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Category Archives: Red-breasted Nuthatch

The last of the spring birds have returned to the farm.

Two weeks ago a Rose-breasted Grosbeak turned up at the farm.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

This past week my wife saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Baltimore Oriole. So far there appear to be only a couple of birds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Tree Swallows have also returned are are checking out the housing situation. This year I added more bird houses so I hope there will not be fights between the Bluebirds and the swallows.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

This has been a great winter for bird photography. I’ve been able to photograph several birds that I’ve never seen at my feeders and I’ve had a several species that have shown up in unusually large numbers. In contrast to last year when we had little snow this year we have had a lot of snow. More importantly it has snowed during the day when I can photograph birds. I live for photographing birds in snow storms.

Pileated Woodpecker – This year, for the first time, a Pileated Woodpecker has shown up at my feeder on a fairly regular basis. In the past I’ve seen them around the farm but they just flew past my feeders. This year I tried a new suet feeder and that has attracted a male Pileated. He is still a shy bird so I’ve only been lucky enough to photograph him a few times. He is a spectacular sight when he lands on the feeder and starts banging away. The down side is he does considerably damage to my suet feeder.

Pileated Woodpecker male

Pileated Woodpecker male

Northern Shrike – This is also the first time I’ve seen this bird at my feeder. Of course he is feeding on other birds usually the Black-capped Chickadees that frequent my feeders. I’ve only seen it a couple of time but still was lucky enough to get a few photos.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Common Redpolls – This bird showed up at my feeders in small numbers  early in the winter. Around the end of February they showed up in large numbers. I had my thistle feeder out all winter and up and until the redpolls showed up I hadn’t had to change the thistle seed even once. One morning I woke up and found the thistle feeder filled with them. After a couple of weeks they were around in reduced numbers.

Common Redpoll male

Common Redpoll male

Common Redpoll female

Common Redpoll female

Northern Cardinals – I have Northern Cardinals at my feeder year around but this winter I’ve had an unusual number of them at my feeder. It has not been uncommon to see a dozen of them at the feeder at any one time. They really love my new suet feeder probably because I’m using peanut suet with nuts in it. The new feeder has plenty of places for them to perch so they can get at the suet.

Northern Cardinal - male

Northern Cardinal – male

Northern Cardinal female

Northern Cardinal female

Downy Woodpeckers – They frequent my feeders year around but seem to be most active in the winter time. It is not unusual to have a half dozen of them at my feeders at any one time. They feed on both the peanut and regular suet feeders.

Downy Woodpecker male

Downy Woodpecker male

Downy Woodpecker female

Downy Woodpecker female

Hairy Woodpecker – Larger than the Downy Woodpecker the Hairy Woodpecker is seen less often around the feeder. I rarely see the female and male at the feeder at the same time.

Hairy Woodpecker male

Hairy Woodpecker male

Hairy Woodpecker female

Hairy Woodpecker female

American Goldfinch – Again they are here year around. They have appeared somewhat sporadically at my feeders. Generally there are some of them around but they were gone for a couple of weeks and on the day the Common Redpolls showed up at my feeders in large numbers the American Goldfinches also returned to the feeders in large numbers.

American-Goldfinch-13-3-_2251

Blue Jay – Blue Jays are frequent visitors to my feeders but they usually stay in the shrubs at the base of the feeder. They seem to be fairly skittish so any movement and they are gone. The only times I’ve been able to get some shots is when it is snowing out and they are at the suet feeder.

Blue-Jay-13-3_2711

White-breasted Nuthatch – White-breasted Nuthatches show up at my feeders every three or four years. This is the first time they have been at the feeder since 2009. They have been around all winter this year.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-bellied Woodpecker – The Red-bellied Woodpecker also shows up at my feeders every three or four years. They have also been around all winter. This is the first year both the White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches have been around the feeder at the same time.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Dark-eyed Junco – Is one of the first winter birds to turn up at my feeders. They have been around in large numbers this winter.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Black-capped Chickadee – I have more Black-capped Chickadees at my feeder than any other bird or at least it seems like there are more of them. Since they are in constant motion it seems like there are a lot of them going to and from the feeder.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Occasionally I have Red-breasted Nuthatches at my bird feeders. The last time I had them at my feeders was in 2009. This year I’ve been fortunate to have them at my feeder. The turned up late in the fall and have consistently been at my feeders all winter long.

Red-breasted-Nuthatch-13-2-_0974

Red-breasted-Nuthatch-13-1-_2595

Red-breasted-Nuthatch-12-11-_1070

I’m not sure what it is about Sumac but I seem to have a lot of photos of birds perched on Sumac. I know that bluebirds and robins love sumac but apparently lots of birds like to perch on it as well. It does make for a colorful perch for birds.

