Stauffer’s Marsh

June 15, 2009

As dawn proceeds across the valley of Back Creek, West Virginia, the residents of Stauffer’s Marsh begin to stir. As the easter sky brightens the birds begin the ancient ritual of the dawn chorus. Green frogs, bull frogs and northern cricket frogs ad a basso accompaniment to the ever changing performance.

Once the dawn chorus has settled down and birds return to defending territories and attracting mates they sing more slowly. This virtuoso Song Sparrow was recorded in stereo. Listen for the Yellow warbler and Common yellowthroat in the background. This particular male Song Sparrow has a beautiful, clear voice. He will sing 10 or so songs of one type and then change to another song in his repertoire of 10 or more songs.

The dawn chorus was recorded in binaural using a SASS and MKH 20 mics to a Sound Devices 702.

The Song Sparrow was recorded with a Telinga Pro 7 Stereo DAT mic to the SD 702.


Ovenbird Flight Song

May 27, 2009
Ovenbird singing. © Wil Hershberger All Rights Reserved

Ovenbird singing. © Wil Hershberger All Rights Reserved

Most birders know the song of the ovenbird as “teacher-TEacher-TEACher-TEACHER!” This very loud and emphatic song rings out through the woods from dawn till dusk. Click here to listen to the diurnal song of the ovenbird.

Enterprising birders that are out in the woods at first light and last light might be treated to the wonderful and complex flight song of the ovenbird. Flying in a straight line above the trees or through an opening in the forest understory, the male ovenbirds delivers a splendid song that has to be heard to be believed.
Click here to listen to the ovenbirds flight song. This song could actually be classified as warbling. This rich and elusive song is, as you can imagine, very hard to record. Trying to follow an ovenbird with a parabola in hopes of being on the bird when he does this flight song is an exercise in futility. The best method is to setup a stereo microphone system in an area where you have heard flight song, start the recorder and wait. With solid state digital recorders there is no tape cost to worry about so you can record for very long periods and try to catch this crepuscular warbling.

This specialized song seems to be extremely territorial in nature. Playing back flight song to an ovenbird causes that male to nearly go into convulsions. He becomes extremely agitated and searches endlessly for the intruder. It is highly recommended that flight song never be played back to this species.

Next time you are heading for the woods to listen for and look for birds, get there early or go and stay late and listen for this magical flight song of the ovenbird.

Downy Woodpecker Nest

May 15, 2009

I have found a downy woodpecker nest on our property. It appears that the male was in the last stages of excavating the hole when I found it a few days ago. I carefully walked in with my camera and took some photos.

Downy woodpecker nest_WH_WIL6437

It took a few minutes for the male to return. When he did he appeared to be checking out the entrance then the interior. The female showed up shortly after he entered the nest. She too appeared to be checking it out. It now appears that we have a pair of downys that are ready to start raising a family.

Regarding the photography – The nest is well under the canopy of expanding leaves. There is very little natural light on the nest entrance. Using flash as the main light and setting the ambient exposure to -1 made for pleasing images. Since I was using a 500mm lens I was also using the Better Beamer flash attachment to concentrate the light from the flash onto the area covered by the long focal length lens. Using flash allowed for faster shutter speeds that helped to freeze the motion and the flash filled in any shadows that would have been there with natural light at this time of day.

For more photos (be sure to read the captions) see Downy Woodpecker Nest.


Nature Photography Workshops

Scarlet Tanager

May 11, 2009

We have a pair of scarlet tanagers nesting on our property. I am not certain where the nest is yet but, the male is singing everyday from the same area. It is great to hear their song again this year. A Cornell study of woodland birds indicated that Scarlet tanagers are particularly sensitive to forest fragmentation. Perhaps as the wooded areas in eastern NA mature this species will make a come back. It is important that existing forests remain intact with a minimum of road construction and linked as much as possible with other nearby wooded areas. If large woodland corridors can be developed and maintain we might just see a resurgence of these woodland species.


