Birding Column: Moments of Photographic Rapture

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You can see pieces of seeds in his beak, as the female waits for another feeding. A few moments later, I got a shot of one of the pygmy nuthatches perched on a limb of the same tree, after the feeding session.

A couple of hours earlier I had been standing at the Bryce Canyon Lodge lookout. Suddenly a bright blue object flitted by in such a way that I knew that it could only be one thing—a Western bluebird. The funny thing was, it had flown over from above the canyon to the rim, where I was standing, and then it perched at the tip of a limb of a tree about 20 feet (6 meters) away from me.

I immediately went into action, but before I composed the shot, I knew that the moon would be visible in the background at just the right angle. I'd like to call this photograph "Western Bluebird and Moon Over Bryce," but what really strikes me about it is how extremely tiny that bluebird is in relation to the universe.

And we humans aren't much bigger.

Rarities

The orange-cheeked waxbill is a member of the family Estrildidae—the so-called true waxbills. Its range includes most of central and western Africa, except for South Africa. However, it has been introduced to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Spain.

In Honolulu it flies freely about Kapiolani Park, and in the Karibuni Reserve area of the Honolulu Zoo, it feeds on the tall clump grasses that have been allowed to grow in this artificial African savanna.

The grasses grow from 2 to 5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 meters) high. When they put out seed clusters, the orange-cheeked waxbills (along with the common waxbill, Estrilda astrild, which has also been introduced to Hawaii) land on the stalks and cling to the seed clusters.

The stem falls down from the weight of the birds—often turning the birds upside down. When the stalk stabilizes, the birds continue eating.

According to Peter Luscomb, general curator at the zoo, "If you let grass go to seed, in many cases you will attract large flocks of waxbills." In Luscomb's yard in Maunawili, just outside of Honolulu, the common waxbills not only eat from the seed clusters of the taller clump grass, they also eat the seed from his lawn grass when it is from 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) high, and they even forage for grass seeds off of the ground after he mows the lawn.

Note: If you miss seeing the orange-cheeked waxbills flying freely at the Honolulu Zoo, you can always visit them in the African Aviary there, along with many other species of African birds.

Mathew Tekulsky writes a regular column about birding in his backyard and neighborhood in Bel Air, California. You can follow his encounters with the birds of the Santa Monica Mountains here on National Geographic News Bird Watcher every fortnight or so.

Previous columns by the Birdman of Bel Air
New Bird-Watching Column: "The Birdman of Bel Air"
Birding Column: House Wrens' Twice-a-Minute Feeding Frenzy
The California Towhee, Boldly Bland
At Home With Hooded Orioles
Scrub Jays Go Nuts for Peanuts
Northern Mockingbird is a Wary Neighbor
Christmas With the Pelicans
California-Quail Close Encounter
Yosemite Steller's Jay Encounter
Banding Birds at Devils Postpile
California Condor Close Encounter
California Condor Rebound
Going Nuts With Wilderness Ravens
Hummingbird Chicks Fly the Nest
Mexican Jays' Dogged Pack Mentality

National Geographic BirdWatcher
Regularly updated news stories, features, and columns about birds and birding


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For more birdwatching news, scroll down.

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