Thursday, December 6, 2012

Taking the Morning Off

I certainly know how to pick my days to visit the refuge.  This week it has been milder than normal, but I was busy with projects around the house.   Finally, I felt I deserved some time off as a reward.  That's why I ended up visiting the refuge the morning the temperature had dropped into the 20's.  Ugh!  Many of the creatures were hunkered down some place warm, or out of the wind.

There were several swans that alternated between the two impoundments.  I am not a big fan, but you have to admit they are beautiful.  Their initial takeoff has all the style and grace of watching a bus try to fly.  Once they are airborne they are impressive.  With their wide wing span, they make powerful and forceful beats of their wings.  When they fly over your head it sounds like their joints are arthritic and creaking.

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At first this one didn't look like it would gain enough altitude to clear my tripod as it headed towards me.

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 Unlike Joe McNally's photo of Brandon Wight we didn't have to order theses wings from Mother Plucker

As always there were the ubiquitous geese. Today we just weren't clicking on timing and setup. I did catch these two as they started their take-off "roll". Kind of looks like a foot race.

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It was so quiet and clod that I was starting to question my wisdom of circling the lower impoundment. Towards the far end, I was rewarded with some great views of a Red-tailed Hawk hunting.

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The sun shining off the tail demonstrates that they are aptly named

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Puffed up to trap all the warmth it was generating, it reminds me of those puffy down jackets that were popular back in the 70's

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Finally it saw and captured its next meal. Unfortunately there was asmall branch in the way, so I had to do a little Photoshop reconstructive surgery on the limb.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Quiet Friday

It is rare to be at Great Meadows without encountering a variety of other nature lovers, joggers, bird watcher, walkers, Fish & Wildlife personnel and the like as you visit the refuge. It is special when you encounter a day like Friday morning when I arrived to a rarity, an empty parking lot.

 I find the solitude of the refuge very peaceful. Walking you are entertained purely by the sounds of the wind rustling through the trees and the various birds calling. The early morning light is warm and embracing. I find moments like these recharge my spirit.

 The photographer in me also likes the fact that most of the animals are not yet on guard and cautious of humans. If you are quiet and walk stealthily you can often get closer to animals. Later in the day the same animals can be found further back in the hidden recesses of the impoundments.

That is how I happened to come upon this Pied Billed Grebe close to the observation deck.

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This time I was looking for the bittern as I got close to the Poison Ivy bench. Unfortunately they hide well. It saw me before I saw it.

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As I was walking along the lower impoundment, a flock of bluebirds came flying up the path. One decided to land on a gone-by calico aster and stared right a me. I tried to shift subtly to get more of the blue on its back, but that was enough to scare it away.

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But maybe the reason it didn't stay was his hawk perched up in a tree a little further on.

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My favorite pictures of the day, however, are of this White-throated Sparrow that sat and posed for me on the remnants of an old snag. The light was perfect and at my back. Update: I originally identified this as a Savannah Sparrow, but Alan pointed out my mistake.  I confused the yellow supraloral with the  Savannah's yellow lores.  I guess I'll have to pay closer attention.

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This snag used to be my favorite because tree swallows used to nest in it. Unfortunately, most of it broke and crashed to earth a year ago. However, it appears the rest still photographically delivers for me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In Sandy's Wake

Unlike last year's October snow storm, hurricane / tropical storm Sandy's impact on our neighborhood was minimal.  Since we didn't lose power our trees were intact, I decided I would check out the damage to Great Meadows.

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Entering the refuge the first signs of storm damage was apparent. Downed tree limbs block the gate to the railroad trail.  You could hardly see the road because it was covered with leaves.

Once onto the Cross Dike trail the signs of the storm were minimal. Along the river there were numerous small branches, but nothing major. The leaning fence at the southwest entrance to the refuge was another victim of Sandy's winds.


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A pile of feathers and a few bones was all that was left of this bird. I doubt that it was a Sandy victim.

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If I hadn't been busy kicking branches to the side of the trail, I probably would have seen his bittern hiding in the marsh near the Upper Impoundment spillway. I don't know who was more surprised when it hopped up from the reeds.

I could see a couple trees down on the Timber trail. By the time I completed my lap of the refuge, I encountered Ziggy who was busy cutting apart another tree that had been blocking the railroad bed. [On a later trip I found a section of trees on the backside of the Timber Trail which had fallen down. I looked like dominoes where one fell into another. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of his clearing.]


Other than the obvious wind damage and the slightly increased water levels the refuge was almost normal.
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With so many trees stripped of leaves this vine growing in the fork of a tree, the green was a rare touch of color in a grey world. 

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The harrier was busy cruising hunting.  (I wonder if it was easier in the wind bent cat tails.)

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He actually surprised me because he was cruising in the open area near the holt.

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This snake was enjoying the warm tropical air.  At least until I scared it.

