New neighbors

It’s funny – a few weeks ago I had something like four or five ideas about posts, all having to do with religion, and no other topics coming to mind, nor was any other blog providing inspiration. I try to rotate and break up topics so I don’t appear obsessively obsessive, so I struggled with splitting them up and finding other things to insert between. Now, I have four nature-themed posts that I could put up right now. Where were these when I needed them? If this isn’t proof that there’s no god, I don’t know what is.

Yes, I called this pic "Tits n' ass" - wouldn't you?

In that time before when I needed other subjects, I had been observing the antics of a tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor,) only it was a pair of them so it’s titmice. There are those who will disagree – they’re wrong. Language is not governed by rules, by the way, it’s a method of communication. All words are made up. While titmouse has nothing to do with mouse, every other usage of mouse is pluralized mice, and everyone knows exactly what I mean when I say titmice, so there’s no point in actually trying to figure out whether there is some other form of “proper” plural. If this is the way one has to display their higher intelligence, they have issues all their own. Save this post to link them to if you like. Or ask them what they’re doing about global warming – that works too.

[No, I’m not paid by the word] Titmice tend to be very subtle, not drawing attention to themselves with song and ostentatious displays (unlike Carolina wrens for instance,) but I did notice that they were interested in a hollow of the hickory tree in the yard. I’d peeked in there a few times when they weren’t around, but saw nothing of interest – I guess I wasn’t looking close enough. Just a few days ago, another peek revealed significant changes.

There are four in there – you can just see the corner of the fourth beak at lower left – and they keep mom and dad busy, going back and forth with insects. The young had remained silent at first, but in the past couple of days they have taken to cheeping when they feel food is imminent, and can frequently be heard any time I’m in the yard. The parents have a fairly set pattern of behavior, arriving nearby and scouting the area for danger before going into the nest cavity, and they have distinctive patterns.

The male will often perch on a branch in plain sight, and if the female is around, may chatter excitedly, though he is much quieter when alone. He often works towards the nest in stages, checking the area for danger so he doesn’t lead predators towards the nest. The female, on the other hand, stops on different branches, often in another tree, and remains deeper in the foliage, trying to stay hidden, and will disappear into the nest faster. The male often peeks out to check the environment, as seen below, but the female sticks right to the feeding business and thus spends about half as much time in the nest. Both will grab the drops of poop, that the young produce in huge quantities at this stage, and carry them out of the nest to deposit elsewhere – this is very common behavior among birds, and the neonates’ feces tends to be encapsulated in gelatinous “saliva” for just this purpose. Otherwise, they would be at the top of a mountain by the time they grow out their flight feathers…

I have been hampered in photographing them by three factors. The first is, the nest cavity is small and narrow, and while conveniently close to the ground, it’s hard to even aim the lens into. Second, the cavity remains in deep shade nearly all day long, dropping the light levels significantly even on a sunny day. And finally, titmice very active birds, constantly in motion, and this doesn’t combine with low light very well – to get a decent exposure, the shutter has to be slower, and this results in blurring if there’s the slightest movement from the bird at the time I trip the shutter.

However, I’m experimenting with several techniques, and will be back with followups, especially when the young fledge. I have been sitting nearby with the camera several times now, and the parents are fine with this as long as I’m a certain distance and remain relatively still. I have also augmented my light with both camera flash (only good for short distances) and a studio strobe, which works pretty well. The studio strobe can be triggered in slave function, which means it goes off when it detects the flash from another source, such as an on-camera unit, so I don’t need PC cords or radio syncs. Being in the backyard means I can power the strobe with an extension cord. I may even try to mount the camera higher in the tree, aiming downward into the nest cavity, and trigger it by remote cable or even infrared, both of which I use on occasion. I have to hand it to Canon – most of their cameras have inexpensive IR remote units, providing the ability to trigger the camera from moderate distances, provided you have a line-of-sight towards the front of the camera. I have also modified the wired releases, which are electronic, to utilize common stereo headphone extension cables available for only a few dollars. So as time goes on, I may feature both the birds and the successful techniques in photographing them. This is what’s known as a teaser, to keep you coming back to the blog – I’m not above such blatant manipulation. Worse, though, is I’m doing it for free, for some reason. Possibly because it doesn’t pay anyway – that might be it.

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