Wise Words from a Wise Man

“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.” -Senator Cory Booker (New Jersey-D)

KITCHEN WINDOW IMAGES

The cold winter months are not the most conducive to great bird photography.  The birds tend to stay out of the open and in the protection of trees and bushes.  In addition, those which sport bright breeding plumage have just begun to change and are often rather dull.  However, one benefit is their attraction to our feeders where they don’t have to scrounge in the bushes for food.

These photos were all taken sitting within the warm confines of our kitchen through an open window.  About 3 meters away is an oak tree where the birds gather to utilize a suet feeder.  There are always the common local species but sometimes I’m surprised by a speedy entrance and exit of an uncommon species so the wait is often worth it.

Dark-eyed Junco (“Oregon Junco” race):  These are one of the most common birds in the neighborhood, arriving in late October and staying until April.  Normally ground feeders, they really like the suet and there are always several in the tree and on the ground.

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Oak Titmouse:  Another common species that’s resident here all year.  They are pretty quick; coming into the feeder and grabbing a bite, taking it to a protected area to consume it, and then back again.

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White-crowned Sparrow: Largest sparrow and very showy.  More common in the winter than in the summer.

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Golden-crowned Sparrow: Usually competing for fallen scraps under the suet feeder.  Only here in th winter.

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House Finch: Another year-round resident, likely the most common.  Mostly considered one of those LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobbies) yet the breeding males can be very flashy.  Most hang out around the sunflower seed feeders in the back yard.

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White-breasted Nuthatch: Scooting up and down the trunk and branches, they really like the suet but getting them to sit still enough for an image is a challenge.

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Lesser Goldfinch: The oak tree is a stop-over in route to the backyard thistle feeder.  Year round, very common, we initially hung a small thistle-seed sock to attract them, now we go through 50 lbs. of thistle seed a month.

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Pine Siskin: Another first-year visitor from the pine zone.

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Steller’s Jay: This is the first year we’ve had this species, apparently moving down from the Ponderosa pine zone a few miles above us.  You’d think with the warming climate the movement would be the other way but not so.

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Spotted Towhee:  These guys don’t feed off the feeder but stay on the ground below it to pick at the scattered pieces the other birds dislodge.  A resident, but they are very scarce in the summer, staying in the brushy canyon below the house.

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Say’s Phoebe:  First (and last) time I’ve seen this species here.  Stopped briefly for a few seconds and then was gone…not enough time for a lot of good images.  These are flycatchers so the suet would not attract them.

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Western Bluebird: Residents all year but only occasionally seen in the oak tree, briefly landing to watch for insects in the lawn below.

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Nuttal’s Woodpecker: Never seen until we put up the suet feeder.  Now both male and female there several times a day all year.

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Acorn Woodpecker: Obviously the royal family of the area.  Loud, obnoxious, destructive.  There’s probably a dozen in and round our property.  When they arrive they do so with a lot of squawking to warn the other birds to get out.  A $1,500 renovation of our roof now prevents them from jamming their acorns under the shingles for storage so they’ve reverted to filling all my nest boxes with acorns Making it necessary to clean them a couple times before nesting season.  But, for color and attitude, you can’t find a better bird.

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Bobcat Bonanza

Never having been lucky enough to get one of these guys through my lens, I went out with a photographer that knows how to find them and we saw six.  I always thought early morning should be best but these guys were late morning/early afternoon actors.  Makes sense, as that’s when the ground squirrels are active too.  These are wild animals…just not harassed in this area.  You can see the images in full frame by double-clicking on them.

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Bobcat Portrait

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“What’re those guys in the car doing?”

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“Ahh, boring…!”

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Bad hair day

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“I’m getting tired of this invasion of my privacy.”

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“Gotta get this tail clean”

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“Dinner’s hiding in the hole…come on out!”

SANDHILL CRANES

In early October I hear the cranes high overhead as they head down to their wintering grounds in the Central Valley. Looking up into the sky, I usually can’t find them as my hearing aids scramble the direction of the sound and they’re often above the clouds anyway.  But their calling indicates their presence and as they’re one of the few birds my failing hearing can still detect, it is a joy.  April brings a similar event as they start to head back to their breeding grounds in the north.

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Driving the farm roads in the upper Sacramento Valley is the way I find cranes in the winter. They frequent the farm fields, tilled until next season’s plantings; the several waterfowl refuges; and open pasturelands.

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Sadly, their core habitat surrounding Lodi (yes…the Lodi of “stuck in Lodi again”) is rapidly being converted to wine grapes, good for us cabernet enthusiasts but very bad for the cranes.

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Yesterday was a great day for crane photography as I found a flock of about 30 near the road. They were obscured by the roadside vegetation from vehicles but I was able to park on the apron, quietly setting my tripod up in the bed of my truck where I could see over the fencerow.

