Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Wild Turkey: A Bird of many Colors

From a distance or in subdued light the Eastern Wild Turkey appears as a predominately black colored bird.

However, when an adult male steps into bright sunlight the incredible colors of his iridescent feathers changes his appearance entirely.

And the closer you look the more beautiful his coat of many colors becomes.

As March approaches the early stirrings of the breeding season can be seen in flocks of gobblers as they Jockey for dominance.

Although, I haven't observed a mature gobbler in full strut to date, the jakes are creating quite a commotion.  I was hoping to capture a good side or frontal shot of this jake as he strutted his stuff today, however all of the good poses came while he was partially obscured by the high grass.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nature's Clean-up Crew

Black Vulture

After being away for a few months vultures are again circling our skies

Turkey Vulture

Vultures provide a valuable service cleaning up carion.  They are important players in nature's endless recycling system. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Edge of Winter

The changing of the seasons are gradual with little noticeable change from one day to the next

However as winter loosens her grip the point where ice meets open water presents a visual reference;

 "The Edge of Winter."

A Goldfinch perches beside the wetlands awaiting the change of the season.

I heard Red-winged blackbirds for the first yesterday and observed my first common grackles today.  Although official spring is still nearly a month away the signs of the changing season are unmistakable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Waterfowling: Behind the Scenes

 Waterfowl in my area are normally quite wary.  Getting good photographs requires getting close.  Long lenses certainly help but even with the big glass the photographer must still be inside hunted waterfowl's comfort zone. 

This winter has been much milder than normal and with the temp at 37 before dawn this morning, I decided to check out a local wetland in hopes of finding some early migratory ducks.  Walking in through the early morning gloom I spotted a white dot sliding along the surface of the water, the unmistakeable white crest of a male hooded merganser.  As the morning passed I could hear the Canada geese and mallards fly out to feed and the hoodie occasionally calling, but nothing swam by my position.

And then suddenly a female hooded merganser was in front of the blind.  Success!

Now here are the "behind the scenes" views:

Frontal View

View from inside

I sewed the die-cut camo material around the window to break up the hard line of the window edge and to help conceal movement inside the blind.  To break up the outline of the camer & lens I drape a piece of camo die-cut blind material over the camera and tripod.

Rear,interior view

This year I added a pair of decoys to my gear 

I'm hoping that the sight of the decoys will give the real ducks added confidence in aproaching my setup.  I'll let you know later if they are a worthy addition.

The complete rig ready to travel

Camera, tripod, folding chair, camera bag, blind, and decoy bag

With the blind on my back, chair on the right shoulder, camera bag & decoys on the left, and the tripod/camera rig over the shoulder, the entire rig can be carried into the field in one trip.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wildlife Photography: A Thrilling and Satisfying Endeavor

Male Pintail
For me wildlife photography is filled with thrills and the sense of accomplishment.  The pintail is a species that I have never photographed in my home area.  So to find a few of them scattered among the thousands of Canada Geese and Mallards at Blackwater NWR was a thrill in and of itself.  Adding a few good photographs of the stately birds to my portfolio gave me a considerable feeling of satisfaction of a job well done.

Mallard Flushing

While Mallards are common throughout our area, capturing the fast paced action as they spring almost vertically into flight is great fun.  In this instance the Mallards were flushing singly and in pairs as they flew from the marsh to the nearby fields to feed.

Female Northern Harrier

And it's always a thrill aiming the camera at a fast flying raptor.  Northern Harriers hunt by flying low over swamps and grassy meadows.  With their owl shaped face to concentrate sound, they use their acute hearing to assist in locating prey. 

Great Blue Heron

And as common as they are, photographing a Great Blue Heron as it stands as still as a statute is always a pleasure.  This heron waiting for its next meal to swim by may be using the pilings as a way to concentrate prey.

All creatures from tiny insects to the largest of beast can provide the wildlife photographer with thrills; capturing the creatures in beautiful photographs, that's where the satisfaction comes in. 

Friday, February 17, 2012


There are two species of crow that inhabit the eastern US, America Crows and Fish Crows.  Since I am more concerned with photography than with birding I will not attempt to identify which species I captured in these photos.

I will say that I have found crows to be exceedingly difficult birds to photograph.  The crow's all black coloration coupled with a black eye makes it very difficult to capture eye detail.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Images from Blackwater

Blackwater NWR contains a vibrant wildlife community and much of the wildlife is acclimated to a degree of human presence.  This works wonders for the photographer since the critters do not flee at the first sight of humans.  This is not to say that one can approach closely as visitors are restricted and the wildlife is wild, unlike the birds found in city parks. 

The Canada geese tolerate humans at a distance; 80-100 yards seems to be their comfort range.

Small groups of geese took flight throughout the morning as they flew to the neighboring fields to feed.

Blackwater has both freshwater and brackish water habitat.  Muskrat lodges dotted the brackish water swamps.  Although we did not spot any muskrats during our visits their lodges indicate a substantial population.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Shooting Snow Birds

White-throated Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco


A recent snowy afternoon with nothing pressing to do was the perfect time to while away a few hours photographing a few of our winter birds.

