Thursday, July 26, 2018

Struggling to meet my Birder's RDA

To beat the heat here in south Florida, Mary Lou and I set out on our daily 3 mile walk a half hour before sunrise. Temperatures are usually in the high 70s F (25-26 degrees C) but within two hours climb into the high 80s (31-32 degrees C). It is still quite dark at first, so I bird mostly by ear. A White-tailed Deer buck peers at me through the semi-darkness:

White-tail buck 03-20180715

The sun is still well below the horizon, but its light reflects against the high clouds:

Before sunrise 02-20180721

Not many birds are singing in late July. Many have raised their families and are undergoing an energy-consuming molt. While mockingbirds may sing even during the night during breeding season, they are now quite silent.

Adult Northern Mockingbird:

Northern Mockingbird 02-20180215

Fledgling mockingbird in June:

Northern Mockingbird fledgling 2-20150608

An older juvenile mockingbird exhibits a speckled breast:

Northern Mockingbird juvenile 20180627

Northern Cardinals are a welcome exception. I can often count a half dozen singing males, some in duets with females, which also sing (as do female mockingbirds):

Northern Cardinal singing 05-20180228

Female Northern Cardinal:

Northern Cardinal female 01-20171104

We may hear one or two Carolina Wrens singing despite the heat:

Carolina Wren 20150322

Mourning Doves coo persistently before sunrise...

Mourning Dove 20180612 do White-Winged Doves. This one used the roof of our home for his performance:

White-winged Dove 20180716

I walk out on the little "peninsula" and just listen. Maybe I will hear a Pileated Woodpecker or a Red-Shouldered Hawk, but only the calls of Blue Jays and Red-bellied Woodpeckers pierce the silence:

The peninsula 20180716

The monotone trill of an unseen Eastern Screech-Owl is like music to our ears and a reward for being out early. This week I heard two calling, about a mile into our walk. One had a more high-pitched voice. It may have belonged to the juvenile owl, which I briefly viewed through the branches of a thicket, about ten minutes before sunrise:

Eastern Screech-Owl 01-20180722

Here is an adult Screech-Owl which paused in better light very near this spot last year:

Eastern Screech-Owl 011-20170219

This is the time of year when I sometimes fall short of meeting Birdchaser's Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 20 species

Seeing fewer than 20 species in a morning makes me feel "malnourished." If my list seems to be stuck at 18 or 19, I may delay my return home and risk heat stroke, hoping to see one or two more. It is especially frustrating when I fail to find one of the more common birds, such as a European Starling, or the sky does not contain any vultures or crows. High water discourages wading birds and one morning this week I saw no herons at all.

The fun of birding is not just about "body counts."  There is so much to discover at any time of year. One day last week I saw only 15 species but had the thrill of seeing the eaglet from the local Bald Eagle nest suddenly pass low overhead. Why has she not wandered north, as is the habit of south Florida's younger eagles? By July, most of them are following the Atlantic coast up into the Carolinas and Chesapeake Bay, where waters are cooler and fish are easier to catch. Oddly, she is carrying some grass in her talons. Why?

Bald Eagle immature 05-0646AM 20180718

We know she is a female by her bulk and the extension of the gape of her bill below her eye She exhibits first-year (juvenile) plumage: a dark body, dark beak, head and tail, along with white "armpits." Her set of fresh and longer wing and tail feathers cause her secondaries to bulge and add more than an inch to her length. She flies a direct line from the nest tree to a lake in our subdivision. Her lighter wing linings are also visible in these views as she moves away:

Bald Eagle immature 07-0646AM 20180718

Bald Eagle immature 08-0646AM 20180718

At the lake, the water is still. A Little Blue Heron dashes to find a better fishing spot:

Little Blue Heron 02-20180715

There has been a hatch of White Peacock butterflies. Many seem to be taking their first flights. By tomorrow their wings will be tattered from their constant struggle over territory and mates:

White Peacock 03-20180721

White Peacock 20180720

Walking home at 8:00 AM, the restless clouds portend the rain which is sure to arrive by noon:

