Wednesday, May 22, 2024

In the Merry Merry Month of May

It was a beautiful May morning: crisp temperature, bright blue sky, a stiff breeze. I took a walk along the river for about a mile. As in many places the railroad parallels the shore; not unusual for railroads, it’s undergone many name changes and mergers, starting life as the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, which became part of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad that was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, became part of Conrail and is now operated by Norfolk Southern.

Walking down the tracks my attention was drawn to the dee-dee-dee-dee of a killdeer’s alarm call. Killdeer prefer to nest on a gravel substrate and the trackside was a perfect place for them. The bird ran ahead of me calling constantly –



As hard as I looked, the well camouflaged eggs eluded my gaze. It’s certainly possible that the site had been selected but no eggs had yet been laid and the bird was alarmed in advance.

On I went, stepping on every other tie for several hundred yards when another killdeer began sounding an alarm. This one didn’t just run down the tracks, it put on a full-blown broken-wing display –




Once again there was no nest to be found. To show what a killdeer nest looks like, here's a photograph of a nest on I found on the edge of a parking lot several years ago –


On down the tracks I went, toward the bridge where peregrine falcons nest. And there in a tree was a falcon, from the size almost certainly the male of the pair –



I waited for a while, hoping he’d take off and present an opportunity for some photos of a peregrine in flight. He didn’t cooperate so I went on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

At the Pond

Fog extended from the ridgetop to the valley floor, it was very dense in the forest and at the beaver pond. The pond is number two on my list of favorite places to sit behind a camera watching for wildlife.

Quiet was the key as I walked to the edge of the pond, opened up a small folding chair, put on my ghillie jacket and mounted the camera and its telephoto lens on a monopod. But there was no way to do that without the three pairs of Canada geese on the pond taking notice and making a racket.

It wasn’t long before the geese quieted down and ignored, or forgot about, the strange creature on the shore. One pair climbed up on the beaver lodge while another squabbled –



Further down the pond was a male hooded merganser, but no other waterfowl were to be seen.

I’d been there less than a half hour when a black-capped chickadee landed on my left knee. Finding nothing of interest there, it hopped over to my right knee where there also nothing of interest. From there it flew to a small bush which it explored with better results –


Meanwhile the hooded merganser was making slow circuits of the pond –




An eastern phoebe repeatedly flew from several favored perches to snatch insects flying over the water –


Wood ducks flew over repeatedly, often in pairs, and three landed far down the pond. Finally a pair landed nearby and gradually worked their way closer to me as they fed –



But wood ducks are extremely wary and they knew something was amiss, so it wasn’t long before they flew off.

The whole time red-winged blackbirds flew back and forth across the pond, one landed nearby to vocalize and display


To my right was a dead tree that had broken off, leaving a snag about 20 feet tall that became a temporary perch for, in turn, a male cardinal and a yellow-shafted flicker –



With a great clamor the six geese took off; when they were gone the pond was still. But the hooded merganser continued his rounds of the pond, occasionally displaying for a female that apparently wasn’t there –


After two an a half hours it was time for me emulate the geese, leave the pond and go elsewhere after a great morning at the pond.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Dreary Morning # 2

The rain that ended my excursion to the beaver pond continued through the night and into the next morning. It pounded on the garage roof as I put the snow blower away for the season and uncovered the lawn mower. Following that H and I had a video chat with a group of friends, a group that’s gradually diminishing in size as we age, during which the rain ended and a few patches of blue appeared in the sky.

Later, as showers alternated with broken clouds and the wind howled, we drove to the lake in hope of seeing some waterfowl blown in by the storm's wind.

Ring-necked ducks, Canada geese and couple of blue-winged teal sheltered from the wind in a small cove. Binoculars helped me find a small raft of ducks far out on the water, but they were so distant that they just appeared as dark silhouettes – sea ducks no doubt, birds that are at home in wind and white-capped waves.

Suddenly a white bird appeared, beating its way into the wind to land on a floating dock –


A closer look revealed it to be a tern, any of which are rather rare visitors to this part of Pennsylvania far from their usual haunts. The bird preened during lulls in the wind and squatted down during the strong gusts, one of which almost blew it off the dock.



The color of the beak and the white primary feathers on its wings revealed that it was a Forester’s tern, a bird that breeds in the midwest and along the coast but nowhere near here.

