2022—What Started It All

This year has been a spectacular one for me and my photographic adventures. I criss-crossed the continent and even visited Australia. I acquired a couple of Nikon Z9 cameras and Nikkor Z400mm and Z800mm lenses and focused them on lots of birds, a few I’d never seen before, including some endangered species. I revisited familiar places (including four visits to Yellowstone National Park and a couple visits to Alaska) to photograph four-legged critters, some familiar and some new. And, I visited quite a few new places, including Michigan where I photographed icicle draped lighthouses on Lake Michigan. When I wasn’t traveling with my camera, I was photographing hummingbirds and other feathered visitors in my backyard. I tried, but it is not possible for me, to select a single photograph that represents the year just finishing, or even a group of them. Instead, I got to thinking about one memorable event and how it related to the start of my passion for photographing birds, and the specific bird that sparked my interest years before I acquired my first Nikon.

The Sanderling, pictured above, still in breeding plumage, shakes after preening on Red River Beach in Massachusetts in August. This small shore bird sparked my initial interest in photographing birds when I saw one for the first time on the beach in Port Aransas, Texas in 2008. There, I took my first unsuccessful photographs of Sanderlings using my point and shoot camera. Fast forward fifteen years to the last hour of our last day in Plymouth, Massachusetts in August where we had gone to photograph shore birds and were disappointed to find beaches inaccessible and very few birds on those beaches we did find open to us. We took a chance on Red River Beach, a place an hour from Plymouth that wasn’t listed on any bird sites, but we’d heard about in a chance encounter. High winds prevented us from using our 800mm lenses but we all lay flat on the sand with 400mm lenses and saw and photographed more birds in that hour than we’d seen the entire week. Oh, the memorable event was not that we finally saw and photographed birds, although that was a wonderful end to the trip. The memorable event was that in that one hour, I took 10,402 photographs of those shore birds. Most were of Sanderlings, I’m happy to say.

2022—The Tongue

Hummingbirds have long tongues to sip nectar from tubular flowers or deep feeders. After feeding, they often will flick their tongues to clear all the nectar. Here, a male Anna’s Hummingbird (my Mr. Anna) is extending his tongue. Click here to watch a five minutes video of a fascinating study that shows how a hummingbird’s tongue actually works.

2022—Stretching

Hummingbirds have excellent memories. Supposedly, their memories allow them to recognize every flower they visit and when that flower will generate more nectar so they know when to return to it. They also recognize humans, especially those who feed them. I have seen them hover by the window when the feeder is empty, presumably to get my attention. They seem to tolerate my presence in the garden and although they will buzz near me in an effort to intimidate me, they ignore my presence once I’ve settled into whatever I’m doing in their territory. Mr. Anna took a leisurely stretch while I photographed him the other day, then he spent quite a while filling up on nectar while I took some shots. What is fun about photographing hummingbirds is that they are so predictable. They feed every ten to fifteen minutes and if you watch what’s in bloom, you’ll soon recognize whether they’ll visit flowers or the feeder so you can plan your photography.

2022—Jewel of the Garden

Mr. Anna’s body feathers reflect gold and some of his gorget feathers reflect ruby. He is truly the jewel of the garden right now. There are some changes happening in the garden, though. I took this image yesterday, the day after Christmas. When I first went outside to watch for him, another Anna’s was letting his presence be known, a juvenile male Anna’s. His gorget is not yet completely filled in. And, a third hummer that I think was a female Anna’s, but possibly a female Black-chinned, was chased away by the juvenile. I got no photographs of these two birds but after a few minutes, Mr. Anna reclaimed dominance of the yard and the other two completely disappeared, at least while I was outside.

2022—Post Christmas Letdown

Bella looks both exhausted and just a bit disappointed now that Christmas is over…the letdown after all the anticipation and excitement of the big day. It was her first Christmas with my brother John. She has adjusted well to her home in Santa Rosa and has learned to heel consistently and to respond to other basic commands. She is becoming a beloved family pet after living four years as a breeding English Cream Golden Retriever and spending her days in a kennel in Oregon. First rescued by my other brother Arthur about a year ago, circumstances prevented him from keeping Bella and she fortunately found a home with my brother John. Bella’s Christmas treat was a reunion with Arthur and she was exuberant over seeing him again but all the excitement tired her out and she decided to take it easy after he left.

2022—The Lure

Birds are drawn to water. It is an irresistible lure as well as a necessary part of their lives. Moving water is in my opinion the best way to entice birds to visit, to bathe, and to return to your garden. Many birds seem to remember where the water is and return again and again to a known source. This water drenched male Bushtit seems to be contemplating his next move. Will he jump back into the bubble of water or fly off to preen in the shrubs?

2022—After You

Two male Bushtits seem to be discussing whose turn it is to jump into the bubble in the lower left of the image. I was so delighted to see that the Bushtits had discovered the other fountain that of course I took tons of images and I will probably post more of them bathing in the coming days. What I like about this “new” fountain for shooting them is that because it is several inches higher than the old fountain, it is easier to photograph them at eye level.

