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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…