Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Good Morning

Sometimes, I think few words are needed to tell the story.

In August, I look forward to the appearance of  beautiful spider webs in the wildflower fields.  Today was a dewy morning with bright sunlight, so they were like jewelry dancing in the light.

But, I was after birds.  The first one was a small Eastern Wood-Peewee along a marsh dike on an Elderberry bush. It is a Tyrant Flycatcher, so it was likely after insects around the bushes or just using the top of the bush as a perch to hunt.
























I was particularly looking for the Elderberry bushes because Cedar Waxwings like to feed on them.























I ran off a LOT of shots to finally catch one with a berry in its beak.  After three trips to feed, the flock settled down and the action was over.  So, I  went over to check some marsh areas.  Not a colorful bird, but I find the Double-crested Cormorants to often be a stately presence as they dry their wings in the sun.



I finished off the day with a sandpiper, likely a Lesser Yellowlegs.

 Not a bad  way to spend a Sunday morning.

Paul



Monday, August 18, 2014

A Morning at Montezuma Refuge

Unlike last week, when my trip was a dud, today at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge was just what I expected, and maybe a little more.

Found the Trumpeter Swans with their seven cygnets. Actually, they approached us, as we observed the marsh.  I'd seen them before, but they had not come close.























The seventh cygnet is hiding behind number three from the left. It's a challenge to capture an image with all seven clearly visible.  The one time that I did, one adult was out to the side.

I noted that at all times, at least one adult was extremely watchful. Probably why they have so many surviving.  The young seem to have adopted the same watchfulness.


The most common question from visitors at the refuge is where to find an eagle.  It seems seeing one trumps all other reasons to visit the refuge.  There are a great number of juveniles present currently. I suspect many first time visitors fail to recognize an eagle if it doesn't have a white head.   This juvenile was only 30 yards distant.  It appears that these "teenagers" mostly watch for an Osprey to appear with a fish so they can steal a meal. That requires less effort and a lot less skill than catching their own fish. This will end when the Osprey migrate south in the fall.





There are may other interesting birds that are largely ignored.The two birds below are Double-crested Cormorants.  I first discovered these while working for the Navy on Chesapeake Bay.  The watermen working the crab and oyster trade called them Water Witches or Snake Birds. They do move through the water with great agility and dive to great depths.

There are also a substantial number of Caspian Terns on the refuge. They will fly across the open water and suddenly pull up to hover over a spot prior to plunging vertically down into the water.  Typically the tern will emerge with a small fish in the beak.  It is quickly swallowed and the hunt continues.

But sometimes it must be that a tern gets a larger fish, and it too becomes a target for a juvenile thief.  That is what I witnessed today.  There on a shallow flooded pool was a tugging match between an adult Caspian Tern and a juvenile. It lasted for nearly two minutes. Seen below, the juvenile (on the right)  has the whites flects on its head.





























I don't know who finally got the sunfish. The fight ended abruptly as both opponents scattered wildly.

It was a pretty good morning this time.  It was worth waking up at 4:00 a.m. this time.

Paul






Sunday, August 17, 2014

Not what I expected

Went up to Montezuma last week expecting to find a lot of shorebirds starting their fall migration.  They had missed the message, but I found an unexpected bit of beauty on the main pool.

The edges of the marsh were dotted with beautiful pink.





























Lovely, isn't it?  Swamp Rose-Mallow.  Belongs in the Hibiscus family.  Take a close look.


The day wasn't a total miss.  Also saw this Great Blue Heron come up with a rather sizable Bullhead.


Looks like a pretty tenuous hold to me.  It must have a strong clamp.  I wanted to see how he could handle this catfish's barbs, but the heron retreated into the cattails. Seems close to the limit of what he can swallow.

Paul

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's hay fever time!

August 15 is the average beginning of the hay fever season here in the Finger Lakes.  Once again, I am hearing people (including a local TV meteorologist) assign the cause as Goldenrod.  He may know the weather but he isn't knowledgeable about this one.  The cause of most hay fever reactions is Ragweed.  It is a wind-born pollinator with a drab green flower. It is the wind that carries it into my house and dogs me until the first killing frost.

Here is a sample found on a walk this evening.  Unlike Goldenrod, it has no colorful blooms. There is no evolutionary benefit to putting energy into creating bright color which would attract insects.  Insects play no role.

The Ragweed leaf form is clearly different from Goldenrod. Note the deeply lobed form that is somewhat irregular. 

On my walk to find examples of both, I noticed that most Ragweed was growing along the roadside where it had been mowed several times.  There was no Goldenrod present.  Where I found Goldenrod, there was virtually no Ragweed. Could the mowing give the Ragweed an edge over the grasses?  Or, could Goldenrod thwart the growth of the Ragweed?


So, here is a typical Goldenrod plant, already in bloom.  The leaves are not indented, but mildly toothed. (There are a goodly number of species that vary in the leaf details.)  The profuse blooms of yellow certainly stand out to any insect pollinator.  Unlike Ragweed, this plant holds on to its pollen until the insect arrives.  The pollen does not float around in the air to reach us in the quantity coming from Ragweed.

