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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Showy Lady's-slippers

My field guide for wild orchids of the Northeastern United States indicates Cypripedium reginae is occasional in New York.  They seem more rare than occasional.  Seeing them is always exciting.  Here's why. In groups they are spectacular.

Individual plants often host interesting little critters.  This little spider refused to come around to the shady side of the leaf; likely the dew had evaporated from his sunny side.

When I look closely at the blooms, I discover even more of interest. Flying insects best be wary when they enter the flower.

Cypripedium reginae doesn't live in a  mono-culture, so there are interesting complementary plants like this Water Avens, Geum rivale, whose flower is now growing into a spiky seed head. 

It just seems to me that when I am photographing these orchids, I see faces such as in this portrait of two ladies with friends beyond. 

I see the resemblance to slippers, but I still see faces first.  It affects how I approach the composition.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

It's frightening....

It's frightening. I easily responded to my clock radio at 4:00 am today. In thirty minutes, I was underway to arrive at sunrise for a chance to document a rare variety of Rail.  Rails are obscure, stealthy marsh birds, that are heard much more often than seen.  The sunrise at Montezuma was lovely.

Arriving at the predetermined location by 6:30 am, I quickly settled in on the edge of a marsh, sitting on a three legged stool with a camo drape over camera, tripod and self.  It was delightfully cool with no "buggy-ness".  The wait for the elusive Rail stretched on, but I was not bored. I had a short visit by some Whitetail Deer plodding around in the cattails across the slough.

I think the honey color of their summer coat is beautifully rich and harmonious with the summer greens.  The wait for the Rail was not so bad.  I had another visitor, a Green Heron.  They are pretty wary and prone to sulk around in the margins of the marsh, so a close encounter is special.

There was a constant chatter from multiple Marsh Wrens.  I've not photographed them before, so when one finally perched in the open, I was happy. (Yes, they have a tail; it is nearly vertical when it sings, so it is obscured by the branch.)

After three hours, I decided the search for the rare bird was over.  Back at the car, I decided I could not go home without another visit to the Red-headed Woodpecker nest.  I devoted a brief one-half  hour, and it was rewarding.  Capturing one of them in flight has become an obsession.

Reviewing the photos, I understand why I easily awoke at 4:00 am.  It was a beautiful, cool morning with plenty to see, and the early hour easily justified the next part of my day, a mid-day siesta.  That's an under-appreciated luxury.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More on the Red-headed Woodpeckers

Left  home at 5 am the other day to get to the nest of Red-headed Woodpeckers while it was early.  The sunrise was beautiful, but I would not pause on the long drive for fear of  missing some early feeding at the tree cavity.  I was not disappointed.  The pair were often exchanging places.

Typically, the adult in the nest immediately exits to catch the next meal.

As the morning progressed, it seemed to take the adults longer to come up with food, and the nest was left to the chicks.  If the adult stayed in the nest for awhile, it was often to do some house cleaning as seen in this photo.

It was a pretty rewarding morning. Eager to see the next stage in this saga.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

We're hungry here!

Some opportunities cannot be delayed, so I was awake before dawn because I knew that fledglings in the Pileated Woodpeckers' nest cavity were likely to leave the nest very shortly.  Ignoring the mist and fog, I arrived at 7 am to meet my friend for the 1/2 mile hike in to the nest in the dead maple.

We arrived and set up just in time to see the male Pileated Woodpecker arrive to feed his pair of chicks. (Enlarging the image massively shows a red pale red patch behind the beak, a sure sign of a male.)

The female was nearby but did not come in to feed the pair.  The adults left and the young were seemingly unsatisfied with the amount of their early morning meal. Note that the pair have been foraging to gather double the food they would need to sustain themselves.  It has to end.  Over the next hour, it seemed at least one of the pair was at the opening looking for their parents. They seemed to alternate.  They became vocal, calling in a full voice just like an adult. There came no reply from their parents. It seemed that as the clock advanced, the chicks edged further out of the opening.

