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.”

Two Week Follow-up on the Pileated Holes

I visited the Pileated Woodpecker tree again this past Sunday. Although there were no birds spotted, there is now a third hole located at the 2 o’clock position relative to the hole on the right side of the tree shown in the photograph in my March 2 post. As we come into April I’m going to have to spend some time camped near the tree with my camera mounted on a tripod to record any comings and goings once the birds begin nesting (if indeed that’s why the holes are being drilled).

One Week Follow-up on the Pileated Holes


It was yet another low overcast day with a light snow falling. I went to see if there was any Pileated activity around the holes being drilled last week. We listened before approaching. No drilling, no calling. We walked into the woods towards the tree. The photo, above, shows a close-up of the two holes. The second hole is located at the 1:00 position to the facing hole. I also panned the area to show the setting of this tree. You can see this video at: http://sli.so/11463722QI . There is lots of deadwood in the area and most of the ground area is flooded (swampy)–just what woodpeckers love.

I’ll swing by next week to see if there is any activity.

Pileateds Getting Ready for Spring Breeding

Just a brief post to say that we found two Pileated Woodpeckers drilling on a tree not too far from the edge of a field. One flew off shortly after we stopped to watch them. The other continued working on another hole–to what is likely to be their nest. Pileateds often have two or more exits to their nests. I moved to a second location for a shot of the hole that the bird in the first photo had been working on. These are new holes going deep into the tree so it is clear they are not just feeding. Pileateds nest only one season in the same nest. After that, other residents move in.

I’ll have regular reports as I visit this location on a weekly basis, perhaps even some video of the future fledglings. Stay tuned!

High Acres Nature Area–Heron Sequence

wpid928-HANA-6574.jpgI’m way behind on my image processing and blog posts.  I guess this is okay since most photography articles tell us to spend most of our time getting the shots and as little time as possible in front of the computer.

We visited High Acres for the first time in early November, located in Penfield, NY. Surrounded by suburban development, it is nice to see the towns setting aside and maintaining nature areas. It was a nice fall day, though it was a bit chilly at 35º (but nothing like the 10º that we are currently experiencing during the day). We saw several hawks above, along with the usual crows.  On the ground we saw Greater Yellowlegs and Great Blue Herons. As you can see in the photograph, above, there are several trails, most of which we hiked over a period of about 2 1/2 hours.

Most of the herons we saw on the ground were standing (you know, doing their mime acts) atop muskrat houses. Since I have countless shots of Great Blue Herons I decided to see if I could shoot a launch sequence.  On the one hand, Great Blues are easier to catch taking off than songbirds because herons are so much slower.  On the other hand, who knows when they will go? So I got the idea that if I set up my camera at the end of the levy bordering the pond where the heron was located and had my wife then cross it, that would cause him to vacate, much as was the case earlier with the other herons in the area.

Well, wouldn’t you know, she crossed and it just stood there.  She returned, he continued to stand still. My wife even waved her arms–to no avail.  Clearly, this was an avian plot to thwart the photographer.  I ended up standing behind my tripod for about half an hour. Then, he crouched–okay this is it! The heron has departed! I pressed and held the shutter button, and the proofs  of my success are below.

The launch sequence
The launch sequence

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We also saw a few Greater Yellowlegs. One bird was relatively near and “agreed” to pose for some shots before taking off.  Here is its best pose:

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Greater Yellowlegs

Shortly afterwards, it left to join a couple of its associates further out, but I managed to capture its lift-off.

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One of the features I’ve yet to take advantage of on my Canon 100mm-400mm L lens is the image stabilization setting for panning shots. The problem is that when panning shots on the wing occur, there is little time to reset image stabilization from stills to pan.  Perhaps you have developed a strategy for switching IS modes?  If so, please let me know.

My next post will feature the return of the Red Crossbills.

Dead Salmon Society

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American River

The American River runs along side of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center where we saw Gulls (Increasing), Turkey Vultures (Increasing), a female Merganser (Increasing), a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Stable), and a Western Scrub-Jay (Increasing). The first photograph shows an island where water birds tend to congregate and feed. If you imagine walking along the shore to the right, we positioned ourselves to the right side of this island, where I took the second photograph.

