Saturday, February 24, 2007

Red Tails up close

We stopped the car almost directly beneath this hawk. I had to twist around and shoot almost vertically to get this shot. But WOW! I think it was worth it. I got three good shots of this guy before he flew. (The other two are almost identical to this one -- so I'm sparing you! ;-)

We traversed our birding route in reverse today. And I saw this hawk sitting on a post not too far from the road. Of course, as soon as we stopped he flew. This one appears to be a bit lighter than the one above. As I've mentioned before, Red Tail hawks have a huge variation in their coloration.

In addition to these hawks, I also saw the hawk with the missing primary on his right wing. He was sitting on a fence post not 10 feet from us, but we did not stop quickly enough, and then he flew. I was unable to get a shot. However, this time he was much closer to our house, perhaps a mile (or maybe less) from where we usually see him.

Kestrel and Kingfisher

There is a certain spot along old Hwy 90 where the ditch is usually filled with water, and obviously something else (like crawfish?) because there is often a belted kingfisher on the wire above it!

My guess is it's the same kingfisher every time. But, I'm not sure. This male's "belt" doesn't seem to go all the way across, which suggests that it may be a juvenile.

This picture was taken from the side of Hwy 90, but we went around to the other side of the ditch (and railroad tracks) to a dirt road that runs parallel to the highway.

There we encountered this delightful little Kestrel! He was a little flighty, but not too much so. And he seemed willing to give me some really good shots!

He even turned around and looked at us over his shoulder -- what an interesting shot!

My early pictures of kestrels have not come out as well as I would have liked. Perhaps because of their size and the distance at which I have to shoot to keep from spooking them. With the new camera, and a particularly accommodating bird, my kestrel pictures are improving!

Red-winged Black Birds

Driving down a dirt road that runs between old Hwy 90 and a flooded field, we startled a flock of red-winged blackbirds.

Admittedly, they startled me a bit as well, but I was able to capture something of their flight. The blurriness of the shot was probably inevitable, and yet, I think it highlights those red flashes that give this bird it's name.

I've wanted to get a good shot of a Red-winged blackbird for a while, but it's usually been a bit of a challenge. This fellow was very cooperative, though he wanted to have a few branches between us. He never did fly! He was proud of his shoulder patches (epaulets?) and was singing merrily (though not in this shot). ;-)

Old House

When we go birding in the area, we often drive by this old house. I don't know how many times I said that I wished I could get a shot of the house. But the road it's on is a busy Farm-to-Market road, so we always drive by. Today we stopped.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Red Tail Hawk

This Red Tail was perched in a tree along our usual "path". All the birds were struggling today because it was very windy. This bird seems to be a darker morph than some of the other birds, especially those along Woods Road (see post below). But like all Red Tails, they are uneasy around people -- so of course he flew!

This is a great shot, except for one thing. Have you ever seen a headless bird flying?

One nice thing about this shot, is you can really see the red tail. I think these birds "flash" that tail on purpose -- it really does stand out.

Here's another shot. You can clearly see the bird's underside and the little "moons" at the ends of the wings just at the base of the primaries.

I'm not sure if this is the same bird I saw week before last. It does look like he's lost a few feathers on the right wing.

Fair Weather Photographer

I was reading in a photography magazine recently that if you want to get the best shots, you need to be prepared to take pictures any place and any time. It said, "Don't be a fair weather photographer." Well, not only am I a fair weather photographer, but also a weekend birder -- there just isn't any daylight left in the winter time after work!

I've started somewhat of a routine, driving the same roads and searching the same fields. I usually end up on Woods Road -- where I'm likely to find a Red Tail just before the overpass (though he wasn't there today), a Kestrel down the road a bit, and a couple of Northern Harriers working the fields.

I didn't see any Harriers in the places I expected them, but this bird was busily working a field where the Kestrel usually perches on the telephone wires.

Harriers are usually difficult for me to photograph. They are usually flying low over fields, which are usually gray stubble this time of year, so they tend to blend in. AND, catching them in flight is a challenge. This bird was very cooperative and stayed within my view.

I was a bit disappointed that we didn't see the usual birds along Woods road -- no Red Tail, and no Kestrel, until... wait! What was that?

I looked up and there was the Kestrel, flying up to perch on the wires. Because it was very windy today, the perching birds were leaning into the wind, so the shots were a bit different. Most of my shots were a bit blurry, possibly because I was being blown around a bit! The Kestrel decided to fly, and for once, I was able to catch the shot! Yipee!

Heron and Egret

I almost drove by this egret because I would be shooting into the sun. Wow! I'm really glad I didn't. With the light showing through its wings, you can even see the bone structure. I was able to take several really good shots of this bird (probably the best of the day), and get some interesting close ups.

Look at the markings on this bird's eyes.

This is a Great Egret, by the way. I was fascinated by the slenderness of the neck. I'm not sure how the bird gets anything down to its crop! Did you know that these big birds have the same number of bones in their necks as smaller birds have? (It's similar to giraffe's and other short-necked animals having the same number of bones -- I guess they're just a lot longer!)

This Great Blue Heron started when we drove by and flew to another place in the field. Unfortunately, these shots did not come out as clearly as the egret.

This bird also seems a bit more gray than other birds I have seen, which suggests it may be a juvenile.

When I looked these birds up in the bird book, I discovered that they are both of the same genus: Ardea. All of the other Egrets (except the Cattle Egret) and the Tricolored and Little Blue Herons are of the genus Egretta. Interesting...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sunday Birding

Yes, I know it's Tuesday -- I'm a little late getting these shots up!

