Seeing a Cedar Waxwing at Callahan was a rare treat for me. Other people have them in their backyards, but I haven't seen one since we lived in Sharon, and I only saw one during the thirteen years we lived there!
They are such beautiful birds! The subtle, delicate colors shining in the sun and the jet black mask outlined with bright white; its breathtaking!
They are gorgeous even without the sunlight. In the deep afternoon shade the colors are hardly noticeable, but the dramatic mask and crest can't be ignored.
This was my second day using the Nikon D100. Unfortunately, I was too far away for my mediocre lens. I still might have captured a few decent pictures, but I forgot to turn on the Vibration Reduction, too. I got nothing at all. Thank god Tom was was there with the Sony H50 super-zoom! He took every picture but this one, and his is much clearer than mine!
We also had an Eastern Kingbird pose for us at the very top of a nearby tree. This is a typical perch for the Kingbird, who truly believes himself to be king of all he surveys.
This is a good image of a Kingbird's shape, which is similar to most flycatchers. The Kingbird can easily be recognized and distinguished from other flycatchers, however, by the bright white band on the end of his tail and wings. The Eastern Kingbird also has a small red crest, but it is rarely seen.
Farther down the path I heard the sound of a Pileated Woodpecker's call, and then the loud hammering of the Pileated's pecking. I know these sounds well, since I have been trying to glimpse a Pileated for years now. I know there is one that frequents the area bordering the aqueduct near my house. I have heard him (or her) often. I have tried to find her (or him) so many times that I am embarrassed to admit it. I have never seen a Pileated Woodpecker in my life, and I didn't see one at Callahan, either. I saw evidence that one had been there, though. The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker we have, and he pecks ENORMOUS holes in trees.
The Pileated tends to peck rectangular shaped holes; if you see such a hole, the Pileated Woodpeckers have been around. You can hear the call of a Pileated Woodpecker at "All About Birds" from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (I think they sound like a combination of Woody Woodpecker and a laughing hyena.)
That's how my husband described the bird he saw through his camera's viewfinder. He is an awesome photographer, but not quite an expert on birds. I'm not much better when it comes to sea birds. I know this is a tern, and I think it is a Common Tern - but I'm guessing.
Terns are similar in coloring to their larger cousins, the gulls, but terns are smaller and have a distinctive "sharper" shape.
When flying, terns and gulls are not a bit alike. The sharp angles of a tern's wings is impossible to miss.
Here is another classic tern silhouette.
A Herring Gull skimming over the jetty. I like the 3D look! Gulls are great birds for fledgling photographers, by the way. They are large enough to spot, unafraid of humans, and very graceful.
A Herring Gull soaring overhead.
Herring Gull over the waves.
Great Black-Backed Gull heading out to sea.
This immature Gull could be a Ring Billed, but it is difficult to be sure at this age. Immature gulls of most species are browner and more speckled than adults.
This is one of the very first pictures taken with the Nikon D100. A friend and mentor traded me the camera for what was left of my Santa collection. Pretty great camera, don't you think!
This is a crop of the picture above. Can you see the ladybug? The D100 may be 7-year-old DLSR technology, but the detail and colors are outstanding; far better than my brand Sony super-zoom could ever be! (Thanks, Terry!)
An ever tighter zoom seems to indicate the ladybug is dead. (Try viewing large size on Flickr) The legs are hanging off the petal. On the other hand, it may be sleeping.
The killer wasp pictures last week were taken with the D100. Five days later, she's still at it! A different hole, a new katydid, but the same ritual.
He's going down! No underground buzzing this time, though.
This young cardinal was shot on day one. Believe it or not, the color is accurate!
Yet another motley cardinal five days later.
Peeking out from the branches of the Eastern Red Cedar again.
A very curious grackle was around all day.
Sharing the feeder with a sparrow; but what are they looking at?
He seems intrigued by the bird bath.
And decides it is safe to quench his thirst.
I was too far away for a good shot, but I did manage to get a dozen pictures of a Turkey Vulture flying over my back yard. Capturing a bird in flight is an accomplishment for me, blurry or not!
Sphex ichneumoneus. Great Golden Digger Wasp. (View large size on Flickr to see the golden hairs on her head and thorax.) Although very large and very scary, this wasp is not aggressive towards humans, and is actually beneficial for gardeners. It's sting is said to cause very little pain (note that I didn't test this out myself.) The solitary wasp's venom is very effective at paralyzing grasshoppers and katydids. What I first thought was a green leaf on the ground is actually a paralyzed katydid that this female wasp dragged to the hole she has dug for her eggs.
The Great Golden Digger Wasp goes down to prepare a chamber to contain her victim. The insect is completely paralyzed by her venom, and unable to move his limbs at all. Escape is not an option.
The Great Golden Digger Wasp is pulling the paralyzed insect down the hole. She will lay an egg in the katydid's chest, then seal him into a chamber off the main tunnel. The insect will live for days as it's frozen body serves as an incubator for the egg. After the egg hatches, the Katydid will be eaten alive - from the inside out - by the larvae. Did you ever see the movie Alien? Well, this wasp MUST be the source of that story! That terrible monster (who lives in my nightmares to this day) was just being a conscientious parent, like the Great Golden Digger Wasp here. Both provide fresh food to their helpless offspring until they can fend for themselves.
If this doesn't prove my theory that the wonders of nature can be found in your own backyard, then nothing ever will! This wasp might be common, but that does not make it uninteresting. A similar revelation last month made me vow not to dismiss or ignore common, "run-of-the-mill" birds (or animals) ever again. It was the Great Black-Backed Gull and shark incident that triggered my epiphany. I have always been thrilled by osprey and owls and eagles, but I wouldn't even look up to see a gull. Gulls are everywhere, after all. Gulls are in parking lots and landfills and other smelly places. Gulls are gross scavengers. That is what many people think, including me until recently. But it is not true. Now I know that gulls are large, beautiful birds of prey; just as complex and interesting as American Eagles. The only real difference between the two species is that one is rare and the other is everywhere!
And now a wasp in my yard! What next? A bear at the birdfeeder?