Winter Weary

Old Man Winter has been giving us all he’s got this year. He started in Autumn and it looks like it’s doing his best to drag things out into Spring. Here in the Ozarks, we typically get a light snow before Christmas and we have a cold and sometimes snowy January. This year we’ve been pounded by storm after storm. I’m tired of shoveling and I miss the sunshine. It’s hard on us humans, but I have to tell you that the birds at the Stonehouse are over it. Yesterday when ¬†forecasted “light afternoon flurries” turned into 7 inches of wet sticky snow, I did what I always do. I took out my camera. My friends at the feeders have lost their sweet Christmassy look – gone are the noble poses with perfectly coiffed tufts and wings. Haggard cards and finches continue to feed, but clearly they are over this whole “polar vortex” thing. Don’t worry, my little feathered friends, Spring is on the way – it’s supposed to arrive on Thursday, but don’t count your chicks before they’re hatched.

Click through to see what the diners at the Stonehouse Buffet have to say about Winter 2014:

 

Shutterbug Notes:

I have a weather sealed camera, but my bird lens is not sealed РI use a sandwich bag to give it a bit of protection, while still allowing me to focus in the weather. Shooting birds in falling snow is tricky, your AF will try to lock onto snowflakes so try focussing first on something at the same distance as your subject РI find that nearby branches work well Рthis makes it easier to fine tune your focus on your subject. When shooting birds I always focus on their eyes and I use the smallest AF target box that by camera has. I think the eyes help to capture their personalities. A motion blur on a wing can add to a shot, but a face out of focus is not a keeper for me. 

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.

Cardinals Celebrate the First Day of Spring at the Stone House

Spring in the Ozarks – redbuds, dogwoods, bluebirds, snow…SNOW? You heard me right, snow.

Tonight we are under a freeze warning for the 3rd night in a row. I am heating the cellar to keep the pipes from bursting, I am wearing long-johns, I am stoking a fire – yeah, feels like Spring.

My driveway on the first day of Spring.

I suppose this view beats the bare trees, if it was warmer I would be out shooting macro shots of snowflakes on my daffodils. Before we get a mob together to take out that lying groundhog – there is an upside. My snobby cardinals come out in droves in the snow. They must know that the contrast makes them look amazing.

There’s nothing more classic that a shot of a cardinal in a tree in the snow – makes me feel like Christmas, well, maybe next Christmas…

Ignoring me in a tree...

Ignoring me in a tree…

Puffed and posing in the branches...

Puffed and posing in the branches…

Ignoring me behind a birdhouse...

Ignoring me behind a bird house…

Avoiding my glance in the crepe myrtle...

Avoiding my glance in the crepe myrtle…

Of course, they can ignore me all day out there on the limb – but when the snow stops for a minute, they feed like there’s no tomorrow.

Stomping in the snow, looking for seed...

Stomping in the snow, looking for seed…

Digging through the ice for his next meal...

Digging through the ice for his next meal…

Doing his best impression of an Angry Bird...

Doing his best impression of an Angry Bird…

Out on a ledge feasting on cracked corn...

Out on a ledge feasting on cracked corn…Is it just me, or does he look inflated?

Once the snow starts again, it’s time to take cover and wait for that next meal…

No superstition here, he's taking refuge under a ladder.

No superstition here, he’s taking refuge under a ladder.

Spring is supposed to return sometime around Wednesday. I’ll probably keep putting out that expensive songbird food they like so much. They will likely continue to ignore me. Ungrateful snobs, beautiful ungrateful snobs. I love them.

Saturday Buffet Guests

I’ve spent the weekend nursing my second case of the flu since the holidays. So much for getting a flu shot – apparently mine didn’t take. I spent most of my time sleeping, but have worried that the bird feeders were empty. I drug my butt out of bed a little after noon yesterday and got everything filled just in time for a nap. After a short snooze I noticed that there was a lot of activity at the buffet so I bundled up, grabbed my camera, and took a seat inside the mud porch. I spent about 30 minutes shooting and decided it was time for another nap.

Later that evening I downloaded the shots – I have been setting up an Instagram account so I used a grid to compile shots rather than uploading a few dozen to my feed. If you’re on Instagram and would like to check out my gallery you can find me at @theeffstop

Since I was so worn out I decided to just use the grid images today to give you a view to the kinds of visitors I am seeing at the buffet in mid-February.

