Daybreak Bird of the Month: Snow Goose

February 14th, 2011

Late January at Daybreak Imagery is typically a rather slow time for bird photography.  If it snows, we enjoy the birds in our yard in snowy trees and at feeders.  But with no snow, the scenery in south central Illinois in winter is brown and boring, to say the least.  But we do watch for migrating species, and Richard is out in the field as much as possible searching for and photographing what he can find.  

In January of 2010, Richard spent a lot of time photographing short-eared owls at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, which is located approximately 7 miles from our home.  He took some amazing flight shots during a 10-day period when the owls were hunting voles on the prairie habitat.  But on January 28, when he drove to the sanctuary to photograph short-ears, he didn’t find any.  He did find Snow Geese and here’s his story behind this photo. 

Snow Geese in flight, blurred wings, Marion Co., IL

Snow Geese in flight, blurred wings, Marion Co., IL

“I had struck out on short-eared owls at Prairie Ridge and was feeling a little bummed when I heard snow geese in the distance.  For some reason their squeaking calls always bring a smile to my face so I packed up my gear and drove north on the country roads to get closer to them.  Canada geese fly in orderly V-formations and are somewhat predictable in their behavior—but not snow geese!  They are constantly on the move—always rising, then sitting, continually going up and down, zigzagging about like a platoon of disorderly soldiers with a poor leader.  They make me laugh when I watch them and are a challenge to figure out where to be to take their picture!  But that day, I managed to follow them over by Armstrong Road where I set up my tripod beside my car and took one photo before they moved on.  

It was a very dark, gloomy day with extremely low light so I decided to use a slow shutter speed to blur the action of the birds moving in a group.  This photo was taken with a Canon EOS 50D camera body, Canon 500mm f4 IS lens, shot at 1/160th of a second, F4, ISO 400. “   

Yesterday, when I was working in the yard cleaning up downed tree branches from our recent ice storms, I smiled again as I heard Snow Geese flying overhead.  Thousands poured in from the sky and landed in a field across the road from our house.  I dropped my chain saw and grabbed my camera gear and took the photo below.  

Snow Geese across road from Daybreak Imagery Feb 13, 2011

Snow Geese across road from Daybreak Imagery Feb 13, 2011

Snow Goose Fast Facts: 

Scientific Name:  Chen caerulescens 

Medium sized goose 26-33” with wingspan of 52-55” 

Adults are primarily white with some brown on back with black patch on wings. 

Two color morphs:  White-morph is white all over except black on wings.  Immature is gray on top with a dark bill.  Blue-Morph has dark brownish gray body with white head and neck.  

Breeds in the arctic and subarctic. 

Winters in wet (freshwater and saltwater) areas, marshes, and fields. 

Behavior:   Migrates in large flocks that feed together in fields and wet habitats. 

Diet:  Vegetarian.  Plant material, seeds, leaves, grasses, roots, aquatic plants, waste grain in agricultural fields.

Best Suet Recipe!

February 7th, 2011

We’ve been fans of Bob and Martha Sargent and the Hummer/Bird Study Group for many years.  They are hummingbird and bird banders from Alabama, and we’ve been on the speaker line-up with them at the Rockport-Fulton Texas HummerBird Celebration several times.  They truly love birds and have dedicated many years to training banders and helping birds through their research.  Besides that, they’re also fun people to hang out with and talk about birds!

Here at Daybreak Imagery, we’ve been feeding Martha’s Super Suet Recipe to our birds this winter and it’s been a huge hit.  Martha has graciously given us permission to share it with you.

Martha’s Super Suet

1 Cup of Crunchy Peanut Butter

2 Cups of Quick Cook Oats

2 Cups of Cornmeal

1 Cup of Lard (not shortening)

1 Cup of regular white flour

Melt lard and peanut butter in the microwave or over low heat.  Stir in remaining ingredients and pour (or spoon) into square freezer containers about ½” thick to fit into your suet basket.  Store in freezer or refrigerator until ready to use.  This makes 6-8 cakes.

You can also freeze it into thicker “logs” and slice later into sizes to fit your suet baskets.  We’ve been crumbling it into bits and putting them on tray feeders for the birds during the ice/snow lately.

Let us know if you’d like a recipe for a larger batch that makes 32 cakes, and we’ll post that on our blog later.

We’re members of the Hummer/Bird Study Group and enjoy reading about their fascinating research in their newsletter.  You can learn more about the Hummer/Bird Study Group here:

Ice Storm February 2011

February 2nd, 2011

The ice storm at Daybreak Imagery showed us what Mother Nature can do in winter.  We received ¾” of ice followed by blustery winds that toppled trees,  knocked downed power lines, and more.  We live just 70 miles east of St Louis where record blizzards conditions occurred.  Nearly 200 miles of I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, MO  shut down because of record amounts of  snowfall and blizzard conditions.  In our neck of the woods, we just received ice…and lots of it!  Many trees and limbs fell down throughout south central Illinois which also caused power outages.  Richard Day has posted some photos from our yard and a video of why power lines don’t like ice!

