Sunday, April 29, 2012

Green Heron: A Rare Encounter

Green Heron's, while common in my area are secretive birds that are seldom seen.

Green herons spend the majority of their time in heavy cover around the edges of lakes and wetlands hunting for fish, invertebrates, frogs, and salamanders.

Normally the first indication of a green heron being in the vicinity is when it flushes from heavy cover uttering it sharp kyowk.  The short flight usually ends when the heron plunges once again into deep cover where it is virtually impossible to get a second look.

However this bird showed considerable tolerance allowing me to approach to with in a few yards with the boat.  After an extended photo session the little heron walked back the log and was swallowed up by the cover surrounding the lake.

Encountering a good friend along the shoreline I handed him a camera to make this shot of me as I normally "hunt" while photographing waterfowl and waterbirds.  The boat serves dual purpose on these outings as the fishing rods are always close at hand.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ducklings Arrive: Hooded Mergansers

A pleasant surprise awaited upon my arrival at the wetlands this evening; the hooded merganser ducklings have arrived!  I spotted this hen hurring away with her some of her brood in tow. 

 Whereas mallard and wood duck young will stick close to their mothers, hooded merganser ducklings frequently forage by themselves or in pairs.  After placing my pop-up blind I didn't have long to wait until a lone duckling swam by my position.

More singles and pairs passed by as the evening progressed however most stayed behind the bushes ringing the shoreline.  This duckling took a shortcut across a small area of open water.  The reflections of the fresh spring foliage painted a beautiful backdrop aross the water.

This little duckling caught some creature, perhaps a salamander.  The catch was too large to swallow in one gulp and the duckling carried it around for some time as it alternated between trying to swallow and attempting to peck it into smaller pieces.  I don't know how the merganser made out as it was still carrying the prey when it swam out of sight.

Besides the two broods of merganser I also sighted a mallard pair with a large brood in tow however they were much warier and disapeared from view before I could capture any decent images.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loons typically arrive in my area some time around late March to early April.  My first sighting this year occurred on April 14th.  That day I spotted two loons but they were boat-shy and repeatedly submerged while I was still about 100 yards distant; too far for good photographs with any lens.

However my luck changed April 20th when I spotted this lone loon hanging out near the breast wall of the lake.

Stretching its leg

The loon remained calm as I approached to within less than 30 yards.

Loon with eyes underwater

Soon the loon ducked its head underwater and began searching for a morning meal.  I have observed a number of fish-eating birds use this technique.   The loon cruised for a short while until it located a school of shad.

Shad fleeing the feeding loon

I was able to track the loons underwater movements by the eruptions of shad fleeing on the surface. 

Loon moments after surfacing from feeding

Repeatedly I tried to capture the loon as it surfaced but each time I was behind the curve.  The narrow field of view of the 600mm made following the fast paced action difficult.

In previous years I used a Canon 100-400mm lens for all of my boat/waterfowl shooting however this spring I have been using the 600 F4 almost exclusively.  The 600mm is nowhere nearly as handy as the little 100-400mm which can be shot handheld when light levels allow. The 600 is too heavy to support hand-held for long and I have resorted to setting the tripod on the front of the boat.  With a gimbal head it works well tracking swimming birds as long as the water is reasonably calm, however I have found it very difficult to operate the boat and track flying birds simultaneously.  Despite its drawbacks (weight & bulk) the superior range and sharpness of the 600 F4 IS is well worth the additional effort.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Red-breasted Mergansers: Spring Migration

Mixed flock of red-breasted mergansers and horned grebes

As longtime followers of Country Captures well know photographing the spring waterfowl migration is a particular passion of mine.  I try each year to documenting the first sightings of each species as they arrive and attempt to capture outstanding images of them as they pause here on their way north to their nesting grounds.  Each species migrates through our area on their own schedule with the first arriving shortly after ice-out and progressing until the last finally depart near the end of May.

