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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Getting the children to move out...

Many of us remember when our children moved out of our home. It is a watershed moment. I witnessed how this happens for the Red-headed Woodpeckers.  As these young grow larger, the nest just will not hold them, but they are reluctant given that this home is all that they have known. Sound familiar?  Some coaxing is called for.

At this point in time, the chicks associate their parents with food, lots of food.  It's an increasing pace for the adults to keep up.  So, the parent comes roaring in with another morsel to eat.  The alpha chick is at the opening ready to eat.





























The adult Red-headed Woodpecker shows the chick the food.


Looks good, doesn't it?  Well, come and get it!


It's right down here.  Just climb out and help yourself.  The chicks tries but just can't muster up the courage.  So, like a good parent, the adult gives in this time.


But, the tempting continues as the morning progresses.


On the next day, I read a report from another observer that there was a grey woodpecker fledgling seen outside the nest. The parents succeeded,and a new part of life is unfolding for the chick. 

This saga began, for me, on May 19 as I photographed the parents hauling beaks full of wood chips from their nest cavity. It is July 12 now, and the cavity is quiet.  The chicks are out in the world learning to survive.  It is likely that only one, or at best two, will make it to begin this cycle for their nest generation.  It has been a marvel to observe this. I hope that you have enjoyed this series of posts as much as I have treasured the experience.

I am asking myself if they will attempt a second brood, and if so, will it be where it can be seen?

Paul Schmitt

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Chasing a Ghost..

I recently went on an outing to count populations of the unusual Black  Tern.  It is unlike most Terns that frequent coastal areas in that it prefers fresh water marshes, where it hovers to spot prey and then dips down to pluck small fishes and invertebrates from the water's surface. Its flight is as unpredictable as a butterfly in the wind, and it is small.  The idea of photographing them in flight became a compulsion for me. It was necessary to use the unheard of shutter speed of 1/1250 second.  The rate of misses was a humbling experience, like chasing a ghost.  I finally got a few to share.

All this said, they are a beautiful and graceful little flyer as they sweep across the shallow marsh looking for prey.  They still have nestlings to feed in early July.



 On spotting activity, they shift into a hover mode.


Quickly, they plunge down to snatch the prey from the surface, and if successful, they will immediately fly off to their nesting colony.   This time it caught a small minnow.
























The loss of habitat had reduced the Black Tern, until conservation efforts encouraged a rebound. Now, I will always be looking to see these little acrobats and enjoy the show as they return each summer.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stay Away from My Nest!

Anyone who had been around marshy areas in summer has seen the male Red-winged Blackbird raise the alarm when something wanders too close to his female's nest. It's happened to me, but I have never had the male actually attack me. They readily rise to harass passing hawks and crows, often striking blows on the tail of the passing intruder.  Recently I was on the wildlife drive at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and witnessed an attack that still surprised me a little.

Many groups of Canada Geese with goslings are present in the refuge in early July.  Close to the start of the drive, a channel runs along the drive.  It is rich with duck weed.  That is prime food for a wide range of  waterfowl including geese. There was one goose with four goslings working along an edge of cattails and as she led them forward, one male Red-winged Blackbird became upset with the goose.  The blackbird hovered overhead and raised its voice until the goose took notice.  I've seen this before.



Then, things changed.  He went on the attack.

In he dove on his target.

 Through this, the goslings seemed unaware of the situation.

 After a few choice blows with his beak, the Red-winged Blackbird returned to his cattail perch, and the goose led her four goslings a little further out from the cattails.  All returned to being peaceful. 

Paul Schmitt



Friday, July 4, 2014

Red-headed Woodpecker- chick makes an appearance



After several weeks of watching a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers carry food in to a nest cavity at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a chick is now large enough to make an appearance at the opening.  I note the faint red below the eye.


It is fair to ask if there is only one chick.  I cannot make that conclusion at this time.  It is possible only one came up to the opening at a time, or a second one is too small at present.  I also saw the adults go deeply into the cavity on some feeding trips which suggests the possibility of a second smaller chick. 

The real highpoint today was capturing one image of the actual feeding.  Both adults arrived at almost the same time with the one on the right waiting its turn.


In looking at images of the adults arriving, I determined that along with berries and moths, they are bringing in wasps.  It's all high value food.

This is all pretty exciting.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Common Little Bird

The Pied-billed Grebe is a commonplace, small water bird that seems to attract little attention.  The adult is a little brown bird with a white bill that has a black ring.  They are rarely seen on land, and are strong divers.  I've never paid a lot of attention to them, at least, not until this week.

I was after images of Osprey with particular interest in the dramatic hovering overhead and the steep dive into the water.  Then I noted these three little water birds, clearly downy chicks.

 Aren't they cute?  The head and the beak told me they were Pied-billed Grebes. Until they moved, they looked like just so much floating debris.  Mother was nearby, and often diving underwater before returning to check on her chicks.


It soon was apparent that the fishing was pretty good right where I was.


































She repeatedly surfaced with another sunfish and made the rounds to find which chick was ready for another meal.


That was quite a lot to swallow.  This continued with great regularity until none of the chicks would accept another fish.  Mother then fed herself, and things settled into a quiet routine of the chicks cruising about with the wise parent keeping watch as they explored the marsh.


In the future, I will offer more attention to the Pied-billed Grebe.  It is obviously a very swift and efficient fisher, and a good parent.  The chicks are precocious and cute, too.

Paul Schmitt