Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography: Blog http://www.dangomola.com/blog en-us (C)Dan Gomola dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:55:00 GMT Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:55:00 GMT http://www.dangomola.com/img/s10/v106/u261418170-o942152798-50.jpg Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography: Blog http://www.dangomola.com/blog 120 86 Prothonotary Warbler: A Golden Ray of Light http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/prothonotary-warbler-a-golden-ray-of-light The Prothonotary Warbler, often called a "swamp warbler" in the southeast, are usually found in the dim understory of woodland swamps.  They have been described as "a golden ray of light" as they jump around the branches searching for insects.  As you will see in the following images, that is exactly where I photographed this little male. Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

Although the range map below doesn't show it, there are breeding Prothonotary Warblers in the state of Pennsylvania.  They are only one of two warblers that nest in holes in standing dead trees.  The Lucy's Warbler is the other but since they live in far southwestern United States, I'm not going to find any of those in Pennsylvania.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale ProthonotaryWarblerRangeMapProthonotaryWarblerRangeMap

 

Do you know how the Prothonotary Warbler got its name?  They got their name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church. Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

All of the adult Prothonotary Warblers that I photographed have dark, wet looking feathers on their crown where they should have bright yellow feathers like the rest of their head.  The reason is not certain but some people have said it is because of their method of hunting for insects.  They look under leaves and reach in for the insect so water touches their heads, making them wet.  Another idea is that certain plants have a sap textured secretion from their leaves and the sap gets on their head while hunting and stains the feathers. 

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

I watched this Prothonotary Warbler hunting for quite a while and smiled at the positions he got into while looking for insects.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

The conservation status of the Prothonotary Warbler is better than other warblers but they are still on the decline.  The clearing of swamp forests in the south have affected their breeding range.  Elsewhere, birdhouses have helped them remain fairly common.

Well, that's it for the Prothonotary Warbler photo blog.  If you would like to see more photos that I didn't include in the post, you can check them out in the Prothonotary Warbler gallery of my website.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Prothonotary Warbler http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/prothonotary-warbler-a-golden-ray-of-light Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:55:26 GMT
Kentucky Warbler: Usually Heard but Not Seen http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/kentucky-warbler-usually-heard-but-not-seen On my quest of photographing warblers this spring I did have the opportunity to photograph a few seldom seen, or rare birds.  I decided to single out a few species because of their rarity and/or their beauty.  The first photo blog, published on June 4th, was about the Golden-winged Warbler.  Today's photo blog is about the Kentucky Warbler.

The Kentucky Warbler is a small, brightly colored warbler whose loud song can be heard in the undergrowth of eastern deciduous forests.  They spend most of their time on the ground in moist, leafy woodlands searching for insects.  Despite its bright colors, the dark shadows of the forest keeps them well hidden. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

I was so fortunate to find a male Kentucky Warbler on a few occasions and photograph them in the middle of their song.  You can see in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's range map below, northern Pennsylvania nears the end of the Kentucky Warbler's breeding range.  Prior to 1940, the Kentucky Warbler's breeding range ended in southern Pennsylvania but the creation of breeding habitats expanded their range.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale KentuckyWarblerRangeMapKentuckyWarblerRangeMap

The main diet of the Kentucky Warbler consists of various insects including moths, bugs, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, aphids, grubs, and spiders, plus a few berries. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

I was able to get some images of this beauty on the edge of some pretty thick shrubs along a large tract of deciduous forest. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

We in Pennsylvania get to enjoy the presence of the Kentucky Warbler for another two months.  They begin to leave their breeding ground in August.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

The Kentucky Warbler sings a loud springtime song but he usually sings from a secluded perch.  When you hear him sing, it's hard to believe they are such a shy and elusive bird.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky Warbler

 

Their survival story isn't much different from other beautiful warblers on this planet.  This species is declining and one reason is the clearing of forests.  Loss of habitat is also happening on their wintering grounds.  As forests are broken up into smaller patches, they become vulnerable to cowbird parasitism.  Brown-headed Cowbirds do not raise their own young.  Instead, they lay their eggs in other species' nests allowing them to be raised by the other species.  There are several reasons parasitism hurts the survival of the other species of birds like the Kentucky Warbler.

If you would like to see more photo of Kentucky Warblers, check out my Kentucky Warbler gallery here.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Kentucky Warbler http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/kentucky-warbler-usually-heard-but-not-seen Mon, 19 Jun 2017 23:23:38 GMT
The Enjoyment of May and June Wildlife http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/the-enjoyment-of-may-and-june-wildlife I was so busy in May and the first half of June photographing birds in the Warbler family.  I'm sad that it's past but I'm also a little relieved because it required a lot of travel to get some new species.  I will share the "fruits of my labor" in upcoming photo blogs but right now, I want to share many of the other encounters with wildlife that I enjoyed along the way.

Not going to be much reading in this one folks.  I hope you enjoy these bonus photos as much as I enjoyed making them.

