Insect Eaters

        “All this is perfectly distinct to the observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most.”                           Henry David Thoreau’s second to last sentence in his last journal entry (03 November 1861)


Warbling Vireo, Vireo gilvus, La Plata County, Colorado, USA, North America


Since the neighborhood disruption last week, I have been carrying my Canon 7D camera with a 100-400mm lens on both my morning and afternoon walks. These slow paced walks are definitely not cardio workouts and I’m not sure how much it is benefiting my health. It has, however, opened up a new world to me. This secret world has been going on around me for years and I really have been mostly ignorant of its existence.Warbling Vireo, Vireo gilvus, La Plata County, Colorado, USA, North America

 While I’ve always been aware of the “seed eaters” (the ones that come to the bird feeders – chickadees, nuthatches, towhees, finches, jays, grosbeaks, goldfinches, etc.), I really haven’t been very aware of the “insect eaters” (warblers, vireos, flycatchers, gnatcatchers, etc.)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4683W1WML

Over the summer – and even more so in the last few days – I’ve become keenly aware of the LGBs (little gray birds) that are flitting through the ponderosa, oaks and PJ. While they may appear to be LGBs, they are actually – upon close examination – really stunning in their colors, variety and numbers. The diversity is astonishing.  Cassin's Vireo, Vireo cassinii, La Plata County, Colorado, USA, North America

A number of these photos are not of publication quality. They did, however, make it possible for me to identify birds that I could never have identified in the field.

Warbler 5417W1WMLBlack-throated Gray Warbler 5379W1WML


The Loggerhead Shrike (which is really not an LBG) caused a bit of a discussion with some local birders because several field guides state that the black mask does not meet over the bill in the Northern. This appears to be the case in these photos. Also, the bird is very pale which would favor the Northern although it was probably an immature Loggerhead which (according to the Cornell Lab website) are gray and not brown. The fact that it was here in La Plata County at the end of August would indicate that it was a Loggerhead. Loggerhead Shrike 5336bW1WML

One other note about the Loggerhead Shrike photos – they were taken at ISO 1250!!! When I began looking at my photos at the end of the day, I noticed that there was a lot of noise. That’s when I noticed the high ISO in the metadata. I never photograph at that high an ISO when out photographing birds. The highest I might go might be 800.

Shrike 5337W1WML

Earlier that day, I was showing some of my bird photos that were still in my camera to the folks on the Wednesday morning bird walk. A couple of the people were holding my camera and scrolling through the various images. Someone must have also hit the ISO button while they were scrolling and changed the settings. Lesson learned. Always check your camera settings before a photo session – and especially after someone else has been holding your camera. Audubon's Warbler 0450W1WMT

Virgina's Warbler 5461W1WMT

And check out those little insect eaters.  It will open up a whole new world to you.


It was my fault that there was a disturbance in the neighborhood last Thursday.

It was my fault that there was a disturbance in the neighborhood last Thursday. It all started when I walked down to get the paper with Duffy, the dog. Maybe if I had my camera with me things might have gotten even more disruptive.

Lately, I’ve taken to carrying my binoculars with me when I go for my morning and afternoon walks. I do this so that I can better see – and hopefully identify – the birds that I observe along the way. A number of times recently I’ve taken my camera and 100-400mm lens with me. At 400mm and with the 1.6x magnification factor of the Canon digital camera, I can obtain the equivalent of a 640mm telephoto lens. Blowing up the resulting image even larger often results in some fairly good photos which makes the bird identification much easier. I am by no means an expert at identifying birds with binoculars. If it is a bird that is fairly common and I am familiar with it, I can usually identify the bird. If it is not common or I am not familiar with the bird, I often struggle to observe and recall all of the field marks that might be necessary for a positive identification.

So, in Thursday’s refreshing morning air, as the Duffster and I sauntered along on Wildcat Road just after turning off of Oak Road, I observed a flash of bright red color. I had my binoculars with me and viewed a bird that instantly reminded me of East Africa’s Hunter’s Sunbird

Or a Scarlet-chested Sunbird

The bird had a bright red chest and black body and showed a flash of white when it flew. I only saw it for 5-10 seconds and then continued on. When I got back to the house and looked in Sibley’s Western Field Guide. The bird that came closest was a Painted Redstart, but it was not supposed to be seen in our area.

That afternoon I emailed Susan, the premier bird expert living in our area and told her what I saw and described the habitat and location. She got excited because it must have been a Painted Redstart and it is a rare bird for our area and Colorado in general.

Apparently, one had been seen in Mancos (about 30 miles West of here) three years ago in similar habitat. She asked if it would be okay to notify the statewide birder hot line and a few of the serious local birders (the types that have life lists that might include seasonal lists, county lists, state lists, country lists and world-wide lists).

I told her to hold off on the state notification and just tell a few of the locals. About a half-hour later, I headed for town to run an errand and encountered two birders walking along the road. When I returned home there were several cars parked along the road and more birders searching the area. Some of the neighbors went out and inquired what was going on. One thought that an elderly man must have been lost as it looked like he was wandering around aimlessly.

Late that afternoon Susan showed up. In the first half hour, she had identified a number of birds that I had never seen before on my walks. In the morning, Susan and her husband, Pete showed up. We all went out to look again. Later that morning, after meeting with a contractor, I went out and caught up with Susan. I showed her some similar habitat where I take my afternoon walks.

Susan was a great teacher, I learned a few new birds and with her help I was able to photograph a couple of birds I had not previously photographed: a Plumbeous Vireo and a Cordilleran Flycatcher.

Plumbeous Vireo, Vireo plumbeus, La Plata County, Colorado, USA, North AmericaPlumbeous Vireo, Vireo plumbeus, La Plata County, Colorado, USA, North America


Cordilleran Flycatcher 5149W1WMCordilleran Flycatcher 5147W1WM


Sadly – or maybe happily for the neighbors – no one has seen the bird again in the area.