Kirtland's Warbler: One of America's Rarest Birds

June 22, 2018  •  5 Comments

People from several countries travel to northern Michigan in the spring to see the Kirtland’s Warbler.  The bird is currently on the endangered list and on the life list of many birders and wildlife photographers.  Read on to hear more about this birds amazing fight for survival, its resurgence, and my experience of photographing the species for the first time.

At 5 o’clock in the morning my cell phone began playing its soft alarm music indicating it was time for Elena and I to see one of America’s rarest birds, the Kirtland’s Warbler.

I opened the drapes in the Grayling Michigan Days Inn to find a cloudless northern Michigan sky.  Normally, I would be thrilled for cloudless skies but today I was hoping for a cloud base to filter the sunshine on my quest to photograph the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.

Hartwick PinesHartwick PinesGrayling, MI After a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, we found our way to Hartwick Pines State Park where, in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Audubon conducts Kirtland's Warbler guided tours each June to view the warbler in its breeding habitat.

From the Hartwick Pines Visitors Center, tour participants caravanned about a half hour to a Jack Pine plantation that the warblers selected to breed this year.  The path through the plantation is a two way path that looks like an unnamed country road. Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

At the time of this writing the Kirtland’s Warbler is listed on the State and Federal Endangered Species lists.  Because the Kirtland’s Warbler nests on the ground, we were warned to stay on the path.  Stepping on a nest results in a $10,000 fine.  Now that would be an expensive photograph!

Other instructions included no use of bird calls or pishing.  Pishing is a small, repetitive noise used in the field to attract small birds. 

Within minutes of entering the path, we heard a Kirtland’s Warbler singing.  I was carrying my Canon 1DX MK II full frame camera body, Canon 600mm MK II, and Canon 1.4 X Extender III on a RRS monopod.  Within 30 minutes, as a bird flit between trees and the ground alongside of the path,  I realized distance shots would be unnecessary and I didn't need the 1.4 X Extender.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

We spent the morning with tour guide, Craig Kasmer, the Park Interpreter at Hartwick Pines State Park.  Craig is the man on the left way in the back in the next photo.  He began the program at 7 AM with a brief lecture and video explaining pretty much everything I’m talking about in this blog.  About 7:30 we departed Hartwick Pines State Park and arrived at the Jack Pine plantation about 8:00.  People were free to leave whenever they wanted so after about an hour, some of the 17 tour members left. 

Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

Kirtland’s Warbler sing for a couple reasons.  One is to find a mate and another is to protect their territory.  Interestingly, as we left a singing male, we had to walk about 100 yards before encountering another.  I don't know this to be fact but it seemed like their own comfortable breeding territory may have spanned about 100 yards.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

I was happy to hear nestlings have hatched so both parents would be out searching for food and males would be protecting their family.  We found this female going to her nest with food for the nestlings.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerFemale - Grayling, MI

 

Everyone kept their distance and watched the birds search for food and once in a while they would stop to preen.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Each spring, the .5 ounce Kirtland's Warbler migrates from the Bahamas to their northern breeding ground.  You can only find nesting pairs in a few counties in the Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and, in recent years, they have also been recorded in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Ontario.  In June the nestlings hatch and the rest of the summer is spent raising the fledglings and eating to prepare for their winter migration.  Around the beginning of September, the Kirtland’s Warbler flies back to the Bahamas until instincts tell them to come back north to do it all over again.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

In 1987, the Kirtland’s Warbler's world population was as low as 350 birds.  Through the work of scientists and land managers, that population has increased to over 4000 birds.

There are two main reasons for their initial decline.  First, the Kirtland’s Warbler is very picky about their breeding habitat and only breed in young, thick, Jack Pine forests averaging a height of 5 – 15 feet.  Second, they require forests covering 30-40 acres to raise their young.  A mature Jack Pine can reach 55-65 feet in height, so the Kirtland’s Warbler looks for young forests.

Here is a look at the Jack Pine plantation we were in. It's difficult to tell but there were acres upon acres of Jack Pine that I estimate were no taller than 10 feet.

Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

So, how does Mother Nature maintain Jack Pine forests suitable for a Kirtland’s Warbler?  The cones on mature trees are serotinous.  That means they only open based on a trigger of some sort.  For Jack Pine, the trigger is when they are exposed to intense heat, greater than or equal to 122 degrees F.  Before modern firefighting technology, fires would destroy Jack Pine forests every 30 – 50 years.  As a fire sweeps through leaving charred ground and tree skeletons, the waxy Jack Pine cones open and distribute the seeds in a tight circle around the charred tree.  New trees then grow providing a new densely populated Jack Pine forest.  The warbler first appears in an area about six years after a fire.  After about 15 years, when the trees become too tall, the warbler leaves the area. 

Nowadays, fires that occur are usually under control before doing a lot of destruction.  Plus, people are cutting into these forests to build homes and businesses.  The irregular shape of the Jack Pine does not make a pretty landscape tree so with little regard to the essential Kirtland’s Warbler's habitat, the trees are removed.

Through the work of the US Forest Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Kirtland’s Warbler habitat is being created by harvesting old and tall Jack Pine forests and planting new ones to replicate how it would naturally occur.

Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

Here is a male perched near the top of a Jack Pine.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

I mentioned in the beginning of this blog that I was wishing for a soft cloud cover to filter the sun but didn't get that.  Harsh sun, even in the early hours, present many issues with exposure on light feathers such as yellow and white.  Hopefully, I'll see slightly overcast skies on my return trip next June.  In the meantime, I'll accept bright sun and be happy that I got to photograph this rare bird.

Here is a male Kirtland's Warbler defending his territory and young family while carrying a worm in his mouth.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Minutes later, after moving closer to the nest, he is still carrying the same worm he had in the previous photo.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

They are a bird that like dense branches.  In the midst of flitting around, they sometimes stop briefly on a good perch for a photograph.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

We watched this warbler crawl all over several trees looking for insects before finally climbing up this branch out of the center of the tree.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Finally, he stopped for a second.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Food is what's important so he continued to search.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

In my observation, they have a habit of swiveling their body 90 degrees like an oscillating sprinkler while singing their song.  It's as if they are broadcasting their song over their territory.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

About 11:00 the sun was getting high, it was getting hot, and the birds were singing a little less.  Craig, Elena and I were the last people remaining from the group and we called it a day.

With the Kirtland’s Warbler numbers reaching 4,000 today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested to delist the warbler from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.  A final decision is expected by the end of 2018.

The information in this photo blog was created using my personal observations, lecture, video, and questions during the tour, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, and a Kirtland's Warbler Festival publication available at the Hartwick Pines Visitor's Center.

I highly recommend the Kirtland’s Warbler tours.  For somebody coming into the area from far away it was nice to have someone take you directly to a nesting site.   Having access to Craig Kasmer for three plus hours, was invaluable.  Keep in mind there will be good days and bad days in regards to bird sightings.  It seems like you will always hear them but they need to be near the path to see them.  I hope it’s a good day when you go.

Thanks for reading,

Dan

 

 

 


Different Looks of the Rusty Blackbird

March 16, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The Rusty Blackbird is a medium-sized blackbird and is also a migrant through western Pennsylvania. I didn't know much about this species but after watching a small flock of them catching bugs in a swamp one morning, I decided to research the different markings that I saw. On the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website I found the reason for the distinct differences.

First, the breeding male is dark glossy black with a greenish sheen and yellow eyes.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty BlackbirdBreeding Male

 

Second, the non-breeding male is dark brown overall with rusty edges of feathers, and a pale eye and eyebrow.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty BlackbirdNon-breeding Male

 

Last but not least, the female is brownish to rusty colored with pale yellow eyes and dark feathers around the eyes.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty BlackbirdFemale

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan


A Display of Tenacity at Lake Wilhelm

February 07, 2018  •  8 Comments

Elena and I decided to visit Pymatuning and M.K. Goddard State Parks with hopes to photograph Snow Buntings, Rough-legged Hawks, and Bald Eagles. Our first destination of the morning was Pymatuning.  Just so I don't bore you by getting long-winded, I'll jump to 3:00 in the afternoon when we drove up to the shore of Lake Wilhelm with only a few Canada Goose photos and only sightings of the other birds I was after.

