Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense) have become a rarity with the soaring population of Whitetail Deer in the Finger Lakes. The gardeners at the Cornell Plantations would grow them in the greenhouse and transfer them to the Mundy Wildflower Garden only to have the deer destroy them. I recall finding my first bloom, and the whitetail doe brazenly standing nearby ready to trim it to the ground.
After a fruitless trip to find Showy Lady’s Slippers this morning, I stopped by the Redtail Hawk nest in Ithaca. It’s been five days since I saw them, and the change is dramatic.
First, the chicks seem to be getting more demonstrative. This chick seems to be giving the adult some demand in full voice.
The adult did not stay very long.
I noted two changes today. First, the chicks are now have the strength to break open the Chipmunks without the aid of an adult. That shows considerable progress. Second, they are testing their wings frequently.
I am wondering how many more weeks before they take flight. Likely, it will be a surprise.
All photos used a Nikon D800 with 400 mm lens and 1.4 multiplier. Shot at ISO 1600 using aperture priority at f/8. Noise reduction done in LR4.
Have to post this one photo of a Chestnut-sided Warbler in full voice. Went to a park very near home and found the bushes alive with birds due to the spring migration. It was mostly Chestnut-sided Warblers with a few Yellow Warblers, Wood Thrushes and Song Sparrows. The males seemed totally driven to out-sing one another, and to jump around trying to find their rivals. Never saw a female, and wonder if the females, as with so many birds, trail the males by a few weeks. Anyone know about that?
Perhaps someone can tell me why this seems humorous. I did not know they could open their beak so wide, but something makes me think he is just a loud mouth doing some bragging.
Appreciate any comments.
The sun is shining, the reports of new birds are filling my email and a great weekend is coming. So, my message for CNP members is to be sure to set aside some time to get out and photograph. I only have to step outside my door to have wildflowers emerging in bloom, and birds singing.
Met up with CNP member David Duneau at the Mundy Wildflower Garden on Cornell campus this Wednesday. I’ve posted a longer blog on my personal site at:
To briefly summarize, we were looking for birds, but not having much luck getting close. As we wrapped up on the parking lot, we saw incredible activity in nearby apple tree that was rich with blooms. The most exciting was a fantastically colorful Baltimore Oriole.
A Northern Cardinal was also pretty cooperative.
We also saw an uncommon Nashville Warbler in the tree. Warblers are harder for me because they are so often hidden inside the tree or bush, seem to move constantly and are very small. Perhaps the richest place right now is the Hawthorn Orchard behind the tennis center on campus. Seemingly dozens of different birds in the cover.
I’ll be unable to attend the next CNP meeting, but I hope to see reports of your success and perhaps a post here too.
In spite of the threat of rain, I headed out to my secret little farm ponds, hoping for Wood Ducks. I was hurried, and halfway down the woods road from the car I realized that I did not have my little three legged stool. Sounds trivial, but it is basic to my moveable blind. I sit on the stool, put the tripod in front of me, hook a bungee cord from one side of the stool and across my waist to the opposite side, and then drape a camouflage cover over me. Beginning out of sight, I can slip the tripod forward, than scoot the little stool forward without needing to take hold of the stool. The bungee cord keeps the stool in place and my hands are always on the tripod for steadiness. Like a caterpillar, I can slowly move into an exposed location with good visibility. Absent the stool today, I would have to make the approach on my knees. Not fun. Then, I got to the pond and found three pairs of very vocal Canada Geese patrolling right where I wanted to be.
It took forty-five minutes to get in position. At times, the geese slipped to one side or another and I could move two or three slow steps on my knees. Not pleasant. At other times, I could see they were all looking the other way and I would move. In the end, I was in full view, though in camouflage, and they took no note of me from 45 feet away. I am thinking they have very short memory for what is present in a particular place. It seems their vocalization is not in alarm but just making noise. From experience, I know Wood Ducks are much more wary and would have made for a more difficult sneak. Now, I just needed the Wood Ducks to come in to the pond.
I first saw movement at the far side of the pond. Putting my long lens on the area I saw a lone drake. It seems odd that there were no other Wood Ducks, especially no hens. He seemed to be looking for company.
To my good fortune, the geese seemed to be drifting away to the other end of the pond and out of sight. Now, I needed the drake to complete the circuit and come around to my side.
It could not have developed any better. The drake came right in front of me, only about 15 feet away. Wow, they are beautiful! And, to give a measure of their wariness, he heard the camera and did a U-turn to retreat a distance away. I was relieved that he did not take flight, but over the next twenty minutes, he teased me. Then the rain appeared. I took cover under a large hemlock tree to quickly cover my camera, lens and tripod head on a large plastic bag for a very wet hike back to the car.
These are my first bird photos with my new D800 Nikon, and I am greatly impressed with the color based matrix metering and the continuous autofocus.
Overall, not a bad day. I kept the camera and lens dry in the rain, got a nice photo and my knees don’t hurt from the abuse. Next time I will have a check list.
Visited the Smoky Mountain area in the southeast United States for the first time. In addition to being rich in waterfalls, I expected to find some native wildflowers that were new to me compared to the northeastern US. I have added nearly a dozen new wildflowers to my photo galleries as a result of this outing.
The first stop was with friends who took us to Bald River State Park in southeastern Tennessee. Rather loved this single drop and the plunge pool half way down the drop.
After a pleasant visit with our hosts, we moved on to the Smoky Mountain National Park that spans Tennessee and North Carolina. Continue reading Smoky Mountain Wildflowers and Waterfalls
Winter Aconite is often the first wildflower of the spring excepting the Skunk Cabbage. Not native, there are eight varieties that stretch from southern Europe to western Asia and Japan. Introduced as a garden plant, the spread into the woodlands gives me pause at thinking of introducing it into my wildflower garden. Seems a potential problem if it gets out of hand. Nevertheless, it gives a bright burst of brilliant yellow for a few days. I’ve wanted to photograph a rich cluster of Winter Aconite but in the past, the flowers faded before I could get to them. Yesterday, I was lucky at a good friend’s cultivated wildflower garden.
Winter Aconite is a true ephemeral. The flowers fade rapidly and the leaves fully develop to capture the suns energy before completely disappearing by late spring. For those few sunny days in earliest spring, they are a favorite of the bees coming out of a cold winter.
Despite the mild winter, I am, as always come February, longing for the greens of early Spring. The tips of Day Lilies are already showing on the sunny side of the house. Buds are swelling on the trees earlier than usual.
Most look for the tell-tale Robin to signal Spring’s arrival. I’ve found that the arrival of the Turkey Vultures in the gorge behind our house as an equally dependable sign.
The woods of early Spring are often as beautiful and colorful as Fall. The new green is more intense than any other. And the trees glow against the contrast of nearly bare branches that still await new foliage.
The forest floor soon comes alive with new life and the warmth of the Spring sun fills the gorges and fields. The frost is gone, the morning dew is heavy, and I am inspired by the awakening of the earth.
Post written by George Cannon.
For those wanting to photograph Bald Eagles or waterfowl, the winter of 2012 has been frustrating. The mild winter has failed to push the birds south or to concentrate them. For me, it has also been hampering my need to test a new camera body. So, earlier this week, my patient spouse agreed to a two-day visit to the Delaware River around Lackawaxen. We saw Bald Eagles but never close enough for any interesting images. We met some nice people and stayed in a delightful B&B in Lackawaxen, the Roebling Inn on the Delaware.
So, on the second day I camped at the Lackawaxen boat launch, camera ready and waited for the resident Bald Eagle pair to swoop down to the river. They were up on the mountain side in a roost tree. Waited until noon. Never happened. We headed home with a stop at the Mongaup blind. Waiting inside for eagles, I heard a faint “pip-pip” and found a lone Northern Cardinal just outside the blind. Try finding a small bird in a 400 mm lens at the closest focus possible! After 10 minutes, hunger overrode any vain hope for eagles. It was 3 days later that I recalled the Cardinal image.
So, was the trip fruitless? Not really, just not as fruitful as hoped. We had a nice time together including an evening by the fireplace reading peacefully. The breakfast was wonderful. The other photographers I met were a source of good intelligence for future trips. I did get useful practice on birds-in-flight, just not frame filling.
