Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography: Blog http://www.dangomola.com/blog en-us (C)Dan Gomola dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Fri, 10 Mar 2017 03:35:00 GMT Fri, 10 Mar 2017 03:35:00 GMT http://www.dangomola.com/img/s10/v106/u261418170-o942152798-50.jpg Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography: Blog http://www.dangomola.com/blog 120 86 Floppy Wingbeats of the Short-eared Owl http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/3/floppy-wingbeats-of-the-short-eared-owl The Short-eared Owl is an open-country hunter, much unlike forest-dwelling owls. They live in open terrain making them easier to see than most other owls and the best part is, especially for photography, they are often active during daylight hours, especially at dawn and dusk.  They are a very interesting hunter to watch as they fly low over the fields with floppy wingbeats somewhat resembling a giant moth.  The Short-eared Owl is often referred to as a marsh owl.

This is a compilation of my Short-eared Owl photographs made in the early months of 2017.  As usual, I like to toss in some information regarding the habits and habitat all while sharing my experiences.  I hope you enjoy the Short-eared Owl.

We were gaining a couple minutes of daylight with each passing day so I was unsure when the owls would begin to fly.  Most of the time they began to fly around the fields shortly before sunset leaving a short time for photography.  On this one day, with sunset an hour and 15 minutes away, I was very happy to see the owls in the air while the light was still good for photography. 

On a side note, in many of these images you will see cornstocks standing in a tee-pee formation called a "Corn Shock".  This is a practice followed by the Amish community to dry the stocks to be used at a later time for livestock bedding and other purposes.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Of course, as I sit here in my Pennsylvania home, the Short-eared Owls that I enjoyed photographing in January and February are already on their way north to their preferred nesting grounds.

There are exceptions though.  If the food is good, some may remain to breed.  They nest in slight depressions in the earth or sand lined with grasses, weed stalks and feathers.  They also use bushes or clumps of weeds to hide the nest where the female lays 4-7 eggs.

As you can see in the map to the left, Pennsylvania is designated as a winter (non-breeding) location.

Short-eared Owls have a wide global distribution and can travel long distances over vast expanses of ocean. Witnesses have reported seeing these owls descending on ships hundreds of miles from land.

The map to the left is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Aside from its North American range, the map also shows they are year-round residents of South America.  Not included on the map are Eurasia, and many oceanic islands, including Hawaii. 

Here is an interesting note: a Short-eared Owl subspecies, the Hawaiian owl or pueo (pronounced Poo-E-O), is Hawaii's only native owl.  It is said that Pueos may have descended from Alaska ancestors, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.

When not flying and looking for food, you can find Short-eared Owls sitting on a short perch or on the ground.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

It was such an enjoyable time watching these owls hunt the cleared corn fields.  The goal was to catch them on a close fly-by.  There was only one other photographer watching these birds on this one evening and we were treated with several close encounters.

I followed this bird as it flew past at a distance of approximately 50 yards.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

I followed in my lens and didn't stop shooting even when it disappeared behind a Corn Shock.  I was lucky to have its head framed in a small opening as it flew through the other side.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Here is the last frame as it continued to fly past me.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

With their broad, rounded wings and short tail, the Short-eared Owl is considered a medium-sized owl.  They look very large in the images of this photo blog but consider this... they are about the same size as the American Crow.  See the size information below from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

American CrowAmerican Crow

American Crow

Length: 15.7–20.9 in

Wingspan: 33.5–39.4 in

Weight: 11.1–21.9 oz

Short-eared Owl

Length: 13.4–16.9 in

Wingspan: 33.5–40.6 in

Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz

I watched this owl fly around for a little while before it landed on this leaning fence post about 50 yards away.  The photo on the left was made just after the owl fluffed up and "shook the dust off".  It looks very proud in the photo on the right.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

The images I'm sharing with you in this photo blog weren't made in one evening.  This compilation was created over several days in one to two hour photography sessions.  Wildlife isn't very predictable.  Some days the owls began to fly later than other days and on a couple occasions, I didn't see an owl until it was too dark for photography.  One aspect I was grateful for is there were four owls occupying this location.  It was short lived but they gave us many opportunities.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

When Short-eared Owls roost during the day, they tend to practice a communal roosting behavior.  One day, a fellow photographer and I visited the field about 3 in the afternoon.  Standing roughly 80 yards away from the Corn Shocks, we used binoculars to thoroughly search each one for roosting owls.  After finding two inside or on the Corn Shocks, I continued to look on the ground and found the other two all within 25 yards of each other.

You can see in the photos below that they blend in well with their surroundings.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl
Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

This is a cell phone image of the field and Corn Shocks where the owls were roosting.  I don't expect you to be able to see the owls.  That's the point I want to make!  They are very well hidden.

 

Here is a short video that gives you another chance to get a look at the four owls roosting in the corn and on the ground.  It contains a short clip of each owl and yes, it was very windy!

Short-eared Owls

 

Short-eared Owls like large, open areas with low vegetation like prairies, meadows, tundra, marshes, dunes, and agricultural areas.  Their winter habitat is similar, but is more likely to include large open areas within woodlots, stubble fields, fresh and saltwater marshes, weedy fields, dumps, gravel pits, rock quarries, and shrub thickets.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

As you can see in many of the photographs, the Short-eared Owl hunts by flying low over the ground, often hovering before dropping on prey. It is reported that they find prey mostly by sound; sight is secondary.  They are a fairly silent owl but occasionally sounds an emphatic, sneezy bark, "keaw keaw", or a hooting call can be heard.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

The short-eared owl’s ear tufts are small and hard to see, but its ear openings are large and its hearing is excellent. 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Although you can't tell, owls have long skinny necks.  Their long, thick feathers make it look short and fat.  Because of that long neck and the fact that a bird's head is only connected by one socket pivot, they can twist that long neck about 270 degrees without moving their shoulders.  I suppose that helps to accommodate for the fact that their eyes are fixed inside their heads.  They cannot roll their eyes around as humans do.  In order to look around, they have to move their entire head.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

During the winter, they favor low-light conditions which is unfortunate for wildlife photographers. It is fun to watch and photograph these owls flying low over the ground, sometimes hovering briefly.  I used a Canon 1DX MKII, Canon 600mm f/4L IS II, and a Canon 1.4 teleconverter III for all of the owl photos this season.  That equipment handles low light very well but it is still a challenge.  The test is to manage shutter speed with ISO (camera sensor sensitivity) for the best image quality possible.  Whenever I get home and delete 900 out of 1000 photos I realize how much improvement I have yet to make.  Of course, we also have the ability to lighten up the image in post-processing using software like Photoshop.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

As I said earlier in this blog, after flying around looking for food, they will sit down on a short perch or on the ground.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Short-eared are extremely maneuverable in the air, able to drop suddenly to capture prey or climb to avoid pursuers.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

So as they fly around, just what are they looking for?  Mostly rodents.  They feed mainly on voles and mice.  They are also known to eat shrews, rabbits, gophers, small birds, and rarely bats and muskrats.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

They use acute hearing to hunt small mammals and birds.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

This Short-eared caught its dinner and is looking for a place to sit and eat.  Many times, other owls or Northern Harriers will try to steal the food.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared Owl populations are difficult to estimate but there have been declines in Canada.  The declines are blamed on habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development.

Since Short-eared Owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, they are sensitive to habitat loss. There are habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, that have shown some success in restoring habitat on private land.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs in this photo blog.  There are many more images in my Short-eared Owl gallery if you would like to see these and many more photos of Short-eared Owls.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Short-eared Owl http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/3/floppy-wingbeats-of-the-short-eared-owl Thu, 09 Mar 2017 23:43:58 GMT
Who Can't Find Wildlife in the Winter? http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/2/who-cant-find-wildlife-in-the-winter When winter comes there are certain birds and animals I like to search out and photograph.  Those subjects are usually the focus of their own photo blog.  Sometimes I find what I'm looking for and many times I don't but there is always wildlife found along the way.

In this photo blog I want to share some images I made since Christmas.  I hope you enjoy.

This little Black-capped Chickadee is picking at the fruit of a Staghorn Sumac.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee

 

I made a trip to Erie, PA one day in hopes of finding a Snowy Owl on the beaches.  After the long walk to Gull Point, I was disappointed that there wasn't a Snowy Owl.  On a bright note, I found the largest gull in the world, the Great Black-backed Gull.

Great Black-backed GullGreat Black-backed Gull

 

Ring-necked Pheasants love farming areas mixed with areas of taller vegetation, which they use for cover.  I've been finding this guy pretty regularly.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

He was very alert as he fed in the corn field.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

This video is almost six minutes long.  So, what in the world is so exciting about watching a Ring-necked Pheasant for six minutes?  You'll have to watch and see!  I'll give a hint: He must have heard another male pheasant in the adjacent brushy field. 

Keep in mind throughout this video that I didn't know which way he was going to run so sometimes I couldn't keep up with him. It's comical to watch anyway.  Also, I didn't have my external microphone with me so the grinding noise you will hear is the focusing mechanism of the camera's lens.  One of my pet peeves about shooting video with a DSLR.

Ring-necked Pheasant

 

I found this Bald Eagle pair perched nearly 300 yards away.  It's amazing the detail, even at great distances, you can capture when there is good light.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The following image doesn't have the best composition but I have to share it because it's my first ever photograph of a White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned SparrowWhite-crowned Sparrow

 

Horned Lark are my nemesis bird to photograph.  I find large flocks of them feeding in farm fields during the winter.  They especially like it when the farmers spread manure.  Of course, they fly when I approach.  I'll sit in my vehicle waiting for their return and they seldom do.  I'm just not having much luck with this bird.  One day, they did come close but they put themselves between me and the sun.  Not the best way to photograph anything but hey, I'll take it.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

You can see the little tuft of feathers on its head that makes it look like it has horns.  Hence, Horned Lark!

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

I'm going to finish this photo blog with a Sandhill Crane show.  I made all of the following photographs of two separate flocks in one evening.  As I processed the images, I discovered I had several unique images so I'm including them all here for you to see.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This photo was made during a little fluffing of the feathers.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A lone walker slips away from the flock.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

These two were walking together but feeding on their own sides of the imaginary line.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

As I watched this small gathering of cranes, another flock flew past and landed on the other side of the hill.  They got the attention of all but one of the group in front of me.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A little preening never hurt anyone.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This Sandhill Crane stood with its legs crossed for several minutes.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This image is one of my favorites.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

Just like clockwork, as the sun is setting the Sandhill Crane becomes restless and take off to wherever they are going to roost that night.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

I hope you enjoyed this photo blog.  I am currently photographing for a photo blog documenting Short-eared Owls.  I'm focusing on their stay in Pennsylvania and hopefully some other information that may be new to you.

Until next time,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Black-capped Chickadee Great Black-backed Gull Horned Lark Ring-necked Pheasant Sandhill Crane White-crowned Sparrow http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/2/who-cant-find-wildlife-in-the-winter Fri, 10 Feb 2017 00:46:15 GMT
Conowingo Eagles: An Experience Worth Sharing http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/conowingo-eagles-an-experience-worth-sharing Some experiences are just worth sharing.  Actually, when I find something exciting, I like to include others in hopes they feel the same way.  After Tom Dorsey and I spent a few days photographing Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, MD, we discussed a return trip as we drove home.  Thanksgiving was only a few days away and Tom and his wife Jeanne already decided to go back the following weekend.  My wife, Elena, said since the weather is nice, we should go too.  Looking back, it's a good thing we did because we haven't had very good traveling weather since.

This is the second blog documenting my 2016 trips to photograph Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.  If you are interested in reading the first blog, "November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam", published on January 6th, you can read it here.

This visit was a jam-packed one-night stay in Maryland.  We wanted to show our wives as much as we could while logging some quality time along the river.

The trip east began with a threat of snow but we didn't see any until the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania.  You just never know what kind of weather you will find crossing the mountains. Snow and fog forced the turnpike speed to be reduced to 45 mph and we were very happy to reach the other side.  Once we had the mountains in our rear view mirror, the sun came out.  I was glad because we had one stop planned before reaching the dam that afternoon.

There had been a rare Tropical Kingbird seen around the marina in Peach Bottom, PA.  I've never seen one so I had to at least look.  When we arrived at the marina there wasn't a sole in sight.  I drove along the railroad tracks and there were no trespassing signs everywhere.  I thought we'd see a few birders but there was nobody around.  So much for seeing my first Tropical Kingbird.

We arrived at the dam and set up along the water.  We kept in touch with Tom and Jeanne along the way and they were about 1/2 hour behind us.  Our Bald Eagle weekend was about to begin!

Here is a juvenile with a little sunlight on its tail feathers.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Double-crested Cormorants are plentiful at the dam.  It's interesting to watch them dive for food because you never know what they will come up with.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested CormorantConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Elena frequently joins me on photography outings and has seen many Bald Eagles but it was exciting for me to introduce her to her first fishing event.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Look at the size of those feet!

