Thursday, June 28, 2012

X Marks the Spot

Thursday morning found me back at Great Meadows to monitor progress on the Tree Swallow nest. I wasn't planning on boring you with more swallow photos. Action shots of parents feeding children are always good fodder for our monthly camera club competitions. So I figured I would see what state the nest was at and build some "inventory".

Activity at the nest was picking up, but the children were still not coming to the hole to feed. Besides trying to capture the swallow in flight, I was also interested in learning the direction and intensity of the sunlight and shadows upon the tree. So I pretty much camped out in the same spot for at least two hours. All of today's photos were taken without moving my camera more that 2-3 feet.

While the focus was the Tree Swallows, when they were away & an interesting subject appeared I would try to capture a quick shot or two.

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Singers do scales to warm up. I seem to capture the obligatory dragonfly.

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Further down the path Goldfinches were feeding

I wasn't sure what was going on with the nest, for at least 20 minutes there was no activity and no Tree Swallows to be seen.

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Finally they returned

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It seemed this morning that the female was doing a disproportionate share of bringing food. Though most of the time they alternated.


Along with the Goldfinches there were sparrows feeding in the distance. They would occasionally venture closer on the path (but that's a boring photo). The nice thing about standing in the same spot long enough the animals get use to your presence and start to ignore you.

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This Song Sparrow liked the Deer Tongue Grass that was 20 feet away more than it was scared of me

However, the focus of the morning was still the Tree Swallows. These are some of my favorites from the morning. That's probably because the way the sun lights up the bugs and the wings.

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Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120628 &emdash;

Mark was out walking the impoundment and taking photographs. He stopped to chat and inquire about what I was shooting. While we were talking we heard a horrible racket behind us. The Red-winged Blackbirds were especially agitated. They were flying and crying out. We wandered over to try to determine was was bothering them, but couldn't see the cause. Finally the commotion stopped

Less than 5 minutes later, several geese near the outflow gate started to become very agitated; hissing and flapping. We certainly weren't the cause, since we had not moved and they had ignored us for the last 15 minutes.

Finally we saw the cause of the commotion. Up from the Cattails popped a mink. It took a look around and then scurried down the path, diving back into the reeds. Five more mink popped out, one at a time, following it down the path.

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Someone asked about which predator destroyed last year's nest. I had assumed that it was either a raccoon or possibly a fisher cat (though I don't know that anyone has seen on at the refuge). I guess after this morning, I should add mink to the list of suspects.

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Even after the mink were long gone, it took quite a while before this goose lost his aggressive attitude.


With no babies to photograph, I worked on trying to get the killer photo of a parent arriving at the nest with food. While several are worthy, it just wasn't clicking.
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Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120628 &emdash;

With the mink long gone, the geese were finally content to wander around, feed on the grass along the trail, and swim in the outflow. The goslings are getting large. Many have grown in most of their "adult" feathers and have lost that downy look. This is one of the late bloomers.

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While variations color often are the result of my post-processing techniques, I love how Tree Swallows look different ranging from iridescent, to bright blue, to dark blue, to shades of grey depending upon the light and the sex of the bird.

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Selected a dragonfly to complement its colors.

Through out the morning this muskrat periodically swam up & down the outflow. I think it has tunneled into the dike. I hope it isn't undermining the integrity of the dike. That repair would take more than a load of gravel in Alan's cart.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Good To Be Home

It's been a couple weeks since I've been to Great Meadows. We were in Atlanta for our daughter's wedding. While setting up for the wedding, I managed to fall and turn my ankle. You have to know a little pain is not going to stop a proud dad from walking down the aisle and having the father / daughter dance. Of course temperatures in the high nineties and a sore ankle were enough to persuade me that sitting in an air conditioned bedroom with ice on my ankle was appropriate. By Friday the record temperatures were starting to break, my ankle was feeling usable, and my curiosity motivated me to get up early and get out to the refuge. My focus on this visit was to visit the Tree Swallow nest near the outflow of the lower impoundment. Just before I left, the parents were seen using the nest. I was curious had the young hatched? Had they fledged? Had a predator found the next like last year? It was a long, slow walk but when I arrived, I was rewarded with seeing the parents taking turn flying from the nest, gathering bugs and returning. The chicks must be young because you couldn't hear them crying out and they weren't peeking out the hole yet.

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Female Tree Swallow peeking out of hole

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Male returns with a mouthful of food

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They often will land on this branch just before they arrive / depart

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They weren't making noise, so best as I can figure they are panting to stay cool

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Tried for about a half hour to get a flight shot. This was my best one.


