The birds, they task me, they heap me
Call me frustrated.
OK, enough cheesy references to Herman Melville’s classic “Moby Dick”, because this won’t be a classic by any stretch of the imagination.
You’re all probably frustrated as well, reading about my frustrations as it pertains to birds, sorry, I can’t help myself, as I swear, the little buggers are taunting me! Even more than usual of late.
Take Saturday, I went back to the county park near where I live where I had gotten the so-so shots of a Carolina wren a few weeks ago. I had just gotten started on my walk, when I saw the form of a wren flitting about in the brush ahead of me. I couldn’t ID it because the lighting was so bad, so I tried to get closer. The darned wren stood up on the sawed off end of some brush and started dancing, it looked like a school child dancing to get the attention of the teacher to get permission to visit the restroom, and quickly!
With the lighting as bad as it was for those, there’s no way that I can use them for my photo life list project, and I was fairly certain that was going to be the case when I shot them, but hope springs eternal, even if reality sucks. 😉 It was as if the wren knew that I was in the wrong position for a good photo, the way that it perched there and danced.
I followed the wren, hoping for better shots, at one point it flew very close to me and landed on a large limb, for a split second. Before I could raise the camera up, the wren dove into an old woodpecker hole in the limb. I saw then that the wren was a winter wren, and not the Carolina wren I have been chasing for three weeks. I thought that I may get a shot of it as it exited, but it came out of that woodpecker hole as if its tail were on fire! So I continued to follow it the wren, and the next photo is the best of a very bad lot.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, people ooo and aahh over shots of bald eagles, but they are an easy species to photograph, I just find them, then shoot away. It’s the little birds that are difficult subjects!
To prove that I haven’t become a complete bird brain yet, I did shoot a few photos of deer and formations in the ice.
The ice photos look much better in a larger size, trust me, they look weak here, you can click on any photo here for a larger view.
I also shot a couple of a fox squirrel drinking the water drops that had formed on the underside of some branches.
But, back to birds. My parents, especially my mom, were always interested in birds, we had bird feeders in the back yard long before it became popular. My dad would set his camera up and photograph the birds as they came and went to the feeders. When my dad was forced to retire early because of a heart condition, he started building an almost unbreakable bird feeder which he sold to supplement his disability insurance. (I say almost unbreakable because nothing stands up to a determined bear or hurricane force winds slamming a bird feeder into a concrete wall)
I have found that over the years, I have gotten lazy when it comes to making a positive ID as to the exact species of birds I see. A seagull is a gull, is a gull for example, or sparrows are another example. I would only identify birds by family for many species, and call it good.
Since I have gotten back into photography, and started this blog, my birding began to get back to where it should have been all along, and here’s why.
Later during my walk, as I was nearing the end of the five miles I did that day, I saw a flock of sparrows in the brush along Buck Creek. My first glance told me that they were probably just chipping sparrows, but, since I started my photo life list project, probably doesn’t cut it any longer. By then, the weather had gone downhill, it was sprinkling a little, and I’ll admit that I was dog tired for some reason, maybe it was five miles through heavy, slushy snow covering the trails.
Anyway, there was something about the chirping coming from the sparrows in question that told me that they weren’t chipping sparrows, and that I needed to investigate further. As I was working on the post for chipping sparrows that I have already done, I read that American tree sparrows look very similar to chipping sparrows, but the only part of the differences between the two that I could remember at the time was that the tree sparrows have a dark spot on their chest.
Maybe it was because I was tired that I broke my own first rule of critter photography, shoot first, shoot quickly, and then ask questions later. I wanted to get a photo of one of the sparrow’s chests, to make a positive ID. However, all the sparrows were perched with their backs to me, and I passed up what would have been good shots, hoping to get a chest shot, to see the dark spot, if they really were tree sparrows.
The wind didn’t help, for when one sparrow finally turned towards me, the way its feathers were being blown in the wind made me wonder if the dark spot I was seeing was its permanent markings, or caused by the wind moving its feathers around.
So, I shot some more.
By then I was almost positive the birds were American tree sparrows and not chipping sparrows so I tried for more shots of them at any angle. But by then, all my fooling around trying to get a chest shot had spooked most of the flock to the other side of the creek, and these are the best I could do.
Once I got back home and refreshed my memory by looking up American tree sparrows online, I found other ways of making a positive ID. Chipping sparrows have a bold white eyebrow and black eye stripe, plain gray breast with no markings, and a solid black bill. American tree sparrows have a bright rusty crown and eye stripe, bicolor black and yellow bill, and a small dark spot on center of otherwise plain breast. So, the sparrows in question were certainly American tree sparrows, but I had blown the opportunity for some good photos of them by holding out for the chest shots. Aaargh!
Now the question becomes, do I use those crummy photos in a post in my photo life list project, or wait until I get better ones. American tree sparrows aren’t year round residents, they migrate though Michigan in the spring and fall. It could be years before I run into more of them while they are migrating. Or, maybe not, for after boning up on identifying them, I noticed that a shot I had taken earlier in the week while on my daily walk around home that I had shot this one, thinking it was a chipping sparrow.
That was a practice shot, trying to get a good photo in bad lighting conditions, and it turns out that the bird wasn’t what I thought that it was when I shot it. And, for further proof that I really need to better my birding skills, I went back to the post that I did on chipping sparrows and found this photo!
It wasn’t a chipping sparrow, it’s an American tree sparrow. Seems that the little buggers are far more common than I thought, and I have to be a lot more positive in my identifications!
Oh, and here’s a chipping sparrow for reference.
Why can’t all species be easy, like chickadees?
Or northern cardinals?
Or great blue herons?
No some birds have to be difficult, or I should say, I’m not a skilled enough birder yet at this point. Here’s another example. I spotted a hawk in a tree and shot a few photos, more for practice than anything else, as I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what species of hawk it was. I just assumed that it was a red-tailed hawk, as they are the most common around here.
Even from that photo, I may have identified the hawk as a red-tailed, but when I blew up this next photo, I saw how wrong I can be!
From its facial features and tail, I saw then that it was a red-shouldered hawk, not a red-tailed. This is a red-tailed hawk.
OK, so you can’t really use that last one as a comparison, I just threw it in here because I like it! But, even that hawk had to be difficult, it was circling the area, but would not clear the trees, so I had to pick a hole in the branches to get that shot.
I’m learning, a lot. Not only on how to identify birds, but also what a wonderful group of people birders are. I have now met several members of the Muskegon County Nature Club, and they have all been very helpful. And, that goes with a post that Tracy of Seasons Flow just did on red crossbills in his area. The crossbills were feeding from some one’s backyard feeder, and the home owner, who just happens to be a serious birder himself, is allowing birders to visit his backyard to see the crossbills.
Oh, and there’s one more source of frustration for me, people who trash our environment.
Now how the heck does a fire extinguisher end up in a creek? The plastic bottles are bad enough, that’s just laziness on the part of who ever brought them to the park, but a fire extinguisher?
Back to birds again, I actually enjoy the trials and tribulations I go through to get the photos of birds that I get, and if becoming a better birder makes me even more observant, then that’s a good thing. I’m meeting nice people and having fun, even if it becomes frustrating at times, so I’m enjoying myself, and who can ask for more?
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!