Photographing a Hummingbird

When ducks and hawks are not flying overhead and I continue to work on my ability to photograph birds in flight, I find hummingbirds the next best challenge! I have no interest in photographing a hummingbird at a feeder. I love snapping a photo as a bird flies to a branch or feeder, beating its wings so fast, producing the humming noise, thus their name: hummingbird!

These are the smallest migrating birds, weighing less than a nickel, can fly backwards and keep me on my toes while trying to photograph them! With anticipation, patience and the ability to move as the bird moves around too, I have had the chance to photograph a couple of different hummingbirds. I have read about blinds set up, specifically to entice a bird to a spot, and then others can photograph it. I find it more fun to capture a photo while a hummingbird is in at the flower or tree of their choice. Native plants in a garden with tubular species of flowers, such as honeysuckle, are places to watch for and photograph these birds.

The next challenge is knowing what hummingbird it is! A good photograph helps me narrow down the possibilities, but there are times a photo is of little help. If I can capture their wings not beating and blurred in the photo, then it has been a successful photo attempt for me! If I can identify the bird, that may even be more amazing, but not as important!

Here are some hummingbirds I have photographed lately. Some are identified to the best of my ability. If you think I have identified it wrong, please let me know. Thanks for your help!

Violet-crowned hummingbird
Broad-billed hummingbird
Anna’s, or is it a Costa’s, hummingbird?
Could it be an Anna’s hummingbird?
I heard the bird and discovered it was overhead … took the photo anyway … all fun!

Sparrows … Who Knew?

Sparrows are the most abundant bird flying around in the world … 1.6 billion of them! Recently I discovered there are 48 sparrow species in the United States, along with an interesting fact: juncos and towhees are sparrows! Most often I see white-crowned sparrows, but my walk at Saguaro National Park East, in Arizona, allowed me an opportunity to see rufous-winged and black-throated sparrows.

I heard a bird singing so I quietly moved into the area, then I saw a rufous-winged sparrow singing! This species of sparrows was discovered in 1872 in Tucson, common into the 1880’s and then disappeared. Since the 1930’s the species has gradually increased.

Rufous-winged sparrow singing – notice rufous on wing too.
Rufous-winged sparrow

My favorite sparrow is the handsome black-throated sparrow, also referred to as the “desert sparrow”. This bird population declines where there’s increasing development; it does not adapt well in suburbs. I love the look of this bird and hope it remains at our desert.

Black-throated sparrow
Black-throated sparrow

As the number of housing developments increase near Saguaro National Park, birds are in greater need of places to live. They may migrate further north at times or even south, but do have a need for this area too. Let’s be sure to continue to keep it available for them and also for us who enjoy hiking the trails.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in CA

This was my first visit to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, the largest saltwater marsh along the California coast. A perfect place to separate myself from hours of car travel and California’s heavily-trafficked highways where no one drives the speed limit! Highway 1 is right next to this area, but I was soon walking the trail and observing the birds at the reserve. (I hope when I return to this area the oil spill caused by a pipeline leak a few days ago has not damaged any of this area or local wildlife. Cleanup efforts have begun, but we also need to rethink having such old pipelines from the offshore oil platforms.)

I walked to an inner bay passing a fenced-off nesting area. Later in discussion with a local birder, I learn the nesting area once had some birds, a year or so ago, but had been scared off when a drone crashed into the area. It scared adult birds away from their nest, resulting in no young. The hope now is the adults will return, breed, and stay with their young. Having the fenced-off nesting area is good and hopefully no drone incidents will happen again in the area.

There is a 3 mile trail around the inner bay which I will walk next visit, but for this day I see 5 new birds for me! I hope to return when more birds are migrating through or when they are with their colorful breeding plumages.

Here are some photos:

Marbled godwit
Ruddy turnstone
Long-billed curlew

So You Found a Feather!

I do not doubt you are excited when finding a feather, but there are some things to be aware of before picking it up with hopes of truly possessing it. Feathers are protected under a 1918 federal law even if the feather was found in your yard. In 2004 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was expanded to include all native bird species in the USA. So, the feather needs to stay where you found it, becoming the perfect time to take a photo of it.

It is unlawful to hunt, capture, kill or sell any part of a migratory bird without a permit. If a bird flies from one state to another or one country to another, it is a migratory bird. Some feathers symbolize deep spiritual meaning across many cultures. Native American Indians do obtain permits for certain feathers for their use through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For those of us who are amateur naturalists, it can feel disheartening in not being able to keep the discovered feather. But with the photo we took and the website: www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/idtool.php we can identify the feather. Because of some unscrupulous people who shoot a bird for its feathers or raid a nest for its eggs, the federal law is so strict. If you find a non-native species (ex. house sparrow or European starling) or non-migratory bird (ex. quail or turkey) feather, you can pick it up and keep it.

Some people feel a spiritual connection when feathers show up in their lives. For me, here is how I look upon a feather:

I count my blessings, am grateful and thankful. While a bird lost a feather, it is my moment to recognize, appreciate and love what I have right now in my life.

