Monday, March 28, 2011

Wrapping up Middle Creek

Snow Geese

 Click on this image to get the full impact of a clear blue sky filled with snow geese.  This shot was made with the 24-105 lens set at 50mm

Tundra Swans flying high overhead made for a striking image

Two duck species that I seldom encounter in my local area posed here in the same Middle Creek image, two Black Ducks along with an American Wigeon.  These were among the mixed flock feeding on the pothole near the visitors center.

This may complete my series of Middle Creek posts as I am nearing the end of processing the images from that mornings shoot.  Trying to shoot as much as possible during the spring migration and keeping up with processing the images has proven difficult but I have enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  And besides for me that is what it is all about; enjoying natures beauty and sharing it with you my appreciative visitors.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Remnants of the Past

Remains of a beaver lodge

Nestled between two mountains the Meadow Grounds Lake is the only public lake in rural Fulton County Pennsylvania.  Built in the 1960's by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on State Game lands #53 the 204 acre lake provides a place for those interested in an outdoor experience.  A hiking trail at the south end of the lake will take one to the scenic falls on Roaring Run.  Not an easy walk by any means but one well worth the trip.  The Meadow Grounds also attracts a number of waterfowl species during their spring migration as the birds stop here to rest and feed.  The lake was drawn down last fall in preparation for dam repairs scheduled for this spring.  The draw-down exposed areas that normally are submerged and in doing so exposed this area of branch littered shoreline which brought back memories from a time decades ago.

Back in the early 1980's I began fishing this lake using a small 12' Jon boat.  I didn't have a truck at the time so I transported the boat strapped to the top of my car. Not being able to afford an electric motor I made do with a set of oars as my sole source of propulsion.  At the time the lake was inhabited by a considerable population of beavers and it was always a pleasure to see one's head at the front of a V shaped wake.  Sometimes one would surface beside the boat giving a closeup view and other times they would startle me with a loud tail slap as they submerged in alarm at my presence.  Not only did the beavers add considerably to the outdoor experience but by building their lodges and storing branches underwater they provided structure which in turn improved the shoreline habitat for fish. 

In the late 1970's a young Mark Crowder was assigned to Fulton County as District Game Protector.  Mark is a man who not only hunts and traps but is also a man who hold a deep appreciation for the wild places and it's creatures.  As Game Protector he was sometimes called upon to deal with problem beavers, an assignment which usually is dealt with by killing the offending animals.  Realizing that there was a better way Mark began live trapping the animals and relocating them to the lake.  The lake is located in the midst of over 5,000 acres of Game Lands so here the beavers could make a home.  With the permission of the regional law enforcement supervisor he posted the lake prohibiting beaver trapping and thus created a spot where beavers could exist doing what beavers do without causing any harm by damming culverts, flooding roadways, or cutting any private landowners valuable trees.  In short it was a win win situation even to the extent of providing trapping opportunities for those beavers straying into the stream above or below the lake.

With the retirement of the LES came a replacement and with him came the decision that the lake could not be posted against beaver trapping.  State game lands are purchased and maintained by monies derived from the hunters and trappers and as such are open during any appropriate hunting or trapping season so the signs came down, the beavers were wiped out and only the remnants of their submerged cache and the memories of the good times when anyone could enjoy these unique animals at this tiny mountain lake remain. 

And this was done by a state agency in the name of Wildlife Conservation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I've Got my Ducks in a Row

I began my day by arriving at the wetlands, walking in and setting up the hide under cover of darkness.  Across the marsh I could hear the chatter of geese and ducks as they prepared for the new day.  As the eastern sky began to lighten I could see their faint shapes moving about and soon two ducks approached close enough I could identify them as a pair of Ring-necked ducks.  Peering through the gloom I could see them looking my hide over quite closely.  Soon a pair of Canada geese approached and with much honking they swam back and forth and like the ducks observed my blind closely.

As the sun rose flock after flock of ducks and geese took to the skies apparently moving north.  The waterfowl that did stay in the wetlands avoided my hide, staying well concealed.  After three uneventful hours I decided on making a tactical shift and headed home to hook up the boat.  Within the hour I was launching on the local lake and shortly began locating waterfowl.  Loons, horned grebes, wood ducks, mallards, ring-necked ducks, red-breasted mergansers, and bufflehead were present as well as this group of Common Mergansers.  When I first located the Common Mergansers they took flight well out of camera range.  Later I observed a small flock of ducks circling and landing in a small cove.  Their new position allowed me to stalk to within reasonable range using the lake's shoreline as cover.  As I drifted around the point the mergansers appeared in perfect formation; finally I had Got My Ducks In A Row!

