The end of summer brings on many changes in the White-tailed Deer, especially the male, also called a buck. As their antlers grow during the summer, bucks live alone or join bachelor groups. Female deer (doe) and their babies (fawns) remain a family unit for up to a year or until the doe gives birth the next spring. In late summer, the does and fawns are plentiful in the fields at dusk.
This doe was crossing a field of Queen Anne's Lace to get to her fawns waiting at the edge.
As the deer begin to shed their summer coat and their brown-gray winter coat grows, the velvet on the buck begins to die and get rubbed off. That is when things start to happen.
The winter coat of this albino deer will remain white but the velvet begins to be shed as expected. If you look closely, you can see blood on his left ear where the velvet has begun to come off.
Many people would argue that this is a leucistic deer and not an albino deer. Let's explore the differences.
Albinism is caused when they have little or no melanin in their bodies. The hair is white because it lacks pigment and the skin appears to be pink because the flowing blood shows through the deer's pale skin. They generally have pink eyes but they sometimes have pale blue eyes. Albinism negatively affects their eyesight as well.
Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting in white, pale, or patchy fur. Patchy fur is referred to as Pie-bald. Leucism does not affect the eyes or nose so the eyes remain brown and the nose remains black.
Because of the pink skin that is very noticeable on the ears and nose and the pale blue eyes, it's hard to deny he is an albino.
During this time of year, the food source begins to change and testosterone begins to build. As the bucks shed their velvet, the bachelor groups begin to disband. All the deer you enjoyed watching the past few months are no longer easy to find. As fall approaches, the fields of soy bean plants and other plants the deer love begin to yellow and acorns begin to drop. Their feeding patterns change from the fields to oak trees growing throughout the forest. The dense forest will give them more cover as they feed on their favorite fall harvest.
The life span of an albino deer is shorter than a normal colored deer. One reason is that they cannot hide as well and predators can find them easier. In the photo below, the albino has completed his shed but the small buck next to him is still in the process of rubbing it off.
As velvet sheds, they do not tolerate humans as much and they move more cautiously. A short three weeks ago you could pull off to the side of the road in your car to watch big deer munching on Soy Bean leaves. Now, they are simply not the same deer.
All of the photographs in this blog were made in very low light. Camera shutter speeds were slowed and ISO (sensitivity level of the camera's sensor) was set much higher than I normally set it. Results were not always the best as I recorded many blurry ears and tails swishing at the flies and blurry lower jaws as they chewed the soy bean leaves. I am happy to get what I got and I am equally thrilled to be able to share these beautiful animals with you.
The photo below is an example of everything I said above. I found this lone buck one evening exiting the woods were I was set up in a blind. He was heading toward a huge oak tree where the acorns were already hitting the ground. His coat is in transition between his summer and winter coat and his remaining velvet is barely hanging on.
Seeing an albino deer is a rarity so I made four or five visits to the area he was known to feed. There were several other deer in the area and a few really big bucks. The really big bucks didn't get that way by being friendly. I don't have any photos because they didn't take too kindly to me lifting a Canon (600mm lens) through the window of my vehicle.
I think the white-tailed Deer is one of the most beautiful animals roaming the earth. Although the antlered deer are what we're watching for as the mating season gets closer, I still spend time photographing the females and their little ones too. This next photo is a doe and her two fawns. Although the spots have faded as their winter coat comes in, they are still noticeably smaller than mom.
This little guy still has some spots remaining.
I love photographing animal behavior. Unfortunately, I don't have time to do enough of it. Animal Behavior photography, in my opinion, is photography of wildlife in their natural setting without interrupting their activities and hopefully, discrete enough that they don't know you are there. Let's face it, you may be able to be hidden for a short time but animals have keen senses and discover anything that is different. At that point, our best hope is that you are hidden well enough that you don't pose a threat.
Photographing from a vehicle is a perfect example. Deer see a lot of vehicles drive by and never look up from their feeding. That makes vehicles a good blind as long as you remain in it.
I feel so fortunate when I am lucky enough to witness interaction between wildlife and their babies or even the show of affection like these two fawns grooming each other.
Here are a few more shots of the bucks feeding in the soy bean field.
I couldn't take my eyes, or my lens, off the two fawns in the back of the field.
The grooming continued. Doesn't it look like they are giving each other a hug?
Did you know that a deer's vision is better at night than it is during the day? Also, the colors green, orange, and red appear as shades of gray to the deer. I don't know that I would like that!
September is a time of pre-rut where testosterone builds in the males and hormones escalate in the females. Many bucks begin to "feel each other out" by sparring. Sparring is not an all-out dominance fight but more of an action of pushing each other around.
It was getting very dark when I made this photograph. Most of my photos were blurry but I managed to save a couple like the one below.
