One day in April — Birds and Avian Flu

Let’s begin with THIS<<link notice from the Illinois DNR. Basically, it’s a warning about the EA H5N1 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) currently impacting some wild and domestic bird species. As a result, they recommend stopping the use of bird feeders and birdbaths until the end of May. I’ll have additional important information at the end of the post. (See what I did there? I used the ole “Details at 11:00” ruse to maybe have a few additional readers stick around until the end.)

I like birds, so on April 22nd I pulled all my feeders and emptied my birdbaths. But, not before I sat outside for a few hours photographing birds from my covered patio. This then is a post harkening back to the posts of yore, when I used to publish long posts with lots of photos. Posts that few people read, and even fewer readers stuck with it to the end.

If I use all the photos I post-processed, I’ll end up with 104 photos in this post (I had nearly 300 photos), but because some photos are similar to each other, I’ll probably have a tad fewer than that . . . but still more than what current readers might be used to.

Right! Let’s begin with a White-throated Sparrow . . .

Readers might note that I link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for most of my identifications. In part, that’s because I use their Merlin Bird ID App to identify birds. I can’t begin to stress how good it is. For instance, their Sound ID function is amazing because it not only picks out bird calls I don’t even hear, but it does so against the din of loud background noise. Noise like the highway (when the wind is blowing from the West), mowers, wind noise, chimes, and FSM knows what else.

That particular morning, it identified familiar visitors, but it also showed Barn Swallows in the area. I thought it was a glitch and ignored it . . . until I looked closer at photos I had snapped of birds I thought might have been Purple Martins. Nope; they were Barn Swallows.

The above photos are significantly cropped. Still, they’re easily identified. The thing is, I can’t figure out where they might be nesting. There is no typical habitat nearby, and no obvious nesting site they typically prefer.

By the way, these photos are presented in chronological order. That means I might have a bird photo here — like, for instance, this female Northern Cardinal — and then have some other birds before showing more Cardinals.

Case in point, here’s a four-photo series of a Carolina Chickadee . . .

I would have loved to have used a higher shutter speed for this shot and ‘frozen’ those wings.

Then I move on to a couple of shots of a Tufted Titmouse at the suet feeders . . .

Here’s the same bird flying down to the feeders from atop the hanger bracket. As we’ll see in other photos, most birds ‘dive’ down without immediately splaying their wings.

There’s not that much distance between where it perched and the feeder, and I would have loved to capture the sequence of it spreading its wings and landing, but I was zoomed in too tight.

Next up, a White-crowned Sparrow having what looks like to be a bad feathers day . . .

The black feature is the feeder pole

Next up is a bird I had a bit of trouble identifying until I got this photo (admittedly, not a great photo) where I could see the rust markings along with the yellow.

As with all my identifications, if you happen to spot an error, I appreciate you letting me know in the comments. Sometimes identifying birds is an iffy thing. In this case, I’m fairly certain it’s a Yellow Warbler.

Hey! . . . here’s another Northern Cardinal!

Next up, a series of Northern Mockingbird photos . . .

Look to the right . . .
Look to the left . . .
Look straight ahead . . .
Examine the food . . .
Pick up the food . . .
Drop the food. I didn’t get good photos of it picking it up again and flying off.

Here’s another (or maybe the same) White-Crowned Sparrow . . .

Next up, we have a female Downy Woodpecker visiting the suet feeders. Those feeders are for all birds. There are specific feeders for the woodpeckers, but obviously, no one told them that.

One problem with those particular feeders (and, really, all the feeders) is that flocks of Starlings and Grackles will visit them and keep the other birds away. They can make short work of those suet cakes.

My neighbor put up a Purple Martin house last year, and I was happy to see they came back to it this year. Here are a couple of photos of a Purple Martin flying around (I like to keep in practice when it comes to photographing birds in flight).

Here’s a photo of a male Downy Woodpecker at the suet feeder. By the way, I have videos of some of these birds, but I’ll probably have a dedicated post for the videos.

