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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hawk encounters

On the way out to the wetlands adjacent to our south Florida home, at about 6:30 AM (15 minutes before sunrise) I saw a Cooper's Hawk fly from one tree to another along the path. It was too dark for photos. I recognized the species by its overall size and shape. A member of the genus  Accipiter or "true" hawks, it has a cylindrical body with a long tail and rather short wings, adaptations for pursuing small to medium-sized birds. About the size of a crow, it is bigger and a bit bulkier than the similar Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The skies brightened, and altocumulus clouds marched above the lake like a flock of sheep:

Morning light HDR 20150803

On the way back about 1 1/2 hour later, I heard Blue Jays mobbing up ahead. I finally saw not one, but two immature Cooper's Hawks almost hidden in the dense foliage of a Locust tree. (Look closely to see them both):

Two Cooper's Hawks in tree 20150802
 

I put the camera in AI (Automatic Intelligence) Servo mode, hoping for a flight shot. Sure enough, both hawks emerged and flew to a palm along the road:

Cooper's Hawk 02-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 04-20150802

When I approached they flew again,with the jays still pestering them every time they landed. They separated and I found one perched high in a tree.

Cooper's Hawk 05-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 01-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 07-20150802


  This time it flew far down the path behind me, out of sight:


 Cooper's Hawk 08-20150802

The next morning, at almost the same spot along the road, a Red-shouldered Hawk was roosting in its usual spot atop an abandoned utility pole. Its broad wings and short tail identify it as a smaller member of the Buteo or buzzard family. As often happens, Blue Jays and mockingbirds were harassing it. The hawk decided to relocate and flew over my head to a power line on the other side of the gravel path. 

Red-shouldered hawk 20150803

Red-shouldered hawk 2-20150803

A Northern Mockingbird kept making passes at it and a Loggerhead Shrike was scolding it. The hawk started calling and flew right past me, back to its original roost.

Mockingbird attacks hawk 2-20150803

Mockingbird attacks hawk 20150803

Loggerhead Shrike scolding hawk 20150803

Red-shouldered hawk 3-20150803

Red-shouldered hawk takes flight 20150803

While the Red-shouldered Hawk preys mostly on snakes and small mammals, the Cooper's Hawks could have easily dispatched the Blue Jays that were harassing them. Indeed, smaller birds usually fall silent when there is a Cooper's Hawk in the vicinity. These encounters brought to mind the time when, in New Mexico, I observed a Merlin being mobbed by a mixed flock which included Mountain Chickadees, nuthatches, Scrub Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers. They must derive some safety in numbers. 


Two days later, we once again got out before sunrise. Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic from Africa added orange and then pink to the predawn sky. Color tones changed from minute to minute as the sun reached the upper cloud layers:

Pre-dawn sky to east 20150808

Pink Dawn HDR 20150808

Pink Saharan Dusty Dawn 20150808

 A slight rustling in the grass along the path alerted me to the presence of a Florida Box Turtle, which cautiously thrust out its head for my only macro photo of the day:


Florida Box Turtle 20150805

As I was photographing the turtle, a family of Raccoons scampered across the gravel road. The protective mother waited, watching me until her five youngsters disappeared safely into the roadside brush:

Young Raccoons 20150805

Mother Raccoon 20150805


Turning my attention back to the lake, I watched as herons were enjoying a feast. Decreasing water levels had trapped fish in a pond along the lake margin. A Great Egret saw a disturbance on the surface of the water and hurried over:

 Great Egret landing 20150802

It flew past another egret and a smaller white immature Little Blue Heron:

 Great Egrets and Little Blue 20150802

The egret's activism paid off, and it captured a medium-sized exotic Mayan Cichlid: 

 Great Egret with fish 20150802

A Great Blue Heron joined the competition:

Great Blue Heron 20150802

Great Blue Heron with Great Egret 20150802

A Pileated Woodpecker made an unexpected appearance. They are generally confined to the wooded north end of the patch. This female followed the power distribution poles nearly a mile south down the gravel road to the edge of the populated area:

Pileated Woodpecker female 20150805

It then flew to the abandoned power pole, the customary roost of the Red-shouldered Hawk, ascending to within a few feet of the raptor, which looked down at it, inquisitively:

Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated WP 2-20150805

 Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated WP 20150805

For the better part of a half hour, the woodpecker foraged all around the pole but never got any closer to the hawk. I tired of watching and resumed walking home.

