Shake A Tail Feather

Early morning is my favorite time of day to get out with my camera.  Often, only a gentle morning breeze dances across the pasture, drying the dew from the grasses and plant life. Sometimes I get lucky though, and only stillness surrounds me.  It is during this morning calm when I am able to detect activity and sound that I might otherwise miss.

I love the tender,spring flowers of the woodlands!
I love the tender,spring flowers of the woodlands!

It was just one such morning about a week ago, that I ventured out to wander through the woodlands with my camera, looking for spring blossoms to photograph.  The sun was just beginning to dapple through the trees, and I wished I had dressed a little warmer, for the chill still hung thickly in the canyon.  Even the birds seemed a little slow at getting around this particular morning. The usual chorus of chirps, singing and trilling was absent.  A few active squirrels were dashing about, always careful to counter every move.  A heavy dew weighted down the tall, woodland grasses. I wondered if, perhaps, it was still a little early to be out?

Putting this thought aside and moving on, I snapped photos of a few simple prairie flowers. As I knelt down to get a shot from ground level, I noticed a slight movement to my left. The tiniest, little blue-hued bird I had ever seen was darting all around on the ground, tail feathers flashing quickly as it hopped through the leaves and brush.  Moving slowly, I attempted to get a close shot, but it was difficult to get the camera in focus with the bird’s continual flitting here and there.  It surprised me this tiny, little bird did not seem to mind my presence and allowed me to get so close. Unfortunately though, its constant motion and tail-flicking made it almost impossible to get a decent shot.

As I continued my pursuit, I noticed the little bird seemed to be extracting insects or some other edible things from beneath twigs and leaves on the ground.  It hopped in wood piles and through cat brier.  I marveled at this tiny specimen.  I first thought it to be a juvenile mockingbird, since its tail feathers seemed long for such a tiny bird.  But the color did not appear correct for a mockingbird, nor did the eyes.

After managing a few more “disappointing” shots, I decided to head back to the house to research this interesting find.  Walking back along the trail I had taken, I noticed yet another of these tiny birds not far from where I had seen the first. This one, however, was foraging for insects on the bark of trees.  I took a couple of photographs of it from a distant angle and then ascended the slope to the house.

This was the only good photo I managed of the female Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. She was constantly on the move!
This was the only good photo I managed of the female Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. She was constantly on the move!

Back at my computer, my research indicated the little bird I had photographed was the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.  My favorite online bird reference, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, informed me this tiny wonder of constant motion flicks its long tail from side to side in order to scare up hiding insects.  It also showed me that the first little Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher that I photographed was a female.  But the second specimen had a definite black line above the white eye-ring, indicating it was a male.  I was disappointed to find I had only managed two decent photos of this pair out of the dozen or so that I shot.  But that is often the way it goes when photographing wildlife.

This is a distant shot of the male Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. If you click on the photo to zoom in, you'll notice the male's distinct black line above the eyering.
This is a distant shot of the male Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. If you click on the photo to zoom in, you’ll notice the male’s distinct black line above the eye-ring.

Yesterday, I was out early in the morning on the buggy, hauling loads of cut branches and brush to the burn pile in the canyon.  Each spring we attempt to clean up the iris beds that FD’s grandmother lovingly planted decades ago.  It is hard work trying to clean out young saplings and weeds that attempt to take over the vast expanse of iris surrounding about an acre of yard.

As I hauled brush and clippings across the pasture to the burn pile, I noticed the first Scissor-Tail Flycatcher of spring.  It is the State Bird of Oklahoma, and known for perching on fence lines. This elegant bird is commonly seen catching insects along our pasture.  They are swift flyers, and make a great show of aerial acrobatics while catching insects on the wing. Their long, split tails make them easy to spot.

The beautiful orange/salmon color on the belly and flanks indicates this scissor-tail is a male.
The beautiful orange/salmon color on the belly and flanks indicates this scissor-tail is a male.

Of course I had forgotten to take my camera with me in the buggy, so I sped off to the house to retrieve it, hoping my friend did not fly from his perch before I could return.  Fortunately, this striking fellow did not seem to mind the wait, and remained perched where I last saw him.  As I inched the buggy in close for a good shot, he watched me, seemingly unconcerned.  When I got within twenty feet of him, he flicked his tail feathers and moved a short distance down the fence. Again, I slowly moved the buggy closer.  This time he flew up and over me, backtracking to the starting point and making a spectacular show of it with his aerial acrobatics. Using that extraordinary scissor-tail to dive and swoop back behind me, he landed again on the fence.

After getting a couple of shots of the scissor-tail, I went on to the house to take a break from my work, and download the photos to the computer while I fixed a cup of tea. Again, I referenced The Cornell Lab of Ornithology to discover more about the Scissor-Tail Flycatcher and its habits.  I decided the specimen I photographed was a male, as it had the beautiful orange/salmon colored belly and flanks that males do.  I also learned it is a highly territorial bird, which might explain why it did not seem to fear me, and insisted on staying with the fence line even as I drove back and forth on the buggy.  This fellow was easy to photograph and I ended up with several nice photos from varying angles.

