For the Birds: Love those cooperative birds

It is hit or miss when it comes to photographing birds. It is mostly miss, but that just makes the hits even more rewarding.

Once in a great while, I have come across very cooperative birds. One of the more memorable times took place on a small lake in New Hampshire where a great blue heron stalked its prey on the shoreline as I silently approached in my canoe. The bird never broke its glance on its prey as my canoe drifted into range.

There have been a few times when a loon, or a loon family, has approached me in my canoe. Talk about a wonderful experience, especially when they sing or call from close range. There is no better wilderness experience than that.

Feeder birds can often make for a similar experience, but there is nothing like finding a cooperative bird in the wild. This particularly goes for birds that you otherwise wouldn’t see in your backyard. These moments come along often when I visit family in Florida, but New England birds are much more challenging.

I had such an experience the other day while I was walking along a trail that has been a hotbed of bird activity this spring. I was walking swiftly along the trail following the songs of a catbird and eastern towhee. Something caught my eye on a branch as I hurried by the spot.

It was an American redstart perched right along the trail singing its quiet, thin song. I hadn’t even noticed this song before as I was focused on the longer and more boisterous catbird and towhee songs.

What usually happens when I find a bird like this is that I reach for my camera and the bird is gone by the time I get the camera up to my face. But this redstart stayed put, and it stayed put for a while. In fact, for as long as I stood there photographing it, it sat there on its obvious perch singing its soft song.

I have photographed American redstarts before, but most of the photos are of them mixed within a bramble of branches. This was one of the first times I had seen one so close and so unobstructed.

In fact, my favorite birding website allaboutbirds.org — done by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — describes their behavior as, “American Redstarts are incredibly active insectivores that seem never to stand still.”

American redstarts are warblers that nest throughout New England. I would say that they are among my favorite warblers, but I could say that regarding just about any warbler species. Let’s just say I hold them in high regard.

They are jet black with markings of orange on their wings, tail and sides. They remind me of Halloween, even though most of them have left New England by the time the end of October rolls around. They are typical warbler-sized, about four to five inches long.

Females look similar but are gray with yellow markings instead of orange. You can still see the contrast of colors, which is not always the case with female warblers.

I was grateful for the time spent with the redstart. They have climbed even higher on my list of favorite birds. I wish moments like this would happen more often, but the scarcity makes the reward that much more special.

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