We found one of the nesting eagle pair sitting on the ice near a very small patch of open water.  Elena asked if it was the male or female.  I said I couldn't tell until the mate came. There are a few subtle differences between the male and female but the easiest way to tell is when they are together.  Females are larger. 

We watched the lone eagle quite a while as it took several drinks of water and pecked at the ice.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

All of a sudden it began to vocalize.  I asked Elena to watch the sky because either its mate is nearby or an intruder is in its territory. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

As you can see, it was a juvenile Bald Eagle intruding.  In case you don't know, the nesting adults have been nesting less than 1/4 mile away for years so they are literally defending their territory. The juvenile ignored the warnings of the adult and landed on the ice. Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Apparently not liking that, within seconds the adult left the ice to chase the juvenile away.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

There were a couple scuffles between the two eagles but they were too far for photos. Eventually, the adult eagle returned to the same spot on the ice.  I am thankful it didn't land further out on the ice.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

After the adult landed, the juvenile, showing its tenacity, followed and landed right behind the adult. Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The adult began to vocalize again. This time, I believe it was calling for its mate. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The juvenile began jousting with the adult.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The irritated adult began another pursuit.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

So far, we still don't know the gender of this eagle.  But we are about to find out.  I'm going to give it away right now so ladies, get ready to roar.  Hearing the calls of her mate, the FEMALE came soaring out of nowhere.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

She attacked the renegade juvenile.  I guess I got a little excited because most of the fight scene photos were blurry so those photos went into the trash bin.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Now that the juvenile is up against two fighting eagles, he disappeared across the lake.  After circling the area a couple times the female landed about 10 yards from the male and they began vocalizing with each other.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

After about five minutes, everybody was calmed down so she began to walk towards her mate.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The way she was fluffing up as she walked toward the male I kinda knew what was going to happen.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

They have been working on their nest daily so I guess it's time to fill it with eggs.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The entire act lasted about 10 seconds then he used her right wing as a "running board" to step down. That was nice of her.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

After all that excitement, they sat quietly on the ice. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

It was after 5 o'clock and the pair was still sitting quietly on the ice. Finally, they began to wander around. It was time for one to go to the nest site. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The other flew to a clear portion of the ice and gingerly walked around. Apparently, there are dead shad under the thin ice and it could see the fish.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Below is a sort video of the Bald Eagle picking up bits of food from the ice.  Click the icon in the center to begin the video.

 

With no way to get the fish under the ice, the eagle flew off too.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan


2017 PA Elk Rut Photography Affected by Summer Heat

October 29, 2017  •  3 Comments

A late August or early September visit to elk country in north central Pennsylvania can offer many stages of changes for an American Elk.  The calves have grown but are far from the size of their moms, the bulls have begun to shed the velvet that covered their antlers all summer, and bull elk are still roaming in bachelor groups.  Bulls begin to feel the effects of the increasing testosterone in their bodies as the upcoming mating season approaches.

Scenes like the one below are common in August and early September.  One second they are eating together and the next they may have their heads down in playful jousting with their new set of hardened bone on their head.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Fast forward a mere three weeks and the scenes are completely different.  As the cow elk begin their estrus cycle indicating they are ready to mate, the bulls are preparing themselves for a stressful, yet weary month.  The sap of young trees have polished their racks, giving them that dark chocolate color and their chest and neck area has transformed into a thick mass prepared to aggressively defend their herd, and they become very vocal.  The sound of their bugle has a couple purposes.  It helps the elk cows decide which bull they want to be with and it staves off other bulls that may have a notion to steal members of the others' herd.

