Thursday, April 28, 2011

Divers, Large and Small

Female Red-breasted Mergansers Flushing

Red-breasted Mergansers are large diving ducks that winter along the Atlantic and Gulf coast passing through our area on their way to the northern nesting grounds.  I typically observe the males during a short time period from when the water first becomes open through perhaps the first week of April while the females typically are here until the late April/early May time frame.  

 I read one reference that noted that they are possibly the fastest bird reaching speeds of 100 mph in flight.  I have never timed them but as you can see here they can get moving very quickly.

Female Buffleheads in flight

The tiny Buffleheads are the smallest of our diving ducks and are typically one of the wariest ducks I encounter while boating for ducks.  Only once have I been able to approach buffleheads to within good camera range and that time the high-noon light was so harsh that I was disappointed with the results.  This flock flushed while I was still well out of camera range but then swung around passing by a little closer.

A lone male catches up with the Girls

I'm still waiting an watching for the opportunity to capture a great Bufflehead portrait but I'm certainly not holding my breath.  Like the RB Merganser the last of the Buffleheads will soon be leaving my area as they continue on to their nesting grounds.

Flight shots oft times are easier to capture than those of a sitting bird.  Panning and focusing does present  problems but acceptable images can be made at much greater distances for when the bird spreads its wings it becomes a much larger subject.

My waterfowl migration season is showing signs of coming to a close.  The Ring-necks Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Common Mergansers and others have already moved on.  Soon I will be turning my attention to the Wood Duck, Mallard, and Hooded Merganser ducklings which should begin hatching within the next two to three weeks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Loons: Two at a Time

Since I observed my first loon of the season back on March 18th I have observed at least one and as many as three during each of my lake visits.  This past Friday was no exception but what was different was that the two loons were swimming together.  Both loons were still displaying their non-breeding plumage. 

As both sexes of loons appear identical, at least to me, I have no idea whether this is a pair, siblings, or just a happenstance that they were together during this phase of the journey northward. 

I have noticed a great difference in individual birds when it comes to their tolerance of me and my boat.  Many loons will dive while I am still well out of camera range while others will allow me to approach slowly without showing undue concern.  This pair was watchful but not overly concerned about my presence as long as I moved slowly and maintained a respectful distance.  If loon migration continues to follow its normal pattern I will have 2-3 weeks yet before the last loons move on.

Our weather has been very erratic lately.  Friday the high temp was in the lower 30's F and just previous to this encounter a sleet storm piled up perhaps a quarter of an inch of accumulation in the boat.  By Sunday temps had risen to the mid 70's and Monday had reached into the 80's!  Both extremes are unseasonable for our region at this time of year.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spotted Sandpiper

April 15th I encountered my first Spotted Sandpiper of the year.  I have read where April 20th is considered the average date for the spotted sandpipers to arrive in Pennsylvania so this bird was right on time.  These interesting little birds are commonly seen running along the edges of ponds and lakes bobbing their tails when standing as well as when running.  During flight they repeat a series of rapid stiff wing-beats followed by short glides. 

Although our area is listed as being part of their breeding range I have only observed them during a few weeks during spring and fall.  This bird is displaying full breeding plumage, when they return in autumn the breast spots for which they are named are conspicuously missing.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Eastern (Rufous-sided) Towhee

This time of year usually finds me either on the water or along the water's edge but one recent evening I decided to join Willard at the bird feeders.  Of course the usual culprits were present but under the brushy cover surrounding the base of the feeders we spotted two male Towhees busily scratching and hopping about.  Getting a photograph was darn near impossible because of the intervening brush and besides their coloration was dull and drab as the fed in the shadows.

All of that changed in a moment as one hopped up into the sunlight and held still just long enough for a couple of clicks with his reflective feathers aglow.  A moment later both were back to business hopping around in the shadows but his "moment in the sun" was just long enough for me to add this image to my bird collection; my best image to date of the splendidly beautiful Rufous-sided Towhee.

