Sky Dancing Ritual of the American Woodcock

April 23, 2017  •  1 Comment

The American Woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker, are a superbly camouflaged bird against the leaf litter of the forest floor.  While its subdued plumage and low-profile behavior make it hard to find, springtime is an exception.

WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

A male woodcock’s evening display flights are one of the magical natural sights of springtime in the east.  Males sound off a buzzy peent call from a display area on the ground.  Then he flies upward in a wide spiral and his wings begin to twitter as he gets higher.  At a height of 200–350 feet the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts to descend. He zigzags down in a steep dive back to the ground, chirping as he goes, landing silently near a female, if one is present.  Once on the ground, he resumes peenting and the display starts over again.

WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

One evening in late March, my friend Jake Dingel and I set out to find the American Woodcock performing their mating display.  We were successful and made plans to return with our photography equipment within a couple days.  We returned two days later, joined by my wife Elena.  Since it is dark outside when the performance begins, a flashlight is needed to illuminate the bird so the camera is able to focus.  Elena did a great job locating and tracking the bird so we could photograph him.

After finding a lone male, we witnessed several performances over the next hour.  We were able to get a few photographs and video but unable to include flying shots.  Even in the daylight their fast flights would be difficult to capture so nighttime made it nearly impossible.  WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

This video contains footage of the American Woodcock’s peent calls performed on the ground during their mating ritual activity.  Listen carefully to the sounds of a springtime American Woodcock.

American Woodcock

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan


2017 Spring Waterfowl Migration In Full Swing

April 19, 2017  •  1 Comment

I have written several blogs in the past sharing my spring waterfowl migration photos.  For them, I’ve researched various facts to share with the accompanied photos.  This photo blog entry is going to be a little different.  Since these are all subjects I have written about in the past, I’m going to make this one easy on the mind.  Yours and mine!

All of these photographs were made on a bright, sunny day in northwest Pennsylvania.  Wild ducks are afraid of humans and you cannot walk up to them to get closeup portraits.  This kind of wildlife photography takes work and not simply a walk in a park. It is common to use your vehicle as a photo blind.  A vehicle doesn’t provide the lowest angle that one would hope for, getting the photographer at eye-level to the subject, but it is an acceptable tradeoff.  Sometimes, you have to take what you can get.  I hope you enjoy the photographs.

Sometimes, the Ring-necked Duck is mistaken for a Greater or Lesser Scaup.  One quick way to tell the difference is the scaups do not have a white ring on their bills.

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake

 

The drake Greater Scaup has a blue-gray bill with a black tip.

Greater ScaupGreater Scaup

 

The dabbling duck American Wigeon, is the New World counterpart of the Eurasian Wigeon.

American WigeonAmerican WigeonDrake

 

The American Wigeon has also been called “baldpate”.

American WigeonAmerican WigeonHen

 

A bird of open wetlands, the Northern Pintail is a brief visitor in Pennsylvania as they fly toward their breeding grounds in northern Canada.

Northern PintailNorthern PintailHen & Drake

 

The chestnut head with large iridescent green patch makes the drake Green-winged Teal easily identifiable.

Green-winged TealGreen-winged TealDrake

 

The Tundra Swan is completely snowy white.  The rusty-brown color sometimes seen on its head and neck is created by iron in marsh soils.

Tundra SwanTundra Swan

 

Here is a Northern Shoveler chasing the competition.  There always seem to be more males than females in the water.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

These Northern Shovelers are showing a little more acceptance of each other.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

Below is a small flock of Northern Pintails flying. 

Northern PintailNorthern PintailDrake/Hen/Drake

 

Northern Pintail drake finding a place to land.  Can you tell they are probably my favorite migrating duck?

Northern PintailNorthern PintailDrake

 

Should that line of waterfowl in the distance be concerned while the juvenile Bald Eagle, standing on the ice, stares at them?

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan


A Foggy Day Turned Snowy

April 12, 2017  •  4 Comments

Once November arrives, birders and wildlife photographers in western Pennsylvania begin to have hopes of seeing a Snowy Owl, our grand visitor from the north.  When the weather gets bad in Canada, Snowy Owls will begin to head south but only far enough to find food.  If you are lucky enough to find one, it will probably be a female or juvenile male.  The pure white males tend to stay back to the north.