I also feel free and inspired. The bird soared wherever the wind took it. The feather on the ground reinforces my travel goals and reminds me to stay positive and creative in my thoughts and actions.

With a photo of the feather, I research, at the website mentioned above, what bird flew over the area recently and wonder if I will see it in the upcoming hours or days. I hope so as I’ll always do my part to protect our birds!

Red tail hawk feather, I think.

Looking forward to Bemidji!

My plan was to stay in Bemidji, Minnesota for 6 nights and look for loons. Day 34 of my trip started with a Weather Channel report stating beautiful weather in Bemidji, so I was on my way!

My drive from Madison, Wisconsin to Bemidji, Minnesota was 7.5 hours and then while taking some breaks for snack, stretch and lunch it was about 9 hours. Interesting change in the scenery with Minnesota being more open whereas Wisconsin seemed to be more forested. Both states have agricultural land with corn and soybean, dairy farms and beef lots. Minnesota had ponds, rivers and lakes every turn I took. How do truck drivers survive the long hours? My body feels like it needs to unfold after a couple of hours. I can understand the need for their truck plazas for food, gasoline, showers, and whatever else they offer to cater to truckers. Their job is not easy … staying awake, in shape, hydrated and fed, and having a place to pull off the road to sleep.

About 2.5 hours away from reaching my camping destination I was surprised to see a gray sky, especially after listening the the weather report. One moment there were a couple of raindrops, so I thought maybe it is a local rain. An hour away from my destination, I pulled off the 2 lane road that had no shoulder so I could take a pee stop.

Finally saw a safe place to pull off the road and I immediately realized it was smoke creating the gray in the sky. I arrived in Bemidji and had to cancel my 4 nights of camping. There was no way I could breathe the smoke for 24 hours and for a few days … so I moved my 2 hotel nights to my arrival and the next night. I was lucky to get the last room at the hotel! Apparently the smoke is from Canadian wildfires … our earth is really burning up! Forest management seems to be the topic for today, along with water management as even Minneapolis, Minnesota has put water restrictions in place.

Day 35: A full day in Bemidji! I spent hours at Diamond Point Park and saw 16 different species of birds. I also walked one mile along Lake Bemidji near the state park, but no loon seen even though I waited to look for them between 4 – 6pm. Photos of some birds are below. 

It was less smoky today, but still not good for tenters. Staying at the hotel allowed me to breathe air-conditioned air and be away from the smoke. I contemplated extending my time, but additional hotel costs are not in my budget, so another plan needs to be considered. I will definitely return to Bemidji some day. This was another area for some bicycling and I definitely need to find a loon! People in both Wisconsin and Minnesota have been friendly and helpful. I look forward to returning to both states.

Know Cranes?

I love seeing birds in the natural world; unfortunately, for whooping cranes and Siberian cranes they are close to extinction and people care about their future. I visited a facility at the International Crane Foundation where all 15 species of cranes around the world reside. Threats to cranes around the world are climate change, habitat loss, poaching and illegal trade. 

I remember my visit to Bhutan and learning the black-necked cranes are revered in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Each November there is a celebration when the cranes arrive. It would be wonderful if more of us felt the same way when cranes arrive. I do know in southeast Arizona many of us do welcome sandhill cranes when they arrive.

There is no way I can identify every crane I saw today, so this blog will have photos I took while at the International Crane Foundation. The birds had plenty of area to walk around within their enclosure of grasses, wetland and a building to walk within. Fences kept visitors away from the birds, but the viewing platforms were well done so it was easy to see the birds. There are a few hiking trails around a small pond, into the woods, and onto the prairie. Plenty to do and a nice picnic area so bring a lunch. This place is worth a visit if you are in the area. Now for the cranes:

Visiting Lake Kegonsa State Park, WI

Click, click … click, click, click … I recognize the sound and continue to hear it numerous times, so I look from my tent site to my neighbor’s site. He is priming a Coleman stove and unfortunately cannot get the burner lit. That can be the start to a bad day … one needs to have at least one hot cup of coffee! I yell over, “Need a match?” His head nods affirmatively and I walk over with matches and lighter. 

My neighbor is here with family and friends, scattered at various sites at this campground, for a memorial service. He told me this yesterday. The person died a year ago from Covid-19 and they are all here to have that memorial service.

While helping to get his stove working his little boy shyly waves to me and talks about water balloons. Thankfully his father translates his words for me to understand he is talking about water balloons. His daughter was still in the tent. Only then did it dawn on me there was no other adult in the group. I never asked who died and now wondered if the memorial service is for his partner. I will never know. The pot with water has a hot blue flame under it soon to be ready for coffee! I wished them a good day!

