The tiny Eastern Screech Owl was content to sleep in the morning sun occasionally stirring to readjust its position, to peek out at the surrounding onlookers, and to preen. When one foot came into view with its sharp talons and sandpaper-like foot pads, the owl cleaned off what appears to be blood from the fine feathers covering the foot, probably leftovers from an earlier meal.
2023—Look Whooooo We Almost Missed
On our first morning at Magee Marsh, we pooh-poohed a group of visitors who were pointing excitedly to a tree they said had an Eastern Screech Owl in a cavity. We looked and saw nothing. For the rest of the week, we passed that same tree a number of times each day not even looking up. Luckily for us, Thursday morning, our last day, we encountered a lone photographer with a 600mm lens focused on a tree near the one we heard about the first day. And yes, he said, the Eastern Screech Owl was up there. This time when we looked, we could see that the small owl was indeed there, perfectly camouflaged. It had likely been there all along. While we watched, it would turn or open one eye. A couple of times it disappeared into the cavity and reappeared moments later leaning against one side or the other of the cavity opening and sleeping. The feathers mimic the surrounding bark so at times it is almost impossible for the untrained eye to find it. The natural world is an amazing and intricately designed place.
2023—A Ruby Crown
Tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglets seemed to be everywhere at Magee Marsh this week. Only slightly larger than a hummingbird, these olive colored birds are quick and move constantly. The males display their ruby crowns only rarely and we were pleased to see many on display. This bird, all puffed up against the early morning low 30 degree temperatures, shows of just a bit of crown as he paused briefly while scurrying across a branch.
2023—And Now for Some Real FOX News
After watching three Red Fox cubs frolicking near the parking lot at Magee Marsh late Wednesday afternoon, I thought it would be nice to show some real FOX News. It turns out there are more than birds at Magee Marsh. The three Red Fox cubs were probably 10 weeks old and had apparently been left in a safe location while their parents hunted. The large rotted tree trunk encased in dead vines and branches made the perfect camouflage the young pups needed to stay safe and hidden. Except their curiosity and youthful exuberance brought them out of hiding and their playful antics caught the attention of the many birders entering the Magee Marsh parking lot. We were glad to see the photographers stayed a respectable and safe distance away from the young foxes and we all enjoyed the show for almost three hours.
We saw more Yellow-rumped Warblers at Ohio’s Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on Monday than any other warbler there. The weather, including rain, cold, and wind seem to have kept the numbers of birds migrating through to a minimum but we’re hopeful that numbers of birds, not only warblers, will increase as the week goes on. We’re doing our part to encourage them by consuming plenty of ice cream which has been proven to increase the possibilities of wildlife sightings on a Moose Peterson adventure.
2023—A Momentary Pause
It takes not only skill but an awful lot of luck to photograph warblers and other migratory birds at Magee Marsh Wildlife Preserve on Lake Erie in Ohio. First, finding these small birds as they move frenetically through the brambles and brush along the boardwalk takes a keen eye and a bit of luck. They come through unpredictably in waves, a few at a time. And once you’ve spotted one, you’re lucky if that bird actually lands someplace with a relatively uncluttered foreground and background and then stays there long enough for you to find the bird in the viewfinder and photograph it. Our first day shooting at Magee Marsh for almost 9 hours was exhilarating and frustrating, disappointing and rewarding all at the same time. More than once I realized as I started to shoot that a twig or leaf was a ghostly presence in front of my subject. Often, no sooner had I found the tiny bird in my viewfinder, it moved behind a branch or tree trunk, disappearing momentarily and reappearing either obscured or too far away. A few times, though, a cooperative bird stopped to preen or eat or rest for a few seconds in a place where it could be seen. This Ruby-crowned Kinget was the last bird I photographed yesterday and one of the first to stop a while as it fluffed and preened. The foreground and the background illustrate the clutter that challenged us but this little one stands out, framed by the very chaos that surrounds it.
The weather is warming up and the rains have slowed. Spring seems to have arrived finally, later than I’m used to for my home in Northern California. My roses are about a month late and are just now starting to bud. And, in my backyard garden the lavender is one of the few flowers blooming now but I have to admit they were in bloom from the nursery when I planted them. The Honeybees are emerging and beginning to buzz around them. I focused my 105mm Macro lens on this bee as she sipped nectar from the lavender buds.
From the pointed toes to the flared wing to the drop on the beak an American Avocet in full breeding plumage displays its graceful water ballet at Bolivar Flats in Texas earlier this month. As I have mentioned in the past, it seems as if every wildlife trip I go on has one standout species during the week and it may not be our original target species. At Bolivar Flats, there was no question that the American Avocet was the standout, with hundreds congregating to feed, bathe, and even “dance” each morning when we arrived at the beach. It was an unforgettable experience.
2023—Panning for Poppies
The small patch of California Poppies caught my attention when we arrived at the Bird of Prey Health Group Meet and Greet on Sunday. At the end of the afternoon’s activities, I noticed my friend Truman in the midst of the poppies. When I joined him, he said (and I am paraphrasing here), “weren’t you just beach panning in the sand recently to photograph birds? Why not poppies?” So, I flattened myself onto the grass, which was thankfully dry, with my 400mm lens with the 1.4 teleconverter attached and took a few shots. And, just to prove it, here is a photograph taken at the moment I was photographing the poppies. I normally reserve this kind of shooting for the beach, but the technique is just as effective with poppies as it is with birds so I may have to add panning for poppies as one of my favorite photographic techniques. Photo, courtesy of Truman Holtzclaw.
2023—Kiss the Hand That Feeds You
The tiny Western Screech Owl appears to be kissing the ungloved hand of its handler but it is actually cleaning off a bit of food the handler picked up. The tiny owl made quite a contrast to the other raptors that were on display at a Meet and Greet of the Bird of Prey Health Group the other day. The Golden Eagle, a couple of Harris’s Hawks, and a huge Eurasion Eagle Owl all dwarfed this small bird.
2023—Mission to Save Golden Eagles
The California Foundation for Birds of Prey (CFBP) has changed its name and its focus. It is now the Bird of Prey Health Group and one of BPHG’s primary missions is to save Golden Eagles. I volunteered with CFBP for many years and the Meet and Greet at the new BPHG a couple of days ago recharged my interest in the organization and its mission. The Meet and Greet featured Tesla, a Golden Eagle who has appeared a few times in this blog over the years. She got her name because she was electrocuted after landing on power lines and lost toes on one foot. She has been an education bird for many years. One of the most challenging issues the BPHG faces now is rehabilitation and release to the wild of juvenile Golden Eagles that have been injured. Rehabilitation and release strategies for Golden Eagles, that are solitary birds, versus Bald Eagles that congregate in large numbers, are very different. Golden Eagles present a unique challenge so in partnership with West Coast Falconry, BPHG has developed a strategy for rehabilitation that includes a program that will train volunteers to assist in its release efforts. I’m hoping to volunteer my time to the effort.
2023—Out and About
Sometimes birds don’t do what the bird books say they do. Case in point, this Yellow-crowned Night Heron, so named because it is mostly a nocturnal bird, was out and about in the daytime, foraging in the grassy dunes for sand crabs when we arrived at Bolivar Flats our first morning in Texas. A large bird, about two feet tall, it walked slowly and steadily forward along the edges of the dunes, stopping occasionally, and not at all concerned with our presence. Its progress was so steady and the bird seemed so focused that we were able to move ahead of it without disturbing its forward motion. It was a great introduction to Bolivar Flats. The long white feathers streaming from its crown show that it is in breeding plumage as well as its normally yellow legs turned pink, obviously not seen in this image.
2023—Worth Stopping For
As we walked the trails at Smith Oaks Rookery in Texas, frantically swatting at the swarms of mosquitos seemingly resistant to our insect repellent, I noticed a tri-petaled purple flower I had never seen. Despite the high-pitched whine of mosquitos in my ears and my gut instinct to get away from them as quickly as possible, I stopped to photograph a lone flower. My companions waited for me although they, too, were under attack from the mosquitos. This is a Texas native, the Texas Spiderwort, and I think it was worth stopping for even though I emerged with dozens of itchy bites. The lone water drop on one of the leaves is a bonus that I didn’t notice when I took the photograph.
The American Avocet is a tall, statuesque shorebird. In breeding season, its head, neck, and breast feathers turn from white to a rusty orange. We had the great good fortune to photograph hundreds of them as they searched the Beacon Bayou that flows into the Gulf at Bolivar Flats for tiny fish and other tasty bits. On our last morning, they concentrated near the mouth and seemed satisfied with the availability of food there, only occasionally lifting off, then immediately returning. They marched through the water, some stopping to bathe enthusiastically while others searched for food, and some preened, and others stood on one leg and snoozed. This bird took a moment to strut on shore.
2023—Heading to the Nest
The Smith Oaks Rookery at High Island on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas provides habitat for nesting Great Egrets, Cormorants, and Roseate Spoonbills. High Island is not an island but rather a high spot on the peninsula and, at an elevation of about 38 feet, is the highest spot in the area. That relatively tiny difference in elevation allows for the growth of trees and shrubs that can’t grow in the salt marshes at lower elevations and provides nesting habitat for lots of birds including those nesting at Smith Oaks Rookery. A Roseate Spoonbill carries a big stick to add to its nest on a sunny morning a few days ago.
Shorebirds come in all sizes. Some are small, some are tall. Sometimes, that’s how you can tell who’s who by the relative size to another bird. This shot helps to illustrate that. The bird in front is a Greater Yellowlegs, in breeding plumage. The bird behind the Greater Yellowlegs is an American Avocet, not yet in breeding plumage, but a significantly larger bird.
2023—Splish Splash, I Was Taking a Bath
The American Avocets were out in force on our last morning at Bolivar Flats. This bird was unfazed by the parade of Avocets behind it as it bathed and splashed with abandon. There was much a-splishing and a-splashing going on. Bobby Darin would have been “reeling with the feeling, moving and a-grooving, rocking and a-rolling.” What a great week we had at Bolivar Flats! There were more shorebirds there than at any of the other places I’ve been for beach panning of Shorebirds in the past year. My “fun meter” was off the charts.
2023—Reflecting on Avocets
Each day so far at Bolivar Flats has been unique in many ways. On Wednesday, we drove onto the beach further north than on our other visits so that we could access a part of the beach that beckoned us but was impossible to reach because Beacon Bayou, which flows into the Gulf, bisects Bolivar Flats. We went there expecting to find several species of terns to photograph. Instead, we were delighted to find dozens, even more, American Avocets, many in breeding plumage like this bird. They were chasing tiny fish that were washing into the creek as the waves and tide pushed them and then flowed out again. The Avocets worked their way through the shallow water, swishing their heads back and forth to stir up any small morsels. Then they would suddenly lift off, almost simultaneously, land at the mouth of the creek, and begin working their way up stream again. We followed them, at first shooting from tripods, then plunking our bodies down onto the sand and beach panning for almost an hour and a half until the light became a little too harsh.
2023—My Favorite Shorebird
Tuesday was another great day. for photography at Bolivar Flats. We saw lots of shorebirds but the tiny Sanderling, my favorite shorebird, got most of my attention. For me it is always fun to photograph these constantly moving birds as they skitter back and forth and challenge the waves. Sometimes they will pause briefly as they search for a morsel to eat, like in this shot. It has buried its beak in the sand to extract a tiny crustacean.
2023— A Rousing Start
What a rousing start to our week in Texas at Bolivar Flats! An American Golden-plover rouses its feathers on the beach as if to illustrate the rousing start of our first morning. We began with a Yellow-crowned Night Heron that strolled past our vehicle by the sea grass at the edge of the beach. The heron was unconcerned with our presence and continued its steady stroll so we had to keep moving our panning plates to stay in front of it. When it finally disappeared behind the dunes, we turned our attention to the shorebirds at the edge of the water. There were a few Terns, Brown Pelicans, Willets, and Ruddy Turnstones by the edge of the water as well as small Sanderlings racing against the waves as usual. Then we noticed a Black-bellied Plover and an American Golden-plover coming into their breeding plumage and strolling right up to us. A couple of hours whizzed by before we knew it. What was great for us was that vehicles are allowed on the beach there so we parked on the beach close to where we were shooting. More importantly, the shorebirds appear to have adapted to the presence of vehicles and humans close to them. A couple of Texas beach clean up crews passed by in large vehicles collecting trash and picking up debris on the beach. The birds were unfazed. What fun!