Yup! Another Northern Cardinal. What can I say? They are striking birds to photograph.

According to the Hummingbird Migration Map, hummingbirds are already in Northern Michigan. However, despite having feeders up for a few weeks, this was the first day I spotted a hummer. He was about fifty feet away, so they’re not great photos, but I was pleased to capture my first hummer of the year.

These next photos are not great, but considering the bird was flying way the frack up there, they’re not bad. The reason I’m including them is that the bird was flying with its beak open. I occasionally catch birds with their beaks open if they happen to be singing or calling out. This guy (or gal) was flying along the whole while with an open beak.

I wondered if, by chance, it held something in its mouth . . . so enlarged the photo using Topaz GigaPixel. Normally, GigaPixel does an amazing job, but in this case, there’s just not that much to work with (the above photo is cropped 1:1).

GigaPixel’s 2X enlargement

If I magnify the above photo 300%, it looks like it might be carrying something in its beak. If I strain my interpretive imagination, it might look like a fish . . . or, it’s just pixelation due to enlarging something with little information to begin with (much like all conspiracy theories).

GigaPixel’s 2X enlargement

In that last 2X enlargement of the bird at a different angle, it looks more plausible that it’s carrying something. I presume it’s a fish … if it were a stork, I might consider it being a baby.

The American Robins are also busy nesting. I need to do a post of just Robins, but for now, I share these photos of a Robin sentinel perched on a light pole that sits at the property line; neither my neighbor nor I have any idea whom it belongs to.

This Robin is a good 40-50 feet away, but, like many birds, it seems to react to the sound of the camera’s shutter and focus on me. Actually, it’s the sound of the mirror lifting. Nikon used to make a “quiet” SLR version a number of years ago, but it was only marginally quieter than regular SLRs. This is where mirrorless cameras have an advantage (the P900 is very quiet, as is my Note 20 Ultra).

Maybe the bird was just focusing on something happening on the roof above where I sat.

Either way, it decided to get down and forage in the tall grass below.

As we saw earlier for the Titmouse, when descending, they just dive and don’t open their wings until they get close to landing.

Here’s a Northern Cardinal doing the same thing.

In this particular instance, the Cardinal was joining what I presume is its paramour.

So, here’s more behavior that I’ve observed before but had not previously captured in photos . . .

Even though both the male and females were feeding on their own, every once in a while the male would offer a seed to the female and she would take it from his beak.

Here’s another sequence . . .

I can’t be sure (I should have filmed it), but it looks that even though both can feed on their own, the male would occasionally offer what looked like a shelled seed. It did that only for specific seeds, so they must have been premium seeds.

I presume it’s some sort of courtship ritual, much like teenage boys buying premium quality weed for their girlfriends.

This Common Grackle was certainly impressed!

. . . and it rushed off to tell his friends . . .

Notice I managed (just barely) to freeze the actions of the wings. That’s because after missing the photo with the Chickadee, I switched to shooting at 1/2500th of a second shutter speed. Even that just barely managed to freeze the action. I should have gone down to 1/3200th of a second, but the light had worsened (clouds).

One other thing . . . did you notice all the bugs flying around it? Likely, some kind of flies.

Here’s another White-throated Sparrow.

In case anyone is asking, yes, I throw some seeds on the ground for birds that don’t bother to fly up to the feeders. A few of the sparrows will try the feeders, but most seem to hang around near the ground or the low branches of nearby shrubs. Unless disturbed; then they fly up higher or fly away.

Next up, is one of my fortuitous catches. While I’m fairly successful at it (I have to react to the bird moving and press the shutter before it’s gone) this is one instance where I got a pretty good shot of a bird that’s been difficult to shoot (Red-winged Blackbird).

Oh, not that shot . . . that was easy. I mean this next shot . . .

Speaking of capturing motion, here’s a Northern Cardinal hopping, standing still, and taking off. The last photo is not as good as I’d like, but good enough to share.

Here’s another photo of a female Downy Woodpecker . . .

