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Showing posts from March, 2015

Waterfowl season!

A gorgeous blue spring sky illuminates acres of prairie grasses buffering highly productive prairie pothole wetlands at Battelle Darby Metro Park in central Ohio. I was fortunate to spend time with lots of ducks over the weekend, and some briefly captioned pictorial highlights follow.

For an enthusiast of fowl, such as myself, it doesn't get much better than this. A shallow marsh at Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County teems with waterbirds of many species: Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, American Coot, Horned Grebe, Bufflehead and others.

The Red-winged Blackbirds have recolonized Ohio, and chaps such as this were making themselves known from every other shrub, it seemed.

A line of Ring-necked Ducks rockets by: two drakes, accompanied by three hens.
A closer view of a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, female below, male above. The focus is on the hen.
Few birds beat the Northern Pintail for sleek elegance. This quintet sports a trio of drakes and a pair of hens.

A female American Wigeo…

Gulls drop clam bombs

Herring Gulls are ubiquitous fixtures along the New Jersey coast, and on my recent trip to Barnegat Light and vicinity I fired off many shots of the handsome birds. It isn't hard - the gulls often sit at near arm's length, and regard us humanoids with steely yellow gazes. The bird above is an adult Herring Gull, still in its winter plumage. They don't shift feathers much between summer and winter, but nonbreeders become dingy about the head and neck, and the colors of the bill and orbital ring around the eye become less pronounced.

Here's a bird that has transformed into breeding finery, and is loudly braying about it. Its mate is also bugling away, just facing away from the camera. Quite a racket these two made, but their loud yelping bugles are a classic sound of the sea coast, and would be greatly missed were such sounds absent.

Note how this bird - male, I believe - now has clean white feathers on the head and neck, and its bill is brilliant yellow with bright red…

More astrophotography

Yesterday marked the 14th rendition of the annual Shreve Migration Sensation. I was flattered to be asked back to speak; this go-round my topic was the wetlands of Wayne County. The SMS takes place in the village of Shreve, population about 1,500. During SMS, that number swells to about 3,000. It's a big event, and great for the local economy. Thanks to everyone who organizes the Sensation, and puts in the hard work to make it happen.

As you may have learned, predicting weather and atmospheric phenomena is hardly an exact science. Knowing that I'd be in Wayne County until late in the day, I kept an eye on various forecasts, which were calling for a clear, cloud-free Saturday evening. That was good news, as I could turn my camera to the stars once again. Didn't happen, at least initially - clouds rolled in and blanked out the evening's stars. After shooting waterfowl (with camera) in one of the marshes until dusk settled thoroughly in, I headed for home. About half an h…

Cormorant battles giant fish!

The ominous - to a fish, anyway - black silhouettes of Great Cormorants, Phalacrocorax carbo, adorn a marker at the entrance to Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. This large species of cormorant has the widest distribution of any cormorant species, occurring in Australia, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In North America, Great Cormorants breed only in maritime zones of the North Atlantic, from Greenland south to Maine. Wintering birds move south into the mid-Atlantic region.

 For interior-dwelling landlubbers used to seeing Double-crested Cormorants, P. auritus, the comparatively massive Great Cormorants are a shock. The wingspan is nearly a foot longer, and a Great Cormorant is almost twice the weight of a Double-crested, making for a much bulkier looking bird. The bird in this photo is an adult coming into breeding plumage, and it sports a distinctive white flank patch, a white throat, and whitish feathering is developing on the neck.

Great Cormorants feed almost entirely on fish, and as we sh…

The Harlequin Ducks of Barnegat Light, New Jersey

The long stone breakwall at Barnegat Light, New Jersey is a famous birding spot. When I find myself in that part of the world, a visit is irresistible. Such was the case last weekend, when a trip to nearby eastern Pennsylvania provided the chance for a whirlwind Barnegat trip. In little more than a day, I clicked off several thousand images, and got some really cool stuff.

Barnegat Light's namesake lighthouse is WAY down there at the end of the breakwall. The parking lot is by the lighthouse, so it's a bit of a haul to get down to where I made this photo, but the birds get better the further towards the sea one gets. Barnegat Bay is on the right, and the Atlantic Ocean is behind us.

By far the most popular avian lure that draws people to Barnegat Light during the colder months are the Harlequin Ducks. A few dozen overwinter here, and they typically can be found resting and foraging along the rocks, often nearly at one's feet. Who would not want to see such an animal?


Mothapalooza - registration open!

Registration for Mothapalooza is open! It actually opened almost two weeks ago, but I'm only now getting around to plugging it. Of the 140 available slots, there are only 30 left, so you'll want to get in on this REAL DARN FAST!

In the photo above, attendees at Mothapalooza I (the coming one is Mothapalooza III) gather around a lit sheet, admiring myriad mysterious denizens of the nighttime forest who have fluttered into the flame.