The Bald Eagle was seen making an appearance at the refuge.  It is probably attracted by the many ducks and the recent arrival of coots (though still substantially less than last fall's coot population levels.)
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Mature Bald Eagle circling the impoundment

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Coots feeding among the reeds

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Eating among the lotus

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It's hard not to laugh watching a coot run on water



Monday, October 22, 2012

Limping Across The Finish Line

My cross country coach used to implore us to "run through the finish line".  Unfortunately, that advice seemed to fall on deaf ears with respect to this blog post.  I have been able to get to the refuge several times.  I just couldn't seem to find the time to process the photos and post the results.

It always seemed that there was some other activity that was taking precedence...finishing painting the shed, winterizing the house, doing battle with the leaves, cleaning up after the "hurricane", and even helping out with the election.  When I did get some time, I was more interested in taking more photos than sitting in front of a computer processing the ones I already had.

So that's a long way to apologize.  I will try to clear up the backlog in the near future.  Here's the first installment.

I often go to the refuge in the morning.  I find it quieter and more peaceful.  But on occasion, you can find me there in the evening.

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Sun setting over the upper impoundment
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Early morning light is generally warm and inviting.  It makes even the most common of subjects look better.

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It lights up the Robin's breast
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Illuminates the common Song Sparrow
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Turns dying Lotus plants into a golden background for a Great Blue Heron
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Makes a pleasant background for the Green-winged Teal

One Monday during the bird census an unusual visitor dropped by.  The Snow Goose is a nice change of pace from our numerous Canada Geese.

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Elsewhere around the refuge you can find the usual suspects.

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For several days you could find feeding flocks of Goldfinches feasting on the seeds of the Evening Primrose plants.  They would get so focused on the food, that you could get closer than usual.  You could spend quite a long time composing and taking your shots.  Here are a few of my favorites from those days.  Which ones do you like?

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While photographing the goldfinches, I happened to notice the harrier doing its impression of an Osprey.

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Look for the next installment in the next couple of days.  Hopefully, there is enough here to tide you over until then.  If not, check out this link on the etymology of the phrase "to tide you over"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Groceries for the Week

When I was an adolescent, Mom would come home, after spending a king's ransom, with groceries to feed two teenage boys for a week. She would lecture us that these boxes of cereal and snacks were to last the whole week.  It didn't work for her, so I expect that it won't work for me either. so it's up to you, do you eat the whole box today, or do you only read a screen's worth and save the rest for tomorrow?

Over the past week, I got a chance to visit Great Meadows a couple of times.  The ducks certainly are liking the flooded impoundments (especially the Upper).  Among those I saw with my camera included.

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Male Mallard in flight
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Northern Pintail
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Green-winged Teal
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Mallard stretching
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There's a reason it's called breeding plumage
My quest for the perfect Harrier photo continued this week.  They are cooperative enough to make a pass or two around the impoundments each morning.  It's challenging to find a good position and still be able to see them coming.  I don't know if I was luckier this week or just more in tune with them.
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This morning it caught me by surprise, so a bit of a butt shot. Sorry, I know that's a bit rude. 

One morning I was photographing this Goldfinch that was feasting down on the Evening Primrose toward the river end of the Cross Dike trail. He was more interested in eating than worrying about me, so I was able to get much closer than normal.

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I happened to look up an noticed the harrier cruising along the woods near the river.  It turned and started heading parallel to the path directly towards me.  This allowed me to get some photos of the harrier looking straight at me.

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Take a good look at the last photo.  Can you notice anything different with it?

I must confess that in the last photo the harrier was getting close to me and rapidly made that "wing-over turn" that harriers do.  It was so close that my camera cut off the tip of his right wing.  So with the wonder of modern science and the magic of Photoshop I cloned and transplanted a copy of the other wingtip.  Could you tell if I hadn't confessed?

The usuual suspect abound. I am often bored by the Canada Geese unless they are landing, taking off, or doing something different. These two did catch my eye due their nearly identical pose.

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One morning I caught this Downy Woodpecker on a tree near the start of the Cross Dike trail. It was all in shade, except for this small shaft of light that light it up.

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Down near the Timber Trail I surprised this squirrel. He made such an unusual sound that I immediately turned to see what was making such a noise. All it could think to do was freeze in place. I took a few photes in the wonderful side light, before moving away to allow it to relax and resume its foraging.

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Another pretty regular visitor to the refuge is an Osprey.  Every day I've been there it has make a pass up the channel and over the bay in the lower impoundment scouting for fish.

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I've been focusing on trying to photograph birds in flight. (The pun was unintentional). I was pleased to quickly get a shot of this Male Belted Kingfisher as it went tearing across the refuge.

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For the novices, Belted Kingfishers are one of the few birds where the male is drabber than the female. A female would have an additional reddish / brown stripe across her chest.

So that's it until next time.  Hope to see you around the refuge.

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