Monday, April 30, 2012

The transfer

As I described a few blogs ago, the male will bring the female osprey half of each fish he catches.  She gets the prime fillets while he gets the head and guts.  Not much of a bargain in my estimation, but thats the way it works.

The dock I shoot from has a regular four-foot-wide boardwalk out into deep water, but it also has a "patio" area on one side about half-way out where there is a nice wide (read "safe") area with a bench. Safety is a concern because, if I were to accidentally fall in, it is possible no one would know about it for the better part of a day.  All they might find is a camera, maybe not even that.  I can swim, but I also know that river can be treacherous - fully clothed or not.  Summer or winter.  When you are intently zeroed in on some hot action, losing track of where you are is not that difficult and it would be all too easy to end up too close to the edge.  So I try to stay aware at all times.

The reason I said all that is because from the nice patio area, all I can see of the box nest on the telephone pole is the very top over the surrounding trees.  But, if I move out to the end of the dock, I can get a better angle on the nest as well as get some idea of what the osprey might do next.  So, when I saw the male bringing the back half of the fish to the female a couple of days ago, I moved out to the end of the dock to be ready.

And it paid off.  Thinking about it, it probably isn't that unusual for the female to take the fish in her mouth and fly away.  While they are graceful in flight, they are rather clumsy when not.  (There are enough sticks on the ground at the foot of the nest, where they missed the nest, to build another.)  Clutching a fish while standing in the nest is probably not easily done.  Consider also that there may be several eggs and she wouldn't want to stumble into them and crack one. So, three times now, I have seen her leave the nest with the fish in her mouth and transfer it to her claws as she flies.  This time I was ready.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What The Hey?

Have you figured this one out yet?  I was filming a Great Blue Heron the other day that got so close, I couldn't contain his entire form within the frame.  But, I also knew if I tried to reposition the camera (it was on a tripod) into a vertical or portrait aspect, it would spook and fly.  To make matters worse, I was holding an umbrella over my head and knew that if I moved the umbrella, that would also spook it. So I started playing with different ways to capture parts of it.

The reason you may have been disoriented by the photo is that I turned the reflection right side up or upside down - however you want to look at it (no pun intended, but you can laugh if you're so inclined). The second frame, taken a second earlier, hasn't been tampered with.  Notice how the image grows sharper as it nears the source.  That is true of most water reflections.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks - You Don't Have to Answer

Seagulls are opportunistic birds.  While their main diet may be fish, I have seen them also eat soft crabs, eels (well, okay, it dropped the eel when it realized what it was) and dead rodents floating down the river.  Anything to fill the hole in their hunger.  The other day, this seagull started to go after a sure meal and I was going to film it.  At the last second, though, it pulled up.  After looking at the image once I got home, I could see why.  If you look at the way the water is swelling and swirling, you can tell it was made by a much bigger fish than it could have handled.  That limitation keeps the seagulls from choking to death on a meal when it's eyes are bigger than it's mouth.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Counting Eagles

I don't intentionally try to count eagles, but sometimes it happens that I am able to get an fairly idea about the number of the eagles in this stretch of river.  It requires keeping track of where they are at any given time, otherwise you could easily end up counting the same one more than once.  The other day, though, it was easy to count five.  Two adults flew across the river and into the marsh.  Only a minute later, I looked through the telephoto at a bird in the distance simply to identify what it was.  It was an immature eagle and, as I watched, it went into a steep dive headed toward the shoreline.  I could see movement along the shore and thought it might be attacking another bird.  Instead, it landed, and I took a photo at that moment just to study what was going on.  It turned out to be two other immature eagles that I hadn't seen.  So, it was pretty easy to determine that there are at least five eagles in the area, all seen within about a minute.  I am pretty sure there are even more than that in this area.  If I remember correctly, I had a count of nine one day last season.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

He Knowed He Dun Wrong

Eagles and osprey are natural enemies.  Their territories overlap, so there is constant bickering.  This eagle swooped too low over the nesting box where the osprey have set up housekeeping which caused the male to chase him off.  The eagle is looking back over it's shoulder because it expects to be dive-bombed by the osprey.  The osprey chased it well out over the river then broke off the chase and returned to guard the nest.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bald Eagle

This was one of the best opportunities I have ever had to film an eagle catching a fish.  Some readers may have seen this image before, although I don't think I have ever posted it on my blog.  If you look carefully a little more than a foot out in front of the eagle, you will see the white fish it is going to catch.  Would it spoil it for you if I told you the fish was already dead?  Eagles are carrion eaters and "a meal is a meal, no matter how small."

I saved a lot of money on a trip to Alaska to film eagles catching salmon.  Eagles are making a steady comeback from the brink of extermination.  I counted five on a recent morning when I knew where they all were at the same moment.  Otherwise, you can't be sure if you aren't seeing the same one again - unless it is a sub-adult with unusual markings which would be easier to identify.  They have mottled patterns and some have a lot of white streaking on their breasts.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Brown Thrasher

This pair of brown thrashers were enjoying an early morning bath recently.  They are not all that common a bird, but are a mimid (they mimic other birds or sounds) similar to a mocking bird.  They
have a much larger repertoire of songs than a mocking bird, although it has been hard for scientists to quantitate just how many.  They can continually change a song by a note or two with each repetition.

They have a bright golden eye and a long tail with brown striping on their breasts, a cinnamon-colored coat and a rather long decurved beak which is used to thrash back and forth in leaves looking for insects.  Hence, the name "thrashers."  My impression is that they are more retiring than a mockingbird, but that may be because I haven't seen as many.

Constant watchfulness is necessary to make sure these types of encounters do not elude you. Birds seldom announce their presence and they are easily overlooked unless you continually scan the area around you looking for something out of the norm - perhaps a movement or sound. Despite being close, I didn't hear them splashing around.  But, my hearing isn't what it use to be either.  It was their movement that gave them away.  It is what I called "a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum" in an early blog.

Monday, April 23, 2012

That Bug-eyed Stare

This is the fourth year that this male and his mate have hoped to raise offspring.  They have yet to succeed but, hopefully, this will be their year.  Can you imagine in the fall they go their separate ways, perhaps migrating as far as South America and then meet back here in the spring?  Birds do some amazing things. This male is usually pretty successful at catching fish.  He has already eaten his share in this photo and he is on the way over to the nesting box to give the back half to the female.  Notice how, unlike many birds, the eyes are not on the side of the head, but set forward similar to human eyes. This allows them binocular vision and better depth perception in making a catch.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Really Don't Know Clouds At All

There have been only a handful of days where I have been caught down at the river in the rain.  Of course, most of the time that is because I don't go if I know rain is forecast.  Not that I don't like rain.  In fact, I think it gives photos extra interest.  But, electronic cameras don't like to get wet and, while I have a little raincoat for the thing, I would still prefer not to take the chance of frying the electronics.

I did get caught in the rain a couple of days ago, although I had the presence of mind to bring my umbrella ("brolly" in the King's English).  In the first photo, you can see the rain coming, swooping down like a benign tornado.  There are not too many places in the East where you can see the rain coming and time its arrival.  My flight (in the Air Force) during basic training in Texas was marching one day and we could actually see the rain approaching as a torrential wall of water across the plain.  I thought for sure we were going to get soaked, but the T.I. (for Training Instructor; we didn't have drill instructors) halted the flight just in time for us to don our raingear.  No sooner had we done that than it started pouring. He could tell exactly how much time we needed.

While they look ominous, the clouds that morning were spectacular.  There wasn't any thunder or lightning associated with it, just unusual looking clouds.  I have a lot of cloud shots.  Not-run-of-the- mill clouds.  I only get interested in them when they are truly interesting to look at.  Plus, I can repurpose them as backgrounds or textures for other projects or pictures.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

An Osprey with Skills

During nesting season and the period when they are raising chicks, the male osprey fishes for the family.  He will catch a fish and take it to a tree where he will eat the front half of the fish.  Once he is done, he will take the remainder to the female and give it to her to eat.  Seems to me, she gets the better half of the deal but, hey, what do I know?  In this first image, the male is flying around with the fish in it's talons.  Not much of a fish, but still...  As is often the case, he flew right over me, looking me over. I'm not sure if they do that because they are fearful I may take it from them or they're bragging or what. I just know that even if they have the whole river to fly over, they will make a pass or two over my location and give me that bug-eyed stare.  I finally realized that the reason they fly around so much after catching a fish is to allow time for the fish to expire.  Try to imagine attempting to land on a tree branch with a wiggling, slippery fish in your paw and you can understand why.