Black-billed Cuckoo (Centre County, PA) - Typically a treetop dweller, I was happy when this Black-billed Cuckoo came low enough for a decent photo. Black-billed CuckooBlack-billed Cuckoo

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH)  - I photographed this Black-crowned Night-Heron in mid-day with a high, bright sun.  Definitely not a choice I would make if I had any kind of clout with the wildlife. Ha ha!  Apparently, they don't care what I want!  Anyway, I watched him sit on a log for an hour or so before he decided to take a flight over the water to relieve himself and return.  I don't know about other birds but these ones don't "poop" where they hunt for food.  I was glad he had to go because it gave me an opportunity for some action photos. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH) - In breeding season adults have two long white plumes on their heads. They are evident in the photo below.  Black-crowned night herons don't have adult plumage until they are about three years old. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH) - I have several more photos from this series.  If you are interested, you can view them in my Avian/Heron/Black-crowned Night-Heron gallery. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Bobolink (Lawrence County, PA) - I found several Bobolink mixed with Meadowlark and some sparrows.  The photo below is the female Bobolink.

BobolinkBobolinkFemale

 

Bobolink (Lawrence County, PA) - Here is the male Bobolink in breeding plumage. BobolinkBobolinkMale

 

Common Grackle (Ottawa County, OH) - Known to be a poor but spirited singer, the Common Grackle has to be proud of their iridescent plumage. Common GrackleCommon Grackle

 

Dunlin (Ottawa County, OH) -  First time I ever photographed this little shorebird DunlinDunlin

 

Dunlin (Ottawa County, OH) - Mirror, Mirror! DunlinDunlin

 

Eastern Towhee (Butler County, PA) - A vocal resident of our summer forest.  It's a special photo opportunity when you can find the male and female together in one frame. Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeMale & Female

 

Greater Yellowlegs (Ottawa County, OH) - Taking a break on a mound in the marsh. Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs

 

Green Heron (Centre County, PA) Green HeronGreen Heron

 

Green Heron chicks (Crawford County, PA) - A friend called me about a Green Heron nest in a nearby yard.  Height and leaves made photography difficult but it was neat to see. Green HeronGreen HeronNestling

 

Henslow's Sparrow (Clarion County, PA) Henslow's SparrowHenslow's Sparrow

 

Hermit Thrush (Forest County, PA) - The Hermit Thrush has an interesting courtship behavior.  For the first two days after arriving to his springtime breeding grounds, he attacks and chases the female.  If she remains beyond the two days, a union is formed. Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Philadelphia Vireo (Ottawa County, OH) - This guy looks very much like the Warbling Vireo pictured later in this photo blog.  The most noticeable difference is the yellow wash on the chin and chest of the Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia VireoPhiladelphia Vireo

 

Raccoon (Ottawa County, OH) - Magee Marsh has more than birds. RaccoonRaccoon

 

Red Squirrel (Butler County, PA) Red SquirrelRed Squirrel

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Mahoning County, OH) - Parks and golf courses are a good place to find this species of woodpecker.  I found them on a golf course in an Ohio Metro Park.  This one was looking for worms on the ground. Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Mahoning County, OH) - I think this is one of the most beautiful reds in nature. Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-winged Blackbird (Lawrence County, PA) - Even though they are plentiful, it's fun to capture a portrait showing his colors. Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged BlackbirdMale

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Forest County, PA) - He just appeared.  I had my back turned and I heard a chink sound that sounded like a sneaker on a gym floor.  I finally looked to see who was doing all the talking and there he was.  He must have heard a photographer was in town! Rose-breasted GrosbeakRose-breasted GrosbeakMale

 

Ruddy Turnstone (Ottawa County, OH) - There are about 350 species of shorebirds in the world, but there are only 2 turnstones, the Ruddy Turnstone and the Black Turnstone, both of which occur in North America.  This one had his face buried in the pebbles of the Lake Erie shore when a wave came in. Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy TurnstoneMale

 

Ruddy Turnstone (Ottawa County, OH) - The turnstone gets its name from its habit of turning over stones when it looks for food. It is also sometimes called the seaweed bird because it often feeds among the kelp at low tide.

Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy TurnstoneMale

 

Scarlet Tanager Male (Indiana County, PA) - A beautiful tanager with a difficult plumage color to photograph.  The light needs to be just right to correctly expose the male Scarlet Tanager. Some of my photographs depict a bright red to an orange at times.  It really doesn't matter.  It's just a pleasure to see a Scarlet Tanager in branches low enough for a portrait. Scarlet TanagerScarlet TanagerMale

 

Scarlet Tanager Female (Indiana County, PA) - Sometimes a guy can get lucky and have the mating pair show themselves.  Too bad they weren't in the same frame like the Eastern Towhee earlier in this photo blog. Scarlet TanagerScarlet TanagerFemale

 

Tree Swallow (Ottawa County, OH) - There were several Tree Swallow nesting trees located at Magee Marsh. Tree SwallowTree Swallow

 

Warbling Vireo (Ottawa County, OH) - Looks like a warbler except for the beak. Warbling VireoWarbling Vireo

 

White-tailed Deer (Jefferson County, PA) - This doe was crossing a gas line cut over the hills.  The fawn was so small I had to wait for it to get into shorter grass to see it. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerDoe with fawn

 

White-tailed Deer (Jefferson County, PA) - Another view as they turned up the hill. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerDoe with fawn

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Female (Forest County, PA) - This spring is the first time I ever photographed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  The sapsucker is in the woodpecker family. Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerFemale (White Chin)

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male (Forest County, PA) - The irregular rhythm of sapsucker drumming reminds a person of the beat of Morse Code. Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerMale (Red Chin)

 

Well, that's it for now.  I saw all that wildlife while in search of warblers.  During all those travels, I wonder what was hiding in the bushes that I didn't see.  Hmmm, I think I'll have to go back!

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Black-billed Cuckoo Black-crowned Night-Heron Bobolink Common Grackle Dunlin Eastern Towhee Greater Yellowlegs Green Heron Henslow's Sparrow Hermit Thrush Philadelphia Vireo Raccoon Red Squirrel Red-headed Woodpecker Red-winged Blackbird Rose-breasted Grosbeak Ruddy Turnstone Scarlet Tanager Tree Swallow Warbling Vireo White-tailed Deer Yellow-bellied Sapsucker http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/the-enjoyment-of-may-and-june-wildlife Thu, 15 Jun 2017 23:14:16 GMT
Golden-winged Warbler: A Golden Opportunity http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/golden-winged-warbler-a-golden-opportunity The Golden-winged Warbler is a gorgeous species of wood warbler.  Its rarity and threatened existence makes it a great find for birders and wildlife photographers.  I had a wonderful and extremely fortunate opportunity to photograph Golden-winged Warblers on two occasions this spring.  I hope you enjoy these photographs because it is a bird you may never see unless you are in the correct habitat and are specifically looking for it.

The Golden-winged Warbler is a slivery-gray bird with a golden crown and wing accents.  Males have a bold black-and-white face pattern.  Females are similar but lack the black face and bib.

Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale

 

Once common in the northeast, the Golden-winged has been declining recently in southern parts of its breeding range. As it disappears, its close relative the Blue-winged Warbler has been advancing north. It is not completely understood why the Blue-winged is driving the Golden-winged out of the best habitats.

Hybridization is another element in the sharp decline of Golden-winged Warblers.  The Blue-winged Warbler is a much more aggressive and dominant bird.  These two species are known to hybridize where they share breeding grounds.  Their hybrid offspring are known as a “Brewster’s” Warbler and “Lawrence’s” Warbler.  Sorry, I don’t have photos of a hybrid to share.  However, here is a brief description of the two hybrids as explained on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. “These can be variable, but “Brewster’s” Warbler is mostly gray and white with a yellow forehead, like a Golden-winged Warbler, but has a black line through the eye instead of the stronger face pattern of the Golden-winged. “Lawrence’s” Warbler has yellow overall, like a Blue-winged, but shows the Golden-winged Warbler’s black mask and throat patch.”

Back to the Golden-winged Warbler. 

 

This beautiful species breed in dense, tangled, shrubby habitats such as regenerating clearcuts, wet thickets, and tamarack bogs.  Tamarack is a very cold tolerant evergreen also known as Hackmatack, Eastern Larch, Black Larch, Red Larch, American Larch, or Juniper. Wildfires, flooding from beaver dams, and tornado destruction are a few ways shrubby openings amid a forested landscape are created.  Once their young have fledged, they move into nearby woodlands.

 

In the early 20th century, habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler was common when settlers cleared land for homes and farming.  Many of those areas have grown back into forests.  Wildfires and beaver dams are more controlled these days preventing natural habitat to be formed.

 

With about half of the global Golden-winged Warbler population being in Minnesota, I realize how fortunate I am to have spent some time photographing them.

GoldenWingedWarblerRangeMapGoldenWingedWarblerRangeMap

 

 

At only 5.1 inches long and weighing a mere 0.3 - 0.4 ounces, they make it all the way to open woodlands and shade-coffee plantations of mountainous Central and South America for the winter.

 

You can see in the range map to the left the Golden-winged Warbler is a long-distance migrant. With migration movement peaking in September, they travel south mainly through a corridor of states east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachians. Spring migration and their return north begins in April but they don't arrive in Pennsylvania until early May.

 

 

Golden-winged Warblers often hop along branches of brushy and shrubby areas, carefully checking each leaf for prey, even sometimes dangling off the edges of branches like a chickadee.

 

So what are they searching for?  Food items they prefer are caterpillars, spiders, moths and other insects.  Leafroller caterpillars appear to be an important food source.   Golden-winged Warblers probe with their sharp bills into rolled-up leaves to find the hidden caterpillars.  They rarely catch insects while in flight.

 

Males sing a loud, very distinguishable, buzzy song from the tops of shrubs in spring and early summer.  Interestingly, hybrids do not sing their own songs.  Instead they sing either normal Blue-winged Warbler songs, Golden-winged Warbler songs, or both.  One thing I needed to be aware of when I was searching the correct habitat of Golden-winged Warblers was I couldn’t rely on song for a positive identification.  Sometimes, pure-looking parental types sing the "wrong" song.  The Golden-winged in the photo below was singing the correct song for his species.

 

Males are extremely vocal for 3 to 4 weeks at the start of their breeding season.  They will confront other males in their territory, sometimes actually fighting.

 

Only after territories and mates are selected do they become secretive and quiet.

