Rare birds should be photographed

Bird distribution and weather occasionally go in hand, but if you believe that you have found a bird out of its normal range of distribution, make a photographic record of it. Sometimes this is easier said than done, so witnesses will help prove the point, which is why birding alone isn't always to one's benefit.

Before we bird, it is a good idea to check the http://allaboutbirds.org range and distribution maps, as they are much more accurate than those in our birding guides. Cornell keeps this data as timely as possible.

Birding during inclement weather can yield a number of interesting finds. A prime example was a sighting on Nov. 17, 2017, of a Say's Phoebe with 22 mph winds on a clear day. The bird was in a tree, and it was impossible to photograph it. The assumption was that the high winds off the Rockies sent it much farther east than in should have been. It could not be counted as a rare bird, as there were no witnesses or a photo. Tough luck.

One can receive weather assistance from the NOAA weather radio for a minimal investment. Up-to-the-minute data is transmitted before it reaches your area, and you can be on site for some remarkable finds. We all know that birding in the right place at the right time is all it takes to find a rare bird or miss it. When we are equipped with a vehicle and a smartphone, we can reach a lot of birders on our favorite listserv quickly.

Sometimes after the weather clears, birders can be unfortunate because the unusual birds have left the area, but if we don't mind getting a little wet, we can shine with the birding community.

Both seasoned and new birders can easily make an error on a Big Sit or Christmas Bird Count if they don't have current information on a status or distribution of a key bird. Field marks during specific distributions change, so it can be easy to misidentify a rare bird for that time of year. It pays to stay up to date with those expectations for the time of year that target birds should arrive, so we can have a heads up.

Be sure that you have your rain guards for your binoculars or your sunshades for your spotting scopes. They double as shields when it rains or snows. Also have a beanbag to rest your equipment upon while you quickly roll down the car window to snap a photo while roving your quadrant for CBC, just in case you really DO have a Swainson's Thrush in your sights instead of the normal Hermit Thrush.

Bear in mind that expensive cameras can blow a monitor due to condensation after a while. If you don't want that camera in below freezing temperatures, tuck it in your jacket if you're on foot. Change to a shorter lens if necessary. You could be glad that you kept your equipment warm at future critical times.

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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