Friday, April 30, 2010


Canada Violet

I have said this before, but the "anticipation" of a favorite event is almost intoxicating. That pretty much describes the wait for my favorite photography subjects... the wood warblers.

2009 shot of the Black & White Warbler... chosen for the inside back cover of the "Loon", a MOU magazine.

There is some truth to the old adage I recall as a kid, "A watched pot never boils". I find I am better served, if I use the approach of enjoying what nature serves up each day.

The Lapland Longspur is one of the first migrants that proceeds the warblers. It is a stunning little bird, that is on it's way to the breeding grounds of the high arctic. It makes a relatively short stay here in the spring and a longer stop over in the fall. The following image is one I took April 12. It is the first time I had ever seen a male longspur in breeding plumage; thus the black auriculars. A fascinating fact, is that some flocks of these birds can reach into the "millions"... my little flock numbered in the teens.

Another bird that is prevalent here in the early spring is the Pine Siskin. This tiny, gentle bird is a finch, it is a year around resident of my area and is now in the nesting process. I saw one of the little birds carrying a bill full of feathers into the top of a spruce tree last week... I suspect the egg laying is now in progress.

The Dark-eyed Juncos arrived in large flocks this April. I did have two of them that stayed all winter in our yard. Since they are ground feeders, I threw seeds out to them each morning and evening throughout the winter. When the larger flocks of juncos arrived, they left for the breeding grounds, not far from us in Canada.

Thankfully, the Pileated Woodpecker, one of my favorite birds, is here on the ridge twelve months of the year. Big Woody is a treat. I have a pair that is now nesting in a dead white birch tree. They both took turns hollowing it out and are now sitting on eggs. Hopefully I can keep the Pine Marten out of there this year; in the spring of 2009 the marten destroyed the chicks in their nest. The first photo is dad Pileated sitting on eggs and the second is the female "communicating" with the male. You can hear their calls to each other every day, echoing throughout the forest.

Spring would not be complete without the arrival of the Brown Creeper. This little bird is a "stitch" to watch work a tree. They start from the bottom and encircle the entire tree from the bottom to the top. I don't get the "creeping" aspect of the name, to get them in focus is a trying circumstance. I have found if you get the camera focused mid way up the tree, you have a 50/50 chance of capturing this elusive bird.

One of the more beautiful spring bird songs is that of the Purple Finch. I take this bird for granted sometimes because of their numbers; we have them here year around. They nest in our area, so there are many in the forest and at our feeders. I love their sweet song and the feather glint of the male in the morning sun is spectacular.

The advent of the sparrows is the prelude to the warblers. Each spring the first sparrow arriving on the ridge is the American Tree Sparrow. This sparrow is on it's way to the far reaches of northern Canada and Alaska. They are also the last sparrow through here in the fall.

My favorite sparrow nests here on the ridge. The White-throated Sparrow is not only beautiful, but it mingles with my tame chickadees. I get to "talk" to them all spring and summer. The "talking" takes place when the territorial males are setting up residence on the ridge. I whistle the White-throated Sparrow song and the male flies in with gusto and answers my call. I have done this for many minutes a day during the breeding season. This little beauty answered my call and I got this shot of him.

If you go back to my past posts in the archives, you can see and read about my little friend "Stubby." This little White-throated Sparrow arrived in the fall of 2008 and again in the spring of 2009... and now I think she is back again. She meets me in the same area and flies to my feet and eats hulled sunflower seeds. I have no way of proving it is her each year, but I have no other White-throated Sparrow that acts like this.

The Song Sparrow has a beautiful voice and song... I can hear it echoing along the woodland edge all of April. These sparrows also nest here, so I see them all summer. I took this photo along our driveway a few days ago.

The Chipping Sparrow is the last to arrive, so I should be seeing his return any day now. I have them nesting in our yard each spring.

Arguably the longest and most beautiful song in the forest emits from one of the tiniest birds. That would be the Winter Wren; her song is lovely and long... also, she is perhaps the most difficult bird in the forest to photograph. At least for me. She also nests in our area, I hope this is the year I find her fledglings, for I missed them last year.

My previous post was on the Ruffed Grouse, but I would be remiss not to add this final composition of the "little drummer boy."

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song." Chinese Proverb

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Last year, I posted a story of "April Thunder", which chronicled a series on the drumming of the Ruffed Grouse. The drumming of the ruffed one is his amorous display during the breeding season... hopefully to attract and entice the female of the species, waiting in the wings.

Mary and dad Brett, were giving grandson Will a ride in his "Radio Flier" wagon on the 7th of April. I was home getting ready to head out into the forest, to check on any migratory newbies flying in to Cedar Ridge. They called to inform me they heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming not far from our driveway. I hustled down there and found him drumming in a thicket of spruce. Unfortunately, he was covered with spruce boughs which made it impossible to photograph him. Since this was the first drummer heard this season, I immediately started my spring search.

I headed up the ridge into my old grouse drumming country of past years. The forest is terribly dry, a lack of moisture from a basically snowless winter. The leaves and sticks crunched under my boots, creating noise akin to a small herd of buffalo. I imagined I was scaring every bird and animal in a mile radius. To my surprise, I heard a muffled thumping of wings. I guessed by the sound, the Ruffed Grouse was drumming approximately 100-150 yards away. When you first hear the drumming, the grouse sounds like it is a half mile away. In reality, they are much closer than you think. Creeping through the brush ever so slowly, I made my way to his log location. It took me at least thirty minutes to travel the hundred yard plus distance, as I stop many times to listen for the next "drum beat." There he was in his splendor, poised on his log. I stopped and waited for the next drumming routine to start... when he began, I would move as quickly as possible to get closer. Doing this a few times, I finally got close enough for a few shots that were hampered by the thick brush. Much to my dismay, he hopped off his log and disappeared into the brush.

To make a long story shorter, this event has happened to me through the years. Patience and persistence is the watchword in the forest, so I quickly departed the scene to return later. This log departure happened three days in a row. Finally on the fourth day, Mr. Grouse accepted me into his environment. I sneaked in and took a few shots with my 400 lens through the brush. I quickly realized that this was not going to work. I retooled... and clicked on my 70-200 short lens. I waited for his next drumming routine and when he started, I crawled through the brush to get closer to him.

The brush was still evident around the edges of the photos, so I sat and waited for the next drumming flourish. Finally I got as close as 6-8 feet from him. I was dressed from head to toe in summer camouflage, so he eyed me carefully. I took several photos and found that now I was totally accepted in his territory. I could do basically what I wanted to get different image angles. This went on for three days, the following shots are from that time period, I hope you enjoy them.

"The echos of the drumming Ruffed Grouse, marks the return of the migratory song birds. A season of renewal in the Boreal Forest" D. Brislance