The Snowy Owl

Snowies are starting to show up around the northern U.S. Here in Western  New York there are three birds hanging out at the Finger Lakes Regional Airport (0G7) in Seneca, NY. The airport staff allowed us on the field where a friend of mine and I got many wonderful shots of a juvenile on the ground by the runway. The owl didn’t seem to mind so long as we walked

Juvenile Snowy Owl
Juvenile Snowy Owl

slowly and kept our distance. However, the bird finally tired of us and flew a short way down the field, our shutters continuously snapping as he/she launched.

We then drove to the nearby Empire Farm, and wouldn’t you know, there was another juvenile sitting on a metal roof. We were able to photograph it from both sides of the building, all the while sitting in our car. It was just a great photo op.

The juvenile birds are more likely to fly south during the winter since food is more plentiful here, as the young birds are not yet skillful hunters. However, every several years there is a great irruption of Snowy Owls (the last was two years ago), the birds sometimes going as far south as Alabama. These irruptions include far more mature birds and occur in those years when the tundra’s lemming population crashes, the owls’ staple food.

Although the Snowy Owl population is decreasing, according to the Birdlife International Data Zone:

The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

You can see more Snowy Owl photos at my gallery.

Shrinking Bird Populations Book Release Celebration

Friends joined me this past Sunday to celebrate the release of a photo book started by Susan and me several years ago. Although the book is a remembrance, it also documents the declining populations of several bird species, something likely due to the lightning growth of our human, industrialized population. The highlights of the day can be found at: Shrinking Birds

You can preview the book at my bookstore.

“Shrinking Bird Populations,” now available from my bookstore

Available through PayPal
Available through PayPal

This book is a collection of photographs of birds, started by my late wife and me, whose populations have been declining over the past 30 years. Taken in western New York, the Everglades, and Greater Sacramento areas; the book was peer reviewed by an ornithologist for factual accuracy and interpretation. You can find it at my bookstore.

Around Peaks Island

Well, here I am, pretty much settled on Peaks Island. I repositioned my car off-island at one of Portland’s garages on Labor Day. Although most of the Labor Day week-end involved unpacking and food shopping, I did manage to take a few shots “down front” on the island where "Down front" leading to the ferry.

“Down front” leading to the ferry.

people were coming and going (the first photograph shows the downhill to the ferry dock). Walking along the back shore I saw an interesting composition with waves breaking over the wonderful rocky coast (second photo).

As summer wanes Labor Day eve saw heavy rain and thunderstorms. When my clock radio went off at 5:30 the following morning I checked to see if there was any fog. There was! I threw on some clothes and walked the quarter mile to the island’s east shore. I set up my tripod and camera on a rocky beach and took a few fog shots. I then moved further along the island’s perimeter and took several more. There, I caught a wonderful mix of granite, fog, and island shoreline (third photo). A few photographs from this series will likely end up as black and white prints.

Waves breaking on te back shore
Waves breaking on the back shore
Fog meets granite.
Fog meets granite

Although I was planning to head up the coast on Route 1 today, there was heavy fog this morning also so I decided to stay on the island. Again, I headed for the back shore where I photographed several more scenes. I particularly like the fourth photo showing Great Diamond Island shrouded in fog with one of the Casco Bay ferries off in the distance to the far left, and a somewhat closer unidentified boat to the ferry’s right (i.e, starboard).

The photograph of the cormorants shows what they do after diving for food, they hold their wings out to dry (good luck to them in this fog!). There were several boats moored nearby. They looked so lonely just sitting there in the fog. In any event, here’s my rendition of the G. Purslow in the sixth photo. I should mention that these photographs are unprocessed JPEGS from my cameras, which means they don’t have the cropping and polishing that can only be done on my home desktop using Lightroom.

Beach, fog & boats
Beach, fog & boats
Cormorants in a fog (through the 400mm super-telephoto)
Cormorants in a fog (through the 400mm super-telephoto)
Moored sailboat
Moored sailboat

Tomorrow’s weather “promises” drier air so my plan is to travel up the coast to check out photo sites and camping accommodations.

