.

It was a great shot. Nice blue sky, seed balls sort of in focus on the branches. But the shot would have been even better if there had been some birds in it. I looked up again to see if the starlings had flown, but they hadn’t. They were still sitting on the branch, a nice composition of 3 birds. I removed the camera from the scope and started over. Somehow I had tapped the scope while attaching the camera and adapter, so that the scope moved just enough to accurately frame the vacant branch next to the subject. This happened several times after. Apparently, I was jarring the scope to the right of the target.

By now my hands were frozen and I took a break to warm my fingers. I gazed around at the pines and thick woods, and thought about all those small fast-flitting woodland birds that were supposed to someday be the subject of future images. It would never happen. I was doomed to digiscoping only comatose birds.

With this weary thought in mind, I then noticed that some of the geese had wandered onto the far shore and were waddling up onto the green lawn. On dry land the birds didn’t blow out of the frame, which was promising, and despite the glare of sun on the LCD viewer, I could see vague shadows that I knew were heads and necks and even entire geese in the frame. Ok, now I was rolling.

I had faith.

And while I might not walk away with anything I’d keep later, I began to get excited and hopeful and I thought, “It can be done.”

Three Geese

Turns out that there are two categories of images for first time digiscoping that I would like to lay claim to:

The Once Upon a Time Category and the Wish You Were Here Category. The difference is this:

If the subject has either partially or completely moved out of the frame, the resulting image falls into the Once Upon a Time Category.

If the subject has not been captured in the frame due to movement of the scope itself, then the resulting image is of the Wish You Were Here Variety.

Can you guess which belongs in which group? See answers below.

A Duck Says Goodbye a Starlings b There Once Was a Duck c Stage Right d

a. Once Upon a Time b. Wish You Were Here

c. Wish You Were Here / Once Upon a Time d. Once Upon a Time


If you found that quiz fun, there’s a lot more where it came from. Please feel free to request more.

Meanwhile, here is a puzzle of a much improved image for you to enjoy.

May 21, 2008

Weekly Puzzle 2 - may 21, 2008

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — Tags: , — admin @ 10:07 pm

Please click on image below to do this Weekly Puzzle.

American Goldfinch

The Rabbit Hole

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I made the decision to purchase digiscoping equipment. I had no idea. And now, I feel like I’ve fallen into an extraordinary rabbit hole and I don’t want to stop falling.


But, before I spent the money on a spotting scope (a good one) and a point and shoot camera, I thought about it long and hard. I was keen to try digiscoping but had to consider the fact that I might really stink at it, and then what? Was it worth getting a scope and point and shoot, or would it be better to just get a bigger SLR lens?
I decided that having a spotting scope was helpful if I wanted to learn my shorebirds better, especially now that I had moved back east with such excellent shorebird hotspots within a few hours drive. I also decided that a point and shoot was something I needed anyway for trips and outings with friends. It would be much easier to take a pocket camera along rather than a big ol’ SLR Canon D20.

And so, I gave Eagle Optics ( .) a call and bought a ticket to a place of excitement and intimacy with nature that I did not expect.

I did know that taking images through a scope is much harder than with a regular lens because you cannot track birds or sight them in as quickly with a scope. I also knew that for many birds, it would require a lot of patience and tenacity on my part to get shots of them. But I welcomed that and looked forward to what I might see and learn in the process. Much as I love hanging out in wild, I don’t always get myself out there as much as I would like.

However, the first time out with the scope and camera was rough and I wondered if Eagle Optics shouldn’t have included tranquilizers as part of the deal. For more on that experience please read the post after this one, entitled “Where the Birds Should Be”.

After only 3 and a half months of digiscoping, I haven’t fallen as deep into the Rabbit Hole as I will have in 5 years from now, or 15 years. But it’s been a swell journey so far. It’s more than just seeing birds close up with a 80mm scope, or the getting outside to look for birds that makes digiscoping so much fun. I am finding that I will spend much more time with them than I would with just a spotting scope. I get to witness things I most likely would not have stuck around long enough to see if I weren’t trying to get a good shot.

I love to photograph and have no problem spending 5 hours or more in a place working things. So I may stay in a good birding spot for a long time. The difficulty with focus (more on that in future posts) has actually forced me to stick around to get a decent shot. And having the camera with me has not hindered my observation of bird behavior as I had been afraid it might. I had been concerned that I would spend to much time on the photography and not on the observation and learning. In fact, the opposite is true.

I’ve discovered active nesting cavities, seen birds fight and flee from one another, watched the mating of Killdeer and White-tailed deer, witnessed a pair of Tree swallows fighting with one bird being pinned in the mud for a moment, and two hours later a pair of House sparrows going at it with one of them being pinned to the sidewalk, and last weekend spent an hour watching a killdeer chick pulling and stretching worms out from the muddy shores of a pond. And that’s just what’s on the top of my head.

I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth and can hardly believe it can get any better.

But how can it not?

My digiscope set-up at work


The Now Moment

Filed under: Bird SLR Photography, Digiscoping — admin @ 10:05 pm

I am not one of those people who love to shop around. When I want something, I want it, and I want it NOW.

I had been thinking for several months about getting a bird spotting scope and a point and shoot camera to do some digiscoping. So when a Red-bellied woodpecker crawled around on a tree not 30 feet from me one day as I was wandering along a stream bed, I got a sudden hankering to bite the bullet and get the digiscope gear.

So first thing, I called my brother to ask what kind of spotting scope I should get if I want to get into digiscoping. My brother has been a bird photographer for a long time and knows about things like computers, cameras, scopes, GPS units, whatever. Why waste time looking online, reading stuff I won’t understand when a sibling is a phone call away, let alone just 2 miles down the road?

“You should really go online and check what’s out there,” he said.

I wasn’t happy about that because I had a bad case of the ‘nows’ and if I could just be advised of what to get now, then I could go get it now, and come back in a week to try and get a shot of that woodpecker before it grew old and died.

“Well, should I get a 65mm or an 80mm?” I asked into my cell phone. (No, I don’t normally chat on cell phones while in the woods. Please don’t think I do. I use it as a watch and it happened to be handy.)

“It depends what you like.”

How did I know what I like? He’s supposed to tell me. I groaned because it was now most likely to be yet another few months before I would figure out what I wanted and trust myself to make a good decision.

However, believe it or not, when I went online to research I really got into reading up on scopes and checking birding blogs to see what people use and what kind of shots they can get.

About a month after that woodpecker had given me that peck in the pants, my Swarovski 80mm ATS HD spotting scope arrived at my doorstep from Eagle Optics. A yippee moment for sure.

Swarovski 80 ATS HD Scope

If you want to read more about my digiscope equipment please click on My Digiscope Set Up page. If not, you can enjoy the puzzle of the week coming up next.

Weekly Puzzle - May 18,2008

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — admin @ 9:36 pm

Please click on the image below to do the Weekly Puzzle

Weekly Puzzle - may 21,2008 - Cardinal

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