Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Awesome Carolina Wren Photos...

We interrupt our three-part series about getting ripped abs to bring you these fantastic pictures of our resident pair of Carolina Wrens, taken by me...  Meatless Maine Crow.

That's good enough to slap on the front of a Christmas card.
Hey wait, that gives me a cool idea...

I'm just an average photographer with a slightly above-average point-and-click Nikon digital camera.  I take way too many pictures of my cats.  Most of them come out really well, but that's because the cats are usually sleeping just a few feet away.

As far as volume goes, the pictures I take of the birds just outside the family room window take a distant second.  Unlike the feline photos, it's more difficult to take good pictures of our feathered friends.  Try shooting an outdoor subject that's constantly moving and fluttering around...  when you're actually indoors, and dealing with two layers of smudgy window glass.  The result is an excessive number of dark, blurry, forgettable pictures.

Ever since the cats got us the new camera for Christmas, I've probably taken hundreds of bird shots from inside our family room.  For all that effort, I have only one or two decent photos of male cardinals.

But this past weekend, I hit the jackpot with our Carolina Wrens.

Where there's one Carolina Wren,
there's probably another...
During the past few years, we've been spending loads of time paying attention to the birds in our back yard, especially during weekend mornings.  My sister had already been an avid bird watcher for years.  Every few days, she'd call me and keep me up to date on the activity on her ten acres, out in rural Pennsylvania.

     "Hey, Dave.  Yesterday afternoon between 4:06 and 4:14, we had eighty-seven male cardinals visit the fourth hanging feeder behind the pool."

     "That's nice," I'd say.  "This morning, I think I saw our neighbor's son pass under our maple tree near the road.  He was boarding the bus."

We live in the suburbs.  We have almost half an acre.  Initially, I didn't think that these were the most ideal ingredients for a thriving bird sanctuary.

But we mounted a small feeder on a pole, just ten feet outside our family room window.  I'm pretty certain that half the birds in the neighborhood moved in just a few days later.

We've had chickadees, gold finches, juncos, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, house finches, European starlings, house sparrows, doves, purple finches, deer, white-throated sparrows, American tree sparrows, pine siskins, both white and red-breasted nuthatches, and yes, Carolina Wrens.

Yes, I did say deer.  They're always hanging out in our back yard under the cover of the trees and shrubs.

One morning last winter, I opened the family room blinds and noticed a doe standing at the feeder, enjoying some seed and suet at the breakfast buffet.  I managed to snap a blurry picture, just before she scurried across our driveway and into the neighbor's yard.

We have crows, but they don't visit the feeder.  They prefer to go treasure-hunting at the compost pile at the edge of our property.

On a late fall afternoon several years ago, we had a hoard of wild turkeys march through the back yard.  They didn't stay long.  They were just passing through.

steak...  steak...  steak...  steak...
steak...  steak...  steak...
steak...  steak...  steak...  steak...
steak...  steak...  steak...
steak...  steak...
Of course, whenever there's seed in the feeder, there will always be about five or six morbidly-obese squirrels hanging around the ground just below.  It's a constant battle to keep them from climbing the pole and decimating the seed supply.  Sometimes, I'll grease the pole with olive oil and watch them try to shimmy up, cackling with laughter as they come sliding down.  I just installed a baffle that seems to be baffling them for the time being.

We also have a half dozen chipmunks that show up during the warmer seasons.  They dart around the ground like missiles, scouring the grass for the sunflower seeds that have been kicked and scattered from the feeder above.  We do have a hanging feeder that's squirrel-proof.  It has a weight-sensitive cage that drops down and covers the seed dispensers, when a squirrel leaps onto the feeder.

Problem is, the chipmunks aren't heavy enough to activate the cage.  At any given moment, there could be four or five gold finches at the feeder, along with a greedy, gluttonous chipmunk...  perched next to one of the openings, stuffing his cheeks full of seed.

Dirty little bastard thinks he's a house finch.

Speaking of mammals, I've also seen a fox cross our backyard a few times during the early morning hours.