Finally, though, the male lands in a tree to eat the fish.  You can see the fish under his right foot. This sycamore is within eyesight of the nesting box and pretty much at the same level as the nest, so he gets to keep an eye on his mate while he is eating.  It lets her know how soon she will be eating and it also allows him to defend the nest against aggressors.  I watched him chase an eagle away the other day that intentionally flew just over the nest to check it out. 

The nesting box is at the top of an electrical pole and was erected last year by the electric company. More about that in another post.  There are a lot of people that like to walk along this road, enjoying the view of the river and marsh while getting some exercise.  The female doesn't like people walking under her nest and will get to complaining when they do.  There isn't much that can be done about it. They chose this location and they are going to have to put up with the activity.  I don't think she liked me being on the dock either.  In this image, she is staring directly at me, but I am probably a couple hundred feet from the nest.  Does she have eggs?  I would expect that she does. 
When the male was done eating, he flew what was left of the fish over to the nest, landed and gave it to her.  She took it in her mouth and did something I have never seen before.  She took off and flew with the fish in her beak instead of in her talons.  I'm not sure if she did that without thinking it through or what, but after she got airborne, she decided she really should be carrying the fish in her talons, and tucked her head under her body while flying and transferred the fish to her claws.  After having never seen this before, on the following day, I saw her do exactly the same thing.  So, take a good look at the one with the fish in her mouth because you don't hardly ever see that.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Say "Cheese"

I always go down to the river hoping that I will come away with at least one photo that exceeds my hopes for capturing something memorable.  In my mind, it becomes my 'photo of the day.'  Days where I capture several are bonus days.  This recent morning was a bonus day.  What more could you ask for -great lighting, a nice graceful landing pose, undistracting background, and a little sprig of wisteria adding a little (spring) seasoning.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Downy Woodpecker

We have a lot of downy woodpeckers that come to the feeder.  I blend in a special woodpecker mix of seeds and nuts that keep them coming back.  Actually, it looks so good, I've been tempted to try it myself.  It includes bits of dried fruit and even exotic nuts like cashews.  I have never found a well-balanced commercial mix of foods that will attract a wide variety of birds, so I mix my own.

There are a couple of nearby trees that the woodpeckers like to go to that have little "shelves" where they can open a seed without dropping it.  It is usually where a branch has broken off and left a small hole in the side of the tree.  The red-bellies do this too, but they use a different tree.  In this image, I decided to remove the distracting background and simply show the tree (a river birch) and the bird.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Boat Traffic

While waiting for birds to do something on the river, I often will take photos of boats as they pass by.  Occasionally, I have the opportunity to get their email address and mail the pictures to the boat owner, which I am glad to do.  I figure not too many people have pictures of something they enjoy doing, since boating photos have to be set up in advance for the most part.

This is actually a commercial or "working" boat, so I don't think they would have cared, but I would see them on many mornings I was standing there.  On this particular morning, they were passing just as the sun crested the horizon, spotlighting the boat due to a hole in the clouds.  It is one of my favorite boating photos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Serendipity Shot

While this isn't much of a photo, there is a funny story behind it.  I had gotten to the beach at North Beach (a town on the edge of the Chesapeake) before sunrise so I could be set up to shoot the sunrise when it occurred.  Crossing the beach to the spot where I wanted to set up, I didn't see another soul anywhere.  Not only did I have the camera and telephoto on a tripod, I had also brought a small collapsible stool to sit on.

