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Posts Tagged ‘blackbird’

There were only a few Red-winged Blackbirds at my local marsh yesterday morning, but the loud volume of their calling made up for the smallness of their numbers. The morning light was quite beautiful, which makes these images look almost like they were shot in a studio. It sure helps when you have a cooperative subject, like this male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), who enjoys being in the spotlight.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I wandered along the boardwalk yesterday at my local marsh, birds would periodically pop in and out of the eye-level cattails. Most of them were little sparrows that would bury themselves back down in the underbrush. At one point, though, a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) emerged and perched near the top of the cattails.

He was so close that I didn’t dare move from where I was standing and I tried to find a visual path through the vegetation to get a clear shot. I cropped this image slightly and made a few minor post-processing, but this is pretty much what I was seeing through the viewfinder as I tried out my new Tamron 150-600mm lens.

The photos were shot handheld at f/6.3, 1/400 sec, ISO 320, and 600mm. Recognizing that the image quality would increase a little if I closed down the aperture, backed off from the maximum focal length, and used a tripod, I am nonetheless pretty happy with the result and it’s definitely cool to more than fill the frame with a bird.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although I wake up to the sound of birds loudly chirping at this time of the year, it is getting increasingly difficult to see most of them as the trees regain their thick covering of leaves. The male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a notable exception, because he does not hide behind the foliage. Instead, he seems to choose the highest point in the open from which to boldly make his loud calls—there is not timidity or shyness in this bird.

The blackbird puts so much energy into his “singing” that at times his perch becomes precarious. I captured this blackbird in one such moment, when his position seems so awkward and distorted that looks like a cartoon to me.

blackbird_cartoon_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite the rain yesterday, the male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were singing up a storm. It seemed like their entire bodieswould expand as they prepared to call out loudly. I didn’t see any female blackbirds respond to the calls—in fact, I didn’t see any at all.

blackbird_singing2_blogblackbird_singing1_blogblackbird_singing3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Usually I spot male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched on the top of the cattails stalks, loudly calling out, but this one decided to perch himself sidewards. It looked a little awkward, but he seemed to manage well enough as he struck a pose for me.

blackbird_hanging_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most birds seem to seek shelter when it is raining (and most people too), but this male Red-winged Blackbird (and this photographer) were an exception to that rule in late December.

blackbird_rain_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Have you ever seen a bird that looked like it was wearing a costume? When I caught sight of  this female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in the cattails last week, it looked to me like she had donned a large head scarf and an additional coat of feathers as protection from the cold.

blackbird_feathers_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although it is exciting to search for new birds or for unusual interactions, I love to return to familiar subjects, like this male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) that I photographed last week.

There is nothing complicated about this image, a blackbird perched on a cattail, but the small details make it special for me. I like the angled body and the turned head. The feathers seem unusually glossy and the eye is shiny too. There are a few wispy feathers that are matched by the “fluff” from the cattail. The background is brown, but there are a wide variety of shapes and shades.

What does it take for you to be satisfied as a photographer? For now at least, I am content to stay relatively close to home and photograph whatever I can find as well as I can. Life doesn’t have to be complicated all of the time.

blackbird_turned_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I encountered another small flock of blackbirds this past weekend and this time I managed to get a shot of a female Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus). If you want to compare the female with the male, check out my earlier posting with an image of a male.

I have now gotten used to the idea that these blackbirds are likely to be be found in the water and the mud, rather than in the cattails, where I usually find the Red-winged Blackbirds. I have also gotten used to the notion that female blackbirds are not black—that used to mess with my head.

What I have not gotten used to, however, is the pale yellow color of the eyes of the Rusty Blackbirds. There is something a little eerie and disconcerting about those eyes and I find them to be a bit creepy.

blackbird_rusty_female_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I saw a small flock of blackbirds on Monday at my local marsh, I assumed that they were Red-winged Blackbirds, but a closer look showed that I was wrong—they were Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus), a species that I had never photographed before.

The shape of the body seems similar to that of the Red-winged Blackbird, but the coloration is different and the pale yellow eyes of the Rusty Blackbird are particularly distinctive. They also seem to prefer a flooded area of the woods and I observed them pecking about in the shallow water, periodically flipping over wet leaves.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that the Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species, whose population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years and scientists are not sure why.rusty_blackbird_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The first time I saw a bird that looked like this, I thought it was a sparrow of some sort. When I saw this one, last week, I knew immediately that it was a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).

