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.

The Buffet Line Starts Here

I’m officially addicted.

I read in the paper that it was a good idea to put out a birdbath during this drought. My bowl was broken because it has been frozen and thawed to many times – I added a cookie sheet and a washtub to the old ceramic base – voila, water for some thirsty birds.

I have been challenging myself to shoot photos of birds this summer – so I thought I would pick up a feeder. This would set up some photo ops and I was thinking food must be scarcer too during drought conditions. I picked a wooden one thinking it would look cool in photos and waited for the birds to land and take advantage of my hospitality. I have several pairs of cardinals living in the woods along my drive – maybe this could get them to come out where I could get a shot of them. Cardinals seem to be a bit shy. I would love to take some shots of cardinals up close and personal! I love their color and shape – I’m helping wildlife and coaxing those cardinals close to the house!

I hung the feeder. A day passed – no birds. A week passed, nothing. Two weeks, not a seed on the patio. Finally, just short of three weeks there was a flurry of activity – dozens of birds vying for one of the perches. This bossy chickadee usually wins the battle for the perch at the bottom.

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Of course, this signaled the need for more feeders to accommodate more birds. So I bought two more cedar ones and a couple of suet feeders. The clerk at the hardware store, seeing my growing addiction recommended the suet as something that would attract the cardinals that live in my driveway to come closer to the house. The suet feeders do see lots of action – not from cardinals though…

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The next week the same clerk told me that I needed some black oil sunflower seeds – cardinals can’t resist those! Of course you need a special feeder for this. So I picked one up – it’s cool and red and looks like it’s made of chain-mail. So now I have 3 kinds of food in 6 feeders. The birds are eating like crazy! Cardinals don’t seem too impressed the new feeder though.

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I stop into the hardware store to pick up some seed and see a bell shaped block of seed – I think this will be a excellent addition and will be a great spot to get cute photos of the birds – it looks just like one ones you give a parakeet only super-sized!

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I know I have blue jays, but they seem to stay just out of reach. The clerk tells me the key to attracting them is to get a peanut feeder. So I oblige. I also love peanuts and these are pretty tasty – the jays are in for a treat. Unfortunately they are not at all interested in hanging out on the porch with me at the buffet. Honestly, I think I’m the only one eating peanuts. This titmouse tried for about 15 minutes to get one out of the feeder and gave up.

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Last week I decided to go to Lowe’s to see if I could pick up some birdhouses. I heard that birdhouses will encourage the birds to settle in and stay close to the house – I put up 4. Of course the cardinals could care less and the jays look down their beaks at them, so far nothing has taken up residence.

I stocked up on all 4 types of bird feed and saw this cute little swing – what a cool idea and it should look great in photos – plus I can put berries in it to attract cardinals! Not. Seriously, I love the swing and so do all the birds except cardinals.

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So now I have 4 birdhouses, 9 feeders, 4 types of seed and suet, berries, and I have bought enough swing set chain to outfit a large public playground. Cardinals and jays aside – was it worth it? Take a look at some of my new friends and decide for yourself.

My Little Chickadees

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This guy takes his seed to the cross dowel and cracks it open

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Suet King

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Watching over us all

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Sassy Tufted Titmice

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This guy is sure this solar light is another feeder – like I need another feeder. He has learned that tapping the plastic on the other feeders makes the seed come out – on the solar light all he gets is noise.

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Titmice also hold seeds in their feet to crack them. I call this guy Blue Legs.

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Blue legs on the two-sided feeder

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Bright eyes

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Nutty Nuthatch
This guy is tougher to catch. He darts around a lot. I thought he was a tall chickadee at first, he tends to crawl across vertical surfaces instead of flying and he likes to walk upside down.

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A Bunch of Buntings
Buntings are a bit shyer than the chickies or titmice. It took several days of sitting inside my mudroom barely moving for them to decide it was OK to eat with me there. There are two pairs. The males are a brilliant blue and the females are brown. The females spend a lot of time foraging on the ground while the males prefer the feeders.

This is Shifty – he has a hole on his left cheek. It doesn’t appear to bother him. He shifts from side to side when he spots me. I am totally intimidated.

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This is Shifty’s Girl

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This is Not Shifty. Not Shifty is far more comfortable with me and throws me poses right and left.

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Finally, this is Not Shifty’s Girl – a rare shot of her at a feeder. It’s hard to get shots of her that are interesting on the ground because she’s pretty much the color of the ground.

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I’ve decided the cardinals can just stay in the driveway. If my buffet is not up to their high standards I’m happy to entertain the diners who stop by every evening. I keep the water fresh and the peanuts are outstanding!

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