Saturday, February 28, 2009

Birdfeeder Bully: Blue Jay

The bright and colorful Blue Jays keep things interesting around my winter bird feeder. Whereas many other birds are content to share, when the Blue Jays arrive all the other birds flee.

I have never observed the Blue Jays attacking another bird but then again the other birds don’t allow the Blue Jays much chance either.

Winter is beginning to relax its grasp here in southern Pennsylvania. A week ago I observed my first red-winged blackbird sitting in some cattails along a frozen pond. This morning a number of them were present around the wetlands although none afforded a good photo-op.

For more Critters visit our friend Misty’s Camera Critters Blog

Friday, February 27, 2009


No other bird brings more color to the winter feeders than the brilliant male Cardinal.

Cardinals are year around residents in my area. Cardinals, Blue Jays, Juncos, Pine Siskins, Tufted Titmice and the Red-bellied Woodpecker have been my most consistent feeder visitors this winter. In previous winters I was mobbed by House Finches but this winter I have not observed a singe one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

SkyWatch: Bluebird Skies

There is little doubt that the clear blue winter skies encouraged the Eastern Bluebirds to begin spring house cleaning.

I first thought that the bluebirds were building nest but after observing them for a little while I learned quite the opposite for they were arriving at the nest with nothing and departing carrying nesting debris.

Earlier this week I posted photographs of the pair sitting in the bird box opening. One commenter (anonymous) mentioned the entrance hole appeared large for a standard bluebird box. The comment was spot on, the box they are using is constructed for much larger birds however the bluebirds have lain claim. I plan to continue checking on it occasionally to see if they can keep possession throughout the nesting season.

For Skies from around the world, visit Sky Watch Team here

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gull, Lake Marion Florida

I captured this image at Lake Marion during my December ’08 visit to Florida. Since I live inland and seldom see gulls I haven’t made an effort to identify this bird. Hopefully someone can help with the ID.

Of the gull flight shots I captured during my trip this image is my favorite.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blackwater Plumes

While visiting Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge I encountered a small marsh filled with tall dead grass still carrying last year’s spent seedheads.

What was simply a bunch of brown grass from any other angle was transformed into a scene of beauty by the natural backlighting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ice Patterns

When I went looking for waterfowl Saturday morning I was greeted with thin ice covering the entire wetland and no waterfowl to be found. I had expected as much as the thermometer read 19 deg F when I left home.

Although I could not photograph waterfowl I was delighted to capture the geometric patterns in the ice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Hint of Spring: Eastern Bluebirds

During my Saturday morning outing I encountered a pair of Eastern Bluebirds cleaning a nest box. At first I thought they were building nest but as I observed their activity I noticed that they were carrying debris from the nest box.

Male Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

Both Bluebirds were somewhat hesitant to go in the box after I situated myself close by but after a short time they resumed housecleaning.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Camera Critters: Red-bellied Woodpecker

The pretty little Red-bellied Woodpeckers are popular winter feeder birds. Not only are they attracted by suet they will also frequent common birdseed mixes.

This Red-bellied has been visiting our deck feeder all winter eating the sunflower seed we feed. It has become acclimated to our presence allowing me to shoot through the window from only a 3-4 foot distance.

For more Camera Critters click HERE

Friday, February 20, 2009

Winter Patterns

We are now in that time of winter where the ice covering our wetlands melts on the warmer afternoons and refreezes over night.

Sometimes the patterns formed by the thin ice are striking. Backlighting accents the patterns found in this natural ice formation.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Skywatch: Canada Sky

Making the approach for landing, a flock of Canada geese grace the bright winter sky.

This image is from Maryland’s beautiful Delmarva Peninsula. The Delmarva derives its name from the three states who in part occupies it; Delaware, Maryland and Virginia

For gorgeous skies from around the world visit The Sky Watch Team Here

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another First: Golden Eagle

During my recent visit to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Willard and I noticed a photographer with a “Big” lens set up aimed at a clump of trees. It took a few moments to locate the bird that had captured his attention as it was well camouflaged in the shadows among the dense evergreens. It took me even longer to figure out what it was, my very first Golden Eagle sighting!

With the golden sitting in the shade and the distance involved I was unable to get an acceptable image. An hour later we returned to find that the sun was now lighting the bird making photography possible with my rig.

I’m will continue hunting these magnificent birds in hopes of better captures but for now I am happy to have had the privilege to have photographed America’s two most magnificent raptors.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Splash of Color: Flushing Mallards

Canon 100-400mm L lens, 1/640 shutter F6.3 ISO 320

A flock of mallards was also present at the small wetland Sunday morning. When they took flight they were a beautiful splash of color against a somber winter background.

As with the goose in yesterday’s post, these birds are also hunted wild birds and will not tolerate human intrusion. Although this makes for a difficult situation getting close to the birds but once I do I am assured of a rapid take-off once I am discovered.