The moment was short lived as the Mergansers sprang into the air.  I focused the camera on the colorful male shooting continuous mode as he made his hasty escape.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked ducks pass through our area each spring and can be found on both lakes and marshes.  They are one of our earlier arrivals and only stay a month or so during their journey northward.  This shot was taken during our recent Middle Creek visit.  This pothole lies along the road near the visitor center.  This is one of the few places where one can get close to the water but the ducks normally shy away from the photographers and birders keeping towards the middle of the pond making close up shots nearly impossible.

The Ring-necked ducks at the local wetlands are more wary than their Middle Creek counterparts but by using camo techniques I captured this image of a male a few days ago.

With only an hour to go before sunset I headed into the wetlands this evening.  Traveling light I carried only the camera, tripod, and a strip of camo material.  Arriving at a suitable location I simply covered myself and the camera with the material and settled in to wait.

A small flock of Ring-necked ducks had taken flight as I was arriving and soon returned landing behind  a screen of brush.  The males were pursuing females but were very careful to not expose themselves to me. However after some time had elapsed and the sun had dipped beneath the horizon this one male finally scooted into the open while the hen remains partially obscured behind a screen of brush.

This was the only shot of the evening for the click of the camera sent him swimming for cover.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Middle Creek Casuals

As dawn breaks Willard stands at the ready with his 500mm waiting for passing geese while his daughter Amy scans the lake with her binoculars.  An unknown photographer can be seen in the background.

Later, at the field where the geese were feeding, Willard focuses the 500mm in for some landing shots

A panorama created from a set of three images depicts the scene that lay before us better than individual images ever could.  Photoshop CS5 makes stitching panoramas incredibly easy.

I captured this series using the Canon 30D and 24-105mm lens

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Middle Creek in Flight

The Middle Creek Snow Goose migration is now a memory but I still have a few images to share from our morning.  I captured this image during the morning lift-off.  The sun was still low in the sky partially lighting the undersides of the geese's wings.

Snow geese circling the preparing to land

A large flock of a few thousand geese gathered in a field along the roadside.  Photographers and observers gathered as well watching the incredible drama unfold.  I have read how difficult these birds are to hunt as they do not decoy well and spook easily when they notice the least thing amiss.  Perhaps that is so but in this spot the birds amassed without concern of the onlookers gathered nearby.  Did they know they were in a protected zone?  Probably so.  I have also read where the average age of the geese is about eight years so I would guess that that is plenty of time for them to learn where the safe spots lie along their journey.


At one point about half of the flock lifted off, circled around, landing in a different part of the field to resume their feeding.  No photograph can do justice to the incredible sight of so many large flying birds in such close proximity.  I shot with both cameras using the 24-105mm on one and the 100-400mm on the other.  This shot with the 100-400mm shot at 400mm is my favorite.

Snow Geese are not the only attraction of Middle Creek as this Canada Goose demonstrates making an early morning fly-over.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Boating for Waterfowl

Among to many ways to enjoy the outdoors one of my favorites is by boat.  Over the years I have owned boats ranging from a little 12 foot jon boat that I car-topped to a 21ft cabin rig that carried me over much of the Chesapeake Bay.  My most used boat has been a 15 foot aluminum modified V bass boat with both gas and electric motor.  I have towed this boat as far north as Central Ontario and south to North Carolina in search of fishing adventures as well as using it extensively locally.  Since getting back into photography with the advent of digital I have been boating a great deal combining fishing with waterfowl photography. 
Saturday morning I wet the boat for the first time this year in a nearby lake.  Launching was difficult as the Pa Fish and Boat Commission had lowered the lake some 7-8 feet last fall in anticipation of dam repairs.  The water was deep enough at the launch ramp for me to get the boat off but a rock ledge just beyond required wading in and rocking the boat by hand to get it through an area of 3-4 inch deep water.  Although noting so much as bumped the lures I was trolling the morning was well worth the effort as waterfowl was plentiful.

This first shot is of a flock of Ring-necked ducks feeding along the shoreline as the morning sun lights the scene nearly to the water's edge.  The base of the trees mark the normal shoreline when the lake is at normal level.  A scenic shot was the best I could do as these ducks flew before I could approach within good camera range.

A small flock of Lesser Scaup did likewise but at a close enough distance to allow me to capture this nice flight shot.

Passing overhead a flock of female Red-breasted mergansers formed the familiar V shaped pattern so common with migrating waterfowl.

When I noticed a lone unidentified duck flying by I took a quick shot in hopes of being able to id it from the photograph.  Even though the distance was long and the image is heavily cropped it is easy to identify it as a Green-winged Teal; a bird that I seldom see in my local.

During this outing I observed the waterfowl pictured here along with the following; horned grebe, loon, common merganser,bufflehead, and ruddy ducks. 

The spring waterfowl migrations are a wonderful time to be outdoors enjoying what nature has to offer.  I am trying to find as much time as possible to photograph these beautifully colored travelers as they only too quickly pass through our area.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Loons Return

Earlier than expected, I encountered my first loon of the year this morning

Actually I was expecting to see the loon today as I had stopped by the lake on my way home from work yesterday and observed a lone loon swimming near the middle.  Normally I spot my first loons here during the first or second week of April.  Returning this morning before sunrise I launched the boat in anticipation of getting some "on the water" shots of migrating waterfowl.

I spotted the single loon shortly after sunrise I was pleased to see it swim close by a boat carrying fishermen.  I felt confidant that if it would approach them without concern that it should allow me to approach it within reasonable camera range.  After maneuvering the boat around to take advantage of a good lighting angle I made my approach.  The loon did not seem concerned with my presence, preening and resting for some time.  Finally after 15-20 minutes with me being very near, the loon stood and stretched its wings.
Another pose

Following a good stretch the loon looked me over and then resumed fishing as I moved on in search of other transient waterfowl.

The only thing missing from this morning's loon encounter was hearing the loon's lonesome call, not once during the morning did I hear this loon call!

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Middle Creek Snows and Collateral Damage

This lone goose flying low is one of my favorite images from the day at Middle Creek. 

I didn't realize until I was reviewing the day's shoot that I had photographed a goose wearing a neck collar

Cropping in tight allows one to read the identifying number.  These collars are used by researchers as a means to identify individual birds from a distance.

Wildlife managers are concerned that an overabundance of snow geese will harm their Arctic breeding grounds and possibly the aquatic vegetation of their wintering areas, the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastal marshes.  In light of this concern spring hunting seasons with liberal bag limits allow hunting along their spring migration route.  During our Middle Creek visit shotguns could be heard firing frequently nearby.

This goose, photographed at a pothole near the visitor center shows signs of injury, note the blood stains on its uplifted wing.  A trend I noticed was that a goose sighted alone typically showed signs of injury.

We located this goose standing along the roadside appearing disoriented.  When I stepped from the car it immediately took flight.  Bloodied from a shotgun blast the bird was taking no further chances with humans.  With thousands of miles yet to fly birds like these last two have little chance of survival.  They will most likely either die of their injuries or fall prey to predators. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hiding Out

In recent posts I have mentioned using a blind to conceal myself from wary waterfowl.  Pictured here is the Ameristep Outhouse blind that I am currently using; note the camo material wrapped around the camera and lens.  This material helps to conceal the camera, the camera movement, and any movement inside the blind.  I feel that it also helps in total concealment by breaking up the hard bottom line of the front opening.  Shortly I will be adding a strip of this material around the top and sides of the window.

Normally I set the blind in a position to take advantage of brush and other vegetation to break up the hard outline of the blind itself.

The photographers view from inside the blind

With the back open you can see the tools of the trade; note the folding camp chair, this is what makes the long waits totally comfortable.  After shooting this series I realized that I had missed one important image, that of the rig stowed ready to travel.  With the blind in its shoulder bag and the chair folded I can sling the entire rig, cameras included, on my shoulders taking only one trip to carry it all in to a shooting location.

It may seem like a pain to carry so much equipment but when a gorgeous little gal like this comes calling it makes it all worthwhile!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Middle Creek: Snow Geese Flight Shots

With the goose exposed properly in this photo the glare off the water completely blew out all detail.  Even with the blown out area I still like the shot

A large flock of Snow Geese were gathering in a roadside field.  When we arrived there were already thousands on the ground and during the next few hours the geese arrived continuously.  Their arrival afforded opportunities for both flight and landing shots.  I catching a goose with its wings "just right" took a combination of skill and luck.  I felt that I was perhaps lacking in the skill department so I made up for it by shooting hundreds of shots hoping luck would make up the difference.  Considering that lighting angle, wing position and body pose, and background was constantly changing as the geese wheeled in for landing I wasn't disappointed in the least when over 90% of my shots were rejects.  

In reality I was looking for one great landing shot and with this one I consider that I nailed it.

A goodly number of dark phase snow geese were mixed in with the normal white birds.  I didn't manage to capture any good landing images but was pleased with this shot as a pair circled low overhead prior to landing.

Since ice-out I have been having the time of my life photographing migrating waterfowl.  For incredible numbers of waterfowl late winter at Middle Creek is difficult to beat.

