I would bet that everyone reading this photo blog has visited a state park. Most people live near at least one state park. The closest state park to me, Moraine State Park in Portersville, PA, is only 10 miles away and is the park I visit most often. Many of you reading these words do not live in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio where you would have easy access to Moraine State Park. However, the point I want to make in today's photo blog is applicable to anyone, any state park, anywhere.
Moraine State Park is one of my favorite places to photograph wildlife and it is used by people for many more reasons. This isn't going to be a blog about what you can do while at Moraine State Park but more about what many people may miss while at Moraine State Park.
I see hundreds of people enjoying outdoor activities in the park; especially in the spring and summer. The 3,225 acre Lake Arthur is probably the biggest attraction and I think swimming, biking, and fishing are three of the most popular activities. While those people are having the time of their lives, they are missing out on something pretty special. It's the wildlife, feathered or furry, big or small.
Many people have met me somewhere along a trail or simply lugging my camera gear over my shoulder anywhere I might find wildlife. A couple walking their dog recently walked past me and nodded to say hello. What did they miss? I was photographing a Palm Warbler. A tiny little bird that when positioned in the dark center of a shrub, looks just like any other little bird. Look at the beauty that I got to see.
In early May the Killdeer chicks begin to hatch. These little birds are born with full buffy down feathers and are ready to leave the nest as soon as they dry. In case you missed it, please check out my recent photo blog called, Killdeer: Life Under Wings, for more information about the habits of this shorebird. Some people give me a crazy look when I have my 600mm lens attached to a 1.4x extender pointed to the gravel 40 feet away from me. If it weren't for the piercing call of the mother, nobody would see the three inch high chicks running around like they've been trapped in an egg for the last 22 to 28 days.
I see several rabbits and groundhogs everywhere in the park. If you stop the car, most of the groundhogs run on their path into the tall grass. The first time I saw this groundhog in the park, I photographed her and moved along. After a friend told me she had a litter, I went back and watched carefully until I saw the movement of several baby groundhogs congregating around a burrow in the hillside. In case you missed it, you can see more of this groundhog family in a recent photo blog called, Groundhogs: The North American Marmot. I was photographing out of my vehicle window, watching the Groundhog den from about 50 feet away, when people drove by. They looked towards the direction my lens was pointing but, seeing nothing, they continued to drive away.
Any one of us who spends time around water has seen a Common Grackle. The iridescent coloring of the male stands out when the sun hits them in the right way. Sometimes, there are so many that we don't pay attention to them. One evening in late March, I drove down to a portion of the lake, near the Sunken Garden Trail, where many people launch kayaks. I drove down to look for Ruddy Duck that seem to like that area of the lake. I found these two male Common Grackles performing for a female. I couldn't get the female in the photo as she was perched several yards away but capturing the antics of these two, in the glow of the setting sun, was very unexpected.
After pointing to the sky, one would buff up and let out his call that sounded like someone was closing a rusty gate.
This little Eastern Phoebe was my first phoebe sighting of 2016. I was sitting along the shore of Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park watching for waterfowl and this little phoebe was showing off his insect catching abilities. They are fun to watch as they perch above the water and fly out to snag an insect out of the air before returning to the same perch.
I found this Barred Owl on the far eastern portion of the lake.
The Common Yellowthroat is a fairly common bird in our area. They are a striking bird with their bright yellow chest and throat and their Lone Ranger mask. I found this male in the park singing like there's no tomorrow!
The Eastern Towhee is a bird of the forest undergrowth. The spring and summer forest is filled with the male's famous call that sounds like drink-your-tea. The word tea is held like a singing note and sometimes their call will begin with more than one drink. Even though you may hear them, you may only catch tiny glimpses of them in the lower tangles of branches. I managed to capture a photo of this male Eastern Towhee and its mate (next photo) on a slow evening walk in the woods of Moraine SP.
Here is the female Eastern Towhee, mate of the male above.
Beside the parking lot of the Sunken Garden Trail on the Lake Arthur south shore, stands a large crabapple tree. While it was in blossom, I spent a couple evenings photographing several species of birds looking for insects. One of those birds happened to be our American Robin.
A male Orchard Oriole scoured the tree too.
