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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Nerdy Birdy: The Best Kind of Wake-up Call

I got a call this morning while I was still lying in bed contemplating if I wanted to get up yet. I had a day planned of leisure and sewing. It was Mrs. Owlbait, she had a surprise, if I could be at her house in a half hour I could go with them to see if we could find some Pygmy Owls, a bird I haven’t seen yet. I jumped out of bed, pulling on clothes even as I was hanging up the phone with her. It takes a half hour to get to her house from mine so I literally threw all my stuff in the car and raced out the door. I got there just in time for everyone to leave. I wasn’t the only lucky one to get invited, there were three others coming along, a great birding couple that I had met on another owling adventure with the Owlbait’s and another photographer I had never met.

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WE WERE ALL EXCITED TO SEE THE PYGMY OWLS

Since people were just going up to see the owl and since Mr. & Mrs. Owlbait had plans later in the day I decided to drive up separately. I was a little bummed, it takes a good 45 minutes to an hour to drive up and I would have loved to have jumped in the car with some birders. I always learn so much listening to them. However I reasoned if I was going to drive all that way I may as well do some birding in the mountains afterwards. Mr. & Mrs. Owlbait had found the baby pygmy owls the day before with another birder and we were hopeful that they would still be there today.

We arrived and as we were unpacking the camera gear from the car we could hear their little calls. HURRAH they were still there. Baby owls don’t stay very long once they leave the nest hole. Generally only two or so days, just to get in enough practice flights to feel comfortable, then they are off. Even though the owls were near the road they happened to be in some trees off a steep rocky slope. It was not fun carrying heavy and expensive camera gear up that slope, trying to keep your footing in the loose stone and shale was nearly impossible.

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STEEP SLOPE WITH VERY BAD FOOTING

We had spotted the birds and I was following the other photographer to a better photographic location. We were panting up the mountain, our feet were sliding all over the place, it was rough going but we were slowly making our way to where we wanted. And then I almost passed out, something hit me like a brick wall. I immediately got extremely sick. I have never had nausea come on that quickly before. According to my symptoms of dizziness and feeling like I was going to yak Mr. Owlbait was sure I had altitude sickness but I am a skier and altitude has never bothered me before. I literally HAD to lay down right there under my lens; I couldn’t budge an inch. One of the other birders was so sweet and he ran back to the car to get me a bottle of water. Sipping water sitting there I was so upset. Not only was I randomly sick, I was randomly sick at the WORST MOMENT. There, not more than twenty feet from me, was a lifer owl that I have never photographed before and I was incapacitated.

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I WAS SO SICK I JUST LAID DOWN IN THE DIRT

Finally I started to feel a little better. The water and the rest helped quite a bit. I managed to get up, and deciding not to try to tackle the huge hill again I settled for a less desirable, easier to get to spot to photograph. Twice again I got hit with the wall of dizziness but both times I just lay down until I felt better. It wasn’t the BEST of circumstances to be sure but nothing was going to get me down… and the photos, the photos turned out WONDERFULLY!

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PYGMY OWL

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PYGMY OWL STRETCHY BABY

I don’t shoot with a flash, I have been toying with the idea of starting to try to incorporate flash in some of my wildlife photography but I am torn. On one had a photographer always could use more light and a flash is a good way of introducing more light to birds, especially birds like these were, perched under the canopy of shade from the trees. On the other hand there is something beautiful about natural light, when you can get that natural light not to be a royal PAIN IN THE A&#(@. Backlit birds (where the sun is behind the bird) has been the bane of my existence for years. Yet I am excited to say that I am feeling like FINALLY I am getting the hang of taking a good photo in this sticky situation. I was so happy how this shot below turned out, I got it right, and out of all the photos I may be most proud of this one.

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MY FAVORITE PYGMY OWL PHOTO

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PYGMY OWL

We took photos for about an hour and you can see the vast range of tone and color difference in the birds photographs. If I shot with flash I would have a more consistent set of photos. Sunlight however is the best light to shoot in, if you can get the bird to land in the sun. I only managed one photo where the bird wasn’t encompassed by shade and it was an up shot. I am not a fan of up shots (photos looking way up at a bird) eye level photos come out much much better. But I just loved the light in this one below, and the blue background, so I had to share.

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SUNLIGHT IS THE BEST LIGHT

One adorable little baby bird is always fun but when two swooped in to perch on the same branch I was in rapture. They were so cute cuddled up together and then they started to groom each other. I wasn’t at the best angle for the grooming shots but OH MY GOODNESS my heart melted. Swoon!