But our favorite bird, by far, is the Carolina Wren.  It's one of the most ridiculously adorable beings that I've ever seen.  In the second edition of his field guide, 'Birds of New York', Stan Tekiela states the following:
  • Mates are long-term, remaining together throughout the year in permanent territories.  Sings year round.  Male is known to sing up to 40 different song types, singing one song repeatedly before switching to another.  Female also sings, resulting in duets.  The male often takes over feeding the first brood while the female renests.  Nests in birdhouses, unusual places such as in mailboxes, bumpers of cars or broken taillights, or in nearly any other cavity.  Found in brushy yards or woodlands.  Range expands northward in years with mild winters.  (p. 87)
Stan wasn't kidding.

Seriously, do you have a staring problem?
We've got a pair that's been hanging around our yard for over two years.  Last winter, they nested in a large crack in the concrete retaining wall at the back of our driveway.  Every morning, they fly to the the feeder together, darting back and forth between the seed-covered perch and the evergreen bushes just outside the back window.  Sometimes, they romp and play in the seed at the same time.  Other times, one will chow down on seed while the other perches nearby, waiting for a turn.

They sing the coolest, most beautiful songs that I've ever heard.  On many Sunday mornings during the spring, I'll wake to hear them chirping and singing together in the hedge along the side of our property.  Sometimes, we'll just stay in bed for a few extra minutes, listening to their lively chatter.

The serenade continues as we ease into the morning.  Once I get up, I typically feed the cats and put on a full pot of coffee.  If the seed in the feeder is running low, I'll run out into the backyard in my pajama bottoms and fill it up with a fresh supply of black oil sunflower seed.  Within minutes, our pair of wrens will be swarming just outside the back window, along with at least a dozen other birds.

As soon as the coffee stops trickling into the pot, we'll fill up our mugs, head to the couch, and turn on 'CBS Sunday Morning'.  I'm not a big fan of most morning shows, but this particular CBS offering presents its news and stories in a more traditional, objective manner, covering stories and people that are actually interesting, thoughtful, and may have something worthwhile to contribute to society.

How could you not love a face like that?

However, even the soothing, poetic voice of Charles Osgood isn't enough to hold my attention if the wrens are dancing about.  When we first set up the feeder, I'd leap off the couch at the sight of just about any bird outside the window.

     "LOOK AT THE CHICKADEE!" I'd scream, spilling my coffee as I grabbed my camera.

     "That's nice," my wife would say.

After snapping one or two piss-poor photos, I'd sit back down, put my feet up and--"THE MALE CARDINAL IS HERE!  LOOK AT IT'S BRILLIANT SHADE OF STUNNING RED!"

     "That's really pretty.  Maybe if you didn't jump up and down and scream like a lunatic, he'd stay and eat for more than two seconds."

After snapping a few more blurry pictures, I'd assume my position on the couch, and reach for my mug of coff--"THE DOVES ARE COMING!  THE DOVES ARE COMING!  LOOK HOW THEIR NECKS MOVE WHEN THEY STRUT!"

     "Dave, what the hell is wrong with you.  I really wanted to hear what Charles Osgood was saying, but you were screaming when---


     "WHERE!?" my wife would yell, throwing Indy off her lap, spilling her coffee, and leaping up off the couch.


Uh oh.  Time for a refill.  We don't
want the wrens to go hungry, do we? 

     "HOLY %*&#!"


     "Shhhh...  quiet.  Oh my gosh, look..."

     "Oh, here they come.  Look...  they're flying over...  Oh look..."

     "%*#&!...  They both just landed on the feeder..."

     "Dave...  they're eating..."


     "Oh my gosh, they're so %*#&! cute...  look at their little tails, poking high in the air..."

     "Shhh...  you're making too much noise..."

     "%*#&*!  %*#&*!"

     "Shut up..."


     "Shhhh...  Honey, grab my camera..."

 Awww...  Look how its
delicate little claws grip the twig.

     "I thought you had your camera."

     "No, I put it back."

     "Why did you put it back?"

     "Shhh!  Never mind...  Just go get it..."

     "Ok, I'll--  %*#&*!, they flew away..."