(Thanks Paul for pointing out the name change)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thunder Storms & Wood Ducks

Our weather has been unsettled the last few weeks.  This has made it difficult to work in some good camera time between my work schedule, chores and the frequent rains.  Tuesday evening the sky looked as if it may break so I took the chance and headed to the wetlands.  Only a couple of miles from home and rain drops began hitting the windshield and the sky became darker by the moment.  By the time I had the gear ready to head into the wetland the rain was pelting steadily down with the occasional flash of lightening followed by the clap of thunder.  A roofed in pavilion sits near one edge of the wetlands so I took cover as the storm passed through.

I made this shot during the storm showing a willow beginning to green contrasting with the browns of winter.

When the rain slowed I headed in and set up hoping for duck activity and I didn't have long to wait.  I could hear a female wood duck calling and soon she and a group of males swam into sight.  It was obvious they had mating on their minds.  The female was swimming about quacking loudly followed by the group of males.  At times she would drop her head into the water while either chasing a male or being pursued by one.  With the light levels very low and shutter speed in the pit I still attempted to capture the intense action taking place in front of me.

400mm , F5.6, ISO400, 1/45
The storm moved away and light had improved a slight bit when this male came very near my hide.  This first click of the shutter brought him to a stand still; just what I needed and for the next few frames he remained stationary before raising his crest in alarm and swimming off into the surround cover.  For the remainder of the evening I could hear the female calling and the occasion splashing as the woodies continued their mating ritual nearby.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ruddy Duck Encounter

While boating Friday I noticed a flock of small ducks at a distance near the breast wall of the lake.  At first glance I thought they were female buffleheads but upon drawing nearer I realized they were Ruddy Ducks.  Both buffleheads and ruddy are usually difficult to approach closely by boat but as the wind was blowing towards them I felt that I had a better than average chance of getting within photo range.  I have learned over the years that a drifting boat is far less alarming to waterfowl than one under power, even though that power is just an electric motor running at slow speed.  Positioning the boat and allowing the wind to do the rest allowed me to drift well within camera range.  As the birds began to become nervous this male in non-breeding plumage rose to flap his short wings.

The ducks then turned to pass behind me.  Their turn improved the angle of light allowing me to capture what I consider my best ever shot of ruddy duck hens.  One of the first things that caught my eye in this photo is the wake pushed up by the lead duck's breast, a touch that I certainly could not have planned.  

Once the ducks had moved behind me I began moving away not wanting to disturb them further as I had gotten what I had came.

The little ducks though had other ideas.  Once behind me I heard the flapping of wings as the ducks made their unobserved escape. I have observed many species of wildlife use this exact same tactic of escape; waiting until they think I am not looking to make a quick exit.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What were they Thinking?

In ground breaking action at the April meeting of the Pennsylvania Game Commission a number of new hunting opportunities was acted upon; Porcupine Season! Under the new season hunters can take porcupines from September 1st through March 31st with a daily bag limit of 6 and a field possession limit of 12.

Now I realize that porcupines cause a certain amount of damage to timber and the occasional wayward critter can do considerable damage to cabins and campers and I can understand the PGC not extending total protection to porcupines but a hunting season? Will we have large groups of hunters out trying to bag their “limit” of porcupines? How is the hunter supposed to carry his limit? (It could be fun to watch someone try though). I also noticed that all porcupine hunters are required to wear 250 sq. inches of fluorescent orange material so at least we won’t have to deal with many of hunters affording themselves of this “New hunting opportunity” shooting each other in mistake for a porcupine.

And then I wonder what our successful hunters will do with a bag limit of porcupines once they figure out how to find six and carry them home. Will they be used for table fare? Will the laws governing wanton waste apply to the porcupine if the successful sportsmen decide to chuck their trophies in the garbage at days end?

What were they thinking?

And then I read the news release farther.