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

If you read my previous blog, you will remember the grist mill Tom and I visited last week in Susquehanna State Park?  We decided to go back and explore the grounds.  Here, Elena was enjoying a view of the Susquehanna River behind me. Susquehanna State ParkSusquehanna State ParkElena Gomola
Susquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

This area has so much history and we could spend days exploring it all. Rock Run LandingRock Run LandingSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Below, Tom is discussing the old bridge piers with Jeanne.  The remnants of the piers, mentioned in the signpost in the photo above, are shown below.

Susquehanna State ParkSusquehanna State ParkTom & Jeanne Dorsey
Susquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD
Remains of Bridge PiersRemains of Bridge PiersSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD


There is a connection to some Pennsylvania history as well.  A man, Confederate Brigadier-General James J. Archer, born in this house, was captured in Gettysburg, PA during the American Civil War.

Rock Run HouseRock Run HouseSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

This is an upper view of the grist mill showing the canal where water once flowed to power the water wheel. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Water traveled through the upper canal, entered this pipe, and spilled over the wheel. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Tom was an excellent tour director explaining how the water powered the grist mill's grinding mechanism. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Of course, once evening came we had to take our wives to the Port House Grill in North East, MD for the best crab cakes we've ever had.  Once again, if you haven't read my previous blog November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam, you're not getting the whole experience.

__________

 

Sleeping in and casual breakfasts don't happen when you are on a wildlife themed photography trip.  I'm glad Elena is okay with that because we scraped up whatever we could for breakfast and arrived at the dam before sunrise.  Not long after it was light enough to make decent photographs, this adult eagle swooped down in front of us to make a catch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although the golden hue of the harsh morning sun makes photography difficult, it also adds an element that is indescribable. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

With tail feathers tinged by the sunrise, this juvenile Bald Eagle goes in for the catch. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

After making a successful catch, survival instincts kicked in and a juvenile began a chase.  Once again, the harsh morning light presents problems with exposure but I like the realism of this scene.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

There is a lot of acreage in front of you at Conowingo Dam so when a hunting eagle circles close, you need to keep your camera lens focused at all times. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

This eagle was pretty far out in the river when I saw him dropping to make a catch.  It was one of the few times they fished towards me so I photographed the sequence despite the distance and the shadows.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although you can't see the fish, this eagle is still dripping water after making a catch. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

When an eagle makes a catch and other eagles begin to chase, it usually ends in one of three ways.  The eagle either drops the fish, has the fish stolen in a fight, or gets away to enjoy its meal.  After escaping the chase of several eagles, I continued to follow this eagle as it flew across the face of the dam.  Suddenly, a resident Peregrine Falcon swooped in on the much larger Bald Eagle.  

Bald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconBald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although the falcon is much faster then the eagle, it quickly gave up its chase and allowed the eagle to pass.

Bald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconBald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

You've seen my photos of an eagle pulling a fish from the water in a big splash and also photos with the fish getting tossed into the air on a rare miss.  In order to give you an idea of the force the eagle's talons enter the water and grab the fish, take a look at the next photo.

The power of this juvenile's legs and talons grabbed this fish in a sweeping motion and the momentum carried the fish all the way up into its tail feathers.  Now that's power!

Bald Eagle MomentumBald Eagle MomentumConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once in the air, it looks like this juvenile eagle has two kinds of tails.  One feather and one fin. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is another chase for a fish that happened all the way across the river.  Most photographs to do not look good being cropped from that distance but sometimes the camera grabs perfect focus and allows a decent image to be created. Bald Eagles Chasing After Catching a FishBald Eagles Chasing After Catching a FishConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The shoreline was extra crowded on this day.  Visiting the dam on Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be an idea shared by many. Photographers at Conowingo DamPhotographers at Conowingo Dam

 

One of the smaller bird species you'll find at the dam are Rock Pigeons.  They seem to take off and land in flocks providing a show for this juvenile Bald Eagle sitting on a wall.

Bald Eagle (immature) Watches Flock of PigeonsBald Eagle (immature) Watches Flock of PigeonsConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once again, on the other side of the river, an adult eagle was chasing a fish carrying juvenile.  This time they had an audience such as this Great Blue Heron.   Bald Eagles Chasing After Catching a Fish with Great Blue HeronBald Eagles Chasing After Catching a Fish with Great Blue HeronConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is good light on a Double-crested Cormorant.  When springtime comes, the eye-color of the cormorant will be a brilliant aquamarine that sparkles like jewels, and a mouth that is bright blue on the inside.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested CormorantConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Eagles that fly over our heads are heading to the trees behind the lineup of photographers.  They perch there during the day and will also go there to eat.  It is a nice opportunity to photograph the Bald Eagle while sitting on a limb but I usually don't go up there because, in my limited time at the dam, I don't want to miss a fishing event or a fight above the water. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is a juvenile gliding on the wind. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Some people like to have the dam structure in the background to have the element of nature and industry in one photograph but I try to keep it all natural if I can.  However, this eagle spotted a fish and made an abrupt turn in great light and I couldn't pass it up. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

I think I'll finish off this photo blog with three flight shots.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

  Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

That was my final trip to Conowingo Dam for 2016.  We had a great time and Elena and Jeanne definitely want to go back. There is only one thing I'd change.  I will never again drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Thanksgiving weekend.  So much traffic and so many accidents really made the trip home a long one.

If you are interested in seeing these and other Bald Eagle photos I've made over the last several years, be sure to check out the Bald Eagle gallery in the Birds of Prey section of my website.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Conowingo Dam Darlington, MD Double-crested Cormorant Havre De Grace, MD North East, MD Port Deposit, MD Susquehanna State Park Union Hotel http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/conowingo-eagles-an-experience-worth-sharing Sun, 15 Jan 2017 23:19:12 GMT
November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/november-bald-eagles-at-conowingo-dam Just how many photographs of Bald Eagles does one need?  As many as you can get is the answer.  Maybe it's an obsession with getting the "perfect" photo.  Maybe that "perfect" photo doesn't exist because no matter how good a photo is, you will always try to get a better one.

November rolled around once again just like it always does and my photography efforts were focused on the White-tailed Deer rut, which was in full swing.  Lingering in the back of my mind was my upcoming trip to Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland to photograph Bald Eagles with my good friend Tom Dorsey.  This was our second year visiting the Dam and I have such a great time, I hope it's the second of many.

Instead of going into detail about the dam and why the eagles are so attracted to it, I'm just going to direct you to my 2015 photo blog "World Famous Conowingo Eagles", where that information is covered thoroughly.

This year, Tom and I planned three days of shooting along the shore of the Susquehanna River a short distance below the powerful turbines of the dam.  However, the phrase, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” seems fitting for this weekend.  A winter storm moved a little quicker than expected and cut our trip short by one day.

In this photo blog, I hope to share our experiences in this beautiful part of our country as we visited local restaurants, historic structures in Susquehanna State Park, and of course, photographed Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.

We spent a few late afternoon hours at the dam on our travel day.  We didn't have a lot of action to photograph but during that time, we met up with one of Tom's internet acquaintances.  Before the day was over we became good friends with Fernando "Fern" Trujillo, one of the administrators for the Facebook group "Conowingo Wildlife Photographers".  We all enjoyed dinner and shared photography stories at Woody's Crab House in North East, MD.

The next morning is when we got serious.

One of the coolest sights is to watch an eagle hunting for fish.  They may circle low or they may circle high but when they spot their prey, they drop their legs like the landing gear of an airplane and glide in to make their catch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

But that's not always the case.  Sometimes you can be following a bird in your lens when all of a sudden, it disappears.  They can go into a complete dive and it happens so fast I have a hard time keeping up.  I have to admit, keeping up with a diving Bald Eagle would take a lot of practice.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Photographing the catch is one of the fun parts of photographing the eagles.  Just like an airplane, birds usually take off and land into the wind so the direction they fish depends on which way the wind is blowing.  We all hope for the eagle to be close and flying towards us when they make the catch but it doesn't always happen that way.  The photographers usually have to settle for profile photos like in the following series.  Take note of the water ripples reflecting onto the underside of the eagle as it approaches the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Eagles are great fishermen but hey, none of God's creations are perfect. 

Bald Eagle Drops Its CatchBald Eagle Drops Its CatchConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

This is the perfect time to talk about the light at Conowingo Dam.  It can be very harsh at times and if you are shooting before noon, you can be fairly certain that half of your subject will be lit up and the other half will be in the dark.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

There are visitors from all over the world seen at the dam November through January.  I even saw one from out of this world.

Generation X PoodleGeneration X Poodle

 

All joking aside, Tom and I like to set up along the water because we like the perspective and we have good conversation with the people shooting along side of us. 

Photographers at Conowingo DamPhotographers at Conowingo Dam

 

Here are a few more Bald Eagle photos before we break for lunch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

If you are a reader of my blogs you already know that it takes five years for a Bald Eagle to develop its signature white head and tail. The eagle in the next photo is probably a four year old.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

When an eagle picks a fish from the water it's not a delicate grab.  This immature eagle went in for the catch, missed, and flipped it in the air.

Bald Eagle Missing FishBald Eagle Missing FishConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

It looks like this eagle was shot out of a canon.  But I shot it with a Canon.  Get it?  Ha ha! That's okay if you don't, camera people will.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Ah, finally time for lunch.  Same as last year, we had to go to the Union Hotel in nearby Port Deposit, MD.  Great food and a lot of history surrounds you.

Union HotelUnion HotelPort Deposit, MD

 

Once mid-afternoon arrives, the sun begins to fall below the hillside behind you and most of the photography is best when the bird is in the air.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

It's not even 3:00 and we are standing in the shade.  Space along the river was limited so Tom had to set up on a little island that I quickly dubbed "Dorsey Island".

Tom Dorsey on Dorsey IslandTom Dorsey on Dorsey IslandConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once the shade touched the far shoreline we decided to pack up and leave.  Before our trip, Tom was researching some historical areas that we could visit in the waning light of the day.  We drove about 10 miles to the Susquehanna State Park and a 1700’s grist mill.  The park’s dense woodlands are on the eastern edge of the Cerulean Warbler’s range making it a popular place for birders in the spring. 

1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

There is a trail running along the Susquehanna River that connects to the Conowingo Dam parking lot.  When you are looking west from along the river, you can see Conowingo Dam in the distance.

Susquehanna River Below Conowingo DamSusquehanna River Below Conowingo DamSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

Maryland's #1 Crab CakeMaryland's #1 Crab CakePort House Grill in North East, MD

I have to give a plug for a restaurant in North East, MD.  We ate dinner at the Port House Grill which has award winning crab cakes two years running.  All crab meat; no filler.  I posted the photo of my meal to the left to show off the large, sweet lumps of Maryland crab meat.

We arrived at the dam the next morning before sunrise.  It was very foggy and when the sun finally came up, you couldn’t look down river because of the bright yellow glow.  I think this boatload of fishermen was a popular subject of many of the photographers along the river that morning.

Early Morning FishermenEarly Morning FishermenConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

One aspect of photography that you really need to practice at Conowingo Dam is to use manual camera settings.  If the bird is flying below the horizon, you can get away with aperture priority or shutter priority but you can’t make that guarantee because the birds fly high and low giving the photographer an ever-changing background, playing havoc with the camera sensor.

Every now and then I would verify that I am still on the correct settings by photographing the gray sunlit wall of the dam and checking the histogram.  If not correct, I’d change the settings and repeat.  It just so happens I was in the process of making changes when an event all photographers are waiting for happened right in front of me.

When an eagle catches a fish, one or more eagles in the immediate area begin to chase the eagle with the fish.  If they catch up, the fish may be dropped or we may get to see a scuffle between the eagles when the others try to steal the fish.  That occurred within 100 yards in front of me and I caught it with my camera.  Now for the bad news!  Because I was making exposure changes, all of the images were overexposed.  I managed to salvage them in Photoshop but a properly exposed photo would have produced a better overall image.

This is a six photo series of the steal attempt ending with a chase.  Click on the small photos to see them larger.

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

While photographing the elk rut last September, Tom introduced me to Mark Hendricks who resides in the Baltimore area.  Mark drove up to see us and spend the day until we had to leave to beat the incoming winter storm.  Mark is a professor, professional speaker, author, and photographer and is a true pleasure to hang out with. Good FriendsGood FriendsDan Gomola, Mark Hendricks, and Tom Dorsey
Conowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The weather was so beautiful that we didn't want to leave and the wind began to change directions in our favor allowing eagles to fish toward us.  Just as we decided to pack up our gear the following eagle dropped out of nowhere and picked a fish out of the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Even though it was a sunny day with temperatures above 70, the winter storm was beginning across northern Pennsylvania.

One Week After Super MoonOne Week After Super MoonConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Luckily, there was a walking club at the dam that day having a walking event and they had a booth selling snacks, hot dogs, brats, and drinks.  After lunch we bid farewell to Mark and headed for northern Pennsylvania.

Good FriendsGood FriendsMark Hendricks and Tom Dorsey
Conowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The outside temperature dropped 50 degrees between Darlington, MD and DuBois, PA and was accompanied by strong winds.  Snow was falling but we made it home just fine.

By the way, there is one more Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle blog coming soon.  After checking the weather and mulling it over during the Thanksgiving break,  my wife Elena and I met up with Tom and his wife Jeanne the following weekend for more Maryland fun and photographing Bald Eagles.