Mona over at Montana Girl asked in a comment if I am enjoying my new camera.  Yes Mona I sure am, the Canon 60D is proving to be everything I had hoped it to be and I'm very glad I was able to get it in time for the spring waterfowl migration.  My old 30D still has a job to do though, with a 24-105mm lens attached it is hanging around my neck ready for those shots that do not require the long glass.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wood Ducks: A Close Encounter

Saturday morning once again found me concealed in my little pop-up blind along a wetland water's edge.  Ducks and geese were calling from areas of the marsh hidden to me as I hoped that it was only a matter of time until some waterfowl would pass by my position. 

As the first rays of the morning sun played across the hilltop west of the wetland an pair of Wood Ducks swam into view with the hen leading the way. 

As they neared my hide the male stopped momentarily to preen.  I was surprised to have captured his webbed foot in the clear water.

The pair approached until they were so close that the only way I could see them was through the viewfinder of the camera.  As they were coming in the view through the viewfinder was blurry and I wondered if some of my camo material had gotten in front of the lens.  With the ducks so close, reaching out to adjust the material was totally out of the question so I continued firing in case all was well.  The problem turned out to be a steamed viewfinder caused by my breath to contacting it's cold surface at some point.

The ducks were within spitting distance for this image.  As so often happens the clicking shutter attracted their attention and they quickly moved on.

Photographing these wild wary ducks is not an easy task, they are not "park" ducks and are fully aware of the dangers humans present however as I continue to improve my camo and approaches I am getting closer and closer shots of these our most colorful North American ducks. 

Last weekend a large group of Wood Duck males were pursuing a single female but by this weekend things had settled down with mated pairs of Wood Ducks calmly cruising wetlands.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Middle Creek Tundra Swans

The first rays of the morning sun falls across Tundra Swans awaking to a new day

Tundra Swans stop in at Middle Creek on their way northward to the summer breeding grounds.  It was estimated that somewhere around eight thousand were present during our recent visit.

Shortly after sun-up the swans began flying off the lake.  The sun was still low in the eastern sky lighting these birds from below when I captured this flight image.

The low angle sun causes this tundra swan to glow as it passes over my position

Tundra Swans gracefully coming in for a landing

Middle Creek, located in Pennsylvania's Amish Country, is an excellent place to visit during late winter.  The incredible flocks of waterfowl are a sight to behold.  Tens of thousands of snow geese, thousands of Canada Geese, thousands of Tundra Swans and numerous duck species abound providing photographic opportunities galore.  Middle Creek is an excellent location for flight shots however it is not particularly note worthy if close-up waterfowl images are your goal. 

Middle Creek is managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission with waterfowl hunting in mind.  Numerous shooting blinds are located in the fields surrounding the shallow water lake but no such accommodation are provided for the casual visitor or photographer.  Visitors are restricted from nearly all of the management area except for a narrow area along the roadways.  This area is clearly marked with a single strand wire fence forming the line one is not allow to cross.  With only a very few exception potholes and other waterfowl habitat is out sight or out of reach of even the longest telephoto lenses.  The few exceptions that do exist occur along the road where viewers and photographer congregate.  Even this limited people pressure results in the waterfowl moving away from the people requiring the use of long telephoto lenses to acquire a photograph that even remotely resembles a waterfowl portrait.   

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Middle Creek Snows

Morning lift off at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

Willard and I arrived at Middle Creek just before dawn Tuesday morning in time to witness the massive numbers of snow geese taking off from the lake as they moved to feeding areas.  Sunrise is normally a quiet time of day but at Middle Creek this time of year the babble of tens of thousands of geese rises to a roar.

A telephoto shot captures their silhouettes against the colorful predawn sky

At a location between the lake and a field where the snows were landing to feed we were able to capture passing shots of the high flying birds.

This group of snows appear to have synchronized their wing beats, creating an unusual image.

Snow geese begin arriving at Middle Creek each winter during the late winter thaw resting on the large shallow water lake and feeding in the agricultural fields in the surrounding area.  At times the population has been estimated to reach 120,000 or more birds.  The current estimate puts the count at 50,000 plus birds but numbers can change rapidly as only the geese know when they will begin moving farther north to their Arctic breeding grounds.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wood Duck Mating Activity

As I stated in the previous post a group of Wood Duck males were pursuing a single female.  The activity as furious at times during their pursuit.

At times the hen would turn the tables and pursue one of the males.

As she closes in on a suitor here with her head held low in the water he really gets the move on!  Check out the wakes they are creating.

Satisfied that she had moved him a sufficient distance she then turned to face other males following behind.

Soon the entire flock moved to another part of the wetlands where they were no longer visible from my hide.  As the morning passed I could hear the whistling and splashing of the wood ducks but all opportunity for photographs had passed. 

My next post will be of photos from a visit I made with Willard to the Middle Creek Waterfowl Management Area on Tuesday to photograph the waterfowl there with special emphasis on the thousands of Snow Geese stopping in on their trip north to their nesting grounds.