When Birding Gets Stressful – for Ron

Well, I was all ready to head out and get my run in this morning when I opened the door to sleet. Umm, where the hell did that come from!?! Normally that wouldn’t bother me much, but the sleet was essentially horizontal thanks to the 20mph wind that was accompanying the ice balls. One view of that and Inner Bri (I call him Ibbie) was quick to point out “Hey dude, you know you are retired right?”. Now Ibbie has a habit of getting me in trouble, however, this time he was right. Quickly checked out the forecast and sure enough, likely better (slightly) conditions in a few hours so waffles it is! In the meantime, what to do, what to do. Hey, I know, how about we get ourselves closer to the list goal.

Kentucky Warbler found at Shell Mound on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

I hit you with a few of the duller Warblers the last couple of posts and thought it was time to start stepping it up in the color arena – plus I promised CJ (link here) I would give her something brighter to enjoy her morning coffee with. Will quickly admit, these are not shots that will ever make it on our house walls or the galleria ledge (link here), but this featured feathered friend almost cost my brother Ron extra nights in Alabama. To set the stage, this yellowish bird with the unique highlighting comes to you from our April trip to Dauphin Island along the Alabama Gulf Shores. I’ve previously noted the incredible birding we had that vacation thanks to the fallout and this is another treasure that came home with us.

Hit the jump to read a bit more about how this one almost didn’t make it into the tin.

Kentucky Warbler found at Shell Mound on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

The interesting thing about this +1 to my birding list .. it almost didn’t happen. well, let’s just say based on the assumptions at the time, it almost didn’t happen. More on that in a bit. We drove down to Dauphin in our RV and Ron was able to fly down and meet us there so we could do some birding together. Not only is that a great chance to spend some time together (he lives in Chicago which is like light years from us downstaters)., when it comes to birding, the more eyes the better especially when those eyes come attached to a large knowledge base of birding field knowledge. We picked up Ron from a nearby airport on the second full day we were there. Got him situated in a hotel that ended up being right next to our RV spot, he grabbed his camera and we were off to explore a spot Linda and I had found the day before – Shell Mounds.

Kentucky Warbler found at Shell Mound on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

At one point during that visit we checked out the discovery board at the entrance and I noted there was a Kentucky Warbler listed. I took special notice of that as there is no mark next to the Kentucky Warbler on my life list – just a big ol’ empty box. By the early afternoon, that box was still as empty as it was in the morning. We didn’t see any sign this easily identifiable bird was hanging out in those woods. Not sure how you could ever be disappointed at Dauphin, but my hopes were pretty high and it looked like that wasn’t going to be fulfilled.

Kentucky Warbler found at Shell Mound on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

Ron and I were making probably our 4th or 5th pass through trails and came upon a lady with camera in hand – our kind of people! We got to talking after the social butterfly in our group (Chicago-boy) introduced himself. I always joke about wondering where his extrovert chromosome came from, but truth is he has netted us a lot of birds with this strange behavior (hehehe). At some point the Kentucky came up – can’t remember if it was directly from us noting our incomplete quest or she brought it up as one of her favorite captures for the day – same end either way – “YOU FOUND THE KENTUCKY!?!” The amazing things about birders, they are always willing to help you out and point you in the right direction or even take you to the exact point of their last encounter – for the record, I am hearing internationally this cordial birding atmosphere may not exist, so for now I will simply state we have experienced this with all the US based birders Ron and I have had the opportunity to meet. True to course, she offered to take us exactly where she found it, which surprisingly, wasn’t that far away.

Kentucky Warbler found at Shell Mound on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

Now any birder knows, being in the right spot does not mean you will actually SEE it much less tin it. They have these things called wings and the Warbler family members are quite adept in their stealthy ninja skilz. Fortunately, this lady was apparently the Warbler Whisperer and soon alerted us to its presence. Ron was faster on the draw and pretty sure he got some decent shots almost immediately – Let’s all encourage Ron to get to processing his pictures! Me on the other hand, not so lucky. By the time I had the settings where there needed to be and got The Beast in range, the specimen had taken off. We tried everything we could to continue tracking it, but eventually lost sight. AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH. The plan for that day’s visit had just become laser focused on getting that Kentucky captured if it was the last thing Ron did – even if he has to stay all night or cancel his planned flight home which was still a couple of days away. Yeah, I know he was the one who executed, but you are probably not familiar with how birding with my brother goes. I get it and he doesn’t, no issues, he gets it and I don’t – now that is a serious problem … for him .. to make sure I find it if he wants to get any sleep the rest of the trip… hehehe.

