Monday, March 30, 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
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 and bold black spots. Click the pic to enlarge, and you should be able to see the orangish-red orbital ring encircling the eye.
This clever behavior is just one of numerous examples of the wiliness and street smarts of gulls. The large species in the genus Larus, at least, are opportunistic survivors who will no doubt be plying their trade long after we are no longer around the marvel at their intelligence.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
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 hour into the trip, the cloud cover was swept aside and the night sky glittered with stars. I turned around, and headed quickly back to one of the most remote, darkest corners of the massive Killbuck Marsh that I knew.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
This experience calls to mind that stupidly inaccurate expression "eats like a bird", which is used to refer to a person that eats very little food. Believe me, you don't want to truly "eat like a bird" or you'll be paying Weight Watchers overtime. The maximum weight of a cunner is 2.2 lbs., and I'd say that the one eaten by our cormorant weighed a pound, probably - maybe more, possibly a bit less. As a Great Cormorant weighs about seven pounds, this bird just ingested one-seventh of its bodyweight in a few seconds. For a 200 lb. man to match this feat, he would have to consume about 29 lbs. of food at once. Even Joey Chestnut could not come close to that.
My advice? Don't eat like a bird.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
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.
Many birders keep a "copulation list" of birds caught in the act of procreating. I don't, but if I did, this would be a really good checkmark on that list.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
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.
If you want to try a really different sort of immersion into the natural world, try Mothapalooza. We have the greatest time, learn tons of stuff, see things no one thought possible, and venture into the depths of darkened forests. To register, GO HERE.
Monday, March 9, 2015
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 family. Come nesting season, though, coots become a bit harder to see, as they occupy dense marshlands. They're easy to hear though; a "singing" coot makes loud keening cries that carry for some distance.
Sunday, March 8, 2015
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.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
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 Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, will discuss urban forests and their importance. Bob Glotzhober, emeritus natural history curator of the Ohio Historical Society, will talk about the amazing botanical diversity of one of Ohio's most iconic natural areas, Cedar Bog. The "Garden Sage" herself, Debra Knapke, will wax eloquent about the state's edible plants, including ones that you can grow. Phlox is always a crowd-pleaser, and among their ranks are some of our greatest botanical eye candy. Peter Zale will give the lowdown on this colorful group. The synopsis of "Ohio's Best Botanical Finds" is always a crowd-pleaser at the botanical symposium. Andrew Gibson will detail the very best of new native plant discoveries of the last two years, which include rediscoveries of plants thought gone from the state, and plants never before found within Ohio's borders.
Your narrator is a last minute pinch-hitter, filling in for a speaker whose extenuating circumstances preclude involvement with this year's symposium. Fortunately, the subject is one that I have a passing knowledge of: goldenrods. This group is among the most beautiful and important of Midwestern plants, and I'll attempt to sell their virtues.
Again, complete conference info is RIGHT HERE.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
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.
Walk-ins are more than welcome at the conference, but pre-registering is best. To register, just CLICK HERE.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
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.
www.startrails.de website! A German by the name of Achim Schaller (who must be a genius) created software that allows multiple exposures of astrophotography shots to be seamlessly melded together, allowing results such as the above image. Thanks to Toni Hartley for showing me how to work the software, too.
There is no question that the second image is far beyond the single shot exposure, for which I kept the camera's shutter open for a whopping 56 minutes. The second shot was achieved by stitching together a total of 84 images. Each exposure was 30 seconds long, and the camera was set to f/4 (wide open on my 17-40mm Canon lens), at a focal length of 17mm and ISO at 500. As mentioned in the previous post, I set the white balance to tungsten, which gives the night sky a steely blue cast. Photogs shooting in RAW could convert to that white balance mode later, in post-processing, but why not get it right of the can. Of course, to shoot uninterrupted 30 second exposures over the better part of an hour, one must use a remote shutter release that will lock in place, thus constantly tripping the shutter until told to quit.
The reason that the second image is superior is in large part due to the much shorter exposures. There was more ambient light where I made this image than is desirable, from nearby houses, farms, and a few distant cities. Thus, the super long exposure shots harvested tons of light, largely blowing out the stars. The short exposures did not keep the shutter open long enough to collect much light other than that of the targeted stars, thus the much showier photo. After shutting down the camera, all that remains is to stitch all of the images together, and as reported earlier that is pretty simple with good software.
I eagerly await the return of the new moon, hopefully with attendant clear skies. Then, a trip to a truly dark corner of earth will be in order.