Walking home at 8 AM 20180712

A Northern Curly-tailed Lizard appears at the base of a tree as I exit the wild area. This species, native to the Bahamas, was introduced into Palm Beach County to the north in hopes that it would control insect pests on the sugar cane. It has spread over the southern part of the State, although this was the first I have seen at this particular location. While invasive, they seem not to be a threat to native creatures:

Curly-tailed Lizard 01-20180715

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


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


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Crops & Clips: Favorite outtakes

Getting out a half hour before sunrise on our local wetlands creates a photographic challenge. At first it is simply too dark. By the time we reach the lake it is about 20 minutes before sunrise, so this photo of a Great Blue Heron is not "pixel perfect." Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it looked like an ink sketch.

Great Blue Heron before dawn, March 27, 2012:

Great Blue Heron before dawn HDR 20120327

A Green Heron perched against the rising sun on July 10, 2018. I liked its energetic posture:

Green Heron silhouette 01-20180710

Terribly underexposed images of Mottled Duck before sunrise, July 3, 2018:

Mottled Duck before sunrise 01-20180703

Mottled Duck before sunrise 02-20180703

Mottled Duck before sunrise 03-20180703

Even though these photos nearly ended up on the digital dustbin, they impart a serene kind of beauty in form and action, if not in feather detail.

This past week the dust blown in from Africa is working its magic, providing us with rosy pink sunrises. I like to walk out to the west end of this "peninsula" and listen as the open lake carries in the sounds of distant bird calls and songs:

The peninsula 20180716

This is the view to my left, along the eastern and southern shores:

View to southeast corner 20180716

Too much light can also be a problem. As the sun rises, the white plumage of the egrets reflects its rays and requires adjustment of the exposure. (Taken with my Canon EOS 80D with a fixed 420 mm lens system at f/5.6 and exposure of 1/800 sec, ISO 160 and compensation reduced  by 2 full stops to capture the egret's feather detail):

Great Egret 02-20180718

I have been experimenting with early morning flight shots. Luckily, at 6:42 AM yesterday (July 18), two minutes after sunrise, an adult Bald Eagle flew over the lake. It was too far away to grace the pages of "National Geographic," but I documented it for my eBird report:

Bald Eagle adult 01-0642AM 20180718

Remarkably, only four minutes later, an immature (first year) Bald Eagle flew in the same direction, almost over my head! It was the female eaglet from the nest we have been monitoring for over 8 years. Despite the short range, I did not capture much detail, but I thought the bird looked majestic just the same. Curiously, she was carrying some vegetation in her talons:

Bald Eagle immature 05-0646AM 20180718

Bald Eagle immature 07-0646AM 20180718

Last week two Pileated Woodpeckers flew by and then roosted together atop a power pole at the far end of the wetland patch:

Pileated Woodpecker males 01-20180707

Red "mustaches" identify them both as males. One hammered for a moment and then they exchanged a few unpleasant words before flying away:

Pileated Woodpecker males 02-20180707

Earlier this month I caught sight of a Bobcat as it crossed the gravel road about 1/4 mile away. I shot a burst of about a dozen images before it disappeared. They were very blurry, so I stitched some of them together to display them in sequence (click to enlarge):

 Bobcat composite 20180702

On July 13 I had to settle for another very "bad" photo, when the Coyote (first ever seen in this area and discovered a month earlier by my neighbor Scott) suddenly appeared along the path. 

It  stared right at me from a range of over 100 yards. As soon as I reached for the camera it turned and fled. In the space of one second I captured 5 images of its tail end before it disappeared. I will not brag about the quality of the photo, but this one is a "keeper." 

Coyote crop2 20180713

Another "first" sighting for my location this week was a Northern Curly-tailed Lizard. Native to The Bahamas, they were deliberately released in Palm Beach County to control insects in the sugar cane fields:

Curly-tailed Lizard 01-20180715

Curly-tailed Lizard 02-20180715

On my way home I stay on the (east) shady side of the road:

View to south on gravel course 20180716

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


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


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Common Nighthawk: Crepuscular insectivore

Most mornings, Mary Lou and I start out into the Wounded Wetlands at daybreak. More accurately, our walk usually gets underway about a half hour before sunrise. At that hour,  depending upon atmospheric conditions, the day may or may not have "broken." If the moonless sky is completely clear it can be nearly black as midnight.
This inexact crepuscular period known as dawn or twilight serves as mealtime for one of our common summer resident birds, the Common Nighthawk.

