Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Northern Shovelers: Blackwater NWR

 Northern Shovelers feeding in Blackwater NWR freshwater marsh

 An Audubon field guide marks the Chesapeake Bay as the Northern Shovelers northern-most wintering range.  During our recent visit to Blackwater we found a small flock dabbling in one of the freshwater marsh impoundments.  This is a species that I have encounterd only once in my home area so to encounter them here was a special photo opportunity for me.

The shovelers were so engaged in feeding that it nearly every frame I captured had numerous ducks tipping.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lucky Break

After raining yesterday afternoon and throughout the night the precipitation stopped this morning.  As usual on my days off I headed out at daybreak hoping to capture some wildlife images however things didn't work out as I had hoped for.  For one thing the wild turkeys apparently chose a different route leaving the roost and never came into view.  A beautiful fox squirrel did show up and perched in a nearby tree cutting a walnut but before I could get the shot he spooked.

Heading home with no pixels exposed, I was a little disappointed with the morning's outcome.  Rounding a bend in the road I noticed a large bird perched in a roadside tree.  With no traffic behind me I pulled the car to the side.  Swinging the door I open braced the 600mm between the door and the body.  Shooting against a gray sky can be problematic so I dialed in a +1 exposure compensation to keep the subject from being too heavily exposed. 

Whether hunting with a weapon or a camera a few seconds can make the difference between returning home empty handed or with a smile on ones face.  This morning I was all smiles!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wild Turkeys: Tensions Rising

Day by day the tensions are rising in the wild turkey flocks.  The breeding season is still some time off but the gobblers are becoming more aggressive as they vie for dominance. 

A flock of jakes (yearling males) surround a mature gobbler

Vastly outnumbered, the mature gobble breaks and runs with the jakes in hot pursuit

The gobbler continued to run until the jakes gave up the chase

In the coming weeks the aggression will continue to build as the spring mating season approaches.  Fights will occur where a pair of gobblers will fight to exhaustion.  I'm hoping a good fight will occur in front of my camera as it did in February of 2010.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

American Coot

The thousands of geese present at Blackwater can cause the casual viewer to miss many of the other inhabitants of the wetlands.  At first glance the geese may be all that you see but a closer look reveals many other species mixed in.  One of those species, the subject of today's post is the American Coot.

Although they look much like a duck and swim like a duck they aren't ducks; Coots are member of the rail family.  Unlike the other species of rail, the coot has lobed feet; an adaptation that makes them excellent swimmers. 

I could count the number of times I have encountered coots in my home area on the fingers of one hand so I was very pleased to be able to photograph this pair of American Coots foraging at Blackwater NWR.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Blackwater Honkers

Canada geese are by far the most commonly seen wildlife at Blackwater NWR.  The waterfowl was concentrated in the freshwater marshes to the right of wildlife drive. 

Some time after sunup the waterfowl flew to the fields that lay along Key Wallace Drive where thousands upon thousands of Canada geese could be seen foraging on the food plots.  I found it interesting that the huge flocks paid no attention to passing vehicles.  However upon slowing the geese would begin running directly away with a few taking flight.  Their reaction to slowing vehicles makes me wonder if there is a problem in the area with persons shooting from vehicles. 

Mixed with the geese were various species of ducks.  Here a male pintail and two females swim by some resting Canadas.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day Tripping: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Needing a photo-fix Willard and I visited Blackwater NWR this morning.  Located on Maryland's eastern shore near Cambridge, Blackwater is a wintering area for many species of waterfowl as well as a good number of Bald Eagles. 

Great Blue Herons are plentiful as well.  At one point five herons were in sight at stalking across the tidal flats in search of prey.

Throughout the morning we observed Canada geese, snow geese, tundra swans, northern shovelers, mallards, pintails, hooded mergansers, and northern harriers.  I will be post images more images from Blackwater NWR in the coming days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Wild Turkeys

 Yes, I know the weather is cold and sometimes dreary, but wildlife photography opportunities still exist for those willing to endure the numbing chill.  Migrant species that summer here have long since departed but for the wild turkey there is no choice other than to spend the entire year on their home range.

While the wild turkeys are mainly interested in feeding at this time of year, the occasional fight does break out when two flocks meet.  Within a month the gobblers will begin feeling early stirrings of the mating season; gobbling and fighting will become more common.

I photographed this gobbler during a snow shower early this morning as he fluffed his feathers in a display of dominance toward another gobbler.  Today the display was all that was needed to force his opponent back off.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Downy Woodpecker

Downy woodpeckers, the smallest of our woodpecker, are very common across North America and are feeder favorites.  However this adult male was not visiting a feeder when I captured this series of images.

I was (unsuccessfully)attempting to photograph a yellow-shafted flicker feeding on grubs in a long ago abandoned lawn when the little downy landed nearby.  Although not scared enough to fly away he persisted in keeping me under keen observation.

Remaining curious throughout the encounter he stretches to his fullest height for a better view

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Stripping Bark

With winter getting colder dead branches with shredded bark are becoming much more commonly seen.  Here I caught the culprit in the act as she stripped the dead cambium layer.

Squirrels will strip bark from living branches for food and/or water but when they are stripping dead limbs as they are doing now it is to line their nest.  The bark provides padding and insulation.  It will be a few weeks before the first young of the year will be born but this squirrel will have her nest ready to receive them.

A little chewing softens it up just right before she scampered away to her cavity nest.

For more Critters of all Kinds

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winter Gobblers

Wild turkeys and some of the toughest subjects I think I have ever tackled.  Even when photographing birds with which you have developed a level of trust, trying to get good sharp images is incredibly difficult.  For a photo to be a keeper the head must be sharp and a turkeys head is always twisting, turning, and bobbing about.  

So I was very pleased when after making 58 shots during a recent morning's shoot that I still had 19 images remaining after deleting motion blurr/missed focus shots.  Of those 19 shots this image of a pair of mature gobblers feeding in the frosty meadow grass is my favorite.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wild Turkeys on the Wing

Wild turkeys spend most of their time on the ground usually prefering walking or running.  However when the mood strikes they are perfectly capable of lifting their heavy bodies into the air.  With strong wingbeats they will rise quickly and then glide to their destination.

Willard and I watched a small flock of immature gobblers this morning  as they decided to fly over, rather than walk through, a patch of dense cover.  One by one the birds lifted up and glided into the a open field.

As each turkey made its flight we followed their progress with our cameras; trying to capture sharp images of the big birds in flight.

Their flight, while not graceful by any measure still is more graceful than the landing.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Long Shot

1/250, f8, ISO 100
On a crisp clear January evening it is difficult to fathom that 238,857 miles separates the earth and moon.  For centuries people have gazed at our nearest heavenly neighbor while imprisoned on this sphere we call earth. 

We are told that our astronauts visited here five times between 1969 and 1972.  If this is true why have we allowed 39 years to pass without another lunar landing?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Golden Surprise

Friday morning found me pursuing our local squirrels and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.  Seeing half a dozen squirrels running through the woods is very common now as their mating season is is full swing.  A female followed by her lusty admirers creates quite a ruckus as the males chase her up and down trees each trying to best the others in his quest to mate.

It was during one of these squirrel melees that I heard crows calling loudly as they flew overhead.  Looking up through the tree tops I could see that they were pursuing a much larger bird.

Quickly loosing interest in the squirrels I grabbed the camera gear and went to the edge of the nearby meadow to get a better view.  Sightings of bald eagles has become somewhat commonplace in our area and at first I thought that the bird was a immature bald eagle.

Imagine my surprise when I was able to identify the bird as a Golden Eagle!  As if that were not enough there was not one, but two of the majestic birds wheeling through the air as they swooped over the rolling foothills in search of prey!

These images are not of the quality I normally post because of the long distance, hand holding the 600mm lens, and extremely heavy cropping.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Middle Creek Ringers

Working my way through my archives I found these ring-necked duck shots from March of 2010.

Ring-necked ducks pass through Pennsylvania during their spring and fall migrations.  Nesting on ponds and marshes in the boreal forest of Canada and wintering in the southern US states they spend only a few weeks passing through southern Pennsylvania.

Ring-necked ducks are divers however unlike other divers they can leap into the air without pattering.  In this photo a male can be seen surfacing.  Look closely and you will see that the surface tension of the water causes him to looks as if his head is encased in plastic.

I photographed these ducks at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management area.  The images are cropped more that what I would have preferred but getting close to waterfowl is not a viable option at most of the  Middle Creek viewing spots.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fox Squirrels

 Two distinctly different squirrels inhabit my home area, eastern gray and fox squirrels.  When I was a kid growing up squirrel hunting was very popular and like so many other rural kids my I began honing my hunting skills targeting the local gray squirrels.  At that time in the mid 1960's gray squirrels were the most numerous with a smattering of red squirrels.  I well remember the first time I encountered a fox squirrel.  I was hunting up a hollow on the back side of our family farm when in the distance I spotted a huge reddish squirrel.  I could scarcely believe my eyes for I had never seen a squirrel anywhere near the size of this animal.  It was too far away for my shotgun and before I could close the distance it disappeared.

It would not be until the early 1980's before I would again encounter a fox squirrel.  Again it happened while I was squirrel hunting and this time I took it with the scoped .22.  Since this was only my second sighting of a fox squirrel I took the animal to a local taxidermist and the mount hangs in my den to this day.

 Little did I know that a major change to our local squirrel population was underway.  Soon I began spotting more and more fox squirrels and by the mid 90's they were often making up from a third to half of the squirrels I bagged.  At the same time as the fox squirrels were moving in the red squirrels disappeared.

Fox squirrels habits differ somewhat from that of grays.  Fox squirrels prefer more open forest and are often seen rummaging about in open fields whereas the grays show a propensity for denser forest and seldom venture far into the open.  Compared to gray's the fox squirrels are huge; frequently weighing two pounds or more, nearly twice that of a gray.  The grays and foxes seem to co-exist quite well as both are populations are flourishing.  I noted on an earlier post that the local gray squirrels are busy feeding on black walnuts and as you can see in this photo the foxies are doing so as well. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Winter Cleaning

I sometimes hear my wife refer to spring cleaning but spring is a busy time in the outdoors so I have decided to set some time aside this winter for clean-up.  File clean-up.

I'm a procrastinator and somewhat of a hoarder so tackling my image files has looked like a daunting task.  Instead of ruthlessly deleting images immediately after downloading I usually only delete the absolute blown shots and process the best; leaving hundreds, no thousands of images I will never use cluttering up my hard drives.  So I have declared this winter, Clean-up Winter!

In doing so I am getting to review all of my image collection and finding some overlooked gems mixed in.  There was never any doubt about the first image posted above being a keeper but the second; it deserved a second look.