Thursday, July 25, 2019

A peaceful morning in the Wounded Wetlands

Early Sunday morning is the most quiet time for walking out into our local south Florida birding patch, which is adjacent to residential subdivisions. We owe the existence of the preserve to the developers who, to mitigate their damage to the original Everglades, were required to set aside the land in perpetuity as a wildlife and water conservation area. 

Few people are up and about. This morning they are not hurrying to work or bringing kids to school. Operation of machinery such as lawn mowers and other power equipment  is restricted on Sunday. Yes, the sounds of human activity are much reduced, but it is not truly silent. 

In the spring, Northern Mockingbirds may sing very early or even all night when the moon is bright:
Northern Mockingbird 02-20181109

Northern Mockingbird macro at sunrisecrop  01-20181031

In the pre-dawn darkness we are surrounded by the sounds of life, from the mosquitoes humming in our ears, the songs of crickets, grasshoppers, toads, tree frogs and the sweet warbling of geckos. Most birds are not yet singing-- but listen closely to hear the Chuck-will's-widow as it repeats its name in a never-ending cadence, or, overhead... the call of a Common Nighthawk:

Common Nighthawk and Strawberry Moon 20180602 

A nighthawk is barely visible as it suddenly zooms down and pulls up with a loud "woosh" just over my head. Is it attacking me or the cloud of mosquitoes that I have attracted? Is there a nest or are young birds nearby? 

Common Nighthawk in flight 3-20170617

Why did I fail to identify the calls of screech-owls for the first couple of years after I started taking these early morning walks? I think I did hear them but did not distinguish their soft monotone trill from the competing ambient noise of automobiles, airplanes and air conditioners. Now, I not only hear, but also take pains to listen.

Eastern Screech-Owl:

Eastern Screech-Owl 021-20170219

Common sounds become background "white noise" which our brains filter out. One autumn morning shortly after returning from our second home in Illinois I heard but almost failed to recognize the calls of a species which infrequently visits south Florida during migration. 

I had become so accustomed to the sound of its voice in Illinois that I did not immediately realize that this American Robin was was out of place, atop a tree along the trail:

American Robin HDR 4-20160211

If the Moon is bright, Mourning Doves may already be cooing, and Blue Jays calling.

Mourning Dove at sunrise 20190528

Mourning Doves 20130322

Blue Jay 20190317

Blue Jay 01-20170406

The sky is lighting up. The Northern Cardinals begin their morning chorus almost exactly a half hour before sunrise. At the same time the Chuck-will's-widow stops its chant. Why? Something triggers opposite responses in two different species. Poetically speaking, is it the length of the night, or the strength of the light? 

A male cardinal sings from a conspicuous perch, but listen closely...

Northern Cardinal singing 05-20180228

...the female may join him in a duet:

Northern Cardinal female 01-20171104

Still well below the horizon, the sun has created a deepening red glow in the eastern sky.  On this spring morning, Jupiter was still visible above the crescent Moon (March, 2019):

Moon and Jupiter over stormy sunrise 20190303

When I reach the shore of the lake I enjoy watching the show as the sky changes minute by minute. Photos do not capture all the colors I see: pink, rose, orange, yellow, purple, blue and green and shades in between. 

The Thunder Moon of July sinks into the line of storm clouds:

Thunder Moon sinking before sunrise 20190717

Facing west towards the lake, I am conscious of riding on a sphere which is rotating backward. The shadow of the earth's horizon behind me is moving steadily over my head and falling down in front of me. First rays of the invisible sun tint the eastern sky but do not pierce the darkness of the land on the opposite shore. Reaching the storm clouds over the Everglades, the rays outline their tops before setting their upper reaches on fire. 

West shore at sunrise 20190531

Before the sun ever gets down to the treetops on the opposite shore, it has illuminated the entire sky. 

Rising Sun touches Pine Bank20190110

Then the brilliance of the vegetation is revealed, and suddenly the colors of the sky fade into gray and blue tones. 

Sun touches wet prairie HDR 20160309

Most mornings, usually around sunrise, we see one or sometimes two adult Bald Eagles, navigating a perfect course from the vicinity of their nest, located to the northwest, towards the large lake in our subdivision which has a lighthouse on a small island. 

