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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Bohemian Waxwings, Awesome Birds!

Bohemian Waxwings are being seen this winter in NH. Sometimes, the stars are aligned for a photographer. I went to northern NH several years ago 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!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Pine Grosbeaks Visit, Wow!

Several years ago we had two female Pine Grosbeaks (the males are mostly red) hanging out in our "Prairie Fire" crabapple trees chowing down. I was amazed how many apples they ate and they seemed to continuously eat for most of the afternoon, like a kid going through the Halloween candy. They were really very tame, not at all bothered by us or the Corgis who ran under the trees. The hardest part of photographing them was to get a clear show through the tangle of apple branches and also to every get a photo of them without applesauce covering their bill!
This is a more northern species who usually is found throughout Canada and up into AK and parts of the West. In irruptive years, such as this one, when so many northern species come down into the U.S. due to lack of food in their usual area, Pine Grosbeaks can join the exodus. Pine Grosbeaks are now being reported from numerous locations around our state of NH.
Thus far we have had these irruptive species visit our yard; Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-winged Crossbills, and now, Pine Grosbeaks.
We try hard to landscape our property for the birds, using lots of berry and food producing shrubs and trees. It pays off when we get to see such a beautiful species.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Feeding Bluebirds in Winter, How You Can Help

Eastern Bluebird male
Eastern Bluebird female at Stokes Select Suet feeder

What do Eastern Bluebirds do in extreme cold? They sit on their feet to keep them warm and chow down on high calorie foods like suet at our Stokes Select Double Capacity Suet Feeder that will give them the energy they need to make it through the night. Such a treat to see these bluebirds up close. You can provide for them at your feeders by offering suet and hulled sunflower.