By zooming in on this photograph, you'll note the forked tail. I tried to capture the split tail in flight but failed on all attempts. Bird photography requires much patience and luck!
By zooming in on this photograph, one can note the bird’s forked tail. I tried to capture this split tail in flight but failed on all attempts. Bird photography requires much patience and luck!

I marveled at these two intriguing species of birds, both with long tails that perform important functions in the “catching” of insects.  Had it not been for the distinctive behavior and appearance of either bird, I may not have noticed them.  One flicked its tail feathers from side to side to scare up insects, while the other used its forked tail to make sharp mid-air twists and turns in the capturing of insects in flight.  Both tactics are important skills these birds utilize for survival.  Even in courting displays, birds use their tails, fanning them out to create size and shaking them in the performance of a dance, all in hopes of attracting a mate.

While considering an appropriate title for this blog post, I thought about the human aspect of the saying “Shake A Tail Feather”.  We shake our booty when we dance as a form of physical expression.  This can even be a spiritual thing, I think.  And, I suppose, in the human courting and mating process, shaking one’s booty might sometimes assist in attracting a partner – when performed properly!  But aren’t you glad we humans do not have to shake a tail feather to put dinner on our tables?  I wonder how successful many of us would be at that?!

© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


51 thoughts on “Shake A Tail Feather

  1. Lori, I have only seen your flycatcher once. It was on our way here from California while passing through your state! I didn’t know it was your state bird. I was very exited to see it and had hoped to see one again, but so far no luck.

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    1. Oh, Lynda, I nearly hit one driving home from a nearby city the other day! It managed to get out of harm’s way at the last moment! I believe it was in pursuit of a large flying insect! This was my first sighting of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. I just love discovering a new species!

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        1. Well, thanks Lynda! My fabulous editor finally returned from his business travels. I actually had this written on Wednesday last week! I had to remind him I had a post ready to edit! I truly enjoy being back at the writing. I think that trip to visit you gave me some rest and needed relaxation to get back to it!

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  2. Beautiful mornings you are having out there and excellent photos of the residents! Love that Scissor-tail! Amazing bird which I have never seen! So glad you are up early to capture these terrific scenes!

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    1. Thanks Phil! That’s what I love about YOUR photography. I have never seen some of the birds you capture with the camera, and only on vacation have I seen those gators, but not nearly as close as you manage… even with your awesome lenses!

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  3. What a wonderful post! Every time I read your words, it adds more detail to the image in my head of what your kingdom must look like. Beautiful photos 🙂

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    1. Thank you Rachel! You know this place isn’t very big, but there seems to be wildlife everywhere. I really do think the past two years with Daisy have helped me to slow down a bit and see the big picture!

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  4. Aren’t scissortails wonderful? We have them all around in the summer. They’re just starting to come in, and last weekend I saw eight of them lined up on a wire. They are marvelous fun to watch – almost as much so as the mockingbirds, with their terrific acrobatics.

    I didn’t know that the scissortail’s your state bird. Ours is the mockingbird – good choices, both.
    Your photos are terrific.

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    1. Thank you! Sometimes I just get lucky on the photos! Both of these birds were excellent models, not seeming to care that I was present or that I was following them around. This time of year is fascinating with all of the migratory birds on the move again.

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  5. I am certainly glad that “shaking a tail feather” or dancing for us humans is not the prime way of “catching” a mate or I would still be a bachelor. I did go to Kristen’s high school prom but I’m sure I had to be the most awkward, geeky dancer there. Everything worked out fine though, as that was in 1970 – OH – we married in 1973 and still are very happy together!

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  6. I spend a lot of time outdoors and I have never seen anything like the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. Your photos are amazing. I also use the The Cornell Lab of Ornithology as my single truth for all things related to birds so if that is how it was identifyed I feel comfortable sharing that with others to see what they think. Again, great photos.

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    1. Thank you Charlie! Most of the time with wildlife, capturing a great photo is being prepared for anything, and having some luck! I use the auto-focus most of the time and my favorite lens is a 100-400mm stabilizing lens. The whole rig is a bit heavy and cumbersome, but it gets overall, great shots.

      The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is awesome. I refer to the website all year long.

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    1. Sandy, I learn a lot too, since discovering some of these species causes me to research more about them! I thought of you this morning! It’s just gorgeous outside and the woodlands are alive with activity! Coffee or tea on the back porch would be lovely!

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  7. I love how I always learn something reading your posts – coupled with the amazing photos and the beautiful writing, it’s always a pleasure to read your blog! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much, Dounia! It means a lot to know you enjoy the posts all around. I learn so much about wildlife here, just being observant. The appreciation comes from taking time to research and understand the connection and interaction of all life forms.

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  8. Prior to my recent weight loss my “booty” shook itself! No help from me…just walking around and it was signalling ;). Love the bird shots, they are gorgeous! Today “I” learned from you :). See what a little international interrelations can do? I say lets sack the politicians and senators etc. and bypass the enormous cost that they have on our systems and just share like we do online every day… the world would save trillions! 😉 Love this post and your gorgeous images 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Fran! I have the opposite trouble… I have to WORK to have a booty!! It’s just a good thing there is a lot of climbing to do in our woods, and with gardening and some push mowing in spots, I manage to keep mine with just a bump! I agree on the wonderfulness of international interrelations! I learn something from all of the blogs I read! I love being a little sponge, soaking it all up! I’m more involved in nature than most, so for me it is easy to discard and dissect a lot of the craziness of society (and government) from my day. Rather than engaging in the chaos, I try to find effective ways to create a better community. This is the beauty of blogging… sharing about important issues – and making it fun!

