Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Good to Be Alpha- Wild Turkeys

Recently I had the good fortune to get close to a flock of Wild Turkeys while in the Smoky Mountains. The group consisted of two gobblers and a dozen hens. When the sun plays upon the males at the peak of their breeding coloration, the feathers glisten with colors of copper, gold, scarlet and violet. Add in the colors in the gobblers comb and waddle for a dazzling display meant to impress the hens.

Seeing their line of travel, I picked a position and waited for them to come to me. Luck  favored me, as they came right toward me. My second good fortune was to witness how two competing gobblers settled which was the dominate one.  I'd expected some form of conflict, but it was actually very civil.

The two gobblers displayed more to their rival than to the hens.  The hens were more interested in catching food in the grass.  It became apparent that the male on the right was not able to spread its tail feathers in as complete a fan.

It does take considerable strength to fan out all of the body feathers, plus the tail feathers. Number two was running low, it would seem.  Within minutes, he was more relaxed and could almost be confused with the smaller hens.  He still has the distinctive beard on his breast and colorful feathers, but seemed to be destined to wait for next year.

The alpha gobbler began to display to the hens, while number two went to the edge of the flock near two hens and commenced to feed.  Alpha circulated until he found a single hen settled down in the grasses and not feeding.  He certainly had the energy to continue making a big display.  She was clearly receptive. 

He circled her a few times, stepped upon her back, and then began to "knead" her for about three minutes.

Copulating was brief.  The gobbler quickly resumed displaying to the hens, as the flock continued its path passing me at about 45 feet.

I went back the  next morning and could find no turkeys whatsoever.  That reinforced my feelings of good fortune.

To paraphrase Mel Blanc, "It's good to be  King  Alpha."

Paul Schmitt

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Florida Birds- Little Birds of Nearly No Interest

Mixed in with the sight of a brilliant pink Roseate Spoonbill, there are some subtle beauties that can capture one's attention. Here are some of these from my recent trip to Florida.

Let's begin with the Willet.  It's a somewhat stock wading bird seen widely - marshes, surf edges and rocky shorelines.

It's not too eye-catching when wading.  But, when they take wing the black and white stripes on the wings catch your attention.

The Willet mix in with the reddish hued Marbled Godwits, sweeping in rapidly to a favored sandy beach.

While we're on the beach, here is another strikingly beautiful bird, the American Oystercatcher. (I'm including this photo also, as an example of keeping the background indistinct so the subject stands out clearly.)

 This is a first-time bird for me, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck.

Here's another first-time bird, the Long-billed Curlew.  The birds were somewhat distant, but I had to show the amazing long beak!  Surely, it finds food beyond the reach of other birds.

It's fine to be excited by the Roseate Spoonbill, but looking more closely, there are some interesting birds not to be overlooked. After all, it just might be that the spoonbills have picked a different beach than you expected.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, April 4, 2016

Florida Birds- Part Two

The second part of my travel time was in the Tampa Bay area.  On the evening of my arrival, I went out to the North Beach at Fort De Soto. It was a sunny Friday, and the sunbathers were plentiful. Mixed in with swimmers enjoying the gentle waves washing in were White Ibis.

Over the next two days, I saw many different behaviors by these birds. In flight they show black wing tips, and they land in a graceful form.

At one location, the White Ibis were wading along a calm shoreline and probing with that long beak.  They appeared to be catching something which disappeared rapidly. Looking at my images later, I discovered what my eyes were not fast enough to see - small crabs.

The White Ibis behaviors were interesting, but the visual interest created by the Roseate Spoonbills were eye candy. Many were in prime breeding coloration.

In the evening, spoonbills and ibis seem to congregate in large flocks before going off to roost for the night.   One sometimes wonders how the incoming bird finds a place to land in the crowd.

Another interesting bird is the Reddish Egret.  I observed a mild dispute.

Note the blue, red and black pattern from the eye to the tip of the beak.  Distinctive. However, there is a White Morph of the Reddish Egret that is unusual and extremely beautiful.

When fishing, the egret is graceful as it dances about with its wings creating a shadow on the water for better visibility.  They remind one of an elegant ballet dancer.

A favorite?  How can a person decide?

Paul Schmitt

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Florida Birds- Part One

For a nature photographer in wintry New York, March in Florida is a refreshing break from winter's meager diet of birds.  Here are a few of the most successful images from my first two days.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has often been a rich location.  On arrival I saw the dark haze in the distance that marks controlled burns. Most of my favored locations were closed, but one open area gave me a nice look at some Wood Storks.  I left the next morning to explore new locations.