View the next Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle blog now by clicking here.

Until next time,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Conowingo Dam Darlington, MD Havre De Grace, MD North East, MD Port Deposit, MD Susquehanna State Park Union Hotel http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/november-bald-eagles-at-conowingo-dam Fri, 06 Jan 2017 22:12:43 GMT
Wrapping Up Autumn With Feathers and Fur http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/wrapping-up-autumn-with-feathers-and-fur The 2016 Winter solstice, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 5:44 AM on Wednesday, December 21st.  To many people, that means winter is just beginning.  To a wildlife photographer, it also means we’re going to have a couple additional minutes of sunlight added to each day. 

Those couple minutes add up quickly and soon I’ll be able to photograph after work again and not be forced to wait until the weekend.  With the 2016 autumn coming to an end, I thought I better share some of the photographs I’ve made in the last couple months.  Once again, it’s kind of a catch-all photo blog because wildlife is too special to not be shared.

When the Crab Apple is ripe in October my backyard is flooded with birds taking their turn to pick the tart treat.  There are a lot of American Robins but I really like photographing the Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

One day this year we had about 100 little beauties in the trees.  They took turns going to the Crab Apple tree.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Here are a couple waxwings sitting on a rock near my backyard fish pond.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Time for a drink.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Here is a short video compilation of the activity in my back yard.

Backyard BirdsCedar Waxwing, American Robin, and Dark-eyed Junco

 

One blustery, cold morning I was at Moraine State Park when I saw a small flock of Hooded Mergansers floating near the shoreline.  I slowly made my way toward the shore while keeping trees between me and the ducks. Hooded Mergansers seem to be frightened very easily so I wasn't surprised when they all took off out over the lake.  I walked along the woods to a picnic table where I sat up on the edge of the bench a couple feet from the shore.  As I sat there watching a few gulls fishing in the distance, this male Hooded Merganser swam out of the wooded shoreline and headed toward me.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserMale

 

Thrush's are usually a difficult bird to find but this fall I saw several Hermit Thrush.  This one was found in a wild grape vine.

Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Hermit Thrush enjoying the fruits of the wild. Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Most of the time I see Gray Squirrels busy doing something from finding nuts to breaking open nuts to burying nuts in the ground.  I seldom see them at rest.

Gray SquirrelGray Squirrel

 

The Brown Creeper climbs trees from bottom to top, in a circular motion, looking for insects in small crevices.  If you think about it, nature is amazing.  A nuthatch does the same thing except in the opposite direction.  They circle the tree from top to bottom.  Between the two, they find insects that the other misses because of their direction.

Brown CreeperBrown Creeper

 

The Blue Jay is one of the loudest and most boisterous birds in the forest.  This one was making his presence known.

Blue JayBlue Jay

 

The Field Sparrow has to be one of the cutest little birds in the sparrow family.

Field SparrowField Sparrow

 

We have to wait until autumn to find a White-throated Sparrow.  When they come, they come in large flocks.

White-throated SparrowWhite-throated Sparrow

 

Even though the Yellow-rumped Warbler loses most of its beautiful colors during the summer, there are still enough left for an easy identification.

Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped Warbler

 

I was watching a small herd of White-tailed Deer when this doe's attention was diverted by a nearby noise.  She began to flag her tail before running over the hill.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is a small family of Sandhill Crane.  Young Sandhill Crane have dark eyes and as they get older, their eyes become yellow-orange to scarlet.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A youngster is leading the flock on this tight takeoff.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

The Ring-necked Pheasant is not native to Pennsylvania although they are a popular game bird.  It's always a treat to find one that doesn't run off into the dense weeds.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

Wish I had this crowing male on video but I don't.  Maybe next time.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

There was a second male with a longer tail but he stayed hidden most of the time.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

I hope you enjoyed viewing the photos in this blog posting as much as I enjoyed making them.

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate to spend a few days photographing America’s national bird, the majestic Bald Eagle, during migration at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland.  I am working on a photo blog to share my experiences and photographs so keep checking back, watch for an email or Facebook notification after it’s published. 

If you would like to be added to my email list for Photo Blog notifications, send me an email through my contact page and I will add you.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Blue Jay Brown Creeper Cedar Waxwing Eastern Gray Squirrel Field Sparrow Hermit Thrush Hooded Merganser Ring-necked Pheasant Sandhill Crane White-tailed Deer White-throated Sparrow Yellow-rumped Warbler http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/wrapping-up-autumn-with-feathers-and-fur Tue, 20 Dec 2016 22:04:30 GMT
White-tailed Deer: The Autumn Pursuit http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/white-tailed-deer-the-autumn-pursuit September and early October was a whirlwind for me photographing rutting elk.  If it weren’t for the 2.5 hour drive each way to the Pennsylvania elk range, it wouldn’t have been so hectic.  Shortly after the rutting period of the American Elk ends, the White-tailed Deer doe (female deer) enters her estrus cycle and their world turns into chaos with every buck (male deer) within sniffing distance vying for breeding rights.

Rut activity of the White-tailed Deer is more difficult to photograph because of their fear of humans and their rut is relatively short compared to the American Elk.

I began photographing this year in mid-October and pursued deer until the end of November and the beginning of the Pennsylvania rifle season.  I hope you enjoy the photography.

Many doe are still accompanied by their offspring from earlier in the year.  Some attempts are still being made to nurse but the doe seems to push them aside and the fawns are feeding on plants, fruits, acorns, and other nutty goodies when they are available.  Soon they will need to rely on whatever food is available such as fallen leaves, twigs, bushes, evergreens, and other woody plants to nourish them through the winter.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Most of the images in this photo blog were made with a Canon 1DX MKII camera body and either a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS or Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II lens.  I needed the low light capabilities of that equipment to photograph this buck as it was nearing complete darkness.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I was positioned on the lower end of a hillside that had a well-worn trail etched into the forest floor when a doe came walking along.  Just then, I saw her pursuer in a thicket about 10 yards behind.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The doe ignored me and continued to walk along the trail.  Just then, the buck stepped out of the thicket and into plain view.  He is a 6-point with a truly impressive spread.  A huge charge of testosterone during the rut period can make a bucks neck swell up to 50% of its normal size.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This buck was rushing down a hillside when he stopped briefly, illuminated perfectly by the evening sun.

Notice the dark spot on the inside of his rear leg?  That is called the tarsal gland and there is one on the inside of both hind legs.  Smell typically comes into play when deer scent-check each other.  Normally, identification is determined by smelling each others' tarsal glands.  During mating, the dark, stained tufts of stiff hair reek with odors, besides urine added for sexual excitement.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This guy was in pursuit of a couple does when he crossed my path.  The does stopped to feed on nearby acorns so, hiding himself behind the trees, he stopped to check me out.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I found this buck on a hillside meadow accompanied by about seven doe and their fawns.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As all the doe continued to feed in the meadow, he became more interested in me.  He slowly walked toward me in a curious posture.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As he walked a little closer, he held his hoof high.  He wasn’t alerted enough by my presence to flip his tail up or to give me a foot stomp.  A deer communicates with other deer in many ways but both genders will stomp the ground to alert other deer, or attempt to lure an intruder into exposing itself.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Most of the time, especially when the weather is warm, I don’t see many deer until the sun begins to set, leaving little time for photography.  This buck, holding his rack high, was following a few doe around a meadow. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

After becoming wary of my presence, he headed toward the woods.  He only paused in response to me yelling “hey buck, hey buck”.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Not all journeys into the field searching for a whitetail buck are successful.  Many times the deer are frightened and run away or they hide unseen in a deep thicket.  On the other hand, one might find a little buck that is cooperative, such as this guy illuminated by the setting sun.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

With light diminishing quickly, I probably shouldn't have been photographing anything at this time.  I saw this buck crossing a field and just as he entered the woods I whistled to get his attention.  He stopped and turned.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I was sitting one evening just before dark watching a small herd of doe and spotless fawns.  I was hoping a big buck would walk over the crest of the hill but that didn't happen.  I did see a tender moment between one of the doe and her fawn.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I was drinking coffee in my living room one Saturday morning when our two Shelties began to bark at something in our backyard.  This buck, who is frequently photographed on my backyard trail cam, came in to feed on our Crabapple tree.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This is a late November buck.  With no doe to pursue, he is a little more cautious and is keeping himself protected behind branches.  I was hoping he would move into the open but he didn’t.  Instead, he turned and ran into an adjacent field.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

With the rut over the bucks are a little harder to find.  Couple that with the fact that rifle deer season is now half over, all of the deer are very cautious.  Here is a doe that paused to see what my next move was going to be.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Female White-tailed Deer will fight to protect their fawns or a food source.  I'm not really sure if these two were fighting or playing.  They broke away a couple times and came back to each other.  In either case, I wish my shutter speed was a little faster to stop the blur.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Well, that’s it for this year’s White-tailed Deer rut.  I wish I had photographs of more obvious rutting activity like rubs, scrapes, scent marking, or fighting but I wasn’t able to find it this year.  That’s okay, maybe I will be able to make up for it next year.  I hope you enjoyed the experiences I was able to share.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) White-tailed Deer http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/white-tailed-deer-the-autumn-pursuit Mon, 05 Dec 2016 00:12:29 GMT
Bull Elk: Moving the Herd http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/bull-elk-moving-the-herd After taking a week away from photographing the elk herd in Benezette, I was getting anxious to go back.  I decided one more trip was in order and after seeing a lot of activity the previous weekend, I knew exactly what I wanted to capture on this day.  On Monday, 10/3/2016, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. in order to make it to Benezete before daybreak.  I ran into some fog on the way but once again, the valley in Benezette was clear.

October is when the elk rut slows to a stop and the bulls are magically friends again but it hasn't reached that point as of October 3rd.  Bulls were still gathering small herds and bugling back and forth.  In this final photo blog of the 2016 Pennsylvania elk rut, I'd like to show how the bull controls his herd when it's time to leave the meadow and enter the woods for the day.

In the last three blogs I talked about photographing the animals until they went into the woods.  My goal on this day was to document that process.  There were two bulls and two separate herds for me to photograph in the meadow this morning.  The bull in the next photo had a small herd of nine elk cows and calves.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

However, the bull in the next photo felt that his herd wasn't large enough and promptly came in and stole the other bull's cows.  Remember, it is October 3rd and these bulls are probably tired and sore from the action of the last few weeks.  Team that with malnourishment and you will have bulls that aren't interested in fighting.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

The first bull left the meadow only to return later and gather a portion of his herd back.  That leads me into this first video lasting about eight minutes.  It begins with a couple young bulls calmly crossing the creek.  Afterwards, I watched the bull with the large herd chase some cows around while answering bugles from the bull that ran about 1/4 mile away to the other end of the meadows. You will see the bull across the field attempt to corner a cow but she runs back to her herd.  Turn your volume up to listen to the calves talking in the crowd.  One calf in particular is very vocal and at one point, it sounds like it is mimicking the large bull's bugle.  I have to smile when I hear it.  Then, you get to see how the bull moves his herd in the direction he wants them to go.  Obeying every command, they eventually cross the creek and enter Elk State Forest.  I personally think this is one of the better compilations I made so I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Please be patient after pressing the icon to begin.  Your internet connection determines how fast it loads.

American ElkBenezette, PA
10/03/2016

 

Now that you've seen the video here are a few stills of that herd. 

I was positioned in the creek 80 to 100 yards downstream from the crossing site.  Even at that distance, a look like this makes a person wonder about your safety.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

One look is all I got before he paused for a drink and then attended to his herd.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

These two cows and a calf paused in the middle of the creek to take some time to groom the calf.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

So, remember the bull that ran to the other side of the field?  He returned and picked up a couple cows and a young spike on the way.  This short video shows him taking his herd in the same direction as the previous bull.

American ElkBenezette, PA
10/03/2016

 

One of his cows was the piebald that we watched the previous weekend.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

Here she is in the Goldenrod on her way to the creek.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

It is typical to find a young spike in a bull's herd.  They aren't a threat and are basically ignored.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

Finally, the big guy slowly crossed before heading into the forest.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

 

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

This was the fifth and final photo blog documenting my experiences during the 2016 elk rut in Pennsylvania.  I hope you enjoyed them and felt the thrill of the bugle through my lens.

In case you missed any of the previous four, here is a link to view them.

9/15/2016 - Sights and Sounds of the PA Elk Rut

9/24/2016 - The Beginning of an Elk Country Weekend

9/25/2016 - Dominant Bull and Frustrated Wannabes

9/26/2016 - The Meadows Are Full of Elk

Until next time,

Dan

 

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/bull-elk-moving-the-herd Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:38:41 GMT
The Meadows Are Full of Elk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-meadows-are-full-of-elk The morning of Monday, 9/26/2016, was once again chilly and foggy.  Since it was our final day of our stay in Elk Country and the hotel breakfast seemed to be served a little earlier than schedule, Elena and I decided to sit down and have a breakfast today.   We ate quickly because we didn't want to miss anything down in the meadows we've been visiting each morning.

We arrived in the valley and was happy to find there was little fog, much unlike the surrounding mountains.  You will see in the following photographs that the fog will move in and out before the morning is over.

