It pays to persevere when you are looking for a bird that is usually not seen in SW Michigan, but you know is there. My friend John (a most excellent nature photographer) and I spent more than a few early mornings in our separate vehicles canvasing the road where a pair of blue grosbeaks was spotted. Other anxious birders were out on this road as well, binoculars and cameras at the ready, watching and listening; hoping for a glance of this rare bird.
Blue Grosbeaks Nesting Out of Their Usual Range
This is the first time I’ve seen and photographed a blue grosbeak. They are not common birds, even in the southern states, the southwest and southern Mexico where they nest. Blue grosbeaks are long distance migrators, wintering south of the U.S. in Mexico down through Panama. A confirmed Michigan sighting (in the Allegan State Game Area in Fennville, Michigan) is very exciting news indeed.
My First Sighting of a Blue Grosbeak
The first time I saw the male blue grosbeak, he was perched on a mullein flower on the west side of the road as I was heading south. The morning sun was mostly behind the clouds, though it did occasional peak out. My camera and 500mm lens were on my lap. Since the bird was closest to the passenger side window, I hurriedly propped the camera up on the bin next to me before stopping the car. I was so excited and fearful of losing the moment, I took the first burst of shots before turning off the car’s engine. The tall grasses around his mullein flower perch were blowing back and forth in front of him, causing the auto focus on my 500 mm lens to work its crazy back and forth search routine. I could hear the image stabilizer (IS) whirring away before I took the shots, no doubt trying to compensate for the movement caused by my fast beating heart.
Day Two – Photographing Blue Grosbeaks
John and I went back the next day, hoping to again spot and photograph the male and female blue grosbeaks. The sun stayed behind thick clouds most of the morning but the wind was less fierce. We waited three hours and were rewarded with a couple sightings. The female made an appearance for a very short time, but she chose to nestle within the flowers and grasses, making it very difficult for my lens to achieve a sharp focus. The male appeared on the very same mullein flower, but did not stay long.
All in all, searching for and finding new birds is a very gratifying experience. I hope to go back again this summer to photograph the female and perhaps a juvenile blue grosbeak.
To read more about “bursting” to capture the action, see this post.
To read more about image stabilizers, see this post.
Some days, it’s nice to just stay home to watch and photograph the bird activity in my own back yard. Thanks to my husband’s long term planning, serious study and countless hours of hard work, our home’s landscaping is a beautiful and welcoming refuge for wildlife. Full of many different, shade loving, colorful, indigenous trees, bushes and plants, this inviting outdoor space provides an abundance of water, food, cover and nesting areas to attract a wide variety of wild birds. As our yard has blossomed and grown over the years, it has become a safe habitat for nesting birds and also weary migrating birds just passing through SW Michigan and needing a place to rest.
Photographing Rose Breasted Grosbeaks
Having this place, this wonderland in which to photograph birds, is a blessing. One of the most beautiful birds in our yard is the Rose Breasted Grosbeak. These large billed, stocky, medium sized birds are forest dwellers, and bold enough to be attracted closer to the house by the seeds in the bird feeders. The males are black and white, with a definitive bright red patch on their breasts. The females and juveniles have very different coloration, streaked brown and white feathers, but the same triangular bill.
Design Your Own Back Yard Bird Refuge
You can’t beat the convenience of staying home to photograph birds, whether you are sitting comfortably with your camera and cup of coffee inside your home, or setting up your blind and tripod outside in the yard.
Our property is an official Certified Wildlife Habitat®. The template for designing a wildlife habitat in your own yard is available from the National Wildlife Federation at this link. An essential component of this program is avoiding the use of chemical poisons. The diversity of plant life in our yard attracts many different species of wildlife that, in turn, help keep away damaging pests. Non-chemical, integrated pest management solutions are used when a pest problem is discovered. For a good resource on safe alternatives to the use of chemical pesticides, see this link.