Thursday, August 16, 2018

A quiet time for molting

Having abandoned our summer home in NE Illinois, we are now experiencing the typical south Florida subtropical "rainy season" weather pattern: clear, hot and humid mornings and stormy afternoons.

Before sunrise, anticrepuscular rays appear to converge on the horizon opposite the sun, creating a "mirrored sunrise" to the west:

Anticrepuscular rays to west before sunrise 20180803

Two hours later, I walk home towards a thunderstorm building over the ocean to the east. Do you see a pointy-nosed man sleeping (snoring?) on a cloud pillow?

Storm building to south 03-20180801

For the past couple of weeks the dawn chorus has been muted. During much of the year we become accustomed to the songs of mockingbirds and cardinals which pierce the dark as we walk out a half hour before sunrise. 

Courting, defending territories and raising a brood are followed by the mid-summer post-breeding molt. Now energy must be conserved as new feathers are grown, nourished and groomed. Even these persistent songsters fall silent.

This young male Boat-tailed Grackle is a sight for sore eyes...

Boat-tailed Grackle molting 3-20150731

...but he can look forward to looking like this:

Boat-tailed Grackle 03-20180414

The flight feathers of this Red-winged Blackbird are worn and tattered...

Red-winged Blackbird molting 20140704

...but in a few weeks he will be singing again:

Red-winged Blackbird display HDR  20160422

A bedraggled Northern Mockingbird waits for feathers to be replaced...

Northern Mockingbird molting 20140718

Northern Mockingbird molting 2-20140718 he can show off his new coat:

Northern Mockingbird 03-20170403

A "Young and Crestless" male Northern Cardinal transitions into adult plumage...

Northern Cardinal 20120808

...and an adult cardinal's black skin is exposed until new feathers grow back...

Northern Cardinal molting 20170728

...and soon they will:

Northern Cardinal male 01-20180707

Back in Illinois, a male Bobolink is changing into a soft brown winter coat which resembles that of his mate...

Bobolink 20120709

...until next spring...

Bobolink 01-20180515:

...when he will draw admiring looks from this female Bobolink:

Bobolink 2-20150831

White-eyed Vireos have just about finished molting ...

White-eyed Vireo molting 2-20130721

...and in a few weeks will be in fine feather:

White-eyed Vireo 01-20180402

As is the case with many waterbirds, this male Anhinga temporarily loses all its flight feathers at once, as new feathers emerge, encased in steel-blue sheaths:

Anhinga in molt 20180808

Soon he will look even better than he did when I photographed him only two weeks previously:

Anhinga male 01-20180717

Anhingas add a few nice touches during breeding season-- head plumes and green "goggles:"

Anhinga male 20180705

Most birds molt their flight feathers symmetrically, so that flight performance is not impaired. This is a juvenile Bald Eagle, about 6 months old. Its wing feathers are nicely lined up. They are actually about 1 1/2 inches longer than those of the adult and there is a noticeable bulge in the secondary remiges (flight feathers) nearest its body:

Bald Eagle Juvenile 02-20180622

This immature Bald Eagle, just entering its second year, is symmetrically replacing its long juvenile remiges and tail feathers (retrices) with the shorter adult feathers:

Bald Eagle 20090615

Note the more narrow wings of an adult, with a nice even trailing edge:

Bald Eagle female in flight 06-20170319

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Birding under the Buck Moon

A Tricolored Heron accomplished a feat which reminded me of the Grimms' Fairy Tale about the little tailor (das Schneiderlein). You may remember that he found a swarm of flies on his jam sandwich and killed seven in one swat with a feather duster. He proudly advertised his feat by embroidering in golden letters on his wide belt: "Seven at One Blow."  Perhaps the heron will not gain as much courage, fame and fortune as was rewarded to das Schneiderlein, but what I saw was not a fairy tale.   

The Tricolored Heron hunted in the lake at the edge of our back yard,...

Tricolored Heron 02-20170727

...stalking a fish...

