Thursday, December 6, 2018

A jaunt through the Wilds, bird-seeking

This is my 1,832nd post over this blog's history (I had two previous iterations), for whatever that's worth. The first entry dates to July 22, 2007, and covered the Ohio Dragonfly Conference (see that post HERE). There have been nearly 4.3 million page views over that span, and I'm grateful that people check into this space occasionally, whether by accident or intentionally. It's been a great forum for keeping the digital pen honed, and to share (hopefully ever-improving) photos. If nothing else, I've got staying power on my side. A great many blogs that I've seen launched during this span have drifted off into the ether. Hopefully I'll still be on this space when it comes time to write my 2,000th post.

A strange sunset illuminates Long Lake and surrounding strip mine reclamation grasslands at the Wilds in Muskingum County, Ohio. This sprawling site encompasses 10,000 acres, and there are tens of thousands of additional acres of similar habitat, owned by American Electric Power, in the area. I've written about the Wilds many times. If you wish to see other posts, just type "the wilds" into the search box at the top left of the page (it works very well).

We've been having an extending period of gray gloomy days here in central Ohio, so when I saw that last Sunday was supposed to be largely blue skies, I left home well before the crack of dawn to visit the Wilds. This is a strange place, weather-wise, and I am becoming convinced it generates its own weather. As I neared the place, the skies were clearing and all looked good. As I entered the Wilds proper on Zion Ridge Road, dense fog settled in, shrouding the landscape and largely putting the kibosh on bird photography. Prior to strip mining, this region was almost entirely deciduous forest. After clearing and major soil disturbance, numerous springs were exposed and the ground is seemingly soggy nearly everywhere. Maybe it's all that moisture going airborne that creates the fog, I don't know.

While the fog killed any chance for a good sunrise, the sunset sure looked promising. Come day's end, I got myself into a good position, and was rewarded with the odd flaming orange and yellow sky you see above. I was hoping for one of those brilliantly parti-colored palettes of pinks, oranges, reds, blues and purples, but no. Oh well, it was still pretty cool looking.

A battalion of mourning doves uses some wires as a command post. They were staging raids on a roughly harvested cornfield nearby that no doubt had lots of waste kernels ripe for the plucking. Several hundred doves were present, and I spent some time watching them. Often cited as one of North America's most numerous species, there is no question the mourning dove is widespread and abundant. Nonetheless, I think they are declining, and have declined considerably since I first learned of doves as a young kid. I don't run across many big flocks like this one anymore.

This bird was a prime target on this mission, and I was successful. It is a northern shrike, and a juvenile to boot. It was one of the first birds that I saw upon entering the Wilds, along Zion Ridge Road. Because of the early morning fog, I couldn't work much with the animal photographically, but had a great time watching it. Northern shrikes breed far to our north, and are rare winter visitors to Ohio, with most records along in the northernmost tier of counties. This far south, they're really rare, but shrikes have been found wintering at the Wilds and vicinity for many years now.

Shrikes are sometimes called "butcherbirds". Slightly smaller than a robin, these songbirds are predatorial terrors. They'll catch prey ranging from large insects to mice and voles, to birds up to the size of blue jays. Shrikes often cache their victims by impaling them on thorns, hence the somewhat gruesome nickname.

I refound the shrike twice throughout the day, and during the second bout with it, as the fog was lifting, I had a great mammalian experience. This is the section of road the bird was frequenting, and as I stood watching it, a coyote began singing not too far off, in the brush on the right. Their song is one of Nature's great melodies, and always a treat to hear. After a while, I saw it or another coyote trot onto the road WAY down there in the distance, by the curve in the road. It apparently hadn't spotted me yet (I was mostly hidden by my vehicle, well off the road), but as soon as I clapped my big telephoto lens on it, the better to see the beast, it stopped, turned, and impaled me with baleful stare for about fifteen seconds. The sixth sense of these animals is almost supernatural, and I was glad I was not an eastern cottontail.

A handsome male American kestrel "play flies" atop a post. A brisk steady breeze was blowing into his face, and he seemed to enjoy holding his wings out, like a kid (or me) sticks an arm out the window of a moving vehicle and rotates his/her hand. At first, I figured he was doing this to balance in the wind, but no, I think not, as he also sat with wings tucked for extended periods.

While kestrels have declined alarmingly in most regions, they appear to be on the upswing at the Wilds. Local nesters have been bolstered by the placement of numerous nest boxes, many of which are now occupied.

Prior to this trip, I did not have any truly great kestrel shots. As I noted numerous pairs during this days travels, I resolved to bag some nice images, and here we go. This is the same male as in the previous shot, and I spent quite some time with him. By using the Jeep as a blind, I was able to stay fairly close without bothering the little falcon.

This shot was made from the vehicle, not long after he launched from a wire on one of his hunting forays. The topography worked to my advantage, as he was not far above eye level when I made the shot and the natural light was superb. The image was made with the Canon 5D IV and the outstanding Canon 500mm f/4 II lens, with 1.4x teleconverter (=700mm). The settings were f/8, ISO 500, 1/1600, +0.3 exposure compensation. As always, I used back-button focusing, and only the center focus point was active.

Speaking of bird photography, if you would like to enter the land of avian abundance and feathered photo ops galore, Debbie DiCarlo and I are leading a photo workshop to Florida from February 18-23 (with optional extension from February 23-25). We'll have scores of opportunities to shoot many interesting species, and learn lots about the art of bird photography. All details on this trip ARE HERE. We'd love to have you along!


Anonymous said...

How fortunate you are to see a kestrel! And of course I am fortunate to be able to see your photos.....


Ron Gamble said...

Yes, thank you for continuing to post things to your blog, and I hope you make at least 2000! Your blog is such an interesting read and great educational resource. And like you, I miss several blogs that went to the "ether" in the last 3 years ... Ron Gamble

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Ron, I’m glad you like it!

Jim McCormac said...

And thank you, Ceci!

Great Blue Heron, with ornamental plumes

  A Great Blue Heron, a very common wading bird and a species all of us are undoubtedly familiar with. It's never productive to get jade...