The Pine Grosbeak is a striking bird, also known as the Boreal Finch because of the biome in which it lives. According to the American Bird Conservancy, in Newfoundland, it has the nickname the “Mope” because of its slow-moving, almost sluggish ways. Because this American Robin sized bird lives where there are not many people, it does not seem to fear humans and will approach. We noticed at Sax-Zim Bog that when flocks of these birds were nibbling seed thrown onto the snow, they would approach us standing there. Of course they were then too close for photographs but I found it very interesting that they would walk to within a few feet of me, look up, turn back and slowly make their way back to the pile of seed. They often perched on the branches without moving for long periods, unlike the fluttery Black-capped Chickadees that spent fractions of a second before flitting away.
The Boreal Chickadee has a reputation of being excessively elusive and shy. Seeing one for the first time, at Sax-Zim Bog, was a delight and even though we saw it only briefly, I was able to get a couple of shots of it. It came in from the pines deep in the forest and Moose spotted it at one of the suet feeders. Suddenly, it emerged on a tree branch righin front of us and remained briefly as it seemed to assess the situation. Then it flew off and disappeared into the pines. The next day, it teased us again for an even briefer visit, then disappeared. We were lucky to have had the short opportunity to see this shy denizen of the Boreal Forest.
The range of the tiny Black-capped Chickadee extends across the entire northern part of the United States but their range includes only a tiny part of the northernmost part of California so I am always thrilled to see them when I get the chance. They are feisty little birds that don’t migrate and manage to weather extremely cold temperatures so Sax-Zim Bog is a place where they are plentiful. At many of the shooting locations we visited, they were out and about even when other birds were not visible.
It was snowing on our last day at Sax-Zim Bog. The temperature had dropped ten degrees from the day before and the wind picked up so it felt much colder than the 18° the thermometer registered. The Canada Jays were the first birds we noticed at the feeder in the woods on the side of the road on that day. The Canada Jays are much larger than the Chickadees and other small birds we saw regularly at the Bog and they have many of the characteristics of the California Scrub Jays with which I am familiar: gregarious, raucous, pushy. But Jays are among my favorite birds from well before my bird photography days started so I am drawn to the Canada Jays at the Bog. One of the things my photographer friends razz me about is my tendency to focus on what they call “Carolisms.” Usually Carolisms are subjects that I make a point of photographing, and they are usually oddities or humorous things that I notice and no one else notices. In this case, my Carolism was serendipitous not deliberate. It is a barely noticeable snowflake on the nape of the Canada Jay’s neck. I thought it was pretty cool that the snowflake retained its shape after landing on the Jay. Of course the cold temperatures kept it from melting.
You can’t miss a male Pine Grosbeak in the woods in Sax-Zim Bog, especially in winter. This beautiful bird provides a pop of color against the white snow and the neutral colors of the tree bark.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are one of the smallest songbirds, only about a half an inch longer than an Anna’s Hummingbird. And, they are very fun to watch. as they forage, especially when headed downhill on a tree trunk. According to Sibley Birds, the White-breasted Nuthatch, the Red-breasted’s larger cousin, commonly is seen in this position while the Red-breasteds are most commonly seen perched on branches. We stopped along Arkola Road in Sax-Zim Bog at one of the feeding sites tucked into the edge of the woods. I took quite a few shots of this Nuthatch perched, but when it headed down the trunk of the tree, I laid on the shutter release, hoping to get it flagged out, beak almost perpendicular to the tree trunk, as in this image. I think of this as classic Nuthatch.
Tuesday in Sax-Zim Bog was quite a contrast to the cold but sunny day on Monday. The morning was foggy like the day before but instead of starting the day at 4° it was a comparatively balmy 27°. By mid morning the fog burned off revealing a gray and overcast sky. We visited Loretta’s feeders to see what birds were in this small patch of woods where several feeders are kept stocked with seed and suet by the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog and many homeowners in the area. When we arrived late morning, a gregarious flock of brightly colored Evening Grosbeaks was congregating in the surrounding trees eyeing the feeders. Despite the higher temperatures, it was still below freezing in the Bog and I stayed as motionless as possible standing knee deep in snow. In early afternoon, this handsome male landed in one of the few places where I had a clear view, unobstructed by twigs, leaves, and branches. Because my movement would cause them to fly off, I was pretty much stuck there so I found the one branch with an unobstructed view and focused there, hoping the birds would choose that perch. I was lucky he landed exactly where he landed. I guess he had a clear view of the feeder while I had a clear view of him.
Black-capped Chickadees feed on seeds, berries, grubs, and insects. In the winter in Sax-Zim Bog in Minnesota, their food options are limited with a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures hovering below 20° Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the bark of trees conceals a rich food source for these small birds. We watched this Chickadee as it circled this tree extracting the grubs that lurked under the bark. In this shot, the bird seems to be searching for its next bite from Nature’s Grub Hub.
The shore birds on Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts last August were few and far between but we did have some luck with gulls. This is a Herring Gull. Its eye is quite fascinating. I was able to get this perspective because we were laying flat on the beach with our long lenses, in this case, my Nikkor Z800mm lens, and it was the first time I had a chance to use that lens for beach panning.
