Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Nashville Warbler From Head to Toe

Wood warblers are among the most beautiful and elusive birds to observe.  During fall migration they become even more challenging, with many changing from their brilliant breeding plumage into more subtle neutral shades, making it harder to both see them and to distinguish species.
The Nashville Warbler, shown above and below, is one warbler species that does not dramatically change in the fall, but retains much of its breeding plumage coloration. This warbler is named after Nashville, Tennessee, the location where it was first observed in 1811, by Alexander Wilson, the man who named the species.  Since Nashville is my birth place and where I spent my childhood years, my curiosity has always peaked when hearing reports of both Nashville warblers and Tennessee warblers as they migrate through Tennessee, but until last weekend, I had never seen either.  Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of seeing both these species for the very first time, and up close, at a banding session at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge.
Birds are truly beautiful from head to toe and this beauty becomes even more amazing while viewing them at close range.  I never fail to marvel at the shimmering iridescence that is often hidden even in plumage that gives the bird an overall neutral appearance.  Since the work of banding is primarily to document a bird's presence, health and other information used to understand the overall health and status of a species population, not much time is available for photographing during a busy banding morning.  But since this Nashville Warbler was our last banded bird for the session and quite alert and spunky, we had opportunity to admire and enjoy him.
His color details include:  a clear and prominent white eye-ring, pale gray plumage on the head that blends into deep olive on the back and wings (no wing bars), a brilliant yellow throat and belly, a hidden "chestnut" crown (male) and the repetition of that beautiful yellow on its foot pads.

When painting an image, an artist strives to create unity with color and contrast, and with the repetition and mixing of colors that unite the finished work.  In nature we find this same unity occurring naturally, as though a Divine Artist has picked up a brush and painted each bird with the most incredible skill and beauty.  Add to this the complex function of each unique characteristic that is found in a bird species, and you have what I consider to be one of the greatest wonders of nature.    
This particular male Nashville warbler had a crown patch the hue of deep red wine hidden beneath his gray feather tips.  The reddish color actually occurs mid-way in the feather, with the tip and base being gray. From my position, light enabled me to see the red color glowing through the gray feather tips, though if you looked down on the head, there was only the appearance of gray.  And who gets to see the beauty of a bird's foot pad, but the birds themselves and those of us lucky enough to be present at a banding table!
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge is a haven for migrating birds.  Planted in warm season grasses with many seed and fruit producing shrubby areas, fruit and berry trees along edges, and native wildflowers, it provides both abundant food sources for migrating birds and a wintering-over spot for birds that remain in the Tennessee Valley during the winter.  
Right now the refuge is awash with vibrant fall colors in native wildflowers that are both beautiful and produce an abundance of seeds for birds and other wildlife.
Below, you can see seeds emerging from what I believe is a tickseed sunflower, a member of the Aster family.
And below, emerging seeds in the flower heads of White Crownbeard. This was only my glimpse as I was leaving the refuge. I'm looking forward to returning soon for a long leisurely hike and a better look at this year's fall season bounty.
Links and Resources:

Click on the links to see more about bird-banding and Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge.
You may also enjoy visiting the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge website.
More of my posts on warblers can be found at these links:  Wood Warblers and New River Birding and Nature Festival
Visit Cornell's information pages on the Nashville Warbler and the Tennessee Warbler
Information about the tickseed sunflower

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Beauty of Hummingbird Feathers

As long as these little jewels are around, I feel compelled to step outside and spend time among them, especially knowing that in only a few weeks they will be gone.
Above you see a male ruby-throated hummingbird guarding his nectar source by perching on top of the "flower".  And I had a delightful time capturing the images you see below.
I was standing near the holly, a place where hummers like to settle, either to hide until they can approach the feeder or to wait in order to ambush other hummers arriving.  I discovered by accident one morning, that they ignore me if I'm already there when they arrive.  I'm very visible but quiet, standing with camera ready, so that when I actually do take an image, I'm moving very little.  Busy and intent on feeding or defending their nectar source, hummingbirds land near me.  If they didn't notice me before and are uneasy, they may move to a different twig, but generally they ignore me.

In this position, I am also directly across from a feeder that hangs from a shepherd's hook.  In the images above and below, you see a hummer guarding that feeder by perching on the end of the hook.  In the morning light, even though overcast, I was in the perfect spot to capture these images.  
And I wanted you to see these beautiful feathers.  Rows and rows of gorgeous, emerald feathers that glisten many hues, even in overcast light.  Though the male's flashy ruby throat is dazzling, you have to agree that the ruby-throated hummingbird's emerald feathers are among the most beautiful you've ever seen.  (click on any image to enlarge)

I also had a chance to sketch hummingbirds last weekend.  Attempting this was exceptionally satisfying.  Keep in mind, ruby-throats beat their wings at 40-80 beats per second, and can move at speeds of 30-50 mph.  They were kind enough to hover and perch some while I sketched, but mostly they were on the move, any stillness quickly meeting disruption.  There certainly was no waiting around for a hummer to appear.  It was fascinating to watch them in this way, to turn off symbolic memory and actually search for the details, limiting focus and honing memory to try to catch one solid detail--the line of the back, the distance between neck and wings, the shape of the top of the head, how that beak connects to the face.  Fascinating to feel the adjustments your vision and memory make, realizing you only get a glimpse, less than a second to get it down.

