Friday, April 30, 2010

Loon Encounter

 I had originally planned on arriving at the lake this morning before sunup but after staying up into the wee hours of the morning with a cow that was having problems delivering her calf; I instead chose to sleep a little longer delaying my arrival until 7:30.

At first I did not see any waterfowl activity. Shortly after beginning fishing I heard the familiar whoop of a loon. Looking towards the sun I spied a pair of loons in winter plumage gently gliding past. The backlighting created sparkles on the surface in each swirl of the loon's wake.

A few hours later as I approached a shallow shoal a loon popped to the surface

Obviously totally at ease with my presence, the loon swam with its eyes beneath the surface, a position that affords the bird an excellent view of the underwater environment.
During the course of the morning I encountered three loons, a flock of Lesser Scaup, two Mallard males, two Broad-winged Hawks, one Osprey, three Double-crested Cormorants, two unidentified Terns and one Great Blue Heron along with an assortment of songbirds.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weekend Highlights

A day of striper fishing on the Chesapeake did not yield any keeper fish but the sunrise certainly was memorable. I made this image with my little Canon S2 IS point&shoot. I guess the batteries are getting old for after shooting just three shots of the sunrise the camera shut down telling me to change batteries; not an easy task as I had just put my spare batteries in the handheld GPS unit we were using to navigate

Visiting our local lake on Friday I was closing in on a flock of lesser scaup when I noticed more ducks along the shoreline. Checking them out through the camera lens I realized that they were American Wigeon, a much less common duck than the scaup. Getting close to the shy Wigeon was out of the question as they flew before I was able to maneuver to within good camera range. This is only the second time I have encountered the American Wigeon in my area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010: Saving the Planet?

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day so I thought it fitting to share my opinion on the subject of “saving our planet”.

I often find myself spending considerable time dwelling upon the problems facing our environment as I pursue my passion photographing wildlife. I have come to the realization that we humans are looking at the situation all wrong if we believe that we must save the earth.

Sure, we as a species have the potential to do considerable damage to the environment. We poison the air, the waters, and the land. We rip down mountains for the coal that lies beneath. We burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate spewing poisonous emissions and greenhouse gasses. We create chemicals never before known on earth and spray them on our crops, feed them to our animals, and use them to manufacture products that soon end up in vast landfills. We overfish the oceans, destroy rainforest, everything must give way for the consumptive wasteful society we find ourselves in. The list of sins committed against the environment goes on and on; nearly without end.

Regardless of the damage we do we will not destroy the planet; we will not even come close. So what if the planet warms, ocean levels rise, the Gulf Stream quits circulating plunging us into another ice age. So what if we spew nuclear radiation over millions of square miles. No matter what we do the planet can take it. The sun will come up in the morning and go down in the evening, the earth will be here.

What is at risk is us, the human species. In our rush to riches and power we forget that we to are a natural part of this planet. Just like all other living things, both plant and animal our life begins, matures, mates, and dies all the while depending entirely upon the earth for our very survival. When we poison the earth it is ourselves that we are poisoning. When we poison the atmosphere we are poisoning the very gasses that we require for survival. When we pollute the water we are polluting the universal solvent that makes up the vast majority of our bodies. When we eliminate a species we are eliminating just one more building block of the very environment that we depend upon for our life giving sustenance.

Protecting the environment in reality is all about saving ourselves. Going Green is not going to save the planet, it doesn’t need saving, but it is a step towards saving humanity. Although going green may seem to be an anathema to the path to riches, what does all the money and wealth in the world matter when we succeed in destroying ourselves?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shakedown on the Chesapeake

My friends Paul & Sindy recently acquired a fine old Grady White 20ft Walkaround and invited me to a day on the Chesapeake Bay to give her a shakedown cruise and troll for spring trophy striped bass. We were planning on going this past Saturday but the winds forecast for the weekend forced us to postpone our trip until Tuesday.
Arriving at the marina before dawn we were preparing to launch when we noticed that the GPS would not retain a satellite fix. As we are very familiar with navigating this section of the Chesapeake we did not consider this a major problem.

Once we were a mile or so out of the inlet I checked the sonar to determine when we reached sufficient depth to put out the trolling lines only to find that the unit was not displaying bottom. Checking it out we found the transducer attached to the boat’s transom was broken. So there we were, out on the Chesapeake with a fine running boat, rods, lures and no electronics; time to fish the old fashioned way!