Look at that sturdy beak on a Wood Stork.  A few days later across the state near Tampa, I watched them breaking off branches for nesting material. Some of the branches were close to being limbs.  The example below is a lightweight piece compared to some they return to the nest with.

On day two, I visited a new location,  Circle B Reserve near Winter Haven. It's a lot of walking but definitely worth the effort. Near the parking area, I came upon Barred Owls.  Directly overhead was a pair of owls, one adult and a large juvenile.  The one began to preen the other, and the interchange was beautiful to witness. Lots of "Oohs" and "Ahhs" were heard from observers.

The owl on the right initiated the preening, and I suspect it was the adult. (I should have been running video.)  After five minutes, the bird on the right flew to a new perch; the visibility of it was nice. 

There was more at Circle B like this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Nearby was a Cattle Egret attractively perched on a dead limb.  The peach color is a breeding plumage.

Along the trail, there was a grassy prairie visible through the trees, and nearby were Sandhill Cranes.  The red cap is what I look for when scouting for them. It has another formidable beak.

This pair did not appear to have chicks. There was a pair alongside the highway just outside the Circle B, but the traffic was just too heavy to pull off.  They had chicks, but it was still not a good idea to risk my life for a photo.

This was a good beginning to the trip.  In Part Two, I will share images of colorful Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis and a few other surprises.


Paul Schmitt

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Longwood Gardens

On the occasion of our fiftieth wedding anniversary, Pam and I returned to Longwood Gardens for their orchid show.  We were last there in May 2006 when we found many delightful scenes such as these. 

 Inside the Conservatory
 Water Fountains
 Afternoon Fountain Show

We confined ourselves to the Conservatory on this visit with one exception.  There was eye candy at every turn.  Here are a few favorite images.  It begins with some of the orchids.

There is a lot more to capture your attention beyond the orchids.

We also subscribed to a behind the scenes tour of the greenhouses where there was just one final surpise, a blue poppy!

I left wondering why it had taken me ten  years to return.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Just some Mallards

I so clearly recall being reprimanded for saying "It's just some Mallards" during a field outing of the spring ornithology workshop at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Of course, even a commonplace bird is to be appreciated.  With that lesson in mind, I am sharing some Mallard behaviors that I observed today, January 8.  I went to a nearby mill pond for no greater purpose than getting some practice.  Timing is just as important in bird photography as it is in catching a ball.  These birds are used to people, and I could comfortably sit in my car and wait for them to drift into range. It was just practice.

Now, it is in the dead of winter and I did not expect the Mallards to be paired up and thinking about spring, but some clearly were.  This pair stayed close together and were attentive of one another. The plumage reinforces the lesson that it is not just some Mallards. The colors are grand. 

Well, I said they were attentive, but it is sometimes protective.  When the female has a drake in attendance, she is not going to be harassed by a score of other drakes.  There are consequences to getting too close.

Absent the interloper, the pair will often display, he with a head bobbing or dipping the beak into the water.  She will respond with bobbing, and sometimes respond with a submissive pose. Aren't they a handsome pair?  Look at the fine pattern below his wings and the clear colors.

I was surprised that in early January these ducks were so amorous, and they wasted no time showing their intent.

December was the warmest on record in New York, and I wonder if some of the ducks are confused.   It is surely too early to be nesting.

This proved to be a rewarding practice with a small bonus when a male Wood Duck approached showing some attitude.

Isn't he amazing?


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wednesday on the River

Back on the Susquehanna River for another try on Bald Eagles.  I had just three hours, but the colder weather encouraged me that I'd see more Bald Eagles fishing.  After all, it takes more feed to keep warm on the colder days. 

Activity began early with this fly-by just after daybreak.  This bird won't need to fish again until much  later in the day.

The large sycamore tree above me was a favored perch for the birds. This adult Eagle retreated to the branches with its catch, but soon escaped the pestering juvenile eagles seeking to steal its catch. Note the fishtail trailing in the tail feathers.

Below is just one of the large number of juvenile Bald Eagles facing the need to catch their own fish in their first winter.  What a better idea to just steal one from an adult.  The first year of independence is a tough one.

Usually, eagles grab the fish from the surface with their talons, but this bird caught a smaller one in its beak, and performed some in-flight contortions to transfer the catch to its talons.

It is easy to overlook the necessity for cleaning up after the eagles, and that task falls to the Black Vultures.  Some people seem to be repulsed by them, but I find them stately when perched and graceful in flight.  Thanks to them, I am not dealing with the "perfume" of decaying fish carcasses.

If you find yourself around these birds, it is wise to remember that black vultures have an appetite for the vinyl trim on cars; they need to be watched.  Their beak can rip trim off a vehicle.  They call for a different style of bird watching.