Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Did it Again

Well, I did it again. Along a stream in the Big Woods I was kneeling down photographing the bud of a round-lobed hepatica ...

... when I got a whiff of something dead. There was a gentle downstream breeze which made it pretty obvious that the deceased was somewhere upstream. So it was upstream that I went and the scent increased. A bloodhound I am not, so whatever was dead couldn't have been very far away – and it wasn’t.

What it was was a small doe that had died a while before, perhaps a couple of weeks or a bit longer. So I did it again: found another dead deer worthy of a camera trap.

It was mid-April, a long time after the end of hunting season, why had she died when she did? The doe had died near a stream, typical of an animal that has an abdominal wound, or perhaps she'd slipped on ice and broken a leg, or starved – as did this small doe in 1974 –

Because this doe’s body had been partially eaten and dragged about 100 feet from where she died – and stank to high heaven – I didn’t look into the cause. What I did was come back with a camera trap the next morning. Fifteen days later I checked the camera – here are the videos

Because there wasn’t much left to to attract large scavengers and the parts and pieces were scattered, it was time to remove the camera.

We’ll never know why she died, but the young doe has fed other critters and what’s left of her will continue to feed insects and bacteria, porcupines and squirrels will gnaw her bones, turkeys and other birds will eat the insects that devour the scraps. In a few months there will be no visible remnants.

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.

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