Proper exposure can be a little tricky when shooting on snowy backgrounds.  Depending upon the light overexposure may be necessary.  I used +.5 - +1 stops of compensation to capture the images displayed on this post.  When shooting on snow check the camera's LCD and if your images are too dark (as they often will be) dial in some comp. and nail a set of images that you can be proud of.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blackwater, a Refuge for Waterfowl

Unregulated market hunting nearly destroyed our wildlife resources.  I have read where the great migrating flocks of Canada geese that wintered around the Chesapeake Bay were virtually destroyed by the time meaningful regulation began protecting the tiny remnant populations that remained.

Both federal and state laws were established to protect both waterfowl and habitat.  The federal migratory bird hunting stamp act was signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1934.  The money generated through the sale of "duck stamps", basically a federal permit required of all hunters targeting migratory waterfowl, was to be used for the single purpose of purchasing wetlands to create what is now known as the National Wildlife Refuge System.   

A visit to a refuge clearly illustrates how well this program is working.

For more Critters from around the World
visit Misty's

Friday, February 10, 2012

Winter Gobblers

Wintertime is for the birds and the largest birds in my neck of the woods are wild turkeys.  Fortunately winter is an excellent time to photograph wild turkeys as they utilize both fields and woodlands foraging over wide areas.

While turkeys will scratch in the woodland duff in search of food normally they use their sharp eyesight in open areas.  A light covering of snow brought this scratching gobbler out into the open in front of my lens.   

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Wintering Whitetails

 The harsh weather and limited food supplies makes winter a struggle for survival. The deer depend upon various food supplies to get them through the winter.  Much of their time is spent browsing twigs from ground level to as high as a deer can reach standing nearly erect.

 Supplemental feeding is discouraged or made unlawful by conservation agencies however food plots planting are usually encouraged.  Food plots as pictured here are often used by hunters for attracting deer during the hunting seasons but they can also be an important source of winter survival food.

While this winter has been unusually mild, winter survival food is still important as wildlife continues to feed upon last years growth until warm spring temperatures bring on the lush growth of a new season.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Wildlife Management in Changing Times

 Growing up as a kid in rural Pennsylvania hunting was an intrinsic part of life.  Nearly all of the men called themselves hunters, at least during deer season, and even a few of the women.  The anticipation of joining their ranks was enough to fill a youngsters dreams and even sometimes keep him up at night.  But those days are no more. 

With hunter numbers declining across the nation, wildlife conservation agencies have rolled out the red carpet in an attempt to lure youngsters into becoming lifelong customers.  Pennsylvania has instituted special youth events, youth only hunting seasons, and mentored youth hunting with no license or minimum age requirements as a way of introducing kids to hunting.

 Wildlife conservation agencies have historically depended upon hunters for much of their funding so it is no small surprise that they are pulling out all of the stops in an attempt to shore up their customer base.  How successful these efforts ultimately are will not be seen for a number of years however; I have not seen any data suggesting that it is making an appreciable difference.  

However while the agencies single mindedly concentrate on attracting more hunters and offering more hunting opportunities they ignore and at times infuriate what could be an important customer base, the wildlife viewer/photographer. (ref links: Alaska WolvesAlaska Bears, Sandhill Cranes, Pa Elk)  And according to most studies wildlife viewing is a growth activity.

Having been an avid consumptive hunter in the past I have found my own attitudes and values changing over the years.  No longer is filling a tag or bag limit a prerequisite for a good day afield.  Instead, I find that my most memorable moments are those when I am capturing images of wildlife.

Society's view of the appropriate uses of wildlife is changing. Hunting will play an important part in wildlife management for the foreseeable future however wildlife agencies need to be looking for alternate means of funding as hunter ranks shrink. Wildlife viewers/photographers are a largely untapped resource.  However for it to be successful; wildlife will need to be managed for all of the users rather than for the single purpose of hunting. The question that remains to be answered is whether wildlife agencies will embrace the change or continue floundering in the paradigm of the past.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Red-winged Blackbird: Blackwater NWR

Red-winged Blackbirds normally arrive in my area about the third week of February.  I always look forward to their arrival as an early harbinger of spring.  However apparently some winter on Maryland's Eastern Shore as they have been present on both of our recent visits to Blackwater NWR.  Needless to say it was a pleasure to hear the song I associate with spring on a mid winter day.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Back to Blackwater

 Deciding to utilize the unseasonably warm weather forecast for this week Willard and I again visited Blackwater NWR Wednesday.  Arriving before the refuge opened we stopped at the canoe launch along MD 355 to photograph the dawn.  A few light showers were moving through the area making for dramatic skies.
 Later in the morning a partial rainbow developed where we were photographing waterfowl near the entrance to wildlife drive.  Not taking time to change lenses, I used the 600mm to make this capture.

A distant eagle surveys its domain.