BIRDS OF MY WEEK – Marilyn Armstrong

Nope, not part of a challenge. It’s merely that I have so many pictures of birds taken this week, I figure I ought to share them.

I have a new bird book. I broke my vow and ordered the long lens for my Olympus OMD — which cost more than the camera cost — but it’s the only game in town and I really need to use the camera that I can focus.

I don’t see a lot of squirrels in the feeder, but by the volume of disappearing food, I’m betting they get there, eat a lot, and disappear. Probably to take a long nap in a tall tree.

Can’t forget the squirrels!
Goldfinch waiting for his pals

In the course of this week, the various flocks of Goldfinch (Magnolia, American, et al) have totally taken over the feeder. They fly around it in flocks. Somehow, a few Tufted Titmouses, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and various woodpeckers drop by, but mostly … lots and lots of Goldfinch.

One mourning dove
A couple of birds. Face forward, please. I can’t tell what you are from your tail feathers!

Oh, and about the Juncos. I have a few that are so fat, I’m surprised they can still fly.

My favorite Chickadee
Cutest house finch

Today, the feeder was pretty close to empty. My son has other stuff going on and I didn’t want to bother him, so I figured “How long can it take to fill a bird feeder?” Owen does it in two minutes.

Four Goldfinches (one is mostly behind the feeder)
Still flying, they grab a seed and go for the trees!

But you see, he’s well over six feet tall and I am just barely hitting five feet. I couldn’t reach the feeder. I dragged out something to stand on, but it was too tall and I was afraid I’d ruin my future by falling off the deck head first, so finally, I turned it sideways and stood crookedly on its legs. Not very comfortable — or steady.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker
A lonely Nuthatch

And it turns out that this bird feeder holds five pounds of food. Maybe more. It’s a lot of food. A lot more food than you think. Like … tubs of it. Maybe that’s why the Juncos are so fat? Also, some of the Goldfinch look pretty well-rounded too.

The gallant Tufted Titmouse

Eventually, they will all just sit on my deck waiting for the goodies. Unable to fly. Just sitting like little, feathered cupcakes.

I think even the squirrels are bloated.

Is it possible that I am over-feeding my wild creatures?

And finally, just so you don’t think I’m delusional, this is a picture of my Pileated Woodpecker. It’s blurry, but I think it’s definitely that big woodpecker. I’m hoping one day, he’ll drop by and hang around long enough for me to take a picture that has … you know … edges.

No matter what they say on television, you cannot take a tiny piece of a picture, blow it up, and get a nice clear image. It doesn’t work.

I AM MY CAMERA – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Camera

Ever since I got a couple of bird feeders, I feel like I really am a camera. Because almost the entire east side of this house is windows — and that’s where I’ve put the feeders — the first thing I look for when I open my eyes in the morning are birds.

When I walk to the kitchen to click on the coffee, there are birds. Flocks of them, regardless of the weather. Apparently, birds get hungry even in the rain. Even hungrier when it’s particularly cold.

My little Chickadee
A very fat Slate-colored Junco. I’m amazed he can still fly!

The east end of my dining room table has three cameras lined up on it. I don’t even put the lens caps on them because when you are shooting wild birds, you shoot now or that shot may never come again.

I keep intending to not take any pictures this morning. I’ve got things to do. Stories to write. And all of the pictures I took yesterday still waiting to be processed and turned into a post or story.

Three American Goldfinches unless they are Magnolia Warblers. It takes a lot longer to write about birds when you first have to figure out which bird you are discussing — and so many of them look so much the same!

But there are the birds and there are the cameras and there am I, so … I shoot.

Nuthatch sharing the feeder with a Goldfinch

Yesterday, my new bird field guide came in. I had begun to realize that my book was out of date when I was seeing birds that, according to my guide, don’t live here.

I finally bothered to look at the publication date on my Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds and realized it was 1979.

Magnolia Warbler

There have been a few updates since then, the most recent in 2010. I found a used copy (it looks new to me!) and it arrived yesterday.

Philadelphia Vireo? Looks like it (and they are certainly common enough) … but a lot more yellow than shown in the guide. It turns out all birds do not look exactly like the guide’s picture.

I’ve been mesmerized ever since. Phooey on politics. The hell with the news. Pass the camera and I will take bird pictures.

Hello Tufted Titmouse

Mind you when I’m done with the birds, the news is still waiting for me. There’s no escaping it, but at least for however many hours I’m spending processing photographs and trying to figure out which warbler I’m looking at, I’m at peace. I didn’t get the feeders to buy me peace of mind, but oddly enough, that’s exactly what I am getting from them.

Not quite as fat Slate-colored Junco

Just a little bit of peace and the joy of watching things on wings chomping up sunflower seeds, flax, and bits of corn.

I really am a camera.

WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? – Marilyn Armstrong

The heat went out. Again. Third or fourth time since the temperature started its plunge past zero. This was going to be the coldest night of the year to date so of course, the boiler went out. I called the company — and the guy who fixes stuff was supposed to call back and let me know when he would get here.

He didn’t.

