Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meadow Grounds Lake: Good-bye Old Friend

When I was but a young lad there was talk of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission constructing a lake near McConnellsburg in a small mountain valley known as the Meadow Grounds.  I vaguely remember visiting there with my parents during the construction however I don't recall much detail. 

Soon after my parents bought me my first boat, a little 12' aluminum Jon boat, we hauled the boat to the lake.  As I rowed my mother about someone snapped a photo that has remained in our family collection ever since.  This photo was probably taken in the around 1968-69 time frame.
Not long after getting my drivers license I began hauling this boat to the lake to fish and have continued to utilize the lake up until now.  It is hard to believe that it has been over forty years since I first boated out upon its smooth waters.
With winter beginning to wane I have been anticipating the waterfowl migration and the Meadow Grounds, only 15 miles from my home has become my go-to spot to boat for waterfowl photography.

Not only have I learned much about fishing this lake, but I have learned a lot about the various species of waterfowl that stop in on their northward journey.  Flocks of the tame little Bonaparte's Gulls can be counted on each spring as well as the occasional ring-billed.

Most Buffleheads are very boat shy but on occasion I have encountered a flock that is very much at ease with the boat.  This little male was part of a flock that allowed me to approach quite closely.  Buffleheads arrive soon after ice-out and remain until the perch spawn concludes.

Bald Eagles, while not sighted every day at the lake can be sighted frequently.  Throughout the spring and fall I normally see one or more eagles on most days.

Ospreys are frequent visitors to the lake and can be sighted nearly any day throughout the spring, summer, and fall.  From my observations the prolific bluegills make up the majority of the fish that they catch from the lake.

Horned Grebe's also visit the lake and can be seen diving for fish and perch spawn.  As with the Buffleheads they leave soon after the perch spawn wraps up.

This past autumn I spotted my first ever Coot at the Meadow Grounds while it fed among the reed.

Another regular spring visitor is the handsome little Ruddy Duck, easily recognizable by its stiff upright tail.

Herons, like the Green Heron pictured here and Great Blue Herons stalk the shallows.

And Common Loons arrive in early April feeding heavily before continuing on by mid May and again returning in late October for another short stay.

Red-breasted Merganser typically arrive around mid-April and are the last of the migratory waterfowl to move on, usually staying until the end of May or early June.

Pied-billed Grebes can be spotted both spring a fall with the fall birds typically arriving in early September and staying on well into November.  This little grebe allowed me to follow it along from only a few feet away as it dove in the shallows finally to emerge with a tiny bluegill.

Along with the species previously mentioned I have photographed Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Northern Shovelers, Red-head's, Ring-necked Ducks, Widgeon, Lesser Scuap, the resident Wood Ducks, Mallards, Canada Geese, Tundra Swans and a River Otter here.

As for the fish, Bluegill, Perch, both Small-mouth and Large-mouth bass, Northern Pike, Musky and Walleye filled the water.  Many local folks as well as some traveling from considerable distances have fished this beautiful mountain lake.

While at the lake I have met persons from as far west at Michigan, as far south as Florida, and as far east as Germany and seldom was I there that there wasn't others enjoying it as well.  But sadly it will all come to an end soon.

The dam recently was classified by Pennsylvania DEP as a high-hazard dam and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's has announced that starting next week they will drain the lake.  The draw-down will take 2 to 3 months to complete depending upon weather conditions with a fish recovery and transfer planned.  With no funding in place for dam repairs or replacement and the PFBC in a tight financial situation, the lake bed will sit empty until if /when funds become available.

Sadly we will loose the only lake in the county and the wildlife that the lake supports.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bringing the Outdoors In

Each winter I usually tackle some type of project to help pass the long cold evenings.  This winter my wife and I decided to remodel our office.

We ripped up the 20 year old carpet replacing it with a tile floor, repainted the walls, refinished the baseboard molding, replaced my wife's desk with a desk that matched my corner desk, and built a book case to house her large collection of scrapbooks.  With that done we still needed some tasteful artwork for the walls.

