Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wetlands Wood Ducks

Our weather took a decided turn for the better today with bright sunshine and temps rising to about 70F. After supper this evening, with an hour of sunlight left, I decided to visit the local wetland.

Geese were honking loudly as I left the car and as I rounded a bend in the path I spied a pair of Wood Ducks feeding in a large puddle. As the ducks around here know all to well the dangers that humans present, I crouched and crawled using all available cover to approach as close as possible without alarming them.

A closer crop gives a better view of the colorful male

Even though I was 30-40 yards away the clicking of the camera quickly drew the male’s attention. Seemingly unalarmed he swam to his mate and both quickly disappeared into the flooded willows.

During the course of my short visit I also observed several Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Hooded Mergansers along with a number of pairs of Canada Geese. The beauty of the evening was marred by the stench of burning plastic as someone nearby burned their garbage, flooding virtually the entire wetland with the acrid odor.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Middle Creek Blue Goose

One of the more interesting birds we encountered during our Middle Creek visit was a dark phase snow goose. Once considered a separate species of goose and named the Blue Goose it is now recognized as a dark phase snow goose.

The pothole that contained the Northern Shovelers posted earlier also had a few normal white snow geese and this one dark phase feeding in it. Fortunately the restrictions at this pothole allowed visitors to walk to the edge of the water giving me the opportunity for reasonable close shooting with the 100-4000mm lens.

By setting the tripod at the water’s edge and keeping it low enough that I had to sit behind the camera I was able to capture this shot of the blue goose stretching its wings from the goose’s level. I try to avoid high angle shots whenever possible as I feel the perspective often more pleasing when the photograph is taken from a low angle.

Blogger note:
Like many of you I have been experiencing problems posting pictures with the new blogger post editor. I discovered that when entering “new post” from the dashboard that I am unable to upload photo directly to blogger. However if after logging into blogger, returning to my blog and then clicking “new post” at the top I get a post editor that works just fine. I’m sure this is just a bug that the good folks at blogger will fix soon but in the meantime I hope you all find this helpful.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Friday’s Wetland Visit

With heavy brooding skies Friday morning I delayed my planned visit to a local wetland until mid day after the skies had cleared. Although mid day is not a good time to observe wildlife and certainly is not good lighting for wildlife photography any chance to spend time in the outdoors is better than staying home.

Poking around the wetlands I discovered a goose resting beside a feather lined nest. A moment after I noticed the goose it took off across the wetland honking loudly. Clicking away at the rapidly departing goose I could only think that I was glad that I was not beneath her

A pair of American Coots was also present. The Coot is a species not commonly seen in our locale. I remember seeing one as a teenager on the creek that borders our family farm making this only my second observation of this species in our area. Checking the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds I found that virtually the entire US is included as either winter or summer range of the American Coot with the exception of a small strip up the Appalachian mountains, the tip of which covers my home turf.

During this visit I observed quite a bit of frog/toad spawn attached to the submerged vegetation around to water's edge. It appeared that this food source was what was attracting the waterfowl's attention.

Also observed on this visit was seven Ring-necked ducks, two pair of Hooded Mergansers, one male Mallard, and one Osprey.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Camera Critters: Mallard Flush

Everything has its season and spring is my season to pursue waterfowl photography. Each year I look forward to the seeing the arrival of the different species as they pass through our area on their long journey northward. Today I again spent my day on the lake in search of waterfowl.

Arriving at the lake at sunup I found the parking area nearly full as a bass tournament was already underway. Tournaments change the waterfowl activity on the lake and no two tournaments are the same. Sometimes the anglers are working deeper water and good waterfowl photography can be found along the shoreline while at other times they are working the shoreline allowing waterfowl to congregate over the deeper water. Today it seemed as though they were fishing everywhere and very little waterfowl was to be found. During the day I observed a few pair of Mallards, one female Bufflehead and one female Red-breasted Merganser and a pair of Canada Geese.

The best shot of the day occurred when this male Mallard flushed flashing his iridescent colors in the bright morning sunlight.

