Friday, May 25, 2012

Birds and Blooms

True to my blog's name, today was birds and blooms, just in reverse order. Began the day at Cornell Plantation's Mundy Wildflower garden with another skilled photographer.  It's always enlightening to see how two photographers can stand next to one another and end up with widely different and equally interesting photos. It is an excellent way to increase your creativity.

The Wild Geraniums instantly got my interest.  Just love their color and simple form.

While the garden is devoted to native plants, it is virtually impossible to keep non-native plants out.  Think of how impossible it is to banish dandelions for your garden or lawn. 

So, the garden also has masses of lovely pink and purple Dame's Rocket. Now, this plant is widely called Phlox, but it is not.  Phlox has the same colors, but it has five petals.  This has four. I am sure the small bee on the flower doesn't care what the name is. End of botany lesson.

I have Dame's Rocket around my yard, and while I do pull it, I've accepted that it will not be defeated.  I accept it in small numbers because the colors are appreciated and it would be too much work to do otherwise. It is a truce.

And, as I continued in the garden, the Dame's Rocket provided a nice framing to some Cow Parsnip that just began to bloom. Cow Parsnip is a sort of coarse and ungainly plant. The bees love it.

Usually, Cow Parsnip grows in large, ungainly masses that make it difficult to photograph in such a way that a single plant's form is clearly seen. So, I liked this combination of Cow Parsnip and Dame's Rocket.

As I continued, I found another plant just beginning to bloom, and it is one of my favorites, Blue Flag.

By this time, I was growing hungry, my companion had to go, and the wind was making it nearly impossible to photograph flowers and get sharp images. Time to grab a Subway and eat while I observed a nearby  Redtail Hawk nest.  Arrived to find one adult perched nearby.  At first, it flew from a perch behind where I stand on the bridge and went to a perch directly above the nest, and then into the nest. The two chicks were dozing. It soon left the nest.

It returned to the perch behind me where I could see it was watching something in the wooded area.  It flew into the woods, but returned to the perch with no prey. It was likely a squirrel or chipmunk.

What happened next was pretty exciting as the bird launched from the tree and flew nearly directly overhead on its way to the nest.

After some time, one chick must have rung the dinner bell and the adult hawk responded.  She pulled a grey squirrel up from inside the nest and began to deliver bits of food.  The other chick in the back watched but did not join in, eventually going off to sleep.

I figured the action was over for awhile since sleep usually follows food. Time to head home and start the long process of downloading and editing. 

All in all, a pretty good day of birds and blooms.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

It's all about the birds and the bees.

Ask yourself what comes to mind when you hear  "the birds and the bees".  My Friday outing was all about the birds and the bees.  Really!  Read on.

There are now multiple websites that have a live stream of an active nest - Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and Redtail Hawks, to name a few. One of the very popular ones shows a pair of Redtails nesting on a very high light tower on the campus of Cornell University.
See:  Cornell Redtail Hawk Nest

I've heard many people admit to watching this on their computer for long periods of time. Some are doing so when they should be working. Such is the magnetic interest that the cycle of new life has on us.

To my good fortune,  I have been directed to a cliff side nest of Redtail Hawks in the Fall Creek Gorge near the Cornell campus, and the location is perfect for photography.  Even better, it is not a man made structure but "au natural" with no voyeuristic component.  Join me in a series of photos from about a two hour session and how it ended with the bees.

This is, I believe, the female shown high above the nest on a warm day, keeping watch on the nest below.

I think she sees me. Actually, I am on the sidewalk of a well-traveled street with regular pedestrian traffic and I am sure she sees me and lots more.

When I arrived, the chicks were active in the nest below.

The chick in the foreground is the older of the two. Note that it has more dark feathers emerging to replace the down.  The younger chick is attempting to do something with the tough-skinned chipmunk left earlier by a parent. They are not very graceful at this stage.  Awkward, really.

Eventually, the adult overhead flew to a roost on the opposite side of the gorge, still watchful.

After some time had passed,  the male returned with a fresh chipmunk.

For a few moments, both adults were on the nest.  I think the male left quickly to resume hunting and the female remained to feed the chicks.  Chipmunks are pretty tough skinned, and the one chick's attempt to take one apart was futile. The female put all of her strengths into the task.

She was pretty equitable in dividing the food among the two chicks.

What I expected next was the onset of a food coma for the chicks.  I could see them become calmer.

As the nest came out of the shadows and they became drowsy, I expected the adult to shield them with outstretched wings, as I had seen three days before. It had been two hours on the bridge. It was time to move to something new.  The time passed quickly.  I'd met numerous walkers.  Most had never seen such a thing close up, but some stopped every day on their way to and from work. 

So, I went to Sapsucker Woods for a break and to walk a woodland trail looking for small birds. Found a few such as Phoebes and Orioles, but was most taken by the wild azaleas blooming with hot pink flowers.  

So, you see that my day was really all about the birds and the bees.

I am sure that there are others who will enjoy reading about this. Please share it with someone.


Paul Schmitt

Monday, May 14, 2012

Warbler Heaven

The spring migration of warblers and similar perching birds was at a peak across the Great Lakes the week of May 9.  Fortunately, I was able to visit a hotspot where large hatches of midges provide abundant food for the migrant birds. I'm posting just a sampling of what I found with a link to more images.

Perhaps the most exciting bird was the Prothonotary Warbler.  They were abundant. 

