Photos and Commentary

Robin, a blog reader, sent me this after reading “Hooded Bliss,” “Wonderful photos and commentary. You taught me new things about the hoodies. Thanks so much for sharing!” I always like it when readers tell me they learned something from the blog. I also like it when they provide me with good ideas for titles!

What follows are photos and commentary. Most will be photos I’ve taken this spring in town and city parks in south central PA, and most will feature female birds. I’m on a kick now, but I really enjoy showcasing female birds. They never get enough attention, yet they do so much of the work. I may be overgeneralizing here, but they attract and choose mates, they select nest sites and build nests, and they care for and raise young. And as I noted in “The Unsung Female,” they have a beauty all their own. They’re also every bit as fascinating to watch as the males.

Female Birds

I was fortunate to catch this female Northern Rough-winged Swallow recently as she landed in a road right in front of me to scoop up some nesting material. Female Rough-wingeds build the nests.

Female Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Female Northern Rough-winged Swallow

I was also fortunate to catch this female Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. These birds are almost impossible to capture since they constantly move and move in unpredictable ways. It’s always easier to photograph birds whose behavior you can predict. But, for a moment this female moved more slowly than usual.

Female Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Female Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

This is a female I had little trouble shooting. By comparison, she moved at a snail’s pace. It’s as if she were posing and knew just how to do it. 

Female Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole

I always associate Orchard Orioles with trees in parks, where they’re usually found fairly high up. Orchard Orioles are good examples of arboreal birds. All orioles are. But the day before I took this photo, I found 3 males and a female in a meadow. I was surprised. I couldn’t help but wonder if their presence there had something to do with breeding. Here’s the female. We’ll call this a documentary photo. 

Female Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole

Male Birds

Now, here’s a bird that you seldom find high up in a tree. It’s almost always found close to or on the ground and is a good example of a terrestrial bird. This one was on a log in a swampy part of the wooded pond I mentioned in “Hooded Bliss.” I was only feet away, and statue still (as always). I’d also gotten to the area first.

Male Northern Waterthrush
Male Northern Waterthrush

Notice its contour feathers all fluffed out. It was a mild morning and there was no wind, so I’m guessing the bird was drying those feathers out. I’m reminded of Double-crested Cormorants and the importance of feather maintenance in the life of a bird.

This is our first male. How do I know? Because I watched and heard it sing several times from its “perch.” Only the male of the species sings. Here’s one of my better photos—and a keeper. Notice the tongue action. Do birds’ tongues help them communicate? 

Northern Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush

We’ve brought up arboreal and terrestrial birds but not aerial ones. Northern Rough-winged Swallows are good examples. To some extent so are Ospreys. They’re known for their aerial courtship displays or sky dances, and they’re skilled aerial hunters. This is a photo of neither a sky dance nor an Osprey diving for a fish but an adult male carrying nesting material to a nest on a utility pole. The nesting material is landscape cloth. I took the photo on 5/4. Ospreys begin to arrive here from their wintering grounds in late March/early April.

Male Osprey
Male Osprey

Common Merganser Clan

Common Mergansers winter here, but increasingly they breed here, as well. Here’s proof. I happened upon this hen and her chicks as they rested on a log in Yellow Breeches Creek on 5/2.

Female Common Merganser with chicks
Female Common Merganser with chicks

The hen wasn’t so much resting as standing guard. Kenn Kaufman notes in a piece he wrote about female birds that “males get credit for defending the breeding territory, but females are often just as strong in defense.” After submitting the find and photo to eBird, I received a congratulatory note from the local reviewer. He was excited as I was to see this evidence of breeding activity. Every day you get out and go birding is a potential day of discovery, isn’t it?

And This Just In

Both the swallow and the waterthrush are a little darker than I’d like, but I decided to photograph them that way. I wanted to blow out/lose detail in as little of the backgrounds as possible. Blown highlights really are a bane, and if you think about it, where do you find pure white in nature? You don’t, really.

“A nature center near me had an Osprey nest and there was a pair of jeans and a garden rake in it!” Sylvia’s response to the Osprey photo above

Here’s a photo of the Osprey nest mentioned above. This time, the male is delivering natural material. The nest is actually on a crossarm between 2 utility poles. The crossarm consists of 2 boards that are like floor joists. There’s a small space between them, and the nest is being built in that space. Engineering at its finest. Notice the female leaning out of the way. 

Male and female Osprey
Male and female Osprey

Quip, Question, Quote

“DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT neglect small town and city parks during spring migration. Migrating birds often concentrate in these “less desirable” places, and breeders head there, too. Sure, you can travel to the local National Wildlife Refuges, or to Wildlife Management Areas or state parks, but you might very well have a certifiable birding hotspot in a town or city park in your own backyard. Good luck!” See “An Ode to a City Park.”

“These days I don’t see new species for my life list very often, but when I do, I’m just as thrilled to get a good look at a female—maybe more so. She represents her species just as well as the male could, and probably has more interesting behavior. And besides, there’s a whole world of birds out there, and it just wouldn’t make sense to ignore half of them.” Kenn Kaufman

 

3 thoughts on “Photos and Commentary

  1. I just love your bird photos, and commentary! What a beautiful photo of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! The colors are amazing! We have those birds here, and you are right, they are a fun challenge to photograph. But so cute! And I also love the little guy drying his feathers! So cute and kind of funny. 😊 The mama and babies are also super cute. I saw a mallard family a couple of weeks ago, they were so sweet 💙 Thank you for sharing!

    Like

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