We went out Sunday afternoon -- it was a beautiful, clear day. We were hoping to see the Crested Caracara again, so we re-traced Saturday's route. At one place where the road we were on dead-ended into a cross-road, we found this hawk. The small tree in the distance just to the right of the hawk is probably the tree where the hawk and caracara were on Saturday. So this might be that same hawk.

What was so awesome about this hawk was that I was able to walk up within 10-15 feet of the bird and he just sat there!

Here is one of the last shots I took. I even had to back off a little on the zoom lens! I finally made some clucking noises and spooked him. The flying shot didn't come out as well as I had hoped -- you're always taken a little by surprise.

I've noticed that some of my favorite bird photographers talk about shooting from the blinds, and I assume with tripods to support the heavy photo gear (necessary for getting closeups!), but I'm usually out in the open and holding my camera (the new one with the zoom lens is much heavier!).

I'm fairly certain the hawk above is a red shouldered hawk. He's actually facing the camera (or only slightly turned). Notice the red-ish breast and the barring. This hawk was very patient and let me take several shots. Unfortunately, it probably wasn't real worried because all those tree branches were in the way!

Now, here's an interesting scene. I had stopped to get a few shots of the hawk on the right (below here). The hawk sat perfectly still -- not bothered at all by my being there. In fact, I have about 15 shots of the same bird -- it's hardly moved!

In the middle of all those shots, I happened to look over to the left. And here's this feisty mockingbird (I can say that, because they all are feisty -- and they love to pester hawks!).

I finally realized that the poor hawk was as concerned about that troublesome "little bird" as it was about that troublesome person clicking away with a camera. Both needed watching!

Finally, I took some shots of what I usually refer to as "LBB's" (little bitty birds). This first one is an Eastern Phoebe. The water behind is a flooded field (probably a rice field). We have a lot of those in our area...

This bird, I thought was a sparrow, until I unloaded the picture from the camera and looked a little more closely (yes, it's seriously cropped!). It appears to be a yellow rumped warbler -- but it doesn't quiet match the drawings in the bird book. So I guess we'll have to give this one a maybe!

Saturday, February 03, 2007


I often see meadow larks as I drive down country roads. They might occasionally be sitting on a fence wire, but more often, they are down in the grass -- as they are "ground birds".

Our birds are "Eastern Meadowlarks"

In the last couple of weeks, I have been determined to get some pictures of meadowlarks. However the pictures last week only showed a gray-brown bird against a gray-brown background. Photographing these birds is quite a challenge!

This fellow was quite willing to have his picture taken -- in fact, I have several shots with him singing gaily! But, alas, his beak blends in with the dry grass, so it wasn't all that obvious. The only problem I had with this fellow was that he wouldn't turn around and show off his distinctive chest marks.

So I had to find another "volunteer". The picture below was taken of another bird at another location. However, this fellow was willing to give me a frontal shot, so you can see his markings! While the lighting no doubt had an effect on the colors, I think the bird above had already "changed into" his breeding colors, while the bird below has not quite made the transition. According to my bird book (Sibley) their breeding period is Feb-Aug.


We have a lot of rice fields near our house. In the winter, these fields are natural wetlands that attract migrating geese and ducks. One of my favorite places to look for geese, ducks and other water birds is next door to the high school. As we drove up, all the geese were flying off. A little while later, some of the ducks decided to follow.

Here are a couple of "cropped" shots from the larger photo above. If you look closely, you can see that these ducks are flying off in pairs. While both of these close-ups focus on the drakes, you can see the female duck in the bottom picture.

These appear to be Northern Pintail Ducks.

Sociable Predators

This was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen! I've always thought of birds of prey as being very territorial. Red Tail Hawks may share a territory with a mate or a sibling, when they are young, but not with another hawk.

Of course, the Crested Caracara is not categorized as a hawk, they are most often listed almost in a category by themselves. And while they will hunt on occasion, they are actually more often carrion eaters. If you've read my blog before, you will probably know that Caracaras are one of my favorite species of birds. (Followed closely by hawks and falcons of any kind!)

Here is a close-up of the Caracara. While he didn't seem to be concerned with me taking pictures (from quite a distance, I must admit), he didn't make things easier for me either. ;-) These are such unique birds, that I would really like to have a good sharp, up-close picture.

Oh well, one of these days...

Red Tails, on the other hand, are not nearly as comfortable with people stopping to take pictures. As I mentioned the other day, I usually end up with them flying off. I was pretty lucky with this one and got some good shots while it was flying (away, of course!). In both of these shots you can see the definitive "red" tail.

OK, this is what I call a "bird butt" shot -- but considering that is does show off the signature tail feathers, I thought I'd share.

The interesting thing is this bird flew over to a tree where there was a Northern Harrier. The Harrier was not nearly as willing to share her tree as the Caracara had been.

Yard Birds

Today was one of the first clear days in a week. I had been waiting all week to get back out and take more pictures . The day wasn't as clear as I had hoped, in fact it was pretty overcast -- but at least it wasn't raining.

I started close to home -- right outside the front door in fact. I don't use a tripod. I suppose I should. These pictures were taken with my new Pentax K100D with a 300mm zoom -- still hand-held, but I braced myself on my truck.

Isn't this guy handsome? I think he was posing for me!

Here's my favorite shot of the three! We got a special deal with my camera of a photo-printer, so we printed this one. It really came out nicely.

Another great shot from the yard. This is only one of dozens (maybe more) American Goldfinches that visit our feeders in the winter. It's really fun to have these visitors, but they are sooooo messy! They not only feast on the thistle seeds we have for them, but also get on the feeders. The bad thing about this is, they throw out all the seeds they don't like -- so we're going through almost a full bag of seeds in a week or less.