This week Mpix came to the rescue by emailing me that they were running a one half price sale on large prints.  Reviewing some of my photographs from the past year we selected a shot of a Hummingbird feeding on a daylily and a Great Blue Heron image captured at Viera Wetlands.  Printed 20" X 30" and framed with poster frames the prints finished the room nicely.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Red-shouldered Hawk After Dinner

Red-shouldered Hawk

While most wildlife photo opportunities must be worked for, the opportunity to photograph this Red-shouldered hawk came call.  As my wife and I were washing the dinner dishes I noticed the hawk perched along our east property line.  (You can see where my attention was; obviously not on the dishes !)  While the distance was too far (130 yards)for high-definition portrait work I hoped that something good could come from taking a few shots.
Retrieving the camera, the 600mm lens and the tripod I set it all up and opened the patio door hoping not scare the bird.  Looking through the viewfinder I could see the mirage created by the escaping heat hitting the cold outside air, a sure recipe for blurred shots.  Moving onto the deck I was met with more challenges as the wind was blowing briskly shaking not only the hawk and its perch but vibrating the deck as well.  The only way to freeze the hawk was with a high shutter speed however considering the cropping necessary to make a nice composition with a decent size subject I decided to keep the ISO at 200.  Selecting a comprise between ISO, f-stop and shutter I shot 64 images before the hawk departed for a new observation post.  Of the images shot only a few remained after deleting the blurred shots making the final selection of the best overall image a fairly easy matter.
Keep in mind while photographing in the coming weeks that mirage is very prevalent on sunny days throughout late winter and early spring.  With a cold earth and warm sunshine, shimmering heat waves will occur blurring many shots where the focus is correct, the subject still, and the camera/lens suitably supported.  The longer the lens the more problem it creates and the greater the distance between the front lens element and the subject the more heat waves can be present.  The only cure is to get as close as possible. 
Also keep in mind when shooting out of a car window in cold weather that the escaping heat from inside the car will create mirage as well.  While it is more comfortable to keep the auto warm, if you will be shooting out the window, for sharp images, turn off the heat.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Four Weeks to Go

Darn! am I ever tired of this winter!
With Spring still four weeks there is plenty of activity in the wildlife world to interest a wildlife photographer.
Snow Geese in flight, Middle Creek WMA
Snow Geese numbers are building at Middle Creek WMA with Tuesday's report showing an estimated 40,000 along with 3,000 Tundra Swans.  While in past years the number of snow's peaked around 100,000 somewhere around the first week of March,; 40,000 is plenty of birds to break the winter photography blahs. 

Wild Turkey Strutting
And while the peak strutting season is still a few weeks away the first stirrings of the wild turkey mating season can occasionally be seen on warmer days.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Early Signs Of The Coming Spring

Cooper's Hawk watching for prey

Even as winter's snow swirls through the air the first faint signs of a change of seasons can be found.

A stop at a local lake revealed that it will be some time until it will be open for returning waterfowl.  However the ice is thin as indicated by one area remaining open.  While at the lake I watched as a mature Bald Eagle soared over heard and listened as a red-bellied woodpecker drumming out its territorial call, a sign that spring is on the way.

Mourning Dove
 I heard my first mourning dove of the year cooing Friday evening and many more calling Saturday morning.

Mourning Doves feeding

Canada Geese
And a stop at a local wetland revealed some open water and a pair of Canada Geese.
Before leaving I observed a flock of mallards swoop in for a splash-down.  While Canada's and Mallards are residents the migratory waterfowl won't be long in arriving as they begin their journey to the more northern nesting grounds.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Head Shots

Blue Jay
A head shot captured the blue jay's intense stare,

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
And the inquisitive stare of the female Red-belly.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker
While only a close-up shot could show the extended tongue of the male Red-belly.

Wild Turkey Gobbler
Only a head shot would do justice to the bright red of the backlight illuminating a gobblers dewlap.
Sometimes when shooting with prime glass the subject becomes closer than you had anticipated.  With no zoom capability the only options are either don't shoot or go for a head shot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Roads from the Past

On a recent morning, with a light snow falling, I was out with the photo gear looking for wildlife.  As I walked along an old road my mind went back to the days of exploring this part of our farm with my grandfather and his stories about this having been a public road. 

If you look closely you will see that the photograph is taken from the middle of the road.  After crossing the small stream it turns right and then left with a small cut-bank to its right as it travels along the side of the ridge. 

Upon returning home I began searching for maps.  The earliest map I could find was from 1873 and indeed the road was marked as being public.  Continuing my search I again found it on a map dated 1900.  The next map dated 1941 no longer showed this road but instead denoted the newer road that now allows public travel to the farms and residences of the area. 

