Project Chekov: Hummingbird

So, we’ve had the big dogs in skies (the Eagles), and those that like a slow paddle in calm water (the Coots), so it only seems fitting that we have a post on the little dudes and dudettes that are constantly going about a 100 miles per hour.

You guessed it, today’s featured bird is the Hummingbird.  Out here in the Midwest (more affectionately called the Midtundra at the moment) we do not have a lot of variety when it comes to these birds so they are pretty easy to identify.  In fact it is ridiculously easy because a quick review of the Stokes reference manual confirms there is only ONE that frequents our area – most prefer to spend their time out in Texas or Central America – Guess catching that Black-Chinned Hummingbird in Vegas was a score (link here) seeing how that is the only other one I’ve really had a chance to check off.  Since this is from our backyard feeder (actually back porch feeder), we proudly introduce the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

This isn’t a new bird to the Blog – it actually appeared back in Oct 2012 (link here), so this doesn’t result in a check.  It does give me the chance to talk a little bit about a bird with some interesting characteristics.  First of all, the Ruby part of the name is VERY apparent when they choose to show it.  As you can see in the two males above can hide that coloring and instead show a more boring darker chin.  Not sure if this is a choice they have or if there is some specific angle that really reveals it – wait, getting lazy, let me check that.  So it is all about the angle of the light – there ya go.  Unfortunately, this set of shots must have had bad lighting since none of them really show that bright ruby color.  You can see a little of it below.

Hit the jump to read a little more about these birds and view a few more intriguing shots

Continue reading Project Chekov: Hummingbird

Project Chekov: Grosbeak and Gray Catbird

It’s a two-fer day for the blog and now that the pictures are processed, two more checks in the bird list. The first bird isn’t really new to me an in fact has frequented our feeders quite regularly during the warmer months. I didn’t really think much about it figuring it had already debuted on the web so imagine my surprise when I did a quick search on the blog and came up empty on the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.

Much like the Cardinal, this particular bird is easy to identify due to the unique coloring.  Oh, and the discoverer made it easy enough to visually tell what type of Grosbeak it is thanks to the rosy patch on .. wait for it .. the breast.  They are fairly common in the Eastern half of the US extending up into Canada.  Like the Flycatchers from the last post, they will eat insects but also feast on fruits and seeds.  The Cornell website noted “they eat sunflower seeds with abandon”.  This is spot on – when they show up I have to spend extra time keeping the feeders full – here is one getting his fill (admittedly a little soft but wanted to show more of the back coloring on the male)

Hit the jump to see the female Grosbeak and our other featured bird.

Continue reading Project Chekov: Grosbeak and Gray Catbird

Project Chekov: Flycatchers and Friends

Today’s post required some assistance from Facebook (shudder).  I was struggling terribly with trying to identify the featured bird shown below.

The problem wasn’t so much the category because the crest and general shape is easily identifiable as a Flycatcher, but there are a number of different types of Flycatchers with subtle nuances.  Every reference book on my shelf was rifled through at least twice trying to narrow it down – even went so far as to go through every page of the Stokes book while traveling up to the Quad Cities to see if I was overlooking some other bird.  When that failed to produce a good match, I went and spent a couple of hours on Google Images to see if there happened to be a hit there – NO LUCK.

The problem isn’t so much the shape.  Based on the smaller stature and the bill, it is pretty easy to ID it as an Eastern Phoebe.  That is assuming you do not focus much on the coloring.  That is the tricky part.  Eastern Phoebes have an all whitish breast.  This one got darker on the bottom.  In fact, it looked the complete opposite of the Black Phoebe which has already made a debut on the blog (link here).  Although there is not a good breast shot on that post, they are black on top and then turn to white half way down.  So that was completely out for this particular bird.  It looked so cute, I could hardly go any further without getting a good classification on it, so I employed my wife to submit a picture on an Illinois Birding Facebook page.  It didn’t take long for some feedback to start rolling in.  One of Linda’s friend’s husband agreed with me that it was an Eastern Phoebe.  So that part was pretty much settled, but was still curious on the coloring.  Here’s another shot … he’s a cutie.

Hit the jump learn about the likely answer to the coloring issue

Continue reading Project Chekov: Flycatchers and Friends

Project Chekov: Eagle

Getting close to my blog quota for the month and we really are not even out of the first week of the new year.  The good news is Project Chekov is still getting into gear which can mean only one thing – yep, another bird post.  The featured bird today is a tad bittersweet for me.  On the one hand it allows me to get through some pictures that were taken awhile back.  On the other hand I would much prefer focusing on the latest series which were just taken last week while up along  the Mississippi.  Just more incentive to get caught up!  As you probably noticed, the bird topic today is the Eagle.