For more Critters of all Kinds
Visit our friend Misty’s
Camera Critters Blog

Thursday, March 25, 2010

SkyWatch: Middle Creek Snows

Our recent visit to Middle Creek Wildlife Management area was primarily to target the spring migration of Snow Geese. Snow Geese first began visiting Middle Creek some fifteen years ago. It was estimated that over 100,000 snow geese were present at Middle Creek a few days prior to our trip but most had moved on by our arrival.

Never the less, a flock of migrating snows began to build on the lake as the morning progressed. Willard & I walked the trail to Willow Point and watched flocks of 30-60 geese arriving every few minutes.

The geese were coming in very high and circling the lake as they lost altitude

As the geese neared the water more detailed images of the birds were possible

Finally below the horizon, this goose is about to land among the geese already resting on the lake.

Middle Creek is a waterfowl paradise located in southeastern Pennsylvania with a 400 acre shallow lake and 70 acres of small shallow water impoundments (potholes). Visitors are tightly controlled with very few locations permitting close-up photographing or viewing. On the flip side the tight control of visitors affords the waterfowl a high degree of protection from human disturbance.

For more interesting Skies from around the world
visit Sky Watch Friday

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Northern Shoveler : Middle Creek

At a small pothole along the road we observed two pairs of Northern Shovelers

A male Northern Shoveler shows off his namesake, his unusually large shovel shaped bill

Suddenly one of the males took a short flight landing in the middle of the pothole. I wasn’t ready for his take-off but I was ready for his splash-down.

Shot just a moment later, water is still flying as he coasts to a stop

The entire Middle Creek experience would have been worthwhile if this had been the only photographic encounter of the day as this is a species that I have only ever once encountered at the lake I frequent. That encounter did not result in any good images as it was too early in the morning when light levels were to low for sharp images of moving subjects

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Middle Creek Ring-necked Ducks

Early morning at Middle Creek found a flock of Ring-necked Ducks hanging out on a pond near the visitor's center.  This photo and the following one was taken as the first warm rays of the rising sun fell across the water.  

Light levels were still quite low.  The first shot was made set on ISO 640 and the second at ISO 1000.

Three hours later with the sun higher in the sky I shot this image at ISO125.  With the stronger light I captured better detail but lost much of the visual appeal that comes with the warm low angle light of dawn.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Hooded Merganser Encounter

After photographing the Lesser Scaup posted yesterday I noticed a pair of ducks quite some distance away. Looking through the binoculars I could determine that one had a white patch on its head. At that point I knew they were either Buffleheads or Hooded Mergansers and in either case it would be worthwhile to try to get a better look.

Maneuvering the boat to get a good lighting angle I approached them. As I drew nearer I was able to determine that they were a pair of Hooded Mergansers.

Instead of flushing while I was still a distance away this pair decided to try to swim across the lake with me in pursuit, following just a tad faster than they were swimming.

After following and photographing them for some distance they looked at each other as if to say, what do we do now?

Evidently the look they gave each other was the “let’s get out-a-here” look for immediately they sprang into the air, giving me the shot I was looking for.

Flying to the western shoreline the Mergansers settled back on the water while I turned the boat away to look for other photo opportunities.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Camera Critters: First Day of Spring

After what seemed to be a very long cold winter spring arrived almost as fast as if one had flipped a switch. While snow still covered much of the landscape last Friday, now it only lingers in a few spots. Yesterday I noticed my first blooming daffodils, what a pretty spot of color against the brown landscape!

Today I towed the boat to the nearby lake in hopes of encountering some of the migrating waterfowl now streaming through our area and I was not to be disappointed. During the morning I spotted three Red-breasted Merganser males, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a flock of twenty or so Ring-necked ducks, a pair of Wood Ducks, two pair of Mallards, three Horned Grebes, a number of Canada Geese and one Lesser Scaup male.

I found this Lesser Scaup hanging out with the Ring-necked ducks but when they took flight he stayed behind. I was able to maneuver the boat to within close camera range as he swam the length of the lake.