Red-breasted merganser, with eyes underwater, search for prey

I have considered myself an outdoorsman most of my life but only once I immersed myself in wildlife photography did I become aware of the diversity of waterfowl that pass by.  For decades as spring arrived my attention turned to fishing.  While fishing I would observe ducks on the lakes but other than the familiar mallards and wood ducks I did not take the time or interest to identify the ducks I spotted.

Immature male red-breasted merganser

Saturday I found myself traveling near Washington DC with a small group of persons who both hunt and fish.  At one point the conservation turned to eagles.  One fellow, lets call him Bob, stated that he had never seen a bald eagle and would love to.  I commented, "really" and he affirmed that indeed it was true.  I replied that I seldom go a week without spotting at least one.  He seemed very surprised by this as we don't live that far apart.

Red-breasted merganser female

Just a few minutes later I noticed a large bird trailed by a couple of blackbirds swoop low over the highway.  Pointing up at the bird I attempted to draw Bob's attention to it telling him that it was an immature bald eagle.  By the time Bob looked the eagle was hidden from his view and I could tell from his response that he was doubting the eagle sighting.

Passing by DC we were traveling north on 270 about 45 minutes later when I notice another large bird again trailed by blackbirds.  A closer look revealed the white head and tail of an adult bald eagle.  Again drawing Bob's attention to the bird he finally had spotted his very first eagle.  There is little doubt that this was not the first eagle that had crossed in front of his eyes but it was the first that he had ever "seen". 

Red-breasted merganser taking flight

While I was busy fishing the spring waterfowl migrations passed by.  It was only once that I began photographing the many species of waterfowl that I truly began to "see" the beauty and the wonder of the Spring Waterfowl Migration! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Horned Grebe

The horned grebe is another migrant species that passes through my area.

Horned grebes spend much of their time feeding near the shoreline however I am most successful photographing them from the boat.

Horned grebe's dive frequently while actively feeding.  Diving is also a preferred tactic to evade danger.  Underwater, the grebe's can travel considerable distances swiftly.

While they are strong fliers it they patter across the surface upon takeoff building momentum much like an airplane gains speed on a runway.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ruddy Duck

There are still many images from my recent Florida trip to review and process but I cannot ignore the spring waterfowl migration now passing through our area.  The little spike tailed ruddy ducks are a common springtime visitor and today I found this lone duck on a local lake.

At times the ruddy was hanging out with a mixed flock of horned grebes and red-breasted mergansers and at others I would spot it off by itself.  Here the ruddy is resting.  Notice how it is supporting itself with the vegetation to steady itself against the waves.

Earlier in the morning, before the wind kicked up, the calm water reflected the little duck perfectly.

This particular ruddy was very tolerant of my presence but when I approached to within about fifteen yards she finally had enough and took flight.  Not overly alarned she only flew 100 yards or so before settling down with the flock of red-breasted mergansers.

Today's waterfowl/bird sightings included; loon, ring-necked duck, mallard, horned grebe, red-breasted merganser.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tricolored Heron: Joe Overstreet Landing

The early morning sunlight was perfect for photographing a Tricolored Heron hunting the lake shore at Joe Overstreet Landing.

Striking at prey, I could not tell for a moment if it had been successful,

Until it lifted its head and deftly flipped the small minnow in its long bill.

Photos like this are a combination of luck and perseverance; luck that the shutter happened to click at that exact moment, and perseverance in that I wasn't satisfied with a few well exposed shots of the little heron and was continuing to shoot frame after frame hoping for something exceptional to happen. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bald Eagles at Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet landing is a spot noted on the Great Florida Birding Trail.  At one time the endangered Whooping Cranes could be seen here regularly but I have not observed them during my 2010 visits nor this year although I was told that one had been spotted on a nearby island lately.  However Joe Overstreet even without the Whooping Cranes remains a worthwhile spot.  Arriving as day began to break I immediately noticed a pair of eagles perched on the post supporting the boat docks. 