American Goldfinches

American Robin

Black-capped Chickadee

Bluebird and Cardinal

Eastern Bluebird

Blue Jay

Common Redpoll

Downy Woodpecker

Eastern PhoebeIndigo Bunting

Northern CardinalRed-breasted Nuthatch

This has been an amazing spring for bird photography around my farm. First I had more Baltimore Orioles than I’ve ever had. One appeared and then a few days later I had as many as eight at one time. They were followed by a several firsts including pair of Scarlet Tanagers who were followed by a couple of Turkey Vultures. These were in addition to all of the usual suspects.

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird male

Eastern Bluebird female

The Eastern Bluebirds returned the third week in April this year. Normally I’m able to get lots of photographs of them when they first return because I use some Sumac Berries to attract them to an area where they can be photographed. This year it didn’t work and they remained an elusive bird and I have fewer photographs of them than in any previous year. The female was attempting to perch on a wire during a heavy wind. The male was fluttering his wings.

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Oriole female

Baltimore Oriole male

As I mentioned this has been an amazing year for Baltimore Orioles. Normally I have a few of them come to the feeding station around the first of May but this year they came in large numbers. I was going through a quart of grape jelly every couple of days. The numbers appearing at any one time dropped off by the middle of May but they continued to come to the feeder until the end of May. I suspect they leave to raise their young. In past years they have returned to the feeding station in July.

Scarlet Tanagers

Scarlet Tanager female

Scarlet Tanager male

I’ve only seen Scarlet Tanagers a few times in my life and never been able to photograph one. I was shocked when I looked out the window one day and noticed a male Tanager around my feeding station. I quickly grabbed the camera and started photographing him. He came to the feeder every couple of hours during the day. The next day the female joined him at the feeder. the day after that they were gone. It was an amazing experience to be able to see and photography one up close.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated sparrow

I usually see them around in the spring. I thought they might be nesting in some of the pine trees near the house but haven’t been able to confirm that.

 

 

 

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

I usually have a few of these around each spring.

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting female

Indigo Bunting male

I see these more frequently down in the valleys but sometimes they come to my feeding station for the Niger seed. They are very skittish so about the only time I can get a photo of them is when I happen to be photographing other birds and they show up at the station. The female had just taken a bath.

Grey Catbird

Grey Catbird

The Grey Catbird usually shows up in the spring. Some years they nest near the house but this year they were around for just a brief time before leaving.

 

 

 

American Robin

American Robin

The American Robin usually migrates but with the warming trends can be found in the area in the winter. They usually don’t arrive at my feeding station until April at about the same time as the Eastern Bluebirds.

 

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak female

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

Another spring bird and a frequent visitor to my feeding station.

 

 

 

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird female

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird usually arrives with the Baltimore Orioles around the first of May. It is usually a project to keep them fed.

 

 

 

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows are a frequent visitor to my farm frequently competing for rental space in my Bluebird houses. The Bluebirds seem to be the first of check the houses out but the Swallows seem to get the houses in the end.

 

 

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch female

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is an infrequent visitor to my feeding station. One year I had a pair that were around for the winter but that is rare. This year I have a female that came to the feeder for about a week and then was gone.

 

 

 

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures

I see Turkey Vultures flying over the farm fairly frequently but have never seen them perched. When I first saw them from a distance I thought they were immature Bald Eagles but as I approached the tree they were perched in it became clear that they were  Turkey Vultures. I started taking photos and then walking up closer and taking more photos. They let me get fairly close to them.

 

Northern Cardinals

Northern Cardinal female

Northern Cardinal male

Northern Cardinals are year around visitors to my feeding station and they continued to visit the station again this year. The female was photographed during an early spring blizzard.

 

 

Mourning Doves

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are frequent visitors. Normally they spend their time cleaning up the seed that falls on the ground but this spring I did see them perched on my Niger seed feeding station. The dove was photographed during the early spring blizzard.

 

 

Dark-eyed Juncos

Dark-eyed Junco female

Juncos are normally a winter bird and they leave when the snow is gone. This year we had a late March blizzard so they were still around well into April.

 

 

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are frequent visitors to my suet feeders. This year, for the first time, I created a suet feeder by drilling holes in an old log and filling the holes with suet. They really seem to like it better than just hanging suet in a metal cage.

