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So far birds has created 37 blog entries.

Looking for committed bird photographers/seller/buyer/publisher…

I’ve been contemplating a total revision of my web site. Go here:

http://www.globalbirdphotos.com

Right now the 2,000 or so bird images of some 100+ North American species (taken mostly with high-speed strobes at nests) come up as tiny thumbnails that enlarge to 4″ x 6″ @ 72 dpi (far too small to get an appreciation of the file’s detail).

I’d entertain placing the images of other like-minded photographers up on the site. There will be two objectives.

#1. – to strive for quality over quantity.

#2. – to market these images by bringing photographer (seller) and buyer together.

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A pair of Plumbeous Vireos bring insects to a family of hungry nestlings.

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A Black-billed Magpie gets ready to fly the nest after feeding a beak full of insects to two hungry babies.

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A female Rufous Hummingbird provides an aerial display featuring her iridescent back and tail feathers as she approaches the nest containing two young.

By | October 3rd, 2016|General|0 Comments

Starting a book project…

On my 40th birthday friends presented me with a copy of world renowned bird painter J. Fenwick Lansdowne’s 11″ x14″ book ‘Birds of the West Coast’ Volume 1. I loved the format. It had the name and text on the left hand side of the pages with the paintings on the right. His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, wrote it’s Foreword.

It was the inspiration for a title that I co-authored with Isidor Jeklin of Toronto ‘The Art of Photographing North American Birds’. In this title, my publisher choose to place all the text in the front of the book with the photographs featured at the back. Just before our book was published in 1984, I wrote to Fenwick and after seeing some of our images he generously agreed to write its Foreword.

Some years later my wife Tina and I visited Victoria and we enjoyed a beautiful meal at the Empress Hotel with Fen and his wife Helen. The following day  Tina and I had the privilege of visiting Fenwick’s studio and I came very close to purchasing an original painting of a Wilson’s Warbler. A short time later Fenwick left Victoria for Hong Kong to paint birds for the title ‘The Rare Birds of China’.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenwick_Lansdowne

Over the years I’ve both self published and had publishers. Looking back, I’d never ever again consider self publishing. It’s just too hard to distribute a title so I’m on the hunt for a publisher. Below is the rough outline for a possible 8.5″ x 11″ book ‘The Evolving Challenges’ (of bird photography at a nest):

The above ‘book’ does not always work. If you have trouble do a search for:

“issuu The Evolving Challenges Donald Waite”

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A hungry almost-ready-fledge Cedar Waxwing literally turns upside down begging for food.

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A male Red-wing Blackbird makes a rare visit to a tippy nest containing young.

By | September 18th, 2016|General|0 Comments

Song Sparrow and Chum Salmon fry…

In April 2004 Damon Calderwood and I discovered the nest of a pair on Song Sparrows in a briar patch adjacent to the Alouette River in Maple Ridge. The Alouette emptied into the Pitt River which in turn emptied into the Fraser River. In other words, the Alouette was tidal. Since these birds feed primarily on seeds and insects, we were surprised to see the adults bringing in Chum Salmon fry. We speculated that the birds were hunting for them in small pools along the river’s edge as the river receded. Due to this rich and abundant protein source, the babies grew faster than at the normal rate. Damon wrote a more comprehensive article for Wildlife Afield. Go here for his article:

http://wildlifebc.org/pdfs/4_2_Caldewood_Waite.pdf

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A Song Sparrow brings a Chum Salmon fry to the nest to feed its hungry young.

By | September 16th, 2016|General|0 Comments

Damon S. Calderwood’s Yukon experience, 2004

I can’t remember when Damon began to do the writing for his book ‘Flights of Fantasy Photographing North American Birds’. The book was published by my company in 2006. Oh, my goodness, that’s already eleven years ago!

