Saturday, May 31, 2008

In Flight: Great Blue Heron

To the small fish, the Great Blue Heron is public enemy number one. This ranking also holds true for the fish farmer, who raises his fish in shallow ponds.

For the wildlife photographer the Great Blue Heron bird is a study in both awkwardness and grace
For more Camera Critters vist please visit Misty

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Gypsy Sky

A Gypsy Moth Caterpillar hangs from a branch by a silk thread

While the caterpillars are still small, their fastest mode of travel is to hang from a branch suspended by a fine silk thread and wait for the wind to carry it away.

My previous post garnered some very nice comments and raised some very good questions.

Jack and Joann asked if we have Japanese beetles. Yes, they do create a problem with ornamentals and grapes but no significant damage is done to other indigenous species.

Abe raised the question as to whether man had something to do with the problem. Yes, the Gypsy Moth is an alien invasive species brought to the east coast by a profit seeking businessman in the 1800’s. The only profit to be made from them is by those involved in making, distributing, and spraying pesticides. Since they have no significant natural enemies outbreaks are extremely damaging, particularly to our native oaks.

Fishing Guy mentioned that he hopes the spray doesn’t hurt the birds. The insecticide of choice is Bacillus thuringiensis or BT for short. BT is a bacterium that is fatal to caterpillars. No effect has been documented on any bird, fish, or animal species.
For more Sky Watch, vist Tom at Wiggers World

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Waging War: Gypsy Moth Control

Raining death and destruction on the ravenous Gypsy Moth caterpillar; a helicopter sprays a precise pattern on the unsuspecting critters.

Spray operations are now underway using both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Spraying began shortly after the caterpillar hatch in early May but was brought to a standstill by the heavy rains that visited our area for the best part of two weeks. With clear blue skies the spray craft are trying to make up for lost time.

War is also being waged by another bird. Pictured here is a Gray Catbird doing its duty reducing the Gypsy Moth population.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fishing: Great Blue Heron Style

While fishing on the nearby lake Memorial Day morning, I noticed a Great Blue Heron standing along the shore. As I began my approach it flew south along the lake shore and disappeared into a small cove. This time I was able to approach to within about fifty yards before leaving cover and as usual, I set the trolling motor at its very slowest speed. To slow my approach even more I would bump the switch on and off giving it only enough power for steerage. Finally I ran up against a submerged stump and just sat quietly waiting and watching from about thirty yards away.

The Heron watched me intently once I broke cover but then found the small fish in the shallow water to be of more interest. Slowly ever so slowly she stalked her prey until with a lighting fast strike she deftly caught a small bluegill.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Guarding the Nest: Male Baltimore Oriole

The brightly colored male Baltimore Oriole keeps a close lookout over the nest.

As I related in the previous post, he was quick to rush in when an intruder landed in the sacred nest tree. I have visited the nesting site three times so far. Although never far away; this male is not nearly as aggressive since the nest building is complete. The female continues to flit about, coming and going from the nest but is not carrying nest building materials. I assume she is now laying her clutch of 4 to 6 eggs.

While visiting the nest tree last evening, I was treated to a rare view of a yellow-billed Cuckoo. The Cuckoo landed in a place that made capturing a post-worthy photograph impossible; but I was able to shoot a couple of frames which allowed me to make positive identification. Previously I posted a shot from my first sighting of a Black-billed Cuckoo. Amazingly, these are my very first encounters with Cuckoo’s and both sightings of the two different species were made in the very same brushy ravine only a few days apart.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Modern Nest-Building: Baltimore Oriole

The female Baltimore Oriole, not content with traditional nest materials, gathers plastic strips with which to build her nest.

As I sat watching, she made numerous trips, each time returning with these plastic strips. After surveying her surroundings, she would hop into her nest and weave the new material into the nest basket that was taking shape.

During this time the male kept his distance except when another bird happened to stop in the nest tree, then he would arrive calling loudly, fluttering and diving until the intruder left. He repeated this tactic each time visitors dropped by with but one exception, the cat-birds. For reasons only known to him, he completely ignored a pair of catbirds who spent quite a few minutes catching and eating caterpillars.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Spotted Sandpiper

During my early morning outing, I noticed a flock of Spotted Sandpipers running about on the earthen breastwall of the dam. Upon my approach all but two flew to a shaded area so I concentrated my attention upon the remaining birds. I adjusted my trolling motor to its slowest setting and over the next one-half hour worked these birds until they allowed me to maneuver to within a few yards.

