Tag Archives: bird photography

David and Goliath

downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker

David and Goliath.

The Pileated Woodpecker, 17 inches top to tail tip, is Ohio’s largest woodpecker. Conversely, the Downy Woodpecker is Ohio’s smallest at a mere 6.5 inches long.* The two are seldom seen together. If they happen to arrive in the same area, the Downy quickly knows its place. It is no physical match for the impressive Piliated.

I recently was watching and photographing a male Pileated Woodpecker feed on the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs in my backyard. Imagine my surprise when a male Downy Woodpecker suddenly dropped onto the feeder and seemingly challenged its mega-sized cousin. It was both a once-in-a-lifetime moment and a David vs. Goliath situation. I was extremely fortunate to capture this brief confrontation before the Downy decided to wait its turn.

“David and Goliath” is my Photo of the Week.

*Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, Kenn Kaufman, p. 214 & p. 218.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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The Eagle Has Landed

bald eagle, Holmes Co. OH

The Eagle Has Landed.

The frantic knock on the front door got my attention. In my dash down the hall and to the front entrance, I wondered if someone was in need of help. Had there been another crash on our busy county highway?

When I flung open the door, there stood my neighbor smiling. My negative concerns immediately vanished. I shook Doug’s hand as he excitedly exclaimed that an eagle was sitting in a tree across the road from his house. I quickly retreated to my office and grabbed my camera with the long lens. As we rushed over to his front yard, Doug told me how he came to see our nation’s icon.

As he drove over the hill south of our homes, Doug saw the eagle circling overhead and then dive to the grass on the east side of the road where a roadkill raccoon laid. As his car passed the big bird, it flew to a branch low in a thicket of trees only a few yards away.

I concealed myself as best I could behind a large tree trunk at the corner of Doug’s yard. The camera’s shutter clicked away as other drivers zipped along the road unaware of the sight they were missing. The many branches in front of the eagle made it rather difficult for me to focus the lens. When I looked down at the camera to check the quality of the shots, the eagle flew east, leaving his intended meal behind.

“The Eagle Has Landed” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Looking left

pileated woodpecker, Big Talbot Island FL

Looking left.

This energetic young male Pileated Woodpecker posed just long enough for me to capture a shot of it before it flew off to another tree, possibly in search of a suitable nesting site. Before this photo was taken, the incredible bird was in and out of the holes on this snag.

I especially liked the way everything in the photo is leaning left. I felt fortunate to catch this shot when the woodpecker looked that way, too.

“Looking left” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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On the hunt

American Robin, birds, spring

On the hunt.

It happens every year. The American Robins come out of seclusion in dense Ohio woodlots or return from a regional migration only to be greeted by a snowstorm. This year was no exception.

With no worms available due to the snow cover and cold temperatures, the Robins looked for other forms of food. The bright red holly berries fit the bill for a few of them. This male robin especially enjoyed flitting in and out of the bush next to our house. I was fortunate to be able to capture a few shots of him on the hunt for the round red delights. He would sit on a small branch in the snow, look around for a berry, then pounce on it as if it were going to make a getaway.

“On the hunt” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Backlit Great Egret

great egret, Egans Creek Greenway FL

Backlit Great Egret.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Backlit Great Egret” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Multitasking

female red-bellied woodpecker sunning

Multitasking.

Sunshine in northeast Ohio in November and December tends to be a rare treat. When the sun does shine, all of God’s Creation soaks it in, including this lovely female Red-bellied Woodpecker. She took a break from enjoying lunch at the peanut feeder to warm herself on a chilly late fall day.

“Multitasking” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Here’s looking at you

Dickcissel, rare bird

Here’s looking at you.

When it comes to photographing birds, timing is everything. This photo is proof.

Birds found a half-dozen Dickcissels, always desired birds if found nesting in northeast Ohio, near a rural intersection a few miles from my home. The birds flitted from one grassy field to another, carrying nesting material, and defending territory.

The birds did occasionally light on fence posts, barbed wires, and weeds. Though I was several yards away from this male, I was fortunate the bird turned to look in my direction just as I snapped the photo. The yellow surrounding the Dickcissel’s eyes seemed to highlight all of the other beauty of this gregarious species.

I found the shot impressive enough to make “Here’s looking at you” my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Lavender Geese

Canada Geese, Ohio sunrise

Lavender Geese.

This pair of Canada Geese was none too happy about my early morning intrusion on their quiet solitude. Their harsh honking wasn’t the only thing that caught my attention. I couldn’t believe the color of the predawn sky’s reflection on the farm pond. The lavender and mauve beautifully accented these noisy birds.

“Lavender Geese” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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The saga of an interrupted lunchtime

sharpie, lunchtime

Lunchtime.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, my wife had to endure me jumping up from the table morning, noon and night to respond to emergency calls. I served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Holmes County, Ohio for 27 years.

I can’t tell you how many times I must have interrupted a meal to respond to an emergency. Neva always understood that someone else needed my assistance more than our family, at least for that critical moment.

mourning dove, Ohio

Mourning Dove.

Now we’re both mostly retired, and I no longer respond to fire and EMS calls. I look forward to her delicious cooking, salad to dessert. However, pleasant surprises still occasionally interrupt our meals. Birds are usually the cause.

Recently Neva announced from the kitchen that lunch was ready. I knew to be prompt. I hadn’t even taken the first bite when I spied through a window some commotion. A hawk had perched on a thick pine tree branch in our backyard.

I raced for my binoculars as if I were answering a fire alarm. Even without the optical aid, I could see the feathers flying as the hawk plucked its prey. The hawk was having lunch, too. I watched the small accipiter briefly and then grabbed my cameras. I clicked and filmed away.

By its size and features, this beautiful bird was either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk. Both are notorious for stealth flights in search of unsuspecting songbirds at backyard birdfeeders.

Clearly, I had just missed the capture. The hawk focused its full attention on plucking the feathers from its victim. Other birds gradually returned to the feeder buffet, oblivious to the hawk’s presence.

I consulted my favorite bird guide and compared my photos with the renderings in the book. All the while I continued observing the bird of prey. The bird’s physical characteristics best fit a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are tough to identify in the field. I had the advantage of perspective, comparing the bird in the pine with the branches around it. Its size appeared too small for a Cooper’s Hawk.

I checked other identifying markers, too. The bird’s rather flat head made its eye look large. The bright yellow legs were pencil thin. The brown streaks on its breast also said juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I posted one of the photos I had taken of the bird on the social media’s Facebook’s Ohio birding page. Others, including the author of my guidebook, confirmed the ID. It’s always nice to get affirmation from an expert like Kenn Kaufman.

Not surprisingly, my wife’s delicious homemade butternut squash soup had cooled. Neither of us complained. We were mesmerized by the aviary activities outside.

Satisfied with the photos that I had taken, I returned to my meal. From where I sat eating, I could still see the young hawk pulling at the meat of its capture. Though seemingly gruesome, it was an everyday act of nature, and we got to see it.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharpie returned.

I took another slurp of soup, looked up, and the hawk was gone. After I had finished eating, I went out to verify my suspicion of what the hawk had had for lunch. The feathers I found were indeed from a Mourning Dove.

Timing is everything. Had I not responded to the call for lunch when I did, I might have missed the unfolding action outside.

I didn’t mind this lunchtime interruption at all. I imagine the poor Mourning Dove would strongly disagree.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Diary of a day in search of rare birds

birders, Kelp Gull

Early birds.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m not a morning person. I could make a career out of sleeping in. Not this day.

I was the official driver of a group of guys in search of a couple of rare birds that had inexplicably showed up in northeast Ohio. I love to bird this way, with friends who happen to be expert birders going in search of uncommon species.

Up at 5 a.m. and out the door 45 minutes later, I was dressed for the seasonably chilly weather. After two stops, the troops were gathered, and we headed north in the thick blackness of the morning.

We arrived at the natural lake near Akron where an unusual gull had been spotted. To see it, you had to be there early in the morning or late afternoon. A dozen vehicles already filled parking spots in the little park on the lake’s south shore.

Early birders lined up along water’s edge, scouring the area through the pre-dawn dimness. Light snow amid a foggy haze above the lake made it difficult to identify the birds even with expensive scopes and powerful binoculars.

We were looking for a Kelp Gull, a bird that should be in the Southern Hemisphere. Somehow it ended up here with thousands of other gulls, mostly Ring-billed. The gulls’ familiar squawking rang out across the silvery water and through the snowy fog.

The gulls began to circle tornado-like over the water. Even for expert birders, it was difficult to distinguish one species of gull from the other in the haze of the morning’s twilight.

The gulls swirled in a chaotic chorus and sailed southeast for unknown destinations. If the Kelp Gull was there, we didn’t see it.

birding, birders, Brambling

Line of birders.

From there our group traveled a few miles northwest to a residence to see a Brambling. Like the gull, no one could say why this Asian bird had landed adjacent to a small county park in northeast Ohio thousands of miles from where it belonged. It just had, and avid birders near and far were thrilled.

This beautiful bird had arrived amid flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Goldfinches. The homeowner was a retired park director who immediately perceived the rarity and had his finding verified by noted birders.

Once the word got out, there was no stopping the entourage of birders wishing to add this avian curiosity to their life list. Birders came from as far away as Mississippi and New Jersey to see this bird. We were among them.

To keep the bird and birders safe, observers lined up along the county road opposite the feeders where the Brambling frequented. We climbed the slanting roadway and instantly spotted the bird. As I aimed my camera for a shot, a neighbor scared us all with the harsh sound of scraping off the hard frost from his windshield.

brambling

Brambling and an American Goldfinch.

The birds flew for cover. No one admonished the man. Good birders know to be patient. Sure enough, seed-eating birds began to return to the feeders munching the scattered black oil sunflower seeds.

Like humans, birds behave in routines, too. The Brambling flew to a small, stunted bush by the chimney of the house, checking its surroundings. Soon it again fed on the ground among finches and Northern Cardinals to the clicking of cameras and satisfied smiles of birders whose ages spanned three generations.

Even though we had missed the Kelp Gull, it had been a productive morning seeing the Brambling. The blessings lay not only in observing rare birds but in the company of congenial birders, too.

I’d gladly alter any morning’s familiarity for such delightful diversions with kindred companions.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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