I always tried to instill in Damon the challenges of trying to get several ‘elements’ into a single bird photograph. So many bird photographers (since it’s now pretty much politically incorrect to photograph birds at the nest) seem to be satisfied with a shot of an adult bird in a tree, on the ground or in flight with a pleasing out-of-focus backdrop. To me, these photographs, even though the bird might be entirely in sharp focus, are boring. I bet that comment is going to hit the nerve with many ‘opportunist’ bird photographers.

Below are just a smattering of images taken from his book.

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In this photograph a perfectly camouflaged male Golden Plover broods three newly hatched chicks and incubates a remaining egg as he snaps at an annoying gnat.

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A brooding female Common Redpoll flutters her wings in anticipation of a feeding from her more colourful mate.

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A White-crowned Sparrow exits its rootlet nest.

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A pair of Hermit Thrush do an over and under full flight manoeuvre near the nest.

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A female Semi-palmated Plover broods one young while another explores the tundra.

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These newly hatched Artic Tern chicks have a warm downy coat to protect them from the cold northern winds.

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A pair of Lincoln’s Sparrows enter and exit the nest simultaneously.

By | September 15th, 2016|General|0 Comments

Trip to Burns, Oregon, 2006

In 2006 David J. James, birding associate Damon S. Calderwood and I drove down to Burns, Oregon, for almost two months of photographing birds at the nest. It was an exciting time and we managed to photograph 29 different species.

For me the most rewarding discovery was a pair of Mountain Bluebirds occupying the abandoned nest of American Robins. This phenomenon had been written about in Arthur C. Bent’s ‘The Life Histories of Birds’ but had never been photographed. We had surmised that cavity nests were at a premium in the area and the bluebirds had resorted to the robin’s nest. The site was perfect for photography as it was only 4-feet off the ground in a juniper. I immediately set up my blind and strobes around the nest. I cut two dead branches off the nest tree after one of the sharp sticks poked me in the eye. I also cut some live branches from a neighboring juniper and placed them in behind the nest. My purpose for this was twofold – to provide background for the photography and to prevent the adults from “coming in the back door”. Almost immediately the adult birds accepted my presence and came in with food on the average of every five minutes to feed the babies. Almost every time an adult would come into the nest, the bird would dig down into the robin nest’s clay bowl as if trying to excavate.

When I left in the evening I covered the nest with the cut branches making sure that there was a way for the parents to get to the babies for feeding and brooding. I knew from experience that baby bluebirds, because they are cavity dwellers, are very noisy. While taking my photographs, I saw owls, hawks and shrikes within earshot of the nest.

Right in the middle of my photography on the third day a  state trooper happened to see my setup and decided to investigate. He had observed my parked Sports Utility Van with my logo and Waite Air Photos Inc. on all 4-sides and had decided to investigate. He saw my blind set up about 8-feet from the nest. He also noticed a saw and correctly concluded that I had used it to cut the branches. I tried to explain that my placing of the branches had probably saved the lives from nearby predators. My explanation fell on deaf ears. He gave me a $299 American maximum misdemeanor for harassing wildlife: to wit Mountain Bluebird. To make a story short, I had my day in court, plead guilty, and paid $225 American (the minimum allowed by law). This was my first time to ever have an encounter with the law over birding Things had certainly changed during the time that I had been away from any serious bird photography.

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I photographed this male Mountain Bluebird attending to his ready-to-fledge young residing in the nest of an abandoned American Robin, first time for this to be documented with photography. Damon S. Calderwood wrote an article that was published in the ‘Living Bird’ – one of the most prestigious bird magazines in North America.

To say that I was upset with the ticket would be an understatement. I immediately got in touch with the district biologist in Burns and invited him to accompany me to photograph a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes. I had earlier discovered the nest when it still contained eggs. I was a little taken aback when he arrived out at the nest and began taking photographs of my setup. I was beginning to think that perhaps I’d set myself up for another ticket. He took the first shift in the blind and I watched from my SUV from the roadway. The next fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity for me but then there was a series of quick flashes from the strobes as both parents came in with pieces of a skinned mouse. One of the pair had caught the mouse and the pair had taken their time carving it up into small pieces on a nearby “butcher block”.  This block, simply a dead tree, was used by the two birds to cut up their larger prey and was located about 50 feet behind the blind. The biologist stayed with me for a couple of hours. After the photography session, the biologist and I visited a restaurant in Burns and he agreed to issue us Canadians permits to photograph birds. Surprisingly, no such permit existed however a permit did exist that allowed teachers to take students out during the breeding season to look for nests.

