Why do Birds Suddenly Appear…

…Every time – I am near?

OK – I stole that from my friend Honie. It was in her comment on my recent post about seeing a Northern Flicker for the first time. She’s clever like that.

Anyway, I don’t think they appear when I am near, I think I have just learned to notice them. I lived at the Stone House for 9 years before I really paid attention. I only took note because I bought a bird identifying app for my iPhone. It plays the birds calls and I wanted to see if I could call birds with my phone. I took an old crate out into the woods and played the cardinal call and was thrilled when they started talking back to me. I tried taking their photos, but I just didn’t have the patience or focus to catch them. A little over a year ago I decided to really work on shooting birds with the thought that it would improve my ability to make quick decisions behind the lens. I thought I would try it for the remainder of the calendar year, but I was hooked. I find shooting birds to be the most relaxing thing and I do it several times a week. I have come to know some of them personally and I think it has made me a better photog in ways I never imagined it would. I have learned to shoot better in weather and low light situations, I do a better job of getting a sharp focus, I’m more patient about getting the best shot.

I notice birds absolutely everywhere now and I use that same app to identify and learn about them all along my way. On my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I got a chance to see some amazing birds, and some ordinary ones too – as if any bird is really ordinary…

The Raven

Although ravens have an amazing ability to fly and soar with the eagles, they often seemed content to walk around on the roadsides. Watching them I can see where the Looney Tunes got that silly bird walk from.

Although I can soar with eagles, I prefer to stalk park visitors and con them out of Apricots

I loved seeing so many ravens, I had no idea that they were such characters and that they could be so playful. I recently read that they can fly upside down for great distances – why, well because they seem to like to show off.

The American Robin

Don't even think of letting your dog out of the car...

Don’t even think of letting your dog out of the car…

I see robins everywhere – I almost don’t think of them as birds who really live in the wild away from people, but this was shot in the Hoh rainforest.

Barn Swallows

I picked out this stick just for you honey - do you love it? It'll look great right above the mantle...

I picked out this stick just for you honey – do you love it? It’ll look great right above the mantle…

...sigh

…sigh

Do you like this stick better?

Do you like this stick better?

I felt for this guy – he showed her several sticks and even tried to put them into the nest to please her – she never gave him the time of day.

Rufus Hummingbird

Against the wind

Against the wind…and the ocean, and the barn swallows with sticks…

This hummer was perched on a limb overlooking the Pacific Ocean – he was singing his heart out as barn swallows swooped by – the wind was howling, the waves were crashing, still he sang.

Stellar’s Jay

Nothing more natural in a National Park than a plumbing vent.

Nothing more natural in a National Park than a plumbing vent.

These remind me a lot of blue jays here in the Ozarks but they are not nearly so shy and skittish. This park office in the rainforest has a little path that is meant for them to feed on, when they have had enough of the tourists they hop up on the roof.

Cliff Swallows

No Vacancy!

No Vacancy!

There were probably over a thousand cliff swallows swirling around the facade of this building making nests – it looked like birds had to stake their claim or face eviction – their mates continuously added to the complex as they sat and watched.

Brewer’s Blackbird

Pants off - dance off!

Pants off – dance off!

Eek!

Eek!

Mating dance? War dance? Rut? I have no idea – but these birds are posers. I recently spotted some of them near my home, sometimes you gotta travel to appreciate what’s in your own backyard.

Tree Swallows

I've found the perfect apartment!

I’ve found the perfect apartment!

Talking to her is like talking to a rock...

Talking to her is like talking to a rock…

This female made dozens of trips to that barrel with twigs as her man sat by on the rail above her talking to that rock instead of helping. That’s what you get when you fall for a pretty boy.

An aside – I think the swallows were confused. I saw barn swallows gathering mud and sticks off ocean cliffs, cliff swallows nesting on the facade of an old building, and tree swallows nesting in a barrel – no one knows their place these days.

Red Bellied Sapsucker

Time to get to work...

Time to get to work…

...always remember to punch in.

…always remember to punch in.

I saw red and had to shoot. Such an adorable bird, my favorite of the trip. He actually checked each hole to see if there was more sap or insects. A bird watcher told me that they check these holes every day or so instead of drilling new ones constantly.

