TIME FOR A SNACK! FLYING SQUARES FOR BECKYB – Marilyn Armstrong

Time for a Snack – A Flying Square for BeckyB!

I need to talk about the lens I used for this shoot. I am now the proud, impoverished owner of a beautiful, new 100-300 mm lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.

Olympus makes a 75 – 300 mm lens, but its low-end is f4.8 and high-end is f7.3 — which if you know photography, is pretty slow. I should add that the Olympus lens isn’t native to the micro 4/3 either, requiring an adapter which cost half again as much as the lens. You can buy cheap ones, but they don’t work. You need the Olympus model and that costs almost $200. They are never on sale or available second-hand.

This lens is native to the micro 4/3. Panasonic uses the same format as Olympus, which is good for both manufacturers since, in micro 4/3, there are plenty of lenses from which to choose. This one opens at f4 and ends at f5.6, which while not really speedy, is definitely faster than the Olympus model — and without an adapter, it will also work better.

The price of the Panasonic lens is higher, but since you don’t need the adapter, the price is not far apart and the Panasonic is a better lens. It’s silky smooth and sharp.

Having never bought a long lens for the Olympus, I’ve been using my Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ-1000 for anything that required a long lens. It was bothering me to so rarely use my best camera.

Well, okay, the FZ-1000 is a good camera too. Just a very different camera. It may even be a great camera, but I prefer the color and fine finish of the Olympus. I wanted to work with it.

I really wanted that lens and finally, against all logic and reason, I bought it.

The Panasonic 100-300 mm lens costs as much (more?) than the camera. Most good lenses cost as much or more than the cameras they work with. Good glass is expensive, with good reason. Cameras wear out, but lenses, properly cared for, last forever.  You can get many new cameras and keep using your original lenses.

Lenses are an investment. Cameras are temporary.

I don’t have a lot of high-end lenses. It’s a poverty thing — but then, I saw this on sale for $100 less, supposedly “used” on Amazon. My experience with “used” lenses from Amazon is that they are actually new lenses, unopened and never used. This was true for this lens too. Brand new, never opened, never taken from its original packing. Just $100 less, making it barely affordable.

Warblers

I took it out of its container, fitted it on the camera … and there wasn’t a bird in sight. Disappointed, I played with the focus and suddenly, a slew of birds shows up including a woodpecker, another bird I don’t recognize, a bunch of warblers and Chickadees. As I shot, they actually got into quite a little tussle over who got the next seed.

You’d think we were running out of birdseed, but there’s at least a couple of pounds of seeds in the feeder. Various birds are getting possessive about who eats first, second, next.

Meanwhile, the lens is a winner!

It’s good for exactly the purpose for which I bought it. Birds. All the reviewers talked about birds. That’s what you do with a lens that long. Shoot birds. I suppose you could also shoot airplanes or drones, but birds are more fun.

I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to finally get a long lens for the Olympus. I’ve been using one Olympus or another for a long time … more than a decade and this is the first time I bought a good lens. Not a great one, but a really good one.

The birds showed me their best sides and they are all squares, too!

ARE WE THE ONLY BIRD FEEDERS IN TOWN? – Marilyn Armstrong

When Owen came by earlier to replace the flap on the doggy door, he said it was like Hitchcock’s “The Birds” all over again.”

Two warblers in a row

“You’ve got flocks of birds everywhere, did you know that? On your roof, in the trees, in the driveway. Dozens of them.”

Now three warblers …

“Look out back,” I said. There was a big Hairy Woodpecker surrounded by Warblers, Chickadees, a few Tufted Titmouses and the odd Junco. In the trees and along the railing, there were at least a dozen more birds, all waiting for their turn at the feeder. Up in the branches, more birds. A lot of them dive in, grab a seed, and fly off.

“I didn’t know,” said Owen, “That woodpeckers eat seeds. I thought they only ate insects.”

“In this weather,” I pointed out, “They will eat pretty much anything. Besides, there isn’t much insect life in the winter, so I expect they eat what they can when the bugs are dead. ”

Warblers and Woodpecker

It occurred to me for the first time that maybe no one else in the area has a feeder and we are the only free buffet in town. We certainly have a hoard of birds and a huge variety. At least three or four kinds of warblers and no, I still can’t tell one from the other. At least three kinds of woodpeckers, but the big guy doesn’t come to the feeder. The Pileated Woodpecker is, despite his size, quite a shy guy.

Chickadee and Woodpecker (a warbler half hidden by the feeder)

If we really are the only food bank in town, no wonder we have so many birds! The warblers come by the flock. The Juncos come in pairs. The woodpeckers are always solitary, but you can tell the boys from the girls by the red patch on the back of the head. In the course of the day, various kinds of birds take over the feeder. It’s a big feeder and you can fit quite a few birds on it at a time.