A day or two later, I contacted the a biologist in Salem, the state’s capital, and talked about the circumstances of my misdemeanor. I told him that the trooper failed to see the big picture and that individual farmers were cutting down hundreds of acres of hay and that nesting birds were being cut up and shredded by the thousands if not millions. He tried to tell me that the farmers held off haying until the nesting season was over. Somewhere in the conversation I interjected that I was a farm boy and suggested he drive to Burns to see for himself just what the farmers were doing. I spent on to explain that farms were opening flood gates and that birds on one side of the dikes were being flooded out while birds on the other were being left high and dry resulting in an untold number of deaths to birds per acre. I told him that grazing cattle stepped on God knows how many nests per acre. A burocrat, he gave me the phone number of the top national biologist in Washington, DC.

She and I talked and I told her everything that I’d discussed with the Salem biologist. I even suggested a national permit for knowledgeable bird photographers be given consideration. She was very apologetic and said that the trooper shouldn’t have given me a citation unless I’d caused the death of the birds. Before hanging up, she told me that she’d send faxes to all the law enforcement agencies in and around Burns instructing them to leave the Canadian bird photographers alone.

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An adult Loggerhead Shrike brings an Alligator Lizard to feed whole to one of its almost ready-to-fledge young.

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A Loggerhead Shrike and its almost ready-to-fledge young take a noon day siesta. Note that this image has been ‘flipped’ in Photoshop when compared to the one above.

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A Virginia Rail picks up a newly-hatched young in its beak.

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A Snowy Plover moments before exiting the nest with its dried out young.

By | September 13th, 2016|General|0 Comments

Birding in the Okanagan Valley, 2007

Upon our retirements, my wife Tina and I talked about what we’d like to do for the rest of our lives. I told her that I’d like to travel the world collecting information to write about gold and to continue writing books about bird photography.

In the early spring of 2007 I ordered 4-sections of scaffolding. Two sections were made of steel and two were made from lighter but more expensive aluminum. As well, I purchased a custom-built trailer for towing behind my Sports Utility Vehicle.

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A Black-billed Magpie attends its two almost ready-to-fledge young.

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A Pygmy Nuthatch at the nest cavity attending to its young.

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A Gray Catbird nestles down to brood its young.

In 2007 birding associate Damon Calderwood and I were hit with 9 criminal charges each by the Canadian Wildlife Service under the Migratory Birds Conventions Act, 1994 and the newly created Species at Risk Act (2002). The potential for fines was a staggering $4,500,000. I eventually learned that the most aggressive investigation came as a result of e-mails from the very top of the CWS organization. The lead investigator eventually lined up 16 government witnesses to testify against us. Their investigation probably cost the Canadian taxpayer between $500,000 to $1,000,000. We were charged jointly because we were caught photographing a single adult Yellow-breasted Chat and babies at the nest. None of the birds died because of our photography. Ironically, my wife spent far more time photographing the chats than I did yet her name never came up in any of the 400+ page prosecution package. It occurred to me that Damon and I were being targeted.

The results of these charges to me personally were devasting. I suffered a complete mental breakdown that placed me in the psychiatric ward of the Maple Ridge Hospital for almost three weeks. If it were not for the unwavering support of  Tina and family I’d likely be in the ground. The first thing that Damon and I did upon my release was hire an expensive lawyer. He negotiated a deal with the Justice Department lawyer. The deal was simple. If Damon and I both agreed to plead guilty, the JD lawyer was prepared to stay (shelve) 8 of the 9 charges against each of us, reduce the one charge each under the Speciers at Risk Act from criminal to summary (a lesser charge) conviction, and request an $8,000 fine for me and a $6,000 fine for Damon. Tina, family, friends, and psychiatrists all begged Damon and I to take the deal. If we did, the threat of the heavy fines or a criminal record would vanish.