 

 

 

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Another bird that is around all year. In the first years after they were introduced in Wisconsin I had as many as 50 wandering around and any one time. Since the introduced hunting the numbers are down. I usually see them in the spring before the grass in my prairie gets too long. This year I had one charge me while I was working in the garden. Don’t know what that was all about.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch female

American Goldfinch male

A year around visitor. The numbers vary from year to year. Some years I’ve had almost none but this year they have been around in large numbers. I much prefer photographing the females because they have much more interesting colors.

 

 

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker female

Downy Woodpecker male

A year around visitor to the feeding station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More bird photos can be found at Philip Schwarz Photography.

American Goldfinch

My bird feeding station consists of a steel beam with the capabilities of screwing pipe to the upper portion so I can extend it as high as I want. I can also screw pipes at right angles to create  branches to hang the feeders from. While it is great for keeping critters from climbing the feeder and keeping bears from reaching the food it is not so great as a perch for photographing birds. Photographs of birds on feeders are not all that interesting and no one wants to see a photo of a bird perched on a pipe.

Coopers Hawk

After photographing birds at the feeders for several months I decided some changes were necessary and I really needed something to photograph the birds on besides the feeder and the pipe. The best approach seemed to be to add some branches to the top of the pipe so the birds would be sitting on a branch rather than a pipe. Now I  install branches across the entire top of the feeder and extend them beyond the feeder so the birds have a place to land and to also provide more places to hang feeders. When I’m out walking in the woods I’m always looking for interesting branches that would make good perches.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

In all cases I am looking for a perch that will add something interesting to my photographs. I’m normally looking for a perch with color or character. In selecting branches I try and locate some that are interesting and also have the branches arranged in such a way that they won’t be seen as clutter in the photograph. In other words I don’t want a branch that provides a perch where the bird would be obscured by another branch or where branches would clutter up the background. Having branches in the same focal plane is the best of all worlds.

Spring Perch Gathering

Spring is one of the times I go out looking for perches. There are no leaves on the trees and there are no bugs in the woods so it makes for a pleasant time to be in the woods and it is easy to spot branches that would make a good perch.  Normally these are branches that have fallen on the ground. Any branch with character is a potential perch.

Downey Woodpecker

One of my favorite perches is the sumac. I was out today cutting some sumac, with berries, to use for my spring and summer perches. I also usually gather mature dead sumac branches in the spring for use at and around the feeder throughout the year. I’ve found that mature dead sumac branches make very nice perches. They have a lot of character to them and the woodpeckers seem to be attracted to them.

Eastern Bluebird

I discovered that birds really like sumac berries by accident. On a winter walk through the woods I found a  variety of birds feeding on the sumac berries. It seemed like a great idea to cut a few of them and place them at my bird feeding station. I used to good old duct tape to attach them to the station. As it turned out, when given a choice, the birds much preferred black sunflower seeds to sumac berries. I left the sumac up during the winter with the intent of removing it when spring came.

Eastern Bluebird

Before I had a chance to remove the sumac branches the birds of spring arrived and I found that Robbins and more importantly Eastern Bluebirds just love sumac berries. They went through them within a short period of time. I was able to get some great pictures during that time. Now each spring I gather enough sumac branches, with the sumac berries,  and store them so I can use them throughout the spring and early summer when the Eastern Bluebirds are nesting around the farm. Not only do they like them but the bright red colors make for a great perches for photography.

Fall Perch Gathering

The fall is the other time I gather perches. My goal is to find things that birds actually perch on in the wild and to find perches that would make interesting photo compositions.

Dark-eyed Junco

American Goldfinch

During the fall I like to gather branches with leaves on them to give the photographs a little fall flavor. I usually cut some branches before the last of the leaves fall off of the trees. In our area oak trees seem to keep their leaves better than other species.. One year early in the fall we had heavy wet snow which brought down a number of large oak branches with the leaves still attached. I went out into the woods and cut a few of them and stored them for later in the season. I discovered that when cut before the leaves start falling off of the tree the leaves stay on the branches a lot longer. I’ve been able to store these oak branches for several years and reuse them from year to year without the leaves falling off.

Dark-eyed Junco

I also gather pine branches in the fall and early winter. The pine branches are installed around the feeding station in the fall. They were originally intended to provide some green color to photograph the winter birds.

Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinals really photograph well on pine boughs. The last few years I’ve added more pine boughs to provide cover for the birds coming to the feeder. There have been some Coopers Hawks hanging around the feeding station and since it is about seventy five yards from the station to the nearest trees it is important that I provide some additional cover for the feeding birds.

Eastern Phoebe

In the fall I am also looking for dried flowers and plants that are sturdy enough to hold a bird and would provide an interesting perch. Some of my favorites are milkweed, Common Mullein and cattails. I normally gather these after they have dried in the field and then store them over the winter for use in the following spring and  summer. It is important not to wait too long after they dry to gather them because some of the dried flowers deteriorate quickly and then can’t be used.