I went outside late Friday afternoon to check on the status of Snoot’s gorget. Snoot’s head is still covered with pin feathers and only a few colorful feathers have fully emerged that identify him as a male Anna’s Hummingbird. I have to laugh at how raggedy he looks, but there is a little (very little) progress in feather development. A few more pink feathers have emerged under his left eye. I’ll be very interested to see how long it takes for him to emerge from the pinhead look and sport that beautiful gem colored gorget.
A female Bushtit is covered with water drops after bathing in the fountain. I am always amazed at how birds’ feathers seem to repel water. The water drops bead up and lay on top of the feathers. But, it’s the physical structure of the feather, a system of interlocking barbs, that creates the ability to keep water from penetrating. And, only feathers in good condition can repel water. This little Bushtit is apparently in good health. In my own experience with my Red-lored Amazon Parrot, Bobo, I have seen what happens to a bird’s feathers when they are not healthy. Bobo was malnourished when I first got her 20 years ago, having been fed an unhealthy diet for the prior 17 years. After the first spray bath I gave her, I was alarmed to see that the feathers were drenched and her skin was visible through the feathers. I changed her diet to a healthy one and soon the water began to bead up and roll off her back. It still does, 20 years later. I’m glad to see this little bird is finding the right kind of diet to keep her feathers healthy.
The Eastern Fox Squirrel that has been a nemesis in my garden for a few years has finally realized I am no threat. As I sat quietly waiting for Snoot, the new male Anna’s Hummingbird that seems to have claimed the yard, the squirrel paused briefly in its foraging just to take a look at me, out of curiosity I guess. My efforts to deter the squirrels from destroying my garden furniture using a powerful squirt gun proved ineffective so I have given up. Apparently, the squirrel has recognized that fact. It’s probably thinking, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.”
While I was outside between rainstorms yesterday, practicing making adjustments to my camera settings while wearing thick gloves (practice for an upcoming trip to a very cold place) I was expecting to photograph my new male Anna’s Hummingbird, Snoot. Snoot did make an appearance although he’s not yet as used to my presence as was Mr. Anna and he’s still a bit wary. Movement behind the now dry fountain (soon to be replaced) in the photinia shrubs caught my attention. I was hoping it would be the Bushtits who have not made an appearance since the New Year’s Eve storm but the Bushtits always come en masse and this was a single bird. As it hopped from branch to branch, usually completely obscured from view, I realized it was the Hermit Thrush, aptly named as it always comes alone and only in the winter. I usually see this elusive bird once or twice a year on the fountain. Since the fountain’s now dry I was curious what it would do. Well, it didn’t stay long but it did appear briefly in a tiny window in the shrubs. I got three shots before it moved completely behind the leaves and out of view. It was the first time I have ever photographed a Hermit Thrush. After thirty minutes or so, there was no more movement so I presume it had either left or had found a safe place to perch. Snoot was busy chasing away another hummer.
The atmospheric river that engulfed Northern California over New Year’s weekend devastated lots of areas around here and I’m lucky that I live on high ground and not in a flood prone area. The high winds that accompanied the rainfall wreaked havoc on trees, downing some and knocking branches off many, including in my backyard. One of the downed branches was the place from which Mr. Anna tended to survey the yard. I was very worried about what may have happened to all the birds in the storm and I saw no birds until Monday when I noticed a Hummingbird at a feeder. I assumed it was Mr. Anna, but it may not have been. Yesterday, I discovered that there’s a new man in town. When I went out with my camera yesterday afternoon, I expected the hummer to be Mr. Anna but this bird looked entirely different and he is just now getting the feathers that will create his colorful gorget. Currently, he has lots of pin feathers dotting his face and head. I don’t recall seeing an Anna’s Hummingbird with pinfeathers. Now I have to come up with a name for him. While my first thought was to call him “Pinhead,” that doesn’t seem appropriate because he’ll soon emerge with that glorious gorget. He has a distinctive beak, however. It’s lumpy, not smooth and straight like Mr. Anna’s. I think I’ll call him Snoot. Hopefully, Mr. Anna is just away temporarily and will return, but in the meantime, Snoot seems to have claimed the yard.
At this time of year,my brother’s rose garden is full of rose hips as the flowers mature and develop their hips. I suppose this could become a cup of tea.
One of the birds that we seemed to encounter more frequently than some of the others at O’Reilly’s in the rainforest in Lamington National Park in Australia was the Eastern Yellow Robin. It doesn’t look at all like the American Robin that we’re used to seeing pulling up worms from our lawns. In fact, except for the name robin, it is not related. We saw them every day last September as we walked the park’s trails, even seeing a nesting pair. This one was perched on the edge of a mossy tree trunk.
Happy New Year! This year, 2023, marks the start of the thirteenth year of In Focus Daily and in keeping with a tradition I started in 2012, I’m starting the year off with a photograph of a Hummingbird, one that I took just a couple of days ago. I’m so lucky to live where Anna’s and Black-chinned Hummingbirds are year-round residents of my backyard.
Although the majority of my blog posts in 2022 were of birds, not all of my target species have feathers. In 2023 I’m looking forward to at least eighteen photographic adventures around the United States and Canada. While many of them are specifically targeted to various species of birds, quite a few scheduled trips will give me lots of opportunities to photograph furry critters as well as landscapes with glorious sunrises and sunsets and the Aurora Borealis.
Thank you for joining me on my photographic adventures. 2023 is shaping up to be another exciting year.
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.
A couple of female Bushtits perch on the edge of the bubble, waiting to plunge in again.
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.