THE BIRDS MADE ME DO IT! THE WEEKLY SMILE – Marilyn Armstrong

So there I was. I had poured our coffee. Put the lids on. Set out the little breakfast cookies in their dishes and I was getting ready to deliver it to Garry and settle down to check comments on the posts.

That was when I swiveled my head and there, hanging on to the recently (yesterday) filled bird feeder was either a big downy or small hairy woodpecker.

I love woodpeckers.

I said “Oh, ooh, ah … ” and totally lost the coffee and the cookies and pretty much everything. Garry sighed and came to collect it himself. It was obvious I had lost it.

I have four cameras lined up in the dining room on the end of the table. That’s where the windows are. I almost always use the Panasonic FZ1000 with the 450 mm lens because it’s a smart camera, long enough for the purpose (usually) and it’s designed so one lens does it all.

When you are shooting birds, you don’t have time to change lenses. By the time you have the lens half-changed, the birds are gone, or the one you most wanted has flown. One way or the other, the name of the game with birds is simple.


SHOOT FIRST. SORT AND PROCESS LATER.


I’m getting better about it, too. I used to spend so much time framing everything to perfection, I mostly got lovely shots of naked branches. I could point to where the bird had been, but there was no bird in the picture. Not very satisfying.

I finally got it through my head that I can straighten and format after I shoot. If you don’t take the shots, you may never get another opportunity. In wildlife shooting, there are rarely second chances.

I do love the woodpeckers. They have class.

Finch and Chickadee

It’s pretty hard to tell a Downy from a Hairy Woodpecker. They are essentially identical except that the Hairy is a bigger and sometimes (but not always) has a bit of red on his head (but if it’s a she, no red anywhere). The main difference is that the Hairy has a longer beak.

This is a hard differentiation to make unless the two happen to be standing side by side for your inspection — something which has never happened in all my years of bird watching.

That’s why we have books.

Bet on it. It’s a Nuthatch.

Speaking of which, I ordered a new bird book. I keep seeing birds that either “officially” don’t live here or have supposedly migrated southward —  months ago. I looked at the imprint on the book and realized it was 1979. I ordered the most recent Peterson (second-hand, but supposedly in new condition) which is from 2010. While not exactly written yesterday, it should fill some of the blanks for me. Especially about the Goldfinches that aren’t supposed to still be hanging around my deck in December, but obviously are.

I have seen some birds of which I couldn’t get a decent shot. A really big (REALLY big) Red-headed Woodpecker too far back in the woods for my camera to focus on him, so I got a little flash of him — not worth processing, but at least I know I wasn’t delusional — and a very good look at a huge Pileated Woodpecker. I’d like to assume it was the Ivory-billed (almost extinct?) Woodpecker, but in bird-watching, if you think you are seeing the rarest species, you aren’t. It’s the next one down on the list. Which could be quite rare enough.

A goldfinch and a chickadee. No, I don’t know which Goldfinch. There are a lot of them.

This is the bird watcher’s “Murphy’s Law.” Actually, it holds for all wildlife viewing. If you think you are seeing something that’s pretty much gone, you are seeing something similar, but it ain’t that. Unless you work for National Geographics and that’s your job.

So the woodpecker got me this morning. I was going to write something smartly political, maybe about declining stocks and Brexit. Something intelligently timely, but instead, there was a Downy Woodpecker and a camera.

Nuts to politics. Show me the birds … and I’ll show them to you!

THE WEEKLY SMILE

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

31 thoughts on “THE BIRDS MADE ME DO IT! THE WEEKLY SMILE – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. I love that your camera is always ready and available! When we were at Vandenberg AFB last month, there was a really pretty blue bird in the field in front of us. I reached for my camera in the console of the car. A second bird arrived. But as I lifted the camera to find the birds, they blth flew away! They were the prettiest blue birds I’ve seen in this area!

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    1. At home, they are at hand, but when I’m on the road, unless I keep it in my lap all the time, I miss a lot of shots because by the time I get it out of its case, it’s over. But you do the best you can and sometimes, you get lucky.

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    1. I want to get that big redheaded guy. He doesn’t get close enough for me to shoot him. He’s always back in the woods and there are so many twigs and branches in the way, I can’t get the camera to focus properly. But I’ve gotten two now — the red-bellied (with the red stripe on his head) and the Downy who could be a Hairy because they are essentially identical except for the length of their beak. But I shall keep trying, by golly!

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  2. You have a wonderful selection of bird visitors! When I lived in Michigan, I used to keep a bird journal of the many birds I saw and often had to look them up to figure out what they were. It sure was fun.

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  3. Absolutely cracking shots, you are very lucky to have been able to capture these moments. I have woodpeckers come into the gardens here, but they are always up the trees at the back. The magpies use the bath as do the woodpigeons and the blackbirds, but the peckers keep their distance. By the time l can get to the camera they have scampered away. Luckily the robins and yellow hammers when present are friendly enough to be photogenic for me 🙂 Really nice shots.

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    1. I was very lucky. I saw him, the camera bag was open, the lens was ready to go. Usually, by the time I get ready to shoot, the birds are gone. The really BIG woodpeckers usually don’t get that close, but the past week it has been very cold and I think the birds are hungry enough to ignore the house and just go for the food! But that was luck … and a very hungry bird.

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      1. Very much so, we have double filled all our birdfeeders, the temperature dropped substantially fast here in Kent. Quicker than we expected. I can’t stand to think of the birds not having something to go to in which they can trust 🙂

        However – they are a darn sight faster than l am and have wings ha ha. By the time l manage to get the camera and sneak back, well l am just seeing space – but hey at least they are fed 🙂

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  4. Great captures Marilyn. I love Woodpeckers too. I use the internet to identify these days, but still keep my field guides handy. I’ll type in the colors of the bird, breast, tail and up will pop an assortment of photos for me to compare what I saw to!

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    1. I find the Peterson guide clearer than the photos on the web, but whatever works for you! Also, I can actually FIND things in the books and I get lost online, discovering that I’m looking at a bird that lives in Texas 😀

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  5. That bird feeder has paid for itself over and over. You will have subjects for photography all winter now. I have been thinking about getting another camera for those “blink and you’ll miss it” shots. I like the DSLR but the Nikon L120 that David gave me was great even though it was just a compact camera I could zoom in on a subject very quickly if I had it handy. I had been thinking of buying another or it’s up to date equivalent. I like the idea of keeping one where the windows are as I get my best bird views from the kitchen.

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  6. You’re sure getting some great shots – and some nice birdies. I have a 50x photo lens on my new camera but I can’t get any shots of the feeder without going outside and scaring the birds away.

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