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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Friday, October 12, 2012

Around the Impoundments

Life and weather keep on imposing on my photography at Great Meadows. Actually, I've been able to sneak over to the refuge, but haven't had the time to post process and post a blog entry. Today's post is a bit of this and a bit of that.

You would think that filling up the impoundments would be as simple as setting up a pump and puming until the impoundments are full.  However, nature has its own opinions of what should happen.  The carp (and invasive species that invades the impoundments during high water and flood conditions, sense the movement of the water and try to swim upstream.  Unfortunately, they ultimately arrive near the pump, usually stranding themselves among the cat tail reeds.  As a result the Fish & Wildlife staff have to wade in and pull out the dead fish, ultimately giving them a proper burial.

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First you find a carp

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Then you throw them into the Front End Loader

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Until you have no room for more

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Ultimately burying them in a mass grave


It appears that the snapping turtles aren't big fans of flooding the impoundments. This day I met three walking towards the river.

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All across the refuge there are signs of the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

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Straggling Monarch butterflies


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One of the last dragonflies on turning foliage

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Falling leaves on ferns

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Milkweed pods launching their seeds

I have been fascinated by the Northern Harriers that can be found cruising the edges of the impoundments. The have been torturing me, often choosing to fly on the opposite side of the refuge from wherever I am. When they do come close, something is often wrong - backlit, reeds in the way, or the like. Sometimes, I get a reasonable photo.

I still am in pursuit of my ideal Harrier photo - a Harrier cruising the reeds in the golden light of sunrise, looking at me, with it's distinctive tail stripe visible. It's been elusive, so I guess as long as they are hanging around, I will keep coming back.

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When the harriers don't cooperate sometimes I focused on the dewy flowers nearby.

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One foggy morning this juvenile Cooper's Hawk went cruising by instead.

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When I think of fall at Great Meadows I think about geese and ducks in the impoundments. It's fun to watch them come and go.
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You might find this photo interesting if you have never seen a Great Blue Heron's tongue before. It certainly doesn't look very flexible.

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On a still morning down by the river, its surface is smooth and glass and reflecting like a mirror. During the fall, you get bonus foliage as the leaves are reflected perfectly in the water.
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