This bull came out of the thicket ready for a challenge.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

This years' rut was very different from many previous years.  The eastern United States was enjoying a very hot late September making people wish they had not closed their pools for the season.  Photographers in elk country were cursing the heat because it affected the photo opportunities during what would be the most active time of the elk rut.  Elk, like the White-tailed Deer, are crepuscular animals. Crepuscular animals are active primarily during the periods of dawn and dusk.  Heat does not necessarily affect when the elk cow enters her estrus cycle, but it does affect the time they spend out of the deep woods where they spend the day resting.

I visited the Benezette area on a Tuesday, only days before the warm front entered the area.  It turned out to be the only day for me that elk photography was not disappointing.  This next photo was made only seconds after the bull from the previous photo ended a chase.  Although they were still far up the hill, he made me a little nervous.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

I met up with my friend Tom Dorsey before sunrise on that Tuesday morning.  We found ourselves with a decision to make.  We could hear bugling in a few different directions and after a few minutes of zigzagging around our options, we made a decision.  Based on his experiences, Tom had a hunch about a certain herd.  We based it on the number of bulls we could hear and Tom's experience of which way they would leave the food plots and enter the woods for the day.  That is where we headed.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

After a long hike through the woods, we made it to a clearing with a small pond.  Elk cows, feeding as they waited on instruction from their bull, already filled the field.  Moments later, bulls began to crest the hilltop and assess the situation.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Tom and I were hoping the pond could be used in our photography that morning, but only one elk walked through it.  Several cows and calves came down for a drink offering a nice reflection in the water but our distance, and our 600 mm lenses, put us too close to get animal and reflection in the frame. PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Keeping your herd together can be a daunting task when there are several other decent sized bulls trying to steal some.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

This bull gave chase but she was not ready!  Hey, you never know unless you try, right?

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

It was a fantastic morning as I was able to make photos in wild terrain.  This bull stops to sniff the air in his quest to find a cow in heat.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Now a bugle!

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

It did not take long for all of the elk to enter the woods, leaving us with an empty field and an end to our elk photography for the morning. 

Tom and I spent a great afternoon touring Elk Forest and other areas that he frequents.  After dinner, we went to State Game Lands 311 containing an area known as "The Saddle".  The cool, wet evergreens was the home of a bull and his cows for the day.  We hoped they would exit the woods while it was still light enough to photograph them.

We were on the northeastern side of the mountain so the setting sun affected us early.  As I was beginning to worry that we would not see anything, they emerged.  Here is one of this years' calves.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

This is the big guy that people were trying to get a glimpse of all day long through the heavy cover of brush and evergreens.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

He was the only bull in the immediate area but bulls on far away hills answered his bugles.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

He spent some time feeding in the meadow and, feeling at ease, decided to lay down.  Even though he was relaxing, he still answered other bulls' bugles with authority.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

I love the capability of modern cameras to shoot in low light.  When it becomes too dark to make photos, you usually have some time to shoot video.  Bulls are known to destroy young trees with their antlers.  As I mentioned earlier, this is how they turn them from bone white to chocolate brown.  I suppose they also do this to mark territory too.  Announcing to smaller bulls that they are not alone!

This video shows this bull destroying this small white pine while answering bugling from adjacent fields.

American Elk

 

Here are a couple photos I made between video clips.  I saved them until you've watched the video so I wouldn't give away how much he tore up the tree.
PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

During all of that commotion, one of the calves paused for a portrait.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

That ended a fantastic day spent with good photographer friends and plenty of elk.  I told Tom "if I don't see any more elk this rut, I will still be happy."  Little did I know that statement would nearly come true.

A few days later, the heat rolled in.  Temperatures reached nearly 90 degrees on days that previous years required a layering of clothing to keep you warm in the morning and evening.  It was time for the Facebook club, Benezette Elk Camera Club, to hold their fall picnic.  It is always held to coincide with the rut.