In January, 2015, I wrote a blog called Follow Me to Gull Point.  In it I tried to take the readers on a journey to Gull Point at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA.  I researched a lot of Snowy Owl information for that blog so I'm not going to repeat it in this one.  If you would like to read Follow Me to Gull Point and learn Snowy Owl facts, click the link.

In this blog I'd like to tell the story of one day with a Snowy Owl.  Bear with me because most of the story needs to be told before the photos can be seen.

It was the beginning of March and winter was passing without having a Snowy Owl photo opportunity within reasonable driving distance.  Word got out in the birding world that there was a Snowy located on an Amish farm in Crawford County, about 1.5 hours away from me.  I gave it a few days to see if it was passing through or if I would actually have a chance to photograph this one.

Birding reports were posted daily that the owl was still being seen.  Crowds were beginning to gather daily and the owl was keeping its distance in the large expanse of fields.  The Amish family was very friendly and even had family members posted as locators for the bird so visitors didn't have to go searching for something that might be a small white spec in a distant field.  Birding ethics were displayed and monitored as to not stress the owl.  Nobody was allowed to approach the bird and everyone was being watched by the landowners and local birders.

Finally, on Sunday March 19th, my wife Elena and I decided to go photograph the owl.  As we drove north, the weather started getting worse.  The rain ended and cold air crept in below the warmer air, creating fog.  By the time we reached the farm it was fairly dark outside, there were only two vehicles there and the Snowy had flown over the crest of a hill and disappeared into the mist.  It was only 1:00 in the afternoon.

A couple country roads divide the large farm so we drove around for about 20 minutes with no luck of spotting the owl.  Finally, I parked at the same spot the owl was perched when we arrived.  Since we missed lunch, we began searching the GPS for a local restaurant.  A few minutes later a tractor pulled up beside me and the driver introduced himself as the property owner and asked where the owl was.  I pointed him in the right direction and he drove up a farm access road into the field.  When he reached the top, which was about 50 yards away, he waved for me to join him.

It was then I saw this owl, for the first time, perched about 80 yards away.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It sat on the fence post watching the field for rodents to eat.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

I got plenty of photographs of the owl perched on the pole so I just stood and talked with the landowner.  Eventually a friend of mine showed up and was also waved to the top of the hill.  The wind picked up, it continued to get colder, and the fog began to lift.  Soon, the owl flew away from us to a perch about 200 yards away.  I thought it was a little closer but after checking Google Earth, I can confirm the 200 yard distance.

We continued to talk about the land, crowds that have been there and other idle chit chat.  Finally the owl spotted a vole and left its perch to catch it.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It was still pretty dark but my shutter speed was high enough to catch the action.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It flew about 25 yards and sat down to eat.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Of course, the vole was devoured in seconds and the owl took flight again.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

After making a large loop away from us, it returned to the perch 200 yards away.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

A couple other people came and went while we continued to watch the owl.  Eventually it left its perch again and this time it flew a big circle and flew right towards us.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

My heart began pumping faster as the owl continued toward us.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It reached the original post where the landowner and I found it a few hours earlier, and sat down.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It seemed content again simply sitting on the pole.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

About 30 minutes passed, I realized it was after six o'clock and we should head home. 

What a lucky day we had.  I believe we had the good luck because of the weather.  I believe the owl hunted in mid-day because it was fairly dark outside and the rain, cold, and fog kept the people that would normally be there, at home.  All in all, it was a great day!

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Wrapping Up Winter With Feathers and Fur

April 06, 2017  •  2 Comments

Spring is in the air!  Although the calendar says it's spring, we can't always count on springlike weather.  One thing we can count on is waterfowl migration and preparation for wildlife babies.

On my pursuit of specific wildlife subjects I always manage to find other species of wildlife to photograph and share.  That's what this photo blog entry is all about.  I hope you enjoy the wildlife.

If you visit farm fields during the winter, you may see flocks of little brown birds across the landscape.  When you look closely you will see the yellow face, black mask, and tiny black “horns” of a Horned Lark.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

In late February, Elena and I were visiting Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA when we happened to see this Common Merganser drake sitting on a log in the middle of a channel of water connecting ponds. 

Common MerganserCommon MerganserDrake

 

Soon this Dark-eyed Junco will be heading back to its summer home of the western mountains or Canada.  See you next winter little one!