This male Baltimore Oriole was a lot of fun to watch and photograph. As he hopped from branch to branch, probing under each leaf for insects, he also stopped by many flowers for nectar.
The male Baltimore Oriole wasn't alone as he was joined in the hunt by either a female or a young male. Based on the dark orange color it is probably a male. Females are more yellow in color.
As I watched the crabapple tree, I noticed a little movement in a nearby shrub. I scanned the area with my lens and noticed this little male Yellow Warbler hiding in the thicket. Generally, when we photograph birds, we strive for a clear shot with a clean background. This photo is rather cluttered but it demonstrates the point of this photo blog. Most people would never get to see this little gem that was sitting only a couple feet deep in the shrub.
Oh, how I wanted a warbler to perch within these Dogwood blooms. A female Yellow Warbler did jump through but was definitely on an insect gathering mission. She didn't give me a clean photo opportunity.
Lake Arthur isn't just one big oval lake. It has several fingers coming off of it with many creating shallow coves. In the spring, before the vegetation gets too high, I like to watch those coves for migrating waterfowl. Later, our breeding residents begin to take over. Here is a Canada Goose incubating her eggs on a nest built in the middle of a shallow section of the lake. Usually, the Canada Goose will become very loud if you intrude into their area. She and her mate were very quiet for me but I did feel like I was being watched!
While I was driving around some back roads of the park listening for different species of birds, a spring rain shower began and lasted about 10 minutes. Shortly after it stopped, I spotted this Cottontail Rabbit getting a drink while it munched on the wet vegetation.
The main road on the south shore of Moraine SP is a loop that begins and ends at the ranger station. Part way through, across from Pleasant Valley Beach, is a hillside with an access road that intersects the loop. That road is a great place to find birds. I always park on the road halfway up the first hill to watch the trees on both sides. Since they are actually rooted about 20 feet below you , it provided a very nice view of birds in the tree tops. That is where I found the male Northern Cardinal searching for insects among the catkins in a Red Oak tree.
Across the road from the oak are several shrubby plants and briar bushes. It is a very popular place for Yellow Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler like the singing male in this next photograph.
The trees on the top of the hill hold the largest number of Baltimore Orioles that I've seen in the park. If you go up there in the evening, the oriole song seems to surround you as the mating pairs sing a duet. Orioles and Scarlet Tanager's both like tall leafy trees and occasionally, I have seen a Scarlet Tanager flitting from treetop to treetop. On this day, a male tanager was chasing insects and came a little lower than normal.
As I said earlier, Yellow Warblers like the shrubby hillside too. That is where I found this little female.
This is a view from the top of the hill where the orioles can be found all summer. These trees are filled with song nightly and the view tops off a great visit.
There are several Osprey nesting posts throughout the park. Some are best visible by boat and some are mounted near a bike trail. I avoid getting too close for a long period of time when they are on a nest because it's obvious, by their actions, the Osprey don't like visitors. Here is a view of one of the more secluded, active nests.
Spring is for singing! I didn't see the mate of this male Indigo Bunting but I heard her chirping somewhere nearby. Do you know what an Indigo Bunting's song sounds like? That may be the only way you will ever see one. Since their feathers don't have blue pigment, they look mostly dark in the shadows. Microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue, is what makes them blue. However, if you know what they sound like, you can stop and watch for them. They are beautiful to see.
I was driving along the north shore one morning when I heard the buzzing song of the Blue-winged Warbler. I pulled off the road and was serenaded by this male.
As I watched the Blue-winged Warbler sing his little heart out, along came a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and they started a chorus. If it wasn't for the familiar sound of the Blue-winged Warbler that made me stop, I would have never seen either one of these birds.
A walk through the forest usually brings the soothing, familiar sounds of birds high in the trees or chipmunks scurrying around on the ground. Sometimes, the abrupt chatter of the Red Squirrel nearly makes me jump out of my shoes.
Every photo I shared with you in this photo blog was made, over several days, in one state park. Hopefully, the next time you visit your local park you will take the time to look for and notice the "less obvious" enjoyments. Nature is pretty cool when you pay attention to it!
I remember a day, earlier this spring, I walked a trail from the lake to my waiting vehicle when a lady and her son drove by me and asked, "Is there a lake around here?". Hmm, maybe she needs to read my blog.
Thanks for looking,