We drove around the edge of the lake, finding a few buffleheads and a distant pied-billed grebe, and then headed back the way we’d come. As we passed another small cove a tern appeared and dove into the water after a small fish. This too was a Forster’s tern – the same bird we’d seen on the dock across the lake or a second bird ? The tern made several circuits of the cove, swooping and diving for prey and presenting opportunities for photos as it flew past –






The rain increased and it was time to head home, a dreary wet/rainy/windy morning had
again presented photographic opportunities.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Dreary Morning

Gray sky with rain threatening – and a forecast for heavy rain in the afternoon. Nonetheless, I headed for one of my favorite beaver ponds with the hope of getting a few photographs of wood ducks or hooded mergansers.

On the way my attention was caught by an adult red-tailed hawk in a tree that hung over the road. While most red-tails won’t tolerate a car stopping, this one did –


The pond is a little over a half mile from the road, so off I went along a path through a cut-over woodland and then through a wooded wetland. A bit of movement on the trunk of a small elm tree caught my eye. That bit of movement was a brown creeper hitching its way up the trunk in it’s search for spiders, insects and their eggs and pupae.


The telephoto lens and, later, some post-processing software made some of the images the best I’ve ever gotten of the elusive creeper –



At the pond recently arrived tree swallows were busy exploring cavities in a long-dead tree –


On the far side of the pond two male red-winged blackbirds had taken up positions among the cattails and were engaged in a bit of a vocal duel to defend their territories. The cattail stem on which one was balanced bent under his weight so that, as he displayed, both red epaulets were obvious –


After well over and hour with no waterfowl appearing and the mist increasing it was time to leave. The road I took passes a wooded swamp that was inundated with spring’s high water. A glance revealed a large group of double-crested cormorants, at least 60 birds, both in the water and on fallen trees –


Weather radar showed a storm would soon arrive so home I went. The weather may have been what many would call dreary at best, perhaps even miserable, but to this wildlife photographer it was a really good morning.

Have you looked at my street photography blog?

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Looking for Ducks

The pond is long and narrow, my absolute favorite place to spend time photographing birds that spend time around water: ducks, herons and egrets, kingfishers, tree swallows, several species of blackbirds and osprey. It’s my favorite because its very narrowness means that birds on the far shore are within range for good photos and the sun is at my back.


For years the pond was used by beavers although they didn’t build the long dam that backed up the water. The dam is actually an old road and all the beavers had to do was plug the culvert carrying the water beneath the road – not much effort for a significant return. Across the old road is a larger pond where the beavers had their lodge – at least they did until a trapper caught the two adults and their two kits several years ago. Now the ponds are beaver-less and some of the ponds’ spirit is gone.

On a spring morning I walked to the pond in anticipation of photographing ducks. On the way I passed another pond where there was a pair of Canada geese and a lone pair of green-winged teal, both too far away for good photos


As I got to my favorite pond there were no ducks to be seen, only a pair of Canada geese standing on a fallen tree –


They both set up a great clamor, especially the gander who was defending his pond. They left their perch and proceeded to swim to the pond's far end –



The honking continued with nary a pause until a red-tailed hawk soared past –


As the hawk passed from view the goose’s clamor resumed. Usually after about 15 minutes, and sometimes less, geese lose interest in a camouflaged me. But not this time, the gander honked and honked and honked. After somewhat more than a half hour, no ducks having arrived, it was time to leave and let the geese relax.

When I got up and turned around, what did I see but an immature bald eagle in a dead tree that stands in the pond across the road. From the random patches of white in the its plumage it was clear that the eagle was about two and a half years old



So it wasn’t me that kept the gander agitated, it was the eagle that had come in behind me and had remained unseen in its tree – unseen by me, but not by the goose.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Turkeys in the Fencerow

A camera trap in a fencerow can capture all sorts of interesting wildlife. One balmy morning in March I checked a camera trap that’s been in a fencerow for quite some time.

This fencerow separates two fields that were once planted to crops, later one was used as a pasture for a handful of beef cattle while the other was maintained in hay to provide winter fodder. The fencerow has long had trees: red and white oak, hickory, black cherry, black walnut and white ash. The white ash has succumbed to the emerald ash borer, some dead trees still stand, but most have fallen. For about 20 years there have been no cattle in the pasture and no hay has been cut.

As in much of Pennsylvania, autumn olive, an invasive shrub from Asia, has become established along both sides of the fencerow. That border of shrubs has expanded the fencerow’s width to 30-50 feet.

