2019-08-18: Birds – The ones that are hard to get

Everyone that enjoys watching birds and photographing them knows that there are some species that are harder than others to get images of.  I love the challenge of trying to capture that elusive clear image of a bird that tends to hide in the densest part of the treetops.

Locally, we have beautiful birds like the Western Tanager; a bird that I have only seen a handful of times, and photographed only on a rare occasion.  The incredible yellow plumage on the males makes them targets for predatory birds, so sticking to dense areas makes a lot of sense.  I admired the beautiful song of the Hermit Thrush for years before I finally saw a small brown and white bird singing, and had my first clue to discover the identity I had wondered about for so long.

While traveling, I kept up with trying to ID and photograph birds hiding in treetops and thickets.  Some were deep amongst the leafy trees foraging for fruits, some were naturally shy and trying hard to stay out of sight, and sometimes, it was just unlucky positioning of the vehicle, and having to shoot through branches and grasses, before the bird flew away.

Here are a few of my shots of some of the more challenging birds spotted on my last trip.

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I’ve had success with images of African Hoopoes in the past, but this trip, I seemed to spot them only when they were behind a bunch of branches, or as they were flying away.
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A Purple-crested Turaco.  Such a stunning bird, which I was fortunate enough to see at two different camps, but only high in the treetops, feasting on tiny fruits.  This was the best shot I managed over a couple of days trying!
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A green pigeon devouring figs.  There were so many birds in this giant tree, and I had to stand underneath to take pictures.  It was a dangerous place to be, and I nearly got pooped on more than once.
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Another glimpse of a Purple-crested Turaco.
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A green pigeon pausing from its afternoon meal.
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A white-crested helmet shrike.  Sadly, I only saw this species once, and this is the best of the images I could get.  At least you can make out the yellow, wattled eye ring.
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A chinspot batis that I spotted outside of my room at Chitwa Chitwa.  I went out on the patio and was lucky to get this shot before the bird flew deeper into the trees.
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A black-backed puffback, also spotted from the deck at Chitwa Chitwa.  The late morning and early afternoon hours between game drives are great times for bird watching from the comfort of your room 🙂
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My views of adult bateleur eagles are usually of them flying away, and not managing any shots.  This is as good as it gets, so far.  There’s always next time!
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A different hoopoe, in a different tree, but still obscured by branches.

2019-08-11: Birds in the dark

Last week, I featured hornbills for my topic of the month, and this week, it is birds in the dark.  I had started typing out birds at night, but one of the images was taken at daybreak, and I thought it best to try and be accurate 🙂

I was very fortunate to have several different owl sightings during my travels, as well as two nightjar sightings.  The nightjars were by far the easiest to photograph, as they tend to lay in the road after dark, and if you are lucky you can drive the vehicle fairly close to them and use a spotlight.  Owls are a more challenging one, unless you are lucky enough to find them very close to the road, and not spook them when driving up.

This past trip, the first owl sighting I had was on my first evening game drive, and it was rather exciting.  I spotted this owl far away on a tree, and as we watched for a few moments, we realized it had a kill it was working on.  The terrain made it impossible to drive any closer, so I had to do the best I could with a 400mm lens and a bit of cropping; the quality isn’t fantastic, but the moment was definitely memorable.

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A Verreaux’s eagle-owl on a scrub hare kill.  Lion Sands River Lodge, May, 2019

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I had one eagle sighting while in the Timbavati, of a pearl-spotted owlet, but unfortunately by the time I got the attention of our ranger to stop, the owl was in flight and all I got was a butt shot as it flew away.  And not even a decent butt shot; it’s completely blurry and not worth sharing.  There’s always next time though 🙂

The rest of the sightings of birds in the dark all came while staying at Chitwa Chitwa with Harley as our guide.  Harley really seemed to enjoy pointing out birds, and identifying the ones that I would randomly point at (generally small raptors which I still have a terrible time identifying).

