Friday, March 30, 2012

Gobblers Gone Wild!

The last couple of weeks has been frustrating for me.  The waterfowl migration has been moving through and the wild turkey gobblers have been strutting but regardless of my effort nothing was coming together.  The ducks have been exceedingly wild and every time I zigged to gobblers zagged.  Of course I well know that success doesn't always come easy so it was with anticipation that once again I setup the little outhouse blind while darkness still enveloped the countryside hoping the gobblers show. 

The first turkeys to hit the meadow were Jakes and soon one was ballooned out in full strut.  As impressive as he appeared he could not begin to measure up to what was to come next!

And it wasn't long before three long-beards showed up to show everyone who was boss.

By the time the activity wrapped up I had shot about 450 frames and had captured my very best ever strutting gobbler images.  This was a morning that will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Little did I know as I headed to the lake to check out the migratory waterfowl activity this afternoon that I would soon be shooting my best ever shots of another species.  The afternoon's shoot will be the subject for another day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Odds & Ends

Not having neither the time or the energy to put much thought into a post, I decided instead to share some unrelated photos.

I was a little surprised to see Great Blue Herons building nest during my early March visit to Middle Creek.  The rookery was too far away from the road to allow great shots and getting any closer was unlawful so I had to be satisfied with what was available.  Shooting with the 600mm lens I could see from viewing the camera LCD that the shots were soft.  Resorting to manual focus and using live view at 10x zoom the resulting images were sharper.

These mallards may look no different than your friendly everyday park ducks but they fully understand the dangers that humans present.  The nearest hen has already spotted me and at the first click of the shutter they exploded into the air. 

This crow seems to understand that I mean it no harm but gaging from the intent stare it isn't entirely trusting either.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring has Sprung

Just a week ago brown and gray were the predominate colors across the southern Pennsylvania landscape.  But the sustained unseasonably warm temperatures has hurried the season along.  Now the countryside looks like it normally does in mid to late April!

I focused my attention on wild turkeys the past two mornings.  This hen was my only reward with the gobblers staying hidden behind a screen of brush.

Spending mid-day Friday on a local lake I found that the species of waterfowl that I expected at this time of year were present.  My waterfowl sightings included lesser scaup, ring-necked duck, pied-billed grebe, mallard, wood duck, and horned grebe.  However the 80 degree temp's are far from the norm.  Here a horned grebe takes off when my boat drew too near for its comfort.

I was experimenting with handling the 600mm lens on board the boat during this outing.  Its sheer size and weight precludes hand-holding it for any period of time.  For these shots I was using a folded tripod as a monopod.  The pod made it easy to support the lens but the boat movement made focusing and shooting extremely difficult.  Even though the water was fairly calm the rocking of the waves played havoc with getting good shots.  I did find that keeping the boat under power smoothed out the motion somewhat.  Here two male and a female lesser scaup takes flight. 

A flock of forty or so ring-necked ducks were also present.  These migrants as well as other divers always stop in for the spring perch spawn.  I have seen no indication that the perch spawn has started but with the warm temps I expect it to begin any day.

Trees of all types are bursting into bloom.  These dogwood flowers are two to three weeks early.  Friday evening found me mowing the lawn; the first I have ever needed to mow in March!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Strutting His Stuff!

The Wild Turkey mating season normally begins slowly in early March before exploding in early April.  However the unseasonably warm weather we have experienced for more than a week has the woodlands resounding with the throaty gobbles of the big toms as they vie for mates. 

Wild Turkeys gobble and strut both mornings and evenings with morning activity usually the better.  Gobbling will usually begin before daylight while they are still on their overnight roost.  The early morning gobbling gives one the opportunity to locate the toms and set up in a likely spot for early morning action.

This series though was captured in the evening after I spotted a flock of hens accompanied by some attending gobblers feeding in an open field.  Seeing that a ravine may allow me to approach unseen I was able to stalk to within photography distance; capturing this big fellow Strutting His Stuff. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hoodies, Woodies, and Honkers

My spring waterfowl photography at a local wetlands has been more difficult than expected this year.  The birds are always wary but this year they have been doubly so.  Finding empty shotgun hulls strewn about indicated that some hunting activity had taken place sometime during the last week of Canada goose season in late February.  The scare has apparently not been forgotten.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts I decided to make an early morning attempt but walking in and setting up the blind well before daylight.  Settling back for a nap once the blind was up the sounds coming from the wetlands told of Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards, hooded mergansers, and assorted frogs.  As the faint light of a new day began brightening the eastern sky flocks could be heard taking off.  By full light most of the waterfowl had departed.  This hooded merganser cruised into view about 30 yards away.  At the first shutter click he reversed course, swimming rapidly for cover.  I could here his calling from various parts of the wetlands throughout the morning. 

Around 8:30am a small flock of wood ducks cruised past.  The male woodies are our most colorful duck and as with the hooded merganser the calm water reflected him perfectly.

One hen accompanied the flock of males.  Her muted colors suit her perfectly for the upcoming nesting season.

A flock of common grackles perched nearby and treated me to the loud singing.  I always look forward the seeing the flocks of grackles each spring.  During the 1960's and '70's huge flocks would descend each spring.  By the 1980's the big flocks were gone and only small flocks of a few dozen birds were seen.  I have began to notice during the last few years that the flock sizes seem to be growing once again however they are still no match for the massive flocks of forty years ago.

Before leaving the wetlands I spotted this Canada nesting on a small hummock just above waterline.  I have taken photographs of geese on the nest before but this is my first nesting reflection shot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Middle Creek Tundra Swans

While Snow Geese are the main late winter attraction at Middle Creek the Tundra Swan migrations is impressive as well.

