I joined my friends in the Chemung Valley Audubon Society on a Bobolink outing to the Bluebird Trail Farm in Caton, New York a few weeks ago. The visit sent me back for some serious photography. There were abundant Bobolinks, plus many other grassland birds and an inquisitive Alpaca. Actually, it is an educational farm with chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats, in addition to vegetable and fruit gardens. It is a great outing for the family. The Barn Swallows are plentiful, and a joy to watch returning to their nests in the big red barn. There are a variety of activities on their website plus clear directions. Check them out at:
So, what did this photographer find at Bluebird Trail Farm? Yes, there were Eastern Bluebirds actively feeding young in nest boxes. They were a little leery of my approach, so I left them to their duties. Bluebirds offer some challenges. The sun's direction plays a big role in showing their brilliant blues, and the only place to see that was too close for them. There were so many other exciting birds in the grasslands that I did not feel disappointed.
There were many Tree Swallows, including some resting on various perches. Away from the nest, they were much more comfortable with my approach. Tree Swallows are a common species, yet their appearance and acrobatic flight are very appealing. Given the great number of insects they catch, they deserve to be appreciated. I got quite used to their flying within feet of me, as they swooped and rolled over the grasses. When I was under camoflage, one nearly landed on my head.
The Tree Swallows in the nest boxes were very actively feeding young, and they, too, were more comfortable with my location. I took it as a challange to capture their rapid flight towards and away from the nest box. The colors on the male are brilliant in the sun. It is a delight to stand a comfortable distance away and watch their nimble flight.
Capturing that moment when the bird just touches the box meant that I triggered the shutter when it was still some 4 feet away, and then just hoped I had it right. As I reviewed the photos, I noticed a wide array of insects in their beaks. All were flying insects. Other birds in the grassland had different menus.
Capturing the departure presented a new challenge. On approach, I could see the birds some twenty feet away and triggered the shutter as it passed a mark in the background. When it is leaving, there is just a bit of head showing, and often I reacted to a little twitch in the head that was just that. Other times it was the only warning of the explosive launch into the air.
So, Tree Swallows were abundant and provided a great challenge. The Bobolinks offered a different entertainment. First, their bubbly song is one I would never tire of hearing. However, the females nest in the tall grass, and the males are often in the grasses searching for both larva and flying insects to feed the nestlings. Even when feeding young, they do sing among the grasses.
Here is one male who gained a perch before delivering a catch of insects to a hidden nest in the grasses. The Tree Swallows in the nest box did not seem to object to the Bobolink.
The female Bobolinks are very differently colored to hide in the grasses. I captured this one flying towards a hidden nest.
This brings me to the more elusive of the grassland birds at the farm, and arguably the most colorful and musical, the Eastern Meadowlark. The bird proved difficult to locate, and required complete camoflage before it would approach a favored spot to sing. It was worth the effort. Thankfully, they are slower on the wing than a Tree Swallow.
The Eastern Meadowlark takes the posture of an operatic tenor to belt out its song with full voice. I wonder if I could be so lucky as to record one on video?
Bluebird Trail Farm is not just for the obsessive nature photographer who needs to get ridiculously close to get a full frame image. With a reasonable set of binoculars, one can get detailed views. Absent binoculars, the views are reasonable, and the distinctive birdsongs clear to the ear. It is a wonderful place for the young and the young at heart. Check out their website, and give Margie a call to arrange a visit.
I'll be posting more of my photos at: http://pschmitt.smugmug.com/