Killdeer

Doing the deception dance...

Doing the deception dance…

...maybe she'll think these rocks are my eggs.

…I’ll lead her over this way…

...maybe she'll believe these rocks are my eggs.

…maybe she’ll believe these rocks are my eggs.

Such amazing camouflage – killdeer can blend into a pile of rocks or leaves or roadside gravel like this. The male actually walked away from the nest and stopped to lure me away. When I looked back the female put on this show to try to convince me her nest was a few feet from its actual location. I respected her show and never approached the real nest.

Osprey

I'm so blindingly handsome...

I’m so blindingly handsome…

...I bet she doesn't even notice my nest.

…I bet she doesn’t even notice my nest.

I got to see a bald eagle pull a fish out of the ocean when we were crossing a narrow bridge – it was an amazing moment I will always remember, but was unable to photograph. I hoped I might see another bird of prey and this Osprey almost went unnoticed. The nest is high in the air – they place these platforms for them atop power poles. It wasn’t until I got home and checked this shot on my computer that I noticed the bird’s mate is in the nest. I was shooting this at midday and the glare was awful so I struggled to get something besides a silhouette. I tried to walk past the pole and get the light behind me and he flew – he was stunning and huge. He flew to another pole to divert our attention from the nest. I didn’t understand that at the time, but clearly he was keeping us away from his family.

I read a post a while back about birds and their “like ability factor” and the author made the case that birds of prey are more desirable. Now I disagreed at the time because I love my cardinals and hummingbirds or even my titmice — but having seen and photographed that osprey, I think Lyle is onto something – it was amazing. I was unable to get a great shot of it in flight, but that is something I plan on working on this year.

I’m sure that just like I ignored the birds in my backyard for years, that people visit these places and never notice these birds too. Maybe someday they will wake up and feel like birds are suddenly appearing in their path too.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Today it snowed at the Stone House. I only know this because of Facebook. My friends and neighbors posted about the historic May snowfall in the Ozarks. Seems like tomatoes will be slim pickings this year. As for me, I’m not there. I’m on the road and starting a big adventure today, so I missed the historic snow. My pomegranates, however, did not. Hopefully they will handle this brief interruption to spring.

Reading all the posts about snow made me think about my Bluebirds of Happiness. It’s been about a month since they moved in. After the male approved the new digs, they set about to nest building. In my view he seemed to leave most of the nest building to the female. He stood watch while she made hundreds of trips back and forth with twigs and grass. He would look in from time to time, but I thought he was taking the easy route – just watching her do the heavy lifting….

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In retrospect, I think I have been a little hard on Mr. Happiness. I haven’t dared to look into the bird houses, but it’s clear that there is a big need for protein these days. The Mrs. makes it out of the box occasionally, but Mr. Happiness is definitely carrying his weight. Mother and young are eating up a storm…

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In one ten-minute period I saw him make 5 deliveries to the birdhouse. I never saw him eat anything himself – he would hit the ground, grab some grub, and take a quick look around from one of his favorite vantage points, before hitting the doorway of his home. I wonder how many mouths he has to feed. I wonder how long it will be before he can get back to sitting pretty and keeping watch…

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They’re Back…

Springtime has brought strange buzzing sound on the patios of the Stone House. It’s not safe to stand too close to anything red. Sometimes the buzzing comes from multiple directions and a black flash loops overhead. This can only mean one thing…the Hummers are back!

The first scout arrives.

The first scout arrives.

The local legend is that scouts arrive first and take word back to the glimmer that feeders are plentiful here or there. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I put out feeders two weeks ago. Last Saturday this female arrived and spend an hour looking around. By Wednesday I was inundated.

Perched...

Perched…

...and parched.

…parched…

...and perturbed

…and perturbed.

Males and females alike are staking their claim on the feeders. One will start feeding and suddenly they are taking cover…

Sitting tall..

Sitting tall..

...ducking for cover.

…ducking for cover.

It’s been cloudy all week so I’ve yet to get the kind of shots I love to take of these guys – ones where their feathers reflect in the sunlight. For now I will have to settle for low light shots.