By the conclusion of this session I had shot over one hundred images. As these birds move quickly, many were poorly posed and some blurred. After heavy deletion, I still had thirty eight images that made the grade. Of the image, this one which caught the bird with wings momentarily lifted while posed by the waters edge and it’s reflection visible in the water, stood out above all of the rest

For more Camera Critters visit Misty

Friday, May 23, 2008

Early Morning Osprey

Today’s early morning encounter with an osprey produced this image plus my new header.

While I was photographing a Spotted Sandpiper, I noticed an Osprey perched on a dead snag in a nearby cove. Once finished with the sandpiper I maneuvered the boat behind cover and approached the Osprey to within about fifty yards before exposing myself. As the Osprey flew past I framed and shot frantically.

As is always the case in these fast action episodes I was left to wonder as to whether I was successful until I was able to view the results on the computer.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SkyWatch Friday; Lens Flare

Instead trying to avoid lens flare, I decided to embrace it for this capture

After nearly two weeks of clouds and rain the sun is a very welcome change. Here in South Central Pennsylvania we have experienced the coolest, wettest May on record since the 1950’s.

For more Sky Watch Friday visit Tom

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Morning Freshness

As the first rays of sunlight illuminate the lake shore, the fresh colors of spring create a gorgeous backdrop for the day’s activities.

Photographing wildlife and fishing are the primary reasons for me to visit a lake at first light however I never forget to pause and soak in the beauty of my surroundings.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Black-billed Cuckoo

Yesterday, as I washed the lunch dishes I watched a Northern “Baltimore” Oriole fly into a wooded ravine across the hollow behind my home. This evening, with the intention of trying to relocate the Oriole, I walked into the area, set up my folding chair and sat a spell. I was fortunate in that I was able to observe the female Oriole busily engaged in nest building while the male stood guard; but that is a story for another post.

As I was returning home a jay sized bird flitted through the underbrush and landed where I was able to capture this image. I couldn’t identify the bird so upon loading the images on the computer I referred to Audubon’s field guide.

I learned that this bird, the Black-billed Cuckoo is quite reclusive, spending most of it time in the thick underbrush and is rarely seen. The favored food of the Black-billed Cuckoo is hairy caterpillars with the gypsy moth listed along with tent caterpillars. The gypsy moth outbreak underway this year will keep these birds well fed over the coming weeks.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Too Close for Comfort; Belted Kingfisher

Seeing that another fisherman (woman) was present, I laid down my rod and began to seriously pursue this female Belted Kingfisher. She would sit on a branch and watch me intently as I slowly motored her way. Her tolerance level was just a little too far for my 400mm lens but after a number of tries she allowed me to ease within reasonable range.

Soon she tired of the game and dropped off her branch just as the shutter fell for the umpteenth time giving me this lovely unplanned “action” capture.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Waterfowl; Sharing the Habitat

A Wood Duck Drake shares a warm sunlit cove with a pair of Mallards

Now that the spring waterfowl migrations are past, we are left with Wood Ducks and Mallards. Both species nest in our area and I am keeping a sharp look out for the first ducklings of the season.

Rain had soaked our area all day yesterday with skies beginning to clear as night fell. I arrived at the lake this morning at daybreak and was met with a stiff breeze and 41F temperature, not exactly ideal fishing conditions but it is my day off and I wasn’t about to miss an outing.

Fishing along the shoreline, I kept my camera handy and was rewarded with this image as I turned into a small cove around 7:30. A pair of Mallards was sharing the sunshine with a pair of Wood Ducks. I tried to capture all four ducks in the frame but the Woodie hen wasn’t about to stick around for the shot.