I have no internet connection in my cottage so I have to rely on public access at the local library—just a 10 minute bike ride away. Given the constraints of limited internet access and island/mainland logistics, I’ll likely post but once a week. I do, however, have email via my smart phone. Speaking of bike rides, the bike is courtesy of island friends, Ralph and Jeanne. Thanks so much guys!

-From Portland and the mid-coast

Great Horned Owl with Juvenile

Earlier this Spring we heard of a Great Horned Owl’s nest at one of the local parks. The word was that the parents and the two juveniles typically sat during the day, making good subjects for the public, birders and photographers alike. My wife and I headed over there one afternoon. Sure enough, there were people watching and photographing the birds–the latter sitting inside a hollow near the crotch of a large tree.  Unfortunately, the Owls were somewhat back-lit at that time of day and their view was obstructed. We decided it would be better if we returned early the following morning when we would have the sun at our rear.

Great Horned Owl & Juvenile
Great Horned Owl & Juvenile

We showed up around 8:00 AM the next morning–and found some photographers already in place.  We were lucky. The birds were sitting out in the open. Mom was in the distance keeping an eye on her older juvenile (the younger was still in the nest), while the juvenile was sitting closer to the path where we humans were congregating.  I mover further down the path which provided me with a good angle for capturing both birds, as shown in the photograph on the left. Mom is in its bottom portion.

Dad was more difficult to find.  However, one birder located him by following the agitated crows. He was sitting about 200 feet away, close to the tree trunk, facing away from his family. He did look around occasionally, as well as calling out to announce his presence every so often.  Unfortunately, he was too obstructed to present a good photo opportunity. His role was one of diversion, as well as providing back-up protection, should it be necessary.

Shortly after taking this shot mom flew over to join the juvenile. This offered several good photo-ops, three of which are shown, below.

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Affection

The juvenile was glad to see mom, but being “out on a limb” can be tiring.

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The yawn
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The stern look

I used my Canon 100mm-400mm lens with a 1.4X III extender @560mm with image stabilization turned off. My Canon EOS 7D and lens were mounted on my Manfrotto (055X) tripod. I set the camera to mirror lock-up and used a cable release to minimize vibration.

Eastern Phoebe Nabs Lunch

We recently took a “quick” walk through Oatka Park. As it was late morning things had begun to chill-out in the avian community. However, one fellow, an Eastern Phoebe, suddenly landed in a tree not far from us where it sat for a long time with a large insect in its beak. I took several photos, hoping for it to provide several poses. Alas, it held its position, except for turning its head. The best photo is shown, below.

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe

Since this type of behavior seemed unusual and that this was the nesting season, we surmised that the bird was distracting us from its nest where it intended to go to feed its young once we left. We therefore “took the photos and ran.”

Final observations of the Pileated Holes

Sad to say we hung out yet again only to find no woodpeckers.  By now there would be activity as the parents would be flying to the nest to feed the chicks.

However, my wife and I have been out on several birding expeditions, photographing everything from owls to various warblers.  With all this trekking I just haven’t had much time to blog or post photos. But I’ll do my best in the coming days and weeks!

Pileated Update

I’ve been remiss in my posting responsibilities. I have, however, have spent nearly an hour-and-a-half on two recent occasions watching the pileated holes for activity, the second time being this past Monday.  Still no luck. Not to be put off, I’m going to visit one more time in about a week since it’s possible (though unlikely) that the young haven’t hatched. If there is a bird sitting on eggs in this tree, there will be a lot of activity to and from the tree once the young have hatched. Note that the middle hole is larger than the one shown in my earlier post. Continue to stay tuned.

Pileated hole from the east side (compare with prior post photo of the same hole at the 1:00 position relative to the bird).
Pileated hole from the east side (compare with prior post photo of the same hole at the 1:00 position relative to the bird)