Prothonotary Warbler

Since many of  the midges stay low in these marsh areas, the birds are often at your eye level.  That is not often the situation in most areas where  they are in the tops of the tallest trees.  Since midges do not bite, unlike mosquitoes, it is also easy to concentrate on the birds.

Blackburnian Warbler

A second beautiful little bird was the Black- burnian Warbler.  Once you see one of these, the bird's appearance is burned into your memory.  I think this is also true for the Protho- notary, which is named for its resemblance to the official robes of the European court recorder of earlier times.

The Blackburnians were prevalent in the tree blossoms, likely hunting for insects in the blossoms. As often as not,they were hanging upside down probing through the flowers.

In reviewing my photos at the edit step, I noted another image of a Blackburnian surrounded by midges, so their diet is both insects in the blossoms and the newly hatched midges.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were the third bird that captured my interest. This slender little bird is only about 4 inches long.  I felt lucky to get a clear photo since they seem to move constantly, and are very quick.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 

Another nice warbler made a brief visit, and I felt fortunate to get a photo.  The Palm Warbler is a new bird for me.

If you look closely at the Palm Warbler above, you can see that there is a midge in its beak.  It must have grabbed it as I tracked it in flight. -- I am laughing right now because the computer spell check changed the sentence to say "..  you can see that there is a midget in its beak."  I am sure someone would have called me on that very quickly.--  The Palm Warbler is about 5-1/2 inches long, so a little larger than the gnatcatcher.  

There were other birds to be seen including flycatchers, vireos and orioles. The orioles seem to prefer the cottonwood trees.

I saw this female Redwing Blackbird repeatedly foraging on this willow tree.  Must have been something good there. The  males were not observed feeding, but rather protecting their adjacent nesting territory and presumably singing their virtues to the ladies who were intent on building strength to lay a clutch of eggs. 

I so often see the males with their bright red and yellow wing bands that I overlook the beautiful striping on the females. 

The variety of birds was at times overwhelming to the point that  it was difficult to concentrate on any one bird.  On two occasions, a Prothonotary landed a mere 5 feet from me. Too close to focus on.  

I've come to value the ability to recognize the bird calls by species.  The sound of the different warblers was a key to knowing what to look for.  

A larger set of images are posted on my Flickr pages at:

I'll close with a few technical notes for photographers.  Used a 400 mm f/2.8 lens with 1.4x multiplier; always on a tripod.  Fill flash was used at minus 1ev to minus 2ev depending on sky conditions.  Aperture was f/8 with the ISO ranging from 400 to 800 most often.  Early in the morning I boosted ISO to 1200 or so.

I would like to hear what your favorite image is, and why.

Best regards,

Paul Schmitt

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Persistance and Luck

I'll try to be short on words right now.  It has been a long day and I have a lot of good photo results to edit.  Yesterday, I got a little smarter on the habits of the Eastern Bluebirds around the nest boxes.

Eastern Bluebird, male

So, this male has some favorite perches to watch the grass areas for insects. It just takes hours to learn which branches are the chosen ones.  I expect even better results soon.

 Began today at the Mundy Wildflower Garden on the Cornell campus.  I was thinking birds  until two very prime wildflowers caught my interest. To my delight, I met a new photographer friend, David, and we explored the area together.

Marsh Marigolds are actually in the buttercup family, but obviously someone thought they reminded them of marigolds.  Well, they got the marsh part pretty much right. They love the wet, squishy places.

I guess the Virginia Bluebells fare a little better in the name department.  They are blue, and they are found in Virginia.  Sounds better than New York Bluebells, eh?

This crazy spring weather  has been rough on some blooming plants, but it has been good to the Bluebells.  Can't recall them lasting so long or being so lush. On the negative side, I found the buds on some plants frozen into a mush.  No May Apple blooms in many cases.

Now, back to the birds.  After some unfavorable weather, a shift in the patterns has open the door for many small birds to come north, and on top of that, I just got lucky today. To be honest, we roamed the wildflower garden for at least two hours with no bird photos to show for it.  Heard them, saw them, but never got close. As we returned to the horticulture building with zero birds, we spotted activity in a flowering  apple tree. Then, I heard the piping calls of the Baltimore Orioles.  Not sure if they are eating the flowers or bugs on the flowers, but it was some sort of feast. This male put on a concert of his songs. Nice.

That pretty much made the efforts of the morning justified.  But, there was more, as a beautiful Northern Cardinal took a perch nearby.

The male Cardinal also showed interest in the flowering apple.

I would be fully satisfied with these results, but the apple tree also attracted a very small warbler that stayed high in the tree, nearly always hidden by branches.

I could not match the little bird's white eye ring with any warbler that I knew, and when I got home to study my bird guide, I discovered it is a Nashville Warbler, and a first for me.  (Birders get excited for firsts.) There are just so many warblers and sometimes the smallest detail is needed to separate the choices.  What a nice end to the outing.  The birding weatherman has predicted another big wave of warblers for tonight, and I am debating whether I have the energy to get up very early again.  Don't know right now.

Hope you enjoy my story and that it moves you to look outside your windows just a little tomorrow. Never know what will entertain you with a song or some bright color.


Note: I have loaded a wider set of high resolution photos for the Baltimore Oriole and Northern Cardinal on my SmugMug web galleries at:!i=1826082241&k=SZn9n7w