This year's Mothapalooza returns to the moth-filled haunts of Shawnee State Forest, and the Edge of Appalachia Preserve in southernmost Ohio. The region is a treasure trove of biodiversity, and in addition to a jaw-dropping number of moth species, we'll see scores of interesting plants, butterflies, birds, mammals and more.

The dates are June 12 - 14, and every detail can be found at the comprehensive Mothapalooza website, RIGHT HERE.

Who would not want to see a creature such as this peeking over a nearby leaf? Any photographer in their rig…

American Coot

"Oh my, what big feet you have, Mr. Coot!"
There are a lot of distinctive features to a coot, not the least of which are its feet. They are huge multi-lobed affairs, all the better for traversing spongy wetland plants and various floating debris. This American Coot was one of many consorting with hundreds of waterfowl of many species in an open lead in otherwise frozen Alum Creek Reservoir. I like coots - always have - and seized the opportunity to fire off some shots when this one ambled by, showing off its funny feet.

While the coot is a member of the rail family (Rallidae), it is certainly an odd duck amongst that crew. The other species, at least in our range, are highly secretive marsh dwellers such as the Sora, and Virginia Rail. Two of the biggest skulkers and hardest to see birds in North America are in this family, the Black and Yellow rails. I guess the extroverted coots make up for their brethren's shyness, and come out to let us appreciate the charms of the …

Red-breasted Mergansers

Precious little time of late to cart the camera out and snap off photos. But a window opened up this afternoon, and I spent a few hours clicking the shutter about 1,500 times at one of my favorite subjects, waterfowl. There is an easily accessible open lead in otherwise frozen Alum Creek Reservoir, Delaware County, Ohio. It's just north of the Cheshire Road bridge, on the east side of the lake. The hole is jammed with waterfowl of many species, and if time permits I'll post some really cool stuff from this foray.

But for now, a female and male Red-breasted Merganser, two of many that were present.

A hen Red-breasted Merganser wrestles a small yellow perch into position for swallowing. A colloquial name for this duck is "sawbill", and that's because its mandibles are edged with sharp serrations, the better to grasp slippery prey.

Nearby was this gaudy drake. The boy mergansers were keenly interested in the girls, and many were engaged in their comical bowing court…

Ohio Botanical Symposium: March 27

Tis the season for event promotion. And here's another one well worth a plug, and well worth attending. The Ohio Botanical Symposium, which like some primroses is now a biennial event, takes the stage on Friday, March 27 at the beautiful Villa Milano Conference Center in Columbus. CLICK HERE for details, and registration. If memory serves, the botanical symposium was started over 20 years ago by the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves. We had about 40 people at the inaugural event. Attendance grew by leaps and bounds, requiring regular shifts to larger venues. The Villa Milano can handle about 400 people, and the remaining spaces for this year's conference are rapidly dwindling. Register soon. It usually fills up.

The keynote is Dr. Robbin Moran of the New York Botanical Garden. He authored the book A Natural History of Ferns, and will discuss the interesting hidden lives of Ohio's most interesting ferns. Another easterner, Dr. Cynthia Morton of the Carnegie Museu…

Wildlife Diversity Conference - last call!

Wednesday, March 11 is the date of the annual Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference and you won't want to miss it. The conference is held at the Aladdin Shriner's Complex at 3850 Stelzer Road in Columbus. All of the details are RIGHT HERE.

It is customary for the conference's organizer, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, to unveil something new and interesting at the event, and this year is no exception.

Voila! That's right - a publication on lichens! Wait'll you see this thing. Authored by lichenologist Ray Showman, with photographic contributions from Bob Klips, it reveals the beauty and importance of these interesting fungus/algae combo organisms. The guide is free, and all conference attendees get one.

Also to be debuted - again, free - is this artfully designed booklet that tells you the ins and outs of milkweeds, and how they relate to monarch butterflies. And much more, such as info on many other milkweed obligate insects, which milkweeds are indigenous to Ohio, an…

Star trails, Version II

In my last post, HERE, I wrote about the making of star trail photos on a rather frosty winter evening. I thought one of the resultant photos, above, was pretty cool. Not bad for a first time effort. Well, I hadn't seen nothin' yet!

I made two hour long exposures, one of which is the photo above. The other one wasn't nearly as good. It was my first effort, and I had allowed too much light to collect via too large of an ISO setting. For the next long-exposure image, I dialed things down and achieved the above result, which was an improvement.

But my research had indicated that making a long series of 30 second exposures would generally yield much better results. The only hitch is that one must digitally stitch the images together, in the order in which they were taken. So, I did indeed take a long series of short exposures, thinking that eventually I'd learn how to sew them all together. Which I did.

See below:

An ENORMOUS improvement on the long single exposure shots!…