Monday, May 16, 2011

Digital Warbling

It's amazing what digital cameras have done to make photography (or lack of) more accessible to everyone. Personally, I've always been fascinated by it, took photography classes, used a dark room for years; but until the purchase of my new Nikon earlier this year I'd given up trying to take a lot of photos. It was just too expensive.

Case in point? Warblers. Well, actually birds in general.

How many of you have shot tons of film only to have a couple good photos at best? Now, with my trusty camera, stoop sitting with a glass of wine during this year's phenomenal warbler migration is my favorite current pastime. (Well, not as much a favorite, kind of a cherry, not grape.)

And, to my utter amazement, I actually got a few warblers on camera. No, they're not good photos by any means, but the fact that I even captured them while manually focusing an older telephoto lens (had it from an earlier Nikon and don't have the budget right now to purchase a new lens) shocks me. Not to mention the fact that as I said, it's usually done with a glass of wine in hand. It's something I never would've tried with a film print camera.

Last Friday night, Friday the 13th actually, we had a phenomenal migration of warblers pass through the trees just 50' from our house. We counted more than a dozen species including magnolia, redstart, N. parula, Tennessee, yellow, chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, black and white, yellow-rumped, Nashville, mourning, Wilson's and Connecticut (at least I think it was a Connecticut).

This caused a flurry of digital warbling. Some passable:

And others not so much (but fun nonetheless):

I've decided the Northern Parula is the fastest moving warbler I've seen. It never sits still.

A couple Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are still around and joined in the party, too. 

Think this one is my favorite, simply due to the bird's funny position and how he seems to be moving with the branch:

So, a big THANKS to Nikon for bringing a new challenge to my world!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Canadian Wild Ginger

We have this patch of tiny, heart-shaped leaf plants that emerge ever spring under our pines. If you look real closely, you can see a funky shaped flower near the base of the plant. It's Canadian Wild Ginger and in addition to being an oddly attractive plant, it's also the larval host for the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (which is rarely seen in these northern parts).

When the plants emerge, it's this clustering of upright, green velvety leaves poking through the pine needles. They're beautiful on dewy mornings.

Wild Ginger should not be confused with edible ginger, even though the roots have a similar smell - they're not even in the same family. While it's been an herbal remedy for years, Wild Ginger contains a toxic acid (Aristolochic) that causes kidney failure and cancer. Unfortunately, since the plant was cited by Native Americans, Chinese healers and people in the Balkan region for everything from treating burns to using as a contraceptive, many people still use the plant in traditional medicine. In fact, just yesterday the FDA issued a stronger warning to discontinue all use of any botanical products containing Aristolochic acid.

Apparently the root can be carefully harvested and dried, then burned as an insect repellent, but I think I'll just enjoy it as a unique plant in my garden.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pine Warbler

Timing is everything. I missed a photo of a brightly-colored towhee earlier but while walking back into my kitchen I spied a Pine Warbler on the suet feeder.

The first time I saw this activity was a couple years ago and I had to do a double-take because at first glance I thought it was a female goldfinch. I was glad I'd taken a second look since that was my first viewing of a Pine Warbler in the wild.

Now, every spring, I await the return of the Pine Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers since both flock to the suet feeder, making for excellent viewing.

Last week Professor Dan posted information on his blog about how the design of the Yellow-rumped Warbler's digestive system allows it to have a wider diet than other warblers; helping it survive the harsher weather conditions it faces as one of the earliest migrating warblers.

I'm guessing that the Pine Warbler's digestive system is similar to the Yellow-rumped since it is the only wood warbler whose diet consists heavily of seeds. Because of this, they're frequently seen in backyards (especially those with pines). In fact, it turned its beak up at the mealworms located just a foot away from the suet feeder today. Of course, during the summer they do consume primarily insects, but they're often found hammering away on seeds wedged into the bark of a pine tree much like a woodpecker or a nuthatch.

I always think if more people really looked closely at their backyard birds they'll see species they've not noticed before, and this is one of the prime examples - it just kind of blends in with your other birds.