Saturday, November 29, 2014

Herons at Chapel Trail Nature Preserve

The weather radar indicated that a cold front accompanied by showers was moving slowly down the Florida peninsula, so we did not want to take a chance on being caught by the rain a mile out in our local birding patch. Therefore we decided to walk the 1/4 mile boardwalk at nearby Chapel Trail Nature Preserve in Pembroke Pines. If we saw the rain approaching we would have time to rush back to the parking lot.

Here is the Chapel Trail boardwalk on a mild morning earlier this year:

Chapel Trail boardwalk 20140528

Chapel Trail boardwalk 2-20140528

It was a good move. Minutes after we started walking out, we spied two white herons. One was a Great Egret, and the other, an immature Little Blue Heron which suddenly flew up and roosted on the boardwalk railing. It is distinguished from the egrets by its green legs and dark-tipped bill. Its feathers are also slightly off-white. By the time it is a year old it will molt into the dark adult plumage.

Little Blue Heron immature 2-20141118

The heron scratched an itchy chin:

Little Blue Heron immature 20141118

It was so close that I had to back away to fit the entire bird in the viewfinder of my telephoto lens:

Little Blue Heron immature head 20141118

All herons have an elongated sixth vertebra in their upper neck which is attached to its adjacent vertebrae at right angles and acts like a double hinge. See a drawing of the neck bones in this earlier postThe above photo shows the resulting"Z" shape it creates. This allows herons to strike at prey with sudden force, but also permits them to preen their feathers in areas that would be otherwise inaccessible:

Little Blue Heron immature neck 20141118

An adult Little Blue Heron flew in. It also has green legs and dark-tipped bill, but otherwise presents a markedly different appearance from the immature:

Little Blue Heron adult 20141118

Almost as if providing a second movement to the theme established by the Little Blue Heron, an immature Tricolored Heron arrived and settled down in the Spike Rush:

Tricolored Heron immature in flight 20141118

Also in its first year of life, this bird had mostly rusty brown upperparts:

Tricolored Heron immature 2-20141118

Yes indeed, this really happened-- an adult Tricolored Heron then moved in, as if to show off its contrasting wardrobe:

Tricolored Heron adult in flight 2-20141118

Tricolored Heron adult 2-20141118

The adult now took center stage, flying up to the railing and once more causing me to back down the boardwalk in order to take its photograph:

Tricolored Heron adult 5-20141118

I especially liked this pose, which exhibited its plumes:

Tricolored Heron adult 20141118

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Crops & Clips: Vultures

My weekly potpourri gathered from the archives features... vultures, perhaps the least appreciated, yet one of the most important (and globally threatened) groups of birds. 

The New World vultures and condors are distantly related to those of the Old World. The latter do not share their amazing sense of smell and are considered more closely related to the hawks, buzzards and eagles. Here in the USA, two species are doing very well, while the California Condor teeters on the brink of extinction. 


Turkey Vulture portrait:

Turkey Vulture 2-20101114

To get this close to a Black Vulture I had to endure the stench:

Black Vulture portrait  20140907

The legs of  vultures are often painted white with their own urine, helping them control their body temperature, which drops about 6 degrees (F) during the night. They also assume postures such as extending their necks and spreading their wings to either cool off or soak the sun's rays. 

Black Vultures 20110411

Here the Turkey Vulture dominates some garbage that had been discarded by careless picnickers.

Black Vulture with painted legs 20120221

Black Vultures gathering...

Black Vultures 20140907

...waiting turns at the dinner table...


...and enjoying fresh possum.

Possum for dinner - got hot sauce? 20100401

Young Bald Eagles (one is to the lower left in this photo), not yet adept at hunting for fresh prey, may capitalize on the vultures' skill at locating carrion:

Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture 20130531

Here in Florida, Short-tailed Hawks may use their resemblance to vultures to hide in a flock and surprise the smaller birds that make up much of their prey (Pembroke Pines, FL, February 9, 2012):

Short-tailed Hawk 20120209

In the western USA, Zone-tailed Hawks similarly take advantage of their vulture-like appearance (Grand Canyon, AZ, June 19, 2013):

Zone-tailed Hawk 3-20130619

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

and to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,



Turkey Vulture warming up in the morning sun:

Turkey Vulture 20101129

Black Vultures at the Undertaker's Convention:

Black Vultures 20101129

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 



Our two vulture species have distinctive flight profiles. The Turkey Vulture appears almost headless and the undersides of all its flight feathers appear silvery.

Turkey Vulture 20111230

Only the five "finger" feathers of the smaller Black Vulture show this trait, and its legs extend slightly beyond its shorter tail.

Black Vulture 20120409

Ghosts in the gloaming:

Black Vultures in fog 2-20140224

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy



On a sunny day, you can almost see me with my camera:

Black Vulture eye 2-20141117



International Vulture Awareness Day

"The first Saturday in September has been set aside as a day to consider the ecological importance of a bird of prey that is otherwise mostly dismissed with a shudder. With some species under severe threat of extinction, International Vulture Awareness Day aims to educate a reluctant public in the critical role of this creature to the well-being of the environment. With vultures traditionally being perceived as representing death and decay, conservationists involved in preserving their numbers have faced an uphill battle in fund-raising efforts and in making theirs a more sympathetic cause. Hopefully, the joint effort of South Africa’s Birds of Prey Programme and England’s Hawk Conservancy Trust in establishing an international day of vulture awareness will change public attitudes. The key role of the vulture in signalling the presence of a carcass to other scavengers prevents contamination by pathogens and helps keep nature free of disease."

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Yellowlegs and yellowthroats

As I walked out into the wetlands I heard the distinct call of a Greater Yellowlegs. It was coming from beyond the mud puddles left by the off-road riders. It rained the night before and the ruts and "donut holes" made by their spinning and wheeling had filled with water. I crept up to an opening where I could get a better view and just then the yellowlegs came flying towards me, calling loudly. Although I was not prepared for flight shots I focused on the incoming bird and fired three shots. Remarkably, all came out looking fairly sharp, so I used the "composting" tool in the Canon DPP software and created a composite image.

Greater Yellowlegs in flight comp 2-20141111

The bird settled down only about 20 yards away. It was wary and did not stay very long, but I captured some views as it stepped gracefully through the mud puddles. It was an unlikely place to see such beauty.

Greater Yellowlegs 04-20141111

Greater Yellowlegs 03-20141111

Greater Yellowlegs 02-20141111

Greater Yellowlegs 01-20141111

Down the gravel road, a Great Egret, bathed in the morning light, took flight as I approached the lake.

Great Egret 20141102

Great Egret 2-20141102

Great Egret in flight 20141102

A second-year immature Bald Eagle glided over the lake. It is a bit less than two years old, judging from the wing and tail molt, as the shorter and more rounded adult feathers are replacing the longer but worn juvenile ones, and its bill is only beginning to show some yellow at its base. Younger birds would have a darker belly and wing linings, and older would probably show much more white on the head and body and not show such a contrast between the chest and underparts. The wings of a third year bird have all adult feathers and look slimmer and less ragged. This bird may have fledged in the spring of 2012, possibly from the nest only about a mile to the northwest. 

Bald Eagle 2nd year 20141102

At the other size extreme, a House Wren scolded from the roadside:

House Wren 20141106

The wren was joined by a chattering male Common Yellowthroat:

Common Yellowthroat male 2-20141106

A female yellowthroat was nearby:

Common Yellowthroat female 20141107

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Crops & Clips: Alaska!

My weekly potpourri gathered from the archives features... Alaska!

CRITTERS: No lack of interesting furry, feathery and finny creatures, all seen in the wild* during various trips to Alaska:

Horned Puffin in Resurrection Bay, out of Seward (June, 2011):

Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) 3-20110625

Sea Otter in Ketchimak Bay, out of Homer (June, 2011):

Sea Otter head crop 20110622

Harbor Seals out of Ketchikan (June, 2014):

Harbor Seals 3-20140615

A Common Redpoll in Talkeetna (June 2011):

Common Redpoll 2-20110618

Black Bear eating grass, out of Ketchikan (June 2014):

Black Bear eating grass 20140615

Had to dig deeply in the archives to find this scanned photo of a Grizzly (Alaskan Brown Bear) in Denali National Park that I took with my little 35 mm film camera before I even knew about DSLR (August, 1996). Note that the poor bear has had an encounter with a Porcupine and its face is full of quills. I wonder whether it survived:


*OK, I lied about only including photos from the wild. This bear was in Brookfield Zoo, Chicago, Illinois (August, 2009). I had to show my picture to SOMEONE!

Bear 20090822

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,


FENCES: Look closely-- there is a railing, it should qualify.

My photo "oil painting" of an old boat in Hoonah, June, 2014 (click on photo for enlarged images):

Hoonah Alaska painting 20140616

There just aren't many fences in wide-open Alaska, but this one is keeping our granddaughters safe, so maybe this will do (June 2014):

Graci and Cari at Hoonah 20140616

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 


SKYWATCH: Departing Ketchikan on a gray day (June 2014):

Departing Ketchikan 20140615

Much nicer sky view from the moving train (June 2014):

View from Denale-Anchorage train 03-20140623

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


REFLECTION: View from the Alaska Railroad train from Denali to Anchorage-- pardon the blur in the foreground as the train wouldn't stop for me! (June 2014)

View from Denale-Anchorage train 02-20140623