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The Sparrow’s Nightmare – Haiku / Photo of the day

The Sparrow’s Nightmare

Petite feathered grace,

luminosity expressed, shrouding:

The sparrow’s nightmare

American  Kestrel - Falco sparverius

With fall migration in full swing, I noticed an influx of raptors today, with a number of Red-tailed Hawks perched on roadside telephone poles and fence posts. Accompanying them were American Kestrels in high numbers, a species that breeds here during the summer months, but can sometimes be found in very high densities during migration. Despite all my sightings of American Kestrels, I have few photos of the species. Along with the Belted Kingfisher, I can think of few birds more wary of my camera lens. For that reason, this photo is rather special for me…a brilliantly colored male American Kestrel, that uncharacteristically paused for a moment before flushing at my approach.  Just enough time to grab a few photos of one of my favorite species.  As for the poem, for decades they were called “Sparrow-hawks”, with the species thought to be most closely related to the Eurasian Sparrowhawk. It wasn’t until 1983 that the American Ornithological Society noted the much closer relationship with other North American falcons, and the species was renamed the American Kestrel.

Who says blackbirds are boring?

It’s been a busy weekend catching up on projects around the house, but I did take advantage of the cool, crisp morning to get out and bird. It wasn’t a great morning. I did come across some migrant warblers, including Canada and Black-throated Green, two I don’t see all that often, but overall it was pretty slow. One thing you do see this time of year though are mixed flocks of blackbirds gathering, and I came across several on the way home. I do sometimes stop to scan them for “goodies” like Rusty Blackbirds, but alas, no Rusty’s this morning.

However, I did stop and watch the biggest flock for a while, and grabbed the camera. Like many birders and bird photographers, I tend to take certain birds for granted, but there really are some beautiful plumage patterns on fall blackbirds here. The flock was primarily Common Grackles, but there were a number of Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and European Starlings mixed in.

By the time I got home, I considered the morning a disappointment, as I didn’t think I really got any really nice photos. Once I started downloading and processing photos, though, my attitude changed. These birds aren’t exactly the poster-child for “coveted” birds for birders (or photographers), but there are certainly some gorgeous colors and patterns on these birds. The fall plumage of a young Red-winged Blackbird, and the non-breeding plumage of a European Starling, are both wonderful in terms of the intricate patterns. Blackbirds, boring?  I think I may have changed my tune after this morning.

European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris

Non-breeding plumage European Starling. Probably one of the least-liked birds in North America, given their non-native status and tendency to compete for nesting sites with native birds. But after being here for nearly 140 years…they’re established. They’re not going anywhere. They’re “ours”. And damn it, they are DARNED attractive birds.

Common Grackle - Quiscalus quiscula

Common Grackles ARE native…but for those of us who feed birds in our yards, they may have a worse reputation than European Starlings. They’re pigs! They drive away other birds! In my yard, I’ve seen them kill and consume young fledglings. But…that iridescence, those colors…they are striking birds in the right light.

Red-winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus

Red-winged Blackbirds may be the most common bird in the state in the summer. I do like the plumage of the young birds, with this young male starting to show a bit of what will be his trademark red shoulder patch.

 

The Autumn Rebel – Photo / Haiku of the Day

The Autumn Rebel

The flamboyant rebel

Defies autumn’s chilly hand

While verdure surrenders

Northern Cardinal - Haiku of the Day

Autumn has arrived in South Dakota, both by calendar, and by feel. A week ago I basted in heat and humidity while working outside all day. This morning I bundled up while I headed outside. The leaves are just starting to turn on most trees, yet it won’t be long before autumn’s brown replaces the summer verdure. I do LOVE the fall though, as it’s usually a pretty active birding period with migrants. While in summer, the brilliant colors of a bird are sometimes lost in the lushness of the surrounding landscape, in autumn stark contrasts are often seen. This is one of my favorite photos, “just” a Northern Cardinal on a crisp fall day, shuffling through the leaf litter looking for food. The warm, late afternoon light, the contrast between bird and surroundings, and the wonderful pose and head turn make it a scene I mentally picture when I think of the wonderful fall season.

More Geologic Goodies – Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

OK, so the gorgeous yellow-orange Fairburn was the highlight of my rockhounding trip this weekend, but it certainly wasn’t the only “find”.  Here’s a selection of some of the other agates, jaspers, etc.  What amazes me about this location on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands is the seeming infinite variety of what you can find, all within one very small area. All of these were collected within a one-square mile area.

Prairie Agates - South Dakota

A collection of Prairie Agates, something you find relatively often on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, but they’re so pretty and so variable that I can’t help but collect more.

Agate/Jasper - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

This one was SO striking when I saw it lying there that I couldn’t help but collect it. I admit however that I have no idea what this is…any ideas?

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

A gorgeous prairie agate (or what I’d call a prairie agate), with some very intricate banding and patterns.  The green is a bit of lichen I have yet to clean off. 

Bubblegum Agates - South Dakota

Bubblegum agates! I actually have a somewhat difficult time finding many of these, but always pick them up when I do. Of all the stones out here, it’s the bubblegum agates that really “shine” (ha) when I put them through the polisher. Once you start to wear down those nodules, there are often some truly incredible patterns and banding underneath.

Banded Agate - South Dakota

Stones like this make me want to take a hammer and break every stone open. I don’t have a rock saw or anything, but I imagine there are SO many hidden treasures like this on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, pieces where you don’t see the beauty unless you slice them open.

Prairie Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

A prairie agate. The orangish ones are probably the most common, but there are some pretty red tones in many of them as well.

Agate - South Dakota

While many agates have the banding patterns shown on this post, there are some other cool patterns you find as well. Love the pink “druzy” crystalline area that forms the heart of this agate, with some banding and other patterns around it.

Jasper - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

A jasper, of which there are many on the grasslands.

Miscellaneous Agate - Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

One more agate (at least that’s what I’d call it), with some interesting fine banding.

The Dakota Prize – Haiku of the Day

Dakota’s Prize

Dakota’s painted prize
Water, rock, and time conspire
A rainbow set in stone

Fairburn Agate - South Dakota

An elusive Fairburn agate, from the wonderful rockhounding area of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in South Dakota. I’m headed there in the morning for a day of rockhounding, so what better time for my first ever ROCK-related haiku of the day? Such a difficult prize to find, as chances are all I’m back tomorrow without one, but OH so worth it when you do find one.

Your garage: A Hummingbird’s worst enemy?

I was working in my yard this afternoon when my next-door neighbor came walking up. She knew I was a bird lover, and wanted to know if I knew how to get a hummingbird out of her garage. It may sound like an odd request to many. However, it’s one I’m getting all too familiar with. I have over 4,000 individual web pages on my South Dakota Birds website. Of all those pages, which page gets the most hits? During the summer months it’s generally not even close…it’s this blog post page from a few years ago, about a hummingbird trapped in my garage.

Once a hummingbird is in your garage, it’s not easy to get them out. My garage, for example, is quite tall, with the ceiling height a good six feet above the top of the garage door itself. Once a hummingbird comes in a garage, their instinct to escape drives them to fly upwards. They really seem to have trouble seeing the open garage door as an escape, and instead seem to always fly up towards the ceiling of the garage. For us, we’ve had two hummingbirds trapped in our garage over the  years, and in both cases, we weren’t able to get them out until they were quite tired from flying around trying to escape. Then we got them to cling to a feather duster while we slowly moved them down and out the garage door. Other people have had some luck luring them down with flowers, hummingbird feeders, or some “red” item that grabs their attention.

And that is the problem in the first place…their attraction to the color red. The item in the picture below may be the most dangerous item for a hummingbird that you have in your entire house or  yard. This is the manual “pull” on a garage door opener, what you use when the power goes out and you want to manually close or open your garage door. The problem is quite simple…garage door manufacturers seem to love making these items red in color. Hummingbirds strongly key in on the color red, associating it with flowers, and thus, nectar for feeding. If a hummingbird goes past an open garage door and sees a red item dangling down, just that attraction to the color red may cause them to enter the garage and check it out.  Once inside, if you have a garage with a ceiling higher than the top of the garage door, they tend to get “stuck”.

We have multiple hummingbirds around our yard from early May through late September. However, with one simple change in our garage four years ago, we haven’t had any hummingbirds inside our garage.  That change? Simply taking the red pull off the garage door opener and changing it to a black item. When I went over to my neighbor’s garage this afternoon, I knew what I would find…red garage door pulls.

Given how difficult it can be to get a hummingbird out of your garage, the best advice I have…prevent their entry in the first place. Check your manual garage door pulls. If they have a red pull, take it off and use a neutral colored item in its place.

Red Garage Door Pull

A typical red “pull” on a garage door opener, for release and manual movement of the garage door. So many manufacturers seem to use bright red pulls such as this. With an open garage door, this is a huge attractant to hummingbirds, who are very easily “trapped” in a garage once they are inside.

No feathers! Not even fur! POTD…

Given we were on vacation for 2 weeks recently, and I was gone on travel for work last week, it’s been a while since I’ve been out birding locally.  With a great forecast temps, light winds, and partial cloud cover, it was shaping up to be a perfect day for bird photography!  I left at dawn this morning with the intention of finding migrating shorebirds and other goodies.

I didn’t want to commit to a long drive up to Lake Thompson where I was pretty much guaranteed of finding shorebird habitat somewhere. Given how wet our summer has been and the rain we had when I was gone last week, I thought there would likely be some standing water around locally…perfect habitat for migrating shorebirds. I was wrong! There were a few areas of standing water, but with crops at almost full height and other vegetation quite lush from the wet summer, most of those wet spots were hidden or surrounded by vegetation. Several did have a few shorebirds, but I never did get any photo opportunities.

The one great photo opportunity for today was a true rarity for me…something without feathers. Something without fur (a target of opportunity I always shoot when out birding). I was driving in western Minnehaha County about half an hour after sunrise, and saw an old…combine (?) in a partially cut wheat field. I say “combine” because it was so old, so simple a piece of farm equipment, that I don’t know what else you’d call it.  Curiously, it was sitting on the fence row right by the road, in a small area of cut wheat in a much bigger wheat field, and with a brightly painted “John Deere” sign facing the road. I couldn’t have designed a better photo opportunity, and with the warm morning light, I spent a good 30 minutes getting various styles of photos of the scene.

With such a perfect scene, I do wonder if it WAS some kind of display that someone had set up, but regardless of why it was there, I thank the owner for providing the photo opportunity!  It turned out to be a great photo day, despite few opportunities to actually shoot birds.

John Deere in the Wheat Field

An old but brightly colored piece of farm equipment, sitting in a partially harvested wheat field. Too perfect a photo opportunity to have occurred without someone actually designing the scene!

Photo of the Day: Broad-tailed Hummingbird

I was going to go birding today, but alas, my Sjogren’s was flaring up and I wasn’t feeling very good. I stayed home and started processing my (many thousands) of old, unprocessed photos.  I have SO many photos I’ve taken over the years, and so many photos that I have yet to publish online (even on my massive out-of-control website), that I thought I’d start a new feature on my blog…the Photo of the Day. Oh, make no mistake, there’s no way I’ll ever publish a new photo of the day, every day.  Consider it more the photo for THAT day, rather than a series of daily photos. 🙂

First up…one of my favorite photos from our recent vacation to Colorado and Utah.  We visited 12 different National Parks and National Monuments in Colorado and Utah, and as we wound our way through Colorado, we stopped for one night at Winter Park, Colorado. When on vacation, I typically get my birding fix in during the early morning hours, waking before dawn and going out while my wife and son sleep in.  From our room, we could see a trail that ran along the shores of the Fraser River, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I was a bit surprised when I got out that morning, in that the warm summer’s day started out with a chilly 38-degree morning!  I started walking the trail just as the sun came up, but it took 20 minutes or so before the sun peeked over the adjacent ridge and started to brighten the area along the trail. Birds were a bit sluggish at first, perhaps because of the cold.  As I walked along, I saw a tiny bird on the top of a bush. As I approached, I saw a stubborn Broad-tailed Hummingbird, one who decided he wasn’t moving for any reason.

A challenge when shooting hummingbirds is getting the right light for the gorget of a male to “light up”.  I took many photos of this bird, but alas, for most of the time I spent with him, he was facing away from the sun. It wasn’t until I was about to move on that he shifted position, gave me a look, and then turned his head towards the sun.  BOOM…that brilliant magenta gorget lit up in the early morning’s sun as I took photo after photo.  The close range, the detail in the plumage, the clean background, and that gorgeous bright gorget made this one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)

Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird, hanging out on a sunny perch on a cold Colorado morning.

Blizzard-inspired Drawing – American Woodcock

I don’t draw a lot any more…perhaps twice a year at most.  Not sure why, as I really enjoy it when I do drag out all the colored pencils and give it a go.  With the blizzard this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to draw. The species is actually inspired BY the blizzard.  American Woodcocks show up here in early April, and are already on their breeding grounds. They’ve already been doing their spectacular, unique display flights in the late evenings, spiraling up into the sky and diving back down, producing series of twittering and tweeting sounds as they go.  They normally feed heavily on earthworms.  When the blizzard hit, I remembered the posts of people seeing their displays here already this spring, and was wondering how they’d handle the blizzard. Inspiration leading to this, a colored pencil drawing of an American Woodcock.

American Woodcock Drawing - Scolopax minor

Colored pencil drawing of an American Woodcock – By Terry Sohl

Macro Mania

As a bird photographer I don’t put on my macro lens very often, but I got it out this afternoon to take some macro photos of the batch of Mexican Crazy Lace agates that I got this past week. Before I started tumble polishing them, I wanted to record what they look like in their natural state. When you zoom in extremely close like this, you can really see the beauty. It boggles my mind that these gorgeous patterns are all made by nature…such variety, such cool patterns, such wonderful colors.

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace AgateMacro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace AgateMacro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

Macro Photo - Mexican Crazy Lace Agate

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