When it gets too dark for photos I switch to video until it gets too dark. This video contains clips of bucks sparring along the woodland edge. There were several cars or trucks that drove by during these clips and a few stopped to watch. Unfortunately, most people leave their car running so my microphone picks that up. Hopefully, you can ignore the annoying background noise.
I hope you enjoyed these pre-rut photographs and video. Watch for a November photo blog documenting my White-tailed Deer rut season.
Thanks for looking,
According to the calendar, autumn has arrived. If you’ve walked outside of your northeast home lately, you’ve noticed it still feels like August. With temperatures in the 80’s, we humans make the appropriate adjustments to enjoy the prolonged “summer”. Wildlife and nature, on the other hand, keeps doing what it does in October.
Goldenrod is in bloom, Pokeweed berries are ripening, many wildflowers turned to seed, the sweet and bitter fruits and nuts are ripening into nutrition to be eaten and cached by wildlife, and finally, the deep greens of our summer foliage has begun to turn into yellow and red hues across our landscape.
I have been consumed with Elk, White-tailed Deer, and fall songbird migration photography lately but in the process, there are always special moments and sights to capture in my camera. This photo blog is a compilation of photos and a short video displaying wildlife and nature seen during my time “in the field” the last couple months.
I hope you enjoy these late summer photographs such as this Gray Catbird perched in the, yet-to-ripen, Pokeweed plant.
The setting sun is like a spotlight on the thin ears of the Cottontail Rabbit.
When we bought this property 20 years ago, I was happy to find it is in the middle of several Eastern Black Walnut trees. Yes, they are messy but I don't have to pick up the fallen fruit. My yard is a popular place in the fall when all the neighborhood Gray Squirrels come to gather nuts. I put down lime on certain parts of my lawn to reduce the acidity from the husks the squirrels leave behind. Keeping the trees is the least I can do to help them through the winter.
This bird nesting box has been empty for several months now but this Tufted Titmouse had to check if anyone was home.
Elena and I were in Benezette for a long weekend to photograph the Elk rut. It happened to be during a hot and dry stretch of weather. It affected photography of the rut because the heat would force the elk into the woods earlier in the morning and keep them in there longer in the evening. It wasn't a great weekend for elk photography but I did grab a few interesting shots of other topics.
Here is a Cedar Waxwing perched on a Pokeweed plant.
If you've ever been to Benezette, or any mountainous area for that matter, you will realize that the morning usually greets you with heavy fog. Of course, fog leaves behind dew.
When the sun finally emerged this one morning in Benezette, we were greeted by several hundred dew drenched spider webs glistening in the fields.
Below is a photograph of a Banded Garden Spider and an interesting tidbit I found about web construction from the Department of Entomology at Penn State University.
"A behavioral study of web construction determined that the majority of Argiope trifasciata orient their webs along an east-to-west axis. The spiders hang head-down in the center of the web with their abdomens facing south. Since the underside (venter) of the spider is mostly black, the orientation of both web and spider is believed to maximize solar radiation for heat gain—an important consideration for spiders that are active late in the year."
Waiting for elk to emerge in the evening can be a snoozefest if you let it happen. Instead, I watched several Monarch butterflies visiting the flowering Goldenrod that dappled the landscape. The journey in front of this butterfly is amazing when you think about it. The monarch is this large-winged insect that weighs 1/2 gram or less and seems to be at the mercy of whichever way the wind is blowing. The journey it is on will take him to the final destination of Mexico or southern California where it is warm year round.
On one of my more productive elk visits to Benezette I got to spend the day with my good friend Tom Dorsey, who lives in that region of the state. After spending a very good morning with the elk, Tom took me on a tour of many of the back roads through the mountains and Elk State Forest. Once Tom drove us out of the area I am familiar with, I had no idea where I was. By the way, I keep mentioning elk with no photos. The elk photos will be in an upcoming blog about my experiences during the 2017 elk rut.
Close to the end of my tour, Tom took me to a place called Shaggers Inn Pond. It is tucked away in the forest of Clearfield County. We spent about an hour there watching the birds including a Bald Eagle all the way down in size to fall songbirds chirping in the bushes. Shaggers Inn PondClearfield County, PA
Back in western Pennsylvania, wildlife photography opportunities continue. One day, I spotted a few Wild Turkey and several of their poults (babies). The field grasses were too high to photograph the poults so here is one of the adults.
One day, while photographing birds in my back yard, I saw this Gray Squirrel sitting in the fork of a tree gnawing the husk from the fruit of one of my Eastern Black Walnut trees.
I have a trail cam that I move around my backyard to see how my bird feeders get emptied over night and see what might be coming in to get a drink or bath at the fish pond. All summer, I've had two Raccoons visit now and then. So far, my fish have been safe. One morning, I noticed one of the Raccoons in a large, hollow maple tree that was here long before we were. It was very early in the morning and I think he was ready for a day of napping.
