Girl Power

In some species of birds, the male and female are nearly indistinguishable. Only through behavioral difference can you tell them apart. But in many species, the male and the female look different – a little or a lot. When that occurs, much of the time, it’s the male that dons the bright colors or exaggerated plumage. The females are often drab and sometimes small compared to their mates.

However, in the Belted Kingfisher, it’s the female that gets the little splash of added embellishment. Both genders are striking to look at, regardless of their color. The sport a crest of head feathers that is most humorous and a beak to head, and head to body ratio that seems oddly unbalanced.

I captured this female Belted Kingfisher perched atop our duck box by the pond. While looking for her next meal, she also did a bit of stretching which exposed her lovely, copper belt. Only the females don that rich tone.

Another characteristic I find curious about this Kingfisher’s markings is the spot of white in the corner of the eye. I often confuse it with a glint in the eye. Their eyes are the same deep blue-black ink color as the feathers on their head. That can make it difficult to even distinguish their eyes in less that perfect lighting. While I am happy to have captured these photos, that one, great image of a Belted Kingfisher eludes me. Perhaps this will be my year.

A Promise

Today, all around our farm, I see the promise of a future for many of the lovely wild birds that reside here year ’round, or which will travel through during migration.

Wild raspberries are in bloom. These native bushes form large brambles in the shade of mature trees. That’s where I often hear the Warbling Vireos sing in the cool shadows of the brier. They also take-hold in a safe spot along the hedge row of an old fence line, presenting themselves in the bright sunshine. Wild raspberries are opportunist that find a place which will support their existence as they flower and then grow fruits that promise to nourish many birds and other wildlife later in the summer. Just when the animals need an extra boost to raise their young, the sweet berries ripen for the taking, but not for those who cannot learn how to negotiate the thorns. Little birds do not seem to struggle moving along the sharp spikes that would deter a larger animal. That’s why I think of these wild berries as fruits designed specifically for the birds.

Brilliant white in color, the small, delicate flowers run along the plant’s long vines that often hang over in perfect arches that just scream “wedding” to me. And what is a wedding if it’s not a promise for a future?

I’ve filmed many Bluebirds taking ripe berries to their growing chicks. And, certainly the extra boost of energy helps those parents survive the intense effort it takes to not only feed themselves but also their brood. Thrushes like Robins and Bluebirds love fruit. Cedar Waxwings, woodpeckers, Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Orioles and some Finches all eat fruit. Some people think of wild raspberries as a nuisance weed worthy of eradicating. I have a different opinion. Allowing the wild raspberries to thrive makes me feel like a good host for all the wildlife that lives on our farm gone wild.

This is a Dickcissel perched in a wild raspberry bush.

It Takes Two

I have a love-hate relationship with House Wrens. On the good hand, they are easy to photography as they allow me to get fairly close to their nest boxes. On the other hand, they have a habit of taking over multiple boxes in their zone – but only use one to raise their chicks. It reminds me of the people who would shovel a parking spot on a Chicago city street during winter, plunk a couple of lawn chairs in the spot, and assume that nobody should take their parking space so that it would be available when they returned home from work in the evening.

The House wrens fill their “finders – keepers” boxes with very large twigs, but will make a nice, soft grassy nest in the one for their young. I have also observed them break the eggs or kill the very young chicks of Bluebirds or Tree Swallows in order to take over their nests. But, they are a native species that belongs in the natural realm of “there’s no morality in Nature” scheme of things. Last week I observed a Bluebird couple building a nest in the box that this House Wren pair now seems to occupy. I felt sad for the Bluebirds, but it’s not up to me to judge Mother Nature.

While I see these birds routinely, I have actually never captured both the male and feamle on a box at the same time. Since they are not sexually dimorphic (which means that the male and female are different in appearance), I never knew what bird was building the nest. But, I am guessing that it’s the male that I film singing, and the female that takes grass (rather than large twigs) into the box. I have read that the males start the nest by creating a base of large twigs, and the female finishes it with the more fin, soft grasses. The “finders – keepers” boxes that I often encounter are typically filled to the brim – in fact over flowing – with very large twigs.

Show Me Your Good Side

This is an Eastern Kingbird. It’s a flycatcher species. Quite often I encounter them perched on a fence wire where they initiate their hunt by spotting an insect to nab for lunch. Once in the cross hairs, the bird drops to the ground to grab the bug, then he often returns to the same place form which he began.

In still shots, this bird appears to be “vogue-ing” (modeling) as he presents his various “sides.” To me, this cutie does have a bad side.

Orioles – and not the sports team!

We had a crazy Spring. I say “had” because in a matter of a day, the cold, drab, barely-pushing-seventy degree weather is now over ninety degrees! I feel a bit cheated by the wet weather because I didn’t get out much to observe the birds coming back for their breeding season.

However, a few birds were easy to draw on the patio with irresistible treats of fresh orange slides and grape jelly. The most notable species which enjoy the sweet offerings are Orioles. But, Rose-breasted grosbeaks and a few others will come for a quick snack. But the Orioles have been visiting many times a day.

The jelly feeder is right at the edge of my office patio, which allows me to view the birds when they arrive. But, they don’t hang around if I break the threshold of the doorway. So, filming them required that I set up the tripod a couple feet inside the door, and I couldn’t move much. Scratching my nose caused one bird to fly off!

We have both Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles that stick around all summer raising their chicks. I adore the sound of their vocalizations. And, their color – come on – it’s just amazing.

The Baltimore are far more brilliantly colored. I believe that are three different birds represented in this series.

The Orchard Oriole is a smaller bird. The males are more rusty orange compared to the Baltimore species.