While many seem to wage war on Goldenrod, I have introduced it.  Mixed with red and violet varieties of Monarda, it makes for a colorful summer combination.  I find it easy after a rain to pull any excess of Goldenrod. (I also collect and discard the seed heads to control its spread.)

I recall a later summer walk in my neighborhood where I saw a lady excavating quantities of Goldenrod to combat her hay fever. Could she actually be promoting a new site for Ragweed?  Sadly, she was not open to the idea that Goldenrod was not the source of her misery.

If not before, now you know the real cause of hay fever. Sadly, I know of no practical way to reduce Ragweed, and on the flip side, its seeds are reported to be an important seed for small birds. That's not much comfort to me.

And yes, I already have watery eyes and the inevitable congestion. That's just one reason that I love the arrival of autumn.

Paul

Sunday, August 3, 2014

In Cornell Plantation's Arboretum

I led a small group of fellow photographers on a foray beginning at the Harder Watercourse in the Cornell Plantation's Arboretum.  While the forecast was for showers, it was actually a warm and sunny day with lots of insect activity. Entering the watercourse, one finds a magnificent array of summer blooms - Sunflowers, Cone Flowers and more.

























Dropping down the slope below the Harder garden, we found fields of wildflowers including large pockets of Monarda fistulosa.  There I saw one of my favorite and strangest little moths, the Hummingbird Moth.

It is a beautiful combination of sienna reds, olive greens and blacks.  The antennae are tipped with blue too.  It hovers just like its namesake to sip nectar from the blooms.

They move pretty fast, so it is always a relief when the set of photos has a few good, sharp  images.

Finding a Hummingbird Moth was a special treat for this foray.  For some in the group, it was an amazing, new discovery.  It is a special sighting, even for me. Usually, I only see a few on my garden phlox.  There always seems to be a surprise in the Plantation's many gardens.  I just have to be patient and observe closely.  It seems that the less you move, the more you can discover.

Paul Schmitt

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Photo Pfun

Took a two hour hike at Tanglewood Nature Center near Elmira this Sunday morning. Did not want to be loaded down with a lot of weight, so I only used my iPhone camera. It's "pfun" to see what can be done with a really simple camera.  The hike would have been an hour, if I  had not discovered so many interesting subjects to photograph.  (I've had some fun editing too, rendering some to pen and watercolor versions.)

Once I got to the steep sidehill portion of the trail, I discovered a lot of fungi. Love the variety.  I think this might be one of the Amanita genus.


Another possible Amanita was nearby. It has the coarse cap surface characteristic of them.


There are two secrets to these photos. First I turn the smart phone upside down so the lens is very low to the ground and second I get very close, usually 5 inches away. Resting the phone on the ground keeps motion to a minimum too.   I know that the closest possible focus distance is 4 inches, and stay close to that limit.  I always want the subject to be a strong element in the composition.

There were other discoveries. This toad was unable to get past a row of logs placed to mark the trail.  After photographing him, I placed him on the other side. The never-smiling face reminds me of a fifth grade teacher that I had; never a smile.


Another nice surprise was the Indian Pipes that are flowering at present.  Lacking chlorophyll, they are essentially colorless.


As I climbed up the steep  hill towards the parking lot, I came upon the first meadow and found a nice Swallowtail Butterfly.  Moving slowing, I was able to inch to within inches of it before it chose to fly away.  Aren't they beautiful?
























This worked out to be a nice hike.  I was not loaded down with a heavy camera, and there were plenty of reasons to pause along the way and avoid overheating.

This outing explains the popularity of the smart phone camera.  It is always with me, and it is "good enough" when I stay within the limits of a wide angle lens.  The two keys are to get close and to pick locations with good light that is out of the direct sunlight. I can't do large prints nor reach out to skittish animals, or photograph birds in flight.  But often, it is "good enough" and using it builds my skills.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, July 14, 2014

Blue-headed Vireo

A young friend relayed to me the location of a nest of Blue-headed Vireos a few weeks ago.  I waited until I expected there to be good sized chicks.  The nest is ideally located above a hiking trail and only maybe ten feet high.  (Thanks, Alex!)

Made the three-quarter mile hike into the nest on this humid morning. It was worth the effort down the hill, and I guess the uphill was tolerable.  The pair were pretty actively feeding their two young nestlings.





























Did I say two?  Sure did.  Don't recall which swallowed that large grub.





























Sometimes, an adult would sing from a nearby tree before flying in. That excited the chicks greatly.  What a big mouth for so small a chick.


I was there for about two hours but the time passed quickly. I saw action that I wish I could have captured.  A Pileated Woodpecker foraged on a downed tree and a Brown Creeper busied itself on another tree.  Perhaps the best was when a young robin ventured too close to the nest. The little vireo attacked with amazing furor and the robin fled with cries of terror.  All were out of reach of my camera or happening while I was shooting video. It is amazing how much you see if you stop moving and just sit in one place.  It seems that the less I move, the more I see.

Paul Schmitt