Kentucky Warbler found at Shell Mound on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

He lucked out and we did manage to find it about an hour later. I think he gave a huge sigh of relief once I verified the pictures were good enough to claim the plus 1. That was the last time we saw the Kentucky the rest of our trip. I can’t thank that lady enough for helping us find this cool Warbler.

Through the very few pictures I managed to get from our brief encounter, so I better get to the takeaways. I must say, there are a number of Warblers that look very similar especially beyond their breeding plumage. The Kentucky male is not one of them as their dark cap paired with thick black sideburns is easily distinguishable. Add in the full yellow breast through to the under tail topped with an olive/greenish feathering on top of the wings/back, you have yourself a bird whose name incorrectly implies its range. According to Cornell, this species was first found by naturalist Alexander Wilson while he was in Kentucky. They actually winter in Central/South America and migrate into the majority of southeastern states. On the interesting characteristics front, this particular Warbler only has one song. They also sport the rather long legs similar to the Waterthrushes that I featured a few posts back (link here).

Sleet has finally subsided and the wind has dropped from 20mph down to a tolerable 17mph (positive thoughts to keep Ibbie from getting too worked up) – time to get the running shoes on and knock out today’s miles. Hope you enjoyed the latest addition to my birding list…. only 7 more to go to reach my goal.

Oh, almost forgot – turns out the added stress was unwarranted. While going through the first day’s captures in detail – the day before Ron go there – spotted a few Kentucky shots had already made it into the tin. Those are the head shots in the middle of the post. I was pretty tired after that first day (actually all the days) and didn’t have the energy to look through the day’s captures in detail – sorry Ron.

17 thoughts on “When Birding Gets Stressful – for Ron”

  1. Good to listen to you Inner Bri. Horizontal sleet is no fun other that to have a story about how crazy one is. Adorable warbler. I love the fro-feathers when he poofs them.

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    1. Unfortunately, someone in the household would prefer it if I listened more to my Ollie than my Ibbie (Outer Linda) ha! I laughed when you read your fro-feathers – a perfect description for this Kentuckian (not exactly sure if that is common to all or whether this one was just having an extra frizzy day). Thanks for popping in Timothy.

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  2. Great shots of a very colorful bird. I like the way it appears to be peaking around the leaves. And the bright yellow under the tail as the parting shot.

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      1. Ahh, dammit, that would have been a much better title theme – that way I could deflect my biting sarcasm at Elvis and not Ron – although, I did just refer to Ron as a Sloth in a text but that was purely in the context of who you should take into a dangerous setting – runners should ALWAYS make sure there are non-runners with them. Ron being a 0.0er is a perfect companion.. should anything unexpected happen like say, Bears, Gators, angry Red-Winged Blackbirds – you get my drift hehehe.

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    1. Definitely wanted to convey that yellow shoots all the way to the back. A lot of these yellow based warblers tend to white out towards the end. That peaking is a ninja skilz – “you can’t see me, nothing to see here, just another leaf swaying in the wind… carry on!” As I mentioned, I am very anxious to see how Ron’s shots came out – he swears by Auto-ISO and I’ll admit this is one of those times it might come in handy as we were shooting down into dense forest floor and then immediately shifting up about 5 feet into the trees changing the lighting dramatically.

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      1. In my brief experience with Auto-ISO I have mixed results. Oh sure, I do get a shot, but the camera usually overestimates the ISO rating I should have used, and I end up with noise. Each camera model/manufacturer approaches Auto-ISO differently so results will vary. I know for photographing running I use Aperture priority and let the shutter speed vary (keeping an eye on it so it stays high enough to not blur runners) as needed to meet the ISO setting I told it. But if you require a shutter speed AND an aperture, Auto-ISO is the only remaining variable for light/dark quick changes. Or a the new iPhone’s if you believe the adverts (which I do NOT).