Although publicized at the time, little of the behind the scenes events got out to the public. My lawyer, because of my fragile mental state, told me not to talk to reporters. It was never revealed that almost a year after the incident, I sued a biologist for slander for writing about me with a great deal of misinformation that quickly went viral on birder blogs. Because of it, I began receiving ‘hate’ mail and that accounted for my spiral downward into mental unbalance. Because of my being manipulated into pleading guilty, my actions against her simply vanished. You see, since she was a government employee, the Justice Department went to bat for her.

When Damon and I had our day in court, with the small amount of evidence that came out, the judge sentenced me to a $4,000 fine. Damon was fined $2,000. We were given 1 year to pay the fines with the understanding that we’d be given unconditional discharges if we stayed out of trouble. There was something at our trial that I found disconcerting. Although our lawyer offered up a disc with all our images, the JD lawyer refused. I suppose she likened them to the proceeds of a crime. In any event, the judge told us that we were not allowed to publish (and I suppose that includes this blog) or profit from any of our chat photographs. For the record, the chats were photographed over a three-day period. Damon photographed them on the first day, Damon and Tina on the second day, and I was just setting up on the third day when I was ‘busted’ by 3 biologists.

It’s interesting that the biologists and law enforcement officers went through the photographs that my wife had taken. The last two photographs showed the parent bird fluffed up with its eyes closed. The meta data on each photograph gave the exact time the images were taken. My wife, brand new to bird photography, concluded that the  adult was shutting down and going to bed for the night. A biologist tried to suggest that the bird was injured because of her photography. Did it not occur to her, if they were the last photos of the day that the bird might just be going to bed? If she or any of the other biologists did, it was never mentioned in the prosecution package. There was also a suggestion that the strobes damaged the eyes of the babies and the adult. If the prosecution had looked at the meta tags they would have seen that the strobes were powered down. They would also have seen that Damon sometimes took several photographs over the course of a minute at the nest. If the strobes had frightened the adult, she would have flown off. It bothers me that the prosecution was more concerned with manipulating Damon and I into a guilty plea than trying to get to the truth. I was given an opportunity to give a “guarded” statement but I’d been down that road before and it didn’t end well. I wasn’t interested. Interested, although the JD used Tina’s photographs, she was never mentioned in the prosecution package.

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A Male Lazuli Bunting visits its nest to feed his babies.

They say the best therapy for mental illness is to talk or write about its causes. As a result I wrote my memoirs ‘The Boy from Renfrew Ramblings of a Bird Photographer’ in 2015 in which I go into detail about the ‘Okanagan bust’. I had written about the ‘Okanagan fiasco’ in the fall of 2007 when the details were still fresh in my mind. The CWS needed poster boys to test their new Species at Risk Act. I guess Damon and I made perfect candidates as we had both written books on bird photography. Ironically, mine was away back in 1984 when the “rules” about the photography of birds at nests were very different than today. The crown in their prosecution package seemed prepared to introduce photos from 1985 into a trial. Ironically, I had taken the photos while working with the CWS.

Incredibly, the fines in 2007 were $250,000 each. As Damon and I found out, it is very easy for an over enthusiastic law enforcement officer to turn a single incident into several charges knowing that’ll give the Justice Department ample opportunities for deal making. The maximum fines since then have been raised. The government has introduced minimum mandatory penalties that takes the onus of passing the amount of a fine away from the judge. It’s like an ex-policeman friend of mine said to me, “Throw enough mud at the wall and something has to stick.”