I didn’t catch a female Baltimore on film, but a female Orchard Oriole showed up late in the day when I was returning to the yard. I shot these couple of images from the golf cart. The female Orchard Orioles are a lovely yellow color – you’d hardly know that the male and female were of the same species.

The last photos are of the Baltimore Orioles eating from the jelly jar hanging feeder. It’s a great invention. It comes with an empty jar, but a standard jar of jelly screws in place perfectly. There’s a lever that can be rotated to help the jelly drop down to the tray when gravity isn’t enough versus the little bit of vacuum sealing that can happen. I can tell when it needs to be maintenanced because the orioles will move over to the Hummingbird feeder and drink the nectar if they can’t access the jelly. curiously, Hummingbirds will also flick their long tongues into the grape jelly rather than go for the nectar at times!

Another WTF Moment

This nest box is located at the far northwest corner of our property. A Bluebird couple has been incubating and now is feeding chicks. I haven’t spent much time observing this pair because the box opening faces East. I typically can’t get out and about until later in the afternoon. With sun shining from the west, it hampers my chance to photograph because the back lighting tends to just wash out the figures into shadows.

However, I decided to go out the other day even though it was heavily overcast, because I was aching to see what was going on with all the birds. While the images weren’t stellar, they were actually better than had the sun been shining.

I have to admit that I didn’t even see the event that transpired, and that I put into comic strip format and posted below. I was so surprised to see what I can captured. I suppose I was just focusing on holding the camera still and watching through the LCD screen (which isn’t all that big for my old eyes.)

It’s not all that odd that another bird might consider perching on the top of the post associated with a nest box. I don’t know what sort of bird that was. But, REALLY? What is that tail-looking thing hanging down in image #5?

A moment in thought…or not

I snapped this shot of a female Red-winged blackbird at our pond. I assume she was building a nest, but one never really knows.


Yesterday was my birthday. Robert and I spent the afternoon putting up some new bird boxes and generally having a nice time (wine was included.) Of course, if I saw something worthy of filming, I pointed my camera.

I filmed some of the birds species that are just returning, like these Gray Catbirds:

I saw a pair of Blue-winged Teal at the far west end of the pond inlet, but only got a decent shot of the hen. She was very pretty, I think.

I also saw the Solitary Sandpiper, again. This time, I had sun to my back, which made for better photos, if even from a farther distance.

We observed a Meadowlark singing at the top of a tree over on the East side of the property as we watched a Tree Swallow pair set up shop in a new nest box.

Here’s a pair of Bluebirds that was hanging around another of our new boxes (not the ones we put up yesterday but the ones we put up last week.)

As evening approached, we stopped at my favorite spot by the pond and watched the swallows (Barn, Tree and Purple Martins) swooping down to the water’s surface to take a drink before turning on a dime to seek insects on the wing. We watched and listed to many Red-winged blackbirds and I caught this last-light photo of a female perched on cattails.

We were about to head home when, all of a sudden, from far across the pond, I noticed movement. It wasn’t a cat or raccoon, a skunk or an opossum. But, it was a small mammal that was the richest color of red I had ever seen on an animal. The sun was dipping on the western horizon and the light was waning, but I aimed my lens towards the creature. I was very surprised to discover it was a Red Fox!

The images are not very good since we were a good 400 feet away with limited light. But, I still think it’s worth sharing this lovely animal. He was fixated on something in the grass, I suppose it could have been a rodent or perhaps a grown nesting bird that was sitting still to avoid discovery. But, I didn’t see it pounce.

All in all, it was a great day of sunshine and special moments.

Royally Purple

When I look at photos of our Purple Martins, I get the sense that these are very “upper crust” creatures. They project an impression of aristocracy about them. That concept got me wondering about why purple is considered the color of royalty.

I found this interesting quite off

The reason for purple’s regal reputation comes down to a simple case of supply and demand. For centuries, the purple dye trade was centered in the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre in modern day Lebanon. The Phoenicians’ “Tyrian purple” came from a species of sea snail now known as Bolinus brandaris, and it was so exceedingly rare that it became worth its weight in gold. To harvest it, dye-makers had to crack open the snail’s shell, extract a purple-producing mucus and expose it to sunlight for a precise amount of time. It took as many as 250,000 mollusks to yield just one ounce of usable dye, but the result was a vibrant and long-lasting shade of purple.

Interesting, right?

Purple Martins in eastern North America now nest almost exclusively in birdhouses, but those in the West use mostly natural cavities.” We first put up a single, barn-red purple martin apartment (16 units I think) a few years ago and immediately had residents arrive and thrive. Since then, we’ve added a gourd tower, then the next year a gourd horizontal pole. With each addition we seemed to have more birds use our housing.

Purple Martins hunt in flight, but they also drink while on the wing. I frequently observe them skimming our pond’s surface to take in a beakful of water. Barn Swallows (the smallest swallows we have here), Tree Swallows and the less often seen Northern Rough-winged Swallows all take their water off the pond’s surface. If all I see on a given visit to the pond is the swallows skimming the surface, I feel fulfilled.

This year, we put up a new, white with green roof model (12 units) and the Purple Martins immediately took advantage of the new digs. The red house and the gourds still have many pairs building nests. I’m amazed at how many Purple Martins call our place their summer home, when four years ago we had not yet erected the first house for them.

I can’t help but think of these birds as local royalty with their stern beauty and clear command over their movements and their intentions. I think the females are absolutely lovely and the males are strikingly handsome. I love their social nature and they have a cheerful series of vocalizations that I never tire of. I can’t say the same of the Meadowlarks or the House Wrens whose songs being to wear on me by the end of the season.