I was readying the camera and hadn't been there more than a minute or two when I heard a fairly loud distinct noise directly behind me.  Since I hadn't seen anything only a moment earlier, it startled me and I quickly looked back over my shoulder to see what could have made the noise.  There were three Canada geese standing there looking at me only a few feet away and it was as though they were asking me if it was okay if they passed me in that nasally voice that (even domestic) geese make. Stupid geese!  If they had just walked by me, I would have never even known they were there.

I decided to try to get a picture of them, but there were a couple of problems.  I had a telephoto mounted on the camera and, I knew if I did much moving around, they would spook and I wouldn't get the picture.  So, without moving, I simply rotated the camera on the tripod in their direction and tripped the shutter remotely, trying to estimate where to point the lens.  It was then I realized the shutter speed was going to be way too long.  I think it ended up being something like twenty seconds.

Amazingly, I did catch one goose and it moved very little in that twenty seconds.  Yeah, there is a little ghosting of it's upper body, but you can make out what it is.  But, it became an altogether different photo after it was finished.  I was also using a blue and gold polarizer, one of the few filters that can produce effects that just cannot be "digitally" reproduced in a photo editing program.  It enhanced both the warmth of the street lights and the blue light of the water.  And, because the shutter speed was so slow, the water became a pleasing blur, ending up looking almost painterly.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Doom and Gloom

This photo was taken just a couple of miles from my house.  The reason I mention that is because I had been waiting for a nice sunny sunrise to take a particular picture I had in mind.  It looked like this was the morning to realize "my vision."  I jumped in my car and headed up the road.  How long does it take to drive two miles?  A couple of minutes, right?  By the time I got to the farm, the skies had begun to cloud over just that quick.  I realized I wasn't going to get the shot I came for, but I thought I would "work the scene" anyway since I was already there.

The vultures on the roof of the barn naturally caught my eye.  Vultures have that aura of doom and gloom since they are always looking for dead stuff.  There were actually about five of them and they
were coming and going at irregular intervals.  There are three in this photo although one is no more than a bump in the roof line.  I've always liked the image; my wife doesn't.  Oh well, there is no accounting for taste...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

If You Saw It, You Missed It

With an single lens reflex camera, the mirror has to move out of the image path when the shutter is opened.  In that split second, as you are looking through the lens, your view is blocked by the mirror.  If you are trying to capture something that occurs very quickly, you have to anticipate (think "guess") when that will happen.  If you are seeing it through the lens, then you are not recording it on the sensor.  In other words, you missed it.

You can compensate for this somewhat by shooting a burst of several frames, but that doesn't always work either.  Once the camera's buffer fills, it stops taking any more frames until there is more room in the buffer (which can seem like an eternity while you are waiting).  So if the action you are trying to capture doesn't occur until after the burst ends, you still miss it.

And then there are things that you just can't anticipate.  When an osprey catches a fish, it will often pause in flight and shake like a dog to shake off excess water.  They have to have enough speed to glide for a moment, so it doesn't occur immediately after coming out of the water, but sometimes they travel quite a ways before they shake.  In other words, it is anybodies guess as to when, or even if, they are going to do it.

This particular day, it was raining pretty hard, but it was a shower, so I was hanging in there waiting for it to pass.  I had the camera on a tripod, a rain jacket over my camera, and I was holding an umbrella over me and the camera trying to stay as dry as possible.  All that and trying to film the action at the same time.  It was just by chance that I caught the osprey shaking, but it is one of my favorite images of an osprey.  I thought it ironic that it would try to shake off the water in the pouring down rain.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

From Color to Grayscale

Not all subjects can make the conversion from a color image to grayscale and still look good.  In most cases, the best grayscale photos were visualized in grayscale before they were even taken.  There has to be good tonal contrast so that everything doesn't simply become a muddy gray.  Patterns and shapes show up much better in grayscale without the distraction of color.

