Archives For cedar waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing: Lifer

Carol Freeman —  November 27, 2012 — 2 Comments

For those birders who keep lists, a Lifer bird is one that you see in the wild for the first time in your life. Always exhilarating, often amazing, and really pretty cool when you think about it.

I love birds. I know a bit about the local ones, and I know enough birders to know when a rare bird is around. Thankfully birders like to share info—a nice trait.

I had heard through the grapevine that a Bohemian waxwing had been seen at the Chicago Botanic Garden for the last two days. This is a bird that spends most of its time in the boreal forests of Canada, and only very rarely visits Illinois in the winter. Similar to the cedar waxwing, which can be found here year round, it is larger, lacks the yellow on the belly, and has lovely reddish markings on the face and under the tail.

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©Carol Freeman, all rights reserved.

Birds don’t sit still, and this particular bird had been seen in several different locations at the Garden. No telling where it would be today, or even if I would see it.

Luckily, when I headed toward its last known location near the Enabling Garden, I came upon several birders. They were pointing to the top of a tree. I look up. Yep, there’s a bird about 20 feet up, backlit against a white sky. Hmmm, not the view I was hoping for. But I can just make out the identifying marks of a Bohemian waxwing. Ok, there it is, my Lifer. Hmmm, kinda anticlimactic. In case this is the one and only time I ever see this species, I take a few obligatory shots. I personally don’t count a bird on my list unless I have a photo, and now I have a few. They aren’t going to win any awards, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. 

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©Carol Freeman, all rights reserved.

Just after I get my shot, the bird flies to another clump of trees a short distance away. Then it flies out of sight. A few birders go off to see if they can relocate it. I chat with the others who have stayed behind. Some had seen the bird before today. But for many, this is a Lifer for them too.

While waiting for the bird to hopefully make another appearance, I take a moment to photograph the many cedar waxwings that are enjoying the abundant berries nearby. Suddenly I hear shouts from the birders. The Bohemian waxwing has just flown into the trees where the cedar waxwings are feeding, not far from where I’m standing. The bird is a few trees back and blocked by branches. I don’t want to move and scare it off, risking the wrath of the birders, so I just wait. Soon the Bohemian waxwing makes its way toward me. Wow! It’s hopping onto branches, closer and closer to where I’m standing. Oh my! Now it’s right in front of me. Whooo, hoooo! I couldn’t have gotten any closer if I had tried. Click, click, click, wow, wow, wow, amazing! I’m stunned. What an incredible encounter. This is one Lifer experience I’ll never forget. And…I have the photos to prove it!

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©Carol Freeman, all rights reserved.


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Magic Tree

Carol Freeman —  November 7, 2012 — 1 Comment

The Magic Tree is the Holy Grail for photographers. It’s the sweet spot where all the wildlife seems to magically appear for minutes or sometimes hours at a time. If I’m lucky I will find it a few times each year. The trick is I never know when or where the Magic Tree will be. The Magic Tree doesn’t just reveal itself to everybody. You have to show it respect. You can’t just walk up to it and start firing off pictures – that breaks the magic, and all the birds will scatter.

Whenever I pull into the Garden, the first thing I do is roll down my windows and drive very slowly down the entry road. I’m looking and listening for any clue as to where I might find something interesting to photograph.

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Cedar Waxwing eating a berry. ©Carol Freeman

On this particular day I hear a few chirps and see the flash of a bird. I park in the first lot and quickly grab my gear and head for the place where I think I saw it.

As I get close, I hear Cedar Waxwings conversing. Wow, there are dozens of them, hopping from branch to branch grabbing ripe berries and gobbling them down whole. They move so fast that it’s hard to get a shot before they move on to the next branch or bend down for another berry— but it’s fun to watch! I take many shots, attempting to get one where the Waxwing has a berry in its beak. Timing is everything here. Too soon and all I see is the top of the bird’s head; too late and the berry is gone.

There are many young Waxwings who have not yet mastered the art of grabbing the berries, so many are dropped onto the ground. That’s good news for birds like the Hermit Thrush, which like to scavenge on the ground. The Waxwing’s loss is the Thrush’s gain. Seems like a good compromise – and there are plenty of berries to go around.

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Robin getting in on the action. ©Carol Freeman.

Joining the Waxwings are Robins. They, too, can grab berries and swallow them down whole. Along comes a couple of Cardinals. They love berries too, but it seems like they get more on their beaks than they eat. Even the squirrels are getting in on the action, climbing out on the thin branches to get the delicious fruit.

I stand here for over an hour. The birds begin to accept me like part of the landscape. I’m able to inch closer and closer to the birds without them minding me at all. This is what nature photography is all about for me: being accepted by the wildlife that I’m photographing.

I realize today I have found The Magic Tree. I thank the tree and all the critters for letting me in on such a wonderful experience. I am grateful that I have been allowed to share in the magic of The Magic Tree.

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Cardinal “Do I have something on my beak?” ©Carol Freeman.

All photos were shot with a Nikon D300s camera, Nikon 80-400mm lens, hand-held.