Eastern Phoebe Nabs Lunch

We recently took a “quick” walk through Oatka Park. As it was late morning things had begun to chill-out in the avian community. However, one fellow, an Eastern Phoebe, suddenly landed in a tree not far from us where it sat for a long time with a large insect in its beak. I took several photos, hoping for it to provide several poses. Alas, it held its position, except for turning its head. The best photo is shown, below.

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe

Since this type of behavior seemed unusual and that this was the nesting season, we surmised that the bird was distracting us from its nest where it intended to go to feed its young once we left. We therefore “took the photos and ran.”

Final observations of the Pileated Holes

Sad to say we hung out yet again only to find no woodpeckers.  By now there would be activity as the parents would be flying to the nest to feed the chicks.

However, my wife and I have been out on several birding expeditions, photographing everything from owls to various warblers.  With all this trekking I just haven’t had much time to blog or post photos. But I’ll do my best in the coming days and weeks!

Pileated Update

I’ve been remiss in my posting responsibilities. I have, however, have spent nearly an hour-and-a-half on two recent occasions watching the pileated holes for activity, the second time being this past Monday.  Still no luck. Not to be put off, I’m going to visit one more time in about a week since it’s possible (though unlikely) that the young haven’t hatched. If there is a bird sitting on eggs in this tree, there will be a lot of activity to and from the tree once the young have hatched. Note that the middle hole is larger than the one shown in my earlier post. Continue to stay tuned.

Pileated hole from the east side (compare with prior post photo of the same hole at the 1:00 position relative to the bird).
Pileated hole from the east side (compare with prior post photo of the same hole at the 1:00 position relative to the bird) 

The Northern Saw-whet Owl

These little fellows are transient in our area during March and April as they migrate to Southern Canada.  We have been looking for these birds starting last year in the small conifers in “Owl Woods” located in

Saw-whet Owl
Saw-whet Owl

the Braddock Bay area. Everyone seemed to have reported seeing them, except us. This year we made a more determined effort, carefully examining all the small conifers–no luck.  However, things changed last Wednesday when we  received “tip offs” from people coming off the trails as to where the two birds were.  Even with this knowledge it took some time to find them in their separate trees where they were sitting slightly above eye level.  One had its eyes almost closed, seemingly not put off by us, the other with eyes wide open.  They sat nearly motionless, allowing as many photos as we wished–some with fill-in flash.

Most owls sit motionless during the day and will let you approach, providing you don’t go into or up the tree. They blend in miraculously well, but once you find them they seem so obvious. You can find more photos at my on-line gallery http://stephenfieldingimages.slickpic.com/ .

Two Week Follow-up on the Pileated Holes

I visited the Pileated Woodpecker tree again this past Sunday. Although there were no birds spotted, there is now a third hole located at the 2 o’clock position relative to the hole on the right side of the tree shown in the photograph in my March 2 post. As we come into April I’m going to have to spend some time camped near the tree with my camera mounted on a tripod to record any comings and goings once the birds begin nesting (if indeed that’s why the holes are being drilled).

One Week Follow-up on the Pileated Holes


It was yet another low overcast day with a light snow falling. I went to see if there was any Pileated activity around the holes being drilled last week. We listened before approaching. No drilling, no calling. We walked into the woods towards the tree. The photo, above, shows a close-up of the two holes. The second hole is located at the 1:00 position to the facing hole. I also panned the area to show the setting of this tree. You can see this video at: http://sli.so/11463722QI . There is lots of deadwood in the area and most of the ground area is flooded (swampy)–just what woodpeckers love.

I’ll swing by next week to see if there is any activity.

Pileateds Getting Ready for Spring Breeding

Just a brief post to say that we found two Pileated Woodpeckers drilling on a tree not too far from the edge of a field. One flew off shortly after we stopped to watch them. The other continued working on another hole–to what is likely to be their nest. Pileateds often have two or more exits to their nests. I moved to a second location for a shot of the hole that the bird in the first photo had been working on. These are new holes going deep into the tree so it is clear they are not just feeding. Pileateds nest only one season in the same nest. After that, other residents move in.

I’ll have regular reports as I visit this location on a weekly basis, perhaps even some video of the future fledglings. Stay tuned!

The Red Crossbills

Red Crossbill (male)
Red Crossbill (male)

We went on an automobile caravan field trip with fellow members of the Rochester Birding Association in mid-January (each with a hand-held two-way radio). It was one of those winter overcast days so common here on the Great Lakes. These trips are always a bit frustrating for us bird photographers because the true birders are happy to spot with binoculars and high-power spotting scopes.  In contrast, I’m limited to my 100-400mm auto-focus lens, which extends to 560mm with the 1.4X tele-converter (without auto-focusing). The result is I get far fewer bird opportunities.