These are second only to owls when it comes to my personal bird photography and really only second because they are becoming much more abundant in places we can easily reach.  When Linda and I started taking pictures of these along the Mississippi River up in the Quad Cities area we would find maybe 5 or so along a particular road we frequently hunted.  Now days, that same road has well over 50-70 of these majestic birds hanging out in the trees with probably another 300 or so circling the surrounding areas.  Definitely a resurgence in their population – not sure if that is just a local phenomena and maybe there is some condition up North that is driving more of them down or they are just prospering as a species.  In either case, we get the benefit of whatever is going on.  The interesting thing is about a third of the birds we saw were juvis so we should have good viewing for some years to come.  There is just something exhilarating about watching these large birds through the big glass as they scan the river surface looking for food.  Once spotted, they’ll unfurl their wings and essentially drop off the branch before gaining enough air under their wings to lift up their strong torsos.  A few circles and those talons emerge from under their tail feathers for the final dip into the water, often times snagging an unsuspecting fish.  The other Eagles in the vicinity will notice this and give chase, but if the Eagle makes it back to the trees it is generally left alone to enjoy a hearty feast of fish.  Every time I get to witness their ability to rip into fish makes me wonder what would happen if they got annoyed by my presence – those razor sharp talons and beak could do some harm.  But then I think – oh, no problem, my UB has my back (collective laughter).   Good for me, the Eagles tend to pay little attention to those annoying people with their cameras.

Having the pleasure to witness Eagles in the wild has a sobering effect when viewing them in captivity.  I have mixed feelings about the whole zoo thing.  As long as the birds are well taken care of and have an environment that is conducive to their lifestyle I have little issue – in fact, if it wasn’t for access to birds in this setting I would probably not be such an enthusiast today.  The other condition that is completely acceptable is rehabilitation or sanctuary for injured birds (again, the latter still needs to have a conducive environment).  When it comes to Eagles, I think injury and recovery are the only lawful means to have one in captivity – may be wrong about that, but that has been the universal reason for all the ones I’ve seen in zoos etc.  Our own Wildlife Prairie Park has Eagle residents and both of those have damaged wings and are unable to fly sufficiently to be in the wild.  Without this assistance they would surely be dead in the survival of the fittest wild.

However, under the protection of WPP, they appear to be well nourished and accepting of their pen.  The hard part for photographers is this particular pen is encased in wire fencing.  As mentioned in a previous post, The Beast can focus through most fences without much issue depending on how close the links are – if you look close at the shot above you can make out some soft areas where the links crossed through the shot.

Hit the jump to see a couple more shots from captivity

Continue reading Project Chekov: Eagle

Project Chekov: Downy Woodpecker

Today we have the fourth installment of Project Chekov, but this one comes with a little bit of uncertainty and mystery.  While processing the feeder shots I came across the image below.

At the time I immediately classified this as another Downy Woodpecker since those can be seen quite frequently hanging out there.  They like to give the impression they are hard working drillers for their food but I’ll see them sneak a trip to the feeders every once in awhile for a snack.  At one point they were showing up a lot more than usual and for the longest time it stumped me as to why.  Later, it became apparent that one of my seed bins had gone bad and it was filled with  ants – the woodpeckers were not so much going after the seed as much as they were the ants that must have been overtaking the feeder.  Clearly the one above was there for the seed.  While uploading it to our photo website the yellow on the bridge of the beak caught my eye.  I had not really noticed that before, as opposed to the more noticeable red highlight on the head for the males.  This prompted a dash for the reference books.  Nothing really conclusive there but part of that is due to the reference shots all being from the side and not directly on (bad reference authors, very bad).  The size led me to believe it was the Hairy or the Downy and since there hasn’t been a lot of Hairy’s around here the best guess is the Downy.  I checked the juvi Yellow- Bellied Sapsucker but that has more markings on the breast and less white for sure).  The Black-backed Woodpecker and Three-toed didn’t match either and didn’t line up with the regions very well.  Without any further input I’m forced to consider it the Downy.  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, I could be swayed easily at this point.

Here is another shot of a similar bird taken at a different time.  As with the previous image you can see a little bit of the yellow on the bill here as well.  This one is a pretty good match to the Downy characteristics and you can visualize the smaller stature.

