Juniper Berry Banquet

Overlooked commonplace backyard residents feasting on juniper

As Spring sweeps in New Jersey, my enthusiasm for photography rises. I especially enjoy photographing tropical migratory birds like Warblers. These vibrant coloured tourists travel from Costa Rica and the Caribbean to the woodlands of New Jersey, offering a photographic buffet.

In my quest to photograph these elusive tropical birds, I've often overlooked the more quotidian birds that are easier to find in New Jersey. This happens due to familiarity, where I become so accustomed to seeing or experiencing something that I no longer actively notice it. It's a common psychological phenomenon associated with the concept of 'inattentional blindness', where our focus on distinctive aspects of our environment leads us to overlook others, even if they are obvious or familiar. This tendency to overlook the familiar is a common human challenge, as it can lead to missing out on the beauty and importance of everyday experiences or subjects.

The juniper trees in my backyard, predating the construction of our home 20 years ago, only grabbed my attention recently. One morning, the energetic chirping of birds drew my eye to the branches. I could see many birds hopping between the branches and flying between the Juniper and the woodland beyond the fence line. Peeking through my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR telephoto lens, I was captivated, seeing various types of birds feasting on the berries.

That morning, I observed not only the American Robin but also Bluebirds, Juncos, and Sparrows. However, the American Robin stood out with its round body, long legs, and striking orange chest. There were far more of them than any other type of bird. Their melodic song filled the early morning in our backyard, providing a delightful soundtrack to my birdwatching.

The adaptability of the American Robin is impressive. They flourish even in suburban settings like Montgomery Township. They often nest along the roof near the bends in our home's water drains.

With their regular diet of earthworms and insects dwindling, the American Robin shifts to fruits and berries during the late Autumn and Winter months. Juniper berries and other backyard offerings like holly and dogwood are essential to their diet. These become critical for their survival and energy, particularly those gearing up for their migratory travels.

In this shift of seasons, there's a lesson in adaptability and resilience from these winged beauties.

Backyard Ruckus

The simple joys of observing wildlife in my backyard are always refreshing.

On two mid-November mornings, I had the satisfying experience of watching dozens of birds in the wooded area of my backyard. The scene was lively, with the birds busily engaging with their surroundings. It was a spectacle that truly caught my attention.

As I watched, I noticed many of these birds were mainly drawn to the juniper berries. It was fascinating to see how they fed on them with eagerness. I enjoyed how they interacted with the berries and moved around the branches.

Some birds were quick and agile, darting in and out of the foliage. In contrast, others seemed more methodical and deliberate in their movements. Observing and photographing them gave me a deeper appreciation for the diversity of bird species that visit my backyard.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) · November 16, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

I couldn't resist the opportunity to photograph these moments. With my XT-3 camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lens, I tried to capture the essence of this lively scene. The challenge was photographing the birds in a way that conveyed the liveliness and energy of their feeding activity. I focused on getting shots that showed their interactions with the berries and each other, hoping to freeze these fleeting moments in time.

This is the first time I have seen a Cedar waxwing. Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are medium-sized birds with a blend of brown, grey, and yellow plumage, noted for their bright yellow tail tips and red, waxy wingtips. They are considered highly social and often seen in flocks, especially in berry-rich locations. They display unusual behaviours like passing berries among flock members.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) · November 16, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Their diet mainly consists of fruit and insects, adapting to habitats with abundant fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, such as gardens, orchards, and riverbanks. While Cedar Waxwings are somewhat migratory, moving in response to fruit availability, their migratory patterns vary; in some regions, they are year-round residents, while in others, they appear more seasonally. This adaptability in feeding and migration underscores their reliance on healthy, fruit-rich environments.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) · November 16, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The simple joys of watching wildlife in my backyard are always refreshing.

(Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler

My first visit to The Beanery and my first time seeing this warbler.

After walking for 90 minutes on my field trip around The Beanery, I still had no bird photographs. Despite the group's enthusiasm, I started to feel that I had wasted my time. I wanted to quit the tour, leave the group, and return to the car. However, I didn't relish telling Bhavna we had driven two hours in the rain to return home empty-handed. We heard trills and high-pitched chips as we approached a pond near one of the farm buildings. We could see rapid movement in the vines growing on the other side of the pond. Someone called out, with a surprisingly disappointing voice, that we were looking at Yellow-rumped warblers. Finally!

The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) is a well-known bird species. Yellow-rumped Warbler species exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females have distinct appearances. While editing my photos, I realised that I had photographed females only. Female Yellow-rumped Warblers are referred to as "Myrtle."

Like most warblers, Yellow-rumped warblers are primarily insectivorous during the breeding season, feasting on insects and other invertebrates. Pond flies were buzzing around the pond as I photographed the birds hopping between the leaves of the thick vines and the branches of the dead shrubs near me.

Female Palm Warbler
Female (Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) · October 21, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The Yellow-rumped Warbler plumage provides camouflage in various environments where the warbler lives. During the breeding season, Myrtle females have grayish-olive upperparts with streaks on their back and wings. Their throats and undersides are pale yellow. However, the prominent feature of Yellow-rumped Warblers is the yellow patch on their rump. The colour is more subdued in females than males but still noticeable.

After the early morning disappointment, seeing these Yellow-rumped Warblers in their natural habitat was rewarding.