Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Good Day- Birds & Baseball

It's become the theme of our March trips to Florida- birds in the morning and baseball in the afternoon (or evening).  Makes a nice combination.  We especially like the Space Coast which offers Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge plus numerous other wetlands in Titusville and Viera.

So, on our anniversary (48 years no less), we began at Merritt Island on the Black Point Wildlife Drive following a beautiful Great Egret as it fished along a mangrove edge.

If you look closely, there is a very small fish in its beak.  We followed along on the road as the egret continued.  You can tell when the bird sees fish. Its neck seems to acquire a certain tension and often the head sways side-to-side to precisely gauge the distance.  Then it unleashes the strike.

From my observation, the Great Egret is successful more than three-quarters of the time. Pretty good batting average.

Another catch! Considering the small size of each catch, I guess it would have to be highly successful to match the energy required each time.  This is so interesting that time seems to melt away.

Also on the drive were some of the most colorful of the birds, Roseate Spoonbills.

That bill is so unusual that it must have a special adaptation to how they feed.  Here is a small group feeding.  They sweep the bill left and right as they advance, snapping up small prey, often shrimp. The pigment in the prey imparts the brilliant color to their feathers.

All of this can entice a lot of visitors to take up a camera though not constant photographers.  So it was that my spouse, Pam, got the bug, and worked on a cooperative Great Blue Heron that morning.

I really like how she included the complete reflection of the heron framed in the rich blue sky.

Our route on the preserve lastly took us to a small wetland with more egrets, herons and spoonbills.  Then, they were joined by two White Pelicans gliding in to feed.

It was a fruitful morning.  After three hours, we exited for lunch and a pleasant afternoon of baseball in Viera.  Of course, we had to take a "selfie" at the game.

Oh yes, it was a good game and it was sunny.   Perfect way to mark forty-eight years together.

Best to you,


Friday, March 28, 2014

Redtail Hawk Nest- Week One

Once again this year, a pair of Redtail Hawks are nesting on a rock wall in a Finger Lakes gorge. This is about week one of the process.  I made a two minute video of the the male RTH flying in to relieve the female and sit on the two eggs. There are two still images made the same day of the female RTH shifting on the eggs. (Sorry, no sound. It would just be wind in the trees anyway.)

Hope to regularly update you with new videos as the eggs hatch and the young are raised.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Real Honey Hole

For a fisherman, a honey-hole is that special place where there is always a good catch.  So it is too with birders that there are those special places where a lot of birds can be found nearly without fail.

In Florida this month, I found a real honey hole.  We were on a nature trail near Titusville mostly looking for early warblers when a beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker caught my attention.  I usually see them high in the trees so this chap at eye level was special.

The tree he frequented had some exposed termite burrows plus several seeping wounds in the bark.  He was particularly around the seeps. Then, he showed me why.

He was feeding on the sap seeping out the wound. I examined it for insects but found none.  It was literally a real "honey hole".  He came back to it repeatedly.  

In the process of waiting for each return, there appeared another visitor.

It is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  There were several other warbler species in the area, but this was the only one down low at eye level.  And, why was he down here?

He had the same appetite for the sap, and came back frequently.

There are birders who build a long list of birds seen.  I find unique behaviors observed to be a more interesting sum of experiences. 

Paul Schmitt

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


On arriving at this morning's location, I was told the Black-necked Swans has hatched an egg but after a brief sight, it disappeared though the two adults were present.  Where was it?  Hours later, I found the answer.

The cygnet was hiding under the wing to escape the nearly constant rain.

How beautiful.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

CM Ducks!

It's CM Ducks as in "See them ducks!"  A great way to break free of winter's sparse wildlife is to find a wintering spot for waterfowl. They get concentrated and sometimes pretty ornery when food is involved.  So, with a good friend, I made a trip to get some practice on ducks. 

The majority of the ducks were Canvasbacks with their rich red heads and Scaup with their dazzling yellow eyes. Both are diving ducks and they can really stir up the water when they all begin to dive.

The Scaup also has a fine pattern on its back that is striking.

There is a subtle green cast on the head when the sun hits it at an angle. The black stripe on the tip of the blue beak is a good feature to remember when comparing with other ducks.

There are two ducks that have the rusty red head, and that can be a source of confusion.  The Canvasback has a distinctive wedge shaped beak that is helpful when the bird is a female or a molting male. The duck in the left foreground is one such Canvasback.  (You can see from the splashing water what a melee ensues when there is food available.)

The other red-headed duck I observed is, appropriately, the Redhead.  It's another elegant duck with a brilliant eye and a black tip on the beak.  They were a little fewer in number.

One of my favorite ducks is the American Widgeon.  Only the Wood Duck rates more beautiful and interesting for me. In both of these, the soft little whimpers they make to communicate are part of what charms me. They are also very shy and hard to approach.

This male in the foreground seemed to be speaking to nearby males as he protected his female. Beyond the photography, I find the interactions very entertaining. Male Widgeons seem to get carried away to the degree that they will attack Canvasbacks and Scaup that drift near their female.  Sort of funny to see this little duck taking on the much larger Canvasback.  They all yield to the attack and retreat.

Between two males, there is often no retreat as was the case with these two male Mallards. The conflict consists mainly of one grabbing the other by the nape of the neck and attempting to hold it  under water. The second phase often becomes an unceremonious retreat with the victor latching on to the opponent's tail feathers.

Each year, I try to make a trip in late winter to photograph ducks. It gets me charged up for spring when the bird migration erupts. If I can function efficiently when it is around 10 to 20°F and breezy, then spring will be a snap. On the plus side, there are no mosquitoes to contend with.