Background Switcher (Hidden)

Watching at the Window

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lately, I've been tethered to the drawing table, doing a journal cover. I don't know why my number keeps coming up for the Auk, but it does, and I'm not arguing. If they're not sick of me yet, I'll do another cover for them. I've had the ivory-billed woodpecker flying through the fall bayou, the long-tailed manakins dancing, and now I'm working on a subtly beautiful fringillid. Fun!

It's a terrific hummingbird summer, after a horrible one last year. Last year, my high count at the feeder all summer was four birds at once. This year, it's 14, and the humming and bickering and thrumming and chittering never stop. I LOVE it. I stand right next to the feeder and play with my camera and the willing subjects. I've got endless flight pictures of hummingbirds now. Like this one. I know it's no prizewinner, because I was too lazy to make sure there was a nice background, but I like seeing them frozen in mid hummm.

I like even more seeing them sitting on favored perches, and feeding from the flowers in my garden. This little dude sits in the birch right outside the studio window most all day, every day. He's guarding the cardinalflower bed directly below him. Oh, how I love to take pictures of him, trying to get his gorget flashing. Almost:

And better:I sneak glances out the window every time I go to dip a brush back into the paint. And I see the most wonderful things, so I keep the camera with its 300 mm. zoom lens on and ready at hand. I especially like watching the bath on these dry, late-summer days. It's almost never empty, especially when it's just been cleaned. The birds really appreciate my scrubbing it with Comet to get all the slime and droppings out of it, so I do that about every fourth day. Then, they literally line up to bathe there. Birds know from clean: they have to, to keep those flight feathers in top condition. They hate to be dirty, and they don't like dirty water or feeders, either.
This time of year, we've got oodles of young scarlet tanagers, as well as molting adults in every motley plumage. We've noticed that scarlet tanagers are very feisty birds. They love to chase and fight and defend what they believe to be theirs. Like the entire Bird Spa. Bad judgement on this young tufted titmouse's part to challenge Miss Bossy Boots. Titmice are feisty, too. This one gives a mewling call and threatens with open bill. But it still won't go in the water with that big toothed bill pointed at it. And finally: the shot I guess I was waiting for. I was waiting for all of them, really, but this is the kicker. The titmouse reminds me of Garuda.
The tanager won, as it has in every confrontation I've witnessed. Notice that she is sitting right on the bubbler, turning the spa into a tanager bidet. And feeling not one bit apologetic about it, either. Maybe she just had a birthday and is feeling like she's entitled. The titmouse had to wait to bathe until she went up to to the birch to scratch and preen. Note: tanagers are overwing scratchers--they bring the leg behind and over the wing to scratch the face. So are hummingbirds. Raptors, parrots and waterfowl, to name just a few, are underwing scratchers. Just another little thing to notice and watch for...Hmm. What are woodpeckers? Doves? I can't remember. Must watch and see.
The wingbars are a function of the bird's youth. I'm not even sure this is a female, though her bathing habits might suggest as much.
When we go away, one of the things I ask our housesitters to do is to keep the bath full. Running out of seed or suet dough is no big deal, but on this dry ridge, water is the most precious commodity we offer the birds, and we take the responsibility seriously. If you do nothing else in your backyard, get some clean moving water going. The rewards, like the water, continually recirculate.
[Back to Top]