Once again, musical accompaniment may be found here.
Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on Gods celestial shore
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
Since this blog has taken a turn toward animals lately (both dead and alive), we’ll stay on theme with a post or two on Sand Cranes. These are large migratory birds that converge by the thousands on the same field in Indiana every fall and spring. Until this weekend, I had no idea such a sight was to be had within ninety minutes’ drive of Chicago. When a friend suggested taking a trip to see them, the Idiot Photographer and I jumped at the chance. After all, road trips are always fun, and we needed some photo opportunities since the urbex has been in a little lull of late. So 6AM this past Sunday found us on the road, trying to get to the wildlife preserve shortly after dawn when these birds would be most active.
Some quick lessons learned: the lenses optimal for shooting decaying buildings are not so hot when it comes to capturing birds in flight. I had thought my 250mm lens was quite the zoom; it was neither “zoomy” or fast enough to get the kind of shots I was hoping for. Live and learn. I will post a few more shots tomorrow, including a couple of the cranes’ famous mating dance.
Two shots of birds from last weekend’s trip to the Brookfield Zoo. First, the instantly recognizable Greater Delta Mardi Gras Bird. (Bourbonaisse Plumarius)
And a portrait of the handsome Tufted Blue Gargler (Indigo Emesis)
Sometimes you have stand in the danger zone to get the photo you want.
Hello down there!
Sometimes we know what we want, and see where we want to go, but know not how to accomplish either.
One of my favorite birds in the Lincoln Park Zoo’s aviary are the Inca Terns. Every time I am there I try to capture what it is that delights me so much about them, today I offer you a brief study of these charming and silly birds.
Well, given that this is a zoo bird he is a little more pink than red or scarlet. Like flamingos they get the red coloring from the crustaceans they eat so zoo birds tend to be a little less brightly colored than their wild counterparts.
The color comes about because they digest the shells, the chemical that turns your lobster bright red when you cook it is the same one that accounts for the coloring of ibis and flamingos. It travels through the body and gets deposited in the feathers as they grow, so the pigmentation is not from a dye process like some might assume.
Interestingly enough there is a similar process in humans that has been fairly well documented. There are people who drink a liquid solution of colloidal silver thinking that it will help prevent infections (pro-tip, it doesn’t), too much taken over your life span will result in gray-blue skin, it is a condition called argyria and this article explains the process. People are weird.
It is common knowledge that Australia has a wide ranging selection of venomous critters who can cause death in many nasty ways. In this case we’re going to take a look at a bird who is equipped with a spur on its wing that many believed was venomous (because what animal in Australia isn’t?) but has been proven to not be. It is, however, a pretty funny looking bird in a land of beautiful birds.
Meet the Masked Lapwing. They are a common bird found all over wetland areas, with heaviest population in Queensland, Northern Territories and New South Wales
It is reported that this wetland dwelling insect eater is shy, but my contacts in the Land Down Under report that during breeding season it is a fierce defender of its nest and chicks to the point of driving off cats and small dogs with a barrage of attacks using that wing spur I mentioned. It will try the “I’m injured over here” game to lure a predator away from its nest, but if that predator goes closer all bets are off and the lapwing will attack.
If they were a little more discriminating about where they nest this might not be such a terrible thing but from what I gather they will nest pretty much anywhere, including along sidewalks and in parking lots. This had lead to a slight decline in populations in urban areas where outdoor cats are more common and predation of the chicks happens a little more frequently. However overall they’re still pretty common, and about as silly looking as a bird can get. Why did nature decide this bird needed a yellow robber’s mask? I’m afraid to know.
Flamingos, are ridiculously colored, fluffy featherballs with stick legs and an angry looking curved beak, they remind me of those ladies who wish they were high society and make every attempt to give the appearance of it, but they aren’t. I suspect this is why hideous plastic versions of this creature adorn the yards of people who think tacky plastic lawn ornaments are classy and will make the place look spiffy.
Unlike the common depiction of flamingos, they are loud, quarrelsome and ungainly critters. Which makes watching one bathe extra funny.
Then you get that magical moment when all dignity is utterly abandoned and one falls over on its side.
I’ll be gracious here and mention that most creatures tend to squabble on a regular basis, especially when they are in large social groups that have nothing to do with how much the individuals actually like one another. I will point you to the corporate office dwelling sub-species of Homo sapiens as proof of that. With that said, flamingos are masters of being argumentative. Here we have a three way argument between birds that were all initially upset at other birds that were not even involved in this rather loud argument. Let me set it up for you:
Nesting flamingo was actually mad at one of the birds behind her for stepping too close to the nest. That bird retreated immediately but nesting was feeling cranky so she bit the foot of the next closest bird (on the left) who was squabbling with another bird outside of the shot. He turned around and yelled at the nearest standing bird (on the right) all while nesting bird yelled at both of them.
Conclusion: Flamingos are jerks.
Meet the Crested Wood Partridge, also known as a Roul-roul. He is the punk rocker of the partridge family, and you should see him dance!
The hammerkop is an African wading bird, one of its most notable traits after its hammer like head (hence the name) is that it is an obsessive-compulsive nest builder. A pair of hammerkops will often build 3 to 5 nests a year, even if they are not breeding.
You might think that isn’t a big deal, it isn’t like bird nests are that complicated. If that is what you’re thinking then you’ve never seen a hammerkop’s nest. They are massive, sometimes approaching 5 feet across, have dense walls and a domed roof that they decorate with bright objects and sometimes other birds (such as weaver birds) will attach their nests to the exteriors. The nest itself is so strong it can support the weight of grown human, all this for a pair of birds that combined weigh about 2 pounds.
Why can’t all pigeons be this pretty?
One of nature’s greatest jokes.
Before Illinois was hit with the spring monsoon that put every waterway into the highest flood stages seen in a very long time, Tabula Rasa and I found ourselves sitting on the banks of the Fox River, mesmerized by the flock of tree swallows dancing over the surface.
It wasn’t a great day for attempting to take photos of very small, fast moving, twitchy birds. The heavy rain clouds over head only dropped a little drizzle on us, but it sure did take away the light.
These birds are fast, and it took me a few minutes to get used to their pattern of flight. In the end I think I walked away with a couple of decent shots, considering I only had my wide angle zoom lens with me. I had not anticipated attempting a bird photo shoot on this trip.
It would seem that spring is indeed actually here, the crocus do not lie.
Already we’ve spotted a few brave mallards who have returned to claim the best nesting spots in the area.
In some cases, they are still looking for their lady loves, so band together in little bachelor groups.
The geese never leave, they are shocked, shocked I say! At the new arrivals.
We’ve had a bit of a weird summer so far this far, it was warm, then hot, then cold, then hot again, so the birds are all a little off on their breeding cycles. Thus we’re seeing baby birds all over the place at the end of June.
Most of the time when I see a baby bird on the ground it is a fledgling learning to fly and I can admire it and walk away, but this little guy was not fully fledged and needed a helping hand returning to his nest, 30 feet up a tree.
Honestly, who can resist such a grumpy little face? Once I established this robin was too young to try flying (didn’t have all his feathers yet, heck, he was half nekkid!) I tried setting him back up in his tree in the hopes he could hop from branch to branch and get home. No such luck. Poor kid couldn’t even hop an inch, much less flutter. Down he came again, twice.
The second crash landing from his rescue attempt resulted in an injury and I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to take care of him until I could find a birdie rescue group to rehabilitate him.
After a couple of days of toting him all over Chicago (seriously, he rode something like 5 different bus lines and 2 train lines in the course of 3 days with me) I found Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, they cheerfully took him in (for no fee!) and expressed confidence that he would survive his injury and be released into the wild. Since they get so many robins he will even get to be raised with a group around his age! This is important, since birds are pretty social animals for the most part.
I strongly recommend Flint Creek to anyone in the Greater Chicago Land Area who finds a wild critter in need and doesn’t know what to do with it. They will talk you the process step by step, and even have handy dandy flow charts on their site on how to approach different situations with wild animals. I’d also like to request that if anyone has a couple extra dollars to toss it their way since they are run totally on charitable donations.
Flint Creek has promised me they will let me know how things go with the little guy and if/when he is released back into the wild, I’ll update when I hear from them.
After wandering the Montrose Bird Sanctuary for 2 hours and only being teased by the lovely song of the American Goldfinch (you can listen here) I was starting to wonder if I would ever see one. It is like a camera is a magical bird-you-want-to-see repelling device.
Then Lo! Behold! A flicker of yellow out the corner of my eye. I see something dart by across the meadow into the copse of trees next to me. Could it be? Indeed I hear a Goldfinch break into song very close to me so I freeze (thankfully I was already holding my camera close to my face since silly me left the tripod at home.) A moment later a bright yellow dart zipped out of the trees to perch about 20 feet away on a brush branch right on the edge of the meadow. I was so struck by his beauty for a moment all I could was stand there with a silly grin on my face and enjoy his bright, cheerful song.
Then I realized, he was facing away from me.
But I will not be denied! I crept a little closer, making sure that I didn’t face him directly but only watching him out of the corner of my eye.
He let loose another barrage of song, and I clicked away with abandon.
Then he noticed me….
“Hey lady, whatcha doin’?”
He kindly gave me another couple of rounds of song…..
And yet another saucy (even if slightly-out-of-focus) look.
And then he was gone with a quick flitter of wings.
I was so very, stupidly happy. Not that they are rare or uncommon birds, but they can be hard to spot given their tiny stature and quick movements. As a child they were among the first birds I learned to identify and I have always adored their song.
I spent another hour just wandering the area to see what other sights it has to offer and was not disappointed, but I felt I was more or less done for the day. More and more birders and photographers were pouring into what is already a small area causing my people-phobia to kick in and I had not only spotted but photographed my target for the day. Happy and somewhat tired I trudged back to the bus stop for my hour long ride home, all the while planning my next trip.
So I think that I may have come to terms with the fact the I might indeed be a photographer of grackles, when it comes to the bird world. Yet I still wanted to catch a picture of a goldfinch and thus spent yet another hour or so wandering around Montrose Bird Sanctuary attempting to follow the Song of the Finch.
Oh yes, that is right, I could hear at least two Goldfinch singing, but couldn’t spot the little buggers to save my life. After getting an awesome shot of a male cardinal with his face totally obscured by a tree branch I started feeling a little desperate. I changed locations and parked my self in the shade of a little copse near an open field and decided that what ever may come, I WILL photograph it.
Then my favorite bird, a red winged black bird, showed up. Glee!
You know he wasn’t going to make it easy on me though.
Oh yeah, that is right! Keep that head turned away from my camera. Work it birdie!
Yes, full all out mating display, while hiding behind a branch! This little guy really knows how to make a photographer cry.
Bird, now you’re just being coy and messing with my head, aren’t you? GAH! But at least he is showing off his pretty red epaulets for me. Actually, I kind of like this shot, it is like he has a secret and is gloating over it (though really he just has an itch).
Finally he turned to face me!
Just as the light shifted of course. AHhhHhHHHhhhhHHHH!!!!!!! BIRDS!
– To Be Continued
You may wonder what the effect on my poor, already broken psyche all this being mocked by animals who have no comprehension that they are mocking me may be having. I want to do it again. This time, I want to go and catch the sun rise with the little beasties.