 

Are you interested in their nesting activity?  The female Golden-winged builds the nest, usually on the ground.  The nest is built at the base of a plant with a tall thick stem such as Golden Rod or Blackberry for support.  The base is made up of leaves and long strips of bark from a grapevine or arrowwood.  Nests are 3.5 to 6 inches across and 1 to 2.5 inches deep.  The female is very sensitive.  If disturbed, they are known to abandon their nest even after the first eggs have been laid. They will also try to trick predators.  As a decoy, they will carry food to places other than their nest.

 

The Audubon Society has a climate model that projects a shift of their breeding range completely out of their current breeding range by 2080.  The summer range is expected to more than double thankfully to efforts of creating second-growth habitats.  Since it doesn’t take long for the habitat to become established, there is hope that the Golden-winged Warbler will move with the climate space.  There is more good news amongst all the sad news of their declining population. 

Cornell Lab and their partners in the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group have a conservation plan to stop their decline and continue to grow the population by 50% by the year 2050.

 

These warblers will be around throughout my lifetime but I sure hope, with preservation efforts in place, children of today and all future generations will be able to enjoy these birds too.

Here is another example displaying their habits of hanging upside down from the end of tree limbs.  This time he is singing his song.

 

Research for this photo blog included Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birds of Pennsylvania, and Stokes Field Guide to Warblers.  Photography equipment used was a Canon EOS-1DX MK II and a Canon EF 600mm f/4L II USM Lens.  In some photos I may have also used a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III rendering a f/5.6, 840mm focal length.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Golden-winged Warbler http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/golden-winged-warbler-a-golden-opportunity Sun, 04 Jun 2017 23:39:37 GMT
A Brief Lake Erie Shore Morning http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/a-brief-erie-shore-morning In the second half of April, the Lake Erie shoreline in Conneaut, Ohio had a special visitor called an American White Pelican.  I wanted to make the 2.5 hour trip several times but timing never worked out for me.  Finally I had a free morning and with a sighting within the previous 24 hours, I was pretty hopeful that I was going to come home with American White Pelican photographs.

It wasn’t meant to be.  While waiting for a pelican sighting, I had several other species of birds to photograph so the day was not lost.

Upon arriving to the shore, I noticed this juvenile Bald Eagle walking along the beach in an area where dead fish wash up on the sand. Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

I’ve photographed Caspian Tern many times at Conneaut but this day was going to be special.  There was a flock of probably 200 Caspian Tern.  Well, let’s face it, 150 tern and 350 tern look pretty much the same when they are flying around.  Let’s just say there were a lot.  I held the shutter button down when several of them took off at one time. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

If I was looking for a quiet, soothing day at the shore, I was badly mistaken.  The Caspian Tern wanted to vocalize.  Usually, many at once. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

There was a lot more than raspy squawking going on.  These two were preparing to mate right in front of all the other terns. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

You would think the previous photo would make the other tern jealous.  Seems like flying by with a fish in your mouth causes more excitement. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Because I don’t get to see many species of tern, I still need to look some up to confirm identification.  I almost dismissed this smaller tern that was there in very few numbers.  There were about three Forster’s Tern mixed in with the Caspian Tern.  While the northeastern United States is in the migration path of the Caspian Tern, range maps show the Forster’s Tern is not. Forster's TernForster's Tern

 

I mentioned earlier that a fish causes quite a ruckus when it’s being paraded around the flock in the mouth of a Caspian Tern. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

It was fun to watch how the other tern reacted when the “owner of the fish” came close by.  Some vocalized while others tried to steal the food. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Once I saw the Forster’s Tern in flight, I knew I had something special.  I’ll be honest, I still didn’t know what it was.  I wish I would have spent more time photographing this rare find but the next few images are the last ones I got before it flew to another part of the beach and I ran out of time.

Now I know the forked tail is the major identifying mark of a Forster's Tern. Forster's TernForster's Tern

Forster's TernForster's Tern

Forster's TernForster's Tern

 

One of my last sights before leaving the beach that morning was an immature Ring-billed Gull catching a fish.  Well, that’s not really a big deal.  It was interesting because the fish was too big for the gull to lift off.  Using its wings, it swam about 30 yards to the shoreline in front of me stopping and covering its prey every time another bird flew past. Ring-billed GullRing-billed GullImmature

 

Double-crested Cormorants are a skittish bird.  I spotted this lone cormorant on a large pond near the harbor so I stopped for a few photos. Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

 

That ended my morning watching for the American White Pelican.  Maybe next time I’ll react a little quicker when another one migrates off-track and visits a near-by shore.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Caspian Tern Double-crested Cormorant Forster's Tern Ring-billed Gull http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/a-brief-erie-shore-morning Tue, 30 May 2017 22:11:06 GMT
Bald Eagle Eaglet: Two Weeks Later http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/bald-eagle-eaglet-two-weeks-later The Bald Eagle nesting season is almost over in western Pennsylvania.  I thought this is a good time to reflect on two separate visits I made to an Ohio nest about 65 miles west of the Pennsylvania border.

This nest is very unique because the nest tree is situated on a hillside below the road giving birders and photographers a short 70 yard view into the bole of the nest.

On my first visit the single eaglet was a mere two weeks old. Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

While one adult was away from the nest most of the time, the mate was usually on the nest or perched nearby.  Here is a rare occurrence when the eaglet was alone and gave its wings a stretch. Bald EagleBald EagleEaglet

 

Below is the male sitting on the nest with the eaglet. Normally, you can identify the female because she is larger than the male.  that is true but this female also has a darkening behind and around her eyes. You will see that in later photos. Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

The quality of care a Bald Eagle provides for its young is impressive.  Here is “Dear Ol’ Dad” giving warmth to the inquisitive eaglet. Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

I think the eaglet feels safe with its father. Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

At this age, eaglets are fed quite often.  I imaging it’s because their little bellies can’t hold much food.  Dad was already on the nest when his mate arrived with a half eaten fish. Bald EagleBald EagleMale, Female (behind) and Eaglet down in nest

 

Shortly after mom arrives, the male leaves the nest.

Bald EagleBald EagleMale, Female and eaglet down in nest

 

It’s time for a feeding.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale feeding Eaglet

 

That was the end of my first visit.  I planned a return soon to see how much the eaglet grew.

I did return to the nest site two weeks later when the eaglet was four weeks old.  Look at the difference in size in a short two weeks.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Even though it was much larger, it is still dependent on an adult to tear apart the food.  The next photo is mom feeding the eaglet.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

After feeding, the adult fluffs up the grasses in the bole and lays down on top of the eaglet usually causing the eaglet to rest and maybe go to sleep.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Sometimes the eaglet may take a nap and sometimes it stays alert.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

It is comical watching the eaglet maneuver around the nest because it hasn’t grown into its feet yet.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

It will be quite some time until these wings are large enough and strong enough to take it soaring into the sky.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

At this age, it seemed like a change of guardian occurred every 2 hours. Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Male in nest.

 

Here is mom and eaglet sitting on the nest.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

I imagine it can get boring waiting for the eaglet to grow up and fledge the nest. 

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

After a nap, it’s feeding time.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

When the eaglet was two weeks old, I decided to shoot video of the eaglet being fed.  As I was adding a 2X extender to my 600mm prime lens, they finished feeding.  As I began the video, I captured the “after feeding” activity of the parent showing how they prepare the bole for nap time. The second part of this video was recorded two weeks later when the eaglet was four weeks old.  This time I did capture the eaglet being fed.

Click the link below to start the video.  It may take 10 seconds or so to buffer so please be patient after you press start.

 

Now that the eaglet is getting larger, it gets a little more alone time on the nest.  Below is a photo of the female leaving the nest in route to a nearby branch.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

 

She spent nearly 45 minutes alone on the branch. 

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

 

As her mate approached the nest, she left her perch to explore the surrounding countryside.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

 

It was dad’s turn to babysit.

Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

I’ll wrap up this photo blog with a portrait of the eaglet with its father.

Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/bald-eagle-eaglet-two-weeks-later Thu, 18 May 2017 23:00:05 GMT
Great Horned Owl: One of Pennsylvania's Earliest Nesters http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/great-horned-owl-earliest-nesters

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most common owls in North America and just about any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics.  In Pennsylvania, they are one of the first birds to begin laying eggs in the new year.

This year, I had the opportunity to watch two nests of Great Horned Owls.  One was in Butler County, Pennsylvania and the other at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.  I was able to visit the Butler County nest frequently but I only made two trips to Erie.  During the two times I was there, I logged about 14 hours in front of the nest.

Below is a photo of the hen owl incubating eggs on February 11th at Presque Isle. Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

Great Horned Owls typically nest in tall trees such as cottonwood, juniper, beech, pine, and others.  Unlike other birds, who painstakingly carry branches and twigs to build a nest, the Great Horned Owl usually adopts a nest that was built by another species.  They also use cavities in live trees, dead snags, deserted buildings, cliff ledges, and human-made platforms.

At the Butler County nest on February 20th, the hen appears to be incubating.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Because they reuse old nests, they often consist of sticks and vary widely in size.  The size depends on what species originally built the nest.  Some nests they have been known to occupy were from hawks, crows, ravens, herons, and squirrels.  Great Horned Owls do "make the nest their own" by lining it with materials such as shreds of bark, leaves, downy feathers plucked from their own breast, fur or feathers from prey, and trampled pellets.

Hen on the Butler County nest on February 24th. 

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Speaking of adopting the nests of other birds, I witnessed a very obvious example of that in April, 2013.  While visiting a local Heron Rookery I noticed a strange formation in one of the nests.  After a closer look, I realized it was two Great Horned Owl nestlings.  Since the owl picks their nest much earlier than the heron, they were mixed into the colony.  Talk about keeping your enemies close. Great Horned Owl Nestlings & Great Blue HeronGreat Horned Owl Nestlings & Great Blue HeronThe Great Horned Owl nests mostly in stick nests from other birds. These Owletes are in the middle of a Great Blue Heron rookery.

 

The Great Horned Owl is a powerful predator that can take down birds and mammals larger than itself but they also attack smaller targets such as mice and frogs. 