Not knowing how acclimated they were I cautiously moved in to a suitable position and awaited better light.  As the light improved I shot a few images of the stationary birds and soon a vehicle arrived to launch a boat.  The fishermen readied the boat and one walked over to chat and mentioned they they would be ending my fun.  I replied that that was no problem as I was waiting to the eagles to take flight.  Imagine my surprise when they launched the boat and the eagles showed no visible concern!  Moving in even closer I continued to wait for the birds to do something more photogenic than just posing.

As the sun began cresting the horizon my wait was rewarded as one eagle decided to go after a shore bird feeding nearby.  No being ready at the moment I missed the take-off and the bird easily evaded the eagle's attack.  The eagle circled about coming back in for a landing on it favored post.  This time I was ready panning the 600mm and shooting as it swooped in.

The best shot materialized as the eagle landed and with wings still outstretched lifted it's head and called.  Moments later it had settled down and was once again just a stationary eagle sitting on a post.

I have photographed bald eagles at numerous locations over the past few years and this bird is the most tolerant eagle I have yet encountered.  The eagles I encounter near home typically become uncomfortable at 150 to 200 yards however this bird seemed undisturbed with humans coming within 15-20 yards.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Crested Caracara

One day as I was leaving Viera Wetlands I noticed a few vehicles parked near the wetlands entrance and a number of photographers gathered nearby crouched behind some big glass.  Sidelining the car I joined the small crowd photographing a crested caracara as it fed on a bird.  But before I could get into position another cara cara flew by.  Taking advantage of the situation I panned with the bird capturing the above image.

                                      As shutters clicked the caracara tore at the carcass

 Tearing off pieces by holding one part with its feet while pulling with its massive beak

This image was captured as the caracara finished swallowing a rather large piece

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beautiful White Death Stalks the Marshes

Silent as a ghost, a Great Egret stalks the marsh

And captures its prey with a quick strike

To us the great egret is a creature of beauty and grace; for its prey it is their worst nightmare came true.

The above images were captured at the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shooting South: A visit to the Sunshine State

Sunrise at the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera

 For tens of thousands of visitors each year Disney and other amusement/theme parks are Florida's main attraction but for me these attractions pale in comparison to the abundant wildlife populations that call the Sunshine State home.

Reviewing & processing the 30 odd gigs of images from the five morning and two evening shoots will have to wait until I have a chance to recoup from 17 hours of virtually non-stop driving.  So for now I will share one of my very first Florida images from this my latest photographic adventure.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Buffleheads Up Close

After an incredible morning with the gobblers I wasn't expecting a close-up encounter with Bufflehead ducks Friday afternoon.  Not that I was surprised with finding the buffleheads on the lake; but rather thatI was surprised with them allowing me to approach closely.

In this first photo the buffleheads are attempting to evade my boat by doing their "sleeping duck" routine.  Notice the wake these "sleeping ducks" are pushing up; look closely to see the bright, wide-awake eyes watching me while they swim furiously.

 Giving up on the "sleeping duck" the buffleheads swim to stay ahead of the boat as I very slowly overtake them.
The males appear as simple black and white ducks until the sunlight hits there heads at the correct angle.  Following along with the camera trained on them, the trick was to anticipate the flash of iridescence. 

A close up shot of a male shows off his splendid iridescent colors

After a considerable time the buffleheads tired of the boat following them giving me the opportunity for a close up flight shot.

Not really scared they flew only a short distance before again landing on the lake surface.  Most ducks I encounter at this lake will not allow close-up photography.  Most days I am lucky if I can get within seventy-five yards however this small flock of buffleheads did not show fear of me or the boat and allowed me to work them for an extended period of time.  My guess is that they winter in a spot where there is no hunting.  Whatever the reason it is a special time encountering a flock that will allow close-up photography.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Lookin Good for the Ladies

Strutting is all about the hens.  Gobblers don't gobble and strut to impress or intimidate other gobblers, they strut to attract the hens.  Here a pair of jakes put their colors on display trying to gain the attention of the hen feeding in the foreground.

And this mature gobbler looks to be trying out his latest break dancing move; getting down for the girls.

A close-up reveals the brilliant red, white, and blue color scheme of the gobbler's head.