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      1. A great ethos and you lucky thing…no booty? ;). There are African countries where I once would have been considered something pretty special thanks to my rear end…they wouldn’t look at me twice now ;). I, too, prefer the “natural world” to wending my way through societal niceties. I just don’t “get” most people and I guess I am not interested in climbing any sort of society ladder so I am not at all interesting or of value to those sort of people. I am just a happy aging hippy living on the peripherals and loving her life to the Max 🙂 So glad we can share our eccentricities from afar and I learn just as much as you do from your wonderful blog 🙂

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        1. You hit the nail on the head. I’m not interested in climbing the ladder of society either. I’m happy to frolic around this place, doing the work I feel is important, and getting sidetracked with wildlife… especially Daisy deer (who I saw this morning and took a walk with!). Life is grand when one lives simply… although I’m not sure all that you do is simple. Fran, you can run circles around me in a day!! I doubt I could keep up with your pace, but I sure do admire you!

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          1. Today we have to cut our way through about a kilometre of ex fish farm netting…boring but at least we will have accomplished something at the end of our day…much better than being an accountant or a stock broker dealing with things that aren’t real eh? 😉

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          2. I couldn’t agree more!! And, I have learned to appreciate boring tasks. I will be mowing a bit this afternoon… but I’m still so lucky to be spending a day in the sun with the breeze kissing my face!

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  9. Oh I wish we had Scissor-tailed Flycatchers here in Michigan — what a beautiful bird. I’m thrilled you’ve discovered Blue-gray Gnatcatchers too. They’re such fun to watch but, as you noted, difficult to capture in a photograph because they move so fast. We saw several of them yesterday on our birding hike but I didn’t manage any photos this time.

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    1. We see the Scissor-tails here all summer long. They seem to love the horse fence which runs parallel to a line of elm trees in the pasture. Back and forth they fly all day, especially when I’m mowing with the zero-turn! I’d say that’s pretty clever use of hunting skills! The Gnatcatchers were so tiny! I was just amazed at their activity that VERY cool morning!

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  10. You know what? You are very lucky to make such discoveries. These little birds are lovely and we can’t meet same ones in Europe, i mean, Have a wonderful day, my friend!

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    1. Thank you so much, I do know I’m lucky! I think though, that for the most part I have learned to be more observant and quiet in my life… I tend to notice things that were probably always present. I wish you a beautiful day as well! It is warm and sunny here! And, I was lucky to have a walk with Daisy deer this morning!

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    1. I thought maybe you DID have Scissor-tails in your area? I am always amazed at how different everything is regionally. And, the more observant I am in our woodlands, the more I realize I was not aware of much of the bird population we support here. I’m getting better at learning new species discovered and learning about their habits. As for Daisy, I saw her for about an hour yesterday morning! I’ll write about that soon, and I managed some photos to share! She was very friendly, allowing me to brush her (she’s shedding her winter coat now), pick ticks off of her and I managed to scratch her a good bit. I’m sure the shedding hair has her a bit itchy and she enjoys help from her human parents. FD is especially good at getting her ears scratched just right. She almost gets a dreamy look!!

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  11. That Gnatcatcher is so fluffyyy! Of course, she’s a sexy female. Haha 😀 Are you an early bird? I love the mornings but for some reason on a free day I can’t kick myself out of bed before 10. However when i’m with my family in Holland and hear the birds and chickens I feel excited about getting up early. It’s like I want to go party with them hehe!

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    1. I have always been an early bird, and much of it has to do with growing up on a farm. We were up early to do our chores, then get ready for school. There is a special magic to the morning, everything waking up and the birds singing! The woodlands are so alive with activity. Of course, like you, I have mornings too, where I want to stay snuggled in bed, giving in to much-needed sleep! My body is more tired than it used to be, so sometimes I indulge in getting up late!

      Aren’t chickens fun to watch? They are hilarious much of the time… and I love their tenacity of life! We also have a few “talkers” that like to cluck and growl. And of course, there are the cacklers who make sure EVERYone hears their exclamations!

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    1. Yes, and YOU see a lot of things I’ll probably NEVER see! LOL Your writing always has me laughing… and I look forward to every post! You ROCK, Mr. Hook!

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  12. Fabulous shots, Lori. I’ve yet to see either of those birds, and I’m not entirely sure I ever will here in Michigan. BUT, I did see my first butterflies of the season this past week, and was warmly greeted by one that landed on my hand as I tried to photograph it.

    Hi to Daisy for me!

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    1. Thank you Sid! I had not seen the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher either, so it was a delightful surprise. I have always believed, that to be touched by a butterfly was a special blessing! I take it as a sign… of good things to come to you, my friend!

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