Their two eaglets have migrated north to find cooler waters, but the adults choose to stay here all summer. The lake, with its fish, ducks and herons will feed them. They will also keep watch over the nest and chase away any intruders such as Great Horned Owls, Raccoons or crows which could set up housekeeping and claim it as their own. 

Bald Eagle male 03-20190310

A young Marsh Rabbit nibbles on the grass and seems to ignore me. Hoping for a nice image, I cautiously mover closer to it, a few steps at a time, stopping to take yet another photo in case it decides to flee. 

Marsh Rabbit juvenile 05-20190710

Yet it allows me to get ever so close before hopping off. Well, "hopping" is not really accurate in the case of this species. Running or, as I see it, galloping (as in "giddy-yap") better describes their mode of escape, as their hind legs are much shorter than those of other rabbit species. They also have big feet with splayed toes to help propel them through the water. 

Although closely related to the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, the Marsh Rabbit does not have white on its tail and its undersides are dull gray, as can be glimpsed in this photo:

Marsh Rabbit juvenile 02-20190710

(A reader recently asked why their ears were so short, as longer ears normally benefit rabbits and hares in hot climes by dispersing body heat. I could not find a science-based answer, but noted that they usually swim with their bodies underwater and maybe short ears provide less resistance. They also have very sparse fur, which may help keep them cool.)

Marsh Rabbit juvenile 04-20190710

As the land heats up, the rising air pulls in winds from the ocean to the east, spoiling the mirrored surface of the lake. Moisture in the air condenses into clouds which portend afternoon storms. It looks like it will be just another summer day for south Florida.

Gathering storm 01-20190629

Storm brewing 01-20190616

Quote from an a pertinent article at this link:  How bird-watching could be incredibly beneficial for your mental health  

"Perhaps one of the most interesting results of the studies was the fact that even if people rated their depression/stress/anxiety levels high in the mornings, several hours of bird-watching were seen to consistently raise these feelings and helped people to feel much happier in themselves and the world around them.... What’s more, it didn’t matter what kind of birds were spotted; whether these were native birds or all different species and varieties or lots of the same species, the benefits seem to remain the same."

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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

 Linking to Fences Around the World by Gosia


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


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Halloween Pennants and their enemies

We have had a bumper crop of Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) here in south Florida. This colorful species is found in most of the eastern 2/3 of the lower 48 States. It flutters almost like a butterfly and is an important food source for many predators up the food chain.

Halloween Pennant - Celithemis eponina 02-20190325

As do other members of the Celethemis (Pennant) group, they typically perch on the top of a stalk or twig, looking  like a flag or pennant:

Halloween Pennant 20160823

Halloween Pennant HDR 20160524

MaryLou looked out of the back window of our home and saw this immature Green Heron next to the lake, stalking furtively through our lawn. At first I was not sure what it was doing and then realized it was catching and eating Halloween Pennants:

Green Heron immature stalking 01-20190710

Green Heron immature stalking 02-20190710

Green Heron immature stalking 03-20190710

Green Heron immature stalking 04-20190710

This dragonfly lays its eggs in the water amid floating vegetation in our lakes and canals. Here is a pair of Halloween Pennants copulating:

Halloween Pennants 20121006

Grackles are especially fond of these creatures, as are many other birds. A female Boat-tailed Grackle chases after the dragonfly:

Boat-tailed Grackle female and dragonflies 20190420

She rushes over to feed the prize to her hungry fledgling:

Boat-tailed Grackle female and dragonflies 3-20190420

Boat-tailed Grackle female and dragonflies 4-20190420

Boat-tailed Grackle female and dragonflies 5-20190420

This Cattle Egret was capturing and eating Halloween Pennants:

Cattle Egret hunting Halloween Pennants 20130322

Cattle Egret hunting Halloween Pennants 4-20130322

To the north, the Halloween Pennant is active during the warmer months, but it is present all year round in south Florida. 

Our small falcons feast on them. Merlins and American Kestrels visit us during the winter and specialize in plucking them out of the air with their talons. 

Here, an American Kestrel, eats one:

Kestrel eating dragonfly 20101210

Spiders catch many Halloween Pennants:

Dragonfly and spider 04-20140323

The wrapping proceeds 2-20150325

Loggerhead Shrikes also partake in the feast:

Loggerhead Shrike with Halloween Pennant 20181204

Halloween Pennants seem to have expressive faces as they turn their heads and look about. Depending upon how the light catches their compound eyes, they can look green or red or a combination of both: 

Dragonfly Face 20090416

Dragonfly RedEye 20090416

Halloween Pennant face 20150607

Looking at our world with a wider lens, this is the canal which separates our populated subdivision from the Wounded Wetlands:

Looking south at canal 01-20190630

A quiet corner of the canal is a favored place for the dragonflies to deposit their eggs...

Quiet corner of canal 20190630

...and where this adult Green Heron pursues them:

Green Heron 03-20190331

Green Heron 01-20190331

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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

 Linking to Fences Around the World by Gosia

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Distant raptor! Reach for the...

My Kowa spotting scope has been gathering dust the past few years since I started photographing birds with a DSLR camera and long lens. Before I ever considered buying a big camera, I tried digiscoping, shooting photos with my pocket camera through the lens of my scope. At the time, I lived in New Mexico and obtained most of my images through the front windows of our home.

This Ash-throated Flycatcher raised a family in one of my nest boxes:

Ash-throated Flycatcher

A Blue Grosbeak perched atop a juniper tree in the front yard:

Blue Grobsbeak

Am Evening Grosbeak devoured sunflower seeds from our feeder:

Evening Grosbeak male FEB03

My simple digiscopic photo equipment consisted of the spotting scope, a point-and-shoot 2 MP (yes, that 's right only 2 megapixels!) Canon PowerShot A40 camera, and a Durkee's spice bottle with the bottom cut to the size of the camera lens housing.

Digiscope Overview

Digiscope setup Insert Camera

Our house, at 7000 feet elevation in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, had a great view of the wooded front yard:

Cedar Crest Home in the Snow

This contraption worked well when deployed in a stationary location with birds that flew in nearby and settled down. However it was a clumsy arrangement in the field, so I usually settled for binocular and scope views without photos. The scope itself is quite heavy, but this was not a problem when I could drive up into the mountains and set it up along the road. 

After we moved to Florida I learned the hard way that lugging such a heavy piece of equipment several miles in midsummer heat was very difficult. Then I started using a telescopic lens and DSLR camera. The scope is still useful on the boardwalk during our nature walks, or for viewing the nearby Bald Eagle nest.

The long lens has been a very convenient replacement for my spotting scope. This is the approximate binocular view of a large raptor roosting about a half mile away across the lake in the Wounded Wetlands (420 mm lens on Canon 80D DSLR corresponds roughly to the view through 8-9x binocular):

Osprey Bino View 20190709

I was not certain whether this was an Osprey or a Bald Eagle, or maybe a vulture. Blown up on the camera's LCD screen or back home on the computer it was clearly an Osprey. The cropped image is poor, but good enough to identify it as an Osprey:

Osprey CROP Scope view 20190709

Binocular view of a small falcon about 1/4 mile away. Is it a kestrel or a Merlin?:

Merlin distant bino view 20180214

Long lens confirms the ID, a Merlin:

Merlin distant 02-20180214

Enough of this long distance stuff. I have gotten some nice close shots these past couple of weeks. Is this Loggerhead Shrike trying to tell me something?

Loggerhead Shrike 03-20190702

OK, he has my attention!

Loggerhead Shrike portrait 02-20190702

Gray Squirrel freezes as I walk up:

Gray Squirrel 20190630

I think I can see my reflection in its eye!

Gray Squirrel portrait 20190630

Butterflies are scarce, but Halloween Pennant dragonflies are numerous:

Halloween Pennant - Celethemis eponina 20190702

A birder from The Czech Republic contacted me and wanted to walk in the Wounded Woodlands. I tried to explain to him that they are not very productive, especially at this time of year. I suggested other places he should visit to make better use of his limited time in the US. 

He came anyway and seemed to enjoy identifying the local birds. He too is a "patch" birder and has found over 40 species in a small area there over the years. We discussed the value of learning about the habits of common species and the thrill of seeing the occasional unexpected visitor. I shot this photo of a rainbow just as he was identifying a bird very familiar to him, a European Starling:

Petr Soukal 20190629

This White-tailed Doe has a small antler next to her right ear:

White-tailed Doe with small antler 20190626

The doe reflected nicely as she walked across the flooded prairie:

White-tailed Deer 01-20190626

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

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