Ammodramus Caudacutus

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, or Ammodramus caudacutus as it's known to my bird-geek friends, is one of my target birds on an upcoming trip to St. Augustine, Florida. I'm very excited about attending Florida's Birding and FotoFest from April 10-13th, and not just because I may catch a glimpse of this adorable orange-headed sparrow.

I consider this event to be one-of-a-kind not only for birding, but because of its emphasis on photography. Two of my favorite things! For the purists, there will be lots of workshops and seminars on capturing images with the traditional, high-dollar super lenses for today's digital SLR cameras. For those with a sense of adventure and an appetite for something new and innovative, there will be more information and experts about digiscoping here than at any other event of its kind. Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss will all host world-renowned digiscopers from the US and abroad, including Paul Hackett, Bill Schmoker, and Neil Fifer. I'm looking forward to not only meeting and hanging out with these guys for a few days, but teaching seminars and showcasing photos alongside them at the annual Digiscoping Image Shoot Out!

Now back to the Sparrow, Ammodramus caudacutus. The Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow spends a great deal of its time foraging for insects while close to the ground. In general, birds that live in dense habitat and spend most of their time near the ground are difficult to find and see.

This sparrow is closely related to the more widespread Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, which I have seen a few times here in Wisconsin. At one time, these were considered to be the same species. The image below was captured at a local sewage treatment facility by my friend Mike.

Unlike the Nelson's variety, the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow is found almost exclusively in coastal saltmarshes (imagine that!). I don't know if my legions of readers have spent time around saltmarshes. If you haven't, we have to add to the level of bird-finding difficulty the fact that you can't exactly walk up to these birds. When birding in thick and wet vegetation, one is often left to wait for the birds to come to them. All of these challenges will nonetheless make my first sighting of this delightful, little bird that much more gratifying. Let's hope that by this time next month, I'll be one bird closer to 600.


On Digiscoping

As digiscoping is going to be one of the primary facets of this blog, it seems appropriate to begin with a post about what I love about this blend of birding and photography. It's simple and fun.

Simple in that you can just hold a camera up to the scope and shoot a picture. My 7 year old could do it if I gave her a scope and camera.

Fun in that it has really enhanced my enjoyment of wildlife observation. I find that when I'm digiscoping, all the movements and body language of my subject become so much more important to capturing the picture. I tend not to focus so much on how many birds I'm finding, but rather what the birds in front of me at any given moment are doing. This observation and appreciation of behavior has certainly made me a better birder and photographer. I've also found it to contribute to a higher quality birding experience overall.

Digiscoping equipment runs the gamut of costs and complexity. Among the easiest, ready to use set-ups out of the box are offerings from Zeiss and Nikon, though almost any camera and scope combination can be put together with a simple, universal adapter.



So I guess this would be the first post of my blog. Welcome fans and readers! Why blog??? Well I guess I was encouraged by my colleague, friend, and blog mentor Mike McDowell who convinced me that the things I do and the places I travel may be of interest to others.
Thanks Mike! (pictured below)

As I travel I'm often birding and digiscoping. 600 Birds, the name of this blog, is a reference to the challenge I have placed before myself of having seen and identified my 600th bird species in the US by January of 2010. As of this posting, I've got 67 species to go. Those next 67 birds will be elusive, though with help from some friends, I'm certain that I'll get there.