 Walking back I paused along the creek and was struck by the similarities and differences between it and the now abandoned road.  No doubt before anyone had need of a road the creek had provided an avenue of transportation to the Native Americans living in this area.  The Native Americans that apparently lived here for thousands of years are gone and little other than the occasional arrowhead that turns up in a freshly plowed field is left to remind us of the time that they called this land home. 

While neither the road or the creek provide a path for human transportation today, the road, made my man, is slowly being reclaimed by nature and will disappear with time; whereas the creek, a natural feature, is still flowing much the same as it was for thousands of years before humans entered upon the scene and will probably continue to do so for thousands of years into the future.

While we humans think that we are nearly all powerful and in control of our world, our civilization is but a fleeting moment in time.  A glance back at the past serves to remind us of just how unimportant we really are in the grand scheme of things.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Looking Ahead to Spring

While Nemo didn't impact my area winter is still holding us in its icy grasp.

Windblown Cattails
 With the early spring waterfowl migrations in mind I stopped by some of my favorite local waterfowl spots yesterday.  The cattails in a swampy area are shedding their fluff but the only birds I spotted were a red-tailed hawk and a northern mocking bird; both year around residents.

 A wood duck nest box sits empty, suspended over ice covered water

However this will all change very soon.  This photo taken on February 22, 2012 was my first migratory waterfowl encounter last year.  Upon checking back through my records I find that Red-winged blackbirds usually arrive in my area during the last two weeks of February and are soon followed by a progression of waterfowl species.  While the lakes can hold ice longer, wetlands are usually thawed by the first week of March and waterfowl will arrive as soon as the water is open.

First migratory waterfowl encounter of 2011.  This photo was captured March 4th.
While spring doesn't officially arrive until March 20th this year those that are attuned to natures cycle know that wildlife will begin reacting to the change of the season very soon.  It's time now to check out the spring photography gear for with only a couple of weeks to go the wonder of the spring migrations will be upon us here in southern Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Winter is for the Birds

Tufted Titmouse
Searching for the next bite keeps the winter birds busy through the cold months of winter

And photographing the birds keeps cabin fever at bay for the wildlife enthusiast

Carolina Wren
Responsive Management recently conducted a study in Idaho.  Among their findings were the following:
90% value Idaho's wildlife, 90% approve of lawful hunting, 97% approve of lawful fishing.  35% participated in hunting, 53% participated in fishing while 78% reported that they had viewed or photographed wildlife around their homes over the past two years.  63% of respondents reported that they had taken trips of one mile or more to view or photograph wildlife. 
When queried about their intention in the coming two years 63% reported that they intended to make trips of a mile or more to view and/or photograph wildlife while 58% indicated that they would likely go fishing and 42% listed as likely to go hunting.
Wildlife viewing and photography is growing and wildlife managers are beginning to take notice.


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Winter Bluebirds

Male Eastern Bluebird
With a light snow falling, I headed out to see what I could find late this morning.  At my first stop I found a mixed flock of titmice and juncos feeding on the ground.  After mounting the camera to the tripod and closing the distance I was watching intently for a photo opportunity when this male eastern bluebird lit on a nearby snow dusted branch.

Female Eastern Bluebird
A moment later the female arrived, perching on a multiflora rose branch just below the male and began feeding on the rose hips.

Female Eastern Bluebird with rose hip
While multiflora rose are considered by humans as an obnoxious invasive species, I am sure that the bluebirds would disagree.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Eager for Spring Waterfowl

 I stopped by the local lake today to check on ice conditions.  With the recent temperature swings of the past week going from the lowest temps of the winter to well over 60F Tuesday and back down to 12F last night the coves and the northern part are frozen with 2/3rds of the lake remaining open.  However even with the open water no waterfowl were visible.  While I am always on the look-out for waterfowl sightings it will be a few weeks yet before the spring migration begins.

 Lesser Scaup & Ring-necked Ducks
The photos shown here were captured in mid-November as the birds passed by on their southward migration.  While I have been hoping to find a time when weather and my schedule coincide for a visit to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore to photograph wintering waterfowl it has yet to work out.

Canada Geese & Tundra Swan

While we are again locked in winter's embrace, by the last week of the month Snow Geese and Tundra Swans should begin arriving at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Lancaster Pennsylvania.  I am planning my visit for the first week of March as this coincided with the opening of the roads through the WMA (unless blocked by snow) and usually the largest concentration of migrating snow geese.