For more about this sketching experience visit:  Sketching Hummingbirds in Flight at Vickie's Sketchbook.  To see more of my hummingbird images on this blog visit:  ruby-throated hummingbirds.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hummers Swarming

When I arrived home from my office last evening, around 7:00, my feeders were swarming with hummingbirds.  I use that term both because of the large numbers, and the buzzing of that many wings all at once!  Amazing to experience in all aspects.
Three of the six feeders I had out were empty, so I quickly refilled them, then settled in a chair to watch the activity.  Hummers jockeyed for feeder position and then just as suddenly, settled quietly in groups of seven or more until the next addition came along disturbing the whole group.  A crisp gusting wind arrived along with the dimming light. We had a front coming through and the temperature had already dropped to 57 F, headed for around 52 F later.  And, while this is not terribly cold, it represents a considerable and sudden drop for this time of year in east Tennessee.
There were clearly more hummers converging on the feeders all at once than I had witnessed on any other evening this week.  I managed to catch as many as nine in some of the photos you see here, but there were more above and below the feeders than I could capture in one image.  Multiply that by six feeders, with at least four to six approaching and feeding on each, and you have an idea of the numbers I was seeing.
What a spectacle and a privilege.  Since the light was getting very low, I snapped a few images with the flash, thinking that I was probably accomplishing nothing.  But even though the color of the birds changed from their normal emerald green to gold, the images didn't turn out as bad as I initially thought.  I actually like the way the flash lit up their wings.  So, I'm sharing them with you just to give you a bit more of the experience.

The individual images you see below, were taken earlier in the week in better light conditions. I enjoy trying to capture flight images and will show these to you in another post. I use the images for art reference, useful even when they aren't so clear, but also because I enjoy seeing the magnification through the lens.  Sketching these birds while I watch is my next goal.  I think I'm close.  I've certainly watched them enough!
I've had one male at the feeders for the past few days that has a warning chirp considerably different from the others.  It sounds a bit like the rhythm of a chickadee call, but higher pitched.  In a synchronous moment, I managed to capture an image of him at the same time I heard his voice.  It wasn't until I looked at the image that I realized his lower beak is damaged, bent so that it doesn't completely close.
These are not exactly the details you want to see, but I comfort myself in seeing that he seems healthy and preened, and has done a fair job of establishing his place at the feeder, guarding from the top from time to time.  In fact, I've seen several males guarding from that position this season, maybe because of the heavy migration numbers.  This one was in the middle of all the fray.  I expect he, along with many others, said their goodbyes to this feeding station, and I'll be seeing a fresh group of faces with first light.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Hummingbird Days of Summer

This has become one of my favorite times of year.  Not necessarily September's weather, but because a wonderful mob of hummers is passing through.
Just about any morning I have the opportunity, you will find me sitting on the patio, coffee in hand, sometimes camera, with hummingbirds all around me as I watch the interactions at the feeders.  And the juvenile antics add a big plus to the pleasure.  Just a day ago, I looked out the window before going out and found one juvenile perched on the top of the feeder he was guarding, and another one perched on the shepherd's hook with the feeder he guarded hanging below him.  And today, I noticed two adult males feeding at the same time on one feeder.  It's fascinating to know that subtle hummer communication made that possible, when otherwise, they would be embattled.
Unlike the northeast, we have needed rain badly in east Tennessee.  So this evening when a storm moved in, I sat out under the shelter of the deck, enjoying its approach. Our temperature had reached 97 F, the humidity making that feel like 100 degrees of suffocating air.  The storm blew in packing 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 60 mph and within an hour the temps had plummeted to the low 70's.  A welcomed change.  As the wind picked up, I watched as several hummers tried to reach the feeders by flying into a headwind.  It pushed them backward.  This was not easy to watch.  But their quick adjustment was heartening.  After several attempts, they would adjust direction, sometimes moving to a different feeder to get a better angle or a different wind effect.  As soon as the wind slumped, it seemed like hummers were falling out of the sky, and not peacefully either.  They arrived again with full attitude until the gusts picked up again. Amazing creatures!
And my favorite moment of all this week happened when I was just standing in the right place at the right time.  A petite little female landed on the feeder right in front of me.  She was so close I could have reached out and touched her.  I didn't move, just stood there watching her, in awe of her beauty.
A special moment in the hummingbird days of summer.

Links and resources:

For more information about hummingbirds and their migration click this link to my posts on Ruby-throated hummingbirds.  And to see more of my hummingbird art, visit my bird gallery.
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham