2017—More Hiding In Plain Sight

I didn’t expect to see a Killdeer nesting in Churchill, but we’d seen a Killdeer earlier in the day and later stumbled across its nest on some dried bark.  Like the American Golden-plover, the Killdeer’s spotted eggs blend into the background and are very difficult to see.  In the first shot, the anxious Killdeer looks around before returning to its nest.  In the second shot, one egg is visible to the right of the Killdeer’s legs.  In the final shot, the bird has nestled down the nest again.  We didn’t spend much time photographing this bird because it was very anxious and every few minutes it got off its nest and ran off in an effort to lure us away.  We finally decided our presence was no longer benign and it would have done more harm than good if we’d stayed.


nesting killdeer 3Nesting Killdeer 2nesting killerdeer1


At last I have found it after a month-long search!  My filing systems leave much to be desired and my organizational skills have been a lifelong challenge but I have always managed despite the chaos.  When my desk at work was piled high with miscellaneous, unrelated papers, I was still able to quickly sift through the piles and extract the exact piece of paper needed.  That chaos remains but now it is digital chaos and it is not writing projects but photographic projects.  I usually can quickly find any photograph I’m seeking but, while I attempt to organize my photographs in a way that allows me to locate them, sometimes I screw up.

While in Magee Marsh a month ago, I took a few photographs of a Blackburnian Warbler that were the only good shots of that bird that I got while we were there.  It is a striking bird and I recalled one photograph that stood out from the rest.  The problem was, I couldn’t find it.   Each evening after a day of shooting, I downloaded the photographs to one hard drive and made a backup on another. Then I categorized the photographs by species if they were animals.  I used other identifiers for other types of photographs.

When I got home I recalled the photographs of the warbler and I wanted to make a blog post of it but I couldn’t find it.  It wasn’t with the other Blackburnian warbler files so I reviewed every file for every day of shooting (or so I thought) and it wasn’t there.  I decided that I must have been mistaken about taking that photograph so I stopped looking for it.   Since my visit to Magee Marsh, I have been to Costa Rica and Canada and will soon be heading off to Arizona.  In preparation, I decided to clean up my MacBook Air.  In so doing, I discovered a folder from Magee Marsh that, contrary to my normal routine,  I downloaded to the computer’s hard drive but not to either of my primary drives.  In those files was the Blackburnian Warbler photo I was seeking.  Eureka!   The bird perched for only a few seconds and I shot it through just a small opening in the leaves but I think the shot shows off the beauty of that tiny bird despite the branch its perched on blocking part of its body, the rather high key effect of the background, and, once again, the subject appearing smack dab in the center of the photograph.

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2017—Playing Favorites

We went to Magee Marsh to photograph the migrating warblers where they stopped to nourish their bodies before flying across Lake Erie and north to their breeding areas.  My favorite bird was not a warbler, though.  The little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is another tiny migrant and it’s my favorite.  I thought it was the most expressive and most adorable of the birds we photographed there.

Gnat Catcher fave 1gnatcatcher fave 2

2017—”You’ve Got To Be Kidding!”

It was 112° as I drove to a late afternoon appointment Thursday.  This is withering heat.  I suppose I shouldn’t anthropomorphize but as I look at this photograph, the female bushtit on the left seems to be reacting to the male as if he just told her how hot it was.  So,  I put words in her mouth…her reaction to the fact that it was 112° and it is my reaction as well.

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2017—The Big Squeeze

It’s hot here.  108° Tuesday; 107° expected Wednesday; 110° predicted Thursday.  The Bathing Bushies decided to start cooling off early.  The little male peering at me from the crush of bushtit bodies behind the bubble doesn’t seem concerned about being squeezed so close to the cooling water.The Big Squeeze Bush Tits.jpg