From top to bottom

I wonder who is going to fly out of the woods as the weather gets colder and snowier. So far, it has been cold, but whenever they promise snow, it warms up just enough. Instead, we have rain.

I’m good with that. Sometimes, we don’t any snow until the end of January or February. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get snow, only that we get a lot of snow very quickly!

SATURDAY BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

I cannot help myself. There are birds, there is a camera, there are windows.

Incoming warbler and Hairy Woodpecker

And, I filled the feeder yesterday and I was curious to see if the birds sense that I had downgraded the mix from ultra super fancy to “value feeder.”

Painting of a Hairy Woodpecker
Hello, fans! I’m a warbler. Want to guess which warbler?

Answer? Not so you’d notice. I was actually at the window taking pictures of pocket watches and realized I was going to have to hold the watch and shoot with the other hand because the only spare surface near the window was now outside, my having dragged it there yesterday in my short but womanly attempt to get the bird feeder down to a level at which I could fill it.

Big bird, little birds
Delicious seeds!

I was so exhausted by the time I finished filling the feeder, I didn’t have the strength of character to drag the small table back inside. Also, it was raining, so it isn’t coming in until it dries off — whenever that might be.

The good side of a Hairy Woodpecker
A warbler and a woodpecker. Note the size difference!

And as I was putting away The Good Camera, I realized “Ooh, look, there’s a Hairy Woodpecker.” I’m pretty sure it is a Hairy Woodpecker because he seems to have a longer beak.

Looking up?
One Chickadee and two Warblers

If you weren’t clear on the size difference between the usual feeders at the unending trough, seeing the woodpeckers and warblers together on the feeder makes it really clear.

I got one with a warbler flying in for a quick nibble. Special!

Drawing – One Woodpecker

Until the woodpeckers stand next to each other, the best I can do it guess which is which. The only difference between a Hairy and a Downy is their overall size and beak length. A big Downy and a small Hairy look exactly the same. I’m not sure the difference isn’t some kind of internal birding joke.

I have decided the birds think our feeders are a trap. Because they up and fly off even just seeing me through the doors.

Three (the third is in the back) little birds

If they really think it’s a trap, they should eat less. They are definitely plump and perfect for stuffing. With a sprig of parsley.

I took pictures. It’s what I do.

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.

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

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.

THE SQUIRREL WHO WOULDN’T LEAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

When I bought a second, flat feeder, I knew the squirrels would enjoy it.

You can’t not feed the squirrels unless you live somewhere where there are no squirrels and where might that be? The best you can do is put up feeders which the squirrels won’t destroy.

Let’s hope the bears don’t show up.


So the hanging feeder is metal and guaranteed to survive attacking squirrels and the flat feeder basically says “Come one, come all.”

It took the squirrels about a week to discover the feeders. After that, it took another 48 hours to recognize I am a mere, powerless homeowner. So no matter what I tell them, they don’t have to go.

It’s something about me, I suppose. Garry says I’m a softie and everyone (everything) knows it. The first time I saw a fat squirrel sitting in the flat feeder, I tapped on the window and he was so surprised, he fell onto the deck and hit the stairs at a run.

Times change.

This morning I got up and there was a smaller (girl?) squirrel settled into the flat feeder munching down about two pounds of corn and sunflower seeds. I tapped on the window. She looked me squarely in the eyes and dove back into the goodies. I tapped again. She ignored me completely.

I finally opened the door and said: “Hey, Squirrel Girl, move your butt outta there.” She looked at me and I swear it could have been Bonnie giving me the same look. She took another mouthful of corn and didn’t even twitch.

“I said move it on out. You’ve had enough. Leave something for the other guests.”

No movement. She sat there munching corn. She had a calculating look, the same one I get from the dogs. “How fast can she really run? What’s she gonna do anyhow? Hey, this corn is yummy.”

So I finally went out onto the deck and said: “Run for it, squirrel, or you’re going to be MY dinner.” Very slowly, she emerged from the feeder, climbed down the upright and sat on the railing. Looking at me. I said, “Go. I mean it.”

She walked — slowly — to the top of the stairs and sat there. I approached. She went down a couple of steps. I stomped on the deck. She went down two more steps. I waved my hands around and finally, she left. It was obvious the moment I wasn’t there, she’d be back. Even if I am there, she will still be back. There are fearless squirrels in my forest.

“Are you going to give her a name?” Garry asked.

Goodbye! Actually, she was jumping INTO the flat feeder, not out of it.

This squirrel is not a visitor. She has moved in. She is now one of the kids and will expect high-quality victuals from this day forward.