Craig of Craig’s Bird Watching and Nature Blog has been posting his images of flight and I thought it may be helpful to Craig and others if I made a “how I do it” post, so here goes.

I tried capturing these types of shots back when I was shooting the Canon S2 point & shoot but it was an exercise in futility. The focus was both too slow and too imprecise. Once I had acquired the 30D and the 100-400 L lens it was a different story.

I use center spot focus and slow continuous drive mode (3 frames per second). When I’m expecting action I will set my aperture close to its widest setting and make sure the ISO is set to where I have an acceptable shutter speed. These settings are a balancing act between shutter speed and image quality.

As the birds take flight I begin touching the shutter button attempting to achieve focus on a bird and firing a 2-3 shot burst when I do while continuing to pan. I keep repeating this until the birds are out of range.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, that is what the delete button is for. The one problem that I find difficult to overcome is that of hitting focus on the background instead of the subject. In this case the trees were far enough in the distance that they didn’t interfere.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Local Honker

As I drove past a local wetland Sunday morning I noticed that it contained some open water. Hoping that some waterfowl was present I parked the car and began checking it out on foot. I located a flock of Canada Geese some distance away. Using the terrain to shield my approach I closed the distance. When I believed I was within range I left cover and made my final approach. The honker pictured here immediately became worried.

After only a couple of frames the geese all took flight giving me the take-off/flight shots that I am always looking for.

Approaching geese in our area is not easy at this time of year as the Pa Canada Goose season has been in periodically since the first of September and does not close until February 28. These birds know very well if they want to survive they must keep out of shotgun range of all intruders.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hunting Harrier

Returning home yesterday morning from a fairly uneventful wildlife photo outing (yes I do encounter those too) I noticed this female Northern Harrier hunting over the field behind my home. I quickly set my camera bag on the deck and scooped out the 30D with the 100-400mm attached, hurried to the back of the deck as the Harrier circled and came in low once more.

Northern Harriers also known as Marsh Hawks are large birds with a 1 meter wing span and an owl like face. When hunting they fly close to the ground watching and listening intently. Moments later as this bird passed into a neighboring field, its effort paid off when she dropped to the ground capturing something. I could not distinguish what she had caught. After feeding for a few seconds she again took flight and disappeared into the distance.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine Turkeys

The gobblers were sparing when I captured this image. I didn't notice at the time that their heads & necks formed a heart shape. There is little doubt that the sparing was brought on by thoughts of their upcoming mating season.

I was pleasantly surprised a few moments ago when I found that Ken Conger had beaten me to the punch by posting a pair of Trumpeter Swans forming a heart also.
For more Camera Critters visit Misty's Camera Critters

Thursday, February 12, 2009

SkyWatch: Blackwater Dawn

Canada Geese grace the quiet waters of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge at dawn.

I have been posting images from my Sunday visit to Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This was my first visit and I was suitably impressed with the tremendous numbers of waterfowl available for viewing and photography.

For more Skies from around the world visit Sky Watch

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reflections of Flight

I was particularly attracted to the reflections in this image. Normally I do not notice such things while concentrating on the action of a take-off shot but in this case I did and framed the image with it in mind.

The Canada Geese were the most visible bird species at BNWR during our visit. My impression was that they literally numbered in the thousands if not the tens of thousands.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tundra Swans: Blackwater NWR

In one of the freshwater impoundments at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge a large flock of Tundra Swans were intermixed with the Canada Geese. Their large size easily dwarfed the smaller Canada’s

The photo-op arrived when two Tundra Swans began displaying aggressive behavior. Although the aggression lasted for only a moment, it was long enough to focus and shoot.

I had clicked a photograph of a distant Tundra Swan some years ago with a point & shoot, but with the small image of unprintable quality I consider this encounter with the Tundra Swans to be another photographic “First”.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Northern Pintail: Blackwater NWR

When I first opened the car door in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge I could hardly believe my ears; the clamor of thousands of nearby honking geese was tremendous!

Wildlife Drive, a four mile one way road runs through the refuge following the top of a dike separating freshwater impoundments from tidal marsh. This road allows one to get reasonably close to the waterfowl with little physical effort. Of course the waterfowl here is accustomed to people and automobiles along this route and are not alarmed by ones presence. During our visit a portion of Wildlife Drive was closed for repairs but with two thirds open there was plenty to see and photograph.

After the Eagle from my previous post had left it perch I began to focus on the Canada Geese in a fresh water impoundment. Only then did a notice a pair of graceful little Northern Pintails swimming among their larger cousins.

Another “first” as this was my first ever photo-encounter Northern Pintails. Our visit to Blackwater provided me with a number of “first” which I will be sharing in upcoming post.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A New Adventure: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Last winter I decided on making a trip to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. BNWR is located on Maryland’s scenic eastern shore near the town of Cambridge..

Between the weekend weather and personal issues I was unable to find a suitable weekend date. As this winter approached I again began to think of Blackwater. With the mild weekend weather forecast Willard & I decided to make the trip today.