Serendipity  Perch Gathering

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

One day while walking in the woods I found a number of old wooden fence posts that were just rotting away. I thought they would make a great bird perch and they weren’t doing much good in the woods. I removed the fence posts along with some of the barbed wire. I then installed them near the bird feeder. To do this I drove a steel fencepost into the ground and used a couple of metal bands to attach the wooden post to the steel post. Using metal bands allows me to change height of the post depending upon what type of background I want in my photographs. Over the years I have collected a variety of posts so the posts can be changed from time to time.

Dark-eyed Junco

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Another winter day when I was out photographing birds I noticed that the birds liked to perch on wild grape vines. The problem was that none of the birds landed on the right place on the vines so I could photograph them. I realized they would make a great bird perches for bird photography so the next fall I started looking for some  grape vines. I found some that had fallen on the ground so I cut  about a ten foot vine and strung it up by my bird feeding station. This allowed me to get the shots I wasn’t able to get in the woods.

Other Perches

Hairy Woodpecker male

This year for the first time I added a homemade suet feeder. I went out to the woodpile and looked for some old logs with character. I found one that was almost rotten and another that was a nice birch log. I drilled holes about one inch in diameter and about two inches deep at various places on the log. I then attached a hooks on the top so the logs could be hung from the feeding station. This replaced the traditional wire suet feeder that worked well but didn’t offer much in the way of photography opportunities.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I tried a couple of types of suit in the logs. New this year are round compressed suet cakes shaped like logs that were designed to slip into holes drilled in the wood. If the hole is the correct size you can just slide the suit cake in and cut them off to fit flush with the outside of the hole. The advantage is they are quick to install and since they are a dry compressed suit they are not messy. On the other hand my birds didn’t appear to like them as well as the traditional peanut suit cakes. The latter are messy to install because you need to remove the suit from the cake and fill the holes with it.

Natural Perches

American Goldfinch

House Finch

I also use flowers that grow around the feeding station. The most common are the Sunflowers that grow from the fallen bird seed. I let them grow and use them perches when the birds start feeding on the seeds. The last couple of years I had some catnip growing in a half barrel that the birds seem to like when it was flowering and when it went to seed. From these experiences I plan to grow additional flowers in half barrels to provide additional perches.

Northern Cardinal

American Goldfinch

Having spent considerable time talking about creating perches for photographing birds I should mention that you can also make use of natural cover in the area of your feeding station. I have some Red Twig Dogwood bushes in the feeding area. I also have a  Dwarf Lilac bush that the birds like to perch at while eating. I usually go out in the fall and trim the bushes so they provide a good place for the birds to perch and to clear away unwanted branches so they don’t interfere with photography. This can take some time because I need to watch where the birds like to perch before doing any trimming.

Installing the Perches

Once the perches are collected the final step is to install them. How to install the perches is almost as important as the perches themselves. You are going to want to install them so you have a clear shot at the perch, good light and a good background. You also want them installed so you can get a good photograph with the lens you will be using. Keep in mind your are trying to eliminate some of the problems you encounter when photographing in nature.

I can’t emphasize enough having a system that can be easily changed. It is important that you be able to easily change the height and location of perches. I can’t count the times that I installed a perch that I thought was in a great location only to find when I setup my camera that it wouldn’t work because there was something in the foreground or background or that the perch needed to be closer or further from the camera.

The perches are going to have to be attached to something  As I mentioned I attach some of the perches directly on my bird feeding station using duct tape. This works well and is easy to remove when changing perches. Sometimes string or twine also works well for attaching branches.

I also mentioned that I use steel fence posts to hold the larger perches such as my wooden fence posts. My preference would be not to use steel fence posts because they are harder to install and move but they are the only thing strong enough to hold some large perches.

Eastern Phoebe

One year I noticed that some Eastern Phoebes had build a nest above an outside garage flood light. I sat and watched them for several weeks but couldn’t get a shot because there was no really good place for them to land. A simple solution was to install a perch in the yard where they could land before going to the nest. The problem was finding something to use to hold the perch. It needed to be strong enough so the perch would remain upright.  Since it was going to be installed in the middle of the yard I wanted something that could be easily removed before mowing the lawn. I found that plastic electric fence posts will hold most of the perches I put in the yard.  They have steel point that allows the post to be easily pushed into the ground using a step in flange. They can easily be pulled up and moved. Duck tape can be used to attach the perch to the post.

Gathering and creating bird perches can almost be as much fun as photographing the birds. More bird photographs can be found on my website.