Monday, April 21, 2014

Foxey Tails

After spotting the fox den in one of our hay meadows last Sunday morning and photographing them from long range in the afternoon I had no more sightings of the family.  Willard was able to video them from long range on Monday but the foxes failed to appear the remainder of the week.  Foxes are reportedly quick to move their family if they feel threatened and I was beginning to believe that this was the case.
 
With that in mind, yesterday morning with the intention of using my truck for a blind, I parked about one hundred yards from the den just as the day began to break.  As the sky lightened the spring bird chorus filled the air, Canada geese and whitetail deer arrived in the meadow to feed, but no sign of activity around the fox den could be seen.
 
As the sun began to touch the treetops on a distant hillside I spotted what I though was a squirrel race from the edge of the woods into a grassy opening and back again into the woods.  A few minutes later it happened again.  Since this didn't seem consistent with squirrel movement and what I was seeing was some 300-350 yards distant I trained the binoculars on the area to get a better view.  Imagine my surprise when in a moment I spotted a little fox pup racing into the meadow to join other pups already there! 
 
 
At that distance photography was out of the question so I knew I must move closer.  Hoping that the truck would be less alarming than a human form I drove from the hay field into the pasture that adjoined the woods where their new den is located.  From about 125 yards I was able to photograph the pups with one of the adults.  At that distance neither adult seemed to care about my truck as long as I stayed inside. 
 

 
After photographing from that position for 15 minutes or so I decided to make one more move in hopes of getting even better photographs and this time moved the truck within about 50-60 yards of the den.  This was too close for the adults as they slowly moved away into the woodlands and all but two of the pups went into the den.

 
However only a few minutes elapsed until another pup reappeared.
 

 
And soon others began surfacing as the pups resumed their rough-house playing oblivious to my presence.

 
Watching these little foxes play reminded me of how much animal babies are alike for their play was very similar to that of domestic pups and kittens.


Sadly I had very little time to spend with the pups until other obligations called me away.  When I hit the truck starter the pups disappeared into their burrow moving with near lightening speed.

 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wildlife Welcomes Spring

 
On a recent frosty morning I was able to photograph a male Red-winged Blackbird as he perched on a grassy hummock singing lustily.  The males always are the first to arrive late each winter with the females arriving later.

 
Noticing a large mound of bare dirt that appeared in one of our meadows as the snow was beginning to melt I assumed that a woodchuck had reopened an existing burrow.  Although I often looked in the direction of the burrow I had not spotted any animals using it.

 
This all changed Sunday morning when I noticed a red fox disappear only to remerge a short time later followed by a fox pup.  While I had no luck photographing them at that time I returned in the afternoon to find the young foxes cavorting about the den when a adult lay nearby.

 
After shooting a few images at long range (over 200 yards) I tried to close the distance.  The adult quickly noticed my approach and began moving off followed by one of the pups.  After the adult stopped for a few seconds the pup turned back to the den and the entire group of pups disappeared underground.  Although I waited for over an hour they did not return leaving me with only the long distance photos.


At one of the cattle watering holes a killdeer stood stock-still hoping to go unnoticed. 


 
And a snapping turtle lays basking in the bright afternoon sunshine.


Vernal wetlands are teaming with life now and the singing of various frogs and toads fill the air with the beautiful song of spring.  The photo above is of a wood frog eggs mass while a wood frog itself is shown below.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Springtime has Everyone Running and Leaping

Whether wild or domestic, after a long winter, Spring is SOMETHING TO GET EXCITED ABOUT!
 
UP UP and

Away!

 A pair of three week old heifer calves frolic in the warm sunshine.

Their pair-bond may not last long but hopefully they will remain on the farm for years to come as they are destined to replace some of the older brood cows in the current herd.

While the cattle must remain within the fences the deer cross over easily. 

And no matter whether the fence is three foot high or six foot they nearly always use minimal effort, barely clearing the top strand during their jump.
 


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Snipe Hunting Anyone?

As a kid growing up I heard stories about people being taken on snipe hunts as a practical joke.  Snipe were supposed to be some elusive bird, animal or whatever.  A snipe hunt occurred during the night with the victim trying to catch the mythical "snipe" in a burlap bag.  As the stories went the ending of the hunt would occur when the perpetrators would abandon the unwary victim deep in the dark woods.
 
While I was very familiar with hearing the "snipe hunting" stories, I was not familiar with the real thing; the Wilson's Snipe.  Some years later, perhaps in the mid to late 70's I remember spotting a bird I did not recognize at a spring where the cattle watered on our family farm.  Looking it up in a bird ID guide I found that I had spotted my first real snipe!
 
As the years passed I learned that snipe could be found nearly every year probing the wet pasture land surrounding the spring during late March and early April.  With that in mind I began watching for their return as the snow melted this year, intent on photographing the wary little birds.
 
As I was making my rounds on the farm Saturday a snipe flushed from near the spring, signaling that they had once again returned.   With nice weather both Tuesday and Wednesday I spent some of each evening working my way within photographic range with a John Deere Gator.  I had learned from past experience that they were much more tolerant of the Gator than they are of a man on foot.
 
As I would approach the birds would hide, and believe me when I say that with their camouflage they can disappear in open spots where it would seem absolutely impossible for a bird of their size to hide.  Once within range, with the tripod set up on the gator's deck, and the engine shut off it would be only a matter of 5-10 minutes before the birds would begin to make a few furtive test moves.  As I waited, remaining motionless, their nerve increased quickly and within a few more minutes the entire flock would be busy running about, preening, or probing the mud for tasty morsels.
 
The following are some of the better shots from the two evenings. 
 
 






Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blending In

 
A yearling deer lies in a grassy meadow.  The deer's coat, now faded to a light tan, blends in perfectly with the faded browns of last year's grasses and fallen leaves.
 
 

A look back at early November reminds one of how bright and vibrant the deer's winter coats were when they were first growing in.  A glance at the deer's surroundings also reminds one of the vibrant colors of the vegetation at that time of year.

 I find it remarkable at how well wildlife is adapted to survive in their natural environment.  These two photos illustrate one example of how the whitetail deer changes with the season to be able to blend into the background and pass unnoticed.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weather is Slow to Warm but Wildlife Photography is Heating Up

 
So far this spring has seen below normal temperatures with a snow storm brushing by us to the southeast yesterday.  Even though the warm-up has been slower than normal and the thermometer only reached 32F today, migrant birds are showing up everywhere. 

 
This evening, as I made my rounds on the farm, a large flock of robins were hoping about the pastures.  Saturday afternoon I spotted my first phoebe for the year, last evening the seasons first woodcock and this evening a pair of wood ducks on the creek where it borders our farm.  Unfortunately I was unable to bring the camera into play in each instance.
 
 
While I have not been able to capture any strutting photos lately, the turkey activity is escalating. 

 
Soon the hens will become receptive and the wild turkey mating season will begin in earnest.
 
 
 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Stepping in Spring

 
A crow caught in mid-stride
 
With the change of seasons underway I like to think I caught the crow "stepping into spring".


 
While the fields are still mostly brown, down on the farm, the new calves are arriving regularly.
 

 
And the fast moving killdeer are busy running about the pasture
 


With the wet areas showing the first green growth of the season
 
Yesterday I heard the wood frogs calling for the first this spring and today spotted a meadow lark and a wood duck pair.  While snow is in the forecast for Tuesday there is no doubt that the change of the seasons is underway.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Strutting Their Stuff

Canon EOS 6D, EF 600mm f/4 IS USM   F/5.6, 1/400 ISO-800
As spring grows nearer wild turkey gobbler's are being seen more frequently strutting and gobbling. 
 
 
I have not observed any interest on the part of the hens yet but it won't be long before they will join in and the mating season will begin in earnest. 


 
The normal impression of a wild turkey seen at a distance is that of a large bald-headed black bird, but when seen close-up in good light the iridescent feathers of a mature gobbler glow as if illuminated from within with a multi-colored sheen.  

 
I am always amazed at how quickly a gobbler's head can change colors.  Normally a dark drab bluish hue with some red mixed, in the turkeys head can change colors in a matter of seconds as he becomes excited.


Right now the strutting and gobbling appears to be all about establishing dominance between the gobblers both within an individual flock and between flocks of males.



However in the near future as the hens become receptive the male's displays will be all about attracting hens.





Sunday, March 16, 2014

Opossum Encounter

Canon EOS 6D, EF 600mm f/4 IS USM   F/5, 1/250 ISO-800
Opossums are most active during the hours of darkness thus they are not frequently seen when natural light photography is possible.


 
As the snow pack began to recede a few weeks ago I spotted this opossum foraging in the field behind my home. Since that initial sighting it has become a regular visitor, coming out in the field a little before sundown, nosing about and consuming the occasional morsel, until darkness hides its movement.

 
Any attempt at approaching the animal will send it fleeing however one evening when it approached our home I was able to photograph it from the deck.  While it became concerned that danger my be near, raising its head and sniffing the air as seen in the first two photos it did not detect me perched above it.
 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Strutting in the Snow


Canon EOS 6D, EF 600mm f/4 IS USM   F/5.6, 1/250 ISO-1000
Often in casual conversation around this time of year someone will ask, "are the turkeys gobbling yet"?  And the answer is always "yes".  Wild turkeys do not wait for spring or even spring like weather to begin gobbling.   While a male turkey may gobble at any time of the year it is during February that they begin to show interest in the upcoming mating season. 
 



Canon EOS 6D, EF 600mm f/4 IS USM   F/5.6, 1/1000 ISO-1600
As the month progresses the strutting and gobbling intensifies as illustrated by this big tom photographed on February 20th of this year.  While the males are ready to rumble now and are engaging in establishing dominance, it will be a few more weeks before the hens will share their mating interest. 
 


Canon EOS 6D, EF 600mm f/4 IS USM   F/5.6, 1/200 ISO-320