Tricolored Heron 03-20170727 

,,,and striking. Look closely and you may see that it caught two small fish in a single thrust:

Tricolored Heron catches 2 fish 01-20180727

Tricolored Heron catches 2 fish 02-20180727

Somehow, the heron managed to maneuver the two little wiggling creatures up the length of its bill and finally swallow them. Of course, the Atlantic Puffin does even better than this. It has backward-pointing spines on its upper palate to hold dozens of little fish which are pushed up by its specialized bristly tongue and stored there while it catches even more. (Ref: LINK). I wonder if the heron used its tongue to help in the process:

Tricolored Heron catches 2 fish 04-20180727

Tricolored Heron catches 2 fish 05-20180727

Tricolored Heron catches 2 fish 06-20180727

During the last part of July, the pre-dawn sky was dark except for the red planet Mars, as the Moon had been setting during the night, before we ventured out. The July full Moon is traditionally known as the "Buck Moon," because this is the time of year when the antlers of deer are undergoing rapid growth. 

On July 27, the Earth passed directly between the Sun and the Moon, creating a total lunar eclipse which lasted nearly four hours. It was the longest of the 21st century. Unfortunately it was not visible here in south Florida. The eclipse did not commence until 3:30 PM our time, as it was rising the next morning over Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The Moon turns blood-red during an eclipse because the Earth's atmosphere scatters the light, just as it does at sunrise and sunset. 

This was the nearly-full Buck Moon setting below the western horizon, about a half hour before sunrise, as we walked out into the Wounded Wetlands at 6:20 AM on July 27. Its red color is not related to the impending eclipse, but is enhanced by the dust which has blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert:

Blood Buck Moon 0620AM 20180727

Blood Buck Moon setting 20180727

We had hoped to see the Moon set over the lake the next morning, but there were storms which kept us home until July 29, when it still looked almost full against the dark sky:

Buck Moon waning 20180729

The Moon rode high in the brightening sky and served as the backdrop for a Loggerhead Shrike perched atop a Red Maple: 

Loggerhead Shrike under Buck Moon 02-20180729

The same shrike appears in this photo:

Buck Moon setting 5-20180729

Rain again threatened, but the Buck Moon briefly peeked through the clouds over the lake before disappearing:

Buck Moon setting 1-20180729

As if on cue to celebrate the Buck Moon, a yearling male White-tailed Deer pranced towards me in the low light. The wind was at his back, so the spike-buck did not catch my scent. At first he may have mistaken me for another deer and cautiously moved closer before he recognized me and bounded off:

White-tail buck young 008-20180729

White-tail buck young 002-20180729

Twice more this past week, I got much better views of the spike buck Again, he approached quite closely before fleeing, leading me to wonder whether he was being fed by someone in the adjoining residential area :

White-tailed buck yearling portrait 07-20180802

White-tailed Deer yearling spike buck 01-20180807

White-tailed Deer yearling spike buck 05-20180807

On the last day of July, a Louisiana Waterthrush arrived, the first sign that fall migration was now underway:

Louisiana Waterthrush 03-20180731

Louisiana Waterthrush 06-20180731

A Black-and-White Warbler was nearby, the first I had seen since last April:

Black-and-White Warbler 02-20180731

The next day I saw two Prairie Warblers, first of the season at this location. 

Prairie Warbler 03-20180801

Prairie Warbler 06-20180801

Prairie Warblers breed in southeasterm Florida but practically disappear from inland areas during May and June, as they nest mostly in mangroves along the Atlantic Coast at that time. They may also undergo their post-breeding molt, when many birds become reclusive. Feather replacement is very energy-intensive and they may migrate to favorable habitat where food is more abundant. Migrants from the north greatly increase their numbers during the winter season.

