The Bufflehead Birder

January 30, 2009

Gotta Get A Peanut - puzzle #10

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:05 am




To do this puzzle, please click on image.


Gotta Get a Peanut

January 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Vultures

It was Sunday morning at Valley Forge National Historical Park. The air was chill and crisp, church bells tolled, and atop the Washington Memorial Chapel, vultures basked in the sun.


My fingers were cold from spending the morning hours waiting for some no-show White-winged Crossbills that had been seen earlier in the week foraging for seeds in the hemlocks and spruce behind the chapel. The vultures had it good, I thought.  A nice view of the surrounding woodland and open meadows, and the sun on their backs and outspread wings. I envied them as I flexed my fingers and rubbed my hands.


A bright “Colorado-blue” sky provides a nice backdrop for two Black Vultures.

Vultures have been a longtime member of The Bufflehead Birder’s Favorite Bird Club. When I was a kid, there was something haunting in those Old Westerns; that floating spiral of black birds overhead when someone was about to kick the bucket.  In 1967 my family took a 2-week camping trip to Colorado, and should you ever ask her, my mother will tell you that my big memory of our trip was the dead cow with the Turkey Vultures around it. 

Unusual and beautifully adapted to cleaning the countryside of dead things, these birds still hold a fascination for me, and I love their faces even though I’m not their mother.


Vultures have some peculiar thermo-regulatory habits. If they want to take the chill off they turn their backs to the sun and spread their wings to absorb heat. If they want to cool off they urinate on the scales of their legs and feet–a practice called urohydrosis. The Turkey Vulture below takes in the sun’s heat.


Turkey Vultures, mistakenly called Buzzards or Turkey Buzzards, are larger than Black Vultures and have the colorful red head.


No church is complete without its gargoyles.

 For an interesting read on the adaptations of this amazing carrion bird check out this link from Audubon Magazine.

January 23, 2009

Fun with Cardinals

One thing about bird feeders is that you can always count on something to photograph. You can also always count on certain birds to make an appearance. One of my all time favorites is the Northern Cardinal which I always loved as a child and love even more after being cardinal-deprived while I lived in Colorado. I miss the Golden Eagles and magpies of the West but there is some compensation when that bright red snatches my attention amidst the grays and browns of a winter forest.


Peace Valley Natural Area, which is just northwest of Doylestown, has a nice feeder station behind the nature center. Some of the most active visitors are the cardinals. The males take turns chasing off other birds and play King of the Feeder Ledge and munch down some seeds before being chased off by another male. 


The females wait quietly in the nearby shrubs until there is a lull in the mange-a-mania, and then perch politely on the feeder ledge.

 mangebird.jpg    sitting-pretty.jpg

But no matter one’s feeder manners, seed-crunching is a messy business.


The House Finches were the only birds that stood their ground against the cardinals.

Face Off

Sometimes the middle slat in the blind is right in the way of my lenses but I don’t mind hunching over for an hour or so because the action is so constant. For most of the shots in this post I used my Canon 20D SLR and 300mm lens. The fellow below was digiscoped.
You might think that feeder photo sessions would grow boring, but you know what? They don’t. First of all, I can get some nice close ups. Here is a cardinal with a peaceful and benign look to his face, but then, it’s likely he was sated on seeds and was content to let the rest of Bird World enjoy the feeder offerings for a few moments.


And there are some fun surreal action shots that I create with slow shutter speeds. The fellow below was making a fast reverse from off the ledge when a house finch made it clear no cardinals need sit and eat.


In between forays to the feeder cardinals made enjoyable subjects for idle shots. I could never get tired of that red on the male.


Nor could I ignore the subtle hues of red and tan mixed in with the olive green plumage on the female. With her back to my lens this female blends nicely into the background of her environment.


Yes, those cardinals were everywhere. I took a shot of this Carolina Wren and just look who manages to get his picture in there.

Wren and Cardinal

January 4, 2009

Digiscoping Serendipity

Filed under: Digiscoping — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 12:55 am

 Before I begin my little tale about the garter snake, I want to say thanks for all  the kind comments that were sitting in my comments section of Wordpress, waiting for me to notice them. For some reason they weren’t being announced in my email and I was unaware that anyone had written anything. Finally, after one friend insisted that she had commented on my blog, I went into the comments section and found a lovely surprise; quite a few comments were there, even dating back to October! Yikes! Beginner blogger strikes again. However, I approved all the comments with great haste and they are now posted.


