A male blackbird belts out its summer song from deep within the marsh.
Behind the lens.
Males blackbirds sing from prominant perches to defend their turf from other males. The females pick a male based on the "quality" of the marsh habitat he's defending. Older, fitter males can defend the better, more central areas while younger males are relegated to the less desirable edges.
On a personal note, I like to ask bird experts why this isn't called the Black-bodied Yellowbird. Not once have I been the first person to try this joke on an expert.
A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flies past the rising moon while on their way to an evening roost site in the cattails.
Behind the lens.
While camping in Arizona one winter, we noticed the blackbirds flocking in each night. Right after sunset, groups numbering in the dozens would flock in together. Flying at full speed, they'd dive into the cattails at the head of our small lake and roost there for the night.
So the next evening, we kayaked out and parked in front of the cattails, and waited. The sun set, the full moon rose, and the blackbirds started arriving.
I kept my camera pointed at the moon, and I pressed the shutter every time a flock flew across my view. Out of 20-30 frames, this was the only image I got that had a bird in front of the moon.
A little observation, a little planning -- and a little luck.
A male Wilson's Snipe mans his guard post at the edge of the marsh. His frequent calls alert his mate - hidden on their nest - to any potential threats.
Behind the lens.
If you've ever found yourself crawling around blindly, waiting for your laughing friends to herd a secretive little bird into your bag, then you'll appreciate my efforts to find a real Snipe nest in our little marsh. The odds of success are roughly the same in both cases.
Wilson's Snipe cover North America, wintering in the south and summering in the north. But they're seldom seen because their mottled brown plumage is such amazing camouflage. You're much more likely to hear the male's winnowing courtship flight, an owl-like sound made by the outer tail feathers during steep dives. Having enough skill to sccessfully hunt one of these hidden birds gave rise to the term, "sniper."
Snipe live in marshy areas that have thick, grassy vegetation and no trees. They eat mostly worms and insects that they find by probing deep in the mud. I challenge you to picture this without laughing -- a Snipe's long bill is flexible, like lips, and when feeding they can open and close the tip without moving the base. (Maybe AFLAC should have used Snipe for their spokes-bird instead of that duck.)
Another unusual Snipe trait is their division of parental labor. The male takes the first two chicks that hatch, the female takes the last two chicks, and they raise their young alone as single parents. Always having their offspring in two different locations increases the parents' odds of passing on at least some of their genetics.
Males and females look the same (she's a little bigger) but they have very different duties. The female tends to their nest, hidden away under last year's dried stalks. But she can't see an approaching threat while she's incubating. So the male patrols the marsh around the nest, updating his mate with frequent calls. When alerted by her mate, she slips away under the tall grass without giving up the nest location.
As you can imagine, my hunt for a Snipe nest was unsuccessful. I gave up the hunt when I realized that I couldn't even see what I might be stepping on. But I learned how to spot and "sack" a few males with my camera -- the ones that didn't fly away laughing while I crawled around in the mud