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

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


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Crops & Clips: Flashback to August, 2015

Looking back three years brings back some vivid memories of favorite memes: critters of all kinds, skies adorned with clouds and rainbows, reflections on calm waters, signs of the season, fences, and those images which speak for themselves. Now that we have sold our second home in Illinois, this exercise also reminds us of how much we gained by spending some of the warmer months "up north."

The month started out at our Florida home. In contrast with the present year, the water levels in the lake and surrounding wet prairie had dropped. This attracted wading birds to the shallows along the lake margins and exposed areas of mud flats. Fish were trapped or exposed in pools left by the receding water. A Great Blue Heron reflected nicely from a rock that is usually submerged at this time of year:

Great Blue Heron reflection 02-20150802

On August 1st a Solitary Sandpiper foraged along the shore:

Solitary Sandpiper 4-20150801

Spotted Sandpipers searched the crevices among the rocks:

Spotted Sandpipers 20150801

Spotted Sandpiper 20150815

A Great Egret arrived to partake of the feast:

Great Egret landing 20150802

The egrets provided a nice comparison with a smaller white immature Little Blue Heron:

Great Egrets and Little Blue 20150802

Little Blue with Egret 20150802

Watching the alligator 20150803

Great Egret and Little Blue Heron 20150805

A mother Raccoon led her babies across the path in front of me:

Young Raccoons 20150805

She took a defensive posture as they scrambled to safety:

Mother Raccoon 20150805

Oh my! I'm only up to August 5th and have over 500 more photos to sift through!

On August 7th a brief shower was followed by a double rainbow over the lake in back of our home (please pardon the deliberate over-saturation):

Double Rainbow HDR 20150807

In case you missed it in the above photo, the Double-crested Cormorant returned the next day to perch on the decoy:

Double-crested Cormorant 2-20150807

A welcome sight was this Wood Stork, the first we had seen on our lake in several months. They failed to breed in south Florida for the prior two or three years because of abnormal water conditions. It hunted along the shore near a neighbor's fence:

Wood Stork 4-20150808

The stork opened its wings to reveal their feather pattern:

Wood Stork 3-20150808

Just as we are experiencing this year (2018), dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara Desert produced beautiful pink sunrises. One good thing about the dust cloud is that it suppresses the development of hurricanes:

Pink Saharan Dusty Dawn 20150808

Here is Mary Lou walking home before sunrise under a colorful sky (I'm so slow that I am still going the other way. We started out very early to try to find the Barn Owl which I saw the previous day. No luck!):

Before sunrise HDR 20150819

A struggling fish in the grasp of a Snowy Egret scatters water droplets:

Snowy Egret dance 13-20150817

Here is a video of the "dance" of this Snowy Egret as it chases after fish in one of the lakeside pools (WARNING: turn down the sound if you do not like the dance music):

If the video fails to load in the space above, please click HERE

Fast forward to August 24, the day after we arrived at our second home in northeastern Illinois. We visited Hannaford Woods in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Across from the entrance is this barn, which I rendered as an oil painting (click on image to enlarge):

Hannaford Barn OIL 20150824 (View Large)

At Hannaford, we saw a favorite species, the Red-headed Woodpecker:

Red-headed Woodpecker 20150824

American Goldfinch at Lippold Park, near our condo in North Aurora:

American Goldfinch 20150826

Butterflies at Aurora West preserve-- an Eastern Comma...

Eastern Comma 20150827

...and a Pearl Crescent:

Pearl Crescent 20150827

Visiting local Jones Meadow Park in North Aurora on July 31, I loved the way a neighbor had filled this bicycle's basket with flowers:

Bicycle HDR 20150831

In fact, I textured the image with enamal:

Bicycle ENAMEL 20150831

Also on  the last day of the month, I took the final photo of one of my favorite subjects. Days later, this barn was torn down to make way for a prefabricated one made of metal and vinyl:

Barn Albumen 20150831

This barn was the focal point of a landscape I photographed only the month before, through the same opening in the trees at Jones Meadow Park. It lives in memory:

 Jones Meadow Park HDR 20150709
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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

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Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


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