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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Jun 30, 2011

Winged nomads move on, their cousins move in

Bohemian Waxwings frolicking during a winter storm
Beginning this past January I was presented with many opportunities to take some wonderful photos of the Bohemian waxwing, because these birds graced our neighborhood with their presence for several months.  Bohemian waxwings are nomadic in their behavior in that they follow the food source and have no specific home environment.  Guess my neighborhood has a huge food source which allowed them to stay for so long.  Bohemian Waxwings typically fly north in spring however, as they prefer the cooler environments of northern Europe, Asia and North America.  When these birds left in early spring, their cousins the Cedar waxwing moved in to take their place not long after.

While Cedar waxwings confine their nomadic wanderings to North and south America, like the Bohemian waxwing, their diet consists mostly of fruit and berries during non breeding seasons.   They too are known for falling drunkenly from a perch due to their greedy consumption of fruit.   During breeding season however, they consume mostly insects, although fruit is still a part of their diet.  Cedar waxwings love the sound of running water, so if you wish to attract these beautiful birds to your yard, all you need to do is add fruit bearing plants and a water fountain or bird bath.

Cedar Waxwing
Both species of waxwing have small patches of bright red feathers on their wings, which look like drops of  red wax.  Hence the name Waxwing.  They both  have yellow tipped tail feathers, as well as a black mask covering their eyes and a crest on their head.   However, otherwise the coloring of each species is quite different. 

Cedar Waxwing back view

The Cedar Waxwing has a yellow belly and white under tail coverts.  This bird is mainly cinnamon brown in color on the chest, throat, all of the head and crest.  The color then blends to soft gray on the back.  The Bohemian has a white belly and reddish orange under tail coverts, while his chest is mostly gray blending into cinnamon brown at the throat, face and crest, but the back of the head and the remainder of his body is soft gray in color.

Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar waxwing

The Bohemian waxwing has more red spots on the wing than the Cedar waxwing, and also has yellow and white wingtips.   Both of these colors are lacking on the Cedar waxwing's wing tips.  The Cedar waxwing however does have a small patch of white running along his back on both sides where the wings meet.  The male and female of both species have the same coloring, unlike other bird species where only the male sports the bright plumage.

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings
Pair of Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar waxwing is not easily seen during the breeding season, although you will hear their distinct, high pitched whistles.  In the fall, like their cousins the Bohemian waxwings, they fly in large flocks to seek out and follow the food supply.  Both species share their food, and will pass it along if it is in a place on a branch that is hard to reach.   Mated pairs will pass food or objects, such as flower petals back and forth. As you can see, these species are highly social in behavior and watching their behavior is a distinct joy.


Jun 23, 2011

Taking a break

I'm taking a break from posting this week, while I take care of some personal stuff.  Back to regular posting next week.


Jun 16, 2011

House Finch taking over the neighborhood

Male and female

Although I had never seen a House Finch until I moved, now I see this bird all the time.  Last year there were just a few, mostly down the street a couple of blocks.  This year however, they seem to have taken over the whole neighborhood.   There are even some nesting in my neighbor's yard.

The abundance of fruit trees and bushes no doubt contributes to their presence and apparent well being.  Or perhaps the presence of the Ravens, who have established their territory here, has indirectly been beneficial to this finch species.   Whereas before there were one or two species of small hawks that hunted the neighborhood almost daily,  since the Raven's have built their nest site and their young have fledged, these hawks are noticeably absent.

In flight
The House Finch, as you can see is a beautiful bird who takes advantage of the presence of humans and human development.   They are a non-migratory, very social species.  You will see them in groups in the tree tops or singly on the ground, or at the bird feeder.  Their diet includes seeds, berries and fruit.  The fruit and berries are what gives the males their bright color which can vary from yellow and orange, to red.  Although red is the predominant color.

Male perched

The House Finch was brought to Western North America from Mexico in the 1940's and have adapted themselves very well.  But although it is a beautiful bird species, it's introduction  has had the unfortunate effect of displacing  the larger Purple Finch, who is native to the area.  Sadly the Purple Finch's numbers have declined because of this.

The House Finch may be recognized by it's bright cherry red head and breast, streaky brown back and wings, as well as a red rump.  They also have brown streaks on their breast.  Their wings are short and their tail only slightly notched, unlike other finch species.  In winter they fly in small flocks much like waxwings.  Their habitat includes urban areas, city parks, back yards, farms, and forest edges. 


Jun 9, 2011

Tiger swallowtail butterfly

I don't see this beauty often.  In fact in recent years I have seen it once only, but this year, for some reason, I'm seeing Tiger Swallowtails where ever I go.  I must say that I'm extremely pleased by that fact, because it seems to me I recall someone telling me years ago that these butterflies were endangered, although I will have to find out if that is actually true.

Tiger swallowtail hovering

Tiger Swallowtail lift-off
Butterflies are somewhat more difficult to photograph than birds, I find anyway, because their flight pattern is extremely erratic.  After several attempts, spaced out of the period of a week, I was lucky enough to come across this one taking water from the ground, near a puddle.  It settled on the ground long enough for me to get these photos, and then settled again on a bush nearby for a couple of seconds.

Brief display of wings

In any case, I was so excited to get photos of this beauty that I couldn't resist sharing them.

Tiger Swallowtail at rest
Although I won't pretend to know which exact species of Tiger Swallowtail this is, as there are several, I'm guessing it is the Canadian species.  I have yet to do any kind of research on this butterfly beyond the basics.  So I definitely need to learn how to tell once species of Tiger Swallowtail from another.  If you have any knowledge in this regard please feel free to share in the comment section below this post.


Jun 1, 2011

Juvenile Ravens

Juvenile Ravens on the roof tops

As expected, since the Ravens were nesting in February, their young have fledged way ahead of most other bird species.  There are five of them.  For a couple of weeks now they have made their presence known in the neighborhood with their loud calls.   They seem to be practicing their flying and landing skills, as I see them diving, swooping and climbing in the sky all over the neighborhood.   One of them is even a bit clumsy, which is actually quite endearing.

Juvenile Raven
Ravens are very intelligent and as I learned from both my research and through observation, their young engage in active play.  This takes the form of chase games with each other, as well as other birds, and has the added bonus of turning them into excellent fliers.   When I was watching them, it was almost as if they were encouraging each other to try landings and take offs from trees and other high places, such as a church tower, and hoping from one roof top to the next in my complex.

In Flight

The parents, who are very caring and protective, check up on them regularly.  In the picture directly below you can see some of them in a family huddle with one of the parents.  I have observed this behavior several times now.

Joyous greeting of parent
The parents also seem always to be close by.  When the juveniles are giving off distress calls, the parents swoop in almost immediately.  The first time that I saw the juveniles, they were being mobbed by crows.  The crows however didn't stick around for long once the parents arrived on scene, as Raven parents are very aggressive in their defense of the juveniles.   They will engage any threat to their young with aggression, as I have even observed the Ravens chasing and harassing an Eagle, until it was well away from their nest site.

Juvenile Raven taking off
Juvenile Ravens will stay with or near their parents for six months after they fledge.  They also stay in a group,  while the parents are elsewhere.  As far as I know this is the only bird species to do so.  Although the juvenile Ravens are anything but quiet when they play, I quite enjoy watching their antics.