I have to confess that I didn't previsualize how this image would look in grayscale.  Someone asked me if I had any grayscale images, and I ended up going through some images with grayscale conversion in mind.  I liked this one of a cluster of cherry blossoms better than most.  It isn't a straight grayscale as I have added a little yellow to warm it up some.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Sense of Mystery II

Some of my favorite photographs (ones I have taken) capture an element that is hard to define.  The first blog by the same title tries to examine one aspect of it.  I get that same... feeling?... from this image.  Maybe it is the idea that the beauty of the light is contrasted best when seen against its antithesis - darkness.  They are usually both present in this type of image, but notice how your attention is immediately drawn to the light.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Peach Orchard

This is the best run local farm I know of.  They are constantly working their fields and harvesting their crops.  Their discipline is reflected in how this peach orchard was pruned.  Look how level the tops of the trees are.  All are exactly the same height.  I wanted to capture it in a way that highlighted their careful pruning.  To get up high enough to see over the tops of the trees, I climbed a bank on the side of the road.  Then an alarm went off.  No... only kidding. The road is in front of the camera, but not in the picture.  I also wanted the leading lines of the rows of trees to lead the eye back to the barn, so I had to choose the spot carefully.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Sense of Mystery

On this morning, I took a lot of images of beautiful, tiny flowers and I liked them all.  But, the one that most enthralled me was this one, and I wondered why since at first glance, it doesn't seem to be much of a picture.  You can hardly tell what is the main subject.  And yet, every time I come across the image, I have to stop and examine it again.  It seems to me to hold a promise of something more as you look beyond the flower to a background that only suggests what is further on.  The part that is in focus extends an invitation to explore this tiny world, as though it will reveal some of it's mysteries if you will only take the time to look.  I don't know.  Maybe I'm crazy.  But I love this picture and I'm glad I felt compelled to view the tiny world at my feet.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Japanese Kerria

This plant has one redeeming value and that is it's bright yellow blooms in spring.  It blossoms around the same time as the dogwoods and redbuds.  The plant itself is not much to look at as you can tell if you imagine this photo without the blossoms.  The leaves are sparse and they grow on a stem with few branches.  They spread by sending out suckers underground so, if not controlled, they can become a pest.

I thought I would illustrate some photo tips using this plant as an example.  Some considerations pertain to DSLR cameras while others are general hints that can be used with any camera.  It also gives me an excuse to post more pictures of the blossoms since I had a hard time choosing which ones to post.

Here is what a single stem looks like.  While the flower is lovely, the bright areas of sky in the background detract from the image because they are too distracting.  So, the first suggestion is to be aware of what is in the background of your picture because it can easily rune (as Danny DeVito said a lot in some movie [Throw Momma from the Train?]) - it can rune your otherwise nice photo.

You would be surprised at how small a move can completely change the background when you are shooting something close up.  Sometimes, it is as little as a couple inches - although it does depend on how close you are to the subject.  I couldn't get rid of the white area altogether, but by angling the camera up and lowering the camera a couple of inches, I was able to minimize its effect.  I wanted to place the yellow flower against the complementary color of the sky.

Supposedly, one main subject is better than two because two causes your attention to compete between both of the subjects.  This rule is somewhat modified by where the subjects are placed in the composition.  If they are both at the same level, they will in all likelihood compete for attention.  If they are framed in more dynamic triangular shape, however, the effect is lessened.  Here, you can see the highly-serrated heart-shaped leaves of the Kerria.

Here, a single blossom takes center stage.  Sometimes the hardest aspect of taking close-up photos of flowers is the wind.  And I do mean wind.  You couldn't even call it a breeze the first time I went out to film them.  I had to give it up and come back another day.  It was just too windy.  But even on a day when there is not much more than a zephyr, keeping the photo sharp can be a problem.  Not because of film speed - you can take it in 1/1000th of a second if you want to.  But in that split second, the breeze will have moved the flower just enough to soften depth of field.

Dark background areas can be just as much a distraction as light areas.  The main reason I don't consider this photograph a success is because my eye keeps being drawn to the dark area at the bottom of the image.  One way to fix it would be to Photoshop it, replacing the dark area with a background similar to the upper portion of the photo.  Or - here's an novel idea - go back and get it right in-camera.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Porch... er, House Finches

If you have a porch with hanging baskets, you know they represent a prime nesting site to certain species of song birds, most notably wrens, sparrows and finches.  The last couple of years, the finches have taken their turn at nesting on our porch.  Last year it ended disastrously with a black snake climbing straight up the siding (!) and going into the nest after the chicks who were probably within a day of fledging.  The snake didn't get any of them, but the babies abandoned the nest and scattered.  They were never seen again - with or without the parents. 