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      2. Yeah, Ron and I continue to have debates on this – often in the field when we are birding together and likely talking about the latest shot either of us blew. I can definitely relate to the auto-iso benefits when it comes to a large dynamic range -say, shooting into a dense forest floor and then immediately having to raise up and take a flight shot with sun cutting through the canopy. The problem I always come back to is what you eluded to – cameras are generally not adaptive – they are programmed for a given condition and will come to the exact same setting decision if the inputs the exposure sensors are getting are the same (damn IT guys hehehe). I know what I can “push” on my camera bodies and still get the shot I want with maybe a little extra time in the digital darkroom. For example I know I can go a little faster on the shutter than what the camera thinks because of experience or maybe I’ll pan with it to push the speed down a bit. I am the only one that really knows what the subject is and what the outcome I want is and that is where I get disappointed in letting that ISO wander at will. I think this debate will continue on at least with Ron, but I am always looking at his results compared to mine to see where I can improve.

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  3. I, too, am very curious regarding Auto-ISO. I haven’t been brave enough to just set it and leave it for a whole outing. But that day is coming… I think I might lose an equal number of shots because I forget to change the friggin settings! Eagerly awaiting your report 🙂

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    1. I touched a bit on this in Brad’s response above, but I remain skeptical after hours and hours of debate with my brother. He has been able to capture shots I completely missed due to blow outs or way under exposure. Some of those involved potential +1s for me so that left a sting for sure. Now, with those shots he succeeded where underexposure, his auto-iso generally went to infinity and beyond which means he got the shot, you can tell it is a bird and likely the species… but the noise is so bad it looks like the bird was naked and someone decided to pixelate it to keep us from being traumatized. I am pretty versed in Lightroom and Photoshop so I can usually pull something out of my mistakes and those that are too bad… well, that’s what keeps me going back into the field. My biggest concern, as noted in comment above, is the camera is incredibly predictable. Spent my career in IT and even the most creative AI will always make the same decisions with the same inputs where I have additional inputs and preferences that would need to be learned or adapted from its established rule set (unfortunately, Nikon will not let me have access to their codeset so I can do that). Will see how Ron’s stuff comes out – in general, if the lighting is good our shots come out about the same, its the fringe conditions where the differences really show – not to mention his camera is a LOT lighter so he generally does better as the day grows long. Will continue to refine my opinion of this and keep you posted. Like you, it is tough for me not to go with the tried and true when in the field. Have a great day Sam!

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      1. Always the continued debate of getting a snapshot of a bird vs. getting a photograph of a left handed snow goose named Bruce (opening sequence of the BBC series Planet Earth; VHS vs. Blu-Ray version). Art vs. documentation. Brother vs. brother. There’s a balance in everything and that’s why I (and I suspect Brian and Ron and the rest of the readers) keep shooting: to achieve better results. But sometimes a result is better than no result. I can edit 100% of the pixels I capture, and 0% of those I do not.

        And the discussion continues . . . as it should.

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      2. Well, you know my golden rule – get something in the tin and then work on trying to improve it (right after if it isn’t in the tin it didn’t happen!). It is the continued drive to get a better image or a new behavior that always keeps us going out in the field. As Ron and I often note, we can have a perfectly fun day shooting the common birds and even days with no birds, there’s usually a Dragon or Butter hanging around to shoot. Noting your balance comment, I spent many years training in the philosophy of Yang and Um which became a pillar in my life (and source of many bruises and broken bones).

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  4. LOL! Ok, you got me with the shout out.😊 Unfortunately didn’t make it to reading with coffee this morning and it is evening tea instead. But, the color pop was very welcoming as we have been looking at clouds and grey skies for about the last week! Even our colorful birds are looking a bit depressing. All that ISO talk in the chat started spinning my head so I will now head off to the liquor cabinet and pour an adult beverage to see if I re-read under the influence would improve my comprehension. 😂

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    1. Birds go nicely with tea as well… even better with adult beverages – I personally find my images look better when I’ve had a few of those. Things have been a bit grey around here as well – 20mph winds and recently had our first sleet of the new fall/winter (making it really hard to my leaves picked up sigh). Don’t fret about the ISO jargon – just a fancy term for how sensitive to light the camera sensor needs to be, you can go manual and be completely responsible for bad shots or auto and blame the camera for your bad shots tomato, tomahto hehe. If you are having whiskey, pour a virtual one for me!

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