He found a spot to relax.
I'd like to share a short video of clips made in my backyard. I love to watch the American Goldfinsh pulling seeds from the dried Echinacea flower. Also in the video is the Gray Squirrel peeling the husk from a walnut you saw earlier in this blog. And, of course, I have to share video of the Raccoon in the tree.
One evening my friend, Jake Dingel, and I went out looking for White-tailed Deer. We were hoping to find them in the process of shedding their velvet. On our way past a marsh, we spotted a Green Heron perched on a stump in the water. We stopped and photographed the bird.
The heron caught me off guard when he lunged to make a catch and I didn't get any photos worth sharing. This photo was after he returned to the stump with a small frog.
I wish I had my macro lens instead of only the 600mm when I saw this Praying Mantis. It could be a little sharper but it is still worth sharing.
One Saturday morning, after reports of a rare Sabine's Gull being seen at a lake about an hour away in Clarion County, Elena and I decided to go see the bird. Unfortunately, the day before was the last time it was seen as it continued on its migration.
During our wait at the lake, we spotted several fall warblers that I will share in an upcoming photo blog. We also got to watch this Osprey dive into the water and retrieve a fish. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing into our face and since birds land, take off, and fish into the wind, its back was toward us the whole time. The only photos I have to share are after the catch, like the one below.
That's all for now. I hope you enjoyed this series of photos. Soon I will be sharing photos of White-tailed Deer and the American Elk herd in Pennsylvania. I hope you check back soon.
Thanks for looking,
August brings about another kind of migration to the northeast region of the United States. Shorebirds begin to make their yearly trek toward their winter homes. The Lake Erie shore attracts many of these shorebirds and one particular beach in northern Ohio is one of them. Not only does the beach at Conneaut, Ohio have the Lake Erie shoreline, there is also a large sand bar containing a mud flat (when it’s not flooded) and a photography friendly marshland.
The sand bar is a two hour drive for me so I don’t go very often, especially since most of the birds have lost their colorful breeding plumage. However, it is a good place to see a nice variety of birds.
In this photo blog, I’m going to show you a very difficult bird to find, our smallest heron, the Least Bittern. Then, I’ll share a few photos of a bird that has managed to avoid my camera lens until this year, the American Avocet. Then I’ll share a video containing clips of the Least Bittern, American Avocet, and more.
The Least Bittern is very well camouflaged, making it one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot.
The least bitten measures between 11 and 14 inches in length with its neck outstretched. When in a relaxed position, I’m guessing they are half of that.
The Least Bittern uses its long neck to search for and catch prey without leaving the perch. If you look closely, you can see the target on the Spatterdock leaf, a dragonfly.
The Least Bittern eats mostly small fish (such as minnows, sunfishes, and perch) and large insects (dragonflies and others); also crayfish, leeches, frogs, tadpoles, small snakes, and other items.
In this photo, this female bittern just caught a dragonfly nymph. (A dragonfly’s life span is about one year with very little of that time being spent as an adult dragonfly. A dragonfly nymph is the middle, and longest, stage between the egg and adulthood. During the nymph stage, they spend their time underwater so, unless you witness a Least Bittern catch one for a snack, you seldom see them.)
Bittern can feed in water that is too deep for them to walk in because of their habit of straddling reeds.
As I mentioned earlier, the Least Bittern is our smallest heron measuring between 11 and 14.2 inches in length. Even with a wingspan of 16 - 18 inches, it only weighs between 1.8 – 3.6 ounces.
The Least Bittern has adapted for life in dense marshes. As I previously mentioned, rather than wading in the water like larger herons, they move about the marsh clinging onto cattails and reeds with their long toes. It slips its thin body through even the most thickest marshes.
Because of its preferred habitat, it often goes unseen except when it flies. Perhaps the only way you will know one is nearby is because you hear its cooing and clucking call notes. However, sometimes you can find them in the open such as these bitterns I found hunting on the Spatterdock.
Until this day I’ve never seen an American Avocet. I was really happy to see at least one come to my shore today. At 16.9 to 18.5 inches in length, they are a lot larger than I thought they were.
Probably the most distinguishing mark of an American Avocet is their long, upturned bill. I would love to see one of these beautiful birds in the spring when they are in breeding plumage. In the photo below you can still see the fading rust color of its neck.
This avocet stayed at the edge of the shoreline, however, they do prefer shallow water and large mudflats.
Their diet consists mostly of small crustaceans and insects, also some seeds. They feed by walking through the water with the tips of their bills in the water and slightly open. They filter food items from below the water surface.
