100 Birds – #42 Northern Saw-whet Owl

I’m conflicted. I guess it had to happen sometime but I’ve not felt quite this way before. Basically, I share info about birds of interest with friends that I know will respect the birds and let them live life. I’m always appreciative of information people give to me about a bird of interest. These little birds are giving me cause for introspection and assessment of my own behavior and how I share in the future.

It seems that this is the year of the Saw-whet. I’ve almost lost count of how many I’ve seen and photographed this winter. Sometimes I’ve been on group bird tours and other times I’ve been alone or with a dear and trusted owl finder friend. I enjoy the hunt and the opportunity to photograph these great little birds. But I admit that I’ve been uncomfortable with my intrusion at times. Lately the owls I’ve photographed have been sleeping, a good indicator that the bird could care less that I was there. But there have been times when more experienced birders have made comments like “we have an upset owl here”or “when the bird extends and stretches out it is time to back away”. I suppose that I could say that this is how I learn and I appreciate the gentle way the information was conveyed to me and the others in a group.

Which brings me to this bird. Located along a road I have driven frequently in the last couple of weeks and easily accessed after parking a car, this little owl has gotten too much of my attention. I think. I’ve led others to the bird and encouraged hem to go for a look. I’m seeing many photos of it on social media. Yes, I’ve posted a few as well. My point is personal. How much is too much? Like I said, I’m conflicted. I know the owl will bail out if it reaches a point of feeling threatened or if it can’t get what it needs as the result of the attention.

So, I’m assessing my behavior and fervently hoping that the bird can get on with life and thrive. I’m hoping people who stop for a look will understand that the bird is what’s important. Share or don’t share? How much is too much? Do I know the signs that a bird is anxious due to my presence. Will I act appropriately when I see the signs? These are questions I need to ask and answer.

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100 Birds – #41 American Kestrel

Kestrel are amazing, small birds – America’s smallest falcon.  I’ve posted other Kestrel on this blog but this one is unusual in a few ways.  First, the bird is not sitting on a wire or a metal sign.  Highly unusual.  Second, this one is eating a rat it just caught.  Awesome.  I’m not a big fan of rats.  Third, the bird is in a tree that is about 20 feet from a heavily used, paved path and there are about 10 people staring at it.  Most would have walked right on by but some guy pointing a camera up toward a tree seems to at least make people slow down to wonder what the old guy is doing.  It finally tired of us, grabbed its lunch and took off.

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100 Birds –

I’m tempted to take credit for bird numbers 41-65 but can’t quite bring myself to do that.

I’m working on an immersive media program to allow kids to experience the beauty of birds. This started when my youngest granddaughter sat with me and looked at a few hundred bird pictures. It was a very nice experience. “What’s that bird, Grandpa?” “What does it sound like.” Oops, I could tell her the name but had to switch to an app that had the appropriate bird song. “How big is it?” The questions were not unexpected but I failed to respond as quickly as I thought I should. What if I had an app that she could navigate by herself? It turns out that it isn’t as easy as one would hope.

This is the DRAFT splash screen for my program that I hope to complete in a few months. Using an app called Ingage by Scrollmotion I am designing pages for about 100 birds that show the bird as an illustration, play an audio file of the song/call and gives some basic info about the bird. It’s kind of an exciting project and I have a couple of kids who I expect will be willing to give me very direct feedback. Can’t wait.

100 Birds – #40 Wester Tanager

I had never seen a Western Tanager before we moved to Wenatchee. OK, maybe I had but I didn’t know what I was looking at. The first summer here I saw a lot of Bullock’s Orioles, also new birds for me. I saw 2 Tanagers but got dismal photos. Last summer it seems the numbers of species were reversed – many Tanagers and few Orioles. Just because I saw Tanager frequently doesn’t mean that I got a lot of decent photos. Most of the time my images were complicated by foreground vegetation or poor execution, it happens all too often.

One day I had all the stars align and had multiple shots at Tanager posing nicely, in the open. I was thrilled. I processed the images and exported a set of high resolution JPG files. I’m really glad I did because somehow I succeeded in deleting the original RAW files. Huh? It’s the only time in 10+ years that has happened. I ran to my backup disk and found the JPG files – no RAW. Small consolation that I had the JPGs. Writing this confession is part of my penance program. So, with more than a small amount of chagrin, I present a beautiful Western Tanager. I’m hoping they give me another chance in a couple of months.

100 Birds – #39 Steller’s Jay

There is little doubt when a Steller’s Jay is near. They are loud. Their call borders on obnoxious to some and seems pretty benign to others. I enjoy listening to them around the neighborhood as they cover their circuit looking for food. We put out peanuts and the jays are here within minutes. They’re smart birds and can remember where they stash the nuts they haul off.

Around here most people I talk to call them Blue Jays. Well, they are blue but they are not Blue Jays. I’ve pretty much given up trying to offer the proper name after getting a couple of “whatever’s” from neighbor’s. Whatever.

This Jay was photographed at Calliope Crossing on Badger Mountain earlier this month. Just one of the great mix of birds that visit this place. I’m anxious for spring and the chance to see some young birds learn the ropes.