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I then spent 2 ½ wonderful hours watching them feeding, flying in and out, and interacting.  I took over 1200 images, erased most, but here are some of the best.

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HUMMINGBIRDS

Small, aggressive, energetic, and colorful, hummingbirds have been a target for my lens for several years.  Four hummingbird feeders off our deck have, at times, had nearly 100 individuals clamoring for the sugar water.

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At other times, as right now, an aggressive individual keeps all the others away.  While I’ve identified 4 species here over the years, the majority are Anna’s.  A few smaller rufous are always around and it’s usually an individual of this species that keeps all others at bay.  An occasional black-chinned appears off and on during the summer but only during spring migration do I see an occasional calliope.

Anna’s Hummingbird                                  Rufous Hummingbird

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Hummingbirds are unique; found only in the western hemisphere. They range from southern Alaska to Patagonia, including islands of the Caribbean, but the majority of species occur in tropical and subtropical Central and South America within the tropical and subtropical forests of the northern Andes.  Ecuador has over 130 species.

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As hummingbirds primary food is nectar from flowers, many bill designs have evolved to utilize the great variety of tropical flowers.

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One could easily see the evolution of the swordbill hummingbird’s bill to extract nectar from flowers too deep for other birds to obtain.

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On my trips to Central and South America I’ve had an opportunity to photograph a lot of hummingbirds, I think my total is somewhere near 40 (meaning I have well over 100 left to see and photograph!  Never happen!).

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Taking images of hummingbirds in flight is a challenge as the speed of their wings requires extreme shutter speeds …

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…so a “set-up” where several flashes are often arranged near a feeder or flower to stop the action is often used.

Set-up images

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Personally, I prefer the photos of the perched birds better as they show some of the habitat but because they don’t sit very long and move fast, I have a lot of frames with nothing but the perch.

Whoops!

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Here are some of the ones I’ve captured over several trips to Central and South America.

Chestnut-breasted Coronet (Ecuador) 

Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Guango Lodge, Ecuador   

Green Thorntail (Ecuador)

Green Thorntail 3a

Long-billed Hermit (Panama)

Long-billed Hermit 3                                                                    

Collared Inca (Ecuador)                                                                                

Collared Inca, Guango Lodge, Ecuador

Purple-crowned Fairy (Costa Rica)

Purple-crowned Fairy 2

Glowing Puffleg (Ecuador)

Glowing Puffleg

Booted Raquet-tail (Ecuador)

Booted Racket-tail, Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador                                                                   

Sapphire-vented Puffleg (Ecuador)

Sapphire-vented Puffleg 2

Violet-bellied Hummingbird (Panama)

Violet-bellied Hummingbird 4                                                      

 Brown Violet-ear (Ecuador)

 Brown Violet-ear 5

  Great Sapphirewing (Costa Rica)

Great Sapphirewing, Yanacocha, Ecuador

 Black Mango (Panama)

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Buff-winged Starfrontlet (Ecuador)

Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador

 White-necked Jacobin (Ecuador)                 Purple-throated Woodstar (Ecuador)

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Violet-tailed Sylph (Ecuador)                      Velvet-purple Coronet (Ecuador)

Violet-tailed Sylph 4Velvet-purple Coronet

Sparkling Violet-ear (Ecuador)                      Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Ecuador)

Sparkling Violet-ear 5Rufous-tailed Hummingbird                              

Rufous-crested Coquette (Panama)           Buff-tailed Coronet (Ecuador)

 Rufous-crested Coquette 1Buff-tailed Coronet, Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador

Revolution

From primal ooze they say we came
That cells congealed to form a brain
And since…the world’s not been the same
Humanity evolved.

For those first several million years
We hid in caves to quell our fears
Protected there, we persevered
To our lot we resolved.

Then we began to sharpen stones
And tie them tight to sticks and bones
To the ends of staffs… which then were thrown
We soon learned of our might.

It wasn’t till these tools we made
That man, the hunter, found his place
Then soon the warrior was embraced
And found a cause to fight.

In all those years that went before
There was no strife or need for war
Then greed, and skill with weapons bore
O’er battlefields we trod.

To justify the path we’d laid
The lives we took by gun and blade
To lead us in a world crusade
We so created God.

We offered our prayers up to Him
That war in His name, we should win
That He absolve us of all sin
At our communion feast.

But victory did not bring us calm
It brought, instead, human aplomb
With brain and hands…we built the bomb
And said it would bring peace.

The world is better now, I think
Since humankind became extinct
And rat and cockroach rule the stink
Of what we once called “Earth.”

Our spirits roam the starry plains
Reflecting back from whence we came
But cannot overcome the shame
And thus, defy rebirth.

It begins again in primal ooze…

Dean Carrier