During migration, the birds need to eat and sleep during their stopovers. This avocet was preening for a little while and its eyes were beginning to close in the warm sun.
We had an interesting visitor one morning. As I and a small group of photographers and birders waited for the Least Bittern to venture into the open, this immature Great Blue Heron walked up on us and wasn't afraid at all.
As I promised, here is a short video of some of the birds that can be found in a marsh.
I hope you enjoyed this little compilation of photos from Conneaut, OH. There's always an adventure waiting around the next turn.
See you there,
I hope you have enjoyed the recent short blog posts highlighting some of the rare or seldom seem warblers in the western Pennsylvania region. It was a great, but tiring, spring season. Juggling work and home life, I managed to get out to photograph warblers on weekend mornings and evenings and a few vacation days here and there during the month of May.
I realize many readers have never seen some of these birds and that is a benefit of what I do. If you are able, I hope these photos encourage you to get out in nature and enjoy yourself. There is no happier moment than when you are out in nature, worries and concerns set aside, watching these little beauties decorate your world from the ground to the tree tops.
Sadly, many of these birds you are about to see are falling victim to human "progress". Urban development, among other things, are causing habitat loss in their breeding grounds. Breeding habitat is very specific for our songbirds. They can't simply go to the next standing tree or shrub! Steps of conservation are being taken but will it be enough? We, as shepherds of this land, need to be more concerned with the results of our actions in regards to wildlife.
I hope you enjoy the photos of the 28 species of warbler I photographed this spring. I thought I had 29 species until I found out about the reclassification of the Yellow-breasted Chat. I included him in the end of this blog for ol times sake.
Maybe these photos will encourage you to make plans to learn more about these little beauties and become more active in their future.
|American RedstartMale||American RedstartMale|
|Black-and-white WarblerMale||Black-and-white Warbler|
Black-throated Blue Warbler
|Black-throated Blue WarblerMale|
Black-throated Green Warbler
|Black-throated Green WarblerMale||Black-throated Green WarblerMale|
|Blackburnian WarblerMale||Blackburnian WarblerMale|
|Blue-winged WarblerMale||Blue-winged WarblerMale|
|Canada WarblerMale||Canada WarblerMale|
Cape May Warbler
|Cape May WarblerMale|
|Cerulean Warbler||Cerulean Warbler|
|Chestnut-sided WarblerMale||Chestnut-sided WarblerMale|
|Common YellowthroatMale||Common Yellowthroat|
|Golden-winged WarblerMale||Golden-winged WarblerMale|
|Hooded Warbler||Hooded Warbler|
|Kentucky Warbler||Kentucky WarblerMale|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Louisiana Waterthrush|
|Magnolia WarblerMale||Magnolia WarblerMale|
|Mourning WarblerMale||Mourning WarblerMale|
|Northern Parula||Northern Parula|
|Pine WarblerMale||Pine WarblerMale|
|Prairie WarblerMale||Prairie WarblerMale|
|Prothonotary WarblerMale||Prothonotary Warbler|
|Worm-eating Warbler||Worm-eating Warbler|
|Yellow WarblerMale||Yellow WarblerFemale|
|Yellow-rumped WarblerMale||Yellow-rumped Warbler|
|Yellow-throated Warbler||Yellow-throated Warbler|
|Yellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)||Yellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)|
Thanks for looking,
The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest of our warblers. At least it was our largest warbler. After writing the original version of this blog I found out the warbler classification of the Yellow-breasted Chat is in jeopardy because of several changes being proposed by the the American Ornithological Society's North and Middle American Classification Committee. Here is a partial quote from the proposal. "The Yellow-breasted Chat is no longer part of the wood-warbler family, Parulidae, and gets its own family Icteriidae, not be confused with the blackbird family Icteridae." Well, the change is official and if you care to read about it, you can here.
Regardless of its classification, the Yellow-breasted Chat is a pretty cool bird. If you hope to see one, you better look in the spring while the male is singing for a mate or protecting his territory because they are fairly quiet the rest of the summer.
|YellowBreastedChatRangeMap||Yellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)|
One of the fun moments of bird photography is when the bird sits on a branch for an extended period of time and preens. The preening session usually ends with a total body fluff-up like this male is doing in the next photograph. Notice the black coloration in the region between the eye and the nostrils? That area is called the lores. A male chat has black lores and the female has gray lores. Yellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)
Although the Yellow-breasted Chat's population has declined in parts of the southwest, their population is mostly stable. As more eastern forests are being cleared to create brushy habitat, their population has been increasing. Keep in mind when I refer to "forests being cleared" I don't mean for urban development. That doesn't help their population at all. Clearing forests is a good thing when old growth is logged out creating habitat for many birds that prefer new-growth areas.
Thanks for looking,