The oaks, hickories, black cherries and autumn olive produce an abundance of fruit and nuts that attract a wide variety of wildlife. Among the wildlife the camera trap had captured was a flock of about 20 wild turkeys that moved through the fencerow feeding as they went –

                Turn your speaker on if you want to hear turkey talk.


The turkeys spent a little over 14 minutes scratching and pecking to find seeds and invertebrates. Last winter there was little snow, no icy crust on what snow there was, and above average temperatures so wild turkeys had an easy time.

By the flock will soon disperse as breeding season arrives. The toms are gobbling and gathering a band of hens which, after they’ve bred, will further disperse to build a nest on the ground and lay their eggs.

I've begun a new blog, In Town and On the Road, please take a look at the first post. If you enjoy In Forest and Field, fear not it will continue with its weekly posts.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Totality

Although I've never been particularly interested in astronomy or space and had previously said I didn’t plan on photographing the eclipse, circumstances intervened.

Our son and daughter-in-law live the zone of totality and asked us to come for a visit – of course we were happy to take them up on the invitation. A photographer whose studio isn’t far from their house kindly donated a solar filter that fit my lens. I took over 600 photos but only saved about 25; it took me quite a while to adjust the camera's settings since the recommendations I'd found on-line the night before were, unfortunately, of little help.

The solar filter was only necessary before and after totality and the Sun in those images is orange-colored. During totality the filter was removed and, in the images made then, the colors are what could be seen with the naked eye, without solar glasses.

Below is a short time-lapse video of the total eclipse which took almost exactly two hours start to finish, therefore the video significantly condenses the entire process.


Baily's Beads form as the edge of the Sun shows through gaps formed by valleys and craters on the moon. 

The Sun's corona is the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere, it normally can't be seen except during a total eclipse. 

Those pink -colored spots on the Sun's rim during totality are called solar prominences, eruptions of plasma from the surface of the Sun.

 

The Diamond Ring Effect forms just as the moon completely hides the Sun or, as in the video, just barely exposes the Sun once again. 

During the eclipse our surroundings didn’t become totally dark and there was a 360 degree sunset as the light dimmed –


Earlier, as the eclipse progressed, the light developed an odd gray tone very unlike ordinary twilight. Then after totality that gray light returned until the sky brightened to a normal late afternoon.

During the eclipse the air became noticeably cooler and then warmed again after the eclipse was over. Because of the open pastures around us, we could watch the moon's shadow approach and then recede.

There were some high thin clouds during the beginning of the eclipse, those clouds increased markedly over the two hours and made later photos less clear. In spite of that, sunspots can be seen as small dark spots on the surface of the Sun in some of the 600+ photos I took  –


We had the benefit of astronomers' predictions and solar glasses and camera filters so we could anticipate, understand and view the Sun during the eclipse.
It's easy to understand how, lacking that knowledge, our ancestors in the dim distant past could have been superstitious and perhaps terrified as the light dimmed and the Sun appeared to vanish.

The eclipse was fascinating and wonderful, I'm glad we had a chance to experience it and happy I got a few images that I can share.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Day by Day Throughout the Year - 1st quarter

It’s now been about 70 years since I used my father’s Kodak camera, which took size 616 roll film, to take a few photographs. The negatives were about the size of postcards as were the black and white prints of the landscapes through which we hiked.

When I was in college I bought a rangefinder-style camera that took 35mm film, I still have some of those slides – photos of family and scenery.

In the early 1970s it was a single lens reflex camera and several lenses that went with me day by day, it produced 35mm slides of our kids as they grew up and the wildflowers and wildlife that had always interested me. I’m still photographing those things, but added our grandchildren to the list of subjects.

For the last 50 years I've seldom been in forest and field without a camera a camera that has made me more aware of the wonders of the world in which we dwell.

Five times over the last decade I’ve made it a project to post an interesting photograph day by day throughout the year. Some days it's been of something large enough that it couldn't be missed, other days it's something small that's frequently overlooked.

These are photographs taken day by day throughout the the first quarter of 2024, photographs of the natural world where I’ve spent a lot of my life both at work and at play. These images are from wherever I might have been and of whatever may have caught my attention

























































































Those are the day by day photos from the first three months of 2024. Photos of the second three calendar months will follow as spring flowers bloom, insects become more active and spring fades into summer.

Projects like this are well worth doing because they encourage me to take a closer look at the world around us. Consider doing something similar with anything that interests you. You don't need an expensive camera, a cell phone or an inexpensive used camera could yield interesting and inspiring images.