Broken Tree


Icy Grass



Waiting on Spring



What is NANPA?

January 15th, 2011

North American Nature Photography Association

Richard Day and Susan Day are charter members of NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association.  NANPA was founded in 1993 by a group of nature photography enthusiasts, including Frans Lanting, George Lepp, Jane Kinne, and others who recognized a need for an organization for people who love to photograph outdoors.

Today NANPA has nearly 3,000 members world-wide and is recognized as the premiere association for nature photography.  Members include all levels of photographers—from people with point and shoot cameras to professionals with world class gear—as well as photo buyers, editors, camera manufacturers, photo labs, photo equipment vendors, workshop leaders, and members of other nature-related groups.  Anyone with an interest in nature photography is welcome.

Susan and Richard Day at 2009 NANPA Summit in Albuquerque, NM

Richard and Susan have been active in NANPA from the beginning.  Susan started by volunteering as a writer for Currents, the association newsletter. She moved on to Communications committee chair and helped establish guidelines for all communications, both print and electronic, within the organization.

Today Currents has expanded to a 4-color magazine, there’s an electronic newsletter Ripples,  and NANPA has an outstanding website.  She has worked on numerous other committees during the years and has been on the Board of Directors for 8 years.  This year Susan serves as NANPA’s President.

Richard has also worked on several NANPA projects, and has been a field trip leader for Regional Events and an instructor for the NANPA Road Shows for 2 years.  He and Susan have been Breakout speakers at NANPA’s annual Summit as well.

Obviously, Richard and Susan strongly support NANPA and it has been a wonderful place to learn more about photography and the business of photography.  They live in a rural area in south central Illinois where there are limited opportunities to network with other photographers, and NANPA has filled that void.  They have met hundreds of people with the same passions of being outdoors photographing wildlife and being in beautiful places.  The networking opportunities have helped them in their business and in learning about equipment–and especially during the transition from film to digital photography.

Richard Day relaxing at 2008 NANPA Summit in Destin, FL

Each winter NANPA holds a Summit in a different part of the country, and they have attended all except one.  Summits are a gathering place for photographers of all levels, exhibitors of photography equipment and supplies in the trade show, educational opportunities, student scholarship programs, and more.   Keynote presentations are presented by world-class nature photographers such as: Jim Brandenberg, Frans Lanting, DeWitt Jones, Joel Sartore, Art Wolfe and others.  It’s worth the trip to a Summit just to see these amazing programs!

Little Blue Heron won 2nd Place in the Bird Category of the 2002 Valley Land Fund Photo Contest

This year’s Summit is coming up soon and will be in McAllen, Texas on March 9-12, 2011.  McAllen is a birding and wildlife hot spot and one of our favorite places to photograph.  In 2002 Richard participated in the prestigious Valley Land Fund photo contest which took place in the Rio Grande Valley.

He and and his partner Gary Kramer from California, spent 5 months on the ranch photographing wildlife and ended up winning 5th place overall that year in the photo contest.

The McAllen Summit program lineup is one of the best ever!  Keynote speakers are Danial Beltra, Jack Dykinga, and Michele Westmorland.  There will be Breakouts where people can learn about social media, the greeting card market, wildlife filmmaking for still photographers, book publishing, tips for beginners, and more.

Workshops cover Photoshop and Lightroom, HDR, and creating multimedia programs, and photographing in public places.  Field Trips are planned to private ranches, wildlife refuges, and the World Birding Center.  During a NANPA Summit, attendees have the opportunity to see the latest and greatest in photo gear at the Trade Show, to meet new friends with similar interests, and to be emersed in the excitement of a world-class conference!

The first 300 people to register for the NANPA Summit are eligible for a drawing for a 16gb iPad with Wi-Fi.  Check out more about NANPA –and join Richard and Susan in McAllen in March!

Susan Day photographing at Lake Tahoe after 2010 NANPA Summit in Reno, NV

Winner of Best Bad Hair Day Bird…

January 15th, 2011

The winner of the BEST Bad Hair Day Bird photo is the Blue Jay.   Thank you all for commenting on Facebook and voting.

Bad Hair Blue Jay With An Attitude!

Another Bad Hair Day

January 13th, 2011

Cedar Waxwing “Spike” is our 3rd Bad Hair Day bird.  Who do you think is having the BEST Bad Hair Day?  Blue Jay, Cardinal, or Waxwing?

Bad Hair Day Waxwing--"Spike"

Bad Hair Day Continues…

January 11th, 2011

Here’s another Bad Hair Day for the birds from Richard Day’s recent photo sessions in our backyard.   What do you think of this Cardinal gal’s “hair-do”?

Bad Hair Day Cardinal

Bad Hair Day Blue Jay!

January 8th, 2011

Bad Hair Day Blue Jay!

Winter Bird Feeding at Daybreak Imagery, Part 2

January 7th, 2011

Bird Feeders in snow outside Daybreak Imagery office windows

It’s snowing again today as I write this, and the birds are busy seeking out food that’s being quickly covered by the fluffy white stuff.  Richard’s in his photography blind again out by the juniper trees behind the birdbath.  With high gas prices, it’s nice that he doesn’t have a long commute to work.

