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Monday, December 13, 2010

Bohemian Waxwing Beauty

Sometimes, the stars are aligned for a photographer. I went to northern NH on Sat. to try and photograph Bohemian Waxwings. Where hundreds had been reported, I found only one, but what a cooperative bird!

Click, click, click. It posed, feeding on the crabapples, resting to digest them, looking about, even eating snow at one point, all the while oblivious to me and the other passers-by in the parking lot where it was.

If you want plumage drama, then this is the bird for you. What an exquisite contrast between the gray-brown, velvety, body feathers and the dramatic black, white and orange facial, wing and under tail markings, all finished with the yellow tail tip like an exclamation point! These graphic markings remind me of certain styles of japanese painting or designs on Native American pottery.

A huge advantage of digital photography is that you can enlarge and look closely at your photos and discover fascinating things about a bird, such as that the black mask is underlined with white.

You can notice what a small bill yet large gape this bird has. The black comes fairly far out the upper and under surface of the bill.

Waxwings (both Bohemian and Cedar) have appendages on the wing, like little, red candles.

Here's a close-up showing some of the waxy projections on this bird. The number of them varies with sex and age so that "1st-yr .females may have 0-5 waxy projections on wing and reduced yellow on tail; 1st-yr. male and older birds have 4 or more waxy projections.." From (The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, our new book.)

This bird was agile in grasping onto the crabapples, then let go.

My camera caught this spread wing which shows at least 6 waxy projections which are the tips of the secondary feathers. How cool is that!

It's all about crabapples and eating them. Waxwings are big fruit eaters and usually wander in flocks, all the more eyes to find the berries. It's interesting this bird was alone. Many of the crabappple trees at this location were pretty stripped of berries, perhaps the flock had moved on.

The size of the crabapples mattered. Even though this bird could open it's mouth fairly wide,

some of the apples seemed too big to swallow and we saw it toss some of them. Lesson for the bird gardener — plant crabapple trees in your yard that have small diameter apples. (We have Zumi and Sargent crabapples in our yard, which seem right for the birds.)

It's just amazing how wide that bill can open, reminds me of a snake swallowing prey. We also saw this bird eat snow, getting fluid to help process the fruits.

Bohemians are far northern birds, nesting in the boreal forests of mainly western North America (as well as the northern parts of Europe and Asia). When their prime food of berries is in short supply in winter they" irrupt" or wander widely (hence the name bohemian, i.e. gypsy-like) down into the northern areas of the U.S.

I was in heaven photographing this beautiful Bohemian Waxwing. Photography is not a zen moment as some people may think. It's fast, furious, demanding of all my skills and a rush when I think I am getting good photos. You never know if your subject bird will fly away so you have to keep clicking, moving your angle and big camera, as the bird moves in the tree, adjusting f-stop, ISO, exposure compensation, etc. You're grateful if you come away with half decent photos or thrilled, as in this case, when you get fascinating images of an extraordinary bird. I love it!


LNMP298 said...

Wow! Great post and beautiful photos! I've heard reports of Bohemian Waxwings here in upstate New York, but I haven't had a chance to pursue them... hoping they will show up a bit closer.

Janet Creamer Martin said...

Beautiful photos. You really captured the bird.

Ruth Hiebert said...

These are superb images.With equipment you have it is no wonder that the images are this good.I know,I know ,part of it is the skill of the photographer,as a matter of fact a large part is that.Great work,I enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

Absolutely lovely shots of the Bohemian, Lilian! I couldn't wait to see these when you posted on FB that you had taken pictures of him! Cindy

Gabby Gardener said...

Love your stunning photos of this amazing creature!

Gabby Gardener said...

Stunning photos! Amazing creature!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this incredible blog. I never knew why they were called waxwings! Also a great horticulture lesson on choosing fruit for birds. Your birding is a blessing to the world!

Hilke Breder said...

Beautiful stunning photos, Lilian! The colors and the feathers are exquisite. First time I have seen a close-up of the waxy appendages.

Anonymous said...

Lynda in Michigan

Unknown said...

This is an absolutely beautiful post! Thanks so much for your informative pictures and words. I ordered your book as well.

We live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. The weather today is 0ºF and are just recovering from the worst snowstorm in 20 years and have two feet of snow on the ground. We saw five bluebirds at our heated bird bath this morning. How can that be?

Pat said...

What great pictures. I don't live far from you and have had a great 2 weeks, Got your new book, have been feeding a small flock of blue birds and have had 2 carolina wrens.

Lillian Stokes said...

Thank you all so much for your nice comments.
To B and B, and Pat, some bluebirds actually may stay in northern areas in winter, as long as they can get food, such as berries. They can roost in bird houses to keep warm.

rita woods (Michigan) said...

Totally Awesome............I like nothing better than to take and view pictures of my backyard friends. Thanks for sharing.

Pat ODonnell said...

You really hit the jackpot with that cooperate waxwing! Such a handsome looking, uncommon bird species. Here in Costa Rica, we also get some of our best photo opps at fruiting trees. A little too far away to get Bohemian Waxwings though- makes me feel like braving the northern winter again.

Anonymous said...

Waxwings are just awesome. What a chance to see them and take great photos!

Lonna said...

We happen to have a crabapple tree right outside our bay window and the last few weeks we have noticed flocks of birds on it; after investigating, I found they are Bohemian Waxing's. We are fortunate enough that they are very close to us and we get a fantastic view of them. I will say that we have lived in this house for 17 years and this is the first year we have seen them ... just beautiful!