Having made photographs and video of the same herd the past couple of days, I decided to spend a little time photographing some of the unique individuals we've been seeing.  I found this young guy and his handlebar rack very interesting. 

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

It didn't take long before the fog began to roll into the meadow.  These two young bulls ventured off alone and it was nice to photograph the interaction between them.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Even though they are not "players" during the rut, the youngsters go through the motions just like the older bulls.  I don't have video but it was comical hearing this young guy try his hand at bugling.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

We've been watching this piebald cow and her two calves all weekend.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

This guy came from a distant field chasing in one cow which you can witness in the first video after this photo.  The dominant bull of this herd made sure that he didn't get any closer.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Since this is our last morning of this visit I, once again, want to share with you the activity of a typical morning of the rut.  This six minute video contains clips over a two and a half hour period.  You will see the clear air become foggy and finally lift again.  Occasionally, a bull tries to enter the field but is promptly chased away by the dominant bull, and you even get to witness some of the downtime when they finally get to lay down or simply eat.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/26/2016

 

About mid-morning it got pretty quiet in the meadow but we could still hear distant bugling so Elena and I went in search of that bull.  About a half a mile away we found the following bull with a small herd. 

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

He paced the field keeping his cows together.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

There were still bugles in the distance and he answered every one of them.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

I thought she was very pretty surrounded by Goldenrod.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

A few hundred yards away in the back of the field this bull had accumulated a small harem for himself.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Between this bull, the one in the front of the field, and the bull we were watching earlier in the morning, there was some three-way bugling across the valley.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

This video shows the two bulls working their harems before heading into the woods for the day.  At the end of the video you will see the first bull of the morning rubbing and thrashing a small tree before making his way down to see where the other herds were.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/26/2016

 

Here is the early morning bull crossing into the new field before disappearing into the woods.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

With all the herds entering the woods, it marked the end of our morning.  Heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon so Elena and I decided to go home and get some rest before our work week began on Tuesday.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-meadows-are-full-of-elk Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:48:49 GMT
Dominant Bull Elk and Frustrated Wannabes http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/dominant-bull-elk-and-frustrated-wannabes Elena and I woke to our 5 o'clock wake-up call on this chilly Sunday morning, the 25th of September.  Usually, when we go out of town, we like to eat a nice breakfast at a local diner but we don't get to do that during the rut.  It's a quick breakfast sandwich at GetGo and off we go down the "Caledonia shortcut" to Benezette.  We decided since the action was so good on Saturday morning, we would go to the same location.  Plus, since the location is near the water and I don't have many photos of elk crossing water, I was hoping I'd see that too.

It was 39 degrees and foggy when we reached our destination.  The sun hadn't come up yet when we met up with Tom Dorsey and made our way through the woods to the back meadow.  A few of our friends were already in place watching a growing herd of elk, a dominant bull, and a few smaller "satellite" bulls.  Satellite bulls get their nickname because they always seem to be orbiting the field similar to a satellite orbiting earth.

This bull came from a far field in response to the bugles of the dominant bull.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

When you’re in the field watching and documenting the rut one can easily distinguish the various levels of experience in herding.  The larger, middle aged bulls are clearly in charge.  They are studs!  Competitors are usually nearby but they know they can’t compete with a mature bull’s deep bugle or growth of their antlers.  The mature bull easily gathers his cows along with spike bulls and calves.

If you look around you will usually find one or two frustrated bulls waiting on the sidelines.  Occasionally, the dominant bull will be distracted and one of the wannabes will manage to trap a cow.  They are seldom successful as the cow will run to the rest of the herd or the dominant bull will notice and quickly approach leaving the smaller bull feeling helpless.

This bull was slowly approaching the large herd in an adjacent meadow while pausing occasionally to announce his presence with a bugle.
PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The rut is nothing more than a bunch of bull elk, jacked up on testosterone, sizing up each others bugles and size of their antlers all while trying to impress the ladies.  Sometimes they square off in a dominance fight but that is not their first intentions.  Bulls can seriously injure each other, lock up antlers, or gore one another and be left to die.  Smaller bulls seem to be aware of those possibilities and stay out of delicate situations.  When the big guys throw a pose and a bugle like the one in the photo below, I understand why the smaller bulls keep their distance.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The cool, crisp Benezette air condenses his breaths into consistent puffs of water vapor.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Even with all the commotion of the rut going on all around them, a cow still makes time to nurture their calves and reassure their safety.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

During the height of the rut, the bull elk has a massive thickness to his body, a physique very different than the same bull in July and August.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

In this video, I'd like to show you how a morning is spent in the life of an elk during the rut.  The dominant bull elk will spare no energy keeping his herd together.  Other, usually smaller, bulls will stand at the woodland edge waiting for an opportunity to steal a cow or two but usually get caught and, unwilling to fight the big guy, they retreat frustrated.  So this video will be full of bulls chasing cows, bulls chasing smaller bulls, elk cow and calves grazing, and a lot of bugling so turn up your speaker volume.  In a couple instances, when the dominant bull turns his attention to another bull, I placed video of the intruding bull in a picture-in-picture format for the few seconds that he reacted.

During all three videos in this photo blog you may hear some shutter clicks from other people's cameras and an occasional conversation between fellow photographers.  We tend to help each other and keep each other informed of other activity.  This video is over six minutes long so, depending on your internet connection, it could take a few seconds before it begins to play.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/25/2016

 

Here is the "King of the Harem" checking on one of his cows.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)


Fog comes and goes in the valley.  The photo below was made as a haze began to cover the valley floor.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The next photo is a piebald cow with her calf.  Piebaldness occurs due to a genetic variation.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

Satellite bulls will bugle too.  It seems like the only thing they accomplish is to get the attention of the dominant bull and then chased back into the woods or into the next field.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The bulls get all the attention of wildlife photographers but I also like to photograph the females too.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

As the morning continues, the elk continue to do more of the same.  We have the dominant bull keeping his herd together and displaying a few attempts at mating.  As he paces the meadow making sure his herd doesn't stray too far he does it while keeping an eye on the collared, satellite bull who is still attempting to steal cows from the herd.  Here is another video; a continuation of our morning in a meadow during the elk rut.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/25/2016

 

The action began to slow down just like the ending of that last video.  Elena and I spent the late morning and early afternoon visiting local gift shops and wineries only to end up at the hotel for a much needed nap before heading to the Elk Country Visitor's Center for the evening.

I wanted to check out the action at the visitor's center because the bulls up there have been fighting a lot.  That evening, we were there until it was too dark to see and didn't see a fight.  These bulls were on their best behavior while I was around.  The bull in the photo below is known as "Tippy" because one antler is much larger than the other and he walks with a head tilt.  I bet he's really happy in March when those things fall off.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The bulls at the visitor's center are usually too far away for good photography but we hung around that evening until the sun began to set.  As we were walking back to the parking lot we found another bull and a small harem much closer.  Below are a few photos of him as darkness fell.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Once again, the camera makes the scene look brighter than it really was.  For those who understand camera settings, my shutter speed was 1/30th of a second and iso was set at 2000.  We could barely see this bull moving around with the naked eye.  You can see the last glimmer of light edging his antlers, back, and rear end.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Here is a short video of this bull roaming the hilltop and responding to distant bugling.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/25/2016

 

I'll finish this blog with a few more photos from the darkening fields of the visitor's center.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

He probably continued to bugle well into the night but this was the last photo I could make of him on this day.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The evening ended on a high at the visitor's center and continued in town at the Benezette Hotel.  Elena and I met up with Tom Dorsey and longtime Facebook friend Bill Potter and his wife Merilee.  It was great to finally meet Bill in person.  Few people on Facebook like to critique the photos we make.  Tom and I appreciate the honesty of a good critique and Bill and I sometimes get into deep conversations about our photographs and why we made them the way we did.  We talk about the feeling they create and that is something I enjoy.

After an evening of great travel and photography conversation, Elena and I headed the other way on the "Caledonia shortcut" to St. Mary's.  It was another late night in Elk Country and we finally made it back to the hotel looking forward to another five hours of sleep.

See you tomorrow,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk County Visitors Center Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/dominant-bull-elk-and-frustrated-wannabes Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:15:55 GMT
The Beginning of an Elk Country Weekend http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-beginning-of-an-elk-country-weekend September 24th was the first day of a full three days in Elk Country for my wife, Elena, and I.  We arrived in St. Mary's on the evening of Friday, September 23rd and made sure we had a good night sleep for an early morning departure for Benezette.  We reached our first stop at 5:30 a.m. which was to attend a biannual gathering of our Facebook group "Benezette Elk Camera Club".  We grabbed coffee and donuts, talked with a few friends and met some Facebook friends for the first time.   6:30 came fast and the sun was beginning to glow in the eastern sky so everyone said their "see ya laters" and headed in all directions to where they thought they would see elk.

It was still dark so Elena and I used a flashlight while walking through the woods to distant meadows.  Once there, we and several other people with the same idea, began to set up.  As soon as there was enough light, I began to make photographs.  You see, one never knows how long an elk herd will stay in the fields so you have to act quickly.  My beginning camera sensitivity, called iso, on my Canon 1DX MK II was set at 3200 which is about 8 to 16 times higher than normal daytime shooting.  That was the minimum setting I could use while keeping a decent shutter speed.

The camera brightens the scene a lot but this was my first look at the herd this morning.  If you look closely, you can see the dominant bull standing in the woods in the left side of the scene.

 

This first morning started out really good.  We got to watch several bulls jostling for position to intrude on the herd that was obviously following a dominant bull.  This bull spent most of the morning "on the sidelines" because he knew he couldn't compete with the leader of this herd.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Bull Elk generally lose weight during the rut because they burn a lot of energy and are too busy to eat.  Here's another look at the same bull as he takes time to eat.  I guess when you don't have your own harem, you get to enjoy breakfast.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

I saw this young guy getting ready to cross the creek so I ran into position to photograph the crossing.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

I keep mentioning the dominant bull and you got a glimpse of him in the opening photo but I've kept him a secret long enough.  This next photo is the bull that was "ruling the roost" so to speak.  Although others tried, no other bull could shake loose a cow for themselves with this big guy watching. PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

This video contains two scenes.  The first scene is the smaller bull making a move to enter the herd and the second scene is the dominant bull chasing the intruder into the woods.  Unfortunately, they are not close to each other during the chase so you will only see the dominant bull.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/24/2016

 

After the herd left the meadow, Elena and I hooked up with Tom Dorsey, Jim "Muck" McClelland, and new friends and Baltimore residents, Mark and Carolina Hendricks, to go porcupine hunting.  After a couple hours of hunting, we went back to the picnic without any photos. 

We ate lunch, BS'd with a lot of the club members, and even won a White-tailed Deer fleece blanket in the Chinese auction.  About 2:00 Elena and I went to the hotel for a few zzz's before the elk became active again.  Sorry, club members, I didn't take any photos at the picnic.  I was too busy talking.  Go figure!

 


 

Benezette was really crowded on this Saturday and the evening wasn't panning out to be very good for elk viewing.  About an hour before dark, Elena and I drove east on Route 555 to the Hick's Run viewing area.  We met a friendly couple in the parking lot who gave a tip on a large bull a couple miles back toward Benezette.  Thanks to new Facebook friend Sarah Glatfelter, we knew where to stop to get the next two photos.

This bull had a small herd of about six cows and they were all his.  We watched the "Rt. 555 Bull" until it got too dark to photograph and we didn't see any challengers.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Here is another view of the "Rt. 555 Bull".

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Before going back to the hotel for the evening, we visited the campground of Tom and Jeanne Dorsey.  It was a great evening with a great group of friends.  While we were there, Muck taught me how to photograph the stars.  Below is my first attempt of shooting the Milky Way Galaxy.  Not too bad for a beginner.

Milky Way GalaxyMilky Way GalaxyWinslow Hill, Benezette, PA

 

Cheers to a great group of people!

Campfire on Winslow HillCampfire on Winslow HillTom Dorsey Campsite

 

It was very late when we got back to the Cobblestone Inn in St. Mary's.  Wake-up call in five hours.

Goodnight,

Dan

 

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Milky Way Galaxy Pennsylvania Elk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-beginning-of-an-elk-country-weekend Sun, 16 Oct 2016 19:50:53 GMT
Sights and Sounds of the PA Elk Rut http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/sights-and-sounds-of-the-pa-elk-rut September and early October marks the mating season of the American Elk.  The rutting call of bulls, called a bugle, is heard echoing through the Pennsylvania hills from just before dusk to dawn.  The bugle of the bull elk is a distinctive sound that begins deep and becomes a high pitched squeal before ending in a series of grunts.  Hearing your first bugle is an experience you will never forget and one that will leave you wanting more.

This year, I was able to spend five days in the Benezette, PA area to photograph the rut activity of the American Elk.  I made two day trips alone and my wife, Elena, and I had a nice three day stay in nearby St. Mary's.  Over those five days I logged a lot of time in front of elk and have numerous photographs and a few videos to share.  I'm going to use five separate blogs to tell the story of the 2016 American Elk rut in Pennsylvania with this one being the first.

9/14/2016 - While preparing for a day trip to Benezette I checked the weather forecast and saw they were calling for heavy fog overnight.  Benezette is usually foggy in the morning so that was not a surprise.  Because of the forecast, I decided to get a good night sleep and go later in the morning.