I left the campground to hike and bird watch at Lake Kegonsa State Park about a half hour drive away. The entrance fee at Wisconsin state parks is based on your license plate. Driver of a Wisconsin plate pays a $9 daily fee, non-resident pays $11. I walked almost all their trails with various cameras depending on what I thought I might see and photograph. I saw numerous birds, butterflies, wildflowers, squirrels, frogs and other people camping, jogging and walking the trails too. No swimming in the lake due to a blue – algae bloom … actually people could not even wade or touch the lake water! Park signs warn of toxins causing harm to humans and pets entering the lake water, such as skin irritations and other effects.

While I walked one trail I saw a woman arrive to the lake’s shoreline by kayak. She hopped out of her kayak into the water to do something and then hopped back in. I wondered if there are other areas of the lake with the same algal bloom concern or if it just is in the park’s swimming area. I don’t know enough about blooms.

On the White Oak Nature Trail there were 2 locations with signs noting “Indian Mounds”. Wisconsin, once the center of a prehistoric culture called “Woodland”, has the largest number of mounds built of any state in the nation and preserved on public and private lands. Much study can go into the how and why of Indian Mounds, especially since some have been here since 5,000 years ago!

Of the many birds I saw there were only 2 new birds for my life list: Eastern wood-pewee and ruby-throated hummingbird. Here are some photos from today:

Day 28: Schlitz Audubon Center & Lynden Sculpture Garden, Wisconsin

The first place I wanted to visit in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, just north of the city, was Schlitz Audubon Center. They have numerous trails for all abilities, including physically handicapped. Informative, educational programs for children of all ages and resources within their facility to entice everyone to be more aware of the environment and wildlife! I thought their paper towel challenge of only using one towel was great too!

I spent time wondering around the ponds and walking the trails to see the butterflies, wildflowers and birds. I saw 17 different species of birds, four are new to my life list: red-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, Eastern bluebird and red-bellied woodpecker … don’t believe it’s name, it is not red-bellied! You should also walk the trail overlooking Lake Michigan or go right down to the shoreline! People were walking along the beach. I spent hours at the center, loved it, and would recommend all to visit it.

Photos taken at the Schlitz Audubon Center are below and then I went to the Lynden Sculpture Garden where you can walk around the garden’s grounds as you wish and see the sculptures. Photos from there are included here too! Quite an enjoyable day despite the gray skies, but no rain!

Photos from Lynden Sculpture Garden, a short drive west of Schlitz Audubon Center.

Young Birds Are Hard to Identify!

Yes, young birds are a challenge for me to identify, along with not having a sharp view of them adds to the challenge. I watched 2 young barn owls, I believe, or are they young great horned owls, on a sandstone ledge in Arizona. See what you think and let me know! Since they could not take off in flight it seems they are less than 2 months old. Fascinating!

Who’s Chirping This Morning?

Here’s how it is in the desert. As we ready for sleep, windows are opened wide to allow the cool night air into our house. When we awake in the morning, we’ll be closing the windows before the heat of day flows in. It’s our usual routine as the summer season approaches; then air-conditioning will be on and we will not hear the birds at night or in the morning so easily.

BirdNET is a great app to help me identify birds via their calls or songs. I am a visual learner finding difficulty with audio learning so the app has helped me identify the night owl or the morning finch that may be calling. I may not see bird, but I hear its call and this app is another tool for me to use to identify a bird. But who’s chirping this morning?

Suddenly I realize the 3 piercing chirps that startled me awake this morning are sounds from a smoke alarm! There is nothing enjoyable about those chirps and I guess that’s the point! How can the chirps be from the same detector that chirped a month ago? How can it be after replacing batteries in all six detectors, a month ago, that we have any alarm chirping, let alone the same one again!

I don’t know if you have spent time really looking at smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, but I recently discovered new things. I don’t mind learning new things but do mind the chirping so it was the motivating factor to get this issue resolved. 

In the old days, I put up smoke detectors that were battery-powered. A separate carbon monoxide detector would be installed that was also battery-powered. Nowadays I discover alarms can be just a smoke detector or smoke and carbon monoxide detector in one unit. Plus detectors can be hard-wired with battery back-up. Gone are the days I can rid myself of the chirp and job responsibility within hours!

Locating an electrician or handyman was our first challenge. Friends, neighbors, anyone know someone who wants to stand on a ladder, stretch and screw around a ceiling item, and work with electricity? Thankfully no cathedral-height ceilings here … potential worker is glad to hear our ceilings are normal height; his service is scheduled! Buying the correct replacement for each type of detector was my next challenge. I almost goofed, but fortunately I checked with our builder’s customer service person to know each of our detectors are hard-wired; an important detail when selecting replacements. Do you know how many choices there are in the world of alarms? Thanks to ACE Hardware employees I have 2 smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and 4 smoke detectors all with hard-wired adapter. I hope they are easiest for our handyman to snap these replacements in and will not need to go shopping for anything else!

The birds are chirping and my smoke/carbon monoxide alarms are not; life is good! But don’t forget to replace the back-up batteries once a year as recommended. Thanks to our local firemen they come to our home, we provide the batteries and they climb the ladder to put a new battery in each alarm. Love their service! Stay safe everyone!