About a year ago I was with a friend in a park off the Wissahickon River at Valley Green. We came upon a frog halfway down the hatch of a garter snake. The frog was still alive, of course, and a look of resignment in its eyes. Garter snake jaws have small teeth that angle backwards so that prey cannot slip out while the snake works on swallowing its meal. So the frog couldn’t even struggle to escape without hurting itself. It also made us wonder how we would retrieve the frog from the snake’s mouth without hurting it.

 Snake and Frog

 Matt had his cell phone and took this shot

There was no way that I could walk on and not help the frog. I appreciate that snakes have to eat and it may have taken that snake some time and effort to capture that frog, but still….

There is the belief among wildlife biologists and other scientists that we should not interfere with animals in the wild or interrupt their interactions. Sort of like the Prime Directive from Star Trek. To a point, I agree. But not in this case. So in the choice between saving the frog from an ugly death or depriving a snake of a hardwon meal we chose in favor of the frog.

After some discussion, my friend placed his toe at the spot on the snake just behind where the frog’s partially swallowed body ended and gently pushed down. Amazingly, the snake’s jaws opened and let the frog squirt free. After an apology to the snake we took the frog down to the water and lay it on a partially submerged rock.

Then this last fall I was given a chance to make it up to garter snakes when I went over to help my mother unpack some boxes and brought my digiscoping gear with me. She and my stepfather have recently moved to a retirement village. Their place has a manmade pond behind their yard and woods beyond that. They often get some good birds in the area.

After helping Mom, I thought about taking my digiscope gear to the woods behind the pond. I will admit that I was feeling that lethargy I sometimes get and even the prospect of getting some bird shots wasn’t having its usual butt-moving effect. Yes, I know. I yap a lot on my blog about how digiscoping is The Way to Happiness. It is, actually, but sometimes I need to remind myself of that.

While I didn’t reach photo Nirvana that day, the act of going digiscoping brought about an even higher level of happiness.

The birds weren’t active, the sun was hot, and I wasn’t getting the usual digi-high I get when peering at Bird World through the Swarovski, so when I reached the halfway point around the pond, instead of continuing the loop, I turned back and retraced my path.

When there are no birds around, I then look at the ground. I’m a wannabee tracker and love to just look down and see what I see.

And see something I did. Something I hadn’t noticed when I’d first come down that path.


A green and black snake with an orange dorsal stripe lay under some leaves and forest litter. It looked dead and I went to take a closer look. I was thinking it was a garter snake of some type and gently nudged it with a stick. It moved. Barely.

I was puzzled at first, as to why it wouldn’t scoot off like snakes do, but instead lay there in a lazy ‘S’ pattern. Then it made sense when I noticed pale green netting that landscapers use to hinder erosion. It had been put down to hold the edging all around the pond, and some of the litter that covered it had washed away, exposing the mesh.

This snake had been crawling along, going its happy way then entered through one or more of the mesh openings until the snake became so tangled that it could no longer move at all without the mesh filament tightening to the point of cutting sharply into the snake’s soft body at the slightest wiggle. I don’t know how long the snake had been imprisoned like that but it would have been a bad way to go; vulnerable to any predator that happened by, unable to drink, or to capture and eat frogs.


There was no question of snapping the filament with my hands without cutting into the little snake. But it wasn’t far to run back to borrow Mom’s tiny Swiss army knife scissors which were the main tool of operation in opening boxes.

As soon as I was able to cut the snake free of all the mesh lines twisted around its torso, it was gone, so there are no photos of that happy occasion.


All events and decisions have a consequence even if you never see it. If I had not come to help with boxes, or had not brought my digiscoping gear along, or had not heaved myself from a comfy chair and gone out to digiscope there would have been a consequence. If I had continued all the way around the pond, or the birds had been active that day and distracted me from looking closely at the ground there would have been a consequence. There would have been the death of a snake and I would have never known.

But it was lucky that things worked out. I’m glad that I was able to repay a small debt to the garter snakes of the world and that digiscoping played a part in putting me in the right place at the right time.

Somewhere out there is a little snake that will agree.

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