9/15/2016 - Temperatures reached the mid-80's on this day making it less likely to see many elk come out to feed before the sunset.  However, about 5:15 in the afternoon, I spotted a large bull elk laying in the grass near the edge of the woods.  I parked my vehicle and joined a small group of people already watching.  As soon as he turned his head, I recognized the U-Bull.  He has been dubbed U-Bull because of the U-shape of his rack.  Beginning at the base, the shafts point out before lifting up giving his rack a much wider U-shape.

He was resting at the edge of the woods but at one point an elk cow exited the woods and stood by him.  He seemed to be very interested.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

After the cow approached the bull and retreated a couple more times, U-Bull gave us is first bugle of the evening.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Another reason to look forward to the rut is meeting up with people that you see only once a year or you've met on Facebook and share the same interest of viewing the elk.  I watched U-Bull for about 30 minutes when my friend Dave Anderson arrived from the Pittsburgh area.  We stood there and "shot the bull", no pun intended, while waiting for something interesting to happen. 

There were bugles in the distance which got the attention of U-Bull.  He stood and prepared for an evening of assembling cows and calves into his meadow.

Bull elk often dig holes in the ground, in which they urinate, lay down, and roll their body.  The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.   Elk can mark themselves by spraying urine on their bodies from an erect penis.  That type of scent-marking behavior in elk is known as "thrash-urination".  That's exactly what U-Bull is doing in the photo below.  You can see the spray along his neck.

 

After a while, the U-bull climbed the hill ahead of us and disappeared into the woods. 

We knew he was going up the hill to a food plot so we walked up a path on the perimeter of the field.  By now we were beginning to lose photography light fast.  The surrounding mountains were blocking sun rays several minutes ahead of sunset.  When we arrived at the top of the field, we found U-Bull thrashing a small pine tree on the other side.

Elk rub trees and shrubs like this to deposit oils on their antlers, turning them from bone white to the dark, burnt umber color seen in the next photo.  Notice the tips remain somewhat white because they don't make direct contact with the sap.

In my own personal observation, I noticed that while a bull is doing this, he will stop several times to lick the sap coming from the shredded bark.  I'm not sure why they do that.  Maybe they just like the taste.  It looks like he's really enjoying this rub.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

As he exited the woods, he stood in the shadows, reluctant to enter the warmth of the sun.  Even at this early stage of the rut, U-Bull already has three broken tines and walks with a limp caused by an injured left, rear leg.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Even though they were a quarter mile apart, taunting continued between U-Bull and the bull in an adjacent field.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Here is a video of U-Bull as he entered the food plot, thrashed the small evergreen tree, and kept his herd together while another bull answered his bugles.  The video is about 5 minutes so the load time will depend on your internet connection.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/15/2016

 

As the meadow became too dark to photograph, Dave and I decided to walk to the adjacent field to find the bull that has been taunting U-Bull all evening.  The next field over was a little brighter so we were able to photograph him.  The bull we found is a 10X8, not the most tines ever seen on a bull in Benezette but it is the most tines that I have ever seen.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

At the close of the evening friends Tom and Jeanne Dorsey arrived.  There we are standing along the edge of the road in darkness talking about the rut that was just getting underway when I realized I had a two and a half hour drive home.  I was enjoying the evening but I got in my vehicle and drove home.

The day started slowly but finished pretty well which got me excited about the next couple of weeks.  As the air cooled over the next 10 days, the rut really began to heat up. 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/sights-and-sounds-of-the-pa-elk-rut Wed, 12 Oct 2016 21:45:05 GMT
Autumn Birds of Pennsylvania http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-birds-of-pennsylvania I'm sitting here on a dark, rainy autumn morning wishing it was brighter outside because I'm missing a Saturday morning of bird photography during the fall migration.  Sure, spring migration is pretty exciting because of all the colorful little birds flitting around on their journey to their summer breeding grounds but fall migration can be really good too. 

Most of the birds have non-breeding plumage making them a challenge to identify.  Some birds, like the Hooded Warbler, don't change much at all.  Other birds, like the Scarlet Tanager, become almost unrecognizable.  Most birds, however, have the same colors and markings but they are somewhat faded.

An example of the latter is a Prairie Warbler who lost most of his black identification marks.

Praire WarblerPraire Warbler

 

Another challenge in the fall is identifying juvenile birds which can look much different than the adults.  Below is a juvenile Eastern Towhee which I'm guessing is a young male based on the black wing coloration.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeImmature Male

 

Another young bird I found was this Brown Thrasher.

Brown ThrasherBrown ThrasherJuvenile

 

I had a lot of discussion with birders, most more knowledgeable than I, about the identification of this bird.  It's definitely a flycatcher.  The question was if it is a Willow Flycatcher or an Alder Flycatcher.  I was told it is impossible to differentiate between the two unless you hear their song.  Well, hearing the song still wouldn't help me.  I chose to identify this bird as a Willow Flycatcher because that is the one most likely found in our area right now.

Willow FlycatcherWillow Flycatcher

 

The next photo is a female or immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose-breasted GrosbeakRose-breasted GrosbeakFemale or Immature Male

 

This male Indigo Bunting is still singing.

Indigo BuntingIndigo BuntingMale

 

Some birds' feathers are so smooth you can't tell where one begins and the other ends.  That's not an issue with this White-eyed Vireo.

White-eyed VireoWhite-eyed Vireo

 

This is the time of the year that we find American Goldfinch pulling seeds from the coneflower flower heads.  Some males have began to change.  Before winter, the males will molt and take on the olive-green and gray colors of the female.

American GoldfinchAmerican GoldfinchMale

 

I got the attention of a Blue-headed Vireo at the edge of a forest.

Blue-headed VireoBlue-headed Vireo

 

This female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was flying around my garden probing the flowers for nectar.  What I found very interesting about this photo is how the flower stamen rubs pollen onto the top of her head.  She will pick up and deposit pollen at every flower she visits. It's amazing how nature works.

Ruby-throated HummingbirdRuby-throated Hummingbird

 

In western Pennsylvania, we have plenty of Black-capped Chickadees all year round.  They are a pretty bird and it's nice to photograph them when they are vocalizing between each other.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee

 

Many people, if given an opportunity to walk through fields, woodlands, and all areas in between, probably wouldn't notice the birds along their journey.  Even the most colorful birds appear drab in color when inside the shadows of the forest canopy.  Most are so quiet that they go completely unnoticed.  The following photos are birds that you might find in that situation.  Maybe the next time you find yourself in that situation, you can stop and take a look at what you've been missing.

This beautiful Nashville Warbler looks very similar to his breeding plumage of the spring.  He will be leaving soon for his winter grounds of Mexico. Nashville WarblerNashville WarblerMale

 

This Blackpoll Warbler was stretching for a better view.

Blackpoll WarblerBlackpoll Warbler

 

Although we don't here his raspy "bee-buzz" voice, the Blue-winged Warbler is still flying around our open woodlands before heading to Central America for the winter.

Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale

 

This Chestnut-sided Warbler stayed inside the shrubs searching for insects.

Chestnut-sided WarblerChestnut-sided Warbler

 

You can still see the faint strips on the chest of this Magnolia Warbler.

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia Warbler

 

Although fading a little, the colors of this Black-throated Green Warbler are still very prominent.

Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green Warbler

 

Whether its spring, summer, fall, or winter, the Hooded Warbler looks the same.  We won't find him in Pennsylvania in the winter as he will soon be on his way to Central America and Cuba.

Hooded WarblerHooded WarblerMale

 

The Northern Parula is one of my favorite warblers.

Northern ParulaNorthern ParulaMale

 

The Tennessee Warbler got its name in 1811 by Alexander Wilson who found the bird in Tennessee during migration.

Tennessee WarblerTennessee Warbler

 

The female American Redstart is one of the more colorful female warblers.

American RedstartAmerican RedstartFemale

 

During molt, the male Scarlet Tanager takes on the yellow color of a female.  While a female is all yellow, a male can be identified by his black wings.

Scarlet TanagerScarlet Tanager

 

The female Eastern Towhee is always interested in checking out strangers in its surroundings.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeFemale

 

In September and early October, I spend several days in Elk County, PA to photograph the American Elk rut.  Like most wildlife, they are most active in the early morning and evening.  Many people ask what I do all day.  Other than taking in the sights of the beautiful landscape, I spend time photographing birds.

I found this and several more Palm Warblers jumping from evergreen to evergreen searching for food.

Palm WarblerPalm Warbler

 

BobolinkBobolinkMale

The photo below was a surprise find for me.  It is a male Bobolink.  In the spring, the male Bobolink is black and white with a golden patch on the back of his head as you can see in the photo to the left. 

BobolinkBobolinkMale (Non-breeding Colors)

 

I have to ask, how cute is this Field Sparrow?

Field SparrowField Sparrow

 

Another bird I found in high quantities in Elk County is the Pine Warbler.  Many Pine Warblers live year-round in the southern United States and these will soon join them.

Pine WarblerPine Warbler

 

Well, that's it for now.  Be sure to check back soon for photo blogs about the American Elk rut activity and then the White-tailed Deer rut activity.  It's an exciting beginning to autumn.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Goldfinch American Redstart Black-capped Chickadee Black-throated Green Warbler Blackpoll Warbler Blue-headed Vireo Blue-winged Warbler Bobolink Chestnut-sided Warbler Eastern Towhee Field Sparrow Hooded Warbler Indigo Bunting Magnolia Warbler Nashville Warbler Northern Parula Northern Thrasher Palm Warbler Pine Warbler Prairie Warbler Rose-breasted Grosbeak Ruby-throated Hummingbird Scarlet Tanager Tennessee Warbler White-eyed Vireo Willow Flycatcher http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-birds-of-pennsylvania Sat, 08 Oct 2016 22:31:45 GMT
September Shorebirds and More From Conneaut Harbor, Ohio http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/9/september-shorebirds-and-more-from-conneaut-harbor-ohio September is the peak of shorebird migration in the northeast and it is thrilling to see these birds that are usually not a part of our birding adventures.  Although most have lost their breeding plumage by September, they are still a thrill to watch, photograph, and guess what they are.  Some of the differences between certain species like plovers or sandpipers are so subtle that it is easy for the novice birder to misidentify.

This September, I spent several hours along the shore of Lake Erie at Conneaut Harbor, one of Ohio’s birding hotspots, located just a few miles across the Pennsylvania border.  During the month, I had the enjoyment of seeing several migratory birds and a few that stick around all year round.  I have several photos to share with you so this photo blog is dedicated to my sightings at Conneaut Harbor.

We'll begin with a couple of species of terns.  In the following three photos you will see the largest tern in North America, the Caspian Tern.

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Caspian Terns on the rocks of Lake Erie.

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

I thought this scene was comical as the Herring Gull frightens the Caspian Tern.

Herring Gull & Caspian TernHerring Gull & Caspian Tern

 

The Common Tern has been known to breed in Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA.

Common TernCommon Tern

 

Common Tern

Common TernCommon Tern

 

During the month, I photographed a nice quantity of birds in the sandpiper family like this Baird's Sandpiper.

Baird's SandpiperBaird's Sandpiper

 

Least Sandpiper

Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper

 

The Stilt Sandpiper is named for its long legs.

Stilt SandpiperStilt Sandpiper

 

Most Western Sandpipers are found on the west coast of the United States.  Occasionally, we get a few adventurous ones flying through the mainland on their way to the Atlantic for the winter.

Western SandpiperWestern Sandpiper

 

There are several Bald Eagles found along the coast of Lake Erie.  This juvenile left its rocky perch and flew low over the inlet behind the break wall.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The Great Blue Heron is a very common bird which may stay year round in certain areas of PA and OH.  After catching their fishy food, they flip the food several times to get it lined up with their throat before swallowing.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

A Great Blue Heron enhances the view of the Conneaut Harbor Lighthouse, in operation since the 1920's.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

I found an interesting piece of history regarding the town of Conneaut (pronounced “con-e-aught”) and how it got its name.  The town of Conneaut lies on an old Indian trail later used by settlers seeking fortune on the western frontier.  Seneca Indians called the creek that empties into Lake Erie at this point Konyiat, meaning place of many fish. 

I have to say, it is a place of many birds too.

A summer breeder in Pennsylvania and Ohio is the Green Heron.

Green HeronGreen Heron

 

It's not uncommon to find Green Heron perched in the trees surrounding a lake, pond, or stream.

Green HeronGreen Heron

 

Another member of the heron family is the tiny Least Bittern.

Least BitternLeast Bittern

 

The next bird is an American Golden-Plover.  This plover makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any shorebird.  It breeds on the high Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada and winters in the grasslands of central and southern South America.

American Golden-PloverAmerican Golden-Plover

 

The American Golden-Plover has a long, circular migration route.  In the fall it flies over the Atlantic Ocean from the East Coast of North America nonstop to South America.  On the return in the spring it passes primarily through the middle of North America to reach its Arctic breeding grounds.

American Golden-PloverAmerican Golden-Plover

 

The Semipalmated Plover is the most common plover seen during migration.