The "civilized" side of the canal, bordered by the standard fences required by our homeowners association, seemed to hold a flock of ducks and geese, but the only living critter was an Anhinga:



SW 176th Ave Canal to south HDR 20150808


Look more closely, as the rest are decoys which function as floats for the intakes of yard irrigation systems:

 SW 176th Ave Canal 20150808

The Anhinga flew over to a small tree on the "wild" side of the canal, which defines the eastern border of the Water Conservation Area that we call our birding patch:

Anhinga 2-20150808


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Canada Rockies by rail

A train trip into the Canadian Rockies has long been on my Bucket List. Mary Lou was rather reluctant as she thought that sitting on a train for two straight days could be difficult. Twice on trips to Alaska we took an observation car ride on the Alaska Railway from Denali to Anchorage and enjoyed it immensely. I finally convinced her that, since we would be staying at hotels each night there would be ample time for us to get some exercise.

This was not a "wildlife tour," though it held the promise of possible sightings of bears, deer, elk, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats. I did not expect that there would be much time for birding. Much of our time would be spent on moving trains and tour buses. 

In the interest of portability and convenience I decided not to pack my big camera rig (Canon EOS 60D 18 MP Digital SLR Camera with 420 MM lens system: Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM telephoto Lens with 1.4X extender). Instead, I carried only my pocket camera, a Canon SX700 HS with 30X optical zoom. This turned out to be a wise choice.

We departed at 6:00 AM from Fort Lauderdale and flew to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, where we connected with the flight to Vancouver. Each leg was about 3 1/2 hours.We gained 3 hours on the clock, arriving at our hotel at about 1:00 PM, so it was a very long day. We took advantage of the daylight by ascending the Vancouver Lookout Tower, where we captured nice views of the city and the harbor.

Vancouver Harbor 20150614

The sun was still bright at about 8:30 PM, providing some interesting REFLECTIONS:

Vancouver reflections 20150614


Vancouver reflections 2-20150614 

We boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train early the next morning, moving through Vancouver's extensive freight yards. Remotely-controlled switching engines scurried about. Flashing red lights warned that no humans were aboard. Reflections from the car's windows and the movement of the train ruined almost all the photos I took the first day. 

As bad as this photo turned out, I liked the sense of motion and the reflections of my camera and the passengers instead of the lake, my intended target, in the background:

Reflections 20150615

Soon we were following the Fraser River, which widened to form several beautiful lakes.

 Curve with reflection 20150615


 Lake HDR 20150615


As the river entered Fraser Canyon the stream narrowed and created Hell's Gate, a tremendous torrent which few boats are able to cross. If the video fails to load in the space below, please click HERE






After a night in Kamloops, we resumed the journey, continuing along the Thompson River.

Now I took photos from the observation deck. Despite the movement of the train, some came out very nicely.

 Lake2 HDR 20150616


Lake HDR 20150616

In contrast with the hundreds of skies and reflective lakes, contacts with "CRITTERS" were few and far between. On our bus trip on the Icefield Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper, we startled a Black Bear that was eating dandelions along the road. I had to shoot through the curved windshield from the opposite side of the vehicle, and this distorted the only image I obtained:


 Black Bear 20150619

A pair of young Bighorn Sheep blocked the highway, allowing me to get a few shots as well as a video:

 Bighorn Sheep in Road 4-20150619

BIRDS presented few photo opportunities. Black-billed Magpies posed on the hotel grounds at Lake Louise:

Black-billed Magpies 20150618

Another Corvid species, Clark's Nutcrackers, were also noisy visitors around the hotel:

Clark's Nutcrackers 20150618

My closest approximation of a MACRO photo during the Canada trip is one that shows colorful river rocks with Victoria Mountain and Glacier in the background, at Lake Louise:

 Lake Louise reflections 2-20150620

This bona fide macro was taken back in Florida, showing a tiny clump of flowers, about 1.5 inches (4 cm) wide, taken from a distance of only about 3 inches (8 cm) with my PowerShot. It turned out looking like a huge bouquet:



Tiny flower MACRO 20150802

My FENCE photos are both from the Columbia Ice Field glacier area. Here is Mary Lou in the wind and rain with the Athabascan Glacier in the background. We subsequently walked up on the glacier.


 Mary Lou at Athabasca Glacier 20150619

I was the only one brave enough to take the Jasper Glacier Skywalk, a glass walkway that looks straight down  almost 1000 feet  into the valley:

 Jasper Glacier Skywalk 4-20150619

Watch this video for a breathtaking view of the Jasper Glacier Skywalk!




= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =


Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy

Linking to WEEKEND REFLECTIONS by James

Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura

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Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

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