Board Makes Other Changes To Seasons

“The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a regulatory change to allow for the hunting of starlings, English sparrows, opossums, skunks, groundhogs and weasels during legal hunting hours of the spring gobbler season. The Game Commission staff noted that this change will increase opportunities for hunters pursuing these species without creating unacceptable conflicts with spring gobbler hunters” (PGC news release #045-11)

Ok so now you have it. Sportsmen dollars spent to rewrite regulations for spring gobbler season to allow hunters to pursue other species. Money well spent to keep the turkey season from conflicting with a starling hunter or another who finds the English sparrow to be his quarry of choice. And God forbid if turkey season would conflict with someone who just wanted a ‘possum for the family dinner table. We all know that you shouldn’t stand in the way of anyone wanting to kill a skunk or a groundhog any time or place. And last but not least; the weasel must be included in this list of vermin to be exterminated at every opportunity.

And then I think back to the last time I spotted a weasel, and I think, and I think, and I don’t recall. Through the haze of the years I do believe that I may have seen a weasel maybe once, maybe twice. That’s enough! They are out there! They are killers! Kill them! Don’t let any silly regulation stand in the way of Killing the Killers! 


If you haven’t seen enough of what they were thinking click here to see how they have decided to kill more of the acclimated elk in the Pennsylvania Elk tourist area.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Ospreys Return

Shortly after slipping the boat into the lake yesterday morning I spotted a pair of Ospreys circling overhead and then swooping in to land in a dead tree, my first osprey sighting this season. 

With the ospreys back lit by the brightening eastern sky I focused on shooting silhouettes of the graceful birds.

While processing wildlife photos I most often attempt to duplicate the scene as I observed it however with this set of images I strayed into the realm of processing as I would have liked the scene to appear.

Although osprey sightings at this lake are quite common throughout the season I have not observed any signs of nesting.  Perhaps this will be the year; I can always hope!

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Harassment: Avian Style

I watched as the eagle arrived at the lake swooping in low over the water.  Soon a lone crow flew out from the woodland beginning to harass the eagle with very close fly-bys, better described as dive-bombing, while calling loudly.

A number of crows nest in these woods each spring and I would expect that this crow was defending its nesting territory. 

After a few minutes of rapid fire action the eagle flew over the nearby mountain top, apparently looking for somewhere where the "locals" didn't object to its presence.

Observing wildlife interact makes the days afield all the more enjoyable, being able to capture a photo is always a bonus!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Moment for Flowers

What says Spring more than a the gorgeous bloom of the Flowering Quince

Arriving home this evening I was determined to make the best of the rare warm sunshine and get some spring cleanup done around our home.  As I graded our gravel driveway I noticed my wife shooting pictures of the project with her little Panasonic Lumix.  When I shut the tractor off to chat with her I noticed that our flowering quince has burst into full bloom today.  Of course I could have went to the house to retrieve a DSLR but with her little point & shoot so handy I set it on macro zoom to capture my first blossom of the year. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mourning Dove

Although not bright and colorful like many other avian species the Mourning Dove's soft earth tone colors gives it a special beauty all of its own.  The doves becomes quite vocal at this time of year when their soft cooing is heard frequently during the predawn hours, a beautiful sound to greet the day. 

I was listening to a radio talk show recently when a lady called in wondering how to discourage doves from visiting her bird feeders.  The host recommended keeping the scattered seed cleaned up under the feeders as the dove prefers ground feeding to perching on feeders.  He also recommended a type of feeder that excludes large birds but allows smaller birds to get to the feed.  As the caller's conversation came to an end she noted that dove can really become a problem. 

It made me pause to wonder.  Why is she feeding birds?  Feeding wildlife is a choice and if the choice made is to feed then we should be willing to accept the critters that we attract. 

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Camera Critters: Great Blue Heron

Lately our weather has established a pattern of the warmest and brightest days occurring during the week accompanied by cool damp dreary weekends.  Today was no exception with heavy clouds and temps hovering in the lower 40s.  Not allowing a day off work to pass me by I headed out with the boat shortly after daybreak.  A bass tournament was in progress when I arrived at the lake; an event the I believe was responsible for the absence of ducks but the fishermen didn't seem to bother the thirty or more horned grebes and three loons busy feeding on perch spawn. 