Each trip lasts about five minutes, so in between I alternatively; enjoyed the beautiful day, thought about the week that passed, enjoyed the shade, and observed the other animal activity in the area. The outflow area is quite peaceful in the early morning. So few people, other than the occasional jogger, actually make it down there in the early morning.

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I wondered about why the swallows weren't hunting the many dragonflies at their door step.

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Maybe they are just too large. One photo that didn't make the editing cut had three damselflies in the swallow's mouth.

Once the light got too harsh I proceeding to walk back around the impoundment on the Dike Trail to return to the parking lot. I scared this large snapping turtle back into the water. Its shell must have been about 18-24" long. I encountered a couple more smaller ones. I wish I had been fast enough to catch the one who dove 9" off of the water control gate to the water below.

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I noticed that you could follow this snapping turtle by watching the bubbles, between his visits to the surface.

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Most of the turtles you see are either Painted Turtles or Snapping Turtles. Here a Blandings Turtle crosses the path from the river to the lower impoundment. (You can tell by the distinctive yellow throat).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Quick Lap

With a trip coming up in the near future I was anxious for the rain to stop falling so I could sneak in a quick visit to Great Meadows. So it was a quiet Wednesday morning that found me at the refuge. The refuge was pretty quiet as both the people and animals started to recover from a couple days of battering rain. All this rain certainly hasn't helped F&WS efforts to drain down the upper impoundment to kill the lotus.
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Black-capped Chickadee flew right up to me on a tree near the kiosk

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This pair of sparrows must have a nest near the end of the cross dike trail

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They can be seen collecting bugs

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The gosslings are getting large

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A Baltimore Oriole near the lower impoundment outflow

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Landing above my head for a brief moment

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Thanks to Alan's identification of the song we determined this was a Red-eyed Vireo

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I hope their chicks don't hatch before I return

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If you come often enough you see the dark side of nature too. This one didn't make it.

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Too bad I wasn't paying attention. I stumbled upon the Wood ducks in the area of open water near the cross dike & upper impoundment. They were in the open for about 2 secs before they saw me and retreated into the reeds.

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I have mixed feelings about the invasive yellow iris. I thought it looked interesting as it was almost ready to open.

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Walking along the railroad bed I heard something rustling in the gravel

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It only took me about 50 photos to get the one I could see in my mind's eye.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Before & After

Thursday I was visiting the refuge to join Alan Bragg's bird watcher walk. Friday morning found me back there to test out my new D7000. (My D300 was part of a most unfortunate accident. In the end the cost to repair exceeded the cost of a new used camera). So today's post contains photos shot from both days. See if you can identify which photos are from my D7000 and which are from the backup D90.

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I arrived a bit early and surprised this Momma Wood Duck & chicks in the reeds quite near the dike

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The Canada Geese are rapidly growing up. Elsewhere in the refuge you can see larger chicks starting to get new feathers.

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Most geese are content to step one side and let me pass. This one decided to move on.

This is the first time I noticed an Ebony Jewelwing in my walks are Great Meadows. The body was glowing an emerald green in the morning sun. Bryan Windmiller told me that they are commonly found in the woods along streams. I found the first one along the Upper Impoundment on the river side of the trail. Friday while back on the Timber Trail, I noticed a very similar damselfly in the woods along the Timber trail, except its body was a brilliant blue. Checking the Field Guide to Dragonflies & Damselflies of Massachusetts, I learned that it's the same creature, but their bodies appear blue when backlit.

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Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120531 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120531 &emdash;

Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120531 &emdash;


Maybe its my imagination, but it seems like the dragonflies are out in force earlier this year.

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Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120531 &emdash;


I've noticed that I have been taking more photos of fauna, not flora. Unfortunately the early spring caused many flowering plants to bloom early. Right now it seems a bit quiet. However that allows us to enjoy that colors and shapes of other plants.

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Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120531 &emdash;

I love how each layer of leaves is offset so as not to overlap the leaves below.

As a reward of circumnavigating the Lower Impoundment if you are observant you may notice this Tree Swallow nest.

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Light Chronicle | Photography: GM20120531 &emdash;


Down near the refuge entrance by Borden's Pond there were Cedar Waxwings.

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Also near that entrance I've encountered a pair of Swamp Sparrows in the same general area. When I have a bit more time, I will have to camp out to see if they are nesting, or if it was a coincidence.

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One thing photographers like about Great Meadows is how some of the animals become habituated to humans. After a while you can't take any more Red-winged Blackbird photos. However, it's hard to pass up when the bird is sitting in a tree right next to the dike and is willing to sing as you walk past.

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