Semipalmated PloverSemipalmated Plover

 

The shallow waters of the mudflats provided an ideal spot for this Sanderling to bathe.

SanderlingSanderling

 

Another migrator through the northeast is the Lesser Yellowlegs; often seen running through shallow water looking for food.

Lesser YellowlegsLesser Yellowlegs

 

A year-round resident is the noisy, Belted Kingfisher.  Here is a male Belted Kingfisher perched on a sunlit branch.

Belted KingfisherBelted Kingfisher

 

Just so you know, a female has a second band around her chest which is chestnut-brown in color such as the hovering kingfisher in the next photo.

Belted KingfisherBelted KingfisherFemale

 

Although the Great Egret can be found in many areas of the north, beyond the boundaries of range maps, I don't see many in Western Pennsylvania except during migration.

Great EgretGreat Egret

 

This Great Egret walks very slowly while watching for an unsuspecting fish to swim by.

Great EgretGreat Egret

 

I hope you enjoyed seeing the various species of birds I found at Conneaut Harbor, OH.  Each visit came with great enthusiasm for what I might find.  I never visited in April to catch the spring migration but I'm definitely including it in my schedule in 2017.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Golden Plover Baird's Sandpiper Bald Eagle Belted Kingfisher Caspian Tern Common Tern Great Blue Heron Great Egret Green Heron Herring Gull Least Bittern Least Sandpiper Lesser Yellowlegs Sanderling Semipalmated Plover Stilt Sandpiper Western Sandpiper http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/9/september-shorebirds-and-more-from-conneaut-harbor-ohio Sat, 01 Oct 2016 01:13:27 GMT
Chance Encounters in the Wild http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/9/chance-encounters-in-the-wild I try to visit elk country several different times of the year to photograph elk at various stages of their life.  September and October is the breeding season referred to as "the rut".  The winter provides great opportunity but the very weather that makes winter elk photography interesting sometimes keeps me at home.  June comes along and the calves created in the previous September, are being born.  That brings us to August. By mid-August, the bull elk's antlers are fully grown and the velvet covering the new antlers dries up and shreds.

I've made several trips to Elk country in August to photograph the shed in progress.  Not all bulls shed their velvet at the same time and all I've been able to find were bulls still holding their velvet or have completely shed.  I haven't found any with a shed in progress.

On a day in August, when the temperatures were forecast to reach 85 degrees, my wife Elena and I awoke at 3 a.m. and headed to Elk country.  We knew we wouldn't have much time to find bulls because of the heat and as always, fog was heavy in the Benezette area but it was patchy.  During the summer, bulls tend to stay on higher ground in the mountains so knowing where to look comes with knowledge of the area and a little luck.  Our first encounter was with a bull that still had all of his velvet intact.

PA Elk (Aug, 2016)PA Elk (Aug, 2016)

 

We were driving through the tall, dark canopies of the forest when we found two whitetail doe and six fawns. I fell for the big eyes of this curious fawn as it watched us pass by.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As time was passing and temperatures were rising, we finally found a lone bull eating apples that had fallen from a tree along the road.  This bull was shedding his velvet so I finally got my first photos midway through the shedding process.

PA Elk (Aug, 2016)PA Elk (Aug, 2016)

 

The rising sun, remaining fog, and thick canopy of leaves, created the most beautiful sun rays.

Gray Hill RoadGray Hill RoadBenezette, PA

 

With the early morning behind us and the bulls retreating into the woods, we decided to drive through some thick hemlock sections of the Elk Forest to find cows and their calves.  The spots are fading and nearly gone on this years' calves.

PA Elk (Aug, 2016)PA Elk (Aug, 2016)

 

As we drove through the forest, I kept my eyes open for any wildlife encounters.  I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk high in an oak tree.

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk

 

A fawn and its mother exited the woods into a weedy meadow.  Below is the fawn as it shows itself outside of the high grasses.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Mom was prancing through but keeping an eye on our vehicle.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As we passed by another open meadow, I slowed down in case there was an elk.  Instead, I found this Red-tailed Hawk watching the meadow for rodents or small birds.

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk

 

American Kestrels are the smallest and most common falcon in North America and they have given me fits over the years.  They are a difficult bird to photograph because they seldom sit still and when approached, they tend to fly far enough away to take away the photo opportunity.  However, on this day we met a generous male that sat on top of this telephone pole for his portrait to be made.

American KestralAmerican KestralMale

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Kestral Benezette Elk Red-tailed Hawk Sun Rays White-tailed Deer http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/9/chance-encounters-in-the-wild Sun, 18 Sep 2016 21:39:18 GMT
Pennsylvania Wood Duck: Through the Seasons http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/9/pennsylvania-wood-duck-through-the-seasons When springtime arrives in western Pennsylvania, I begin to get excited about photographing the waterfowl migration.  Many migrants come and go but one duck that stays with us throughout the summer is the Wood Duck.  The Wood Duck is one of my favorite ducks to photograph because of their beauty and because they present a challenge.  They are one of our most shy birds so getting close without alerting them is most of the challenge.

Because they are such an interesting duck, I want to take you on a photographic journey through their time in western Pennsylvania, with a few Wood Duck facts along the way.

The Wood Duck is Pennsylvania's most colorful duck and when they begin arriving in early spring, their colors stand out in a snowy landscape.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

The Wood Duck has some colorful nicknames like Carolina duck, squealer, summer duck, and the most famous of them all, woodie.  Woodies are common migrants in Pennsylvania in March and April and they stay throughout the summer and breed.  Other than some southern parts of Pennsylvania, they begin their journey south again during the months of September through November.  Most woodie's spend the winter from the Carolina's south to the Gulf and as far west as eastern Texas.

One of my most favorite activities in the spring is to set up a blind along a wooded swamp to photograph these beauties.  Although there are females in the area, early spring seems to offer flocks of several males.  There was a heavy fog on this morning and I had to wait patiently until the sun began to burn it off.  The woodies were swimming all around the marsh when the sun finally shined through.

Wood DuckWood Duck

 

The male, also called a drake, has an iridescent green head with shades of blue and purple in the large head crest.  Other identifying marks of the drake is the red eyes, reddish-orange bill, chestnut chest, and golden sides.  Typically, in the bird world, the female of the species is duller and drab compared to the male.  The Wood Duck is no different.  She is covered in gray, white, and brown with a small head crest and white around her eyes.

Wood Ducks aren't known to mate for life.  They have an intense courtship that takes place on their wintering ground so most are already paired up when they get to Pennsylvania.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

The photo below was made after dipping her head and body under water.  See how the water is rolling off her back like a newly waxed car?  Ducks have an oil gland at the base of the body, basically where the body and tail meet.  Ducks will spread the oil all over their feathers during preening giving instant water repellent.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Here she is giving a few flaps to help rid the excess water from her body.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Wood Ducks are known as dabbler ducks.  A dabbler tips its head into shallow water to probe for vegetation parts , seeds of pond weeds, wild rice and water lilies along the bottom.  You will also find them feeding on the shores where they may eat grapes, berries, and various nuts. Wood DucksWood DucksDrake & Hen
 

When you think of the noise a duck makes most people instinctively think of the quack, quack sound of the Mallard Duck.  Wood Ducks do not quack.  The hen is more vocal and louder than the drake when she squeals a warning call sounding like "hoo-eek, hoo-eek".  The drake whistles an ascending "twee twee". Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

You often find Wood Ducks in small groups of 20 or fewer, keeping apart from other waterfowl.  Below is a short video clip to a small flock swimming through the wetlands.

Wood Duck

 

The light was hitting at a perfect angle to display his true colors.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

As I watched this drake meander around the swamp, he rose up and flapped water from his coat of feathers.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

Unlike most waterfowl, Wood Ducks perch and nest in tree cavities.  When a hen migrates north she will tend to locate last year's nest tree and if she is a yearling, she will return to the general location that she was hatched.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Thanks to their broad tail and short, broad wings, woodies are very agile fliers abling them to twist their way through woodlands.  Above open terrain, they can reach speeds up to 50 mph.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

Timing is everything when one seeks out to photograph Wood Duck ducklings.  This year, I was a little late and the ducklings were beginning to grow up. 

The story about Wood Duck nesting habits is fascinating so I'd like to share it with you.  Wood ducks nest in tree cavities or nesting boxes near water.  Sometimes the nests are directly above water and other times they may be a mile away.  The hen may lay between 8 and 15 eggs but she will not begin to incubate until all the eggs are laid.  Unlike most other ducks, the drake will stay with her through much of the incubation period but will be gone by the time all the eggs hatch.  Because she began incubation after the last egg was laid, all the eggs will hatch on the same day.  The very next day the mother will leave the nest and call to her flightless ducklings.  One by one they jump from heights up to 50 feet without injury and follow her as she guides them to water.

The Wood duck is the only North American duck that sometimes produces two broods in one year.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen & Ducklings

 

Wood Ducks are very attentive.  Any slight movement catches their attention.  Even though I am hidden in a blind, the movement of my lens from side to side is enough to alert mom.  In this next photo, mom doesn't appear to feel threatened but she is keeping an eye on my blind while allowing two of her ducklings to continue their hunt for food.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen & Ducklings

 

One spot that I like to set up my blind has its best light in the evening.  Sometimes, when I arrive, there are woodies out in the open water.  When mom begins her warning calls of hoo-eek, hoo-eek, hoo-eek, her brood heads for cover.  You can see in the next photo that their little wings aren't big enough for flight but their legs do an awesome job of moving them quickly.

Wood DuckWood DuckDuckling

 

The ducklings aren't able to fly until they are about two months old so they rely on their feet to tread water.  This one is paddling so fast its chest rose out of the water like a motorboat.

Wood DuckWood DuckDuckling

 

I was set up one day watching and hoping for a Wood Duck family to come into view.  They didn't show up that day but you can see a trail through the reeds that mom and ducklings used recently.

 

After leaving the hen, the drake woodie will join other males in deep cover of the swamps or wooded waterways.  At that time he begins to molt, losing his beautiful plumage and taking on a look similar to a hen.  Later in the summer, both hens and drakes lose their flight feathers and are unable to fly.  In late summer or early fall, they molt again restoring their normal colors. 

It was getting late one evening when a molting drake emerged from deep in the shadows.  This is the first time I ever saw a male at this stage of the molt.  They generally stay hidden.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

The hen, however, is still as beautiful as the day she arrives in early spring.

Wood DuckWood DuckDuckling

 

I waited about one week before setting up my blind again.  It's hard to believe how quickly they grow.  Occasionally, a duckling will separate itself from the brood but they don't break up until they are about six weeks old. 

Wood DuckWood DuckDuckling

 

This lone duckling probes the swamp for tiny morsels of food.

Wood DuckWood DuckDuckling

 

The duckling above spent so much time in front of my lens I was able to capture some video.

Wood Duck

 

By the end of July their maturity is noticeable.  I was able to photograph this family resting on a log last summer.

Wood DuckWood DuckJuveniles

 

I hope you enjoyed this quick journey through a few seasons of Wood Ducks in Pennsylvania.  I hope you found the story interesting and maybe taught you something that you didn't know about Pennsylvania's most colorful duck.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Wood Duck http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/9/pennsylvania-wood-duck-through-the-seasons Sun, 11 Sep 2016 23:19:32 GMT
Northern Harrier: Raider of the Grassland http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/8/northern-harrier-raider-of-the-grassland Over a period of six weeks this summer, I visited an 1800 acre reclaimed strip-mine in Clarion County, Pennsylvania to observe and photograph nesting Northern Harriers.  During that time, I witnessed the adult harriers adding nesting materials to their nest, performing fantastic mid-air food exchanges, delivering food to their chicks, hunting, preening, and finally teaching their young fledglings to get their own food.  It was an eye-opening and educational six weeks and I'd like to share my experience with you.  

Sharing what I've learned and photographed can't be done in a few photos.  This photo blog is a little longer than I like them to be so I hope you find the Northern Harrier as fascinating reading this blog, as I did documenting them through my lens.

As I begin writing this blog, I'm wondering how many of you ever saw a Northern Harrier.  They are not seen as often as other hawks, such as a Red-tailed, Broad-winged, or Cooper's.  I'd like to give you a brief description right now with many more interesting facts scattered throughout this photo blog.

The Northern Harrier, also known as Hen Harrier or Marsh Hawk in other parts of the world, is a slender, medium-sized hawk with long, broad wings and a long, rounded tail. They have a flat, owl-like face and a small, sharply hooked bill.  They are the most owl-like of hawks but they are not related to owls.  In addition to vision, they rely on hearing to capture prey so their stiff facial feathers are important because they help to direct sound to the ears.  Incidentally, there are 13 species of harriers worldwide but the Northern Harrier is the only harrier in North America.

Males (below left) are gray on top and whitish below with a dark trailing edge to the wing, and a black-banded tail.  Adult females (below right) are brown and have whitish undersides with brown streaks.  The harrier's overall body length is 18.1 – 19.7 inches with a wingspan of 40.2 – 46.5 inches.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

Northern Harriers breed in wide-open habitats where they build the nest on the ground or on a mound of dirt or vegetation.  Nests are made of sticks and are lined inside with grass and leaves.  Large tracts of land, like reclaimed strip-mines, are some of the best grassland birding habitats in the state. Grassland birds are abundant breeders in large grasslands and various species of birds can be located there during all seasons.  During the breeding season Northern Harriers eat small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds making these wide open places an attractive habitat to raise a family.

The photo below gives you an idea of how challenging it can be to photograph raptors in the large grassland habitat.  Distance can be a problem.

Clarion County, PennsylvaniaClarion County, PennsylvaniaReclaimed strip-mine grasslands

 

I began photographing these Northern Harriers in late June.  Early on, I made a lot of photos of the male, referred to as "Gray Ghost".  In addition to his gray coloring with white underside, his black wing tips are a good way to identify the flying Gray Ghost.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

Northern Harriers fly low over the ground when hunting, circling over fields and marshes as they watch and listen for small animals.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

They eat on the ground, and they perch on low posts or trees.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

Only the female Northern Harrier incubates eggs.  During that time and until the chicks are about two weeks old, the male does all the hunting.  He provides nearly all of the food for her and the chicks.  Instead of bringing the food directly to the nest, the male flies overhead, sometimes announcing his presence, and the female flies up to meet him.  In mid-air, they do a food transfer.  As the male flies high in the sky, the female flies underneath him and catches the dropped food.  It was captivating to watch and I was happy to photograph a couple food transfers.

First, the male flies overhead with his catch.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

In the left photo, you can see the male carrying a rodent and the female approaching from the bottom with outstretched legs.  The center photo shows the rodent being dropped to the female.  The right photo shows the talented catch in mid-air.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale/Female food transfer

Photo 1
Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale/Female food transfer

Photo 2
Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale/Female food transfer

Photo 3

Most of the time, after catching the food, she briefly landed somewhere to eat some herself.  Also, she made several landings in various spots as if she is trying to fool predators by not immediately giving away the location of her nest.  Another observation of mine was when the female brought food to the nest, it was usually clean of fur or feathers.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

It is obvious that she treasures the food her mate caught for her.  Look at the way she holds it close to her body as if to hide it.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

Eventually, she dropped into the nest.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

Nearly every time she took food to her chicks, she flew off to a nearby swamp and filled her beak with soft grasses...

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale bringing nesting material to nest

 

and brought it back to the nest.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale bringing nesting material to nest

 

There were some really long periods of time that nothing was happening.  However, in the final hour before sunset, you could count on a few food deliveries before it was time to sleep.  It was on these special occasions that the male would actually bring food all the way to the nest site. 

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

And the female delivered food too.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

When a person spends so much time watching for birds in the sky, one really needs to take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the land.  The hilltop grasslands provided the most spectacular sunsets.

Clarion County, PennsylvaniaClarion County, PennsylvaniaReclaimed strip-mine grasslands

 

I made several trips to Clarion County with mixed results.  My hope was to catch something unique.  Occasionally, Turkey Vultures would circle above and the harriers didn't like that.  One day I saw the female perched in a tree about 500 yards away from the nest when a Turkey Vulture got close to the nest.  The female harrier charged the vulture, wings beating furiously, and forced the vulture in another direction.

Below is a photo of the Gray Ghost giving chase to a vulture.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale chasing Turkey Vulture

 

Sometimes, after a food drop, the male would fly along the road to a sign post that I think it's safe to say is his favorite.  He spent a lot of time there.  Here is a short clip of the male sitting on that post.  Click the icon in the center to play the video.

Northern Harrier

 

Are you wondering what may be the real reason they call the male harrier "Gray Ghost"?  Besides the obvious gray coloring that I mentioned earlier, there is another story that describes the male harrier.  There was a Confederate army cavalry battalion commander named John Singleton Mosby who fought in the American Civil War.  His command, the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia, known as Mosby's Rangers or Mosby's Raiders, was a military unit noted for its lightning quick raids and its ability to elude Union Army pursuers and disappear, blending in with local farmers and townsmen.  John became known as "The Gray Ghost".  I can make that connection to the male Northern Harrier.  Although my eyes were focused on the skies watching for one of these big birds to come toward the nest area, sometimes the male harrier would swiftly appear out of nowhere.

Speaking of our Gray Ghost, did you know that harriers are the only hawk-like birds to practice polygyny?  They are known to take care of four or five mates at one time although most have one or two.  So when I didn't see the male for a couple hours, I assumed he was taking care of other mates.  The wait would get rather long at times and when you least expect it, he came flying by with food like this unfortunate American Goldfinch.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

Sometimes the female was seen gliding around as if she expected him.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

As a photographer, I needed to be alert when food came because their speed of food transfer was incredible.  Harriers can reach speeds up to 38 mph when chasing prey.  When the male came with food, I think the female came close to that mark on her approach.  Once she reached the male, he dropped the rodent where she could catch it and she would eventually take it to the nest.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale/Female mid-air food transfer

Photo 1
Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale/Female mid-air food transfer

Photo 2
Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale/Female mid-air food transfer

Photo 3

As I said before, she flew around a lot with the prey before returning to the nest.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

And once again, she left the nest for a few minutes only to return with nesting material.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale with nest material
The hot, muggy day caused fog to form in the valley which was glowing under the setting sun. Clarion County, PennsylvaniaClarion County, PennsylvaniaReclaimed strip-mine grasslands

 

When I began photographing these birds in June I preferred going in the morning.  The early hours meant good light and several food transfers.  As summer and its high heat arrived, the morning light became harsh much earlier in the day, casting shadows on the underside of the birds.  As a response, I began to visit in the evening more often.   The chicks were getting bigger and were beginning to wander on foot away from the nest.  I wanted to be ready to capture their first flight and I believed the evening light enhanced that opportunity.

We had a few storms go through one evening when my wife Elena and I were making the hour long drive into Clarion County.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a beautiful rainbow. 

Clarion County, PennsylvaniaClarion County, PennsylvaniaReclaimed strip-mine grasslands

 

It was awesome that we could see both ends so I drove to the top of the hill to get another perspective.

Clarion County, PennsylvaniaClarion County, PennsylvaniaReclaimed strip-mine grasslands

 

The rain was gone but a lot of cloud cover and distant thunder remained.  This was the day when we got to see the juvenile harriers for the first time.  This is the third and last juvenile remaining in the nest.  The other two have been making their way up the hill either walking or jumping short flights with sounds of mom's coaxing in the background.  It was time to expand their territory.  Notice the white downy feathers that still remained on its head. 

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

 

The Northern Harrier lays 4 - 6 eggs but rarely more.  As I mentioned earlier, the female solely incubates the eggs.  That process lasts 30 - 32 days.  Once the chicks hatch, the female remains with the young most of the time.  Once again, the male does the hunting for both the female and the chicks.  After the chicks are about 2 weeks old, the female does some of the hunting for them.  Since they nest on the ground, they can easily stray from the nest.  After about a week the chicks are able to walk and they may move short distances away from nest but return to the nest to be fed.  They are able to fly at about 30 - 35 days.

This next photograph shows mom bringing food to the nest where her young one is waiting, wings spread, in the grass.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale & Juvenile

 

When the female leaves the nest she takes off with such a burst of speed that I missed the photo most of the time.  On this occasion, I was ready.  These two photos are a short series of her leaving the nest after dropping off the food pictured above.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

The sunlight was fading fast when I noticed the female perched on a low shrub at the top of the hill.  The puffy, cumulus clouds provided a nice backdrop.

Northern HarrierNorthern Harrier

 

Suddenly, there was movement at the nest.  The last nestling began to climb up the taller, stiffer weeds surrounding the nest.  Now I got a really good look at it.  There is a way to distinguish if a juvenile is male or female.  Juvenile males have pale greenish-yellow eyes, while juvenile females have dark chocolate brown eyes.  By the time they reach adulthood, the eye color of both sexes change to lemon yellow.  I looked closely at all of my juvenile photos and the eyes appear dark brown.  Without sunlight shining directly on the eye, even a light colored eye can appear dark so I'm not going to try to identify the gender of these juveniles. 

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile


The third sibling was watching as its siblings were slowly putting distance between them and the nest.  As the evening progressed, we saw what may be this juvenile's first flight.  It was getting dark so the wings are a blur but I captured the short flight.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

 

After that evening, I didn't know what to expect.  Would they be gone or will they return to the nest?  Is it over?  Well, not quite!  You've seen the food transfers between the male and female and now it was time to watch the parents teach the juveniles to hunt.  This was a challenge to photograph because they aren't restricted to the nesting area anymore; they have the entire hillside and more.

I waited about eight days before returning to allow time for the juveniles to grow and begin to fly more.  They grew fast.  On my next visit I was able to capture one of the older juveniles fly to a bush.  Still having balance issues on the small twigs, it sat for about five minutes with one wing suspended on a branch as seen in the photo on the right.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

Notice the color of the juvenile.  They look a lot like the female but have a chestnut colored underside instead of white streaks.

Just look at that face.  Isn't it a beautiful bird?

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

 

Feedings seem to be less frequent now.  I assume it's because they can eat more so they don't need fed as often.  The juveniles were spread out over the hillside now so, when mom or dad brought food to their side of the hill, I tried to be ready.  Here is a photo of dad flying over the juveniles to entice them to come after the food.  One soared upward but missed the dropping food.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale and Juveniles during food drop training

Photo 1
Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale and Juveniles during food drop training
Photo 2

The food doesn't go to waste.  If it drops to the ground the male watches it carefully and the juvenile soars downward to retrieve it. 

The opportunity to photograph an adult this close comes so infrequently, I have to share it.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

Now I was getting excited about the possibilities of photographing these hawks training their young to hunt.  So I kept going back!  Here is a photo of the male carrying food around the hillside trying to entice the juveniles to come after it.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale

 

The following action happened about 300 yards away from me so I wasn't able to crop the images very close. 

The male, in the top left of the photo, finally enticed two of this three youngsters to go after the food.  If performed enough, the young ones realize that the strongest, fastest, and most strong willed will get the food.  The training sessions eventually become a fighting match with the winner getting the drop.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale and Juveniles Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale and Juveniles

 

The male watches as his young fight for the meal. Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale and Juveniles

 

Within seconds, there is a clear winner and it gets the food drop.  It tried to catch the rodent but its timing was off.  It immediately went to the ground with the food.  By the way, within seconds the other two juveniles were on top of the food too.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierMale and Juvenile

 

That was a thrilling event to watch and I'm sad to say it was the last food drop I could photograph.  Future food drops that I watched happened much too far away to photograph.  Since it was apparent they had left the nest and were not returning, I decided to walk out and see what a harrier nest looks like.  The platform is about 3 - 4 feet round. Notice in the photo below there was one unviable egg left in the nest.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierNest with one unviable egg

 

A few days went by and I decided to go back one more time.  See how this can become addicting?  I didn't see any food drops this day and I didn't see the Gray Ghost at all.  However, I did see the juveniles flying around the field and mom watching over them. The next photo is one of the three juveniles flying close to the ground.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

 

Two's company right?  These two juveniles share the same shrub.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuveniles Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuveniles

 

The juveniles were very cooperative on this day.  Here is another nice close-up of a juvenile perched on a small shrub.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

 

It perched for quite a while so I made a short video.  There isn't good sound on this video because I was under a blind and so was the microphone.  Click the icon in the center to play the video.

Northern Harrier Juvenile

 

Of all the countless hours I spent watching these birds I did not see the female perch close enough for a photograph.  If she wasn't perched far away, she was on the move keeping her babies safe and fed.  Finally, she landed on a small shrub about 40 yards away and stayed for a couple minutes.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierFemale

 

So, my entire experience has come to a close.  This was a fascinating experience to watch this process from nearly the beginning to the successful fledging of three healthy Northern Harriers.   I'm going to end this blog with a juvenile flying at you.

Northern HarrierNorthern HarrierJuvenile

 

If you are interested to see these, and additional photos of the Northern Harriers, you can view my Northern Harrier gallery.

All of the bird photographs in this photo blog were made using a Canon 1DX MK II body and a Canon 600mm f/4 II lens.  I also used a Canon 1.4 extender III most of the time.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

 

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Northern Harrier http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/8/northern-harrier-raider-of-the-grassland Sun, 21 Aug 2016 22:37:23 GMT
A Brief Encounter With Bald Eagle Siblings http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/8/a-brief-encounter-with-bald-eagle-siblings For several years, a pair of Bald Eagles have been nesting on the same flooded swamp in the 2,856 acre Maurice K. Goddard State Park in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  The nest is located about 180 yards from the road making photography of the nest challenging.  Most of the time the eagles are in the woods line near the nest making Bald Eagle close-ups impossible.

This year the pair of eagles successfully raised two healthy looking fledglings.  Now that they are full-size and playing around the pond, they can be found in locations with better photographic possibilities.

This photo blog is about one day, July 17, 2016, when I decided to pay the eagles a brief visit.  Both juveniles were playful on this day.  I caught them flying from tree to tree sometimes even fighting over the same perch.  I made several photographs on this day and I'd like to share some of them with you.

I remember this moment when this juvenile was calling and watching its sibling approach, seemingly expecting it to share the same perch.