The swans estimate the day of my visit was pegged at about 5000.  Here a group of swans lifts off at dawn for a day of foraging.

These graceful birds have since moved on; the memory of my wonderful day with the swans lives on in digital files. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Signs of Spring

Spring is still over a week away but the frogs seem to think that it is already here.  Walking around a couple of wetlands the past couple of days I noticed a number of frog egg masses attached to submerged vegetation; a sure sign that the early spring frog spawn has begun. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Belted Kingfisher

Stopping by a local creek to check for waterfowl I caught sight of a belted kingfisher sitting on a branch overhanging the water.  With no chance for a photo because of intervening brush and a locked gate precluding me moving the car any farther my only chance for a photo was to get out of the vehicle.  As I expected the kingfisher flew away as the car door opened.

Moments later the kingfisher flew past again.  Looking at the overhanging branch I realized that it was a perfect lookout spot.  Knowing that kingfishers will use a favored perch repeatedly I decided there was a good chance that the bird would soon return.  Setting up the camera rig I waited motionless and was rewarded with the kingfisher returning withing about 15 minutes. However I had not taken into account a nearby tree just to the left of the perch.  Although I had a clear view of the bird the out-of-focus tree washed soft color across the image keeping it from being the image I had hoped for.

At times it is desirable to use nearby out of focus objects to impart softness and color to an image;  however this time it was not the case.

A short time later I spotted the kingfisher a considerable distance way creating quite a commotion.  I have observed kingfishers catching fish by diving but this bird was flying low over the water repeatedly submerging and emerging.  My guess would be that it was taking a bath, however I am not familiar enough with kingfisher behaviour to be certain. 

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

A First: Gadwalls

My recent trip to Middle Creek resulted in being able to add another species to my photo archives.
A flock of Gadwalls were feeding in a pothole near the road. Not overly concerned about the nearby viewers and photographers, they approached near enough for decent photography. These images were captured with the Canon 600mm F4, at ISO400,f4,1/750.

From their actions they had more than migrating and feeding on their minds as a group of males pursued a single female relentlessly.

This particular shot was my favorite from the encounter.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Visiting Middle Creek

 For those interested in waterfowl, Middle Creek is an geat place to visit in late winter. Many waterfowl species stop here during their move northward providing the opportunity for viewing and photography. Snow geese are perhaps the most famous migrants as they are present here in huge numbers if you select the right time for your visit. The PGC website contains a wealth of information for visitors.  If you are considering your first visit do yourself a favor and spend some time checking it out. To do so simply click HERE.

Middle Creek waterfowl can be accessed from both public road and by roads only open seasonally; the details are listed on the website.  This photo was taken at a good spot along Hopeland Road, the visitor center is visible in the background.  Open year around the public road allows access to a number of good locations.  A variety of birdlife utilize the pothole shown here providing good viewing and photographic opportunities. 

Hopeland Road is also an excellent spot for early morning flight shots as this flock of Tundra Swans demonstrates.

Turning towards the lake, the location is excellent for sunrise shots as well as silhouette shots at dawn.

Willow Point is accessible by a short walk from a parking lot and is strategically located for waterfowl viewing.  The snow geese frequently raft nearby during the night making it a good place to greet the dawn.

Willow Point is the one place where close-up encounters with snow geese are quite common.

During your visit pay close attention to the signs.  Visitors are restricted from most of the area to avoid unduly alarming the wildlife.  Restricted areas are marked both by signs and a single strand wire.  Make sure you stay on the correct side of the wire to assure that your visit will remain pleasant.

The self-guided driving tour, open seasonally, puts you into areas where the waterfowl feed as well as giving access near to the lake and a few potholes.  Sights like these look good in photographs but to be there and experience it is absolutely incredible. 

Middle Creek is not a place to capture close-up waterfowl photos, the crowd control is much to restrictive for that, but it is a great place to visit and the best place I know of to experience the incredible numbers of waterfowl during migration. 

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Blizzard of Snows: Middle Creek WMA

Middle Creek Dawn

A mixture of Canada Geese, Tundra Swans, and assorted ducks rest on the lake while skiens of Snow Geese pass overhead.

While the sun was still hidden behind the eastern hills the Snow Geese rose from the lake in unison.

Willard and I visited Middle Creek Friday, 3-2-12.  The PGC estimate placed the snow goose count at 65,000 - 70,000 birds and cautions that the birds may be moving on at any time.  If you wish to view this amazing annual spectacle you should do so as soon as possible and check the latest reports or call ahead if you have far to travel.

The synchronized flight of thousands of geese is an amazing sight to behold. 

For a more in depth read check out the excellent information found in Joe Kosack's PGC news release.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wild Turkeys: Gobblers Preening

Documenting wildlife behaviour is one of my major attractions to wildlife photography.  Thus this morning's encounter with a flock of mature wild turkey gobblers was made even more thrilling when the entire flock began preening.  Whereas deer will groom both themselves and also other members of the herd; the gobblers were content to groom only themselves.

A gobblers head can change color rapidly; take note of the color change between the first photograph and this one taken just one minute later of the same bird.

A close-in crop of the second image reveals his extended snood.  Again this change from the short stubby snood in the first image took place in the space of about a minute.

I shot the above photos with the Canon 60D & a 600mm lens.  While the 600 was working quite well for shooting detailed images of one individual bird it was too much lens to capture the entire scene.

Scooping up the Canon 30D & the 100-400mm lens I hand-held and zoomed to 285mm to compose this shot of the flock standing single file.  Three birds are busy grooming while a single bird keeps his eyes peeled for danger.

Having a camera and lens of a different focal length handy and ready to go can pay dividends.  In this case the zoom lens on the second camera allowed me to capture the rest of the story.