Out on a Limb

Winter Storm Cleon has moved east and it’s finally possible to get out of the Stone House and get back to work. It’s still unseasonably cold, and today I got my first mail delivery in almost a week. During the storm I worked from home and stayed warm and mostly dry by the fire. By day two the symptoms of cabin fever were starting to set in. I was getting up every thirty minutes and walking up and down my hallway several times. I constantly stocked the indoor firewood pile. I starting to feel restless and cooped up. I decided that to clear my head that I would take a walk outside over my “lunch hour”.

I put on my Carharts and tucked my weatherproof camera and lens inside my jacket. The activity around the house was extraordinary. Cardinals were hanging onto the branches of the crepe myrtle for dear life. A fallen tree limb over the pergola was a lifeline to a small woodpecker as winds blew snow almost sideways. Birds that typically dart away held fast in hopes of spotting fallen seed below on the patio.

I came in almost soaked through and freezing, but invigorated and ready to focus – on work.

Shutterbug notes:

Shooting birds in the snow can be tricky. Your camera’s autofocus wants to focus on the nearest object in your field of view – I found that if I made my focus point as small as possible and tried to get it to lock onto a bird’s eyes or beak that I could eventually get a focus between flakes. I took all of these shots in shutter mode at 1/400 second and an ISO of 1000. The white of the snow added ambient light that made a moderate ISO setting sufficient. A slower shutter speed would make the flakes look more like streaks – a faster one would require a higher ISO and would create unnecessary noise in a limited light situation.

Didn’t Your Mama Ever Teach You Any Table Manners?

Mid summer is a time when the Bird Buffet is inundated with fledglings – last week I wrote about a titmouse who was unwilling to cut the apron strings. I’m glad to report that I witnessed him opening and eating his own sunflower seeds today. Still, his screeching for his mama continues unabated. I have the feeling he’ll be living at home until his student loans are paid off.

Todays subject on Fledglings Behaving Badly, is not a mischievous titmouse, it’s a youngster from a fine upstanding family, known for their fine manners. They don’t screech, they don’t fight, they don’t hand upside down from the chandeliers. The Downy Woodpecker is the very picture of a well-mannered bird.

This is a Downy being a Downy - walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

This is a Downy being a Downy – walking along a tree limb looking for bugs.

Downies are sweet birds, they become accustomed to humans very quickly and even share their feeders easily. They are likable little birds – the kind who grow up to be upright citizens. Every once in a while there’s a bad apple, a bird that no amount of parenting and discipline can manage – a hellion that upsets the whole neighborhood.

This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated at the Buffet! I suppose she thinks that if it’s alright for the hummers to dive bomb each other over this feeder that she can do whatever she likes, well she’s wrong – dead wrong (not really, I could never hurt her).

Click through this next gallery to see our stop action surveillance of the perpetrator.

After this incident, the youth in question was seen hanging upside down on the woodpecker feeder. She was last seen leaving the Buffet on a motorcycle with a sketchy looking bluejay.

She's gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

She’s gonna have one heck of a hangover in the morning.

Parents – tell your fledglings about nectar. There’s nothing sadder than a young woody throwing her life away for a sugar high.

No Bird Left Behind

When sorting through my shots with an eye towards putting together a blog post, sometimes I find that some of my favorite images just don’t find a place. I have never really liked posting a single image – I like making sets, so what do I do with these shots? Today I decided to put the orphaned shots together into a set of my favorite leftover shots of the Spring of 2013.

Not all of these are perfect or in focus, with wildlife sometimes you take the shot because it just happens. Where a shot fits into a previous post, I have placed a link into the text.

Precision extraction

Precision extraction

I adore nuthatches, but almost all of my shots are upside down or their swooning pose. These are really adroit birds and can climb almost any surface. I like this shot because it shows off his dexterity. He will take that single seed and fly to a secure perch where he will carefully open and eat it.

Rainforest Cafe

Rainforest Cafe

Robins are everywhere and I loved seeing them in the rain forests of Washington. They are usually spotted on the ground looking for worms – I like the chance to see one at eye level.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas down there…

Our local hardware store has a facade covered with signs that the house sparrows nest in. They hop all over the roof and barely take notice of customers passing below them. I though it was interesting to see how this little guy has made use of even the Christmas light brackets as a perch. Ho Ho Ho!

Talking with his mouth full

Talking with his mouth full

The red-bellied woodpecker is one of my favorite birds. They can be shy, but once they get used to your proximity to the feeders they stick around unless you make sudden movements. I love it when they look back at me.

Off balance

Off balance

This hummer prefers to drink from the feeder with no perch, sadly she almost falls off every time she sits up after drinking. She flaps her wings to regain her balance before drinking more. I rarely get a good image of the wing structure of a hummer. She reminds me of a gymnast trying to stick the landing.

Out on a limb

Out on a limb

This male goldfinch was the first to return with his new yellow summer outfit. He is unflappable. Dogs barking and racing below his feeder don’t bother him. Yesterday a crow zipped by and almost carried him away – I watched in horror as the collision happened right in front of me. He did a tumble and landed on his feet on the porch – I saw some white down float upward. He took a perch a few feet off the ground and caught his breath. 10 minutes later he was back on his perch feeding. As I have said before, goldfinches are badasses.

