15 Minutes of Fame…by Brad Marks

As promised, it is time to pop another offering from Brad’s growing queue. He has been working overtime to bring you a number of new adventures, many of which we will be releasing during my fast approaching migration trip. To wet your whistle, here is an adventure which happens to be closer to home. Note, I thought monopods were just for whacking faster runners when wildlife decides to make a S’more out of photographers. Who knew there was another purpose ha.

Take it away Brad…

Usually, these posts include some sort of travel or exotic location where there just happens to be a bird or three worth photographing.  Brian heads to a bird sanctuary near the border in Texas.  Jan and I have normally just returned from a fantastic vacation location.  This time was a little bit different.

During our last trip to Colorado, I noticed my monopod (an aluminum Manfrotto 680B from the mid 2000’s) was slipping.  It was having trouble supporting the weight of my Nikon 200-500 plus the D300 with battery grip.  The middle section would slide down 4-5 inches, followed closely by the top section sliding 1-2 inches.  I tried to tighten the joints with the plastic tool included with the monopod; no luck.  When we arrived home, I discovered that parts are no longer available for this particular model.  I also found several people on-line that had simply tightened the joints beyond what may be prudent.  While that was not something I wanted to do, I wondered if the bolts had loosened because of usage.  I grabbed my favorite metric socket set and loosened all the joints to look for debris.  Finding none, I slowly tightened the bolts on the locking levers, about 1/16 of a turn each time.  Try the joint.  Adjust as necessary.  Repeat.  At some point I hit the magic friction point because the monopod stopped sliding with the lens/camera combo mounted on top.  And it didn’t feel like I was going to snap off the locking levers.  Now I had to verify the results.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

Hit the jump to see the results of Brad’s verification efforts!

What better way to do that than to go take a bunch of photos!  Keep in mind this is mid-November in central Illinois.  However, the temps for the day had reached well into the upper 60’s.  And birds-a-plenty were flocking to the feeders in our backyard.  Guess where I ended up?  You guessed it . . . in the backyard.  Before the auditors at Intrigued throw the yellow flag about violating Rule 8 (read the rules here), all others rules were followed.

Our backyard is partially wooded, as you may have seen in the GHiaT story.  Having feeders in the yard provides a cornucopia of feathered friends to watch.  Knowing how skittish (I can hear them tweeting, “We’re all full of fear so let’s get out of here.”) these little gluttons can be, I went around the far side of the house to the back yard.  When I first came around the corner of the house, they all scattered as expected.  But after years of watching them from inside, I knew they’d come swarming back to the feeders within a minute or two if I stood very still.  This time was no different.  Though having said this, I’ve had a red-breasted nuthatch land on a feeder I was still carrying to the feeder poles (may have erroneously reported this as a mountain chickadee in a comment eons ago). 

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

I wanted to see how close I could get without scaring them all away.  I slowly moved forward a step at a time until they noticed me.  Then I backed off a step or two until they ignored me.  I wanted to be close enough to fill the viewfinder and minimize cropping later.  But I did not want to be so close that my presence influenced them.  Ironically, I was having so much fun watching them, I forgot to start taking photos. 

I’m going to feature them in the order they appeared at the feeders (mostly).  All of these birds were present the entire time.  But with the feeding frenzy I decided to focus (pun intended) on one bird at a time and see what happened.  All of these photos were taken within a 15-minute span in my backyard.  No travel required.  (Maybe I should talk to Intrigued Corporate about a funded trip, you know, like Rule 19 states). 

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

I caught this one mid-snack.  This American goldfinch was out with her friend, who at first, I thought was a juvenile finch.  After closer review, I noticed that the yellow coloring was on the tips of the feathers, not the head and shoulders like the other one. 

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

Several visits to websites to identify this bird provided no help.   None showed any goldfinches with this coloring.  This bird has yellow on its wing edges and tail, but none on its head or shoulders.  I queried my favorite search engine and literally asked “what birds hang around goldfinches?”.  This photo (well one nearly identical to it) popped up as the most popular response.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

It’s a Pine Siskin.  They are known compatriots of goldfinches.  They like to hang around goldfinches and pine trees.  My first thought after reading that was that I only have one or two junipers in the yard.  But then I looked at my neighbors and they have a whole row of mature pine trees.  And guess where the siskins went to enjoy their treats?  This one should be a gimme . . .  they went straight to the pine trees.

