Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Some types of bird photography require patience and a high tolerance for failure.

Small birds tend to move erratically, often hopping from branch to branch. They rarely sit still long enough for the photographer to focus and get the shot and birds rarely pose in a way that exposes their bodies without a leaf or twig obscuring a part of the bird's body. And even when the bird’s body is unobscured, the background is either too distracting or backlit. This plays tricks on the camera's autofocus and autoexposure settings. I have tried using fully manual controls but it’s impossibly challenging to manually focus accurately when your subject is only still for a few seconds.

But sometimes, getting the shot is easy especially when the birds are plentiful and the scenery is simple. Several Red-winged Blackbirds are always active in the manmade swamp at the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge. The observation platform makes it easy to look down and out at the birds that alight on the tall reeds in the swamp. The birds chase each other and if I am lucky with the timing, I may catch one in flight between the reeds.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) · 3 May 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)

I had breakfast with a lurking Red-eyed Vireo.

Some men can be particular about their haircuts. I am one of those men. My hairstyle is a significant aspect of personal grooming and self-expression. It contributes to my overall appearance which I think influences how I am perceived in professional and social settings. A good haircut can boost my confidence. For me, my haircut every two weeks is self-care and a way to maintain a neat and polished look.

I had not had a haircut in quite some time. My favourite barber, Victor, left the crew in Hillsborough where he worked and opened his shop in Ewing. The shop in Hillsborough is a fifteen-minute drive from my home but his new shop is almost a one-hour drive. His prices also went up.

I have specific style preferences for my haircuts which I think look good for my face shape, hair texture, and casual lifestyle. Victor is an artist. At first, I did not mind driving the longer distance for my haircut but after a few months the weekend morning routine grew tiring; one hour to the barbershop, one hour in the chair, and then one hour back. Getting a haircut used up my whole morning.

For the last two haircuts, I went back to the old shop but neither Bhavna nor I liked the look of the haircut. I let my hair grow out.

Bhavna and I are huge Star Trek fans. We have a subscription to Paramount+ just so we can stream all the various newer Star Trek shows; Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Discovery, and Star Trek: Picard. One of the main characters, Dr. Hugh Culber, played by actor Wilson Cruz, has a haircut that appeals to me. I decided to go back to Victor. The haircut would be the same day as our 28th wedding anniversary so I chose the earliest available appointment.

I got up early, stopped in at the local coffee around 6 AM for a coffee and a pastry and drove the the parking lot of the Rocky Hill section of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. As I stood outside near the bridge eating my breakfast, I heard the sound of a nearby bird. It was loud so I knew it was singing from one of the nearby trees.

Merlin ID identified the bird as a Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus).

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) · 4 May 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) is a small migratory songbird found in New Jersey only during the breeding season. It inhabits deciduous and mixed woodlands, preferring dense foliage for nesting. The bird has a greenish back, white underparts, and a distinctive red eye. It feeds on insects and spiders, foraging actively in tree canopies. During migration, Red-eyed Vireos travel to Central and South America, where they spend the winter in tropical forests.

After I finished eating, I still had several minutes before I had to leave to make my appointment. I pulled out the camera but the vireo was hard to spot, especially since the sky was overcast (again) and the Red-eyed Vireo has a dull green colour. But I stuck with it and eventually, I got some usable photographs.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

After several failed attempts I finally got this shot before the bird flew off to one of the other trees.

Over repeated visits over a few week, I had heard two or more Baltimore Orioles calling from the top branches of the trees near the observation platform and parking on West Drive in the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge. On my second visit, after Merlin ID identified the bird calls, I saw two individuals chasing each other among the branches. It was frustrating not getting any photographs, as the sky was overcast and the backlight was an issue.

I wanted a "bird posed on a branch" photograph. After multiple visits to the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge, I managed to gather a small collection of images of passing quality. On these visits, the sky was clearer with a bit of sunlight. I’m not sure if it’s the same bird, but I returned to the same spot each time to hear the oriole singing in the branches above my head.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) · 6 May 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Later in the month, I woke up to clear skies and excitedly made my way to Institute Woods. My goal was to photograph some warblers at a spot I had marked on Google Maps. After finding the Magnolia Warbler, I continued walking the trails, eventually reaching the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge trailhead at West Drive.

Fortunately, more than one Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) individual was calling from the trees. After about 15 minutes, I got the photograph you see in the header. It’s a clearer but not perfect photograph. It’s still not "bird posed on a branch" worthy, but it’s the best I could do on this outing.