The male nighthawk has a bright white throat patch, which is indistinct or absent in the female:

Common Nighthawk in flight 20170611

Sunrise is still 25 minutes away, but the cloud tops are illuminated, and this is prime time for nighthawks:

View to west before sunrise 02-20180701

In mid-June, the Planet Mars shone brightly red, alone in the early morning sky, until the rotating Earth "caught up" with the full Moon, shown here about 1/2 hour before sunrise on June 29:

Strawberry Moon 02-20180629

Sunlight had not yet reached the ground when a storm cloud over the Everglades to the west caught the sun's rays. The Moon (now two days past full) appeared against a blue sky just before sunrise:

Strawberry Moon and Cumululonimbus 03-20180629

Sometimes a layer of high clouds reflects the light of the sun nearly an hour before sunrise, or storms darken the early morning or late afternoon sky, at which times nighthawks extend their foraging period.

Common Nighthawk in flight 08-20180619

Inappropriately named, the nighthawk is not a raptor. It "hawks" flying insects with its huge gaping mouth.

 Common Nighthawk 01-20180621

It sleeps most of the night like you and me and most other "birds." Its sharp nasal "peenk" call greets our ears as we step out of our front door. Walking along the gravel road, we are startled by a "boom" close overhead as a nighthawk dives down and then turns sharply upward.

Common Nighthawk in flight 02-20180619

During the day, nighthawks rest on the ground or roost longitudinally on tree branches or utility wires:

Common Nighthawk landing 03-20180622

Common Nighthawk at sunrise 20110422

Common Nighthawk on wire 20130417

Rarely, one will perch crosswise as do "normal" birds:

Common Nighthawk 20170425

There are usually three or four nighthawk nesting sites along the mile-long gravel course in our wetlands. The birds reveal them by the agitation which builds as we approach. The pair circles us, calling and booming. If someone happens to venture too close to a nest or nestling, the female may attempt to distract the intruder by flying directly towards him/her, then seeming to fall to the ground, with wings flopping and huge mouth open.

Common Nighthawk 20180702

Common Nighthawk 20130525

Common Nighthawk 2-20130525

Common Nighthawk distraction display 02-20170618

If this happens there may be danger of stepping on eggs, hatchlings or a flightless juvenile bird, as they are remarkably well camouflaged. This nest contains two eggs:

Common Nighthawk eggs 05-20170611

Here is a closer look. The eggs are deposited on bare ground:

Common Nighthawk eggs 03-20170611

The newly hatched chick can be almost invisible. I almost stepped on this one, located in the middle of the path, before the female warned me of its presence:

Common Nighthawk nestling 2-0160723

Here is a video of a Common Nighthawk distraction display:

If the video does not display in the space above, 


Nighthawks are swift and remarkably erratic flyers, executing split-second changes in direction and altitude as they spot prey items, making them extremely difficult subjects for in-flight photography. One trick which I have learned is to keep both eyes open, one looking through the camera viewfinder and the left eye tracking the bird as it zigzags through the sky.This takes some practice as my brain compensates for the parallax between the apparent position of the real bird as compared to its image, similar to the way a heron's brain corrects for parallax which causes a fish to appear nearer and closer to the surface. (Does this mean I have developed a "bird brain?") .

My gallery of processed Common Nighthawk photos numbers over 300, but each of the flight shots represents at least 5-10 times as many attempts-- empty frames of sky and clouds, wing and tail tips, and blurry images. The difficulty is compounded by the poor light conditions. Even with my camera's light sensitivity cranked all the way up (ISO 16,000) and exposure compensation increased to overcome the glare from the sky, I must wait until sunrise for sufficient light, then reduce the ISO as the sky brightens up, allowing the camera to set the exposure, between 1/2000 and 1/3000 second, to stop their movement.

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


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