I have learned a lot about birds and photography this past year.  Along the way I also have learned more about myself as I seek to express myself in my words and in my images.

red-winged_female_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I remember well my confusion the first time that someone identified a bird like this one as a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). “How can it be a Red-winged Blackbird, when it’s not black and doesn’t have red wings?” I naively asked.

I have learned a lot since that moment and have resigned myself to the reality that the names of birds and insects are often not descriptive (or apply only to one gender of the species).

Female Red-winged Blackbirds seem to forage for food in the underbrush most of the time and I have found it to be harder to get a good shot of females than the males, which seem to like to perch and pose prominently on the cattails. This female lifted her head for a brief moment, permitting me to get this shot, and then quickly returned to work.

blackbird_female_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday I noticed several small flocks of blackbirds swooping in and out of the cattails at my local marsh and suspect that they are migrating birds. The marshland park seems to be favorite stopping-off spot for all kinds of birds as they move south.

I managed to get his shot of one of a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) in a rather typical pose on a cattail stalk. Unlike in the spring, when males seem to spend a lot of time calling out to potential, the blackbirds yesterday seemed to be much more focused on foraging for food.

blackbird_fall_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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On a heavily overcast day with intermittent rain, most birds seemed to be in hiding, but this male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) took the opposite approach by flying to the highest tree and loudly announcing his presence to the world with his distinctive call.

I like the way that the limited lighting caused this profile shot to turn into almost a silhouette, but somehow the colorful shoulder markings managed to show through.

blackbird_whitesky_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are loud and visible almost all of the time, but this one blackbird seemed even more determined than usual to pose for me. It was almost as though he was an experienced model, changing poses and holding them for a few seconds to allow me to get the shot before striking a new pose.

I wonder if he could have his own fashion show. Of course, we might have to alter the terminology a bit—I am not sure he would be keen to strut his stuff on something called a “catwalk.”

pose_blogAttention_blogstretch_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not sure if she was searching for food or was gathering nesting materials, but this female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was relentlessly attacking a cattail stalk. She paused for a minute and looked up, providing me with this photo op.

I like the way that her bill and her feet are covered with the cottony inner fibers of the cattail. The shadowy image of the male Red-winged Blackbird, with his distinctive shoulder patches, adds a interesting element to the background.

blackbirds_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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There is just something about this Red-winged Blackbird that makes me laugh. Perhaps it is his whimsical little half-smile or the way that he has cocked his head. Maybe it is the way that his feathers stick out like a little boy’s cowlick or the glint in his eyes or the way he is perched on the cattail. All of these features give him an almost comical look that I really enjoy.

blackbird1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the few birds that I can identify by their call. Yesterday I could tell that there were several blackbirds in the cattails at my local marsh long before I actually saw them, thanks to their very distinctive call. I tried several times to photograph the blackbirds while they were calling out and this was my favorite image.

red_winged_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This past weekend I had a chance to observe the singing techniques of a newly arrived Red-winged Blackbird in my local marshland park.

I was curious to watch the blackbird as he was singing and see if I could determine how he is able to achieve such amazing volume and duration in his calls. As a singer, I have been taught to concentrate on breathing from my diaphragm when I am singing, which fills up the lungs more completely than the shallow chest breathing that most people do. In practice, what this means is that you throw out your abdomen to allow more air in and then gently squeeze with the abdominal muscles to slowly expel the air.

It looks to me that the blackbird uses similar singing techniques. I could actually see his abdomen expand as he was getting ready to sing and he engaged his entire body when he was singing.

I have some images of blackbirds simply sitting on cattails from this weekend, but I thought it would be more interesting to share a couple of the ones in which the blackbird is singing.

blackbird2_blogblackbird1_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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My ears told me before my eyed did that some Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) had returned to my local marshland park. I heard the very distinctive song of the blackbird last summer and fall often enough that it’s embedded in my brain. I am working on a couple of photos of blackbirds on cattails, but thought I’d share this image first.

It’s sort of a silhouette, but the red and yellow portion of the wing are very visible, so it’s probably not a true silhouette. There is something simple and graphic about the image that I like, even though normally important details like the eyes are not visible.

blackbird3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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If I were judging from behavior, I’d have to say that most male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) seem immature. They remind me a lot of teenagers—they are hyperactive and prone to attention-seeking behavior; they are extremely loud; they like to hang out with their friends (who are all dressed the same); and they appear to suffer from a kind of moody teenage angst.