As a side note; Mallards when approached to closely, flush but the Woodies will typically swim to the shoreline and run into the woods before flushing if they even flush at all. I find observing the differing evasion tactics of the various species

For more Camera Critters visit Misty

Thursday, May 15, 2008

SkyWatch Friday; Threatening Skies

Saturday marked my second trip this spring to the Chesapeake in search of trophy striped bass. We traveled in rain during most of our trip down but shortly after boarding the Afternoon Delight the rain quit. The first hit came shortly after the lines were in.

My friend Paul, pictured here with Captain Hank, did the honors fighting the first fish.

The dark threatening skies seen here soon settled over us pouring down a soaking rain until mid-day. As the morning progressed we had three more hook-up and a couple of pull downs. With one fish lost, we finished the day with three nice stripers in the box.
For more SkyWatch visit my old friend "Womtig"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Plague Returns

The Gypsy Moth Caterpillars began hatching in great numbers around the first of May. As you can see in this photograph they have already riddled the new leaves on the oak trees in the affected areas.

Last year we experienced total defoliation of thousands of acres in our area and this year promises to be much worse. State and private spraying programs, although effective can only control the caterpillars on small areas of forest land. The cost to attempt to eradicate this pest would totally overwhelm state and local government if any such attempt were made.

I will once again post photos of the devastation to our forest as the season progresses. The worst will occur in late June just before the caterpillars metamorphous into adult moths. This will be the second year for the outbreak. Oaks can typically stand two to three defoliations before it proves fatal but last year was particularly stressful as we were in the midst of a prolonged drought. This spring has been exceptionally wet so for the tree’s sake I am hoping for the rains to continue.

If you are not familiar with the Gypsy Moth and their devastation, click the label “Gypsy Moth” at the bottom of this post to view my photos from last year’s outbreak.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mallard Explosion

A Painted Turtle looks on as pair of Mallard Drakes take flight

I must confess I did not notice the little turtle until I reviewed this capture, as my attention was riveted upon the beautiful Mallards.

As I rounded a bend in the lake shoreline the Mallards watched me intently. Once I had the camera setting readied I began closing the distance as usual running the boat at very slow speed waiting for the moment they exploded into flight.

When shooting take-off shots, it is always a difficult call as to the best combination of aperture and shutter speed. In many cases I find myself fighting for enough light but that was not the case here as the bright sun was at a high angle. I used a 1/500 sec. shutter for this shot which gave a sharp image of the duck’s bodies while still allowing a pleasing amount of motion blur on the wings.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hummingbird Clear-Wing Moth, A Sharper View

Earlier I posted a shot of the Hummingbird Moth showing its long proboscis curled up in the flight position. I chose that shot to show the proboscis even though the shot lacked the crisp sharpness that I would have preferred.

Today I share with you the very best shot I obtained in this session. I am particularly fond of this shot because of both excellent subject sharpness & detail along with the beautiful background provided by the lilac bush.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Red-Breasted Merganser

As any regular visitor to Country Captures knows, I have been having a great time this spring photo-hunting waterfowl. I have become particularly focused on capturing wildlife action photos. I consider this photograph of a Red-Breasted Merganser to be among my top shots of the spring.

I have carried a keen interest in wildlife since my boyhood days and it has not dimmed one bit as the years pass. Early on my interest centered on hunting and fishing as this was the only way I knew to interact with these interesting creatures. As I matured my interest in wildlife drew me into the field of wildlife conservation where I served as a Pa. Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer for twenty three years.

Hunting presents a set of challenges that the hunter must overcome to become successful. The challenges begin with locating suitable habitat and locating the query to the end game of firing a well placed shot to bring the hunt to a successful conclusion.

I do continue to hunt for the table a little each year but now the camera has replaced the deadly weapons for the vast majority of my wildlife interaction. I find the challenges of wildlife photography are even more difficult than that of conventional hunting. Photography negates a few of the challenges that face the hunter as there are no set hunting seasons or bag limits to contend with. Also we can photograph where animals are to some degree acclimated to people; areas such as National Parks and nature reserves.

The photographer faces additional challenges such as amount of light, lighting angles, subject positioning, motion, and suitable backgrounds to mention a few.