Elena and I plan a three-day mini-vacation in Benezette during this time.  We knew the heat would affect the photography but the overall experience would still be great.  Our first day there produced no photo opportunities until the end of the day.  We met at Tom Dorsey's camp for an evening around the fire talking about the lack of elk during good light.  We probably solved some world problems that evening too.  The sun was below the mountains when a few elk entered the field below the camp.  The one bull was pretty big so I decided to try some night photography.  I pushed the sensitivity on my camera (ISO) to 12,800 and my shutter speed was below 1/100th second.  Only a couple photos were sharp because the bull stood absolutely still during a bugle.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

The photo opportunities did not get any better the next day.  I found this spike, still in velvet, feeding in a turnip plot. PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Me_Fern_Tom_BenezetteMe_Fern_Tom_Benezette

As I mentioned earlier, this trip is not just about elk.  We have a group of friends sharing the same interests and this provides a reason to meet up and talk about elk, photography equipment, experiment with astrophotography in the darkness of the Benezette skies, and I cannot leave out the inevitable joking around.

This year, Fernando Trujillo, a friend Tom and I made during last years' Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle photo trip, made a five plus hour journey to join us for the weekend.  We felt bad for him because the heat took away what would have been an awesome elk experience. Elena snapped this cell phone photo of us after breakfast at the Old Bull Cafe.

Even with the lack of elk, I think the overall experience got him hooked.  We'll get 'em next year Fern!

Heat remained in the forecast so Elena and I decided to leave elk country a day early.

About a week later, the rut was only beginning to slow down so I accompanied my friend Jake Dingel back to Benezette.  The morning produced some action before the elk retreated into the woods.  Below is a short video of this foggy morning.  After the dominant bull took his cows into the woods, another bull tried to catch one of the remaining cows.  During the video, you can hear the dominant bull bugling in the woods.  The video ends with a bull we found on the sunny hilltop of Winslow Hill.

American Elk

 

As you saw in the video, the difference between the foggy valley and Winslow Hill was extreme.

Winslow Hill CabinWinslow Hill Cabin

 

When the bugling stopped, Jake and I made a few stops in Elk Forest to photograph songbirds.  We were expecting migrating warblers as well as some wintering birds. Below is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet just as it was jumping into flight.

Ruby-crowned KingletRuby-crowned Kinglet

 

The sun lit up this female Eastern Towhee in front of the dark shadows of the forest.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeFemale

 

The Blackpoll Warbler is one I missed during the spring migration.  We found one on this day.

Blackpoll WarblerBlackpoll Warbler

 

The Ovenbird is usually heard before it is seen.  We caught a glimpse of this one on a tree limb for a few seconds.

OvenbirdOvenbird

 

Last spring, I photographed my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  They were adult males and females.  On this day, Jake and I found a juvenile.

Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerJuvenile

 

Black-capped Chickadee's are very popular in Pennsylvania, especially during winter.  Along with Tufted Titmouse, they are frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders.  Here is a portrait of one that came very close.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee

 

As our quest for birds was coming to an end, we noticed this unusual rock formation.  I posted this photo on a Facebook group called "Rocks, Fossils & Minerals Identification" for some expert help.  There were a lot of comments and opinions that I'm not going to get into here.  I'll just leave it as "nature is awesome!"

Rock FormationRock FormationNear trail head of Fred's Trail

 

We met up with Tom for an early dinner at the Benezette Hotel before beginning an evening of hunting elk.  This time, we decided to stay in the woods since that seems to be where the elk wanted to be.  As we found our positions, we managed to see a few elk.

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

As the sun set, the elk began to pass us on their way to the fields where they will eat.

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

Some were a little slower than others or maybe they weren't as hungry.

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

It was nearly too dark to shoot when we saw this bull who Tom immediately dubbed "Bullwinkle".

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

I'll end this photo blog with one more video.  These clips are from the evening I just described to you.  It gives you an idea of an elk's evening from rest to rut.

American Elk

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan


End of Summer Transitions of the White-tailed Deer

October 15, 2017  •  2 Comments

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

Below is a short video of the albino buck and others enjoying soy bean leaves. White-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed 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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This little guy still has some spots remaining.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here are a few more shots of the bucks feeding in the soy bean field.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I couldn't take my eyes, or my lens, off the two fawns in the back of the field.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The grooming continued.  Doesn't it look like they are giving each other a hug?

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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!

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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.

White-tailed Deer

 

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,

Dan