The next pair are two I’ve had trouble keeping straight until Brian told me about the best way to tell them apart, aside from being on the same feeder at the same time.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

The Hairy woodpecker is a bit larger and longer than the downy woodpecker, up to 50% longer.  It’s very hard to get them to hold still to compare though.  I wanted to tape a ruler to the feeders so I could measure them, but then I remembered to just count the holes in the feeder.  Hairy woodpeckers also have a much longer bill which is as long as the bird’s whole head.  Size matters.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

Downys have a “dainty” bill in comparison, only about 1/3 as long as the bird’s head.  So how do I tell them apart at a distance and without gluing rulers everywhere in my yard?  Hairy woodpeckers are about the size of an American robin.  Downys are about the size of a house sparrow.  Sometimes the red patch on the hairy is split in two, but not all the time.  The red patch on a downy is all one piece.  This red patch trick doesn’t work at all with the female versions of either bird; no red patches.  Both male and female (of both birds) have the striking patterns of white spots on black wings.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

I seemed to catch this one’s attention because it kept looking towards the shutter click sound. 

Next is one of my favorite backyard birds.  They are small but mighty.  They have a very distinct set of calls.  My daughter learned their three-toned song which is often heard in the spring time (when love is in the air).

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

These black-caps are in our yard all year round.  A few years ago, we put out a heated bird bath during the winter.  These little guys converge on the open water and are quite entertaining to watch.  They take turns bathing even during the winter, often with their friends sitting on the rim of the bird bath.  We have to change the water frequently.  Partly because they splash the water all over, and partly because of the craptastic stuff they leave behind in the water.

Out of the corner of my eye I kept seeing a light brown streak leave the feeders and head to our maple tree.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

This was an exercise in selective focus.  Of the 40 or so shots I took, only a few were NOT focused on the twigs.  I’m shooting here at 500mm.  Even on a monopod any little movement invites the camera to focus on what it thinks is most important in the scene, which was usually NOT the bird. (ID pending a bit later in the story)

A darker grey bird was bobbing around at the base of the feeders.  We see them walking patterns on the deck (when there’s no snow on it) so I was not surprised to see similar behavior under the feeders.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

This Dark-eyed Junco seems to be asking “You lookin’ at me? Hey! Are you lookin’ at me?!”  His much lighter grey friend wasn’t far off.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

This Tufted Titmouse was a bit skittish (Run away!).  On the feeders and around the bird bath they rarely hold still long enough to see the dark patch on their foreheads.

For this next bird I had to use Intrigued’s AID (Avian Identification Department).  At first, I thought it was a female house finch, but the breast wasn’t speckled enough.  And there was the lighter colored stripe above its eyes which made me think it was a house sparrow.  But even counting for the extra sunlight, it wasn’t quite brown enough.  The AID team said it was a female (guessed that part) house sparrow.  That’s what I’m going with. 

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

What caught me was not the coloring, but the clarity of her eye catching the sunlight.  She was definitely keeping her eye on me.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

During the 15 (or maybe 20) minutes I was watching and taking photos, I kept seeing this blur fly into the feeder, grab a snack, and then fly back out.  I realized it was a black-capped chickadee (one of my favorites because of their vocalizations and antics).  One Black-cap was working in and out of the feeder before I picked up on the pattern.  I have plenty of empty shots, or shots with a black/white/grey blur.  I must have caught its attention with a reflection off the lens.  This time it hopped through the cage and stopped for an extra second.  My camera was quick enough to catch it with the sunflower seed in its bill.

Birds from Brad Mark's backyard

The only “regulars” I was unable to capture, because neither made an appearance, were the Red-Bellied woodpecker, the house finch and the Northern cardinal.  We do get the odd norther flicker at the feeders but weren’t graced with any today.  At this point I figured I had tested the monopod “repair” thoroughly enough.  Because I know you are curious, the monopod joints did not slide at all.  It made it through all 900+ photos holding up my 8 lb. camera assembly without slipping in the slightest. 

If you want to see more bird photos from my feeders, visit here.  If you want to see more birds than just from my backyard, please visit here.

Thank you for reading. 


Thanks again to Jan and Allyson for proofreading and editing.

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