100 Birds – #38 Rufous Hummingbird

Sometimes I take the easy route to a photo. In this case I mounted the camera to a tripod and prefocused on a hummingbird feeder as I sat and enjoyed a nice evening and a glass of good wine. Rufous hummingbirds are seasonal visitors to our yard and I enjoy the competition between them and our year-around Anna’s.

This is a tight crop of the image to remove the feeder but it allows you to see the great feather detail on this 3 gram (0.1 oz) bird. Feel free to offer a caption.

100 Birds – #37 Belted Kingfisher

A few weeks ago I went along on Mark Johnston’s winter bird tour. We had a great day trying to find birds in fog that ranged from thick to thin. It’s always nice to be with someone who has the experience and wisdom to adapt and reroute a tour in order to up the odds of actually seeing great birds. One of our last stops was in the Bridgeport Bar, a brand new area for me. The short walk into the Columbia River gave me a few First of Year Birds including a Townsend’s Solitaire. I sure didn’t expect that one.

We stood on the river bank and glassed the water. Coots (of course), Common loon, Mergansers, scaups, geese…all expected and common. We heard the Kingfisher and finally located it sitting at river’s edge. Way to far away for a photo so we continued to observe the many birds within sight. Kingfishers are notoriously elusive birds unless one has the location and patience to set up near a nest or frequent hunting area. My experience is Kingfishers that are too far away and/or that fly when 2x my focal length range. We heard the bird call as it took off. For once I was ready and able to grab focus before the bird got within a decent distance. Click, click, click. This isn’t print-worthy but it does show that mirrorless cameras can, in fact, accomplish bird-in-flight photos.

100 Birds – #36. Clark’s Nutcracker

I’ve recently gotten to be friends with a lady who I think of as one of the best birders in the area…or in the State. Dianne and I took a birding class the first winter we came to Wenatchee. We did this to meet people with similar interests and to learn about birding hot spots. Jenny was one of the two instructors.

I didn’t have contact with her in the next year but then found her on Facebook. We are now officially friends. I learned that a Jenny and her husband own a house on Badger Mountain about 20 miles and 2000 feet higher than here. The property name is Calliope Crossing. I kept seeing posts from people who had visited and exclaimed about the beauty and the birds. I asked Jenny for access and she quickly said ‘sure”.

My first trip to Calliope Crossing was uneventful. Jenny was out of country and the feeders she maintains were empty. There were birds around but not what I expected. The other thing I didn’t expect was a sign at the parking area that said “Birders Welcome”. On my third visit to the area there was about 18″ of snow but the feeders were working. I was alone so I walked into the area with the camera and tripod. I saw a large’ish bird hammering away at some suet. I knew I knew the bird but did not have any photos. That issue got resolved quickly as the Clark’s Nutcracker posed frequently on the suet feeder. I confirmed the ID and knew that I had good images of the bird. But the setting was dark and the bird was hanging on a feeder. I wanted something a bit more artsy.

Two more Nutcrackers showed up and they began jousting for position. That meant that one or two would fly away to a safe perch, plan an approach and dive back in. The good news was that the safe place was in a tree behind me. A natural perch with a bit more light. Sweet. Click.

100 Birds – #35. California Quail

We had a lot more snow last year. It was cold and with 2 feet of snow every where the quail were regular visitors to our back yard. They typically make 2 trips each day, morning and evening. We were sitting by the front windows when quail left their roost trees across the street. They are fun birds to watch run across an open area and climb the slope in front of our house. Before long they were on our sidewalk and jumping for berries in the nasty barberry plants.

We watched as they scratched at the sidewalk edge and generally clowned around. For us it looked like clowning. We were in a heated house with lots of food available. The quail were in single digit temperatures and trying to make a living. It’s not easy being a bird. You have to get up every day and try to find food without getting poached by a predator.

When it became clear that the group of birds wasn’t in a hurry to move on I grabbed the camera and laid down on the floor. These two California Quail hunkered in next to our sidewalk and begged for a photo. Puff fish quail.

I’m happy with the photo shot through a window. It was our Christmas card image this year. It’s hanging as a metal print in our local Wild Bird Unlimited store (thanks Patrick). Images like this happen. I’m glad I got to save this one.

100 Birds – #34. American Kestrel

It is very rare to have a Kestrel set up shop in our neighborhood. Earlier this winter this one did. I was not going to miss the opportunity.

I saw the bird sitting on top of a neighbor’s tree as I turned onto our street. Figuring I had nothing to lose I grabbed the camera and tripod and set out for the area near a mailbox cluster. The Kestrel was sitting on top of an oak across the street and occasionally flew off to hunt. It kept coming back and I kept clicking.

A neighbor came by to collect his mail after a 2 month trip and I was afraid all the commotion would spook the bird. Nope. I got more than one look from drivers as they went by and I kind of expected to have a cop show up to check me out. I left the area as the bird flew to a distant tree. I would have kept shooting but the house near the bird had the drapes open. Momma didn’t raise no fool.