Red Crossbill (female)
Red Crossbill (female)

As we drove down a farm road someone spotted a flock of birds high in the trees so we all pulled over.  Shortly afterwards one person announced that it was a group of Red Crossbills feeding, with a few Pine Siskins mingling among them. Female Crossbills have no red, instead consisting mostly of olive-green. Found mostly across southern Canada Red Crossbills fan out to the Northwest Territories and into Alaska.  They wander irregularly, depending on the availability of cone crops. What we saw was an irruption into the northern U.S.; sometimes they fly to the deep south. Their population has been stable over the past several decades.

Since cloudy skies reflect more light than blue-skies I over-exposed by +2/3 to minimize silhouetting. The settings for the shot below are: 1/500 sec. @ f / 11, ISO 500.

Red Crossbill with Pine Siskin
Red Crossbill with Pine Siskins

High Acres Nature Area–Heron Sequence

wpid928-HANA-6574.jpgI’m way behind on my image processing and blog posts.  I guess this is okay since most photography articles tell us to spend most of our time getting the shots and as little time as possible in front of the computer.

We visited High Acres for the first time in early November, located in Penfield, NY. Surrounded by suburban development, it is nice to see the towns setting aside and maintaining nature areas. It was a nice fall day, though it was a bit chilly at 35º (but nothing like the 10º that we are currently experiencing during the day). We saw several hawks above, along with the usual crows.  On the ground we saw Greater Yellowlegs and Great Blue Herons. As you can see in the photograph, above, there are several trails, most of which we hiked over a period of about 2 1/2 hours.

Most of the herons we saw on the ground were standing (you know, doing their mime acts) atop muskrat houses. Since I have countless shots of Great Blue Herons I decided to see if I could shoot a launch sequence.  On the one hand, Great Blues are easier to catch taking off than songbirds because herons are so much slower.  On the other hand, who knows when they will go? So I got the idea that if I set up my camera at the end of the levy bordering the pond where the heron was located and had my wife then cross it, that would cause him to vacate, much as was the case earlier with the other herons in the area.

Well, wouldn’t you know, she crossed and it just stood there.  She returned, he continued to stand still. My wife even waved her arms–to no avail.  Clearly, this was an avian plot to thwart the photographer.  I ended up standing behind my tripod for about half an hour. Then, he crouched–okay this is it! The heron has departed! I pressed and held the shutter button, and the proofs  of my success are below.

The launch sequence
The launch sequence

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We also saw a few Greater Yellowlegs. One bird was relatively near and “agreed” to pose for some shots before taking off.  Here is its best pose:

wpid912-HANA-6578.jpg
Greater Yellowlegs

Shortly afterwards, it left to join a couple of its associates further out, but I managed to capture its lift-off.

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One of the features I’ve yet to take advantage of on my Canon 100mm-400mm L lens is the image stabilization setting for panning shots. The problem is that when panning shots on the wing occur, there is little time to reset image stabilization from stills to pan.  Perhaps you have developed a strategy for switching IS modes?  If so, please let me know.

My next post will feature the return of the Red Crossbills.

Braddock Bay’s Common Redpolls

Braddock Bay Beach at the base of the spit
Braddock Bay Beach: Northwest
Looking west
Looking east

We went to the “spit” for a morning walk at Braddock Bay looking for Snow Buntings in late December.  It was one of those typical lake effect days, without the falling snow. Lake effect clouds are produced by cold air blowing across the relatively warm Great Lakes waters. These clouds hang over the lakes’ downwind side about 1500 to 2500 feet above ground level, with tops anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Often, we don’t see a sunny day for weeks at a time within 40 miles of the western New York shores, as shown in the following two photographs at the right, taken at the outset of our walk.

Although we did not get any shots of Snow Buntings, we did run into a small flock of Common Redpolls. These birds are about the size of Sparrows, though a bit chunkier; they breed in the sub-arctic woods. They winter further south, we are

Path along the spit
Path along the spit

right about at the southern end of their range.  They are unwary birds, so they were not at all put off by our presence. We found them on the path running down the spit, shown here in the photograph on the left.

Not the most experienced birders, we were not sure what we were looking at, so we just followed them along, snapping away with the 400mm lens, as they moved through the trees, feeding.

Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
Upside down Redpoll
Upside down Redpoll

We continued further down the spit to the end.  Finding little else, we started our walk back.  Sure enough, these guys were still at it; I shot a few more photos. Then, one landed on the path, followed by others. I snapped more photos. Then, gradually, they started working their way towards me–coming as close as six feet away-shown the photograph, below.

Posing for the camera
Posing for the camera

There are about 30 million of these birds in North America, though not considered “vulnerable,” their population has been declining over the past 30 years.

When you go out on a cold, bleak day it is quite gratifying that it paid off. Next, we’re off to pursue those Snow Buntings, before they return north. If you’ve spotted any, let me know what type of settings you found them in.  If in fields, was the flock relatively near the road?