Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lovers and Assassins in the Salt Marsh

Saturday morning was another gorgeous, sunny day, so I grabbed the camera and the kayak and headed out to Guilford's East River salt marsh. And The birds cooperated. Springtime is the time for Ospreys, and others, to find their lovers, so there were pairs of Ospreys hanging out together in the low grass of the marsh and a few on nests.

I've shot Ospreys here before, but my new equipment is light years better than the old, so I was able to get crisper, closer, less-cropped photos than I ever have before. In fact, if you click this one to blow it up, you can actually see the nictitating membrane on this bird's eye, halfway through a blink.

In reviewing my photos and the literature on Ospreys, I learned that juvenile birds lack the distinctive bands of brown flicks across the chest. Instead, their breasts are buffy or white like this youngster's. That subtle difference really helped me theorize effectively about how different Osprey groupings were made. The birds are somewhat territorial, but there seemed to be many groups of three or four with two adults and one or two juveniles, presumably family groups based on last year's season.

A railroad track and power line run through the marsh a couple of miles up from the Sound, and these Ospreys appear to be testing out one of the poles as a potential nesting platform.

The landing bird may appear to be attempting the assassination of the perched bird, but the she was simply landing on an awkwardly small perch. The two were clearly part of a family unit.
The Ospreys weren't the only ones looking for love. The banks of the river were littered with pairs of Willets making their distinctive calls, either in pursuit of love or warning each other about my approach.
For birds making warning calls, though, they were really tame, often letting me get within 20-30 feet without even walking away up the bank into the grass. So my guess is their constant refrain was more about love than danger.
I also added a shorebird to my life list: this Red-throated Loon who tootled down the river and then took off, presumably migrating north for breeding season.

Yes, those are Ospreys perched on lawn chairs in the background. The extreme storms of the last few years have left a few odd deposits of deck furniture miles away from any homes. There's even a gas grill wedged two-thirds into the mud out there.

To get all these shots, I carry the camera in a drybag that I keep under the spray deck of the kayak. When I see a potential opportunity, I pop the deck, pull the camera out of the bag, take off the lens cap, turn it on, and start shooting. It's incredibly difficult to do all of that quickly, especially since I don't want to slip and throw my camera equipment into the river. That means that a bird that appears quickly and then disappears quickly is very difficult to shoot effectively.

Fortunately, when the loon came around the bend, I already had the camera out to shoot the Ospreys on their lawn chairs, so I was able to focus on the loon and twist to follow the flightpath, simultaneously contorting my body into a pose worthy of a kayak yoga video and grabbing my favorite shot of the day in the process.

Woodpecker Swoop

I was able to stalk our Red-bellied friend a little more effectively, this time in full daylight instead of at sunset. He seems to be more tolerant of me these days, devoting more of his energy chiding to the Starlings perched in the trees around his hole than he does to avoiding me.

Most woodpeckers, including the Red-bellied, have a distinctive swooping flight pattern. I tracked my little friend all the way to the top of his tree and then snapped a shot right as he left the trunk with his wings against his body for his first swoop. You can even see the little red streak on his belly that gives him his name.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stalking a Badly Named Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of the most inaccurately named birds in the northeast. While they do have a russet streak on their bellies, it's almost never visible in the field. They're easy to distinguish with their red caps and their strikingly barred backs, but the name "Red-headed Woodpecker" was already taken by a bird with a much better claim to it. I might have gone with "Red-capped" myself, but nobody asked me.

Whatever the name, they're a bit shyer than the other common woodpeckers. They'll come down to a feeder for sunflower seeds or suet, but they tend to spook fairly readily and then keep a good distance, often chiding me from well out of telephoto range with their striking call.

This male, however, has chosen the dead side of a split tree trunk near our house for a hiding—and perhaps nesting—place, so instead of flying off when I open the back door, he flies to this hole, which is well within telephoto range.

When I was still enough, he alternated between drumming inside the hole and sticking his head out to call, so I caught a few good exposures of him when he did.

On an earlier attempt to catch a picture of this elusive woodpecker, I was standing as still as possible and waiting to see if he'd come closer once he was used to me. I spent the time shooting the birds who were less bothered by me, including this Mourning Dove. I'm not sure what it is about these doves that they seem quite beautiful in some poses because of their striking markings and so clumsy in others; perhaps it's their proportions?
The last little guy I caught during my woodpecker-stalk was this Dark-eyed Junco. They're about as durable as little birds can be when it comes to a person walking around and shooting pictures. They'll fly off if you get too close, but if you're still, they'll come back fairly readily and do their thing with only a glance over at you now and then to make sure you're not doing anything shady.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Silver Swimmer—Well, Almost...

Today we went out to the Supply Ponds park with some new friends from town and their lovely young Weimaraner, Ollie. Ollie's nine months old, which means he has most of his adult size, but he's still a very much a puppy.

Obviously Goldens have a special place in my heart, but Ollie reminded me of the fact that Weimaraners are striking, beautiful dogs with something in their expression that's regal and intense.

Goldens can obviously be regal and intense too, but I did notice that my pictures of Ollie didn't produce nearly the same ratio of silly faces that I typically get when I shoot Comet and Jax.

Ollie hasn't yet learned that he can swim, so we spent some time throwing sticks in the wide part of the brook, where it's just deep enough in the middle that you have to leave the safety of the ground under your paws in order to get some of the sticks. Comet and Jax did their absolute best to entice him into the water.

Ollie did splash almost to where he couldn't touch a couple of times, but he never quite committed to it. We'll get him next time!