Male Scarlet Tanager ©Wil Hershberger All Rights Reserved

Male Scarlet Tanager ©Wil Hershberger All Rights Reserved

Flycatchers Returning

May 11, 2009

Saturday morning I was treated to the song of a Least flycatcher at a wildlife preserve in Frederick County, MD. This little guy was singing his heart out while looking for food. He was certainly a migrant no doubt headed for upstate NY. Least flycatchers are perhaps the easiest of the flycatchers to hear during migration as they sing constantly and the harsh “Che’bek!” is easily learned.


Male Least flycatcher ©Wil Hershberger All Rights Reserved

Male Least flycatcher ©Wil Hershberger All Rights Reserved



Also present was a male Wilson’s warbler. This species is very elusive in central MD and it was great to hear him singing from the brushy pond edge.


Bobolink Song Slowed Down

May 5, 2009

After a lecture on bird song appreciation containing some time spectrum analysis of bird song there was a request for an example of Bobolink song slowed down.

Here is a sonogram of normal bobolink song. I am pretty certain that this is one male.
Here is a sonogram of bobolink song slowed down to 1/3rd normal speed.

New River Birding Festival

May 5, 2009
It seems impossible for the week to be over already. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we got there and started the fantastic voyage known as the New River Birding Festival in Fayetteville, WV?

This year saw a sharp increase in the number of participants. Their spirit and infectious enthusiasm for birds and nature was contagious. There is nothing like the look on someones face when they get a terrific look at a life bird. A bird that they have never seen before. The record for life birds had been 46 for the festival. This year that record was blasted out of the water with a stunning 70 species recorded as life birds for one participant that was a brand spanking new birder. Congratulations!

Among that wonderful destinations that we lead birders to is Cranberry Glades. This high elevation bog is a magical place, “a piece of Canada gone astray.” The group that I was leading was the last to visit the glades. Our Saturday morning trip was meet with moderate rain that soon turned to broken sunshine. As the weather moderated the bird activity spiked. We were witness to Northern waterthrushes (a type of warbler) singing from the very top of several red spruce trees that dominate the wooded edge of the bog. Blackburnian warblers were a real hit found singing from the barley budding deciduous trees in the area of the parking lot. Wonderful views of a Hermit thrush were a delight as well.

However, the fellow that stole the show was a male Canada warbler that was a lifer for a number of the birders there that morning. He came right in to view in a rhododendron at the edge of the road and remained there singing for a very long time. It was impossible to think that we were walking away from a singing male Canada warbler in plain view – but we did. Other birds were calling to us and we had to move on.

Click here to hear song

Certainly the most sought after bird in this area is the Swainson’s warbler. This denizen of dark rhododendron thickets is easy to hear but not at all easy to see. The birds in this area have a distinctive song that is loud, emphatic and ringing.

There were a number of people that were interested in botony as well as birds. Perhaps that best find was the rare yellow form of the red trillium.


Sky Meadows Birds

April 6, 2009

Joe Mikus reported finding a colony of Red-headed woodpeckers at Sky Meadows State Park, VA. He had been feeding birds in this area for sometime. Once we got there it appeared that the birds recognized Joe and were looking for food. Once the suet and seeds were in place there was lots of activity.

There was also an inquisitive White-breasted nuthatch that clean out most of the seeds.

Also present was a Carolina wren that was not happy with all of the commotion.

To see more photos from this shoot please see this link: Sky Meadows

Carolina Chickadees

December 15, 2007

Trying to photograph chickadees on a dried teasel was more of a challenge that I had envisioned. They seemed to prefer to perch on the steel of the C-clamp making images that were not quite so natural looking.

But, eventually they did perch where I had hoped they would in the first place.

XM Radio Interview with Bob Edwards

September 3, 2007

Well the interview finally aired. We had a great time with Bob and you can listen to our segment of the show here:


Thanks for listening,