As I write this, the wind outside is blowing wickedly and there is a meager cover of snow. Like a frustrated skier, I am hoping this weather will bring reports of concentrated birds. My experience fits into the old saying “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I will keep trying.
The Thanksgiving weekend at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia is billed as a waterfowl weekend to celebrate the huge numbers of migrating waterfowl that come to the Chesapeake Bay. Evidently, the waterfowl did not get the announcement this fall. So, absent them, what to photograph? Well, wild ponies.
The ponies spend most of the year on the Assateague Island except in July when the firemen round them up, and swim then onto Chincoteague to select out a number of yearlings for auction, and to provide veterinary care. Otherwise, they are pretty much on their own to survive.
Having come to see thousands of Snow Geese and such, the ponies were only mildly interesting though the majority of visitors seemed to get really excited to see them. Obviously not birders.
There are, of course, resident birds that are pretty accustomed to people. I’ve found that an auto is an excellent “blind” for bird photography. My wife, Pam, is becoming proficient in positioning the car for me, and I set up in the back seat with a bean bag on the window sill to support the heavy telephoto lens. Moving the car just a little can greatly improve the background and more clearly define the subject. Being in the backseat, I can shoot to both sides. Well, the first resident bird for us was a Great Blue Heron very intently fishing along the road to the beach.
One of the enjoyable aspects of photographing birds is learning to recognize the signs that a bird is ready to take flight or to strike at prey. When your reaction time is added to the shutter delay of around 45 milliseconds, it is key to press the shutter before the main motion is seen.
The action is so fast that I am not generally sure if I have captured the event until I get the images downloaded to my laptop that evening. The camera’s screen did not clearly let me see the small minnow in the bird’s beak.
Adding to the difficulty is keeping the bird’s eye in focus. The autofocus has to recognize the movement and shift focus in the milliseconds involved.
All of this was on a section of the beach road where a canal parallels road so you can be close to the birds.
While there, I was out of the car anticipating a fly-over of some egrets or an ibis that were nearby. Did not happen. As I chatted with another photographer, I saw a Belted Kingfisher fly down the canal towards a wooded patch some 200 yards away. Great Blue Herons are interesting but Belted Kingfishers are much less approachable, and I was excited. I’ve not previously had any good images with them. So, I gathered up my gear, set up the bean bag in the back seat, and Pam moved me into position.
The result was pretty encouraging. This little Belted Kingfisher helped me forget how few waterfowl were on the marshes. I realized how small they are as I watched it for about a half hour. It preened, and stretched, and then began some serious watching for prey. I was disappointed that it never dove for a fish, but still it was a high point for the weekend.
You’ll note the nice background. That came about from a shift of only 5 feet in the car’s position. If you are going after improved photos, pay serious attention to the background.
This was pretty much the high point of the weekend. We searched widely for more subjects but what I saw was not equal to images I already had of waterfowl. Still, we had an enjoyable time observing bird behavior with our binoculars.
There were a few Tundra Swans on the fresh water pools. We found one immature foraging very close to us on Sunday afternoon (after most of the weekend visitors had joined the exodus home). As the bird foraged, I realized how powerful they are. It was pulling water plants out by the roots, and would vigorously twist and strain to gain the plant. Their long neck allows them to feed at a greater depth than competing geese or ducks. Their size convinces the smaller waterfowl to stay distant.
Of course, Sunday evening was very quiet in town and the sunset along the channel was colorful.
We decided to skip the refuge in the morning and head home with a stop at Bombay Hook NWR where we found American Avocets, Northern Harriers, Pintails, Northern Shovelers and huge mixed flocks of Starlings, Grackles, and Redwing Blackbirds swirling about their roost trees in liquid waves called “murmurs”. ( The volunteer receptionist at Bombay Hook was from Ithaca. Small world, again.)
I expect to see on some bird blog that the waterfowl arrived on the Chesapeake in a few days. It will be tempting to try again, but I’ll first check with some local contacts. Overall, the weekend was enjoyable with some good practice on birds. The Kingfisher saved the weekend from being a loss.