The best photo op of the day happened when I located this Great Blue Heron that allowed me to drift the boat reasonably close to it location.  The heron used a fishing tactic which I had never observed before.  Instead of wading slowly in the shallows as most do this bird flew from stump to stump checking for prey holding close to the structure.  The tactics were working well for the bird as I witnessed it strike a number of times.  This last photo caught the bird just as it recovers from an unsuccessful strike while water drips from its bill.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Woodie & Hoodie

Waterfowl shots have became more difficult to come by lately as the duck at the local wetlands learn my habits avoiding those spots where I can set up.  Even with the more difficult conditions I am still getting the occasional image, like this wood duck male, that makes the wait worthwhile.  Even when the birds do not cooperate the time spent is still enjoyable listening to the whistles of the wood ducks, the quacks of the mallards, and the guttural growling call of the hooded mergansers.

A female Hooded Merganser swims rapidly across a narrow opening with her crest erect.  And what a crest it is.  I tend to think of these ducks as the duck with a paint brush bristling out on top of their heads.

I'm already looking forward to when in a few weeks ducklings will begin hatching, beginning a new phase of my waterfowl photography season.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Birds by Boat

Heading out on the water at this time of year one never knows what wildlife encounters that awaits.  During a recent outing I noticed a pair of gulls arrive and immediately begin fishing.  Moving closer I made this wing shot as one of the Bonaparte's Gulls hovered nearby.  These tiny gulls are common visitors to my area during both their spring and autumn migration.  This bird is still sporting its winter plumage.

Horned Grebe's in both winter and breeding plumage are also common during the spring migration.  They can be quite wary and difficult to photograph.  Usually they dive while still out of camera range.  This time I guessed correctly and steered the boat to intercept the grebe when it surfaced managing a couple of shots before it again submerged.

Rounding a bend in the shoreline I was already within range of a Ring-necked duck pair when I came into sight.  They immediately took flight allowing only a moment to capture the male in an explosion of spray.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk

Taking advantage of clearing skies last evening I headed to the wetlands concealing myself in hopes of close-up waterfowl encounters.  The waterfowl eluded me but during my wait this Red-shouldered Hawk suddenly swooped into view.  Landing in a low growing tree it was obvious that the hawk was hunting.  During the time it spent there I watched it swoop down twice and each time staying out of sight on the ground for a few minutes.  The second time it reappeared it still had feathers in its beak so I must assume that some hapless song bird had become dinner.

Keeping the camera trained upon the hawk I was ready for the take-off when it came

Shooting continuous rapid fire I managed two decent shots before the bird moved completely out of focus.

These shots are not as sharp as I would prefer but the distance was quite long for my 400mm lens and the images you see here are heavily cropped.  Certainly not portrait quality images but they are a great reminder of a wonderful outdoor experience watching the Red-shouldered Hawk successfully hunt.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Three Year Olds

With the onset of spring the old winter coat is getting a little itchy.  Camera Critters turns 3 today so I thought it fitting to post this unique soon-to-be three year old.

New antler growth can be easily seen on the damaged right pedicel.  I wonder how his new antlers will develop considering his old injury.

This December photo shows how his injury sustained during the 2010 rut displaced his pedicel, turning it forward at an odd angle.

How quickly time flies, why it only seems like a short time ago that Misty invited me to participate in the very first Camera Critters, Wow!  Congratulation Misty and thanks for hanging in there and keeping it going!

If you have never linked up with a Camera Critters post then don't delay!  Click HERE, grab a badge, post a Critter, and link up with one of the Best memes out there!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Canada Shots

Canada Geese, while once only migrants passed over our area, have now developed a substantial resident population.  This goose allows its head to drain as it momentarily holds it's head aloft after feeding on submerged vegetation.

Frost highlights the feathers of this Canada's back as stands guard watching for intruders as it mate sits on the nearby nest.  This goose was not fooled by my efforts to hide and kept me under close scrutiny while keeping a thin screen of branches between us. 

During early March we experienced above normal temperatures but since the arrival of spring the mercury has plummeted and condition are more winter-like with snow falling during the past two nights and more forecast for tonight.  Here at the lower elevations the snow is melting nearly as quickly as it falls but the surrounding mountains are snow capped.