Titmice

20130216-224919.jpgOf course there are always plenty of titmice at the buffet, but I am seeing them become bolder and bolder. The sky shots were taken at about 4-5 feet away. These birds light even as I am filling the feeders. They have very little fear of me unless I move quickly.

White-breasted Nuthhatches

20130217-104456.jpgThese birds are becoming less afraid of me as the weather grows colder as well. They are not quite as bold as the titmice, but I have had one sit on the top of the suet log as I finish filling it for them. They make more eye contact than any other guests.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

20130217-104754.jpgI think these are my favorite birds at the feeder. They have such a sweet disposition and a yearning call, I can tell they are nearby even from inside the house at this point. They are pretty easily frightened, but they keep coming back. These shots are of the male and female pair that dined with me yesterday, they come separately, but stay close by each other. While one feeds the other paces in the walnut tree above the buffet.

Northern Cardinal

20130217-105217.jpgI tried something new for the last couple of weeks, I put out a single plate of food on the top of a 6 foot ladder. The titmice love it, but so do the male cardinals. They don’t like to perch to feed, but they are also very skittish when they feed on the ground. This guy stayed at his perch for about 20 minutes, and then returned over and over. Who knew that cardinals just wanted a private table with a view, I guess they really are snobs after all.

Downy Woodpeckers

20130216-225035.jpgThe downies are getting pretty bold as well, they will feed even if I am sitting on the swing just a few feet away. They are pretty vigilant and take a look around between bites – it’s not at all uncommon for them to stare at you and then turn back to the food having determined that you are not much of a threat.

I am noticing a few new guests at the buffet. As it gets colder up north, we have more guests who are either wintering with us, or on their way to more temperate southern climes.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

20130216-225143.jpgThese guys have been at the buffet for about the last 3 weeks and seem to be pretty tame, like their southern cousins. They are shorter and have a flatter head with more prominent striping. The first time I saw one I thought it was just an odd looking native hatch, but some checking on my birding app made it clear that he is a winter visitor from Canada. Go ahead and chow down my friend, this is an all-you-can-eat joint.

Pine Warbler

20130216-225201.jpgThis guy should not be here at all this time of year, but perhaps our mild winter has made him stop for an extended visit. I have seen a female and confess that I thought she was just another goldfinch, at this time of year I think the beak is the only giveaway between the two.

I also hosted goldfinches, chickadees, and juncos yesterday, but they were unwilling to sign photo releases. I love seeing the changing clientele, i have lived here over a decade and had no idea that all of this was in my woods all along. I’m thrilled to have them as my guests anytime they choose to pop by.

Calling All Cardinals!

Since I opened the backyard buffet I have been trying to attract Cardinals. Sure, there are tons of cute titmice and chickadees, but that red bird caught my eye the very first time I visited the property. I knew they were in the woods and had even used my iPhone birding app to call them forth in vain attempts to capture them with my camera. I learned early on that they didn’t care for a typical pegged feeder, they need to either feed on the ground or on a larger flat surface.

This summer I discovered the pottery of Julie Windler at the Norberta Philbrook Gallery – I wrote a post about it here. I loved the glazes and they were perfect for chickadees. I keep one filled with suet and one filled with seed on the buffet.

Julie mentioned hoping to see a shot of a cardinal at one of my feeders and I gave her a few parameters of what I thought they would need to feed. I have been seeing them on the patio or feeding in a pie plate I put out on a table. Julie said she could make me something that would work. It’s very simple, it’s a small plate with three holes to suspend it from with drain holes so that the seed stays dry after a rain. It was a little small so I was skeptical. Right off the bat the titmice loved it.

Today I filled it with songbird food – a mix of seed, fruit and nuts – it actually looks pretty tasty. I settled in with my camera hoping to get a shot or two of something feeding at the new addition. I heard the distinctive sound of larger wings flapping while I was focused on a titmouse feeding nearby. Without moving I looked up and found my first customer at the new station. I actually saw 4 cards at once, but focused on just this pair.

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Mmmmmmm tasty!

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This new feeder really classes up the joint.

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Let me take a look around.

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I think the coast is clear.

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Let me double check.

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No one over that way.

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I’m going in!

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Get your feet off our food, you moron! I can’t take you anywhere!

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Busted.

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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