Hunkered down

Hunkered down

There is just so much going on when you look at the feathers on a peacock – stripes, eyes, shimmer – I liked getting a shot of most of it happening in one spot.

That boy's wearing polka-dot panties

That boy’s wearing polka-dot panties

If you’ve read my blog before you may recall that I have recently discovered a northern flicker near the grocery store where I shop. I am officially his stalker now. I know where he lives and I know where he likes to eat. Kinda creepy, I know, but he’s the one with the silly underwear.

Solar lighting

Solar lighting

These late spring evenings have been producing some interesting lighting – as the sun sets behind the trees at the Stone House the light breaks into pieces – when that combines with iridescence it can make for some interesting shots. I love how the feathers on this guy’s throat switched from black to this amazing bronze as he turned his head.

Covert operation

Covert operation

The pileated woodpecker was shot through a window, he’s so shy that it’s taken me a year to get an in-focus shot of him, and as soon as I moved closer to the window to frame a better shot without the pane showing, he bolted. Lesson learned, always take the shot before improving your position.

Mohawk

Mohawk

My goldfinch friend reacts to me whistling – often they will cock their head in an effort to catch the sound in one of the earholes they have on either side of their heads, but this time he just puffed up his head – I’ve never seen that before.

Puff Daddy

Puff Daddy

This male hummer is guarding his feeder. As intruders approach he leaves his post, flying sortis to defend his position. When he lands back at base he puffs up to add to his intimidating presence.

Krishna in the grass

Krishna in the grass.

My friend Krishna is a little camera-shy these day. The lawn has been cut down at the Grange Hall and he is lacking cover, so he heads off towards the woods. Sometimes a man needs to be alone with his thoughts and away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi.

Seeing red

Seeing red

Another shot of that late evening sunlight – for just a moment the sun shone right through the red bottle and onto the hummer – this is one of those you wish you could get another crack at – in low light focussing is more difficult. Imperfect or not – it was an unusual moment.

Focused on his next meal

Focused on his next meal

I rarely get a shot at a hawk near the house. I spotted this guy yesterday on my drive home. The woods here are so thick that I almost never see one in flight, but he passed right in front of my Jeep. I pulled up and turned off the motor. Shooting through thick woods made focussing tricky but I finally dialed in on his eyes and then he took off – an encounter of seconds. I love his intensity, but I am glad that he feeds far away from my feeders.

Bliss

Bliss

This photo is the one that made me decide to write this post. I almost posted it alone, but decided to give the library another once-over after deciding against it. Who knew that hummingbirds have eyelashes? I rarely suggest clicking on an image, but I do on this one – the structure of this birds eyelids are amazing! I occasionally get a shot of a bird in the process of blinking – and I typically discard those, but this one seemed different – serene, graceful, poetic – and none of those things have to do with me and a camera. It was just a moment and I happened to snap at just the right time.

So far the springtime has been amazing – birds are singing, I am shooting, and all is well with the world – at least it is here at the Stone House.

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.

My Friend Flicker

Actually, he’s not my friend – he probably sees me as more of a stalker.

I was coming home from the grocery store and spotted some sparrows nesting behind the sign at the hardware store next door. I got some cool shots and loaded up my gear and wilting groceries and headed for home. As I started to pull out I spotted him across the parking lot in the median separating it from the highway. At first he caught my eye because he was large, then I saw the flash of red and the large spots. I slowly pulled over to a parking spot nearby because I noticed that he had no concern about passing cars as he fed…

20130528-121413.jpg As he dined curbside, I slowly opened the Jeep door and grabbed a couple of shots with his face buried in the grass, then I made a serious misstep. I moved from behind the door and he flew off. I jumped back in the Jeep and gave him chase across the highway and into a housing development where I lost him. I took out my iPhone birding app and made the identification and headed home to gaze at my photos of a bird with his nose in the grass, all along wishing that I had continued to snap until he had at least raised his head for me.

I get so excited when I spot a new species, and this time I had assumed he would be as calm as the woodpeckers I have cultivated relationships with at the Stone House. Having just come home from a trip where I shot lots of birds in park settings I just jumped the gun. He was gorgeous – Northern Flicker – a variety of woodpecker that often feeds on ants and forages on the ground. The black mustache marks on the sides of his face identify him as a male. His flight was stunning, the underside of his feathers are a gorgeous gold color. At first sight I mistook him for a mourning dove, but his movements were so much more deliberate, that’s what drew me from across the parking lot.

Later that afternoon, it struck me. My woodpeckers are creatures of habit. They fly from tree to tree in a pattern before approaching the feeder. I have found that most birds seem to have habits and like certain spots, so while there was still light I loaded up and headed back to the grocery store for another crack at the Flicker. When I pulled into the parking lot I came in from the side that would give me the best shooting angle and drove past the spot where he had been, but he wasn’t there. I shot a few blackbirds and starlings and headed around the corner for home when I spotted him 10 feet from that spot on the other side of the median. This time I got the car close and just stopped and shot. He tolerated me and flew towards the housing development – but then he stopped, not caring that I was there…

20130528-122530.jpgHe started at the curb again and worked his way up the hillside…

20130528-122631.jpgHe shot me a look back…

20130528-122725.jpgGlanced left…

20130528-122810.jpgLooked right…

20130528-122902.jpgAnd headed up the hill out of camera range.

You can bet I’ll be stalking him again real soon.

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.

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.