Monday, May 7, 2012

Spring 2012 Backyard Birds

It has been a busy time at my backyard feeders, especially the past few weeks when most of these photos were taken. This handsome fellow is the male House Finch.
I put this bird first because he's been my favorite visitor so far this spring. I try to put out a variety of bird food types in hopes of attracting a variety of species. It's working in that this colorful guy has been coming around regularly in recent weeks, and I don't recall having the House Finch in my backyard before.
I think it's always neat to capture birds looking right into the lens.  Their expressions often are not as benign as this House Finch's.
The American Goldfinch is another show stopper. I only saw this striking bird a couple times in March. For this shot, after spotting him while inside my house, I quickly and stealthily moved outside and hid behind a couple trees, getting off only a few frames before he fled.
Back view of the spectacular American Goldfinch:
Here we see the female Goldfinch and the male feeding together.  Sorry missy, but you are pretty plain compared to your man!
Another seasonal drop-in has been the Brown Headed Cowbird. I had this bird with the unique look and name last spring so I recognized it went it came back recently.
The male seems rather shy but when it does come to my feeders, it likes to stay awhile, sometimes five or more minutes at a time.  It feeds and just enjoys hanging out.
The Cowbird doesn't mind being around other birds. Here the male shares a feeder with a Northern Cardinal.
Here's the male and female Brown Headed Cowbird together on my feeder.  The female comes more often to the feeder and seems less fearful than the male. I have a new advantage point from above for my photo-taking.  An upstairs bathroom has a narrow window.  I took out the screen and a turn of the handle opens the window out so I can look straight down on the unsuspecting birds (if I'm quiet enough).
Brown Thrashers have been around regularly of late. This is the biggest bird, along with the occasional Blue Jay, to feast at my feeders.
This big bird won't get any style points on the feeders.  It's rather ungainly and aggessive, often leaving a feeder twisting like a top when it's through its rough feeding.
I don't photograph birds from the backside often, but when the Brown Trasher is thrashing away on the feeders I'll take what I can get.
I really like Blue Jays but find them very difficult to photograph whether in my yard or other places where I see them.  They don't stay still for long and are very skittish, aware and afraid of people.  Look at the look one gave me on a rare occasion I did get a shot of one at my feeders.
The Blue Jay is a big presence but very camera-elusive.  I do love its coloring and will continue to seek high quality images of this feathered favorite.
I just added this new Blue Jay photo taken yesterday from my backyard hammock.  It's always good to have the camera handy!
I had an exciting few days in late April when I first spotted the next bird in trees on the side of my yard.  The red caught my eye then Cardinal notions were quickly discarded when I noticed the yellow underside and the different face.  I also knew it wasn't the House Finch (see first photos in this post). My friend Richard Hayes helped confirm that this is a Tanager and additional review on both our parts concluded this to be a Scarlet Tanager.  Unfortunately, I caught only a few glimpses of it and only this one not-so-great photo.  I heard its distinctive call a few times in later days but alas just a quick passing through by this bird, a first sighting for me.  But pretty neat it was in my yard.  Hopefully it will return in the future.
Another exciting and unusual vistor to my yard was this Red Shoulder Hawk, just last weekend. Alesia and I were sititng on our patio when off to the right there it was, looking at us and at our feeders. I hope it wasn't insulted when I said to her there's a Hawk then Alesia said, no it's a Dove.
I'm quite sure the seed in the feeders wasn't what this Hawk was after.  No it was likely what feeds at the feeder, a small bird such as a Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren or Carolina Chickadee.  The last time I saw a Hawk in my backyard was when one swooped down to the ground, just five or six feet in front of me, snatching with its claws a wounded Titmouse which I had just heard fly into my backdoor.  Last weekend, the Hawk left empty-handed but not before I got a couple decent pictures from where I sat.
I've photographed three types of Woodpeckers in my backyard recently. The most rare is the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker which likes a particular tree in the back part of my backyard. You can see some of the small holes the Yellow-Bellied has created over the years in this tree. They don't come around too often but when they do I look for the red throat that is a distinctive marking.
The smaller Downy Woodpecker is a regular at my feed fest.  I had never heard of this type until a few years ago when I started to get into birding and wanted to know what this fiesty bird was.  You know the males because of the red patch on the back of their heads. I like this shot because you see the red spot, which sometimes looks like the letter "W" (for Woodpecker no doubt), its open beak, and its dark eye that is seen. This boy's in full feeding mode!
A pair of Downy Woodpeckers play ring-around the suet holder. Woodpeckers love the pasty, tasty suet cakes, which come in lots of different flavors. Note the closed eyes of the bird on the left.  Creepy!
It's kind of rare among my many Downy shots to find one when the bird isn't eating.  I like this frontal view for the facial, body and claw details. It had rained the night before, giving a rather greasy look to this one.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker I've been seeing much more of in recent weeks this spring. It's as high strung as the other woodpeckers so getting a shot like this one got me very excited!
