THE PEOPLE, PLACES, CRITTERS WHO MATTER … Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Things that Matter Most

There are quite a few more people who should have pictures than I have room for but suffice to say, I have forgotten no one.

It has been a hectic year, at end of which — Garry can hear. Our deck is full of birds. The Duke roams the woods at will. Short of rebuilding the fence, which is out of the question, I have to hope he’s not planning to go anywhere — like the road. He doesn’t go anywhere. Duke roams the front and backwoods, then jumps into the yard and come home for a treat. He’s been good, hasn’t he?

Garry and Dr. Remenschneider. When your doctor is not much older than your grandchild, you know you’ve put on a few years.
Chef Owen, master of turkey
Bonnie with Garry
The Duke
Gibbs
And let’s not forget the birds …
Home

There’s not enough room to include all the friends and family and everything … but you are all remembered and loved!

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!

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