Heavy Drinker

Heavy Drinker

Mowhawk

Mohawk

Of course the fun of shooting hummers is trying to catch them in flight. Sometimes I just point in the direction of the sound until I spot one in the viewfinder…

A 10 for style

A 10 for style

Hovercraft

Hovercraft

Soaring upward

Soaring upward

Coming in for a landing

Coming in for a landing

I’m fascinated by the iridescence of the throat feathers on the males…

Ruby throat

Ruby throat feather glow when they catch the light

The same male, turned away from the porch light

The same male, turned away from the porch light

He turns slightly and catches the light again

He turns slightly and catches the light again

And finally he turns back to feed - his back feathers are pretty impressive too

And finally he turns back to feed – his back feathers are pretty impressive too

So far I have counted 6 different hummers – and they’ve only been here a week.

This small female is very assertive about her feeder territory

This small female is very assertive about her feeder territory

This shy male waits for the others to leave before feeding

This shy female waits for the others to leave before feeding

They all are already putting on quite a show…

Squeegee's nap is interrupted by the arial display above

Squeegee’s nap is interrupted by the aerial display above

…and this is just the prelude. Spring is officially here!

Clash of the Siskins

There have been some brawls at the buffet lately. I don’t ordinarily tolerate fighting in my establishment – but if pine siskins are doing the fighting, it’s about as dangerous as kittens boxing. I decided to let it play out – birds should be able to work out their differences in a civilized manner, but tempers can get the best of just about any bird when fillet is on the line…

Make way for the boss of the sock!

Make way for the boss of the sock!

I'm coming for your perch!

I’m coming for your perch!

xetsgrfzcx

Flying in under the radar…

taWGFFZ

Don’t even think about taking my perch!

zcxbvfvSDGX

I’ll never give up this perch!

eshsdfgh:EUHF

I’m taking that perch!

ducxz huHG:

The air war is ongoing at the buffet…

hxisuGUI

Fast food…

My best impression of a cartoon bird flying...

My best impression of a cartoon bird flying…

Look out below!!

Look out below!!

This perch is mine!!

This perch is mine!!

No seeds for you, you filthy animal!

Back off – no seeds for you!

I'm coming for you...and you sunflower seeds!

I’m coming for you…and you sunflower seeds!

Hopefully a quick trip to the store for more fillet will reestablish the peace at the Stone House – maybe not…

Coming into Focus

A couple of years ago I bought my first “bird” lens. There were a couple of options for my camera set up and budget played a big part in my decision. I read a lot of reviews and there were some who leaned towards the more expensive option as being a bit sharper, while others said that the small increase in sharpness was not worth twice the price. I went for the budget option and it served me well – until recently.

I began to have focus glitches – the lens didn’t seem to be communicating with the camera. So I sent the lens in to the manufacturer who cleaned it and told me it was fine and sent it back. Perhaps the glitch was always there and I just didn’t notice it – perhaps I just got a less than great version of the lens – these things happen. I have read of people returning a lens and buying the same model and seeing a major improvement. I decided it was time to make a change.

The higher end lens I opted not to buy has been discontinued – but they have come out with a quieter and thankfully much more economical version.¬†I went through my bag and reviewed all of my lenses – anything I hadn’t used in a year was fair game. I put a list together and sold them to fund the purchase of that new bird lens.

My new lens arrived last weekend and I am seeing a significant change in sharpness – maybe I am the only one who sees it – but I like the look of what I’m seeing so far…

Bird on a wire

Bird on a wire

Goldfinch face off

Goldfinch face off

Posing sparrow

Posing sparrow

Cowgirl at the feeder

Cow girl at the feeder

A cardinal ignoring me

A cardinal ignoring me

Out on a limb

Out on a limb

Woody in the myrtle

Woody in the myrtle

Bringing home the bacon

Bringing home the bacon

Bluejay in the walnut tree

Bluejay in the walnut tree

Titmouse in the house!

Titmouse in the house!