A passing boat illustrates just how serious some folks take their striper trolling

Passing bell buoy 80 I took the opportunity to click this picture showing the bell that is rang by the rocking of the waves.
After 7 hours of trolling without as much as one strike we pulled the lines in and began the long trip back home. During our time out we did not see anyone catch a fish although we did encounter a couple of successful fishermen upon our return to the marina.
As they say; that why it’s called fishing, not catching :) 

These photos were taken with a Canon S2 IS point&shoot as I did not want to subject a DSLR to the rigors of the saltwater.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Lilacs

Lilac in Bloom

Many newer homes as well as most old ones have a Lilac bush growing among their landscaping plants. The first shot is of the bush growing along my driveway with the second shot taken at our next door neighbor’s home.

Speaking with our neighbor I learned that this bush was planted by his wife’s grandmother who had passed away nearly eighty years ago. I don’t know what the lifespan of these fragrant flowering bushes is but I do know that I look forward each spring to enjoying their beauty while inhaling their sweet scent that permeates the air.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Saturday Morning on the Lake

The strong cold front that passed through our area Friday evening dropped temps from near 80F into the 40’s by Saturday morning.

When I first checked the sky the stars were shining brightly but by daylight dark brooding clouds were crossing the sky, a sure sign that high winds were soon to come. I snapped this shot at a moment when sunlight was streaming through the clouds lighting the mountain top beyond the lake. Although the lake was calm at the moment it would not stay that way long.

I was pleased to find that a common loon was present. I have not observed the numbers of loons this spring that I have come to expect with only one present during each sighting. Previous sighting have been of birds in breeding plumage but this bird still retains its drab winter feathers.

Near noon an immature bald eagle soared past the lake. Staying high in the sky riding on the strong air currents it did not take it long to fly from horizon to horizon. I clicked this image mostly for identification purposes as golden eagle has been sighted in our area recently.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Camera Critters: Red-breasted Mergansers

Red-breasted Mergansers visit the local lake each spring around the time of the perch spawn. I really cannot say unequivocally that they are feeding on perch spawn but all indications point that they are.

I find the mergansers spending much of their time in water where the spawn is visible. Much of their time is spent swimming with their eyes underwater and frequently diving.

In this photograph a pair of hens scans the bottom while the male keeps an eye on my nearby boat.

As I slowly drew even nearer the male gave me his undivided attention

Breaching their comfort zone the mergansers took flight, relocating to a different part of the lake and continued their feeding.

This spring has provided me with some outstanding waterfowl photography and one disappointment; the disappointment being the absence of the Buffleheads. In previous years I had grown accustomed to encountering flocks of buffleheads frequently during the same time period as the red-breasted mergansers but this year I have observed only one lone bufflehead hen. I have no explanation for the absence of the buffleheads but I do hope in coming years to see the colorful little divers return.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Unusual Mallard

Last weekend I encountered an unusually marked mallard drake on our local lake. When I first observed him at a distance I was unsure of what I had spotted but upon closing the distance I was able to identify him as a mallard cross.

As this guy is not your trusting park duck he took flight before I was able to approach him to within camera range.

This afternoon fortune favored me. Arriving at the lake about 3pm amid very windy conditions I had only been out for about 45 minutes when an approaching thunder shower forced me to make a run for the dock and take cover. The wind was very violent but the storm passed quickly. As the sun began peaking through the clouds the wind lay and a beautiful calm fell across the water. Crossing the lake I soon spotted the unusual mallard and this time he was not alone.

As I approached the pair with the boat they at first attempted to out-swim me. Drawing ever closer I was able to capture this frontal view.

Approaching the ducks a little too close resulted in an explosion of wings and water as the pair took to the air simultaneously in opposite directions.

After about an hour as another thunder shower bore down on me I decided to call it a day and finished strapping the boat down as the wind whipped rain cooled my fervor for any more outdoor photographic adventures today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wary Woodies

While clicking around on the blogs of other photographers I occasionally find that someone has posted some absolutely stunning close-up images of Wood Ducks. I admit that each time I am just a little bit envious of their images as the Wood Ducks that live in my area are the wariest species of wild duck that I commonly encounter.

During my latest visit to the lake, after searching the entire shoreline along one side, I finally encountered two pair of woodies in the marsh at the headwaters. Focusing on one pair I was able to capture a decent shot as they swam through the reeds but upon trying to approach just a little closer caused them to burst into flight at a moment when I was unable to bring the camera into action.

After making a U turn the Wood Duck pair passed by high overhead, giving me an opportunity for a distant pass shot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mallard Pass Shots

As common as Mallards are I cannot allow one to pass close by without attempting to capture a good image of it on the wing.

Often it is difficult to achieve good focus against a cluttered background as there is much more background for the autofocus to lock on than there is subject.

Most shots get the delete treatment but in this shot everything came together capturing this male mallard frozen against a background of leafless underbrush.

A mallard female zooms by as she attempts to catch up with her mate. Although not as colorful as her male counterpart her subdued colors are beautiful none the less.

