No, I’ve not left the blogosphere to its own devices. I just figured it would do fine for a few days even without my paltry contribution. Better, even.
So, what have I been doing? Well, for one thing, prepping this lo-o-o-ong post.
I’ve also been spending time on my deck, coffee in hand and camera nearby, watching the many birds that now live and play near and around our house.
. . . exactly what I was doing on the 6th. It’s the 25th as I write this, so lots of stuff to catch you guys up on.
Those are Common Grackles (often confused for Brewer’s Blackbirds, probably because of the striking eyes). And, no; the male was not really yelling at the female; it was all part of the rite of Spring (even though within four days of those photos we would have our last blizzard – I hope – of the season, with temperatures dipping into the low twenties).
You are seeing correctly . . . the Tree Swallows are back!
Side note: I typically use the 70-200mm f/2.8 when shooting birds, but as with the last post, I’ve been using the 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 lens. You might remember me complaining about that being a slow lens, and not as clear (sharp) as the 70-200mm . . . well, here’s what I found out by accident . . . if I set the focus to ‘constant’, and ‘single focus point’, the dang photos come out as sharp as all heck.
If you care to compare to photos on THIS POST, this next photo was taken hand-held with the above settings.
. . . you can click on the shot for a larger view, but you can also go see the full resolution shot at the SmugMug gallery HERE.
I have to tell you Bob; I was ‘act of reproduction’ impressed! So much so, that I started using that lens for all the shots on this post.
Anyway, back to the birds . . . and the fact these are swallows in flight, not an easy thing to get even with a fast lens, let alone this lens.
Here’s an unprocessed and uncropped shot for comparison . . .
That’s a shot at 400mm zoom (600mm equivalent) of a swallow diving and turning, as swallows are apt to do.
I know, I know . . . I’m repeating myself, but, as I said, I was ‘act of reproduction’ impressed.
And here is what pleased me more . . .
Swallows can’t speak, let alone think, but I am adept at reading swallow-body-language. And it goes to show you swallows know nothing about construction.
I should have used outdoor grade plywood, not pine. However, this was a trial run. I used the plans as they were, and already I can see changes I will make for a more permanent box. Not that this will fall apart anytime soon; it’s just my MO . . . learn how to do something, then adapt it to what I think it should be done. It may very well be that I’ll find out my way is not the way to go, but then I will know for sure instead of wondering about it. Worked for golf, racquetball, and pretty much everything I do in life. Not saying I am right, or that what works for me will work for others. Just saying that I like to work out what’s best for me.
Still, the bird did not look convinced.
It would be another week before I figured out why, after repeated visits, the swallows did not even enter the box, and stopped coming to visit.
I’ll get to the reason on another post. Suffice it to say, the swallows went back to flying around.
There are a few more shots in the gallery, but I don’t want to bore everyone to tears here.
May 8th was a ‘no-pictures’ day. I don’t recall exactly why, but I was either doing some chore or other, or the weather was crappy, or both. But, come what May . . . which May? Why, the 9th of May . . .
The eyes look weird, and the body is all swollen-like . . . this Grackle is in the tail end of its call. Not sure if it’s their regular call, or a mating call, but they get all funky-looking (more on that later). I think it is their mating call, as their ‘regular noise’ does not involve a plumage display.
Here he is again, looking a bit more ‘normal’.
The coloring might seem dull, but it’s anything but. Lots of hues and reflections playing off incident light.
As the caption says, it was evening, with the sun racing to meet the horizon . . . and the Robin calling an end to the day.
The moon was already up and about . . .
. . . and what I think is a female Brown-Headed Cowbird sat perched high, looking over the neighborhood.
Just as I turned back to the Grackle, a passing cloud blocked the Sun . . . still managed a couple of decent shots, though.
Grackles fly a straight flight, as opposed to the undulating path, the difference being a constant flapping of wings as opposed to bursts of flapping. They are also easily identified because their tail forms a keel while in flight. It could be other birds do that, but not that I’ve seen.
I mentioned clouds, and here’s what they looked like . . .
Nothing spectacular, as the sun did not work itself up to give me a show before setting . . . so I created my own . . .
Does anyone else see the large bird head, complete with piercing eye and long bill? No? . . . maybe I’m losing my marbles.
Here’s another shot of the clouds, a few minutes later . . .
Just then, the sun peaked through again, catching a different Grackle with one of its last rays of the day.
Saturday, May 10th; none of these birds knew what would come the very next day . . . temperatures would plummet from the high 60s to the low 20s, winds would howl, and the bitter cold would be made that much more unbearable by the unrelenting snow.
Poor birds went about their lives blissfully unaware of events that would literally change their lives. The morning started peaceful enough . . .
. . . the male tree swallow perched on the hummingbird feeder hanger, keeping an eye on me . . .
I was pleased they still let me get very close.
Meanwhile, across the yard, the Common Grackle was also keeping an eye on things.
As I said, the reflection of their feathers can be quite interesting, even as their expression makes them seem downright unfriendly.
They have a right to be mad at me. A pair had been trying to build a nest inside one of the gutters, under an overhang. I mean, from a bird’s point of view, it probably looked like a great spot . . . but it was right next to the feed from the upper part of the roof. Literally, it would have been flooded in seconds, especially given that it was built over the downspout opening.
For a couple of days it had been a test of wills. They would build, I would grab a ladder, climb up there, check to make sure there were no eggs, and then remove the nest (very well-constructed nests, I might add). And then, on the third day, tragedy struck.
You see, I went up there, looked in the nest, saw no eggs, and pulled the nest off, letting it drop to the ground . . . except there was an egg in there. I don’t know how I missed it, but when the nest hit the ground, the egg bounced out and into the rocks, breaking.
I still feel bad, and there was nothing I could do to convey to the five birds that came to inspect the damage just how sorry I was. I mean, I will destroy someone’s home without much thought, but killing their unborn offspring is a line I would not knowingly cross.
And these guys look tough, to boot.
I mean, Batman wishes he would look that formidable! The fact they close their inner eyelid gives them a look of pure evil.
On the next fencepost over, a red finch was studying wood patterns . . .
He then hopped down to the gorilla mulch, gathering stuff up for his nest.
Did you miss the female? She’s easy to miss . . .
Meanwhile, on another part of the fence . . .
This was the second new bird I saw that week, the first being the Towhee. In fact, at first I thought this was the Towhee, but no . . . positively identified as a Black-headed Grosbeak (I think).
It proceeded to fly to a nearby evergreen, and start singing . . . probably trying to attract a mate.
And on yet another part of the fence . . .
. . . something was up!
*** WARNING – STRONG CONTENT! ***
So, them with a weak stomach, or even weaker sensibilities, might want to turn away . . .
I should mention that the whole sequence lasted longer than most Hollywood marriages . . . I checked the timestamp, and from the first to last frame, it was exactly one second.
Meanwhile, nearby . . .
Readers might have noticed the beaks of these birds oven very wide. It turns out the muscles for opening their beaks are larger than those of most birds, and larger than the muscles to close them.
They use their beaks to pry open crevices, looking for food.
Meanwhile, the Robin gave up on eHarmony.com, and decided to just advertise.
Good luck, little buddy!
Meanwhile, what the heck is this?
This Grackle was trying to mimic the US political scene . . .