So, it is possible the first is not a Downy, but I didn’t want to cheat you out of a post so went with some insurance!

Hit the jump to check that out.

Continue reading Project Chekov: Downy Woodpecker

Project Chekov: Cedar Waxwing and Cardinal

We have reached day three of Project Chekov and to switch it up just a little we have two birds featured today (yeah!).  To be completely honest, the second one was kind of thrown in because I figured it was a good way to get them out of the way quickly.  But let’s get to that in a minute and get right into the featured bird.  I Actually thought this would be a new bird to the blog, however, a quick verification through the blog search capability proved differently.  The Cedar Waxwing actually made its presence known back in Nov 2012 (link here).  Those previous shots were not exactly the best execution and even coined the term crispiless to acknowledge that they were on the fuzzy side (I still like that word).  These first few turned out a lot better in my humble opinion.

The above one is clearly my favorite with the berry in the beak.  These are one of the easier birds to identify thanks to their thick black eye eyeliner and cropped back Mohawk.  Just call them the punk rockers of the birding world.  There are actually two types of these birds, one being Cedar and the other the Bohemian.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a shot showing their back coloring or it would be very obvious since the Bohemian has more colorful highlights.  The Bohemian also hangs out predominantly in the Northwest where the Cedar has a much broader range.

Pretty confident this is the Cedar based on where it was taken (Midwest) and I would have noted it if I saw the prettier highlights so I could make the extra check mark in the bird list.  These are pretty cool birds

Hit the jump to see more shots of the Waxwing and a more common bird to the area

Continue reading Project Chekov: Cedar Waxwing and Cardinal

Project Chekov: Brown-Headed Cowbird

Welcome to the second day of 2014.  Only a couple of days into the new year and I’ve already found a great way to force myself to concentrate on the new running mechanics.  Simply go out and run on ICE.  Nothing forces you to keep your foot plant underneath your body like knowing too much heal strike or less likely too much lean will put you on your ass.  Yesterday got to practice my windmilling a couple of times, but zero outright falls so mechanics starting to make its way into muscle memory.  Figured I’d bring out a new bird to the blog as the second installment of Project Chekov.  This isn’t a rare bird so to speak and in fact it has shown up at our feeders from time to time during the summer months, but all the other birds in the queue kept trumping it.  Time to correct that – introducing the Brown-Headed Cowbird.

This birds falls into the category of “Named by an Unoriginal Person”.  I can image how that first encounter went “Hey, look at that bird over there – the one with the brown head the color of a cow.  Never seen one of dem der winged thingies looken like dat before.  I shall call it Brown-Headed Cowbird and it shall be mine”  Honestly, is this the best the founder could have done?  Oh well, it is what it is and probably should be grateful it is this easy to identify – at least the males.

I tried to pull the shadows out of the RAWs on the two above, but just not enough there to distinguish the deep brown from the surrounding eye shadows.

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of the male and likely the female

Continue reading Project Chekov: Brown-Headed Cowbird

Project Chekov: American Coot

Welcome to the new year everyone!  Always nice to get to the end of something so you can start afresh with new goals and challenges.  I’m definitely a goal proponent and will be taking the next couple of weeks to determine what those should be.   You never want to rush in to these things and recommend NEVER making them under the influence of alcohol – so New Year’s is pretty much out for setting new goals.  Enjoy the festivities and leave the challenge setting for at least a couple of days.   Now, there is one looming issue that does have to be addressed and that is finding a way to get caught up with the picture backlog.   This has been on my mind all holiday vacation while toiling away in the digital darkroom.  The only solution that seems viable at this point is to get on the ball and brute force it (something that I’m fairly good at).

So, strap yourself in, it is going to be a fast ride.  Probably won’t be a lot of text and customary fact sharing, but you’ll get a healthy dose of shots for sure.  Just hope you like birds hehehehe.  Mr. Chekov, plot a course to success…

For starters, let’s bring back an old friend to the Blog, The American Coot.

I’ve always considered this bird to be the classroom joker in the lot.  First of all, it looks like a chicken which is funny in itself, but this bird has a passion for photobombing every chance it gets (link here).  Secondly, they have the funniest feet of any water fowl I’ve had the pleasure of coming across – just look at them…

Looks like snakes on a yellow stick (shiver) or possibly wearing toe-socks which are up there on my top 10 creepiest things to see someone wear list.  Note, the above shot is a little soft, but I really liked how the composition turned out.  Kind of looks like the Coot stepped on something sharp and was looking back at the small stick as if it was the culprit.  Baaaad Stick … Verry Bad Stick!  Here is a more formal looking composition for those that like the more stoic look – although a stoic Coot is a bit of an oxymoron.