It’s a bit late but I’d like to give my side of the story for the record referring to the chat “bust”. Damon found the nest and cut out a patch of thick brambles some 6-feet away from the nest. I learned that Damon had sent out a bulk email to Okanagan birders telling them that he was going to be photographing birds in the Okanagan. He asked for help from the local birders. One, a well-known birder, author, and a member of the “Yellow-breasted Chat Recovery Team” sent him a lengthy email telling him where to go to find certain species of birds. He told him exactly where to go to find chats but neglected to tell him that chats were a Species at Risk in that particular part of the province. Damon found a nest and over three different occasions cut out three 2′ x 6′ patches of brambles to eventually create a 6′ x 6′ opening into which he placed his blind. He took photos on the 11th June. He and my wife Tina took photos on the 12th and a visited her momentarily at the blind. The area was badly trampled with a pathway leading to the nest. This made perfectly good sense to me as Damon and Tina (as well as biologists) had walked in and out of the area. I was in the blind all of 15 minutes on the 13th before being ‘busted’.

I was confronted by three biologists. Unknown to me, the chat had recently been made a Species at Risk in the Okanagan. It was not at risk in other parts of Canada or the US. Because all my bird books were seriously out-of-date, I was totally unaware that the chat was possibly the most studied bird in BC if not all of Canada.

Here’s what I remember about my confrontation with the three biologists on the morning of the 13 June. The senior biologist pointed to a red or orange ribbon. Since Damon had found the nest, I initially assumed that he had tagged a bramble close to the nest for me. She then showed me the initials ‘YBCH’ that stood for Yellow-breasted Chat. She informed me that I was set up on a bird in her study area. One thing that I do remember very explicitly is that when I asked her the success rate of the chats she told me that 99.9 % fledged. I was puzzled and told her that her comment couldn’t possibly be correct. We talked for quite some time and I asked her if we could perhaps later get together for a coffee. She declined. I recall telling her that I had photographed birds for several years and that I’d even worked with the Canadian Wildlife Service. I mentioned that I’d co-authored a book years earlier and that I was now working on a book for children. I also told her that my company had published a book about birds the previous year and offered to show her a copy from the back of my Sports Utility Vehicle. We exchanged information. I gave her a business card and she gave me her cellular number. When I mentioned that we were set up on the nests of Black-headed Grosbeaks and Gray Catbirds, she gave me the phone number of a woman to call about the continuance of the photography. The biologist told me that they were quite busy and requested that I dismantle and leave. In my haste to leave, I left a strobe and tripod behind. Alone and back at my vehicle, I realized the missing equipment. I called the biologist and asked if she had seen the missing items. She said she hadn’t. I asked her to look for them as I’d be reporting the loss to the police for insurance purposes as the two items had cost me over $700.

As an ex-policeman, I began wondering if I hadn’t been under observation since the day before Tina had seen three biologists who parked a government truck beside my SUV and hiked up onto a side hill. When I’d gone to check on Tina at the nest, she told me that she had to use the washroom. Just as we came out onto the roadway, the biologists intercepted us at our vehicles. One of them informed us that she had gotten into some Prickly Pear Cactus. They told us that they were doing a study on a particular butterfly. Tina pulled out her insect book and looked up the butterfly. We told them that we were in the Okanagan photographing birds. When Tina and I returned she went back to photographing the chat. I called Damon and on his cellular and arranged to meet him near the nest. He joined me and almost immediately a government chap came into the bush and told us that the “butterfly ladies” had told him that we’d found the nest of a Great Gray Owl. It simply wasn’t true. While he was talking to us Tina was listening to our conversation from within the blind. He was Australian. He told us he was with a group doing a study on Flammulated Owls. He then asked if we’d seen any chats and we played stupid. At some point, I got a sickening feeling in my stomach. When confronted at the nest, I was alone. It would be the word of three witnesses against one. One of the witnesses was a very well-built First Nations man. Was he there for the muscle in case I made a scene? From experience, I know that law enforcement officers can sometimes even be used as part of an elaborate sting without their knowledge.