 

On this March 12th visit, I got my first glimpse of the owlet as it was getting attention from the hen.  The remaining images are from Butler County until I note a change.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

The warm sunlight of March 12th was comforting for the sleepy hen.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

As the evening of March 13th was upon us, the sun disappeared and the hen became more active.  She was beginning to make short flights away from the nest.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

I stayed at the nest all evening on March 16th with hopes of seeing the growing baby.  It showed itself but I had to reposition myself to get a good view.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

The location of this nest was positioned in good photography sunlight only about one hour in the evening.  Otherwise, it came from undesirable directions causing shadows.  I returned on March 22nd in hopes to find the owlet covered in sunlight.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

This photo was on March 25th minutes after the hen fed the baby.  You can see a little piece of meat still stuck on her beak.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

After changing position once again, I got a great family portrait on March 25th.  I use the word "family" loosely because the father isn't in the photo.  I assure you he was a provider but I never saw him.  In the early evening he would call to the hen from deep in the woods.  She always responded but I never saw him.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

As the owlet grew the hen was seldom in the nest.  However, she didn't perch nearby either.  The previous photo was the last time I saw the hen.  The next photo was made on March 27th.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Since these "used" nests deteriorate over the course of the breeding season and are usually not reused in later years, I look forward to next February to see if anything occupies this nest.

The lone owlet fledged within days after this April 5th photo.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Here is a short video compilation of the Butler County owl nest from February to late in the nesting season.

Great Horned Owl Nesting

 

Back to the nest in Erie, PA.  This nest is in the top of a dead tree stump.  The stump is about 20 feet tall and has been reused year after year.  I don't know its history but I know it's been at least three years that I've known about the nest.

The remaining photos were made on my last trip to Presque Ilse on April 14th.

This nest is in a location that provides an opportunity for anyone to witness the growth of Great Horned Owl nestlings.  Situated a short distance from a paved bike path it is easily wheelchair accessible.  The owls don't seem to mind and people respect the wildlife by keeping their distance.  Actually, you are not allowed to exit the path and "Big Brother" is watching.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

Speaking for myself, during the longs stays at the nest I are hoping for one thing.  I want to photograph interaction between the owlets or between a parent and the owlets.  That's it!  If I only wanted a portrait like the one above, I would be in and out in 30 minutes. 

It looks like the photographers and other onlookers might be a little boring for the owlets.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

The hen is usually found perching in a dense grove of Hemlock trees near the nest.  On this evening she came out and flew to a few different perches.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

From what I've heard, the hen is around the nest more than the male owl.  However, we were greeted by both on this day.  Below is the male perched at the opposite edge of the woods line.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

The growing owlets are comical and fun to watch.  I didn't shoot any video at this nest because there are too many people talking and I prefer to have a little seclusion for video.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

The sun had already set when the hen finally came to the nest.  The family didn't strike an award winning pose on the nest but I finally had the opportunity to see the hen with the owlets.  

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

As the skies darkened, I managed one more photo while the hen was feeding in the corner of the nest.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

Both of these owlets fledged the nest within the first 5 days of May ending a successful breeding season once again.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Great Horned Owl http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/great-horned-owl-earliest-nesters Mon, 15 May 2017 01:21:38 GMT
Spring Wildlife of Pennsylvania http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/spring-wildlife-of-pennsylvania Each year during April and May I don't get enough sleep, I don't do as much around the yard, and I do a lot of traveling.  Why? It's because spring is here and wildlife photo opportunities are abundant. 

Most of my blogs have a theme or a story to tell but occasionally I just want to share some photos that shouldn't be missed.  I want to use this blog entry to share a variety of April and May wildlife photos.

This Eastern Gray Squirrel was peering at me from the safety of a tall walnut tree.

Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern Gray Squirrel

 

This was the first Eastern Towhee I saw this spring.  He was singing a lot.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeMale

 

We do have Common Loon in our surrounding lakes during the spring migration.

Common LoonCommon Loon

 

Common Loon are difficult to photograph without a blind.  If you get too close they dive underwater.  With the ability to stay under water over a minute in normal conditions, who knows how far away it will be when it surfaces. Common LoonCommon Loon

 

The Red-winged Blackbird is the harbinger of spring in western Pennsylvania.  Sounding off while displaying their "coat of arms" is a common springtime occurrence.

Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged Blackbird

 

The Tree Swallow is commonly seen flying swiftly a couple feet above the water's surface searching for insects.  It's nice when they can be found sitting on a nice perch.

Tree SwallowTree Swallow

 

I love the colors of a Blue-winged Teal in flight.

Blue-winged TealBlue-winged TealDrake

 

I had several male Blue-winged Teal swimming around me on this day.

Blue-winged TealBlue-winged TealDrake

 

I had fun trying to capture them in flight.

Blue-winged TealBlue-winged TealDrake

 

The Northern Shoveler has a long, spoon-shaped bill which has comblike projections along its edges to filter out food from the water.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

I have to admit that identifying sandpipers and sparrows is not my best skill.  This next photo is of a Pectoral Sandpiper.  It was the first time I ever photographed one so, in birder's terms, I got another "lifer".

Pectoral SandpiperPectoral Sandpiper

 

One identification mark of the Greater Yellowlegs is its long, upturned bill.

Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs

 

It hasn't been long since this guy dropped his antlers.  Before long, they will begin to grow again.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerYoung Buck

 

I photographed this female House Sparrow in my backyard Redbud tree.  It adopted one of my bluebird nesting boxes.

House SparrowHouse SparrowFemale

 

Blue Jay in a Redbud tree.  I love the contrast of colors. Blue JayBlue Jay

 

I know of a Red Fox den but during the infrequent times I could get there, I was only treated with a visit by the vixen.

Red FoxRed FoxVixen

 

She laid in her spot for about 20 minutes before getting up and probably wondering why I'm still here.

Red FoxRed FoxVixen

 

After moving further back into the dense brush, she sat, gazing into the distance.

Red FoxRed FoxVixen

 

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a beautiful springtime songbird returning to nest in Pennsylvania.

Blue-gray GnatcatcherBlue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

Carolina Wren, one of the first birds I hear chirping before the sun comes up.

Carolina WrenCarolina Wren

 

I love the sweet song of an Eastern Meadowlark.  This was a special treat finding several in a field of Dandelion.

Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark

 

Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark

 

They are tough to capture in flight.

Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark

 

The Northern Mockingbird is one of the best mimics in Pennsylvania.

Northern MockingbirdNorthern Mockingbird

 

This female Northern Flicker came by for a visit.  A male looks similar but he has a black Mustache under the eyes.

Northern FlickerNorthern FlickerFemale

 

American Goldfinch takes a break to sing. American GoldfinchAmerican Goldfinch

 

The secretive Virginia Rail usually stays hidden in dense vegetation of freshwater marshes. Virginia RailVirginia Rail

 

In order to flee predators, the Virginia Rail can swim under water, propelling itself with its wings. Virginia RailVirginia Rail

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Goldfinch Blue Jay Blue-winged Teal Carolina Wren Common Loon Eastern Meadowlark Eastern Towhee Glue-gray Gnatcatcher Gray Squirrel Greater Yellowlegs House Sparrow Northern Flicker Northern Mockingbird Northern Shoveler Pectoral Sandpiper Red Fox Red-winged Blackbird Tree Sparrow Virginia Rail White-tailed Deer http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/spring-wildlife-of-pennsylvania Tue, 09 May 2017 23:57:12 GMT
A Morning in the Marsh http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-morning-in-the-marsh It’s tough to get up at 6 AM Monday through Friday to go to work after getting to bed close to the midnight hour the night before.  By the weekend, your butt is dragging and the thought of sleeping in Saturday morning until 7 or 8 o’clock is really nice.  It doesn’t work that way if you like to photograph wildlife.

On Saturday, April 8th, my alarm sounded at 5 AM to signal the start of my day.  With sleepy eyes, I stumbled into the shower to help regain consciousness.  Once the numbness went away, I remembered why I was torturing myself like that.

Torture is a strong word to describe waking up early to set up in a photo blind along a marsh soon to be visited by various species of waterfowl.  It is amazing to have the likes of Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck and other species swim within 20 feet of your lens while being unaware that you are there.

This photo blog documents one morning in April in a photo blind, at a marsh in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

I met up with my friend Jake Dingel before sunrise that Saturday morning and we entered the woods on our way to a marsh that is adjacent to a large pond.  Once we were set up in our separate photo blinds, we waited.  There were Canada Geese present on the pond already but it was too dark to get a quality photograph.  Besides, once they calmed down after our rude interruption, they floated around as though we were no longer there. 

Then the sun began to rise.

Canada GooseCanada Goose

 

Not long after we set up, waterfowl sightings began to increase.  In a darker section of the pond was a diving and resurfacing Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed GrebePied-billed Grebe

 

After a short sit, the sun rose and lit up the pond in front of us.  Jake set up his blind on one side of the pond and keeping the sun behind me, I set up mine about 40 yards away.  Last years’ cattails separated our views of the water.

There were a few Ring-necked Ducks in the distance but they suddenly disappeared.  Then the Canada Geese became very vocal.  I received a text from Jake telling me to look in the big tree to the right of the pond.  This was the reason for the commotion. Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

There was about 15 minutes of quiet time until the Bald Eagle finally flew off.  With its nest being within ¼ mile from the pond, I could see it in the distance throughout the morning. 

With the eagle gone, activity began to pick up.  This Ring-necked Duck pair were diving for food and eventually came near me.  Notice the water on the head and bill of the female as she resurfaced.  The waxy layer of a duck’s feathers causes a connection between her and the water surface as the rest rolled off like “water marbles”.

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake & Hen

 

I had a brief few seconds as both drake and hen were on the surface together.

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake & Hen

 

The first Wood Ducks of the morning came into view across the pond.  After staying in a far section of the water, they swam close to a nesting box.  The female flew up to investigate.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

Over the course of the morning we saw several Wood Ducks.  They would fly in, swim around the pond, and fly out.  At one point a lone female Wood Duck landed on a stump in the water.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Thanks to long, strong claws, the Wood Duck is one of the few species that can perch on branches. They are the only duck native to the United States and Canada to have that ability.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

Most Wood Ducks were swimming in pairs or small rafts and occasionally, a male would go off by himself.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

Drake and hen Wood Ducks surrounded by emerging Spatterdock leaves.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

This small Canada Goose was getting chased around the pond all morning by mating pairs of geese.