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Lunch

Here, Turkey Vultures had acquired a dead salmon for lunch, eagerly sought by another fellow scavenger–the Gull. Unfortunately for him, he was out-numbered and held at bay from this delicacy.

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Dead Salmon Society

Speaking of salmon, there were numerous dead salmon in the river–apparently expired after spawning. We decided to drop in to the “Dead Salmon Society” to see what was going on, as shown in the third photograph–not much.

I was able to photograph a Common Merganser cruising along the shoreline by the feeding vultures. This is one of the diving ducks. As she swam, she would occasionally submerge her head to locate her prey, then dive to catch it.

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Common Merganser (female)

Among the numerous land birds we saw, I was able to photograph the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. They feed on insects as well as seeds and fruit by quickly moving through bushes and trees, much as do warblers. Fortunately, I was able to capture a few good shots, one shown in the next photograph.

Although we spotted their ruby crown occasionally through

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

the binoculars, I had no such luck with the camera.  As with Red-Wing Blackbirds, these birds have control over when to display their red feathers.

Finally, last year I could not get an unobstructed view of a Western Scrub-Jay. This year, however, I was able to get several.

Here, one is shown holding an acorn in his bill.

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Western Scrub-Jay

When all was said and done, we had a pretty successful outing.

The Acorn Woodpecker

Popular Acorn Woodpecker tree
Popular Acorn Woodpecker tree

On a recent trip back to California we went to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center http://www.sacnaturecenter.net–home of the Acorn Woodpecker. It lies north of Sacramento along the American River. My wife and I were there last year and it was so wonderful we just had to return.

This year I was determined to get shots of these woodpeckers on the fly–no easy task since they are small and fly quickly. Another year’s worth of experience taught me that I should pick an “active” tree and set up my tripod at the best spot.  I used my Canon 100mm-400mm lens with Canon’s 1.4X III tele-converter, giving me a focal length of 560mm. Since there was bright sun I was able to use shutter speeds of 1/2000 +.

Off for an acorn
Off for an acorn

These birds gather acorns and stuff them into rows of holes that they drilled into trees. The acorns in the California Oaks are slender, compared with their round counterparts in the East. These birds fly among live and dead trees in relatively open areas, as shown in the first photograph.

Unlike other woodpeckers, these birds congregate in a bevy so there

Transporting the acorn
Transporting an acorn

is no shortage of individuals to photograph. As a result there is a constant flow of birds gathering acorns, inserting acorns, and resting. To photograph them the trick is to keep the lens on them during the insertion of the acorn and then shoot a burst when they prepare for flight. Trying to follow them with the camera as they fly is nearly impossible with a long

Inserting an acorn
Inserting an acorn

telephoto lens. If you would like to see larger images they can be found in my on-line gallery.

Do let me know if you have had any experience photographing these birds and how you might have captured them in flight.

Fall at Hamlin Beach State Park, Lake Ontario

My wife and I made a couple of outings during the second half of October to the beach, hoping to find a range of water birds during migration. All we found were the usual suspects–Canadian Geese and Ring-billed gulls. Here they are “mingling.”

Birds of a feather . . .

Occasionally, the Gulls would take to the air, circle, then land at the same spot.

Descending on the Beach

Geese are highly structured in their ways–here, following the leader into the water.

Goin’ In

Sometimes people on the beach got too close for comfort, causing the birds to launch, only to return a few moments later.

Chaos

Interestingly, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology just announced that Superstorm Sandy has blown a number of migratory water birds, not normally found here, our way. We plan to return to the beach this week-end to see what might be around.

What unusual bird sightings have you observed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy?

Iroquois National Refuge Photo Contest

This photo took 3rd place in the 2011-2012 contest. I shot this from about 150 feet away while partially hidden from the bird’s sight on the boardwalk that crossed one of the marshes. As it approached for landing I held the shutter for a series of shots–this was the best (ISO 640, Canon 100mm-400mm @ 400mm, f/7.1, 1/1600). Everything fell into place, including the sun that was from my right rear.

The bird’s underside appears green from walking through the algae, along with the current reflection off the water. Shortly after landing the bird saw me and flew further off.

Touch-down