The southern white-faced owl and the spotted eagle owl were seen within about 10 minutes of each other while heading back to camp for dinner; and then the pair of Verreaux’s eagle owls were spotted the following morning as we set off from camp.

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A southern white-faced owl.  I’ve been lucky enough to see this species a couple of times before.  Chitwa Chitwa, South Africa. May, 2019.

Nightjar’s are a common bird to see on game drives at night, but a lot of times they fly away before you have a chance to capture a picture.  This past trip, I was fortunate to have two sightings of different species that I could get decent images of.

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A fiery-necked nightjar.  I would have struggled to identify this on my bird app if the song hadn’t been described as “Good lord, deliver us” which was the description our ranger Harley used when talking about them.  Chitwa Chitwa, May, 2019.
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A rufous-cheeked nightjar.  Very similar to the fiery-necked nightjar from beak to wing, but this one has white patches on the end two tail feathers (thank you, Roberts Bird app!)
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A spotted eagle-owl.
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A group of Verreaux’s eagle-owls, spotted early morning on a drive at Chitwa Chitwa.  There were actually 3 in this group, but I couldn’t fit them all into one frame as one was in another tree, hidden behind the trunk until it took off.

I hope you enjoy my selections for the week.  Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead!

2019-08-04: Hornbills

As mentioned last week, I am going to focus on birds for my Sunday posts during the month of August.  I had some really interesting bird sightings during my recent travels, and I am looking forward to editing and sharing some of the moments.

I decided to start off with hornbills; the only reason being that a hornbill was the first bird image I took when I got to the bush, so it seemed a logical enough place to start.  I posted a few hornbill images back in June as a wordless Wednesday post; you can find those here.

During my travels, I saw 5 different species of hornbill, including several sightings on two different properties of the endangered southern ground hornbill.  Our rangers shared some fascinating information about these birds; the southern ground hornbill has helpers to raise their chick; these baby-sitters put in several years of assistance duties before they take on the responsibility of mating themselves.

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A family group of 3 southern ground hornbills foraging in the early morning near Lion Sands River Lodge.  South Africa, May 2019.
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This hornbill was also in a group of 3, seen while staying at Kings Camp in the Timbavati.  The group were spread over over several different trees and fallen branches.  May, 2019.

More common to see while out on game drives and the red and yellow billed hornbills (or banana head and chill pepper as they seem to be called quite often :))  Our rangers also explained some interesting facts about the breeding habits of the hornbills; I am not 100% certain if this applies to all the African hornbill species, but during breeding, the female will lay eggs into a tree hollow, and then allow herself to be sealed up inside the tree cavity with only a small opening to allow the male to pass food in to her and the chicks once they hatch.  The female removes all her flight feathers during this time and allows them to regrow while nesting, and as such she is completely reliant on her mate for her survival, as well as the survival of their offspring.  Such trust!

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A red-billed hornbill showing off some serious flexibility.  I’m pretty sure there are yoga poses that look like this 🙂
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A yellow-billed hornbill perched against the clear blue sky.
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A pair of red-billed hornbills spotted at sunset.

These last two hornbills are less common (at least for me) to see while out in the bush.  I’ve seen the grey hornbill and crowned hornbill each on only one other occasion.  Both of these were spotted while out on game drives from Lion Sands River Lodge.

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A grey hornbill perched in the tree tops.  Lion Sands River Lodge, May 2019.
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A crowned hornbill giving us a backwards glance.

2019-03-03: Topic of the month – Signs of Spring

This week I have really been trying to look for signs of spring.  Honest, I have.  But waking up today, the temperature was -29C with a high of -12C for the day, and it really does feel like spring is far away.  I have noticed a few things though.  I can see about a 6″ band of shingles on the roof of my house, from the days when it has been warm enough for a bit of melt to happen.  I noticed one lone willow tree, buried in about 4 feet of snow drift at the side of the road, starting to bud (despite the cold in was enveloped in).  But mostly, I have noticed the trees.