Up on a roof

Up on a roof

The biggest difference I see is that I am getting more sharp shots in the trees – shooting in the trees has not always gotten me good results because of the distance. I am fascinated by feathers so seeing this detail really encourages me. I started shooting birds to teach myself to make faster decisions and I it has grown into a genuine interest in birds and their habits – this new lens looks to let me look deeper into the world just off my porch.

Cowbird Dance-off

Last weekend I wrote a quick post about Cowbirds. At the time I thought I had a single pair of the odd creatures. Over the last couple of days it has become clear that I have a single female cowbird who is being courted by a group of males. Last night she was feeding in the lawn and they all followed right behind her. She couldn’t have cared less. She stayed at the front of the pack and her entourage followed. I noticed that they each took turns showing off for her, but she never gave any of them the time of day. It was at dusk so I didn’t get any good shots of this odd dance.

This morning as I got ready for work I saw the whole thing playing out in the walnut tree. It was a foggy morning at the Stone House, so I apologize for the photo quality in advance…

I spotted the makes on the swing - the third entered my frame as I snapped this shot.

I spotted the makes on the swing – the third entered my frame as I snapped this shot.

Where is the Cow-Girl? She’s way up in the top of the walnut tree ignoring these guys. They spot her and the competition begins. Who will win her favor – I think it will be the one who wins the Dance-off…

First the cow-boy on the right sounds a call - it sounds like dripping water in a tunnel - then he struts his stuff.

First the cow-boy on the right sounds a call – it sounds like dripping water in a tunnel – then he struts his stuff.

Round 1 of the dance-off – while one cow-boy struts his stuff the others watch the cow-girl to see if she takes note…

The male on the left does the cowbird version of the Electric Slide.

The cow-boy on the left does the cowbird version of the Electric Slide. He’s looking a little tipsy.

Round 2 – the male on the left takes his shot, the male on deck checks out his groove while the other keeps his eyes on the prize…

The center cow-boy sings his heart out and puffs himself out like a down jacket.

The center cow-boy sings his heart out and puffs himself out like a down jacket. Note the dramatic posture and twisting of his wings.

Round 3 – the center male sings louder than the others. He has been leading the charge since last night, but is his footwork fancy enough to keep him in the competition?

The cow-boy on the right answers his competitors with a dramatic song and sly stepping.

The cow-boy on the right answers his competitors with his best impression of an eagle. They seem unfazed.

Round 4 – the male on the right flexes his muscles, the others don’t bother watching…

The cow-boy on the left may not get any style points for this performance, but he does commit 100%.

The cow-boy on the left may not get any style points for this performance, but he does commit 100%.

Round 5 – the male on the left gives it his all. There are times when practicing in a mirror could really help a guy out, this is one of those times…

cgaxreagv

Not to be outdone, the cow-boy in the center answers in kind. What form!

Round 6 – the male in the middle throws down – he lunges forward and twists his wings like canoe paddles. The bar has officially¬†been raised…

The cow-boy on the right answers with an amazing extension of plumage.

The cow-boy on the right answers with an amazing extension of plumage.

Round 7 – the male on the right completely takes his rival to the left out of the competition. The male on the right is no longer watching the female, he is transfixed by the grace of his better…

Who won the dance-off? Well, I had to go to work, so I don’t know. They could still be up in the tree strutting their stuff.

A Cowbird Love Story

I don’t have any cows, but I do have a pair of brown-headed cowbirds – here’s the story of how they met…

I've been looking to settle down, I just need to find that special guy...

I’ve been looking to settle down, I just need to find that special guy…

There's a perch up there that looks promising - lots of action at that bar...

There’s a perch up there that looks promising – lots of action at that bar…

I'll just take a seat here at the bar - do these feathers make my butt look fat?

I’ll just take a seat here at the bar – do these feathers make my butt look big?

What's that racket up there?

What’s that racket up there?

Panic

Ooooo – he’s cute!

Hey there, handsome....

Hey there, handsome….

And we lived happily ever after...

And we lived happily ever after…

I have been told that cowbirds sneak their eggs into the nests of unsuspecting birds and move on, leaving the rearing of their young to strangers. So the story goes something like this…

Two young cowbirds fall in love, abandon their children to the foster care system, and fly off into the sunset partying and following cows until it’s time to do the whole thing again next year.