By the way, for the curious, this was taken at Banner Marsh in Banner IL.  Quite a lot of Coots hang out there if someone needs a Coot for their birding list.

So that’s it, short, sweet and to the point to start off 2014!  Now, Mr. Sulu put it in warp drive to our next destination – meanwhile it’s time to hit the hay – looks like tomorrow’s run is going to be in the snow if our weathermen finally have the model right.

Henderson – It’s a Wrap

Today’s topic seemed a perfect fit for today’s blog for a number of reasons.  For starters we just finished up our latest bird shoot down in Texas.  Although that trip was somewhat exhausting (7 days, 7 different hotels) we did manage to shoot what we went there to find.  Which, by the way, is absolutely awesome and can’t wait to post the results here.  I was able to finish up not one, but two more phases of Project Auuunnooold.  It’s the end of the month and lastly, the final wrap on our first two visits to the ,  Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.  This comes as a bitter-sweet event.  Bitter in the sense that this shoot produced an amazing number of new checkmarks and interesting photos.  The Sweet part is it will allow me to move on to the other shoots that have been piling up in the queue – and trust me, there is a LOT in the hopper at this particular point in time.

Let’s recap why the Henderson Preserve was such an amazing birding location!

Overall Posts Pertaining to Henderson: 22

Number of New Birds to the Blog: 21

Number of Birds Featured: 32

Number of non-Bird Posts: 2 (The Coyote and the Jack Rabbit)

No other place has come close to being this productive from a non-captive environment perspective.  In closing this shoot out, I just wanted to provide a few more shots that caught my eye when closing out the catalog from the digital darkroom.  First off is a few more of the Northern Harrier that was hunting in the area.  This bird of prey must have known we were there since it would drift his hunting circles away from us every time we came close.  It is hard enough to keep The Beast on target with something close, but downright nightmare trying to keep the focus on something that doesn’t even fill the focus point.

As a result, there are “plenty” of blurred shots that hit the cutting room floor, but some turned out decent enough to process.   Not as crisp as the previous set (link here), but definitely closer so you can make out the features better.

The next one could use a little more lightening in the dark room – likely pushed the shutter speed in favor of keeping the blur down.  Mainly putting it here because the composition looked nice in the frame.

Hit the jump to see the last of the Henderson shots.

Continue reading Henderson – It’s a Wrap

Angels of the Ponds

Big day today, finally completed a project I’ve been working on for several months.  This is actually a double benefit since not only can I set my sights on a new endeavor, there’s one more post topic in the hopper.  Now only need to process the 20o pictures and get them ready for the blog .. don’t panic, probably won’t subject you to all of them … or maaaayybbee hehehe.    Until then, figured I’d try to wrap up the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve visit.   Other photo shoots are starting to back up in the queue and need to get at least a few of them out of the way to make room for the new year.  You may recall there was a post earlier in the month on the Great Egret (link here).  We were lucky enough to have multiple encounters with various Egrets and at one point they decided to put on a show!

I really like this shot for a number of reasons.  Clearly the birds themselves were captured in similarly unique poses which shows off how pretty these birds are.  The large one is the Great Egret and based on what I can tell of the bill from this angle, the smaller one is a Little Egret – possibly Snowy but the neck seems a little long for that.  They reminded me of Guardian Angels with their pure white wings raised up like that.  After a little bit you tend to get curious and your eyes start to wander.  Following the Little Egret you notice some Grebes passing by – wonder if the Egret was trying to scare them away from their feeding area.  They were coasting by without alarm so doubt the Grebes cared much.  Still searching you start looking at what has the Great Egret’s attention.  That leads to the American Coot somewhat hidden in the dark colors.  Turns out that Coot also has its wings out basically taunting them – I have already documented how those Coots like to mock their pond mates (link here).  Some of you may have already seen this shot a little earlier – accidentally put it up on Birding Across America site (link here) before remembering it had not debuted here yet – oops.

Not wanting to be left out, another Egret decided to join the festivities.  Can really see the span of those huge white wings on the Great Egret from this angle.

Hit the jump to learn why these Egrets were so annoyed!

Continue reading Angels of the Ponds