Dark-eyed JuncoDark-eyed Junco

 

It's always a treat to see an albino White-tailed Deer.  Albinism is a congenital condition defined by the absence of pigment, resulting in an all-white appearance and pink eyes. Animals with albinism tend not to survive long. They have poor eyesight and are easily seen, making them easy prey.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

One of the treats of visiting Presque Isle State Park from February through May is the presence of a Great Horned Owl nest no more than 15 feet above the ground.  During our February visit, the hen was still sitting in the nest presumably incubating an egg or more.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned Owl

 

Horned Larks seem to love fields right after the farmer spreads manure in the spring but they also find last years corn cobs a treat too.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

You know spring is near when the birds, like this Horned Lark, begin to sing.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

We had a long warm spell in February causing some birds to migrate north a little earlier than normal.  This Killdeer probably didn't appreciate the short March deep freeze that gave us a blanket of snow across western Pennsylvania.

KilldeerKilldeer

 

I was watching a local spot that I've seen Barred Owls when this female Red-bellied Woodpecker stopped by to say hello.  By the way, I didn't see any Barred Owls on that day.

Red-bellied WoodpeckerRed-bellied WoodpeckerFemale

 

On a cool, windy day at Pymatuning State Park I found this Red-tailed Hawk peering into the field; undisturbed by my presence.

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk

 

Here is another look at this beautiful albino White-tailed Deer.  Sadly, I learned later in March that it was struck and killed by a vehicle.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

One of the draws of photographing waterfowl and songbirds in the spring is their magnificent colors.  Females and non-breeding males, like these non-breeding Horned Grebe, are also mixed in.

Horned GrebeHorned GrebeNon-Breeding

 

The American Pipit is a bird that I think most of us have never seen or simply ignored its presence.  They winter in the southern United States and Mexico and breed in the far north in and around the Arctic Circle of Canada and Alaska making Pennsylvania a brief stopover.

American PipitAmerican Pipit

 

The Wild Turkey puffs up and spreads its elaborate feathers to attract a mate.

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

I was heading home one evening after darkness had began to blanket the landscape.  I found a small herd of doe in a field so I stopped to see if I could photograph any of them.  A slow shutter speed was inappropriate for any movement so I raised the camera sensitivity level (i.e. ISO) and captured this doe intently watching me.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Well, I hope you enjoyed this variety of wildlife photos I made during the waning days of winter.  I'm working on a couple photographic projects that I will share at a later date.  Okay, I'll give a hint. Owl be happy when I am finally able to share my experiences with you.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Late Winter Bald Eagles

April 01, 2017  •  5 Comments

The adult Bald Eagle begins fall migration when the northern lakes and rivers freeze over.  Depending on their location, they migrate to the coast, large rivers near dams, or just about anywhere that the water doesn't freeze.  Wind currents play a large role in the direction they take.

We are lucky in western Pennsylvania in that we usually don't have long freezes causing our Bald Eagles to leave.  In fact, we have enough open water in the form of streams and rivers, that many eagles from the north stop here to live until spring.  In recent years, there have been many eagles perched along streams below dam breasts.  If there are public lands or a road nearby, people can also be found photographing them.

This next group of photos were made in Mercer County along a stream where eagles could be seen on a daily basis.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

This adult watches as a nearby juvenile feeds on a fish.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Once they reach this point of maturity, their white head feathers will fill in quickly.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Over the years, I have grown to like juvenile Bald Eagles.  They don't have the impressive white head and tail of an adult but they do have that same intimidating look.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Another juvenile tearing apart a small remaining part of a fish.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

In the afternoon, an eagle can sit in one spot for hours making a photographer wonder if they should move on or wait it out.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

"The Thinking Bridge"  I need one of those once in a while!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Finally, ready to go!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Late winter is also when Bald Eagles in western Pennsylvania begin to plan for their nesting season.  Instinctively, they begin to shore up their nests with additional sticks.  I was photographing this nest after an invitation by my friend Jake Dingel.  We watched as this male flew back and forth a few times to bring back sticks.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Off to get one more stick!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

He's back with another.  It looks like there are plenty of sticks on that nest already.  Maybe eagles are like some people and need to have the biggest house! Ha ha!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

We watched and this large female nearing adulthood came into the nest.  She had quite a temper.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

As long as she sat there, the male didn't come back.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan