Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Photographer Michael Thompson spent about five hours Saturday watching for opportunities to photograph the Snowy Owl that has been seen for several days near the intersection of U.S. Highway 10 and 147th Avenue in Ramsey (which is about 10 miles east of Elk River). His cold fingers were rewarded with many excellent shots of the bird. These two show it approaching its landing point atop an evergreen tree at the edge of a public street. Thompson, shown in the third photo as he watched the owl, kindly agreed to share them.
There have been some problems with photographers and a Snowy Owl in Dakota County. Those particular photographers have been trespassing, and approaching the owl close enough to flush it. One day last week someone was seen tossing live mice to the bird as photographers waited for a" hunting" shot. (How happy or proud can you be of a photo that was faked?). All of this is photographic and birding behavior at its worst. Birds never should be disturbed. And feeding an owl is unethical, habituating the bird to humans, which can only lead to problems.
The photographers at Ramsey, and there were five in addition to Thompson, kept their distance from the owl, waiting for it to give them photo opportunities. All were working with telephoto lenses. The bird was allowed to behave in a natural manner. Excellent photos obviously were available without cost to the bird. And Mr. Thompson obviously was equipped to wait as long as was necessary.
If you use recordings of bird calls on your iPhone or iPad or other such devices you're probably not getting the volume you might want. I'm not, not even when plugging in my old clam-shell speaker, small and handy, but lacking carrying power. Take a look at some new speakers highly recommended by David Pogue, the New York Times tech guy. Go to http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com,"Terrific Sound in a Tiny Package."
A. Birds can hear well.
B. Many single-lens reflex digital cameras make a loud sound (noise) immediately after the shutter release is pushed.
C. See photos below.
The cardinal, a female, was sitting on a feeder post on our deck before prior to snow seed foraging. I was inside, a double pane of glass between us, like 10 feet. I took four or five photos, bird on the post, bird with seed. On shot number six the bird became very alert, crest upright, eyes snapped toward me. You can see what happened as I took photo seven.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Hardly. I should have kept all the before/after pairs of photos. Before the bird heard the camera, looking at whatever kept its attention. After the bird heard me, saw me, and left me.
You probably know this: Single-lens reflex 35mm cameras allow you, the photographer, to see your subject with a mirror placed just behind the lens. The mirror shows you what the lens sees. When you press the shutter release, the mirror snaps up, allowing light to reach the digital sensor (i.e. film). And then the mirror returns to position with, in my case, a loud and annoying clack.
I work with a newer model Nikon digital camera that I considered expensive when I bought it. I knew about the clack. I was unwilling to spend twice as much or more for a high-high-end model that made far less noise. You’d think that camera manufacturers could find an inexpensive way to solve this problem.
Some birds either don’t hear the noise or don’t mind. This cardinal heard and cared. I was impressed. Small benefit: I really do like that snapped-to crest.
This cat came out of the swamp behind our house Monday morning, spending much of the day below our yard-based bird-feeding rig. I chased it back into the brush twice, but the cat came back. I think it's a feral animal. I've not see it around here before. It's gone feral or its owner lets it outside, a bad idea. Cats kill birds and other small animals. They also get eaten by coyotes and hit by cars. It's best for everyone if cats stay indoors. For a very graphic depiction of the damage cats do, take a look at what I found to be an entertaining and novel way of making the point. The address is http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill
While in California over the holidays we came upon a woman who feeds 47 feral cats. I was polite, though doubtful when she said she fed her wards so well that they did not hunt. She told us the cats wander in to join the herd. She takes each newcomer, she said, to the vet for vacinations and neutering. That's a necessity if one is to feed feral cats, but hardly a solution for the killing they instinctively do, full tummies or not. All cats belong indoors. Having 47 indoors, however, is likely to get you in the newspaper sooner or later.
Here's the animal that has been pestering us.
Common Redpolls, one of the northern finch species making major appearance in Minnesota this winter, are being seen throughout the metro area. They've been seen north of us since late fall, but not this far south in the numbers people have been reporting in the past two or three days. They arrived in our yard Monday, and continued to flock to our feeders Tuesday. We probably had two dozen redpolls on and off from dawn to late afternoon. They were eating black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower chips, and niger thistle seed. Keep an eye on your feeders. Redpolls are cool little birds, emphasis on little. They're a bit smaller than American Goldfinches. The redpoll below was perched on our deck railing, waiting its turn at our new feeder.
We've setup a new feeder on our deck, a three-tube squirrel-proof (so they say) rig we bought at Ace Hardware in Maple Plain. Once the animal is in eating position, the squirrel's weight slides feeder ports closed. Stout wire mesh hopefully will prevent gnawing damage. We've not had a squirrel-proof feeder before because, frankly, I didn't want to pay as much as they cost. This one, however, was $19.95, a price that would be very good without the squirrel feature. In fact, it was a ridiculously low price. We bought two, one as a gift. We bought 50 pounds of black oil seed while we were there, also for $19.95, the lowest price we've paid in years. So, we bought two of those as well, one as a gift.
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