Canada GooseCanada Goose

 

Finally, one of two pairs of Hooded Mergansers began to come our way.  They spent most of the morning completely across the pond.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserHen & Drake

 

By this time, there were several Wood Ducks spread across the pond.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

This is one happy fellow!

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & two Hens

 

We had two female Buffleheads diving under the water all morning but there wasn't a male in sight.

BuffleheadBuffleheadHen

 

As the elusive Hooded Mergansers came closer, I had plenty of opportunity for portraits.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserHen

 

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserHen

 

Sometimes, the Hooded Mergansers would swim to my right heading toward Jake’s blind.  Since cattails blocked his view, I’d text him to let him know they are coming and as soon as I pressed “send”, they would turn around and continue to entertain me.  At one point Jake texted me to say, “You must have minnows in your pocket?”

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserDrake

 

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserDrake

 

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserDrake

 

This little female Wood Duck landed very close to my blind.  She spun around quickly and watched my blind for about 10 seconds before taking off.  This photo was made as she began to open her wings to take flight.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Bufflehead Canada Goose Hooded Merganser Pied-billed Grebe Wood Duck http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-morning-in-the-marsh Sat, 29 Apr 2017 20:04:55 GMT
Sky Dancing Ritual of the American Woodcock http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/sky-dancing-ritual-of-the-american-woodcock The American Woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker, are a superbly camouflaged bird against the leaf litter of the forest floor.  While its subdued plumage and low-profile behavior make it hard to find, springtime is an exception.

WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

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

WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

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

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

 

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

American Woodcock

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Woodcock http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/sky-dancing-ritual-of-the-american-woodcock Mon, 24 Apr 2017 00:49:21 GMT
2017 Spring Waterfowl Migration In Full Swing http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/2017-spring-waterfowl-migration-begins I have written several blogs in the past sharing my spring waterfowl migration photos.  For them, I’ve researched various facts to share with the accompanied photos.  This photo blog entry is going to be a little different.  Since these are all subjects I have written about in the past, I’m going to make this one easy on the mind.  Yours and mine!

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

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

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake

 

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

Greater ScaupGreater Scaup

 

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

American WigeonAmerican WigeonDrake

 

The American Wigeon has also been called “baldpate”.

American WigeonAmerican WigeonHen

 

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

Northern PintailNorthern PintailHen & Drake

 

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

Green-winged TealGreen-winged TealDrake

 

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

Tundra SwanTundra Swan

 

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

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

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

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

Below is a small flock of Northern Pintails flying. 

Northern PintailNorthern PintailDrake/Hen/Drake

 

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

Northern PintailNorthern PintailDrake

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Wigeon Bald Eagle Greater Scaup Green-winged Teal Northern Pintail Northern Shoveler Ring-necked Duck Tundra Swan http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/2017-spring-waterfowl-migration-begins Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:37:08 GMT
A Foggy Day Turned Snowy http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-foggy-day-turned-snowy Once November arrives, birders and wildlife photographers in western Pennsylvania begin to have hopes of seeing a Snowy Owl, our grand visitor from the north.  When the weather gets bad in Canada, Snowy Owls will begin to head south but only far enough to find food.  If you are lucky enough to find one, it will probably be a female or juvenile male.  The pure white males tend to stay back to the north.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It flew about 25 yards and sat down to eat.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It seemed content again simply sitting on the pole.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

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

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

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Snowy Owl http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-foggy-day-turned-snowy Wed, 12 Apr 2017 21:04:33 GMT
Wrapping Up Winter With Feathers and Fur http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/wrapping-up-winter-with-feathers-and-fur Spring is in the air!  Although the calendar says it's spring, we can't always count on springlike weather.  One thing we can count on is waterfowl migration and preparation for wildlife babies.

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

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

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

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

Common MerganserCommon MerganserDrake

 

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

Dark-eyed JuncoDark-eyed Junco

 

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

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

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

 

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

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

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

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

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

KilldeerKilldeer

 

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

Red-bellied WoodpeckerRed-bellied WoodpeckerFemale

 

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

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk

 

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

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

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

Horned GrebeHorned GrebeNon-Breeding

 

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

American PipitAmerican Pipit

 

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

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

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

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

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

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Pipit Common Merganser Dark-eyed Junco Great Horned Owl Horned Grebe Horned Lark Killdeer Red-bellied Woodpecker Red-tailed Hawk White-tailed Deer Wild Turkey http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/wrapping-up-winter-with-feathers-and-fur Fri, 07 Apr 2017 00:02:22 GMT
Late Winter Bald Eagles http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/late-winter-bald-eagles The adult Bald Eagle begins fall migration when the northern lakes and rivers freeze over.  Depending on their location, they migrate to the coast, large rivers near dams, or just about anywhere that the water doesn't freeze.  Wind currents play a large role in the direction they take.

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

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Finally, ready to go!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Off to get one more stick!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

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

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle http://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/late-winter-bald-eagles Sat, 01 Apr 2017 23:26:29 GMT
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.

ShortEardOwlRangeMapShortEardOwlRangeMap

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.

Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern Gray 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