Hummer in the Milkweed

Yesterday, Robert counted 21 hummingbirds at our feeders! I suspect that the parents are bringing their fledglings to show them how to negotiate the “artificial flowers” before their exceedingly long (especially for such a tiny bird with a super fast metabolism) migration. When he told me how many hummers he saw, I thought “wow, I need to set up my camera and take photos before they all go south for the winter.”

I have taken some decent photos of the hummers that visit the patio feeders. Over time I’ve learned to offer them hummingbird-sized branches upon which to settle between trips to the feeders – which, in turn results in more natural looking images of them sitting still. But, I would be over-the-moon if I could capture a hummer in nature actively feeding on “real” flowers.

I have observed hummingbirds feeding on the wild flowers that grow around our retired farm. But, the idea of capturing a photo seemed impossible with how quickly they move, the fact that they come and go in an instant and how little they are. I use a pretty long lens when I am out and about, which makes it even more of a challenge to focus on a tiny moving object that I’m not expecting.

But, yesterday I got my chance! I had stopped near a stand of wild Milkweed where I hoped to get some photos of butterflies. I wasn’t as close as I hoped because the remnants of an old fence prohibited my access, but with good sun I hoped I would be successful. Then, I spotted something that wasn’t a butterfly.

These are the photos that I captured of this lovely, female Ruby-throated hummingbird feasting on the nectar of the native milkweed. The pictures may not be as absolutely clear as I could get of the birds on my patio, but I’m thrilled to have captured this subject in its most natural location. I’m posting all the good shots because, well, why not? One should not edit Nature’s magnificence.

When she flew off, I felt so grateful that I had the chance to film a hummer in nature. I’m very happy to share them with you!

Bright

Sunny, yellow wild flowers were smiling around our retired farm today.

This blossom was visited by a bee that was carrying so much pollen, you might wonder how he keeps afloat in the air. It’s an unknown species for me. I’m not familiar with this type with so much black on the abdomen, but I’m happy that he visited our wild flowers.

This sunny flower has a butterfly (or moth?) visitor. Look closely.

The next photos were taken with a late afternoon sun black-lighting the flowers.

Dragonfly Photo-bombers

I found this pretty incredible. Dragonflies photo-bombed my attempt to film this duck from about 300 feet away! If you are using a small device, I’m not sure you will be able to see the dragonflies – so drag out from the center to increase the size. They are pretty much dead-center in the photo.

The second photo is the original. In order to try to identify what species of ducks they were, I cropped and then lightened the pictures. I was shooting through the weeds and at a long distance without using a tripod with late afternoon back lighting from the sun. They were not optimal conditions. But, when I spot something on the pond, I know I need to instantly stop, and act fast or I can spook them.

Once I cropped and lightened the picture, I spotted the Dragonflies in the foreground and apparently in focus! Crazy, cut sort of cool, too!

I was able to determine, based on the white chin strap marking, that the duck is a Wood duck. I’m not sure about the other two ducks, but I’m assuming they are the same.

Here’s another photo with a Dragonfly in the foreground. In this one, it appears as if the duck is wearing a collar. I saw this photo first, and before I realized it was a dragonfly I wondered for a moment if the duck was wearing a tag (I know that they tag geese around the neck.)

I was able to get a few photos that were somewhat in focus, but not until they took off!

On Today’s Menu

 “For your Starter, we are presenting only the very freshest and delectable Arachnid Crudo. Bon appetit!”

On 7/30/22 I opened box #19 (in the South-east corner of Sham’s paddock) and took a quick snapshot of these little gems. They are so helpless at that age, with just a little fuzz on their head and rump.

Two days later I was able to go out on 8/1/22 but it was after many hours of rain and it was still a bit overcast. But, I did capture the parents feeding their chicks. The first photo below is the female with a tasty meal. It’s her mate flying behind her. He, too had a mouthful of worms.

Yesterday, 8/2/22, I went out again to see if I could catch the birds in better lighting. The male showed up first with that huge spider! The the female arrived with what looks like a cricket of some sort. I can usually gauge the age of the chicks by the size of the meals. These babies grow FAST.

They both flew off for a while, then returned to the wire fence across the street. It’s very common for the birds to fly into a nearby tree or, like here, a fence or post and wait for several minutes before making the move to the nest. All the while, they are scanning the area. I’m assuming it’s a way to evaluate whether there are any predators that could discover the whereabouts of their chicks by watching their movements. It looks like they may have found a stash of some larvae to offer their hungry babes.

Eventually, the male flew to the nest, and ducked inside to feed his brood. Then, he hung for a spell on the outside, and I knew that he was waiting for something to happen. He popped back inside and quickly emerged with a white poop pillow (as I refer to it.) What goes in must come out! The parent birds must routinely clean the nest. It’s messy to be a parent! They usually fly a good distance before dropping the poop – another way to prevent predators from tracking back to the nest.

A Handful of Hummers

This morning I went out to the patio to feed my goldfish and fill the nectar feeders for the hummingbirds. There were so many birds that I had to take a quick video.

