National Nature Photography Day

Today is National Nature Photography Day! In honor of nature photography, I decided to go through my catalogue, and pull out a few of my best photos that I never had occasion to share with you before. Enjoy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My brother enjoys nature photography as well. But he loves taking photographs of big trees. So when I saw him looking up at the big trees while framed by a maple on a path in the Hoh Valley of Olympic National Park, I knew it was perfect for him. I call this one “Wonderland”.

Mating Coopers Hawks

I saw these Coopers hawks building a nest when I was out walking my dogs one morning in 2009. I came back as soon as I could with my camera. What so unusual is that the female is actually a juvenile. When she is an adult, her plumage will be the same as the male’s. So that actually makes the picture a little weird…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I like to take photos of flowers looking straight down into the flower to capture their structure and symmetry. This Mariposa lily turned out really well.

In 2014, the Denver Botanic Gardens hosted an exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures. https://www.botanicgardens.org/exhibits/chihuly I was really impressed by it, so when I went out into my garden later that summer and saw the head of this purple coneflower glowing in the evening light, I knew I had to try to capture it.

2011 was a warm summer that didn’t cool down until September. Then, we had a cold front come through that dropped a lot of rain, and at the higher altitudes, snow. Suddenly the garden was full of hummingbirds who had been lulled by the mild weather into thinking they might not have to migrate that year. Nope. They still gotta go south. But we were delighted to have them stop by for a drink.

Birds Before the Storm

This has been such a weird year.

Earlier this week, we saw a female broad-tailed hummingbird feeding on the last of a neighbor’s Rose-of-Sharon flowers.

Then we had three more forest fires start in the mountains to the west. It’s October! It is time to cool off.

But this morning we woke to cold temperatures and even a little sleet on the ground. And that brought in the birds. House and goldfinches, a northern flicker, chickadees and a couple of red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches.

But among these frequent fliers, I saw two dark-eyed juncos.

Pink-sided form of dark-eyed junco.

Dark-eyed juncos have between four and five different color schemes — ornithologists have changed how they classify them. They used to all be called different forms of Oregon juncos, now just some are called Oregon-form juncos, along with slate-colored, white-winged and pink-sided. Very confusing. https://amylaw.blog/2018/03/31/hawk-nest-monitoring-begins/

Grey-headed dark-eyed junco.

But they all have the dark eye and yellow-pink bill, so they all go in the same species. https://amylaw.blog/2015/03/05/spring-is-coming-really/

But as we were enjoying the all little birdies, we noticed one we couldn’t quite place.

Female or juvenile Cassin’s finch.

A finch that was striped all over, not just on her chest. After a flurry of thumbing throw bird books, we decided a female or juvenile Cassin’s finch — they look the same until the males molt. The clincher was the white ring around her eye. Cassin’s finches are usually found in the foothills or lower mountains. I have no idea why she decided to come visit us. But she is welcome anytime.

Snow in September

Colorado went from 93o on Monday September 7 to 32o Tuesday September 8, 2020 — a change of sixty-one degrees in 24 hours. Prior to that, On September 6, Denver reached 101o making it our latest 100o day. That gave us a 48 hour change of 68o.

This weather whiplash was a result of the fact that fast-moving cold weather fronts push in behind slow-moving warm weather fronts, compressing the warm air and making it even warmer. When the cold front finally arrives, the temperature drop is dramatic. Few are as dramatic as what we saw yesterday — this was almost a record-breaker for Denver (the record being a change of 63o).

The temperature drop gave us much needed moisture, first as rain, then as snow. Although we are all glad to be out of the forest fire smoke that has plagued us for a month, it has been hard on the birds.

Before the storm hit, my husband and I made sure to fill the bird feeders. The little cheepies appreciated it this morning.

The hummingbirds, almost totally dependent on flower nectar for food, were particularly hard hit. Hummingbirds rely on their incredibly fast metabolism to keep warm. If the night is too cold, they can literally starve to death.

But we had a plan! I have a hummingbird feeder that sticks to the sliding glass door, and so is under the house eaves and would remain snow-free. The little birds completely ignore if there is any other food source available. But this morning, nothing else was clear of snow.

Female hummingbird on sliding glass door feeder. The streak across the glass is not a symptom of my poor housekeeping, but rather is an ultraviolet marker designed to keep birds from flying off our many feeders and into the windows.

The picture above was taken with natural light, because I didn’t want to startle the starving bird and scare it off it’s energy sources. But for some reason, my camera used the flash for the picture below.

The resulting photo shows off the bird’s iridescent feathers. Bird feathers create color not with pigment, but with prisms in the feathers themselves, and so change depending on the angle of the light.http://Hummer colors

Hummer in Blue Spruce Tree

After an intense fast moving rainstorm yesterday, I happened to look out my front window to see something I’d never before seen — a female broad-tailed hummingbird zipping among the branches of our blue spruce.

Although she stopped at the end of new spruce buds momentarily, she never stayed in any one place for very long. Between the low light, and her constant movement, the photos are not the quality I usually like to put up here. But her behavior was so unusual, I decided to go ahead and post them.

The thing is, I have no idea what she was going after. At first I thought maybe she was getting some sap from the newly opened blue spruce buds.

But when I went out to confirm my hunch after she left, there wasn’t anything there — no sap, no water droplets, no tiny insects. Just newly opened blue spruce buds.

I’ll keep watching that blue spruce and see if she comes back.

