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!

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Flying in under the radar…

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Don’t even think about taking my perch!

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I’ll never give up this perch!

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I’m taking that perch!

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The air war is ongoing at the buffet…

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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…

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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.

The Cardinal Rules of Camoflage

I have often wondered about the color differences of a female and a male cardinal. He’s so very flashy and red, he has that black mask and intense expression, he’s showy and casts an air of bravado – she does not. She practically blends into the background. Maybe it’s the lack of eyeliner, but she has a sweet face that seems mostly serene and happy. She almost disappears at times…

If I hold very still, no one will spot me.

If I hold very still, no one will spot me…

Except for this ridiculous orange beak, I'm nearly invisible.

Except for this ridiculous orange beak, I’m nearly invisible…

I see that the human has placed some fruit and sunflower seeds on that ladder - so tempting...

I see that the human has placed some fruit and sunflower seeds on that platter – so so tempting…

But if I move a muscle then she might spot me...

But if I move a muscle then she might spot me…

Even so, what harm could it do? I'm pretty hungry...

Even so, what harm could it do? I’m pretty hungry…

I'm staying put, I wonder if she delivers.

Dang – she’s already got eyes on me, still I’m staying put. I wonder if she delivers.

Goldfinch Paparazzi

Don’t you hate it when you just can’t find something? Your car keys? Your cell phone? Your stalker?

Where'd she go? She's not down there...

Where’d she go? She’s not down there…

She's not back there?

She’s not back there. Where the heck is she?

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There she is! I think I’m gonna have to get a restraining order.

The Bluebirds of Happiness Move Into the Neighborhood

Spring is showing its face at the newly remodeled Stonehouse Buffet and Condos. Potential new tenants are stopping by daily to check out the facilities. The Bluebirds of Happiness are considering moving in…

Mr. Happiness takes a look around

Mr. Happiness takes a look around…

“This looks promising – I bet we can find something move in ready.”

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Mrs. Happiness is skeptical…

“I’m not moving into that tin roofed shack. Better find something soon – I’ve already started nesting.”

Mr. Happiness reassures his mate...

Mr. Happiness reassures his mate…

“No dear, not that place. I don’t want our children raised in an old oil can. I’m talking about the cedar condo down the block.”

Mr. Happiness checks things out...

Mr. Happiness checks things out…

“Nice front porch…”

Mr. Happiness inspects the roof...

Mr. Happiness inspects the roof…

“A brand new roof…”

Mr. Happiness beckons the Mrs.

Mr. Happiness beckons the Mrs.

“I think you should come check this one out…”

Mrs. Happiness takes a look inside...

Mrs. Happiness takes a look inside…

“Wow – this place is turn-key – move in ready!”

Mr. Happiness moves in the furniture...

Mr. Happiness moves in the furniture…

“Where do you want me to put the couch?”

Mrs. Happiness rearranges the furniture...

Mrs. Happiness rearranges the furniture…

“Move it over on the other side of the fireplace – no, not in front of the TV! A little more to the left, no the right – can’t you get anything right? The cable guy is going to be here any minute.”

Mr. Happiness takes a break...

Mr. Happiness takes a break…

“Next time we’re hiring a mover…”

Mrs. Happiness is finally happy with the living room...

Mrs. Happiness is finally happy with the living room…

“I think we are going to be very happy here…”

Mr. Happiness has one concern...

Mr. Happiness has one concern…

“I think we will be too – as long as we don’t have to deal with that nosy landlord!”

Urban Birding & Wildlife – Las Vegas Style

On my recent trip to my hometown of Las Vegas I was astounded by the variety of wildlife that I encountered. Since I have been focusing on shooting birds and other wildlife for the last year, I thought I would take the opportunity to shoot some of the strange and wonderful species found in the western desert.

I stopped in at Floyd Lamb State Park.

Tangent – you might wonder who Floyd Lamb was. He was the brother of Ralph Lamb, who has become a household name in the US since the premier of the show Vegas last fall. If you watch the show you probably know that Ralph’s TV brother’s name is Jack – me thinks Ralph didn’t want to share the spotlight – that’s OK because Floyd has an awesome park named after him – kinda trumps a TV crime drama if you ask me. End of Tangent.

Back to Floyd’s park – so many birds…

This guy is a white crowned sparrow – I saw these all around Las Vegas…

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So much flashier that my Ozark sparrows…

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But then again it is Vegas.

In a nearby bush I spotted a thrush. Not common in the desert…

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I bet he was probably just visiting.

Over at Floyd’s pond I was overrun by mud hens, or coots as some call them.

