Female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Until now, all of my sightings have been of the male.

The Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a common sight in the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge in Princeton. I see at least five individuals each time I visit. However, until now, all of my sightings have been of the male.

The common name for Agelaius phoeniceus refers to the distinctive orange-red badge on the wings that is a stark contrast to the deep black of the bird’s body. But the females of this species are typically brown and streaked, blending well with their marshland habitat. They exhibit cautious behaviour, often staying close to dense vegetation for cover while foraging for insects, seeds, and small aquatic creatures. They are so well hidden when they forage among the reeds in the marsh, that the female bird had gone unnoticed by me.

Male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) · 16 April 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The focal point of the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge is its open marsh, sustained by natural water drainage and supplemented during dry periods with water pumped from Stony Brook. During summer, the marsh blooms with arrowhead, pickerel weed, and pond lilies. Along the walks, a mix of swamp milkweed, boneset, joe-pigweed, and ironweed creates a mauve and purple colour palette. In autumn, red osier dogwood, elderberries, rose hips, and cattails' tall brown spikes add to the landscape.

Female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) gathering nesting material.
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) · 16 April 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

During the nesting season, which typically starts in late spring, female Red-winged Blackbirds build cup-shaped nests low in marsh vegetation. These nests are constructed using grasses, reeds, and other plant materials woven together. Two observation towers offer expansive views of the marsh's main body. I usually visit the refuge in the early morning. With the sun rising from the east I usually visit the Eastern observation platform so I can point the camera west; not directly into the sun.

I think the thing that keeps me hopeful that the world around me is not going to complete shit is how being nature makes me feel. Seeing the bird wildlife in my backyard provokes a deep sense of well-being that helps my psychological health. My senses are heightened as I move into a state of flow where my thoughts and actions focus on spotting, watching, identifying, photographing, and appreciating the wildlife around me. No matter what might be going on in my life, no matter how anxious I’m feeling, when I go out into nature, I always feel refreshed.

Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)

They love my backyard.

My daily early morning visits to Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge mean I get less sleep and admittedly, I do feel tired. I'm up earlier so I can walk around the refuge while the birds are out foraging for food. Sometimes I come back empty-handed. When lunchtime comes around, I sit in the backyard with the camera nearby, hopeful that I will get a photograph.

This spring, Chipping Sparrows have been very active and vocal in the backyard, especially near the edges and clearings of the woods. Males sing a series of rapid, dry chips to establish territories and attract mates. They are frequently seen foraging on the ground or in low shrubs at the fence line, searching for seeds and insects.

The Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) is a small, slender bird with distinct colouration, especially noticeable in the spring. Adult Chipping Sparrows have a bright rusty-red cap, a striking black line through the eye, and a white eyebrow stripe. Their upper parts are streaked brown, while the underparts are a plain greyish-white.

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) in juniper tree
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) · 15 April 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

I like the red cap.

Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behaviour, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people. Sitting in my backyard watching the antics of the woodpecker, feeling the sunlight on my skin, makes me feel happy and hopeful.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a medium-sized woodpecker. The bird's upperparts are mostly black with white barring on the wings, while the lower back, rump, and belly are a pale red, although the red on the belly is often difficult to see. The head features a distinctive red cap on males, while females have a smaller red patch or no red at all. I think a better name could have been red-capped woodpecker.

I see the Red-bellied Woodpeckers all around town, including the nearby deciduous forests, mixed woodlands, and parks. They are omnivorous, feeding on insects, spiders, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Their strong bills and long tongues allow them to extract insects from tree bark and probe into crevices for food.

From my backyard I can sometimes hear the woodpeckers drumming and tapping sounds, which they use for communication, marking territories, and foraging for food.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) · 15 April 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR