Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

On Monday, just after lunch, I grabbed the X-T3 and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR drove the car and parked on Princeton Avenue just before the border with Rocky Hill. Just off the path leading to Van Horne Park there's a "catchment area" that has morphed into a large pond and it that has become part of the watershed. The catchment area was built to collect rainwater flowing off the large parking lot owned by the Audi car dealership. I’m unsure if this is intentional but tall reeds, the ones that are commonly found in wetland environments such as marshes and swamps, are growing out of the "pond".

Catchment areas can create watersheds that play an important role in maintaining water quality and managing flood risks in communities. Reeds are important components of wetland ecosystems, providing habitat and food for various wildlife species and helping to stabilise soil and control erosion along water bodies. Where I sat on the cement wall bordering the pond, I could hear frogs croaking and splashing in the water below.

I photographed dragonflies in this location a few years ago. I knew it was too early for dragonflies but I thought perhaps I would see some birds. As I sat on the wall I could hear various species of birds singing in the still leafless trees that lined the path and ringed the "pond". The Merlin app identified, black-capped chickadees, northern flickers and northern cardinals. I could hear them but I was growing frustrated that I did not see them.

Black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) · 25 March 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

After 30 fruitless minutes, I was ready to leave when I noticed movement in a small bush that had just started to show some early spring leaves. It took me a few minutes but the bird, which I later identified as a black-capped chickadee, finally landed in a spot where I could get a clean portrait.

Carolina Chickadee or Black-capped Chickadee?

Due to climate change, the range of the Black-capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee overlap.

I was uncertain about the identification of this bird, so I uploaded the image to ChatGPT, requesting identification.

Me: Please identify the bird in this photograph. Please describe the scene.
ChatGPT: This is a photograph of a Carolina Chickadee, identifiable by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and soft grey back, wings, and tail. It is perched on a bare branch amidst a network of similar branches against a pale blue sky, likely in a deciduous woodland during the non-breeding season when trees are leafless.

For verification, I uploaded the same image to the Merlin ID app. Merlin also identified this bird as a Carolina Chickadee. However, after additional reading on All About Birds, I learned that this individual could be a Carolina or Black-capped Chickadee. They are very similar in colouring, and identification can be challenging. The calls of the Black-capped Chickadee are different from the Carolina Chickadee. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to use the Merlin app for an audio identification.

However, Merlin ID mentioned a 2014 study by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Villanova University, and Cornell University that indicates that the hybrid zone between Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees is shifting northward in alignment with rising winter temperatures.

This is the first time I have heard and photographed a Chickadee. I heard this individual's distinctive call when I was outside, about to leave on a short walk. The bird was in a tall tree in the small wooded area between two streets near my home. Despite the challenges of backlighting, I enhanced some of its features using Adobe Lightroom, drawing out the finer details that aided in its accurate identification.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) · 30 December 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR