2023—Snoot Status Report

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.

2023—Water Drops on Feathers

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.

2023—Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah

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.”

2023—The Elusive Hermit Thrush

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.

2023—New Man in Town

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.

2023—Eastern Yellow Robin

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.

2023—Happy New Year!!!

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.

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.