It has been stark white for a very long time in my back yard, and over the past two weeks, between the strong winds and the the (slightly) warming days, the evergreens have shed the huge cloaks of snow from their branches.  There are still bits of snow tucked into the crook of branches here and there, but finally when I look out my windows, I see a bit of green, rather than just white.

Pictures of bare branches in my backyard seemed a bit boring, but frankly, getting all bundled up to do a photo walk this weekend also didn’t hold much appeal.  So I went out for a short time to photograph some of the birds feasting on the sunflower seeds.  Today, only the chickadees were around, though usually there is a pair of red-breasted nuthatches plus the woodpeckers that pass through.  The chickadees made a steady stream from branch to feeder and back again; I couldn’t count them all as they were constantly coming in from every direction.

As a bird lover, one of the sad parts about the temperature warming is soon the birds will have to fend for themselves, once it warms enough for there to be a threat of bears visiting the feeders.  I think we have a ways to go before that is an issue though.

Here are a few chickadees for today; fingers crossed next weekend there are more signs of spring around.

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I saw this on one of the evergreens by the bird feeders; to me, it looks like the tree is giving the cold weather the middle finger.  But that’s just my interpretation.  To some, just an odd icicle that’s grown upwards, instead of down. 
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One of the many inquisitive chickadees in the yard.  They generally do not mind me being close by, and will even come to the feeder while I am standing there trying to fill it up.
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I can’t even explain how excited I am to see green.
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This one had been picking up a fallen seed from the ground; just a little leftover snow on the beak.

2019-02-03: Roadrunner

I’ve skipped the January Month in Review post, because my posts were so infrequent and inconsistent, there doesn’t seem much point in trying to recap so little.  A friend posted a meme the other day that seems a bit fitting ” January was a tough year, but we got through it”.  We’re on to a new month now, and while I haven’t yet picked a theme for the month, I am going to get back to that as I enjoy the focus for a weekly post.  Based on the current weather and forecast to come though, it probably won’t involve being outside shooting.  It was too cold this morning to even get the dog out for a decent walk.  And I’m not even in the midst of the polar vortex!

It felt like a good time to go through some of my photos from southern California, and today I focused on the roadrunner.  These quirky birds were all around the golf course I stayed at in October, though they proved to be a bit shy when I got the camera out.  With some patience though, I managed to capture a few images.  I feel like these images should be accompanied by comments about Acme products and Wile E Coyote, but I’m coming up with nothing, so let’s get to the photos instead. 🙂

Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead.

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2018-12-30: Backyard Birds

I must apologize for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks.  I hadn’t intended on taking any time off the blog in the run-up to Christmas, but time just got away from me.

Christmas Day saw a very unusual visitor to the bird feeder – a Blue Jay.  To those on the east coast I’m sure that doesn’t sound very exciting; but they are considered rare in my area, and I’ve not seen one since I was a kid growing up in Ontario, so I was thrilled.  The jay was very skittish though and while I have seen it a few times over the past couple of days, they are usually blink and you’ll miss it moments.  All I have to show for it are some fuzzy shots through my office window, but at least I have proof that it was here.

We’ve had a fair bit of snow the last few days, and it’s been very busy at the feeders; chickadees and nuthatches, flickers, downy and hairy woodpeckers, gray jays and even a visit from the magpies that I generally only see a couple streets over from where I live.  The ruffed grouse has also been around quite frequently.  I’ve been battling a bug with a nasty cough so I haven’t been outside much with my camera, but I did manage to capture the magpie and the grouse.  Now that I am starting to feel better I am hoping to get out and capture more of birds in the yard, and perhaps with any luck the blue jay will make another appearance.

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2018-11-22: Barred Owl

I was busy working last week and something caught my attention outside, out the corner of my eye.  I spotted this gorgeous barred owl in a tree in my backyard, and rushed to grab my camera to take a quick photo through the window.

I decided to take a chance and dash outside and hope to get a better shot.  The owl gave me a quick glance, let me snap 3 photos, and then was off, deep into the forest.

I love when beautiful creatures like this decide to make a stop in my yard 🙂

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