I had seen this behavior last year at another nearby location. I assume it is the same pair of adults as then.  Last year, one of their chicks was outside on a nearby tree. It was being fed. The remaining chick in the nest got a brief feeding, and the female then claimed a nearby tree and called to the holdout.  My guess is that the adults refuse to adequately feed the chick until it leaves the nest. The chick would nervously teeter at the edge of the hole but could not bring itself to leave.  Darkness came and I assume the chick was left hungry for the night.  Surely, hunger convinced it to fly in the morning.

So, I believe I was seeing the same fledging process this year. In the second hour, both chicks were simultaneously at the opening, with one or the other calling for the adults. On occasion, we spotted an adult in the vicinity but it was silent.

No feeding occurred. The chicks' searching the woods for help built up in intensity.

I wish I could end this story with evidence of how the young successfully made their leap, but an appointment called and the nearly constant drizzle was making it impossible to stay.  I'm sure they made it.

It was an entertaining 2-3/4 hours of watching this behavior.  I am sure if I returned on the next day, the nest would be empty and this pair would be making the next steps of learning to forage among the trees with their parents.  It was a privalige to see part of this process unfold.


Monday, June 9, 2014


Looking at some of my blogs, one might conclude that every outing yields results, but what could I show on those days when I am blanked? On some rare days, the opposite happens and I am sandwiched between good subjects.  That happened recently when I had returned to the previously shown Red-headed Woodpecker nesting  cavity.  I'd known that there were two Baltimore Oriole nests nearby; one on each side of the woodpeckers. I found myself timing the activity at each nest and anticipating where I should (literally) focus.

At the woodpecker nest, one adult is incubating inside, and  peers out the opening every five minutes seemingly looking for the next shift to report.

After several scans of the area, it  exits the cavity and takes a series of long stretches, alternating which wing is extended. It then quickly re-enters the tree.

When this is over, I realign to the Baltimore Oriole nest hanging high over the road in a Cottonwood tree. The male comes streaking in at a speed that makes it difficult to anticipate when to capture the bird in flight.

Look closely and you can spy a juicy spider in its beak.  Could they be feeding chicks?

He approaches the intricately woven nest.  This is so exciting that I am forgetting about the woodpeckers!

The male drops deeply into the nest and after several dips inward and outward, his task must be complete....

..for he is away in a flash.

Now, perhaps I have not missed anything at the other nest.  Back to it.  That adult repeats the exit and stretch, this time  becoming vocal.  I think the message is clearly for the other woodpecker.  So, I bounce back and forth between the two nests, hoping to capture the birds in flight.  Just before leaving, the second woodpecker arrives.

Pretty amazing day.  Still, I must note that my next stop is a zero.  It's about patience, persistence and preparation.  Remember the successes; accept the waits and failures.  Know the equipment, so mistakes don't prevent the successes.

I will re-read this blog on days when I come home empty (like yesterday's search for a Pileated Woodpecker nest).


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blooming Highlights

The rush of migrating birds has ended, and it's time to catch up with the highlights of the spring wildflower blooms. I find myself pulled between the elusive birds and ephemeral blooms.  Here is the best of the spring blooms.

At the entrance to Cornell Plantation's Mundy Wildflower Garden, I found Celandine Poppies and Virginia Bluebells in wonderful colors.  I had to get very low on the ground to get this view.

Nearby was one of my favorites each year, May Apple. Another chance to lie on the ground.

The Trillium grandiflorum were a bit higher and less difficult to photograph.  They are always grand.

An easily overlooked wildflower is the Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).  Oddly, the garden geraniums we plant in our gardens are not members of the Geranium genum.   The Wild Geraniums are so prolific that the deer must not be eating them.  Hope it stays that way!

Now, all of these are fairly common, and while beautiful, they do not excite the passions like a wild orchid. These Pink Lady's Slippers were in a cluster of 185 plants that I visited for the first time this spring.

That is an extraordinary cluster of blooms.  I also like to portray the charming arrangements that the blooms sometime present.  This one is, for me, a portrait, .....perhaps of two sisters?

So, those are my highlights of spring.  In only a week or maybe two, the later blooming orchids will appear, and I'll get excited once again.  The one difference is that I will have to endure the mosquitoes that frequent the bogs and fens in June.

You can understand how I am torn between choosing blooms or birds on any given day.

Kind regards,