Sometime around eight, I realized it wasn’t chilly. It was cold. I looked at the thermostat and it read 59 degrees. The heat was set at 67. Bit of a drop, there. I went downstairs and it was even colder.

Today, toasty warm!

I pressed the red button on the front of the boiler and it whooshed into that delicious little roar we love to hear in the winter. Then it got a lot quieter as the flame went out. After which, the chilly silence of a non-working boiler.

Two weeks ago, we had them here to fix the identical problem. I had delicately suggested that the “new” igniter might not be working but maybe no one heard me and anyway, why would a new igniter not work? It was new, right?

In the middle of July, the service fellow was here and tuned up the boiler. He replaced the igniter, which was reasonable. The heating system is not a child bride anymore. It needs regular servicing. But since that replacement, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it stops. Normally, I press that red button (it’s really the only thing I know how to do on a boiler) and it restarts.

It’s okay, at least for a while. Other times, it just stops and won’t restart. We’ve got almost 3/4 of a tank of fuel, so that’s not the problem.

By now, it was 9:30. We’ve been working with this same company since we moved to the valley, 19 years ago. The contract includes 24-hour service because it gets very cold here and no one can survive long without a heating system. They always get back to us in a few minutes, at least to tell us when to expect the fixer. This time, the phone did not ring.

By 10:45, I was getting worried and cold. The dogs didn’t care. Let’s hear it for fur coats! I got really ON that phone call. They seemed a bit at a loss and they said they really WERE trying to get hold of the guy.

“Have you lost him?” I asked. Can you lose your service guy? He’s a pretty big guy.

Maybe the truck broke down. Maybe the cell phone battery punked out. Maybe there’d been an accident. These are dependable people and this was most unlike their usual way of operating.

Finally, I got a call back from the woman who owns the place (she just inherited it from her father)  and she said: “He fell asleep. Didn’t hear the phone. I told him to not explain, just get in the truck and GO.”

Last night? Cold toes, but warm quilts!

It took almost an hour an a half. Where does he live? Not in the valley. You’d have to travel the length of the valley two or three times to need that much time, so he must live north or even further into the empty lands than us.

At 11:45, I called again. Mainly, what I didn’t want was to be sitting and shivering by the telephone waiting for someone who would never arrive. It turned out, he was on our street and in less than five minutes, full of apologies, there he was. I told him I didn’t care what happened. All that mattered was that he was here. He’d made it, praise be.

Please, sir, make the boiler work!

Shit happens. People oversleep, get lost, lose the phones, drink too much. I don’t care what happened. I’m just glad when they arrive.

I told him my personal theory that the newly replaced igniter was the problem. “I don’t know anything about boilers except where to push the red button, but I know when I fix the computer and everything stops working, I have to do it again because something went wrong. I’m betting the igniter is bad. Until it got replaced, we didn’t have a problem. Mid-July, someone replaced it and nothing has worked right since .”

The igniter was bad. He replaced it. Heat arose. Sometimes, parts arrive already broken, direct from the factory. It has happened with cars, with the house, with the computers. It just happens. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does.

This was another “I don’t care” moments for me. How the igniter went bad? Not my problem. All I want it that the new one works and I don’t discover I need a new heating system. Heaven forfend from such a grim possibility!

Three goldfinches. Lunchtime!

Then, after he hung around another half hour to make sure it was going to continue to work, he packed up and went home. I had already hauled a second down comforter upstairs because I was pretty sure we would need extra insulation this evening.

The dogs still didn’t care.

Today, the house is all toasty. Oh, blessed be the service people who fix our broken homes, even if they do sleep through the phone call for the first three hours.

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

TOO MANY BIRDS — Marilyn Armstrong

I took my empty glass to the kitchen to get something to drink. Or, anyway, that was the idea. I put the glass on the counter and looked at the plant hanging on the kitchen window. It needed some water.

Maybe they all (finally) needed water.

I left the drink where I’d stood it. Filled the little red watering can, then thoughtfully dribbled water across the kitchen floor while getting my socks thoroughly wet at the same time. I am nothing if not graceful.

I watered — finally — the two Christmas Cacti and all the other plants, including the budding orchids and the big Philodendron. Emptied out the rest of the water while dousing my feet a little more.

A downward traveling Nuthatch

I turned around and said “Oh,” because there were birds. One squirrel in the flat feeder — and maybe a dozen birds fluttering and a few more striding the deck. Some new ones, too. Mourning doves were on the deck, picking up pieces of seed the birds had tossed aside. Also, I saw a few Slate-Colored Juncos. Those are the strutting birds who clean up anything let by the flying birds and the “stuffing her face” squirrel girl.

Suddenly, all other thoughts were forgotten and I found myself taking pictures of birds. I couldn’t help myself. As if I’d been hypnotized, the fluttering birds were waiting for me. On the deck, on the feeders.

Far in the woods, I saw a big red-headed woodpecker. I couldn’t get a picture — he was outside the range of my lens. I just got a flash of him in the trees. He was a big one!

Slate-colored Junco

I noticed new birds — a dark-headed, white-bellied bird with dark eyes and a white beak which I finally decided had to be a Slate-Colored Junco because he was the only bird in the book the looked remotely like him … and the Gold Finch that had to be a Gold Finch even though all the finches should have already flown south. He had to be one anyway because there was nothing else he could be.