Talk about having your head on a swivel! Who needs eyes in the back of the head when you can go 360 like this!  I like its forked tail too and the horizontal striped feather in between.
This orange-flavored suet is popular with the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers. I have suet for them in the back of the yard. But this pecker, much larger than the Downy, also frequently comes to my front feeders, closer to the house.
I'm happy that the Northern Cardinal is a mainstay of my backyard. I've taken hundreds of photos of them and never really tire of seeing them. They are obviously very striking and photogenic, the female as well as the over-the-top red/black goateed male.
The Cardinals are easier to photography than many birds because they do often sit (or perch) still for more than a couple seconds.
Love this shot of a female with her mouth foul!
Caught the male Cardinal in mid-call. Or maybe its yawning? No, birds don't yawn, do they?
One last Cardinal in full red glory!
South Carolina's state bird, the Carolina Wren, is one our regulars.  It's a small bird with a loud call.  Here I think it has some cat fur in its mouth. I'll toss outside bits of fur found on the floor from our four Persians.
This is a favorite recent photo, two Carolina Wrens at my friend Richard Hayes' house. They look plump don't they? Winter coats still on perhaps? Love their eyes and expressions.
Here's a classic pose by the distinctive and petite Carolina Wren.
The Tufted Titmouse is a cute little bird that's very vocal and assertive about hitting my feeders.  It's not particularly concerned if people are nearby, which I like.  The life of this little gem may seem carefree but it does always have to keep alert to predators such as Hawks.  I witnessed a Hawk swoop down and grab one of these birds just feet in front of me. Just another meal for the Hawk.  I felt bad for the Tufted Titmouse. 
The perky Carolina Chickadee is a mainstay at my feeders. They aren't particularly afraid of people and drop in dozens of times a day. Why not? I keep my feeders well stocked. They know a good deal when they see one! Lately the Chickadees have been in spring mating mode, I think. The wing flutter here is unique to the season. I've been seeing this species and others feeding each other, ala male to female, and vice versa. Cute!
The White-Breasted Nuthatch has been coming around lately.  I hadn't seen this bird in a couple years. I instantly recognized its black mohawk and upside down behavior.  I guess blood rushing to the head is not an issue with this Nuthatch.
I was surprised yesterday (April 12) to spot a new bird in my backyard. I didn't recognize the brown head but did think it looked like the Nuthatch above. Online and bird book research helped with a positive ID of this bird as a Brown-Headed Nuthatch.  Another new bird for me!
Been seeing two or three of these very small birds since yesterday. This Nuthatch is smaller than the White-Breasted one and even smaller than the Carolina Chickadee. 
My next door neighbors have a large Purple Martin house and I've enjoyed keeping an eye on all the activity over there. They must be very territorial because the Martins, though only dozens of feet away, never venture into my yard or feeders.
This is an immature Purple Martin with much prettier coloring, in my opinion, than the all-dark adult. The reason they don't go to feeders is because the Purple Martin gets all its food in flight and its water that way too.  A big bug eater this species.  Glad to have them in the neighborhood!
Next is a new bird for me this year, the White-Throated Sparrow. I first photographed it in my friend Richard's backyard. He attracted Orioles with grape jelly, and lots of other birds came around too. (see my separate Baltimore Oriole posting- it's before this post).
I love the yellow "eyebrows"- OK, I know that's not birdspeak. I've spotted this Sparrow in my yard a few times but my better photos are these taken at my friend's house.
I know, it's fuzzy.  I don't have Eastern Bluebirds come around as often as I like. I'm more likely to see them on the ground in my front yard than at my feeders in the back.  But I wanted to include this one shot because I do really like the shy Bluebird.  Hey the food's great and plentiful little blue, just ask these other birds! 
I've just added this new Bluebird photo taken yesterday. It's funny, since I posted this a few days ago the Bluebirds have been coming around more!
The tiniest bird visitor has been active of late at our special feeder for this species. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, male and female, love this feeder next to our back door.
Alesia does a great job refreshing the Hummingbird "sauce" regularly.
This lightening fast little bird is very challenging to photograph. My approach, when I know they are around, is to sit on my porch and have the camera fixed and focused on the dish and hope the bird flies into, hovers and feeds within the frame.  It's the only way because if they see any movement, they're gone. Notice its little feet!
Here's the male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  Took this yesterday using my camera's burst mode.  I like how his beak is slightly open.
Finally, it's always neat to see new life in the spring among the birds, all shapes and sizes. These Canadian Geese come to the backyard regularly now. The four little ones are quickly growing.  This is a tight clan with the parents always keeping a very watchful eye. 
In closing, I want to thank Kate Silvia with the Carolina Nature Photographers Association for the PhotoShop and other tips she gives at our monthly meetings.  I used some of her tweaking techniques for this posting and feel my photos look better than ever.  Happy birding everyone. Hope your feeders stay busy!  (from left: Northern Cardinal, Brown-Headed Cowbird, Downy Woodpecker)