Although a lot of my bird photographs have been taken at various locations around town, including along the waterfront and Niagara Shores Park, I enjoy getting some of the more common species right in my own backyard.
We are blessed with a mature birch tree in our backyard, and with the presence of some beautiful mature trees on neighbouring properties, have a variety of common bird species present in the area. Cardinals, sparrows, robins, blue jays, and finches are all common backyard visitors in town, and offer year round opportunities for photographers.
Occasionally, however, rarer gems show up. Recently a pair of red-winged blackbirds and a northern flicker visited. Also, my first sighting of an eastern kingbird took place while I was sitting in the backyard waiting to take monarch butterfly photos as they landed on a flowering plant. I happened to look up at my neighbour’s tree, and noticed an unfamiliar bird sitting perched on a branch. Using the handy Merlin app on my iPhone, I was able to ID it as the eastern kingbird. The same day, but later, our backyard was graced with the lovely male northern flicker.
A pair of cardinals, and what I believe to be one of their offspring, are regular visitors. Last year we had a nest with three eggs, two of which successfully hatched, and were raised in the immediate area of our backyard. It has been interesting to watch this. They are wonderful to see year round, and at times, they seem to actually pose for the camera.
Blue jays, with their more raucous behaviour, also make their presence known with their loud calls almost demanding attention if the feeder is low or empty. In the spring, although kind of bullies, the grackles appear. They are larger than most birds, and do seem to displace others for a period of time. Often considered to be a nuisance bird, they have a beautiful blue colouration on their head which is quite striking to see.
Who can forget another common backyard bird — the mourning dove. These can often be spotted on a fence or tree branch, issuing their mournful cooing sound. A close-up photograph of these birds reveals some interesting colouration on the body, and a light blue ‘eyeliner’ around their eyes. They emit a noticeable squeak when they begin flight, and often appear ungainly while flying short distances.
The smaller stars of the backyard birding scene are the finches, the house finches and the American goldfinch. They are lovely, small birds. flitting around the area and our backyards. The males of both of these varieties are especially striking in their coloration. The loss of colour in the male house finches during winter makes it appear these have gone south, but they do, indeed, habituate the backyards year round, just less conspicuously.
Of all the backyard birds, however, it has to be the robin that seems to be the most visible, hopping about the lawn looking for worms. Many of us find their nests in strange places around the outside of our homes, and are treated to their active parenting as the ever-hungry chicks appear with their beaks always open. Special too, with the robins, is the opportunity to witness the chicks attempting to make their first flights with the parents hovering nearby, seemingly coaxing them on.
Last but not least are the varied species of sparrow, often in larger numbers, can hide in bushes and trees, taking flight at the slightest disturbance. Although the house sparrow seems to be the most common, there are some variations of the common house sparrow that show up with interesting colouration or markings.
Over the last year and a half, with staying at home being the norm, I’ve been glad for the simple pleasure of sitting on a comfortable covered deck watching for the birding activity in the backyard. Coffee in the morning and the occasional libation in the afternoon with my camera in hand, and at the ready, has been an important coping measure during this time. Reflecting on these simple pleasures, and writing about them, has also been a great way to help get through this period.