I find a close encounter with wildlife that results in a successful image capture every bit as exhilarating and satisfying as any encounter in my younger years and much more so than bagging any animal does today.
Visit Misty for more Camera Critters

Friday, May 09, 2008

Ruddy Duck Hens

A couple of weeks ago I encountered a Ruddy Duck drake while visiting the lake and featured him on an earlier post. This past Saturday I bumped into a flock of hens. I don’t know if the hens and drakes migrate at different times or if this is purely coincidence.

A heavy coating of pollen along with the lighting angle created the unusual appearance of the water’s surface shown in this image.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

SkyWatch Friday, Cloudless Skies & Starling

A Starling silhouetted against a cloudless sky clutches a bug tightly moments before plunging down the chimney to feed its brood.

I noticed this feeding occurring while I was shooting the carpenter bee featured in my previous post. Every few minutes one would land on the chimney edge, survey its surroundings before hopping into the chimney opening. By the time this bird was leaving another was sitting on the rim awaiting its turn.

I shot a number of photographs of these birds and found it quite interesting that they all appeared to be carrying the same type of insect. From the photographs I have not been able to identify the insect but apparently on this day they ranked high upon the list of the Starling’s favorite foods.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Face Off, Carpenter Bee

May brings the Carpenter Bees out in droves. I have found capturing a good shot of a male hovering over his territory to be quite an interesting challenge. Although they seem to hover nearly stationary it still has not been an easy chore, at least for me.

First they are not nearly as stationary as they appear when I try to find one through my viewfinder. Normally by the time I have acquired focus the bee is zooming off to intercept an intruder or has moved a few inches and now out of focus. Shutter speed presents another problem as does depth of field. Of course to increase DOF one must move to a tighter aperture which decreases shutter speed. When all else comes together I find that I am usually looking at the south end of a north bound bee, not exactly the angle I was looking for.

As for safety while shooting these bees, notice white patch on the bee’s face; this mark identifies it as a male which has no stinger, only the black faced female carry the artillery.

Canon 30D, 100-400mm lens @ 400mm, F6.3 @ 1/250th sec, ISO 800

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Rare Take-Off

A Loon creates a considerable commotion during take-off. The sunlight illuminating the loon and the flying spray against the dark background created what is one of my all-time favorite wildlife photographs.

Seldom have I witnessed Loons taking flight as they usually avoid intruders by quietly slipping under the water’s surface to reappear quite some distance away a couple of minutes later.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Shaking Off, Common Loon

A Loon, finished with fishing for the moment flaps its wings

I love watching the loons whenever I am on the lake. Most times they will be calmly sitting on the water closely observing their surroundings. Occasionally I have observed them intent upon fishing and at these times I can usually approach rather closely with the boat. This was the case on this day as the loon had located a large school of small fish and had been busily engaged while I made my approach.

After the school of fish disappeared, this Loon practically stood erect on the water shaking the water from its feathers. I like this shot not only for the subject but also the colors of the reflections on the water.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hummingbird Moth

A close-up of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth reveals the long proboscis curled up into a convenient travel position.

Today as I followed some yellow and black swallowtail butterflies around our lilac bush I encountered this interesting little moth. It showed a clear preference for the shaded areas which made it difficult to obtain correct exposure while using a shutter speed fast enough to capture the image. Finally I settled on ISO 800 and captured this image at 1/640th of a second with an aperture of F5.6 and a 400mm focal length.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Breakfast, Belted Kingfisher

While my friend and I were fishing together this morning we met another successful fisherman along the lake side.

As we watched; the Kingfisher dove from the branch it was perched on, disappeared into the water momentarily and returned to its perch with breakfast held firmly in its beak.

While I was rapidly snapping photos it flipped the fish, swallowing it head first. I noticed that it seemed to have a little difficulty finishing swallowing for it sat on the branch with its beak open shaking its head for a couple of minutes before flying off giving it distinctive rattling call.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Redbuds & Red Barn

It is that time of year again when new grass, new leaves, and Redbud blooms create a beautiful backdrop for a well cared for farm. The bright red paint with contrasting white trim reflects the owners love for the beauty of this picturesque farm in southern Fulton County.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SkyWatch Friday, Reflection

The lake surface was as smooth as any mirror when I captured this shot of the sky reflected upon its surface.

For more Sky Watch Friday click Here