The hanging basket pictured doesn't even contain any real plants; their silk fakes.  Its too early.  The plants are all fake, but that didn't make any difference to the female.  She was probably thinking, if the plants aren't real then they don't need to be watered, so I won't get water dumped on me from time to time. At least, that is what I would be thinking.  You can see that, for a plain brown bird, she is pretty handsome.

The only thing about these birds is they will drive you crazy when you want to enjoy the porch yourself.  She is not too bold, so when you come out the door, she flies off.  Sometimes she sneaks back and sits on her eggs (of which she has five currently), but sometimes she stays away for quite a while.  So, like last year, when we deferred to her and stayed down the other end of the porch as much as possible, we find our use of the porch restricted.  Whaddaya gonna do?

They are basically pretty sweet birds and have a mellow little voice.  To his credit, the male doesn't run off gallivanting, but stays and keeps a look out if not actually guarding the female during the nesting period.  Here, he is biding his time on the branch closest to the nest.  He came in the other day and helped her drive off another pair of house finches who had designs on their spot.  He doesn't help build the nest either, but he stays with the female everywhere she goes to gather nesting material. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dogwoods in Spring

It takes some time to distill the essence of a subject into an image that reveals something about it's nature.  Few (if any) times can I ever remember picking up a camera, taking a single photo and saying, "I'm done. I've got it."  I'm not talking composition, technical details, camera angles or anything like that.  It is something more ephemeral than that; something that helps to define the subject or reveal it's character.  And sometimes I can take a hundred photos before I can say, "This is it."

As lovely as cultivated dogwoods are, I think I enjoy the wild ones more.  If you compare the blossoms between a wild and cultivated dogwood, you'll notice the blooms on the wild one are much "floppier," larger and looser.  The little reddish-brown tips left over from the bud stage aren't as noticeable either, so there is more of an impression of white.  The off-colored tip can give the sense that the blossoms are beginning to die and turn brown even on first opening and I think that is what I don't like about them.  Of course, seen from more of a distance, that isn't a problem. 

This wild dogwood sits on the edge of the yard, just inside the wood.
I find I enjoy it more than the cultivated one on the other side of the yard.

It isn't always necessary to place the entire subject within the confines of a photograph.  Leaving part of the content out can create a sense of there being more to see, but not in an dissatisfying manner. This image, in which nothing much is in focus - and, certainly not the blossoms - is near the top of my list of favorite dogwood photos.  It was taken on a rainy day using my piece-of-junk telephoto that can barely acquire focus and I was using a polarizer to cut down on stray light even though it was a cloudy day.  It captures something of the sense of this tree, if not of all dogwoods.  Until I had my eyes examined at age thirteen and was given a prescription for glasses, I thought the entire world looked pretty much like this. I didn't know any better.  I didn't even know I didn't know better.  Maybe that is why I don't mind when an image isn't entirely in focus.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Spring Classic

Robins eating worms is a classic image in the spring.  Truth be told, in this area they don't migrate and they have been here all winter, but I know in a lot of places, people look for robins as one of the first signs of spring.  There are robins on our lawn almost any time you look out there.  One of the reasons I don't fertilize is for the health of the soil.  I don't think weed killers and worms mix too well.  The fact that the robins spend hours eating worm after worm indicates to me that I'm doing something right by doing nothing at all.

I included this photo because it illustrates how my lawn is full of a variety of small flowers.  This patch is a flower called Veronica repens which is a beautiful little flower, but doesn't like to stay where planted.  It started out in a garden bed on the other side of the house, but is no longer found there.  But there are patches of it all throughout the lawn.  So what to do - kill them?  Naahhh.  They're usually done blooming by mowing season anyway.

Note the intensity of the robin hunting for worms.  Is he looking for them or listening for them?  That has been an ongoing scientific debate for some time now.  Some believe it is all a matter of eyesight while others believe robins can actually hear the sub-sonic sounds a worm makes as it crawls through the soil.  My money is on this latter theory.  Watch a robin hunting worms and form your own conclusion about which theory is true.

Here is the classic robin photo of one pulling a worm out of it's hole in the ground.  If you have ever tried to pull a worm out of the ground, you know there is an art to it.  Done wrong, you only get a part of the worm.  They seem to know just how much tension to exert.

Here is the same robin tossing one back.  I only spent a few minutes filming this one robin, but in that time, I watched it catch about ten worms.  I cannot imagine how many are in the soil since there are always at least two robins out there doing this all day long.  The male robin's coloring is a little more intense then the female.  All three of these photos are the same male.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Woodpeckers of the World - Unite!

One aspect of nest building implied in yesterday's post needs to be elaborated on a little more.  It is probably something most people would not consider, but plays a crucial role in the success of a nest.  When I said that the red-bellied had spent the best part of three days building the cavity, I left something unsaid. 

Notice how the red is interrupted on the female and reappears
near the bill, unlike the male in the first photo.

One of the keys to the success of humans as opposed to the animal kingdom is the principle of the division of labor.  If we decide to build a house, there is an entire complex system behind us helping us to succeed; men who have cut down the trees, shaped the lumber into boards, shipped them off to hardware stores, trucked them to the building site, and on and on.  That is not to mention so many other aspects, like a wife making lunch for the builder so that he can spend more time building.  All these helpers make the entire task of building a house much less problematic than if the builder had to do all these things himself in order to finish his task.

The red-bellied doesn't have this luxury of a support system.  Expending three days of energy building a nest only to have the female reject it has to have been a blow.  That was three days he couldn't spend foraging for food keeping his energy up.  So, it was a bigger deal than it may have appeared at a cursory glance.  After almost a week, it appears he has abandoned his efforts to build a nest in this tree altogether.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Choosing a Home

This is an update on the progress of the red-bellied woodpecker nest.  The male spent the best part of three days carving out a nest in the right-hand branch of a tree trunk that had been topped a couple of years ago and is now in decay.  The female finally came in to inspect the nest's suitability.  You can tell the female from the male by the red crest.  On the male, the crest goes all the way from the nape of the neck up and over it's head to the base of the bill and is one of the nicest looking reds you would ever want to see.  The same patch on the female is interrupted on the crown of the head by the same gray color as the rest of the head and the red is a little duller appearing.

The male waited patiently while she looked it over and considered whether it would suffice.  The male, in this photo, is waiting on top of the trunk.  They both met on the top of the trunk afterwards to discuss possibilities. 

She must have had some misgivings about the nest, because after she left, he began carving out a second nest at the top of the left-hand branch of the same tree.  Maybe she had the same concerns I did about how close to the "roof" the nest was in the case of rain.  It seemed to me in a prolonged rain, the water would soak through the top all the way into a nest.

In any case, after she left, he began carving out a hole in the other trunk very near the top also.  Except, you can tell it is much more solid wood by the timber of his pecks as he is working.  The sound of his blows on the other nest were more of a "thunk" and the sound of the pecks on this hole are much brighter.  Which also means a lot more work because the wood is harder to carve out.  Over several days since making her decision, he has only been there occasionally and his efforts only seem half-hearted.  Plus, he doesn't stay very long.  Meanwhile, times a wasting. Then there is another problem.  One that would be true no matter where they build their nest.

A while back, I did a post on a squirrel nest.  Well that nest is only a couple of trees away from the woodpeckers nest site.  A couple of turns on side roads and the squirrel is right there on the main highway.  If they do end up nesting here, and if the squirrels keep coming around, it will be interesting to see how the birds handle it.  Do they attack them with their powerful bills, or do they buzz them to try and get them to leave, or do they passively stand by and watch as a squirrel invades their nesting hole?  It would be interesting to watch, but right now the question is, will the nest even get built?