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Their feet aren’t exactly webbed…

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Still they work pretty well for swimming…

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And they do the job on land pretty well too.

I noticed some larger birds diving into the pond and coming up with fish…

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I spotted a few of them bracing themselves from the wind up in a tree. These are crested cormorants – juveniles so they don’t have crests yet…

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Their green eyes were pretty striking…

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And they can scoop up a pretty sizable fish with those bills…

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These guys have huge webbed feet with wicked looking talons.

From Floyd Lamb Park I moved a bit closer to home. I get shots of birds at my house all the time, I should be able to get some good shots at my brothers house…

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First I was attacked by this wild creature…

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I stepped back as it assumed a defensive posture between me and the Christmas tree…

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He puffed himself up to make it clear that it was NOT OK for me to pass…

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The scariest thing about this wild beast was not it’s impressive beak, it was its eardrum shattering voice. After a while the Christmas spirit took over and he permitted me to enter the living room.

Not all the wildlife at the homestead was so aggressive….

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Some of the beasts were almost serene…

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Playful…

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Zen like…

Some beasts were a symphony in color…

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I found it hard to imagine a beast more colorful…

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He brings to mind an explosion at a crayon factory…

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All the best colors mixing together.

This creature made me think of a dingy mop…

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Aglow in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.

The last creature I encountered was very unusual…

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Her eyes appeared to be a bit in front of her nose…

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And she had a fierce anger, she tore into the closet…

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And made off with her prey. To the victor go the spoils, no wire hangers for this fearsome beast!

I am glad to be back home in the safety of the woods where I am not accosted by scary beasts that screech in the night or steal my hangers, by my, what an adventure it was.

A Visit to the Fruity Chicken

I spent the holidays with my family in Las Vegas. My brother Max is the author of the often mentioned Fruity Chicken. It’s his blog about raising chickens and fruit trees in Las Vegas. The virtual Fruity Chicken is located on WordPress, but the real one is located at the base of Sunrise Mountain on the outskirts of town. I thought I would use a post to show you around the nearly famous grounds.

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The photo above is the view from the house on the lot adjacent to the chicken pen. The truth is that the Fruity Chicken rests on an acre packed with potential and a house in the midst of a massive remodel. My first day in town Max offered to show me around the new digs. Of course I brought my camera.

I have spent the last year shooting wild birds to improve my ability to make quick decisions with my camera – to get better at catching the shot. A walk around the back of the lot put my practice to the test – I’m accustomed to shooting from my porch, here I was out in the open when I spotted some movement in the oleanders. The bars on the wings reminded me of a jay, but the coloring was all wrong, it was a vireo – only in town on its way to Mexico on its annual migration.

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He decided to some out of the oleanders and look me over.

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Back in the oleanders I spotted some movement and caught a couple of white crowned sparrows.

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We made our way over towards the chicken run when we came across some sentries – the roof pack – Oddy and Michone. They permitted us to pass.

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The Fruity Chicken is filled with lots of types of chickens. I’m fascinated with their eyes. I have no clue what kind these are, but I liked the looks they gave me.

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The Fruity Chicken has a few non-chicken residents as well – there are a small group of ducks as well – some with mohawks like this girl.

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I probably should have taken shots if the orchards or the houses, but I only have eyes for the birds.

The Majestic Titmouse

Today I sat out on the porch in the glorious December sunshine – I had my camera ready to capture some cardinals, or woodpeckers, or maybe even the eagle that’s been circling over the mountain for the last week. It occurred to me that even as I try to find the right feeder to attract those snobbish cardinals, as I build feeders to bring the woodpeckers closer, as I buy food I think will get me flashier birds – I have been neglecting one of the most majestic and loyal species at the buffet.

The first birds to come to the buffet were titmice. Those first couple of weeks I was thrilled to see any birds, but before long I was caught up in the search for the flashiest and began to ignore my new friends. The titmice continued to come and entertain me, even as I quit lifting my camera, after all, it’s just another titmouse.

Today it occurred to me that I have these amazing little birds right here in front of me. They like any feeder, any food, and I think they actually like me. They get incredibly close and talk back at me. As I walk across the lawn to my car each morning they call to me and they greet me when I come home each evening. How could I be so distracted by some red feathers or flashy patterns?

Cardinals may come and go, but titmice are in this for the long haul.

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Noble

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Content

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Cute

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Curious

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Cheery

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Silly

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Industrious

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Bold

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Wistful

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Balanced

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Content

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Chatty

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Friendly

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Proud

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Clever

Who needs a lot of red feathers and fancy patterns? I need to learn to be as content, as friendly, as happy as my faithful friends, the titmice.