Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Transition

A visit to the wetlands yesterday proved somewhat of a disappointment.  A warm spell last weekend opened some of the water and Canada Geese and a flock of Mallards were present.  Colder weather during the past week had refrozen most of the open areas and the waterfowl had fled.  By shooting directly into the sun the extreme contrast of this shot makes it appear as a black&white.

A shot of the cattails locked in ice appears as though winter still has the wetlands locked in it cold embrace.

However in another spot where the water is very shallow the vegetation has adsorbed enough of the sun's energy to met the ice.

Returning home I passed a small pond where a group of Red-winged Blackbirds were hanging out.  Backing up and pulling off the road I managed this shot from the open car window.  I first noticed the red-winged blackbird's arrival last Saturday.  Looking back through my records over the past few years I see that they are right on time as they typically arrive around the third week of February.

The forecast for this week begins with warm temps and heavy rain tomorrow followed by highs in the 40's and 50's the remainders of the week.  The ice cover present now will most certainly be replaced by waterfowl as they follow the ice-out in their northward journey.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ice-out: Waterfowl Sightings Increase

With the arrival of warmer temps streams, lakes, and wetlands are beginning to open.  As soon as open water appears waterfowl begins appearing also.  I found this group of Common Mergansers swimming in a stream among the floating ice during last weekend's ice-out

Tiring of the photographers attention the mergansers soon decided to relocate to a more secluded spot on the stream.

Each winter I await the coming of spring with much anticipation.  The spring waterfowl migrations are for me the most exciting part of the season.  During the autumn migrations waterfowl is hunted all along their journey making the birds wary and extremely difficult to photograph.  The spring migration finds the birds much more trusting as nearly all waterfowl hunting seasons are closed.  Let the hunters have the fall, I'll take spring anytime; a time when I can hunt the beautiful birds passing through our area with no competition.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Bit of Sun

A young cow elk stands amid the evergreens chewing her cud

When a shaft of sunlight fell on the scene the evergreen boughs sparkled.

Personally I like this second shot for its "cute" factor.  The evergreen framing her face hides both eyes as she totally ignores my presence.  These photos were taken along Rt 555.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winter's Grasp is Broken

Friday was the warmest day we have had in quite a few months.  During our visit to Pennsylvania's Elk Range we stopped in at Parker Dam State Park.  This scene is from just below the dam.  The rapid snow melt had raised the water level to where the edge of the ice sheet was partially submerged.

At Benezette the scene was incredibly different.  Bennett Branch Sinnemahoning Creek had been covered by a heavy ice sheet.  Now the warmer temperatures and rising water was breaking up the ice forcing it down stream.  At times the creek was full of ice cakes grinding against one another as they drifted downstream.

While at other times the creek flowed nearly free of ice.

Some of ice was forced up on the creek bank where one could better appreciate the full thickness of some of the slabs.

The wind began blowing in the afternoon and as evening approached we began the drive home.  As darkness fell we could still feel the power of the wind as it buffeted our vehicle. 

With a few weeks of winter still ahead cold and snow are certain to return.  The cold spells will be shorter and the new snows will melt quicker as the days continue to lengthen and spring will once again win the battle of the seasons in the never ending cycle of life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wrapping up Winter Projects

Earlier I posted a set of Adirondack chairs, footrest and table I built for our outdoor use.  I also completed a set of two chairs and a table intended for our rec room.  I built this set using untreated pine since it won't be exposed to the weather.  Desiring a rustic appearance I decided upon flame-finishing the wood.  As seen in this closeup a propane torch is used to lightly burn the wood.  The softer wood chars first accenting the grain as the harder wood retains its light color.

This image is one of the chairs after having been burned and wiped.

After two coats of satin polyurethane the new rustic Adirondack set is ready for use.

With winter beginning to break up in our area wrapping up my winter projects has not come a minute too soon.  Yesterday while applying water resistant stain to the new Adirondack deck set I heard the song of the Red-winged Blackbird above the roar of the wind; the first for this year.  Today I observed a number of them swaying in the tree tops.  Its time to put the projects behind me and head into the outdoors, camera in hand!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pennsylvania's Wild Pets & More

With approximately ten percent of Pennsylvania's small elk herd wearing collars its not hard to see why many view these trusting animals as free ranging pets.  I counted four collared animals in one small herd browsing along Rt. 555 yesterday morning.

A young bull displays his tracking collar from along the roadside on Winslow Hill

Vandals struck at the new Elk Country Visitor Center when someone shot the elk silhouette atop the entrance sign.  Rawley Cogan told us the gunshot damage happened last weekend.

Two shots marked the side towards town with four shots hitting the other side.  

Cogan indicated that vandalism was considered during the design of this sign.  The sign is made from 1/4" steel plate which kept damage to a minimum.  Sad commentary on the human species that some always must destroy what others have worked so hard for.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CWD Nearing Pennsylvania

A white-tailed deer harvested in Allegany County, Maryland during November of 2010 tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). This is the first confirmed case in Maryland. CWD was found in Hampshire County, West Virginia in 2005 and by 2009 45 cases had been confirmed. There is no doubt that CWD is moving our way and it’s only a matter of time before Pennsylvania will have its first confirmed case of the dreaded disease.

