Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Joys of Spring

Yesterday was the end of May.  The month's been busy.  It is time for a recap of some highlights.

First was the joy of finding some favorites seen in a new way.  Always love the Trillium grandiflorum.  I came away with muddy knees.  It was worthwhile.

Another striking wildflower that I seem to have difficulty finding in full bloom is the Virginia Bluebells, also called Virginia Cowslip.  (Mertensia virginica)

Spring is a conflicted time with the natural world so active.  Emerging flowers and returning birds compete for my attention with spring green landscapes.  The Common Yellowthroat is a familiar friend that I found singing strongly his familiar song.

 Another friend is the Tree Swallow.  They compete with Eastern Bluebirds for nest boxes.  Not quite as musical, they are a bit more approachable and are brilliant  when the sun plays on their feathers.

The Eastern Bluebirds will take up a defensive position on a favored nest box and scan the sky for their adversary, the Tree Swallow.

The flora keeps calling with some subjects beyond the common. The most notable are the Pink Lady's Slippers that are found infrequently.  They are simply glorious.

With luck or patience, one can see what pollinates them.  It is a race to get to a bloom before the Bumblebee races off to another distant target.  In the mix of sun and shadow, getting the bee on a sunny bloom is near to impossible.

But sometimes the sun does align with some flowers for a spectacular display.

The result justifies the pain of awaking at 5 am to arrive when the light is perfect.

It's been a good spring.

Paul Schmitt

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Signs of Spring

Looking back at the arrival of spring in the Finger Lakes, it seems timely to recount some of my favorite images. It is a mix of birds and some hardy wildflowers.

Among the earliest arrivals are two antagonists for nesting boxes. The first are Tree Swallows.  They are nimble fliers that specialize in catching small insects on the wing. Their response time is so fast that we humans seem just hopelessly inadequate. When the sun catches their deep blue feathers, a brilliant color is seen.

The Eastern Bluebird has designs on the same nest boxes.  Their colors are certainly the equal of the Tree Swallows, though the female is notably more subtle.

Both of these birds are vocal, but the Eastern Bluebird certainly wins in terms of musicality.  I must admit that when the two species get to fighting over a nest box, I root for the bluebirds. It takes a lot of courage for a single pair of bluebirds to stand up to the repeated swoops of a number of swallows.

Another favorite of mine is the Wood Duck. Whereas the swallows and bluebirds are fairly calm around people, the Wood Duck is extremely wary.  It's probably because they are so tasty, not that I could eat one.  The sweet vocalizations of a Wood Duck just melt my heart. These two bachelors dropped over my head and wandered about the stream for over a half-hour. It was worth getting up at 5:00 a.m. just to see and hear them.

The other exciting moments this April centered on a Redtail Hawk nest perched on a rock face above a creek.  A few days after their eggs hatched, I was there when one adult flew in to relieve its mate on the nest.

The first adult wastes no time leaving to hunt.  In the interval, the small chicks are revealed. Look closely between the chicks and the adult.  They have caught a starling to feed the chicks.  Usually, I see rodents in this nest.

Later in April, the native wildflowers begin to show.  I always am excited when this begins, since they were my introduction to nature photography.  Each year, I see new ways to interpret them.  Round-lobed Hepatica were my first discovery this year.

Closely following hepatica was Blue Cohosh. It is an easily overlooked flower; I find it so hard to photograph that I can be found widely search for just the perfect form and freshness of bloom. Once found, the task is usually to catch it not in motion, when the breeze subsides.

Later the two local examples of wild Dicentra appear.  Seen at right, Squirrel Corn -Dicentra canadensis- has a heart shaped flower.  The roots are said to resemble grains of yellow corn (though I have never excavated one to see).  There is a blush of violet and yellow on the blooms that is difficult to capture.

The other Dicentra, Dutchman's Breeches -Dicentra cucullaria-  is seen at left.  The two exaggerated spurs atop the yellow tipped flower do, indeed, resemble upside-down pantaloons.

Both of these Dicentra are available from sources that grow them for wild harvested seeds.  They do well in a garden, and to date, I have seen no evidence that deer eat them (yet).  They bring early color to my garden.

This brings me to my big four for April wildflower photography.  It's a matter of personal interest, likely in each case driven by the rich colors.  The first is Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. It has rich colors and a waxy finish that makes them almost glow.

 Next is Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica.  With these, it is the color.

Next is the Purple Trillium,  Trillium  erectum.  I am attracted by the red-green complementary colors between the  petals and the leaves.  I have these in my little garden by the back entrance to my home, so I can enjoy them with little effort.

It is good to save the best for last.  In this case, it is white Large-flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum. Both trillium assume a personality to me and each year is new set of portraits.

So, this suggests why I am so busy in April.  In spite of changeable and often wet weather, the boredom of March is past and both birds and blooms start to reveal themselves.  May will bring  more of both plus longer hours of daylight.

Paul Schmitt

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.