I have several feeders. There are three 16 oz size, a new 32 oz size, and a half dozen of the little three ounce versions that I position on a wire that extends across the porch on which hangs a string of lights. Those little feeders empty within a day. The hummers seem to like moving from ‘flower to flower’ and they take a sip from one, then the next and so on. It takes two days for the nectar in the other vessels to be consumed – so I only have to fill them every other day, which is the recommended time and it includes a rinse with clean water before I refill them. Once a week I soak them briefly in a 10% chlorine solution then rinse.

On average, my resident group of these tiny birds drink about 1.5 quarts every day from my feeders.

Here is a video that I shot today of these sparking gems: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

A Sing-Off!

I have been hearing the song of a Blue Grosbeak nearly every time I go out looking around. This is a species that I ache to film. While I have a few decent pictures, none displays this handsome bird’s brilliance. I usually hear them before I see them. Then, if I do get a visual, the little bird is flying off out of range. I really want to get a great photo of this species.

The other evening (after 6:00 PM), after all the rain we received, I took a little ride around the property. I took my camera, but I knew the light was so poor I wouldn’t capture anything of value. And, of course, that is when I came upon a cute couple of Blue Grosbeaks snacking on the tall stands of wild grasses. They were constantly chirping at each other to keep in contact. They seemed almost playful. I took a few photos, but none does this bird justice.

I was surprised to also capture a Great Blue Heron at the pond, at a few minutes after 7:00 PM. I wasn’t even sure what the “shadow” was but I aimed the camera and only then realized it was this regal animal.

Yesterday, it was still quite cloudy. But, I went out a bit earlier hoping that the intermittent moments of sunlight would present just as I focused on a lovely bird.

As I sat near the alleyway by the old barn, I began hearing the Blue Grosbeak, but couldn’t get a eye on him. Then, he landed in the top of a tree about 150 feet away. Had it been a sunny day, I may have been lucky enough to get a nice shot. But, the clouds were overtaking the sun and the wind was moving the branches so the still shots were not successful. But, because this incredible bird was singing to his hearts content I thought I might get a video – mostly for the audio.

What I captured was what can only be described as a Sing-Off between the Blue Grosbeak and a just-as-boastful Indigo Bunting – another beautiful, blue colored bird. They are echoing each other!

I opened the Merlin app (which helps identify bird species by visual and auditory.) It is designed to be used in real time, in the field. But, I had a work around to the fact that I don’t get good signal out in the fields and I can’t aim my camera and run the app simultaneously, very well. Sitting at my computer, I played the video I took yesterday while Robert held a cell phone close to the speaker. You can see Merlin identifying the species as they have their sing duel in the video below. Pretty Cool!

The old “what flycatcher is this?” question

Two years ago, I filmed a little bird that was flitting back and forth in the mowed corridor between two over-grown sections on our property. It was then that I learned about the challenges faced when attempting to identify the species within the genus Empidonax. “Did you get an audio identification?” I was asked when I would post a photo asking for assistance.

Last year I got lucky or smart and I began recording the vocalizations (if I heard them) when I saw one of these cuties. And, in fact, I was lucky to get good audio that the BirdNET app determined with good confidence was a Willow flycatcher while at the same time capturing a pretty decent image of the bird. I spotted Willow flycatchers around our place during much of the summer.

This year, my third foray into the birding hobby, I believe that my ears are getting more adept at recognizing the various species that reside or visit here and I’m a bit quicker to start an audio recording when I hear a unique song, or one that I haven’t heard for a spell. I typically review the file back at my desk, as the BirdNET app doesn’t always function in the field due to signal issues I encounter.

Yesterday, after 6:00 PM after an entire day of over cast skies and a heavy rain, I spotted a flycatcher in the alley near the old barn. This is a place where old wooden posts that once held fencing remain and a sometimes mowed “alley” provides great hunting for birds like the flycatchers. They can perch atop a post and then flit down for a bug and often return to that same post moments later. That makes it a wonderful place to acquire an otherwise difficult photo of the little birds. The predictability of their behavior allows me to me to leave my focus on a specific post top and simply wait for the bird to return.

Here are the photos I took on 7/26/22, Fayette Co, IL

Curiously, just before I spotted the bird, I heard the call of what I thought might be a Willow Flycatcher. I had heard it a few days prior, as well. That’s why I think my ears were tuned to recognize it. In the relative darkness, I didn’t have a clue what species I was filming, except that its behavior told me it was a flycatcher.

Last night I ran the audio file for BirdNET to analyze. The “Willow Flycather – ALMOST CERTAIN” result made me feel very accomplished. Then, I reviewed the images which were disappointing in their low-light condition, but I was able to increase the exposure value to get a clear enough image to feel confident in the BirdNET evaluation. It was a Willow.

Today, I went about the job of editing the audio file – which just means cutting off the sections around the file which contained the Willow Flycatcher’s vocalization. But, when I ran the app again, three different times, the results were: Acadian Flycather – HIGHLY LIKELY, ALMOST CERTAIN and HIGHLY LIKELY. What?