CWD belongs to a family of diseases know as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) caused by an abnormal form of a protein know as a prion. The symptoms are similar to scrapie in sheep and mad cow in cattle. All official web sites that I have visited state that there is no evidence that CWD affects humans while all caution those exposed to deer in contaminated areas take certain precautions.

The list of states and provinces where CWD has been detected continues to grow while many wildlife and agriculture departments have implemented plans and regulation in an attempt to limit the spread.

West Virginia DNR states that the disease does not cause and immediate widespread die-off of deer but if allowed to spread will cause long-term damage to the herd. It also notes that although the outcome of the disease is not known some have predicted it as a 30-50 year epidemic.

For more information on how the Pennsylvania intends to react click here to find the Chronic Wasting Response Plan. The plan is a framework to guide the state agencies as they attempt to monitor and control the spread of the disease.

I remember listening to retired Pennsylvania Game Protector Carl Jarrett recall the Game Commission’s reaction to a rabies epidemic early in his career possibly in the 1940’s. He told of how road killed deer were collected from across the state and processed into bait balls. A dose of poison was placed the bait which was then given to officers and employees. Their job was to saturation bait areas where rabies was thought to be present. This poisoning resulted in virtually all meat eating domestic and bird and wildlife exposed being killed in the attempt to eradicate rabies vector species.

During my time with the Commission we were once again faced with a rabies epidemic entering our state during the 1980’s. This time the actions taken were not nearly so extreme. Regulations were put in place requiring pet owners to vaccinate their pets. Other reasonable regulations and testing services were put in place to protect the public along with an awareness campaigns designed to teach the general public what to do in case they came in contact with a suspected rabid animal. The end result is that we have learned to live with rabies and wildlife population as well as humans have been affected very little; a much better response than the one that was tried during the earlier time.

I certainly hope that when CWD does enter our state that the governmental agencies will exercise appropriate restraint and not destroy our deer herd in their attempt to save it.

As some of you are aware the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania have been embroiled in a dispute over the management of our white-tailed deer herd since the Commission changed the deer season structure to one of concurrent buck and doe hunting along with antler restrictions. The result of the change reduced deer numbers in many areas resulting in less agricultural crop damage, lower numbers of road kills and improved forest health while at the same time having a negative impact on hunter satisfaction.

I will not enter into the “Deer Wars” argument at this time but must point out that CWD and/or the reaction to it may make the current deer management dispute completely irrelevant.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mid Winter Wild Turkeys

Seeing beauty in a Wild Turkeys face is an acquired taste; not one that comes naturally to most folks

But the iridescent sheen of a mature gobblers plumage is another story altogether

But when a gobbler begins strutting with feathers fluffed and his head colors changing hue he becomes a thing of beauty.  As he struts his head may be blue one moment only to be red the next and a moment later nearly snow white.  The snood ( the projection on top of his head at the base of his bill) will lengthen and shorten, changing color as well.

The rear gobbler pictured here is preparing to strut.  By the time he reached full strut with tail fanned he was moving out of sight.

Although the turkey mating season is still some weeks away the gobblers are beginning to vie for dominance.  When bachelor groups of gobblers encounter one another either one flock must give way or a fight will ensue.  Usually, as in this encounter, a show of force is all that is required to settle the dispute. I am hoping for an encounter where neither side will give way leading to another fight to the finish such as we photographed during Februrary of 2010.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Northern Cardinals

Winter's cold & snow brings the Northern Cardinals flocking to feeding stations.  While they are most seen in winter Cardinals are non-migratory, spending the entire year in the same area.  Lack of leafy cover and their quest for food coupled with their bright colors is what makes them more obvious during the winter months.

Although not as gaudy as their male counterpart the female is a beautiful bird too with her more subdued colors.

Shortly after arriving at our bird shooting area this afternoon Willard & me were joined by Jean from Nature & More and her husband Andy.  The Cardinals didn't seem to mind the additional cameras much and were soon posing for their portraits.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Winter's Fire & Ice

Between work, the weather, and winter projects I haven't spent much time behind the camera lately.  Finding time to head out with the camera this afternoon I checked out the ice situation on the local creek.  Recent rains have raised the water level a little more than what it was when the ice originally formed loosening the edges.  Although unsafe to walk out on the re-freezing of the exposed edge has created beautiful ice sculptures.

As the sun dropped below the horizon this evening a fiery glow covered the western sky.  I combined images of the ice and the sunset while using different Photoshop layer blend modes to create the images of "Fire & Ice" for today's post.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Needed: Bird Identification Help

While photographing birds at a small Florida wetland in late December this small bird perched momentairly on a nearby fence wire.  I'm unsure of it's identification and any help you can give is much appreciated.

I also photographed this hawk at the same wetland.  Again I am unsure of it's positive identification.  I think it may be a Broad-winged hawk and again would appreciate confirmation from a more experienced birder than I.

Another view of the same hawk

I find bird identification frustrating at times with all of the plumage variations.  Immature, male, female, breeding plumage, non breeding plumage etc can drive one insane.  Rather than go totally nuts I prefer to photograph the birds for their beauty and the beauty of their surrounding.  Getting a good positive identification is a bonus, not a necessary requirement for me to consider any one encounter a success.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Crow: A Wary Subject, Most of The Time

With a brutal winter wind howling outside and temperatures well below freezing it feels good to sit here in a warm house working on photographs from my Florida visit.  The crow is not a particularly spectacular bird.  The crow doesn't exhibit colorful breeding plumage, it doesn't posses a graceful charm  but what the crow lacks in beauty it more than makes up for it with it's incredible intelligence.

Crows have learned to adapt to nearly all habitats and have adapted extremely well to the environmental changes made by humans.  The crow is at home in the wilderness, rural fields and woodlands as well as in our cities.  With a lifespan that can reach 30 years the crow can acquire significant learning as well as pass this learning on to its offspring.

In my earlier years I found crows to be a very challenging target for my varmint rifles.  When a crow presented an opportunity or a shot ones accuracy needed to be dead on for though the crow appears large just take away the feathers and the body is not much larger than a fully feathered robin.  A bullet passing through the crow's feathers was a lesson learned and that crow and its acquaintances would be more careful with their next human encounter.

I remember well seeing crows and attempting to get a shot when at the last moment the crows would fly away.  But in the same situation at another time without the rifle and the crows would scarecly pay attention to my presence.  There is now doubt in my mind that the crows recognized the rifle and understood what a human with a gun could do.

Crows in our area are for the most part wary.  Although I haven't shot one in many a year folks around here still do.  It wasn't until I visited Joe Overstreet in central Florida that I had the opportunity to photograph a crow so up close and personal in a rural setting.  This crow was so close you can even see its eye blink!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Camera Critters

Cold weather doesn't slow down the frisky gray squirrels if anything their activity picks up around feeding locations.  Whereas gray squirrels are active early morning and late evening during the warmer months now their active times begins later in the morning and dwindles in the early afternoon.

The squirrel pictured is busying itself shelling sunflower seeds.  If you look closely you will notice the pieces of sunflower hulls flying from his paws.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Winter Project

Each winter I try to take on a project and this year the chosen project was one that will make our summer more enjoyable.  The first step was procuring the necessary materials, a few pressure treated deck board hauled home on a snowy day

Moving them into my little shop I introduced them to a few simple hand tools as the project got underway.

Tools Used
Circular Saw, Jig Saw, 3/8" Drill, Belt Sander and a Carpenter's Square

The results of the project sitting on the deck awaiting warmer weather for a coat of deck stain.

Close up of the table; come on spring we're ready now!

The Adirondack furniture's simplicity of design lends itself to the do-it yourselfer and can be built from scratch with only a few simple hand tools.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Groundhogs & Mid-Winter Thoughts

Groundhog preparing for hibernation 10-30-10

February second is Groundhog Day and the famous Punxsutawney Phil will be on hand checking for his shadow; forecasting the end of winter. 

Of course whether he sees his shadow or not there will be six more weeks of winter but look on the bright side we are half way through.  Within another month the first harbingers of spring will begin to appear.  With snow and ice on the ground and a cold rain falling I for one am relishing the thoughts of spring.

You may think that all groundhogs are warmly tucked away in their dens now but did you know that their mating season is about to begin?  Males will soon rise from their slumber and make their way across the countryside in search of denning females.  Soon it will be possible to see the occasional groundhog sunning itself on a sunny southern exposure during the afternoon.

Growing up on the farm I learned at an early age that groundhogs were despicable little beast.  They ate crops and dug holes "that a cow could break its leg in".  Reading a steady diet of outdoor magazines including Pennsylvania Game News I learned that there was one good use for groundhogs; target practice!  Why there was a class of hunting rifles designed with these pesky critters in mind; varmint rifles.  Putting all of this learning together I busied myself acquiring the tools of the trade and attempting to rid our farm and surrounding area of these problematic varmints.  Starting with an iron sighted Stevens .22 and moving to longer range outfits as my meager finances would allow I continued my varmint hunting quest.  The addition of a scoped 22-250 to my battery made the 300 yard and beyond groundhog shot possible.  Many a hot steamy summer evening was enjoyably spent hiding along a fence row waiting for a "hog" to pop its head out of its hole. 

Now I look upon the lowly groundhog in a completely different light.  I now realize that the groundhog provides benefits for other wildlife, their dens are sometimes recycled into fox dens.  The holes also provide shelter and safety for other wildlife as well as aerating the soil.  Groundhogs and their young provide food for predatory mammal and bird species as well as carrion for vultures.  In short they are an intrinsic and important part of our environment.

As for cattle breaking their legs in groundhog holes; I would expect that it has happened but I have never heard of a specific case.  Probably another of those things that cause some folks to worry needlessly. 

Do I still kill groundhogs?  Yes, on occasion but only when by their digging they threaten to undermine one of our farm building or when one grows too fond of the veggies growing in the garden.  Otherwise they can tromp about unbothered and I'm happy just to see that they are there.  Come to think about it the groundhog pictured above was the only one I shot last year.  And as you can see I shot it with my Canon.