Nectar Eaters on a Cool Spring Day

It’s a cool May day, and that has made animals cold and hungry.

White-lined sphinx moths are big, with flat triangular wings and a “white” line running from behind their heads to the corners of their wings.

My husband and I found a white-lined sphinx moth on the sidewalk as we were out walking the dogs this morning, slowly beating its wings as it tried to warm up. Once he gets airborne, he’ll be looking for nectar.

You can see a hint of pink on the body. If he were to open his wings, it would be a large pink wing patch.

And we saw our first hummingbirds! As usual, we heard their ringing zip first. Only the males make this sound. It is produced by special tail feathers. The males are heading into the high country to stake out territory before the females arrive.Spring storm brings cold, wet; hummers come to feeder

Male broadtailed hummingbirds have a red “gorget” or throat feathers. The feathers on their backs are iridescent green.

The problem for both these animals is that the very hard freeze we had a month ago killed a lot of early flowers.

We’ll have more flowers soon, but they need food NOW. I’m doing what I can to help by putting out my hummingbird feeders — 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, NO red food coloring — poured into hummingbird feeders that have been cleaned with boiling water. Hummers in Snowstorm

Hang in there nectar eaters! More flowers are on the way!

Spring storm brings cold, wet; hummers come to feeder

As a violent spring storm crosses the country, the temperatures along the Front Range of Colorado are hovering in the low 40 degree range, and may dip below freezing tonight, and the drizzle we’ve had all day may turn to snow.

Yet hummingbirds have been in the area for a month. These little guys have to burn through a lot of energy to survive a cold wet storm like this.

Fill up, little hummer! We’ll keep it coming for you!

Hummer colors

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you’ll know that hummingbirds make frequent appearances. I love those little guys. Even more, I’m amazed by them. How they fly, how they hover Hummers Are Back, how they eat Eyelashes and Hummingbird Tongues, the fact that they have to eat constantly when they are awake Hungry Hummer Can’t Wait. They are just generally cool.

One of the most interesting things about hummers is that the iridescent colors of their feathers aren’t created by pigments, but rather by the way the light shines through them.

male broad-tailed hummer-8

The red “gorget” on this male broad-tailed hummingbird is so intense that it is hard to believe that it isn’t a pigment.

Instead, iridescent feathers are built like prisms that only let red light through, and only from certain angles.

Here is the same bird when he turned his head:

 

male broad-tailed hummer-7_edited-1

All that changed was that this guy turned his head to give me a nice profile shot. But when he did, the angle of the light changed.

When this male broad-tailed hummer turned his head, the angle of the light changed, and his gorget showed that it had no pigment in it at all! It’s all just a pigment of your imagination! (Sorry, bad joke.)

Many hummingbirds have iridescent feathers on their backs tuned to green.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Female broad-tailed hummingbird.

The calliope hummer in Eyelashes and hummingbird tongues had a gorget of magenta, but I could never catch the light coming in the right way, so it looks like a ragged black collar.

This ability to show us colors without using pigments is a trait shared by a lot of birds. Blue then Black Magpie follows me on the trail.

Interestingly, although some dinosaurs may have iridescent (Microraptor Was A Glossy Dinosaur), no mammals ever developed the trait.

Calliope Hummingbirds

The last of the hummingbirdsare passing through my backyard this month. I happened to Calliope hummingbird & rosemar-05_edited-1get a couple of great shots of some tiny, charming female calliopes buzzing around my rosemary plants. Because the rosemary is in a planter on deck railing, the photos are looking up slightly at the hummers.

I love to watch hummingbirds (Eyelashes and Hummingbirds, Hungry Hummer Can’t Wait), and calliopes are some of my favorites.

Calliope hummingbird & rosemar-09_edited-1

Calliopes breed in the Pacific Northwest, and winter in Mexico; there are no reported calliope nests in Colorado. That means that my backyard is just a pit stop in their travels.

Calliope hummingbird & rosemar-03_edited-1

According to Birds of North America (Birds of North America), calliope hummingbirds are the smallest migrating birds in the world.

Calliope hummingbird & rosemar-14

Safe travels, little ones!

Eyelashes and Hummingbird Tongues

I learned some new things about hummingbirds this week. First, I learned that for years now, I have had two types of hummingbirds coming to my feeders.
I knew that I had broad-tailed hummers — they are the most common hummingbirds in the Western US. With a flashy red throat “gorget” and a metallic ringing sound when they zip by, it’s easy to know that they’re around.

Male broadtailed hummingbird gets pollen from a bull thistle.

Male broadtailed hummingbird gets pollen from a bull thistle.

But this week I discovered that I have even more delightful hummers visiting — a family of calliope hummingbirds.
Calliope hummingbirds are the smallest hummers in North America. The male isn’t as showy as his larger cousin. He has purple streaks on his throat instead of a red gorget.

Male calliope hummingbirds have dark collars.

Male calliope hummingbirds have purple collars. In this photo, the collar is grey, because the light isn’t shining on it.

Both sexes of calliope hummers have the charming habit of flicking their tails as they hover.

Female calliope flicking her tail while hovering.

Female calliope flicking her tail while hovering. Her beak is yellow with pollen.

And they seem to like to flick out their tongues after they have fed.

 

Male calliope hummingbird flicking out his tongue.  Notice that he has lower eyelashes.

Male calliope hummingbird flicking out his tongue.
Notice that he has lower eyelashes.

But the final thing that I learned about hummingbirds this week is that they have eyelashes.