I haven’t found any sign of the mallards incubating yet but from their activity I am fairly certain that egg laying has began.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Camera Critters: Bonaparte's Gulls

Last weekend I discovered a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls that had stopped at our local lake during their spring migration. I posted a few of my better shots then and am continuing with more photographs from that event today.

These birds were quite docile allowing me to bring the boat to within a few feet of them while photographing from different lighting angles. On this occasion a number of the birds took off nearly in unison. The bright morning sun lit the birds perfectly during takeoff silhouetting them perfectly against the shadowed shoreline.

This little gull, deciding to join its mates resting on the water, gave me a beautiful pass shot as it came in for a landing.

Sometimes we capture poses completely missed with the naked eye and this photo is a good case in point. The gulls had separated into two groups spaced about a quarter of a mile apart with gulls flying back and forth between. The situation was perfect for pass shooting and I spent about one half of an hour photographing the birds as they flew.

Only when reviewing the images did I notice that this bird was flying straight ahead while turning its head turned upside down. I am well aware that gulls are masters of the air but this is an incredible feat that I did not expect even from these agile acrobats of the air.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Strutting Season: Eastern Wild Turkeys

With rapidly moving storms passing thru our area overnight temperatures dropped dramatically. Gusty winds accompanied today’s dawn so I scrubbed my plans to pursue waterfowl with the boat and instead met up with Willard for a morning of photographing the local Wild Turkey activity.

The Turkey breeding season is in full swing and we were treated to a good encounter with a flock of strutting gobblers at close range. The light could have been better but a close-in encounter with mature strutting gobblers always makes for a memorable event.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Horned Grebes

Each spring Horned Grebes pass through my area during their spring migration after spending the winter along the coast.

I have observed flocks of as many as twenty but so far this year four is the largest group I have encountered. In all of my past encounters the grebes were quite wary, diving below the waters surface before I was within good photographic range.

My encounter with the grebes Saturday was quite different. Sighting the birds when they were only tiny specks on the water I was surprised when they continued fishing as I brought the boat to within 20 feet or so. Showing no alarm the grebes would dive out of sight only to resurface in a minute still near the boat. As the encounter occurred near noon the light was not the best but the close-up encounter still resulted in my best ever Horned Grebe photographs.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Loon Arrival

Each spring I anticipate the arrival of the Loons. They normally arrive in late March or early April and by mid May the last of them have moved on. Saturday morning, upon arriving at the lake, I heard the beautiful call of the Loon as I was readying the boat for launch.

Soon I spotted a solitary loon fishing in mid-lake. As light levels were still quite low I didn’t attempt to approach it; opting to wait until the morning sun light reached the lake.

After approaching a pair of Red-breasted Merganser in a sunlit portion of the lake I heard a commotion; a loud splashing of water and flapping of wings. Turning around I spotted the loon taking off with water flying high.

Once airborne the loon passed by me, circled and flew out of sight headed in a northerly direction

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Camera Critters: Otter Suprise

Shortly after crossing the lake at sunrise I noticed a flock of gulls take off in mid lake. They were quite some distance away but after they flushed I observed that something was still swimming and diving as it traveled towards the western shoreline.

Thinking that it may be my first loon sighting of the year I headed the boat in its direction. Moments later it surfaced and much to my surprise it was an otter!

Otters were nearly exterminated from Pennsylvania by the late 1800’s with only a small remnant population remaining in the Pocono Mountain region. Beginning in 1982 efforts to return otters to suitable habitat commenced and the effort is ongoing. This occasion is the very first time I have ever encountered an otter in the wild in Pennsylvania.

Upon nearing the shoreline the otter turned and swam towards me, diving and resurfacing on the opposite side of the boat. After checking me out it again dove beneath the surface and disappeared.

The encounter left me surprised and thankful; thankful that I had witnessed an extremely rare creature in the wild and doubly thankful that I had been able to capture a few memorable images of the moment.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Morning on the Lake: Bonaparte's Gulls

Arriving at the lake before sunup this morning the first thing I noticed was a raft of Bonaparte’s Gulls. These birds winter along the coast, migrating far up into Canada to nest. Nearly every spring I encounter these tiny gulls on the lake but they never tarry long.

These gulls are quite trusting and will usually allow me to approach quite closely with the boat. Using the slowest speed setting on the electric motor I was able to swim along with the flock maneuvering the boat for advantageous lighting angles.

The dead calm morning was great for reflection shots 

Backlighting accents the stream of spray following the little gull’s take-off

Today was an exceptionally beautiful day for early April with afternoon temps reaching the mid 70’s. It was also a day I will always remember for the extremely rare encounter with a very unusual animal, but that will have to wait until my next post. Stay tuned……..