Before moving on to a Red-tailed Hawk on the prowl. Mind you, this bird was far away, so once again all of these are crops of much larger photos. I only share a few of the photos, the ones that are relevant and interesting. The SmugMug Gallery has more, but these are sufficient for the post.

The one thing I don’t like about embedding photos is that I’ve not figured out a way of doing slideshows of just a few photos. Anyway, I give you a hawk on the prowl.

The speck just to the side of it isn’t an artifact; it’s a bug of some kind.

That’s all I got because it suddenly dropped much faster and I lost it as it disappeared behind some trees. I presume it got something because I watched for a bit and it didn’t emerge.

I mentioned the Purple Martin house, and here it is . . .

Here, the Martin notices a House Sparrow landing on the lower level. House Sparrows will often evict martins by destroying their nests and eggs. Not nice birds, really.

Anyway, it decided to check things out, but by then the sparrow had gone.

“Hey, Eunice! We got unwelcomed visitors!”
“Herb, you’re dreaming again. Go get that bug that just flew by.”
“OK, but I’m telling you, Eunice; there was a sparrow here!”
“Where are you going, you old fool? There’s a bug right above you!”

Here’s a wider shot. You can see bugs flying around, but that bug from a few photos back looked much larger. Almost like a grasshopper of some kind, but it seems too early for them. If anyone recognizes that bug, leave a comment below.

Here are a few shots of the birds in flight. They sure look like a B-2 Bomber in profile.

So, for them who are still reading this, a brief interlude with a Mourning Dove. I have mixed feelings about these birds. They are messy, they are too loud at daybreak just outside my bedroom window as I’m trying to sleep, and they make lousy nests . . . but they were cute.

They are some of the most difficult birds to photograph the moment they take flight.

That looks like I did, but she (he?) just reacted to me moving but didn’t take flight. Had she taken off, I’d have a photo of the empty spot she (he?) occupied a moment earlier.

Anyway, here we see the dove getting ready . . .

. . . and then letting one go.

You’d be surprised how often I catch birds farting . . .

Here he(she) is looking content now that he(she) has relieved some pressure.

By the way, dove farts are pretty much odorless and silent . . . both excellent attributes for farts.

OK, OK . . . it was actually nervous about my presence. After a few minutes, it decided to walk over to the small retaining wall and wait me out.

Believe it or not, we’ve come to the end of the post. I don’t know how well-behaved WordPress will be with a post this long, but it felt good getting back to my roots.

Oh, I almost forgot the important information. After reading the DNR’s announcement, I reached out to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology regarding the bird flue and feeders. HERE<<link is what they sent back in return.

Of course, I had already pulled my feeders and emptied the birdbaths, but my main question was about hummingbirds. While, per my understanding, passerines are not yet affected, and this was a precaution to safeguard the potential spread, I wondered if that included hummingbirds since they have little to no contact with other birds and don’t share common food sources.

Both sources stated it was highly unlikely hummingbird feeders would be an issue. Specifically, the person at the Illinois DNR replied thus:

After further discussion, our experts believe it’s unlikely that hummingbird and oriole feeders will contribute to the spread of HPAI, and it should be OK to leave them up. However, IDNR continues to recommend that the use of seed and grain feeders be halted through May 31 because they could attract waterfowl, which are natural carriers of HPAI.

As I’m reading this, unless I have waterfowl visiting my yard, I should be OK to have bird feeders out, and it’s definitely OK to have hummingbird feeders out. One other issue I have is that while it was OK to have the bird feeder in the middle of the patio this winter and early spring, I don’t want it there for the summer because of the mess it creates. Plus, if I have regular feeders out near the hummingbird feeders, it will discourage hummingbirds from visiting.

Yes, I know . . . compared to all the problems the world is facing, this is a minor conundrum. I’ll work it out eventually.

Finally, here’s the slideshow for the SmugMug Gallery associated with this post.

Slideshow for the One Day in April 2022 SmugMug Gallery (104 photos)

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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