     "Where'd they g--"




And we'd both sprint from the back window, glue our faces to the sliding glass door, and repeat the pathetic display all over again.

But really, take a look at those pictures.  Can you blame us?  Aren't they the cutest birds you've ever seen?

I've reached the point where I am unfazed by the presence of most other birds at the feeder.  If a new or unfamiliar bird pays us a visit, one of us will grab the bird book, and we'll head over to the window to investigate.  If it is, indeed, a new bird, we'll calmly note its presence, add it to our 'bird list in progress', and return to our seats.

Filthy, greedy little varmints... 
But whenever the Carolina Wrens show up, I'm reduced to a babbling lunatic, with appendages flailing every which way.

On mornings like this, the cats hate us.

Once we hit the couch with our coffee, all they want to do is stretch out on our pajama-covered legs and recover from their long night's sleep.  But it's hard to get comfortable when your human Tempurpedic is constantly discarding you to the floor, just to take a few pictures of something that you'd rather be eating.

We moved into our house just over three years ago, but we didn't really pay much attention to the birds during the first year.  Why didn't we take an immediate interest in all the fascinating wildlife in our backyard?  I know that this blog entry isn't supposed to be the true 'Part II: Episode 3' of my 'Ripped Abs' series in progress, regarding cable TV.  But I can't help but mention it.

We started paying attention to all of the wonderful creatures crawling around our backyard, in large part, because we got rid of cable.

I can still hear my mom now.

     "Dave, you've watched enough cartoons for the day.  Go read a book!"

Watching the birds in the back yard is actually a lot like reading a good book.  To get the most out of it, your brain and mind need to be active, as you deal with dynamic language (bird calls, in this case), analyze relationships, make connections, and work your imagination into an inquisitive frenzy.

It's been fascinating to discover and observe the subtle differences in behavior and personality between the various species that have visited our feeder.

HEY!  What about ME!?
The cardinals always show up first thing in the morning, arriving in pairs.  As Tekiela notes in his field guide, cardinals mate for life.  Before I even open the blinds, I'll often hear them announce their presence at the feeder with their short, lively chirps.  They're quite shy, and we usually have to keep fairly quiet and still, while observing them out the window.

Next to arrive are the chickadees and the tufted titmice.  Like the cardinals, the titmice are somewhat timid.  But the chickadees are bold little creatures, who won't be scared away from the feeder by human presence.  There are many instances when I've stood just a few feet away from our hanging feeder, and the chickadees will swoop in around my head to get to the seed, clearly not the least bit disturbed by my presence.  While I've gotten them to eat out of my hand at Mendon Ponds Park, I haven't gotten that far with our population in the backyard.  I'm still working on it, though.

Once the smaller birds have finished scouring area, the larger birds can take their turn.  The blue jays come swooping in first, shattering the peaceful morning with their shrill, piercing cries.  The feeder that I've mounted on the post is barely large enough for them to perch.  And yet, they still manage to wedge themselves under the loosely fitting roof, helping themselves to breakfast and scattering lots extra seed onto the ground.

The excess seed on the grass below is the squirrels' cue to join the fray.  Leaving their perches and lookouts high up in the maple trees, they scamper down the trunks and bound across the lawn to the all-you-can-eat buffet waiting at the base of the feeder.  If left undisturbed, they'll sit around for hours, loading their cavernous cheeks with seed.

During the warmer months, the mourning doves start to show up in pairs.  Sometimes, they'll strut across the yard and start feeding right away.  Other times, they'll swoop in and land on the feeder, perching together in pairs.  Once the crowd below starts to disburse, they'll hop down to the ground and start to feed.

And we're always be glued to the window once the wrens show up.

I'm always snapping lots of pictures whenever they're around.  But this past weekend, I just happened to get lucky with the lighting and the conditions in our back yard.  It was helpful that they cooperated, deciding to stay still for more than three seconds.

Once the weather warms up, I'm looking forward to taking the new camera out on the deck with my morning coffee and trying some outdoor shots.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming...  in a few days, when I get around to writing Part II:  Episode 3.

Did you know that you can froth hot soy milk in a French
press coffeemaker?  Well, you can...

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