The alarm jangled raucously at 3am with my feet hitting the bedroom floor a moment later. By 3:30am,with Willard and our gear in the car I started the wheels rolling southeast. As we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at Annapolis Maryland I noticed the eastern sky beginning to brighten slightly.

Upon our arrival in the refuge we were greeted by this Bald Eagle bathed in the warm early morning light. What a way to begin the day! It was beginning to appear that the 200 mile morning drive was going to be worth the effort.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Long Beards: Pennsylvania Wild Turkeys

This morning dawned gray with low clouds darkening the morning sky. The air, considerably warmer than in previous days, had a sweet odor that is only present during a mid winter thaw.

An hour after daybreak the sound of gobbling echoed from a nearby hill and progressively became nearer. Finally, the first gobbler stepped into view. Soon the flock was moving past close by as the sun broke through the dissipating clouds. In a few moments the clouds again covered the sun and the gobblers had moved beyond range.

For a moment what had at first appeared to be a poor photographic morning changed remarkably for the better. A moment is all it takes to capture a memorable image. The wildlife photographer spends many hours outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions waiting for that moment, the moment that makes all of the hours worthwhile

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sparky, The Hand Me Around Dog

My good friend Sparky passed away yesterday

Sparky was born about fifteen years ago to a pair of beagles who purportedly were good rabbit dogs. His master named him Sparky, a name that has stuck with him throughout the years.

When Sparky was a couple of years old my uncle was looking for a rabbit dog and acquired him. After a couple of seasons of hunting rabbits without Sparky taking one bunny track, Herman was ready to try a new dog and passed him on the my parents.

When my elderly beagle Buck passed in January of ’03 dad suggested that I take Sparky for he really didn’t do much other than feed him. Soon we had ‘Ole Sparky totally spoiled. Any time we stepped outdoors Sparky would watch us intently, if we so much as moved in his direction he was at the end of his chain barking and bawling hoping for a treat and a pat on the head.

As the years took their toll his eyes began to glaze, his vision became bad and his hearing worse but he still welcomed me home each evening with his beautiful beagle bellows. Now the end has come and we miss our friend.

Image by Chad Oneil Myers, October 2007

For Happier Camera Critters click HERE

Thursday, February 05, 2009

SkyWatch: Rural Pennsylvania Skies

Bright blue skies with fluffy white clouds only tell part of the story, the snow on the mountain tells the rest. It is Cold in Pennsylvania!!

The house pictured here is that of an elderly neighbor. This is the last occupied home in our area that I am aware of that has never been connected to the power grid. I suppose if one never had electricity one would not miss it.

For more Sky Watch click HERE

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Taking Flight: Great Blue Heron

I captured this shot of a Great Blue Heron along the shore of Florida’s Lake Marion. While the heron was wading in the shallows I was tracking it with my camera in hopes of something special occurring worthy of a photograph.

Focusing and firing as the bird lunged into the air, this image was the best of three.

I hesitate to pick one bird over another as my favorite but I believe I have more Great Blue Heron photographs in my archives than that of any other bird.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow, Ice & Tufted Titmouse

A little Tufted Titmouse pauses to check its surroundings before returning to hammering on the corn grain clutched between its feet.

The Tufted Titmice is the most common visitor to our winter feeders. I love watching them pick up a choice morsel and fly with it to their preferred spot. There they will clutch it tightly between their feet while breaking it apart with rapid blows of their sharp beak. In this photo you can see the titmouse has gained access to the starchy contents of the corn by pecking a hole in the cob end of the kernel.

Although it was very cold Saturday morning the weather warmed considerably by afternoon softening the crusted snow. The temps stayed above freezing during the night followed by a high of 50 deg F Sunday bringing our wildlife much needed respite from the impenetrable crust.

Michelle of Rambling Woods asked in a comment on yesterday’s post if squirrels are hunted for food. The answer is yes. Squirrel meat is quite good and is frequently slow fried, stewed, or fixed with dumplings and potpies. Many squirrel hunters consider them a delicacy.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Meal Time: Eastern Gray Squirrel

An Eastern Gray Squirrel utilizes a hollow log feeder. Building feeders from natural materials enhances the photographic potential of a feeding location.

Squirrels are frequent feeder visitors, welcomed by some and despised by others. During winter the gray squirrel is most active during mid-day. Early to mid winter is also the time of the squirrels mating season.

The gray squirrel is a game animal in Pennsylvania and with that designation comes hunting seasons, bag limits and protection. In game take surveys conducted by the Game Commission, squirrels consistently rank as the most harvested animal in the state. Squirrel hunting once was a very popular sport in our area with many hunters stalking the ridges, mountains, and woodlots. The boom of shotguns and the crack of .22’s would echo across the valleys on opening day.

Today, with the overlapping deer seasons, hunting pressure on these cute little rodents has diminished considerably. Squirrel populations wax and wane according to the availability of food and overall remain much the same as they were during the days of heavy hunting pressure.