We have several feeding stations around the yard with just about every type of feeder there is.  Some birds like to eat from the hanging tube style feeders and others prefer to sit on tray or hopper feeders.  Still others  eat the seeds we scatter on the ground for them or that fall below the hanging feeders.

About ten years ago when Richard was gone somewhere on a photo trip, I got frustrated with the squirrels eating more bird seeds than the birds.  I went to the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Swansea, Illinois and came home with two of their fancy feeder pole systems complete with squirrel baffles.  They did the trick!  Through the years, we’ve purchased several more of these pole systems so now most of our feeders are safe from squirrels and other nighttime feeder thieves like skunks, opossums, cats, and raccoons.  They seemed expensive at the time but probably not in the long run with the money we’ve saved from feeding small mammals—and from replacing the feeders that they damaged or destroyed!

Water in Winter

Eastern Bluebirds at bird bath in winter

Water is just as important to birds in winter as in summer because birds need to keep their feathers clean and groomed in order to fly.  We have an in-ground water feature (see photo at left) with a floating cattle tank heater to keep the water from freezing.

Northern Mockingbird drinking at heated bird bath in winter

We also use special bird bath heaters, such as in this  mockingbird photo, for standard pedestal bird baths.

Surprisingly, these baths are just as popular on the coldest day of the year as on the hottest one in summer!  When everything else is frozen, our bird baths are the only open water around and the birds know it.

Shelter in Winter

Birdfeeding area near evergreen trees

After Christmas each year, Richard takes our tree outside and uses it for shelter for the birds from cold winds and storms.  He places it on the south side of the cedar and spruce trees south of our office.

This offers additional winter cover for the birds and also shields the feeders from winds so the birds have a sheltered area to eat.  The tree in the foreground on the right side of this photo is a recycled Christmas tree propped up with rebar.  In a few months we’ll take it to Stephen A. Forbes State Park where it will be placed in the lake to enhance fish habitat.

Female Northern Cardinal in winter

Evergreens also provide winter shelter for birds to roost at night or just to get out of the cold.

Plus birds look pretty sitting in them when it snows!

Winter Bird Feeding at Daybreak Imagery, Part 1

January 1st, 2011
(c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, American Goldfinches, & American Tree Sparrow on platform tray feeder

Feeding birds in winter is enjoyable.  Most of our feeders are at stations outside our office windows so we can birdwatch as we work.  It snowed here over the Christmas holidays and while Richard was outside photographing birds in the snow, I stayed inside holding down the fort in the office.  I’d take my computer-side breaks from captioning and keywording photos and gaze out my window at the birds. Sipping my cup of Trader Joe’s Bay Blend coffee laced with white chocolate mocha, I watched as the cardinals, juncos, woodpeckers, and chickadees would take their turns at the treats we provide for them.

We offer a variety of seeds, nuts, suet, and fruits, because just like different people prefer different foods, so do birds.  And since not all birds will eat at the same style of feeder, we own an array of feeders for every picky feathered eater.

Suet for Winter Birds

(c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

White-breasted Nuthatch eating suet cake in winter

(c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

Carolina Wren & Downy Woodpecker eating suet cake

(c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

Tufted Titmouse & Carolina Chickadee eating beef suet

Suet is a big hit here in winter as birds tank up on energy foods to keep them warm.  Our birds prefer C&S Brand Peanut Treat that we put in wire basket feeders.  I also buy large grocery bags of beef suet from our butcher at Nuxoll’s in Effingham that we cut into chunks and stuff into suet feeders.  Woodpeckers will eat suet all year, but when it’s cold outside, Tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, White-breasted nuthatches, Carolina wrens, cardinals, and more take their turns on the fat-feeders.

Nuts About Peanuts!

(c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

Red-headed Woodpecker at peanut feeder

Our birds, especially the woodpeckers, go through 50 pounds or more of peanuts each winter.  We serve them in hanging wire peanut feeders.

(c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

Northern Flicker male on peanut feeder

We buy raw,unsalted peants in bulk and store them and the beef suet in our deep freeze.

Seems like half of my freezer is for the birds!

We fill our tube, hopper, and platform feeders with:

  • black oil sunflower seeds for cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and native sparrows (white-crowned, white-throated, fox, American tree, song, and chipping)
  • nyger or thistle seed for the goldfinches, purple finches, house finches, and pine siskins

I also make a special mixture that we put in the two small feeders that are attached to our office windows with suction cups.  This brings the birds really close as they are only about 3 feet away from where I sit at my computer.  I chop peanut tidbits in my food processor, and mix with sunflower hearts, nyger/thistle seed, safflower, and a premium blend that contains chopped dried fruits and nuts for birds.

Check back in a few days for Part 2 of this Winter Birdfeeding Series on our blog!

  • (c) Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

    Northern Cardinal pair at tray feeder in winter

    c Richard Day/Daybreak Imagery

    American Goldfinches & House Finch on sunflower tube feeder