Part of the clean-up crew: a mourning dove

Garry pointed out that we’d had a lot of storms and birds do get blown off-course.

I have ascertained that when you are trying to figure out what a bird is, especially when there are a lot of birds that look very similar to that bird, after you have eliminated all the birds he or she cannot be, then he or she must be whatever remains as long as it bears some resemblance to the image you are staring at.

You would think, if you have a clear photograph of the bird and you know where you are, it should not be that difficult to figure out what bird you are looking at. You’d think that but you would be wrong. Or at least if you are me, you’d be wrong.

Gold Finch in the wrong region

There is a section of my “Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds” called “Confusing Fall Warblers.” They come in yellow, green, beige and many variations in between. Some of the birds interbreed too, so there are many variations on the variations and even though they are all supposedly gone from this area by now, the weather hasn’t been normal and neither have the birds.

I had to take the SD chip and stick it in the computer to see what I’d gotten and while I was at it, process some very pretty pictures of the blooming Christmas Cactus.

Bird in a tree

That was when I realized I was still thirsty and my glass was still on the counter in the kitchen and my feet were wet.

Birds. I’m totally hooked. Just as well, because if it weren’t for the birds, I’d probably be watching the news.

A BUSY DAY AT THE BIRD FEEDER – Marilyn Armstrong

I knew I would enjoy feeding the birds, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy having the morning display of every kind of local bird.  Not to mention some very stubborn squirrels who seem to have set up a residence.

In the name of surviving this experience, I went down a level in bird food quality. There’s an ugly rumor that birdseed is cheap. Cheap for the birds who get it for free, but at the rate they are chugging it down, we’ll all be eating birdseed before long.

The diving Chickadee

I wasn’t able to get some of the pictures I wanted. By the time I pressed the shutter, something had flown off or landed or disappeared into a tree or behind the feeder.

Same yellow warbler. Pine Warbler? A bit late for them to be this far north …

It was interesting how the squirrel in the flat feeder completely ignored the flocks of birds around the other feeder. Apparently, the squirrels and birds have established a non-military zone, otherwise known as “my back deck.” The squirrel feels that the flat feeder is his or her spot. The birds have strong feelings about the hanging feeder.

At other times, I have seen crows and squirrels go to war over a piece of roof, so a non-military zone is not a given, but apparently is working out for the time being.

The same yellow warbler

There were dizzying flights of birds around the feeder today and though I tried, I was only able to capture one of the birds actually flying off the feeder. The others always seemed to land or disappear from the range of the lens before I could capture them. What is so comforting is knowing that the feeder is there and where the feeder is, so the birds will be.

It’s an ongoing piece of natural theater. Does anyone know which of the many yellow warblers was hanging about today? There are many yellow and green warblers that spend time here especially in the fall and some live here all the time.

They look so much alike, that even with a picture and the book, I cannot tell which is which. Today’s warbler was yellow — almost gold — so it fits into the category of “Confusing Yellow Warblers” in the Peterson guide.

Not to forget that other warblers are brown and speckled and I don’t know their names, either. In any case, it’s very late in the year for any warblers to be here. By now, they all should have flown south to summer in warmer places.

LITTLE BIRD CLOSE-UPS: CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Small Bird Close-Ups


These close-ups pictures of birds at our feeder would be a lot closer if they would hang around while I’m outside with the camera rather than shooting them through a narrow sliver — and very off-center — spot in the kitchen. It’s a good camera for this purpose. The Panasonic Lumix FZ-1000 has a long (25 to 450 mm) Leica f2.8 lens on it and enough bells and whistles to do a lot of things I have yet to figure out.

The learning process on this particular camera is the most complicated yet and I’m embarrassed to admit that often its “i-auto” setting does a better job at capturing complicated lighting than I can manage manually. It automatically compensates for backlighting, haze, will block a screen and find a pretty clean background — something no other camera has done as well. But, I don’t always want to compensate. Sometimes I want the backlighting and I want the screen.

I do a lot of switching around through its many settings. It has a brilliant black-and-white as well as several other monochrome settings. Actually, it’s got settings that even when I read their so-called manual, I’m still not sure what they are supposed to do and whether if I try to use them, they will make other settings inoperable.

This is a big camera, too, as big and heavy as a full-size DSLR, but most of the weight is its huge lens. Because the one lens can do pretty much anything, it winds up my default camera, even though my Olympus gets superior color and a finer finish.

I suppose if you have enough money, you can get the perfect camera, but lenses are more expensive than the cameras with which they work … and I’m out of funds.

So back to the close-ups of birds. They are as good as they can get shooting through a not really CLEAN window (we cleaned the inside, but no one has figured out how to get the outside clean … we’re working on that). Shooting through glass always leaves a bit of fuzziness anyway, and a not-so-clean window with reflections …

Still, these came out pretty well. If they ever let me come back there to shoot, they will be much better. These days, though, if I make noise IN the kitchen, they fly away. And there’s always some loud barking dog hanging around. And when the squirrels get busy, the dogs go completely berserk!