Getting the boat too close for his comfort, the Scaup began pattering across the surface is a great spray of water

As those of you who have followed Country Captures for some time know, getting out on the water with the migrating waterfowl is one of my favorite photography pursuits.

Using a boat frequently allows me to get very close to waterfowl and sometimes it makes it possible to capture spectacular take-off images. Boating for waterfowl also allows me to combine photography with another of my favorite activities, fishing, and today was no exception. After the waterfowl action had died down for the morning I picked up the rod and caught a nice meal of spring bluegills. Boating, birds, fishing and beautiful warm weather; today certainly was the perfect First Day of Spring.

For more Critters of all Kinds
visit our friend Misty at her

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blackbirds Welcome Spring

Singing Red-winged Blackbird

With the coming of warmer weather the numbers of blackbirds have built considerably over the last few days. The male Red-winged blackbirds were the first to arrive. I observed my first red-winged male two weeks ago. The wetlands now are ringing with their melodious song and today I observed my first female. The female stayed partially concealed flitting about the underbrush and never allowed me an opportunity for a photograph.

Grackle Pair

During this past week I began to notice grackles arriving and today good sized flocks were evident around my home. This pair perched in the top of an evergreen tree growing beside our home. Opening the door just a crack I was able to capture this image of the pair. Notice how iridescent the male is compared to the female.

The glistening male lingered for a moment after the female had departed

We have been experiencing unseasonably warm weather the over the past few days and it is to continue into Sunday. Showers forecast to begin Sunday evening will drop temperatures back into the normal range for the beginning of the week. With the weather we have been having the past few days it’s hard to imagine that just two weeks ago ice covered our lakes and wetlands and snow blanketed the ground.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Middle Creek Silhouettes

With all of the buzz about the Snow Geese at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area I had my plans for a visit this past weekend thwarted by the heavy wind and rain but with the beautiful bluebird weather this week has offered, hasty plans were made for a make-up trip. Willard & I hit the road this morning and arrived at Middle Creek as the eastern sky began to lighten. Shortly after our arrival Willard’s daughter Amy (Ash’s Eye) rolled into the parking lot joining up with us for the mornings shoot.

Our first stop was as the lake where we could watch the sunrise over the water. The beautiful orange color of the dawn reflected on the water was accented by the silhouette's of Canada geese.

This small group posed a striking silhouette as they swam in single file

Pairs and small flocks lifted off periodically before the sun made its appearance for the day

They day proved to be quite fruitful with quite a number of different waterfowl species sighted but the biggest disappointment was the number of snow geese present. Whereas just a week ago it was estimated that over 100,000 were present, today the official estimate was only 10,000 as the main migration moved on at the beginning of this week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Elk

I captured these images during my March 6th & 7th visit to Pennsylvania’s elk range. This bull was with the group wanting to cross the road that I posted March 9th. The backlighting and snow proved to be a challenging combination. By underexposing .7 steps I was able to retain the highlights while still capturing detail in the bull’s body.

Reviewing the LCD display frequently proves invaluable when shooting high contrast situations such as this. 

Sunday morning, a little after sunup, we located this raghorn feeding along the roadside. As the bull nibbled along I followed behind taking photos whenever the bull was decently lit. With the early morning sun lighting his body I shot this image with no compensation. In reviewing this image I am reasonably satisfied with the outcome although a little underexposure would have helped as there is a blown out area on his flank.

Both of these animals were photographed in elk hunt zone 2

Monday, March 15, 2010

Migrant Waterfowl Arrives

A little over one week ago when I checked the local wetlands they were locked in ice with no sign of life. How quickly did our landscape change! With warmer temperatures and heavy rain the ice and snow quickly receded and large flocks of Canada geese can be seen flying north daily.

Sunday afternoon I again paid a visit to the wetlands to find it swarming with waterfowl. Along with Canada geese various species of ducks were also present. With their bright white crest the Hooded Merganser males stood out from their drab surroundings.

I was unable to get close enough for good photographs and contented myself with shooting identification shots. This shot of a Hooded Merganser drake is very tightly cropped.