2017—Hidden In Plain Sight

Most of the nests that we saw while in Churchill were nothing more than scrapes.  The tundra provides a soft place for the birds to nestle but they don’t seem to add much other material to the nests.  One day we were very lucky to find the hummock upon which an American Golden-plover had nested.  We approached the nest one by one, one step at a time:  lift tripod; move it forward a couple of feet; take two steps; pause; watch the bird.  If the bird doesn’t seem to notice the slow advance, then, repeat.  If she notices, she will likely leave the nest and run away pretending she has an injured wing.  If this happens, freeze in place and wait several minutes for her to return to the nest.  Try again.   We were careful not to stress the bird because if she left the nest for too long a period, the eggs would get too cold.  Four of us advancing toward the nest singly, two steps at a time, took about half an hour.  If we had stressed her too much, we would have abandoned our approach.  Lucky for us she was very cooperative and did not appear stressed.

This series of photographs shows her on the nest,  standing by the nest, getting ready to settle onto the eggs, and back on the nest.  If you look closely, the eggs are hiding in plain sight.  The large spotted eggs are visible in the second and third photographs.  I counted three eggs but there may have been more.  They blend in so well with the reindeer moss.

American Golden Plover 4

American Golden Plover 2


American Golden Plover 3


American Golden Plover 1

2017—Arctic Azalea

Arctic tundra is fascinating.  It is considered the world’s coldest biome, and despite the snow, there is relatively little water; it is like a cold desert that supports unique flora and fauna.  One afternoon as I used my 18-35mm lens on the D500 to take close up photographs of the mosses, lichens, and a few wild flowers, I suddenly realized that the pink flowers I was drawn to were azaleas…stunted versions of the azaleas with which we are so familiar.  They grow very low to the ground and the flowers are barely an inch across when fully open.  In some places, there were just a few plants sprinkled across vast swaths of moss showing a pop of pink here and there.  In other places, there were lots of azaleas that gave a bright, cheerful look to the tundra.  I saw only one color of azalea there.  It happens to be my favorite color of azalea and at home, a row of  larger versions of these magenta flowers decorates my front yard.

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2017—Telltale Shadows

Lots of birds and mammals  in the Arctic change color in summer.  During the winter months when snow covers everything here, their plumage or fur is white so they blend into the snow.  When the snow melts, all white feathers and fur are no longer useful as camouflage so they molt their plumage or fur so they once again blend into their surroundings.  This Arctic Hare is an example of this drastic change in appearance.  We photographed it at sunset one evening.  Most of its white fur has molted and only a few clumps remain.  Instead of stark white, the Arctic Hare is now more of a brownish gray color to help it better blend into the tundra.  But, the camouflage can’t work all the time.  The rabbit shadows on the rock give away its location.

Arctic Hare At Sunset 2

Arctic Hare At Sunset

2017—Fine Feather

What’s interesting about the shore birds in Churchill, Canada is that they’re sporting their breeding plumage.  Over the years,  I’ve seen lots of shorebirds, mostly on my annual January visits to Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico.  Because I see these birds in winter, on their southern most stop on their winter migration, their feathers are gray and their plumage is rathe drab.  Not so the shore birds on Hudson Bay.  They are in fine feather so to speak, like this Long-billed Dowitcher, posing one evening on a rock in the Granary Pond at the Port in Churchill.

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2017—Arctic Drop Cloth

We spent some time near Hudson Bay exploring the tundra habitat with its clear, shallow ponds, arctic azaleas, mosses, and the ubiquitous orange lichen.  The lichen covers the glacier-flattened rocks in great blotches of yellows, whites, and blacks, but the brilliant orange seems to be the dominant lichen.  It is quite a spectacular sight.  To me it is a kind of arctic drop cloth covered with splotches of paint.  This shot looks a little like reminds me of  a scrunched up drop cloth, ready to be carried to the next paint job.

