This is an interesting bird because it feeds on other song birds, among other things. Although it has no talons, it has a hooked beak that it uses to kill insects, lizards, mice, and birds. It then impales them on thorns to hold them while it rips them apart. We found this bird along the open marshes frequented by Sandhill Cranes and other water birds near Lodi, California. It has a wonderful song; it repeatedly swoops down from high trees or wires, then back up to is perch. This bird is in decline.
The American River runs along side of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center where we saw Gulls (Increasing), Turkey Vultures (Increasing), a female Merganser (Increasing), a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Stable), and a Western Scrub-Jay (Increasing). The first photograph shows an island where water birds tend to congregate and feed. If you imagine walking along the shore to the right, we positioned ourselves to the right side of this island, where I took the second photograph.
Here, Turkey Vultures had acquired a dead salmon for lunch, eagerly sought by another fellow scavenger–the Gull. Unfortunately for him, he was out-numbered and held at bay from this delicacy.
Speaking of salmon, there were numerous dead salmon in the river–apparently expired after spawning. We decided to drop in to the “Dead Salmon Society” to see what was going on, as shown in the third photograph–not much.
I was able to photograph a Common Merganser cruising along the shoreline by the feeding vultures. This is one of the diving ducks. As she swam, she would occasionally submerge her head to locate her prey, then dive to catch it.
Among the numerous land birds we saw, I was able to photograph the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. They feed on insects as well as seeds and fruit by quickly moving through bushes and trees, much as do warblers. Fortunately, I was able to capture a few good shots, one shown in the next photograph.
Although we spotted their ruby crown occasionally through
the binoculars, I had no such luck with the camera. As with Red-Wing Blackbirds, these birds have control over when to display their red feathers.
Finally, last year I could not get an unobstructed view of a Western Scrub-Jay. This year, however, I was able to get several.
Here, one is shown holding an acorn in his bill.
When all was said and done, we had a pretty successful outing.
On a recent trip back to California we went to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center http://www.sacnaturecenter.net–home of the Acorn Woodpecker. It lies north of Sacramento along the American River. My wife and I were there last year and it was so wonderful we just had to return.
This year I was determined to get shots of these woodpeckers on the fly–no easy task since they are small and fly quickly. Another year’s worth of experience taught me that I should pick an “active” tree and set up my tripod at the best spot. I used my Canon 100mm-400mm lens with Canon’s 1.4X III tele-converter, giving me a focal length of 560mm. Since there was bright sun I was able to use shutter speeds of 1/2000 +.
These birds gather acorns and stuff them into rows of holes that they drilled into trees. The acorns in the California Oaks are slender, compared with their round counterparts in the East. These birds fly among live and dead trees in relatively open areas, as shown in the first photograph.
Unlike other woodpeckers, these birds congregate in a bevy so there
is no shortage of individuals to photograph. As a result there is a constant flow of birds gathering acorns, inserting acorns, and resting. To photograph them the trick is to keep the lens on them during the insertion of the acorn and then shoot a burst when they prepare for flight. Trying to follow them with the camera as they fly is nearly impossible with a long
telephoto lens. If you would like to see larger images they can be found in my on-line gallery.
Do let me know if you have had any experience photographing these birds and how you might have captured them in flight.
My wife and I made a couple of outings during the second half of October to the beach, hoping to find a range of water birds during migration. All we found were the usual suspects–Canadian Geese and Ring-billed gulls. Here they are “mingling.”
Occasionally, the Gulls would take to the air, circle, then land at the same spot.
Geese are highly structured in their ways–here, following the leader into the water.
Sometimes people on the beach got too close for comfort, causing the birds to launch, only to return a few moments later.
Interestingly, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology just announced that Superstorm Sandy has blown a number of migratory water birds, not normally found here, our way. We plan to return to the beach this week-end to see what might be around.
What unusual bird sightings have you observed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy?
I’m way behind on my posts; this is partly due to my being out shooting in the field. I plan to post more soon! Some of these posts will discuss bird populations. My “How the Bird Photos Were Collected” page highlights not only how I collected my bird photos, but also my rationale for providing the population trend of each bird during the past 30 years or so. I’m in the process of sorting the bird photos by whether their populations are increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable to see what common characteristics each category might have.