A male Ring-necked Duck passes through the same spot as the Hooded Merganser in the previous image, again tightly cropped.

I also observed mallards, wood ducks, a great blue heron, and red-winged blackbirds during this visit. In the coming days I am anticipating more encounters, hopefully closer and in better light but for now I am happy that the flocks of spring are again passing though on their annual journey.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


With the warmer weather we experienced this past week my wife & I took a walk by a neighboring farm one evening near sundown. As we were walking along we spied this pretty cottontail sitting under some overhanging evergreens along the roadside with low angle sunlight illuminating it perfectly. I snapped a few shots and then began moving closer, and closer, and closer until I was so close that the rabbit filled the viewfinder.

After getting the shot we walked on. Upon our return our neighbor was standing along the road and commented on the “big” camera I was carrying. Turning on the LCD I showed him what I had been shooting. With a chuckle he invited us in around the building to see where the rabbits had been feeding on tree bark while the ground was covered in deep snow.

This is a shot of what he identified as apple saplings that the rabbits had completely girdled. During periods of snow cover when cottontails cannot feed on grasses and other plants they will commonly feed on the nutritious cambium layer of woody plants while normally avoiding thick rough bark. These trees appear to have been damaged sufficiently that they will only grow from beneath the girdled area.

I hope you all like Country Captures' new look. After finding the new Blogger post editor Friday evening I began looking for a new template that would accommodate the larger picture size afforded by the post editor. After picking one and setting up a test blog to play with I happened to hop over to Abe Lincoln’s Pick a Peck of Pixels and low and behold he was posting about an all new Blogger in draft dashboard with new easily customizable templates. The new features offered there allowed me to easily give Country Capture a whole new make-over.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Camera Critters: Fowl Luvin’

With spring just around the corner the resident Canada Geese are making the best of the milder days choosing nesting sights and wooing their mates.

After chasing another pair away from his preferred spot, this gander seemed to have a lot to say to his demure hen.

Today we are having typical March weather, high winds and drenching rain. I would have loved to have been photographing the migrating waterfowl today but with the high winds it would be impossible to keep my portable hide erect. Some of the gust passing through seem about to blow our home apart.

For more Critters of all Kinds
Visit our friend Misty’s Camera Critters

Ps. After making this post and then changing my template I had not completed all of the fixes that went with the new layout when we lost power.  It was nine hours until it was restored and during that time many of you viewed a messed up Country Captures and for that I apologize.  If any of you are wondering where I came up with this new template, it is a customized one from the new blogger in draft.  For more information visit this post by our friend Abe Lincoln.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Gentle Giant

At first light Sunday morning Willard and I again began driving the roads around Benezette in search of elk. After checking Winslow Hill we turned onto Rt 555. After checking out a herd of cows, calves and young bulls feeding in a lawn we were heading back towards Benezette when I spotted two rack bulls feeding between a house and barn. Turning onto a side road we stopped to photograph the bulls.

The largest bull, posted here, turned out to be a bull we were very familiar with. I have had the privilege to have photographed him over a period of four years. Currently one of my images of him from the rut of 2008 graces both the 2010 Pa Game Commission calendar and the March/April issue of Pennsylvania Magazine

During all of my encounters with this animal he has been very docile and absolutely fearless of humans, neither attempting to approach or to retreat. This photograph was taken in the current Elk Hunt Zone 2.

How can I say it; it both breaks my heart and makes me boiling mad, that some would kill & assist to kill this gentle animal in the name of sport hunting and then have the audacity to call him a “Trophy”. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Elk Country Visit

An overnight visit to Elk County over the past weekend went well. As evening approached Saturday Willard & I were cruising the back roads when we located a bachelor group of young bulls among a group of cabins in elk hunt zone 2.

This bull posed like a huge lawn ornament beneath the flag in the front lawn of a camp.

The bulls wanted to cross the road but were just a tad fidgety about crossing between the car loads of onlookers. After a few minutes hesitation this bull walked between the cars and soon his herd mates followed.