Here are links to just 2 the studies carried out on chats by the Okanagan biologists:

Site Fidelity and Annual Survival of the Western Yellow-breasted Chat at the Northern Edge of its Range:

http://www.canadianfieldnaturalist.ca/index.php/cfn/article/download/1329/1322

Yellow-breasted Chat and Gray Catbird Productivity in a Fragmented Western Riparian System:

http://www.sfu.ca/biology/wildberg//papers/MorganetalWJO07.pdf

WordPress’ first question upon my signing up was what I was hoping to achieve by putting up a blog. It’s very simple. I want to sell books. I printed 100 copies of my memoirs, 50 in black and white and 50 in colour. The 400+ page 8.5″ x 11″ book sells for $50 and $100 respectively.

In 2006 my company published Damon’s book ‘Flights of Fantasy’. It was originally priced at $30 put I’m unloading the remaining 40 copies for $20 each.

 

By | September 12th, 2016|General|2 Comments

Working with George L. Tickell…

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A pair of Pacific Wrens (previously the Winter Wren) attend to the needs of ready-to-fledge young.

I’ve always tried to capture as many ‘elements’ in a bird photograph as possible. The ‘elements’ in this case are both parents in the same photograph, the babies, and the beautiful green moss and tiny rootlets that make up the nest. There is a bonus. The one parent is frozen in full-flight. Everything in the photograph, due to the introduction of 3 high-speed flash units, is razor sharp. The text on the image is for indentification purposes: PAWR/Pacific Wren – 2016/year – GLT/initials of the photographer, in this case George L. Tickell – and finally 9057/the number assigned by the camera to the photograph.

When designing my web site 15 years ago, I decided to adopt the standard 4-digit abbreviation for common birds. For the abbreviations to every bird in the world go here:

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nabb/v003n01/p0016-p0025.pdf

George used his newly purchased Canon 5Dsr body with a 100-400 zoom lens in conjunction with 3 -580 high-speed strobes. The settings on the strobes were controlled by George at the camera. In this case, George set his stobes at only 1/16 power for a flash duration of about 1/9,000 second which was fast enough to stop the breaking in flight of the adult as it came in to the nest.  With his new camera, George was able to set his ISO (the sensitivity of the light on the sensors) very high in order to have his depth-of-field set at f-29. Because of the short flash duration, George was able to set his camera to fire bursts of frames as he hit the button on his cable release whenever the birds flew into or out of the nest.

Contrary to what some biologists might think, the very weak but short flashes from the strobes do not impact the birds. This is because the irises of the birds’ eyes would be closed down due to the daylight. This would be different however photographing birds at night.

I was looking for bird nests with wildlife photographer George this past summer when we discovered this wren nest in the root tangles of an upended Western Hemlock in Allco Park in Maple Ridge. This nest was perfect for photography being located on a much travelled pathway and only 4-feet off the ground. When discovered, the parent birds were sitting on eggs. George and I decided that we would not attempt any photography until the babies were older since the best photography of birds at the nest always takes place as the young get closer to fledging. George and I took turns using his camera for three days. Although the 3-strobes were set up only a few feet from the nest, the birds came and went on a regular basis ignoring the lights and us. The camera with the 100-400 zoom lens was about 6-feet from the nest. The birds were so tame that George and I were able to sit comfortably chairs and do shifts to take the photographs. While one of us did a stint taking photographs, the other looked for new nests. Several times each day teachers with young school children would stand behind us and watch the comings and goings of the birds.

I explained to George that the ultimate photograph would be the two birds at the nest at the same time with the babies looking out from the nest. This would have to happen just before the babies fledged. When Pacific Wrens are in close proximity to each other nest at the nest an adult often does a ‘flutter’ as a way of greeting to its mate. Although this happened for us on several occasions, neither George nor I were able to capture the two birds in a pleasing pose. George did however get a ‘family’ photograph.

By | September 12th, 2016|General|1 Comment