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2017—Tundra and Greater Yellow Legs

Despite seeing eighteen species of birds on our first afternoon in Churchill, Canada, we were able to photograph only a single bird that day.  But that bird, a Greater Yellow Legs, gave me my first opportunity to put my new hip boots to use.  We wear them every day, all day, when we go out and we only put on our regular hiking boots when we plan to shoot in a location where there is no tundra, a very rare thing in this arctic region.  The tundra is comprised primarily of moss, lichen, and low shrubs and in the summer, the topmost layer of the permafrost melts so the tundra becomes spongy and if you’re not used to it, it’s weird to walk on.   With my first steps onto the tundra, I thought I was going to sink in too deep but some areas don’t give at all and others bounce a little.  I’m still getting my “tundra legs” and it is a challenge to carry my camera rig over the tundra but I’m determined to “make it work” as Tim Gunn says.

To photograph this Greater Yellow Legs as it foraged in a clear, shallow pond, we walked right into the pond which was several inches deep.  We managed to walk fairly close to the bird because our hip boots allowed us to walk into the water without worrying about getting wet.  We photographed this bird for almost an hour and at the end of that time, it finally walked out of the water and onto a mound of tundra so we were able to capture the bird, in full breeding plumage, in its breeding habitat.

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2017—Wing Walking

This is Day 2 in Churchill, Canada.  Churchill is a small, very isolated town of fewer than 1000 in Northern Manitoba on Hudson Bay.  It is a port from which Canadian wheat is exported and which is now further isolated because the rail service has been suspended in the past few days due to catastrophic flooding.  It is believed that repairs will take months and rail service may not begin again until this winter and possibly even as late as this spring.  There are no roads to Churhchill.  Most goods are brought in by rail.  The stores and restaurants that are open  cannot get any new supplies without having them shipped much more expensively by air so shelves go empty and prices double or triple.  The owner of the coffee shop where we have breakfast gives her customers a break by increasing prices by only 20% instead of the minimum of 50% increase that it is costing her.  This is quickly developing into a catastrophe for this small community.

Today we photographed the remnants of a transportation catastrophe from decades ago. A cargo plane dubbed “Miss Piggy” for its frequent cargo of pigs, crashed on takeoff from Churchill on November 13, 1979, with its cargo of freight consisting of a single Ski-Doo and cases of soda pop.  An oil leak forced the plane to crash land on the rock and tundra near Hudson Bay.  According to Wikipedia (so it much be true) three crew members survived the crash but two were severely injured.  The fuselage remains planted on the tundra atop lichen encrusted glacier carved rocks and is in surprisingly good condition despite its being there for almost 40 years.  The plane even starred in a movie but I haven’t found which one yet.  Part of the plane was painted over for the movie but the back side of the plane still bears the LambAir Cargo logo along with lots of graffiti from years of visitors.  Moose photographed me as I walked on the wing, with Hudson Bay in the distance.


Miss Piggy Front View.jpg

Carol on the Wing

2017—Bay-breasted Warbler

One of the more cooperative warblers I photographed at Magee Marsh in May was a female Bay-breasted Warbler.  The afternoon’s high winds kept her perched for quite a while on the same branch.  I featured her in my blog at the time.  Click here to see her feathers ruffled in the wind.  About ten minutes after I took that photograph, she moved into the shelter of the branches before flying off.

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2017—Green Herons

This pair of Green Herons, both with their black crests raised, paused briefly on a fallen branch at the Lagoon (Laguna Peje Perrito) one morning.  I don’t know if this is a mated pair so their raised crests represent courtship behavior or if the raised crest represents an antagonistic posture.  One flew off soon after I took this photograph.

I have a soft spot for Green Herons because about 20 years ago, a pair nested in my oak tree for three years running.  Green Herons nest singly, not in rookeries.   I have no idea why they chose my tree because the nearest water is not really very close.  There was a small creek across the street that has long since been surrounded by condominiums, and the rice fields are about two miles away.  I wish I’d been a serious photographer then.   I watched the young herons stroll around my patio and look for fish in my backyard birdbath.  Sadly, the third year was not a charm for the pair.  One Mother’s Day, we had an unseasonally cold hail storm while the parents were gone from the nest.   It filled the nest with hailstones, killing the two chicks inside.  I later discovered a small fish on the lawn under the nest, probably dropped by the parent when they discovered the chicks were dead.  They never returned.

Green Heron Pair.jpg