No, not the English rock supergroup of the 1960's that launched the careers of guitar legends Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. At the risk of dating myself, they were one of my favorite bands as a teenager (I still have my original Mono album) even though they were over by the time I was five years old. I wonder why they named themselves The Yardbirds, since it seems to imply the common or ordinary. Fast forward four decades or so and I'm still into the yardbirds.
I've been photographing birds in my yard for 20 years and have not done too bad considering my modest plot. Each new season brings a new batch of subjects, although it's usually the same new batch year after year, and they have become ordinary to me over time. Reports in the spring of people seeing migrant warblers like Cape Mays and Blackburnians in their Connecticut yards always turns me a bit green with envy ...... "the grass is always greener". But each new year holds new hope, so I keep at it.
After a cold spring, the season kicked off for me on Mother's Day weekend, when I walked out the front door to get a package and scattered a House Finch from the shrubs next to the landing. The reason for its close proximity stared me right in the face, a nest with two chicks in the back of a dwarf Alberta Spruce. I went inside and watched from the window for a while as the adults came and went, feeding the chicks. I decided to to set up a camera under the eaves and trigger it remotely from inside. After a couple failed attempts at framing and focusing (I couldn't look through the back of the camera since it was up against the house) I finally got it right.
The nest was pretty ugly since the adults stop removing the chick's fecal sacs, and and it was ringed with excrement. An unhatched egg was buried under a pile of it, as well. The adults also never brought insects, like other birds do, to feed the chicks. Instead, it was some ground up stuff they regurgitated. I've since learned that House Finches feed their chicks mostly plant matter, and dandelion seeds are a favorite food. Sadly, my lawn has plenty of them. While I watched from the window, waiting for the adults to return, I noticed another pair had a nest lower down in the same bush, buried way inside and a third pair nested in a similar tree about 10 yards away. Later in the day I took a walk around the block with my wife and we scared several blackbirds from a neighbors lawn. One turned out to be a male Bobolink and when we got back around to our house it was in our yard. A new yard bird added to the list!
The next few days the migration seemed to peek in Connecticut, and we had a bunch of new arrivals in our yard. Among them, a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers that were dust bathing in our garden and a House Wren that plucked fibers from the frayed net of my son's lacrosse goal. One day as I was loading my gear into the car to go to a job, I heard a high pitched song in the back yard. I walked around back and saw the pear tree, in full blossom, dripping with a half dozen or more Blackpoll Warblers. I grabbed a few quick shots and headed to work, hoping they would still be around when I got back.
The good thing about my yard is that there are several fruit trees, a pear, two apples and a cherry that were planted 60 years ago by my grandparents. Behind them are two tall oaks and closer to the house are a few crabapple trees that I planted to provide shade for our two dogs, who have since departed. The bad thing about it is that we're in eastern Connecticut near the coast (I know .... you're thinking why is that bad?) The reason it's bad is that we get far fewer spring migrants than central or western Connecticut. It's most likely just geography, but another reason might be that because of the cool ocean air the trees leaf out here at least a week later than other parts of the state, so most of the migrant songbirds I see in our yard are towards the tail end of the season. The fruit trees, however, usually blossom in early May before we get many migrants. Some years we have orioles feeding in the blossoms but if it's a warm spring, the blossoms are often gone even before the orioles return.
So back to my pear tree and the Blackpolls. They were still there when I got home, and I spent the last hour of sunlight photographing them while "hiding" behind the aforementioned lacrosse goal. The cold spring this year held the tree blossoms back until mid-May and the birds were here to capitalize. Timing is everything. The next morning I went out early and even more had warblers joined the feeding frenzy, Blackpolls were everywhere. We often get a few late in migration way up in the oak trees but these were at eye level!
Joining the Blackpolls were a couple Magnolia Warblers, several Northern Parulas, a few resident Yellow Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, and an immature Orchard Oriole. The next couple days it was tough to get much processing work done, because every time I got up from the computer I'd see more birds and get sidetracked photographing them. There was also a Worm-eating Warbler, a first time yardbird, and Common Yellowthroats that I never got clear shots of. I also heard a Blue-winged Warbler singing, but never saw it.
What the birds are actually eating in the tree blossoms appear to be small worms, although some birds tear off the whole flower to get at them. I was able to capture several shots of birds with small worms in their beaks.
The cherry on top of the whole episode was that two of the flowering crabapple trees are right next to the house, and I was able to shoot from inside, through open windows. Using the camera on quiet mode, the shutter made almost no sound and the birds took no notice of me as they foraged undisturbed. As a photographer, you know things are going well you have to make the tough decisions about what to shoot. Do I focus on the female Baltimore Oriole hanging upside down in the white blossoms, with the clean background?
...... or the striking male that's just below it?
..... or better yet, the Blackpoll Warbler that's even closer ....
or do I go the front window and shoot the Magnolia Warbler in the pink tree?
I can't remember many times where I had to make so many "tough calls". Not to worry though, it only lasted a couple days. One thing that's certain is that this season with the yardbirds was definitely not ordinary.