Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cedar Waxwing

A Moment Together, a Memory Made                                      18 November 2012

Just ten years ago, my back yard was an empty, barren patch of monoculture grass.  It was a typical, hot, boring yard.  I worked hard to change that, planting white oak, red maple, tamarack, paper birch, yellow birch, river birch, red osier dogwood, winterberry holly, dogwood, white pine, white spruce, raspberry, and sugar maple.  Two walnut trees and an American elm have arrived on their own, the walnuts with thanks to the forgetful neighborhood squirrels.  Just ten years later, my birches are taller than the house, and I have two spectacular woodlots in the corners of my yard.   My yard is now a bird photography studio.   At last count, 79 species of birds had visited my yard.  Pardon the shameless pun, but my yard has really taken flight.


Today, my son discovered a waxwing in the yard.  It was wild and free, but, perhaps something it ate, it wasn't very alert.  Where I have seen tame waxwings along Lake Superior's North shore, this one was too tame.  While it appeared to be in perfect condition, it seemed disoriented and wasn't able to fly away.  Sometimes waxwings eat fermented berries, and sometimes they get a toxic dose from their food.  Perhaps this was the case. 

I photographed the little Cedar Waxwing at length, taking advantage of every moment, every perch, and every favorable ray of light.   When all was done, we thanked the bird in a most appropriate way.  I defrosted some blueberries, got them to room temperature, and we fed the waxwing! A berry is a berry, whether in the hand or on the twig.  This waxwing didn't hesitate to swallow down four big Michigan blueberries.  A little while later, it took two more. Not sure if this little bird will survive, but we are thankful to have crossed paths with it.


The Cedar Waxwing is named for its love of diminutive cedar cones as food and for the waxy "drops" that are present on the secondary flight feathers of birds in breeding condition. 

I made these images with a Canon 300mm f4, IS lens and a Canon 40D.  When planning a landscape, water feature or bird feeder with bird photography in mind, don't forget to study the light!  A landscape artist can maximize the available light and quality of light with strategic placement of feeders and strategic plantings.  Good Luck!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On the Move, November Wings!

A Sandhill Crane Sunrise                         November 4, 2012

November has arrived, and a renewed sense of urgency moves on the wings of migratory birds.  The toughest birds have lingered here, gambling on the weather, feeding up and putting on migration fat.  Others have already arrived from the boreal, and the air is alive with the mechanical twitters of redpolls. 

At 4 AM, the stars shone brightly in the sky, and clouds, few and far between, promised to allow the sunrise through to set our artwork aglow.   Bruce arrived early, and we headed north together in pursuit of opportunity, a moment or two between marks on the calendar to create, be inspired, and refresh the soul in the realm of nature photography.   The Sandhill Cranes had lingered on, and we were going to paint images with brushstrokes made up of the workings of their lives.

Closer to our landmark, a large mass of clouds lingered, changing our perception of what a morning would bring.  Think fast, adapt, and create in a new direction.   Bruce had put his technical expertise into motion and advised, "I'm going to open it up and shoot at least 2/3 stop over.  I want to pull as much out of this as possible."   I did the same.  

It wasn't pea soup light.  It wasn't a bust.  Instead, the softly filtering light broke through a window in the clouds, illuminating roosting Sandhill Cranes in a warm glow.  To our surprise, the cranes, far and wide, held on to their roosts.  They spent the sunrise stretching, dancing, and mingling.  They weren't leaving.  They weren't flying to feed.  The light was perfect, and they were sitting tight.   In the chill of the morning, we watched the "Jack Frost" patterns of ice creep further and further into the wetland, gaining nearly six feet of new skim in an hour.   The ice grew, and the birds sat.  Warm light, ice cold.

Then, as if to spite us, the sun fell behind the cloud mass and hundreds of birds roused and lifted into the air. Ha ha, very funny.  Adapt again!  We can't script nature.  It does what it does, and we witness it peacefully through the lens.   Sometimes, in the greatest sort of way, it almost seems as if nature intends to script us, a big game where we are made the fool.  

But we are crafty fools, and we know how our gadgets work.   We know where the cranes are going.  When they land, we'll be saying "Hello" again, putting the light in our favor.  The Chess game continues...

All images were made using Canon 40D and 300mm f4 IS Canon lens.  Many were also photographed from a Gitzo ball head on a Gitzo Reporter basalt tripod.  For comfort, I used a folding hunting stool, but I didn't stay seated very often!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pause to Reflect...

Trumpeter Swans                   2 November 2012

Today, with a sigh of relief, the quarter of the school year ends.  My teaching grows less stressful for a few weeks. I stand for a few moments, taking in the sights and sounds of a flock of migrant Trumpeter Swans.  My work stress lifts away on a subtle autumn chill like mist from the pond.   It all seems so small scale, so insignificant in the wake of climate change and superstorms.  There exists a great paradox in nature.  While so many have suffered the unexpected setbacks of an unprecedented hurricane, I stand in awe of a single flock of swans that nearly outnumbers the global Trumpeter Swan population of the year 1910.  Conservation moves in the right direction while environmental policies of a larger scale slide dangerously close to the brink.    We have replaced the punt guns of market hunters with a hungry and exploiting infrastructure.  While we protect the skin and flesh of our wild lands, we have begun to eat our planet from the inside. 

My kids watch the flock of swans with interest.  They are thrilled and inspired.  Shimmering reflections from a gray sky and birches shine silvery on a calm water covered in swan down.  Among the fifty unbanded adult and young swans, Wisconsin-banded birds 18P, 15P, 88U, 89K (an old friend), and 53K busy themselves in social swan talk.  Twenty-ninth Lake, Polk County Wisconsin, 2 November 2012, is a place free of worry and alive and vital in the present.  Today, that is where I chose to dwell.