In this case, however, I am referring to the appearance of this Red-winged Blackbird that I photographed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. At first glance, I was pretty sure that this was a female Red-winged Blackbird. I’ve gradually gotten used to the notion that the female of the species is not black nor does not have red wings, but is still called a Red-winged Blackbird.

Immature male Red-winged Blackbird ?

When I looked a little closer, though, I could see a small patch of red on the upper part of the wing, where the adult male has the red and yellow patch of color. I’ve read in a number of places that male Red-winged Blackbirds start out looking like females and darken as they mature. I confess to being a little confused in identifying this bird? Sometimes I think it is a female with a touch of color, but most often I think it is an immature male? What do you think?

In any case, I like this informal portrait of the bird, who seems relaxed in this angular pose. A minute or so later, the bird turned to the side and assumed a more formal, upright pose. You couldn’t ask for a more cooperative subject. It was almost like the bird realized that I was thinking of it as “immature” and wanted to demonstrate that it could be serious and dignified.

Immature? I can be serious.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During the past month or so I have posted multiple photos of male red-winged blackbirds. The female is not black and does not have a red patch on her wings, so she may not be as easily recognized as a red-winged blackbird. I think you would probably agree, however, that the coloration of the female is very striking and quite beautiful. Here is a shot of a female red-winged blackbird on a cattail that I took this past weekend. I especially love the silvery gray beak and the gold ring around her eyes.

Female red-winged blackbird on a cattail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This image of a male red-winged blackbird is not spectacular or anything, but I like it just the same. I’m happy to see some of the texture of the feathers and some of the details of the eye. I’m content with the way the background turned out. Some days those small victories are reason enough for me to celebrate (and to post a photo).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I have worked to improve my skills in photographing birds, I have had the most success with red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Why? First of all, the red-winged blackbird is a lot bigger than most of the birds that I try to photograph. Secondly, the blackbirds like to perch on cattails, which are closer than the trees in the areas in which I shoot. Finally, the blackbirds seem a bit more tolerant of my relative proximity (unlike some other birds that fly away at the slightest movement long before I get in camera range).

Here are three shots of male red-winged blackbirds from yesterday that I like. The first one shows some details of the feathers, which for this bird are not solid black. This may be a not-quite-nature male blackbird (immature males have wings with buff or orange edges and have yellow on their shoulders, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Red-winged blackbird with feather details

The next two photos show the same bird in slightly different positions. The first one looks almost like the bird was posing for me for a profile shot. The last one gives us a peek inside a blackbird’s mouth as he begins to call out—it seems that male blackbirds always need to get in the last word.

Red-winged blackbird profile

Red-winged blackbird with open mouth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was out with my camera early this morning, when the ground fog still hung over the cattails in the marsh. The red-winged blackbirds were active and I managed to get this shot. It’s almost a silhouette, yet it retains some surface detail. I love the bird’s open mouth as he utters a loud cry. The elements all seem to work together to create an atmosphere of early morning mystery.

Early morning blackbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There was a lot of bird activity early yesterday morning as I walked through the cattail-filled marshy area of Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Many of the birds were in groups, it seemed, including large flocks of noisy black birds that several  of my fellow bloggers have helped me identify as grackles.

Most of the birds seemed to be be passing through and perched high in trees or landed too far away for me to capture them individually with my modest telephoto zoom. (Another photographer I saw had a massive 600mm telephoto lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached and seemed to have greater success.)

However, I was able to take this photo of bird on a cattail stalk and amazingly I can identify it—it’s a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).  I realize that the Red-winged Blackbird is probably one of the easiest birds to identify (along with the robin, bluejay, and cardinal), but I have had so many problems recently identifying the birds in my photos that it is satisfying to be able get one right.

There were flocks of birders present too, equipped with telescopes and binoculars, and some of them were almost as loud as the grackles. I heard lots of interesting debates, like whether a large bird soaring in the distance was a red-shouldered hawk or a redtail hawk (and I had no idea previously that there was a bird called a Coopers hawk). Most of the bird people were so intense that I didn’t dare to attempt to engage them in conversation.  One gentlemen, however, talked with me at length, periodically referring to a tattered guide that he had with him (it was a Peterson’s guide to birds east of the Rockies and he recommended it for a beginner like me). I think that I may have to break down and buy a little guide like that to start to learn more about birds.

For now, I’m happy that I can identify a Red-winged Blackbird most of the time, especially a male one!

Red-winged Blackbird on a cattail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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