Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

The downy woodpeckers continue their amusing routines at the bird feeder as the seasons shift.

Among the various feathered visitors to my bird feeder, two downy woodpeckers have become regular guests, delighting our cat Alphonso Mango with their playful antics. These two woodpeckers are inseparable, always arriving together at the bird feeder several times daily. Their synchronised flights are comical, soaring through the air before landing on the sturdy branches of the Sassafras tree. From there, the real show begins.

Like acrobats, the two woodpeckers chase each other up and down the tree's branches, darting around with incredible agility. It is as if they are engaged in a secret game. Their antics add a touch of amusement to the backyard.

But the most amusing part of their routine is how they approach the bird feeder. The first downy woodpecker has a peculiar preference. Upon reaching a branch close to the feeder, it pauses momentarily, contemplating its next move. Then, comically, it would begin a slow and deliberate "walk" up the tree, pecking at the bark with measured steps. He tries to maintain his dignity while clambering up the trunk.

On the other hand, the second woodpecker is the embodiment of efficiency. Determined, it would land on a branch and immediately fly towards the feeder, swooping in like an expert aviator. There is no time for dilly-dallying or theatrical antics. This bird is all business.

This contrast in behaviour never failed to bring a smile to my face. I find myself drawn to these two feathered characters, each with their own unique quirks and charms. Their presence adds something special to the simple act of birdwatching.

Downy woodpeckers play a role in controlling the invasive European corn borer. Although they look similar to the hairy woodpecker, they are not closely related, and their resemblance is due to convergent evolution. One way to distinguish them from hairy woodpeckers is by their black-spotted white tail feathers and shorter bills.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

I often hear and see Song Sparrows in my back yard but the bird had been elusive to photograph.

I spotted this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) while returning to my car after a morning walk in Mercer Meadow. As an avid bird photographer, I was thrilled to spot this bird. Song Sparrows are frequent visitors to my backyard, but capturing one on camera has been challenging.

The sparrow was perched on a branch of a tree, its melodic calls filling the air around me. The sun played a game of peekaboo, hiding behind the bird and casting shadows. This lighting situation demanded careful exposure. I wanted to capture enough detail to work with during post-processing.

The Song Sparrow, a native North American passerine bird, is a symbol of versatility, adapting to diverse habitats such as grasslands, marshes, meadows, and shrubby areas. As I learned on All About Birds, it is a common and well-known bird in New Jersey. The Song Sparrow prefers dense vegetation like shrubs, grasses, and wetlands, where it can build its nests and find sustenance.

In bird photography, patience is essential. As much as I wanted to linger and observe this sparrow for hours, I had to respect its natural rhythm. So, I snapped my photographs, capturing the moment without intruding on the bird.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

In the summertime, the eastern United States comes alive with the melodic calls of the Carolina Wren.

I stepped out into my backyard on an early summertime morning. I noticed movement in the overgrown fence that separated my property from the neighbouring woods. The area beyond the fence is an untamed wooded part of the property next door. This morning it harboured a surprise. A small bird with rich cinnamon-brown plumage and a white eye stripe caught my eye.

Using the Merlin ID app, I identified a Carolina Wren perched on a branch of one of the shrubs growing through the fence. Although this bird is elusive, its powerful teakettle-teakettle song echoes through the nearby woods and vegetated areas on the other side of the fence in my backyard.

As an avid nature enthusiast and photographer, I couldn't resist. Quietly, I reached for my camera, hoping to capture the moment. The wren seemed undisturbed by my presence (I was more than 15 metres away), continuing to sing its heart out as if it were performing just for me. It had found a home amidst the tangled vines, shrubs and wildflowers, turning the backyard into its personal stage for its morning symphony. The Carolina Wren sang with enthusiasm. Its voice seemed to fill the entire backyard.

The wren moved from one branch to another, occasionally tilting its head as if to listen for an echo of its own song. I snapped a few photographs, carefully adjusting my camera settings to capture the plumage. The camera clicked away freezing the moment. With bird photography, one must acknowledge the importance of perseverance in facing challenges and embracing the wild aspects of life.

The wren finished its song, gave me a final, inquisitive look, and flew off into the woods.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Monday 17 July 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1800 sec, · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm

Unlike other wren species, only the male Carolina Wren sings, creating a unique and vibrant melody.

Carolina Wrens also visit backyard feeders, especially in winter when suet is available. They seek shelter during cold winters in nest boxes filled with dried grasses. I plan to plant a nest box this fall to encourage these birds to return to my backyard. Interestingly, Carolina Wrens have been venturing farther north during the winter in recent years.

The birds are sensitive to cold weather, with northern populations declining after severe winters. However, their range has expanded northward due to gradually increasing winter temperatures over the past century.

To attract Carolina Wrens to my backyard, I hang suet-filled feeders throughout the year, including the winter. They may also take up residence in brush piles. There are none in my backyard, so I expect this specimen lives in the woods on the other side of the fence.