2022—A “New Spa”

The adorable Bushtits have found a “new spa” in my garden. A couple of female Bushtits look at the bubble that is bigger than they are while a male waits his turn behind them. The funny thing about the “new spa.” It’s been here all along. They had to seek a new bathing source because after months of intermittent operation, my old fountain has finally died. One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed was a couple of weeks ago when the flock of Bushtits hopped one by one onto the dry top of the fountain, looking expectantly at the center hole for the bubble to emerge at any moment. Of course it did not and after a few minutes, one by one they flew off and I haven’t seen them since until yesterday afternoon. Oddly, although the alternative “new spa,” a large vase type fountain with a bubble through the center and an opening on the side into which the water flows, sets just a couple of feet away, they never once tried it out until yesterday. It has been there for years and many of the birds, especially various Finches and the Hummers, have enjoyed bathing in it. And now, until the larger fountain is replaced, it is the only moving water in my garden. The Bushtits, who tend to bathe in a large group, have always preferred the flat topped millstone that allowed 15 at a time to pile on. So,I was quite surprised yesterday afternoon when I looked out and saw the Bushtits congregating on perches around the fountain. Then, one by one they started to jump in. Of course I grabbed my camera and went out. It took them a minute or so to realize I was not a threat and once I’d sat down, they slowly returned. The top is much smaller than the old fountain but there are some rocks around one edge that allowed seven or eight at a time to squeeze onto the top. They took turns jumping in and out and on and off the rocks. I was glad they found the “new spa” because it seems to give them joy.

2022—The Elusive One

When I saw this owl and realized it was our target owl, I was awe-struck. It was the first time I’d seen a Great Gray Owl. Despite its large size (more than two feet tall with a wingspan or almost 5 feet) it is not easily seen. It is rare. It is elusive, often called the Great Gray Ghost or the Ghost of the Forest. We were at Sax-Zim Bog in Minnesota in February. It was my third visit to Sax-Zim and my fourth trip with the Great Gray Owl as a target. What a thrill to finally see this magnificent creature.

2022—’Tis the Season!

Yes, ‘tis the season for Mountain Mandarins! These small orange orbs of sweet deliciousness taste like candy, have easy, zip off peels, and they’re in season from November through February. Best of all, they’re locally grown just a few miles from where I live. The mandarins found in supermarkets can’t compete with the luscious, delectable Placer County grown Mountain Mandarins. I have finished the first ten pound bag that I got a few days before Thanksgiving and have just opened the second, eating several every day. They satisfy a sweet tooth so it’s easier for me to avoid temptations available during the other season we’re celebrating right now. Yes, ’tis the season!

2022—Mr. Anna’s Place

Mr. Anna is a reliable resident of my garden. He is there regardless of conditions. Many of the birds have abandoned my garden because the feature that drew them, the fountain, has not been working properly for weeks and my Rube Goldberg efforts to keep it going have resulted in only intermittent success. It will be replaced soon. In the mean time, after the giant storm last weekend, what I think the birds consider my “backup” fountain, is not working either. The GFI tripped during the storm and it will not stay set. A friend is coming to my rescue but I’m not sure how soon he will be able to fix it. In the mean time, Mr. Anna still dominates the yard and his feeders. Luckily, many of the nectar filled flowers he loves are still blooming so my garden remains Mr. Anna’s place.

2022—Feisty

The other morning, the feisty Mr. Anna got in my face to let me know that he was there. He immediately went back to sipping from the feeder, watching me warily the entire time. I always know that he’s there. He doesn’t have to get in my face. As soon as I walk outside, he starts to make his little chirps; they seem to speed up when I get close, even though I can’t see him yet but of course he doesn’t know that. He tells me where to find him, though. And usually, instead of staying put, he confronts me, just because he can.

2022—Collision Course?

There are no air traffic controllers for birds but what might have been a collision course between a small group of Sandhill Cranes and what I believe is a flock of Common Mergansers flying perpendicular to them, was nothing more than an illusion, created by a telephoto lens compressing the distance between the subject and its background. I took the photograph on this day (December 13) in 2018 at Bosque del Apache as the cranes flew into their nighttime roost late in the afternoon. I missed going to Bosque del Apache this year but I’m hoping to see and photograph Sandhill Cranes in my own backyard (not literally) in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

2022—Elegance in the Air

Mr. Anna was exhibiting his usual macho behavior when I went out to check on things in the yard yesterday after a series of storms here. He had to announce his displeasure as soon as I went out, at first without my camera; he flew from his watching place and hovered in my face just to let me know who was in charge of the yard. When I sat out with my camera waiting for him to return to the feeder, he was wary and spent most of the time perched high atop the Xylosma. When he did return, he darted back and forth to the feeder then backed away enough for me to get shots not only without any impingement by the feeder, but with his gorget reflecting its beautiful magenta. And, despite his curmudgeonly demeanor, he is always elegance in the air.

2022—Hitch, Hitch-hike Baby

“Hitch, hitch-hike baby across the floor.” When I look at this photograph, I think of these lyrics from the Harlem Shuffle, as sung by Bob and Earl and featured in the movie Baby Driver which has become one of my favorite movies along with its fabulous sound track. I took this in October just outside Yellowstone National Park. The Elk herd seemed to be floating in a cloud of grass and the flock of European Starlings found the back of a cow to be the perfect place to hitch a ride.

2022—Don’t Tread on Me

A tiny Piping Plover watches attentively as a big-footed metal-detecting visitor combs the nearby sands of Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts in search of treasures this past August. The little bird waited until the treasure hunter passed by to continue its foraging. To us, the real treasure there was the presence of these adorable little birds, considered uncommon by Sibley Guide to Birds as their worldwide population is under 10,000 birds.