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TWO LITTLE BABY PYGMY OWLS

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SIBLINGS

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GIVING EACH OTHER A BATH

Mrs. Owlbait kept playing calls periodically over the hour we were there. And with all the chaos of trying to locate the birds, trying to get in the best spot to photo them, all the while trying not to scare them, I didn’t even realize when two baby birds turned into three. THREE!!!! I blame the fact that I wasn’t feeling that well. I love the first photo where you can see the back of the birds head and the fake eye spots that are there.

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LOVE THEIR EYESPOTS

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THREE LITTLE BABIES

I must have taken over 3,000 photos. When I wasn’t laying down on the ground in pain I had my finger on that shutter button. I have the camera on rapid fire, so I don’t miss that Kodak shot, and sometimes I have to laugh because the photos I take truly look like an old time stop motion video.

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STOP MOTION PHOTOGRAPY

And then I thought VIDEOOOOOOO… BRILLIANT. I took four videos, mostly without great results or chatter, background noise or cars driving by in the background. Only one video came out pretty good and I have been watching it all week. This little guy, using his begging call for food, is so adorable. And then midway through a group of flies were around my head, I was trying to discreetly wave my hands around my head so as not to scare the bird but to get rid of the pesky flies. In the end it made the bird look right at me while voicing its call. INCREDIBLE experience!



The Pygmy Owl is another new bird to cross off my Nerdy Birdy List. This is the fifth lifer owl that Mr. & Mrs. Owlbait have taken me to find since I met them six weeks ago. That’s right almost a lifer owl a week, I am so thankful that these two have taken me under their wing (pun intended). We have a bird trip planned at the end of the month to go to Arizona that I am so excited for. Birding with them is like Christmas morning. Nothing could be better!

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MR. & MRS. OWLBAIT

After playing with the owls for a while it was time to let the little guys get on with their lives. The rest of the group headed down the mountain, and although I wasn’t feeling 100% I still decided to at least bird a little bit. I headed to a picnic area that Mrs. Owlbait had told me White Headed Woodpeckers frequented. I did manage to find them but they were not playing nice with me. They stayed perched high in the trees and wouldn’t let me get that Kodak shot. At least I did find them.

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WHITE HEADED WOODPECKER

I was driving down a back dirt road and I paused next to a rocky field. I paused to see if there was anyone interesting in the field when I heard a strange noise. I glanced forward to see a giant covey of mountain quail dashing across the road. I grabbed my camera, snuck out of the car and started shooting photos. Those little birds can sure DASH quickly. I managed to get a young male (terrible lighting but he was running) with a distinct view of his two little head feathers. In adults they have what looks like one long feather sticking out from their heads when in actuality it is two or three feathers curled into one.

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YOUNG MALE MOUNTAIN QUAIL

I dashed to the other side of the car where the quail were hiking it up a hill. One bird paused for just a moment in some dappled light and I got a pretty good photo. This is a hard bird to find, and this is only my second time photographing it. I sat there on the ground after the last bird left looking through my shots. I was EUPHORIC to get this photo.

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MOUNTAIN QUAIL

So I am sitting there looking at my photos and I get scared by a LOUD call. I look immediately to my right and there sitting only about 20 feet away is a Clark Nutcracker. The photo didn’t come out fantastically clear but this is a cool bird to see, and I was lucky to get a photo of it out in the open!

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CLARK NUTCRACKER

I finally got in the car and drove a little bit further. At the edge of the field there was a river and circling fast as can be were a hundred Violet Tailed Swallows. Some were landing near the edge of the water, I army crawled slowly but they wouldn’t let me anywhere near them. The lighting was also terrible, shade from the trees and the mountain shadow didn’t give me a ton of light to work with. Still a cool bird to get landed instead of zipping around in the air, if even only for a moment.

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VIOLET TAILED SWALLOW

I would have stayed longer but I still wasn’t feeling all that great. I decided to call it a day and took off home. I put on some good music and enjoyed the winding ride through the mountains. It really is so beautiful and peaceful up here. YEAH for a great day of birding!

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2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

What an unusual call for an owl. LOVED the video with his head swirling around like a little tornado. COOL find!

Anonymous said...

Though Nick and I don't get lifers very much anymore, it is fun getting lifers for our birding friends. Ms. Rogue Woman is one lucky and fun girl. She will get a boatload of lifers from Arizona!

Mrs.Owlbait

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