In the background of the 33 second long audio file, there is a lot of high pitched insect noise. I always find it interesting when I listen to a recording to discover how loud those insects can be and how (when I am out) my brain seems to ignore the sound, and is able to hear the bird sounds more clearly than they sound on the recording. Still. I think the bird vocalizations are clear enough to distinguish for a seasoned birder. And, that is the point of this post. I am seeking assistance from folks in the know regarding the Flycatcher species who may be able to tell me what species they hear.

One other interesting note – the BirdNET app also has returned “Worm Eating Warbler – LIKELY, ALMOST CERTAIN and HIGHLY LIKELY as well on this recording. That is a species that I have never seen or heard, yet, on our property. So, getting a confirmation of the BirdNET app’s determination on that species would be really great! If you are a Birder with flycatcher experience and are willing to help me, I’d truly appreciate your assistance.

Second Brood Update

I can’t say for certain that the eggs I have spotted recently are a second brood for a specific pair of birds. But, it’s likely. All of the birds I had observed in our nest boxes fledged their chicks (or experienced a fatal blow due to predators or nest site take overs from other species.) So, these clutches are most probably a second undertaking for the season. Fingers crossed for a successful crop of little fledglings.

I recently produced eight additional PVC boxes which we are in the process of installing along with removing some of the older wooden boxes which, for me, have been less than satisfactory for several reasons. At this time, I haven’t renumbered any of the boxes, as I would like the numbering to be as linear (as I move around the property) as possible. Hence, the wordy headings below.

Gilbertson box (original position 14)

The wooden box at this location had been infested and reinfested with field mice. We replaced it with a commercially build thin-wall PVC box. Tree Swallows fledged chicks from this box earlier this year. Now, it contains two, lovely Bluebird eggs.

TJ’s PVC box (original position 15)

Like box 14, this wooden box was also infested with field mice that wouldn’t leave. So, we installed one of our own PVC models in the location. A pair of bluebirds fledged a brood earlier this year.Now, it contains a House wren nest with five eggs.

TJ’s PVC box: Sham’s Paddock South entry

This is a new TJ’s PVC box that we put up in the first round of adding the PVC boxes to our “available housing.” It had no action until now. While the eggs are white (which made me think they belonged to Tree Swallows), I have now concluded this box belongs to Bluebirds. The statement “may sometimes be white” is under the description of egg color for Eastern Bluebirds. Apparently , that’s the case here, as I have now twice seen the female exiting and entering the box. On July 15 I posted a photo of three eggs and assumed they were Tree Swallows. This photo is from July 18. I suspect they may add another egg or two to the clutch before setting for incubation.

TJ’s PVC: West Hay field – 1375 Roadside (southern position)

Tree Swallows fledged chicks from this box earlier this year. Now, we find four, pretty blue Bluebird eggs in the box. This is very exciting. This box sits not far from the location where a Bluebird couple’s wooden box was ripped open either just before the chicks fledged (or hopefully just afterwards.) Perhaps, that couple liked the location (but not the accommodations!) and stayed in the area for their second brood.

Wooden Box #11

This is a box that sits in a dry run-off (which channels surface water to our pond.) I rarely open it because I’m afraid I will get the golf cart stuck. But I keep an eye on it, and spotted a female Bluebird entering it on July 18 and got a quick photo of her before she flew off. On July 22, Robert checked and found three eggs.

So, that’s a total of four Eastern Bluebird couples taking advantage of our boxes. That makes my heart sing.

Meadow Song

Here are two powerful meadow-singers that are quite similarly marked. This Eastern Meadowlark (left) and a Dickcissel (right) are sharing a tree top to belt out their messages. Both of these birds spend a significant amount of their time vocalizing across the prairie. They both nest on the ground in the prairie grasses.

Here are a few additional shots of the Meadowlark singing in every direction to announce his [apparently] important message! Someone I shared these images with replied, “He must have been very hot.” I guess she thought the bird’s gaping beak suggested that he was panting. This handsome bird was, rather, singing at the very top of his lungs – and nearly constantly. I’m not saying he was, perhaps, also feeling the heat. But, both he and the Dickcissel were vocalizing.

The Meadowlarks, at least here at our place / for me, is difficult to film for a few reasons. First, they nest and feed on the ground. Once the grass begins to grow up in Spring, it’s hard to see them. Second, they seem to have a very large “personal space bubble.” It’s very hard to get close to one without spooking it. Third, they are either on the ground or they are in the tree top singing – neither of which make great photographic opportunities. On occasion, they will use a large hay bale as a platform from which to vocalize, but we don’t usually keep those around after the hay harvest. I feel lucky to have gotten close enough to get these shots of this curiously looking bird.

Late July

The air is hot.

Still, recent rain retains the greenness of the place.

The red clover carpets the pastures, offering nectar to those which seek it.

Black-eyed Susans burst proudly upwards towards the sun

While butterflies flit about the wild flowers

And fly catchers perch in stillness before nabbing their next meal.

This is summer in my world.

Poem – to Robert. I love you.