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

Apparently, its sibling didn't share the same idea, leaving this one watching for the others' destination.

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

Sometimes birds will land in the craziest places.  With all the dead trees and open limbs in this swamp, it tries to land on this!

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

Shows you what I know.  Now both eagles think this is a good place to land.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

At least one found a little more comfortable spot to sit until they discover their next adventure.

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

Even though they are only about five months old, they already have this flying thing mastered.  Wings up!

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

Jump and flap!

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

One part of this day I wish I could share is when they landed in shallow water at the edge of the swamp.  Both eagles went there several times to splash in the water.  All I could see were wing tips and water splashing so there aren't any photos to share.

Below is one of the eagles landing on an intermediate perch before continuing into the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile


I hope you enjoyed the photos of these Bald Eagle kids being kids.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle MK Goddard State Park http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/8/a-brief-encounter-with-bald-eagle-siblings Thu, 11 Aug 2016 22:28:17 GMT
A Look Inside an Osprey Nest http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/8/a-look-inside-an-osprey-nest It was getting late in the nesting season when I went to watch an active osprey nest.  The experience of watching a fraction of their lives on the nest and the different emotions they display, was very interesting.  They are faced with challenges every day.  I got to witness how they handle some of those challenges and I'd like to share that experience with you.

This is mom sitting on the nest with her three chicks.  No, I didn't count incorrectly.  The third chick is low in the front of the nest.  You'll see it later.  Notice that the eyes of the chicks are orange-brown and the parent is yellow.  Actually, Osprey chicks hatch with blue eyes that change to orange-brown.  As they mature, the eyes turn yellow.

OspreyOsprey

 

It looked like mom was feeding one of her chicks but their beaks were empty.  Perhaps she was telling it "you'll be first when the next fish arrives".

OspreyOsprey

 

As the chicks grow, they will spread their wings more often and begin flapping in preparation for their first flight.  I love it that mom and sibling keep their cool even with a wing in their face.  Mom even gets a pat on the back with the flight feathers.

OspreyOsprey

 

Here comes dad into the nest.  The wind was blowing into my face that day and since birds generally take off and land into the wind, I knew I wouldn't get any landing shots coming toward me.  I was wondering why he brought another stick to the nest in this late stage of the nesting season.  His mate and all three chicks watch intently as he glides in.

OspreyOsprey

 

Here is a tight shot of both parents on the nest.  Dad is in the front.

OspreyOsprey

 

During my stay, dad made several trips to the nest but didn't stay long.

OspreyOsprey

 

Here is a good look at mom and all her chicks.

OspreyOsprey


Within 15 minutes, dad came back with some twigs and grasses.

OspreyOsprey

 

So far, that seems like a pretty easy day.  Sitting on the nest preening while waiting for dad to bring nesting material and food to the nest.  It wasn't really like that at all.  Besides dealing with the varying weather like high wind gusts, rain, and sun, mom had to deal with another Osprey circling the nest that was not part of her flock.  She became very vocal and stood her ground to protect her nest and chicks.  She flew up to a stick just to the left of the nest and using her tail and wings, she made herself look larger to intimidate the intruder.

OspreyOspreyAn Osprey from outside of their group was flying too near the nest.

 

I made several short video clips throughout the morning.  Some of the clips simply show time spent on the nest but I also included some of the action when the intruder arrived.  Mom's vocalizations at the beginning of the video are communications with her mate who was either perched in a nearby tree or flying nearby.  Listen carefully when mom is being vocal when the intruder arrives, you will hear the chicks calling from the nest too.  Also, take note that when trouble is near, the chicks are all hunched down in the nest for protection.

This video is a little over four minutes long so, depending on your internet connection speed, it may take a minute to load before it plays.  Please click the play icon and wait.

Ospreye="file_caption"



 

Here is one last intimidating look at mom fending off the intruder.  I sure admire her tenacity and am happy to say she and family are well.

OspreyOspreyAn Osprey from outside of their group was flying too near the nest.


Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) MK Goddard State Park Osprey http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/8/a-look-inside-an-osprey-nest Mon, 08 Aug 2016 21:50:13 GMT
Merlin: The Lady Hawk http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/7/merlin-the-lady-hawk MerlinMerlin

I recently had an opportunity to photograph a family of Merlin that nested in Erie County, Pennsylvania. The Merlin is a speedy, fierce falcon that chases songbirds and shorebirds and snatches them right out of the sky.  This family consisted of two adults and three fledglings. 

I am going to refrain from identifying which are male and female in this blog because frankly, I'm not sure.  Adult male Merlins are slaty gray to dark gray; females and immatures are browner.  Obviously, the three immatures are going to look like females and although I have a few photos of what I think are males, I'll just leave it at that.

Merlins are found nesting in forested openings, forest edges, and along rivers across northern North America.  They have also begun nesting in towns and cities.

This nest is one of three known nests in Erie County, this year.  Now, to most people that's not a big deal but if you look at a range map you will soon realize that a Merlin nest in Pennsylvania is really something special.

I posted two Merlin range maps below.  The one on the left is the Audubon range map.  The one on the right is from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  You can see on both, Pennsylvania is not supposed to be a breeding location.

Merlin Audubon Range MapMerlin Audubon Range Map Merlin Cornell Range MapMerlin Cornell Range Map

 

Merlins don’t build their own nests.  Instead, they take over the old nests of other raptors or crows, making few, if any, modifications to the original nest.  The nest this group used is located in a Norway Spruce in a long row of the same.  Unfortunate for me and other birders, they rarely reuse a nest in subsequent years.  That is good news for songbirds as their absence was noticeable.  

The first couple hours I watched these birds, they spent their time in what seemed to be a favorite perching tree, leaving only a few times for short flights.  Normally a solitary bird, traveling alone or in pairs, this young family was still together.  Before taking flight, they become very vocal and it continues during flight.  Homeowners in the area claim they are very noisy at night making sleeping with the windows open difficult.

MerlinMerlin

 

A lot of the time spent in that tree was spent preening or grooming themselves.  After realizing how fast these birds are, it is a pleasure that I got to see them sitting still for long periods of time allowing me to make these photographs.

MerlinMerlin

 

In case you were wondering how big these birds are, here a few statistics.  Their length is 9.4 - 11.8 inches, wingspan is 20.9 - 26.8 inches, and they weigh between 5.6 and 8.5 oz.

MerlinMerlin

 

Have you wondered yet where the term "lady hawk" originated?  Well, medieval falconers called them “lady hawks” and noblewomen used them to hunt Sky Larks.  Catherine the Great and Mary Queen of Scots were among the people who would cast the Merlin and Skylarks into battle to test their aerial abilities.

One of the "cute" characteristics that I noticed watching these birds is they like to stand on one foot and hold the other out in front of themselves.  Not quite sure why; maybe just stretching.

MerlinMerlin

 

Here is a short video I made while watching two of the five Merlins in a tree.  I have the volume down in the video to block out some of the extra noise as I was standing in the backyard in a residential community.  Click on the icon to begin the video.

Merlin

 

I think this Merlin found peeling the bark from this dead tree branch enjoyable.  It walked up and down the branch for several minutes peeling the bark and dropping it.

MerlinMerlin

 

The Merlin is not much bigger than the more common American Kestrel.  A Merlin is heavier and often appears considerably larger.   As with most raptors, female Merlins are larger than males.

MerlinMerlin

 

Like other falcons, the Merlin is a strong and maneuverable flier.  Their typical flight speed is 30 miles per hour but can be faster during chases. Despite their small size, the speed they flap their wings make them look powerful in flight.  I was using a Canon 600mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x extender making a focal length of 840mm on a Canon 1DX MK II full-frame body.  Because of the 840mm focal length, I made few attempts at flight photos because they were difficult to track.  I was lucky to get the following photo during a Merlin flyby.

MerlinMerlin

 

There is a long list of what Merlins eat.  I'll simplify the list for this blog but if you want to learn more about their habitat and eating habits, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a good place to look.

So, Merlins eat mostly birds.  As I mentioned earlier, they catch them in midair, high-speed attacks. Their prey is generally small to medium-sized birds in the 1 - 2 ounce range. Common prey include Horned Lark, House Sparrow, Waxwing, Dickcissel, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, and other shorebirds. Most falcons will attack and stand on their prey, not a Merlin.  Merlins attack at high speed, horizontally or even from below, chasing the prey upwards until they tire. Other prey include large insects such as dragonflies, bats, nestling birds, and small mammals.  Merlins will also work in pairs where one Merlin flushes a flock of small birds by attacking from below; the other comes in moments later to take advantage of the confusion.

I said earlier that I didn't make many attempts to photograph the Merlin during flight.  I couldn't keep up most of the time.  So, when one of the Merlins caught a small bird and the other opportunistic Merlins began chase, I turned focus onto the spruce trees that they were flying towards.  That allowed me to unknowingly photograph the following sequence of photos of one bird trying to steal the prey from another Merlin's talons.

You can see the outstretched leg of the bird on the left trying to grab the prey from the flying Merlin.

MerlinMerlin

 

Unwilling to let go, the bird on the left is pulled from its perch.

MerlinMerlin

 

The chase continues.  Notice the feathers in the beak of the bird in pursuit.

MerlinMerlin

 

The grip of the bird that caught the prey proved to be too much and it got away from the potential thief.

MerlinMerlin

 

I unknowingly shot that sequence because it happened so fast.  Thankfully, my focus turned toward their destination instead of trying to photograph the near impossible; a Merlin in flight.

Later, after the birds calmed down, this young Merlin sat in the sun for a few minutes.

MerlinMerlin

 

I kept my lens pointed in its direction waiting for the moment of takeoff.  Finally, it happened.

MerlinMerlin

 

I'd like to thank my friend Larry Slomski for tipping me off about this special opportunity and introducing me to the property owners where I would find the birds.  Dan & Sue and Dale were gracious enough to allow me to run around their properties to get the best angles on these birds and their hospitality was second to none.  Thank you again.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Merlin http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/7/merlin-the-lady-hawk Sun, 31 Jul 2016 22:59:50 GMT
Tall Tree Tapper http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/7/tall-tree-tapper In late July of last year, my friend Larry Slomski invited me to a marsh in Northwestern Pennsylvania to photograph nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers.  I was able to make a few photos of the adults that day but we were too late to see them feeding their young; they had already fledged and there was no sign of a second brood.  In early June of this year, we decided to meet in the same spot to try to catch a glimpse of the chicks. 

There were active nests all around the swamp, indicated by several Red-headed Woodpeckers flying around collecting insects. They are very territorial birds so each pair stayed in their own territory.

The most usual place to see a Red-headed Woodpecker perched is at the tip of a dead tree limb.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

The male has the chore of locating the nest site.  After the male selects a site for a nest hole, the female will tap on it to signal her acceptance and he will begin excavation.  They prefer to nest in dead trees or dead parts of living trees at least 65 feet above the ground.  They like to choose trees that have a smooth, bark-less trunk.  That deters snakes from crawling up its sides.

Their typical clutch size is 3–10 eggs and they’ll produce about 1-2 broods a year.  Incubation is done by both sexes.  Incidentally, once a pair have mated, they may stay together for several years.

That morning, we witnessed several feedings of what appeared to be a lone chick.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

           

During feeding times, I would say the adult bring food to the nest about every 5 – 10 minutes.  As the chicks grow, less trips to the nest is required.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

The chicks are fed by both parents, and leave the nest at about 27-31 days.  As I said earlier, they produce 1 - 2 broods a year so pairs may be starting on a 2nd nesting attempt while still feeding the fledglings from the first.  The 2nd brood may be raised in the same nest but more often in a new cavity.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are one of the most skillful fly catchers among the North American woodpeckers.  They typically catch aerial insects by spotting them from a perch and fly out to grab them.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Their diet consist of insects, fruits, and seeds. The meal of choice on this day was mainly seeds with an occasional insect.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

This small insect isn't worth a trip to the nest.  It continued to look for more.

Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

It definitely wasn’t quiet in the marsh that morning. While the Gray Squirrels moved about quietly, we were loudly serenaded by a male Hooded Warbler.  We got a glimpse of him and his mate as they flew low and past our heads a couple times.  Nearby nesting Bald Eagles were plentiful too and we also saw a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in the swamp that day.  Both male and female Pileated Woodpeckers came in close at one time or another but remained high in the trees.  I didn’t take any photos.  Another bird we saw flying around was a Northern Flicker.  There was a pattern to its flights, ending in the same tree each time.  Earlier in the year Larry saw the same flickers tapping a dead tree and he suspected they were building a nest.

Following up on that notion, we quietly walked to a good vantage point and waited.  Soon a female adult Northern Flicker brought food for her chicks.  There were three chicks in the nesting cavity but we only saw two most of the time.

Northern FlickerNorthern FlickerFemale

 

The close-by, successful, flicker nest was a surprise because Red-headed Woodpeckers are fierce defenders of their territory. They may remove the eggs of other species from nests and ultimately destroy their nests.

Feeding began to become more infrequent as the sun, and heat, began to raise too high.  Larry and I decided to pack it up and call it a day.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Northern Flicker Red-headed Woodpecker http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/7/tall-tree-tapper Wed, 27 Jul 2016 00:14:36 GMT