Backyard birds and ice crystals

I got a little behind again, so here are a couple of weeks worth of back yard and local pictures.

Backyard birds

OK, the first one isn’t a bird, but it doesn’t seem to care. Many of our gray squirrels are black, but this one even seems to have a tinge of red in it.

Black squirrrel
Black squirrel

These are the genuine article, blue jays.

Blue Jays
Blue Jay in flight

There was a strong south wind when I took the next one, enough to ruffle its crest feathers.

Blue jay
Blue jay

It has lots of friends.

Blue jays
Blue jays

These shots are of birds in the thorn bush in our back garden. It is related to the English hawthorn, but has much longer thorns. The flowers are similarly scented and the haws are quite similar too. The end twigs are red for their first year, but the cardinal’s feathers are still not camouflaged.

Male Cardinal
Male Cardinal

Below is another pair of red birds, the rosy finches.

Rosy finches
Rosy finches

The next bird in flight is a dark-eyed junco.

Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

The chickadee below has literally gone ballistic, with wings folded for a second.

Ballistic chickadee
Ballistic chickadee

The turkeys below only fly when alarmed or when they want to get up into a tree that has berries. It takes them a fair bit of energy to get to tree-top level. In this visit, they stayed on the ground. They were mostly hidden behind a bush from my perspective so just a couple of pictures of this handsome male.

Turkey 1
Turkey 1

Check out the stylish beard.

Turkey 2
Turkey, showing beard

Next is a downy woodpecker, taken when the north wind was strong and cold (-14ºC) so it sheltered on the south side of the tree and fluffed up its feathers.

Downy woodpecker
Downy woodpecker

Ice Crystals

Here are a few shots of ice crystals on top of the snow. They are about 1 cm (½”) across.

Ice crystals-1
Ice crystals-1

The next one is deliberately just out of focus to show the colours refracted off the surface (which is white snow – underexposed) so you can see the colours as I saw them through watery eyes (from cold wind). It was even better when they sparkled as I moved.

Ice crystals-2
Ice crystals-2

The next one is on a piece of coloured paper, to get a bit more contrast than the white snow background. The shadow shows the shape well, too.

Ice crystals-3
Ice crystals-3
Ice crystals-4
Ice crystals-4

The next one is a few crystals on top of the seed head of Queen Anne’s lace, which are just as pretty as any diamonds the Queen may have had in her tiara.

Queen Anne's Lace and Tiara
Queen Anne’s Lace and Tiara

Finally, ice in non-crystalline format, as our roof caught a little sun.

Icicles
Icicles

Blue Jays and Chickadees

Today was dark and cooler so not great for photography, but here is a Chickadee and a Blue Jay.

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue Jay
Blue Jay

These are both year-round denizens of our garden. Both are omnivorous. The jays eat other vertebrates but we still seem to have no shortage of birds, frogs and the like, so we still enjoy their visits.  We grow a lot of sunflowers (and the birds ‘plant‘ quite a lot of seeds themselves that I often leave to grow in random places) so that gives them something else to feed on.

On the other hand we don’t like neighbourhood cats eating the birds and other small animals. This one is particularly well disguised. Once I spotted it, I asked it to leave and not return. I suspect it will.

Notice the milkweed seed pods in the middle. I’m ever hopeful that the monarch butterflies will return.

Neighbourhood Cat
Neighbourhood Cat

Feathers

A few bird pictures from yesterday and today.

The red-winged blackbird has again refused to fly straight toward me when I have a camera to hand.  One of these days, I will get the shot I’ve been aiming for while in flight towards the light.  Meanwhile, here he is telling his rivals to stay away, by flaring the red patches on his wings and screeching.  Not very effective as there are at least three with nests in the reeds down the hill and they share my garden with mild mutual hostility.

Blackbird flares wings
Blackbird flares wings

I already posted the next one on Facebook/Twitter, but here it is for those who just follow this blog (including the print edition), along with two more bonus pictures.  This was a day and night with a bitter cold north wind, that was ruffling its feathers, with different effect depending which way it was facing. I find the variety of types of feather fascinating, especially if you think of how the development systems produce all that variation.

Blue jay with crown
Blue jay with crown
Bluejay slicked back
Blue jay slicked back
Windswept bluejay
Windswept blue jay

We also have orioles around, both Baltimore and Garden.  Here is the female Baltimore, preening and just sitting in the dogwood.

Female baltimore oriole, preening
Female baltimore oriole, preening
Female baltimore oriole
Female baltimore oriole

Birds in flight

I decided to practice shooting birds in flight (camera, not gun).  Here are some of those practice shots.  We can see later if I learned anything other than “must be more patient”.  All these were shot at 1/1,000th of a second.

I am always fascinated by the degree of control by these birds.  Obviously there is a lot of independent control of parts of flight surfaces and landing gear in order to perform all these aerobatics.  It’s very far from just flapping up and down.

This blue jay is not being chased by robo-heron, just a trick of perspective.

Blue Jay
Blue Jay

The next two are the same chickadee, taken about 1/40th second apart, as it lands on the peanut feeder.

Chickadee 1
Chickadee 1
Chickadee 2
Chickadee 2

The lesson from those two, which are blurred from being magnified, is to be more patient.  Zoom in on a smaller spot and wait, rather than wider angle in the hopes of catching more in a shorter wait time.

Next are a pair of chickadees showing off their bush skills.  They don’t seem at all troubled at the challenge of zooming around in a dogwood bush in spite of the very limited clearance between branches.

Chickadees in dogwood
Chickadees in dogwood
Chickadees in dogwood 2
Chickadees in dogwood 2

Next are three shots of the same nuthatch, landing on a twig, from which the peanut feeder is suspended.

Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Nuthatch 2
Nuthatch 2
Nuthatch 3
Nuthatch 3

The birds don’t fight, but it is generally understood that when a bigger bird arrives, the smaller one leaves.

Nuthatch displaces chickadee
Nuthatch displaces chickadee
Woodpecker displaces nuthatch
Woodpecker displaces nuthatch

Finally, something I didn’t see startled a mixed flock of ground-feeding birds.  I’m not sure if the one junco that stayed put is going to win out by getting more food, or lose if the hawk catches it.

Juncos and sparrows
Juncos and sparrows

Practising photography on local birds

Bird photography with simple camera is harder than with a complex one

I got a new point-and-shoot camera when my old one died.  It has 34× optical zoom so thinking of taking it on holiday where I’m hoping to see a lot of migrating birds, instead of taking much heavier equipment.  However, it takes a lot of blurry photos at high zoom because of

  • being too automatic; I can’t set the shutter speed.
  • not having viewfinder; have to use the screen to compose.  Which means I’m holding it out instead of pressed to eye, so less support for the camera and more shake.

So I’ve been practising to see if I can get some OK pictures.  One advantage of the dull, grey weather is that if I can get it right today, it should work for most conditions I’m likely to go out in.  Here are a few shots that turned out OK, while being a wimp and shooting through porch window, since it’s a bit nippy out there and I’m too lazy to put on outdoor clothes.

Blue Jay
Blue Jay
Blue Jay 2
Blue Jay 2
Blue Jay 3
Blue Jay 3
White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

There were about twice as many blurred ones, but I seem to be getting the idea.  And, since all else was failing, I downloaded the manual and apparently I can get a faster shutter speed by manually setting the ISO rating. Why they didn’t give a way to manually set shutter directly is beyond me, since I know what shutter speed gives blur for given subject movement but I don’t know how to get the right effect by tweaking ISO.