Archive for the 'Observation' Category

Evening Encounter

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Late this afternoon we were checking out a bird blind to see if anyone was around. There were a few of the regulars and a couple of squirrels. After making a few images of the squirrels Linda returned to the car while Bob said he would stay a bit longer to see if anyone interesting came in.

The light was retreating when this pretty, almost-yearling female fawn and her mother came in. The youngster had interesting “eyebrows.” Both the doe and fawn looked well fed and bloomy for this time of year. So Bob boosted the ISO and opened the aperture so he could make a few images when they were standing very still.

The mother was wary and kept checking the woods. She did not pay attention to the blind. The fawn occasionally looked at the blind which resulted in the ‘headshot with eyebrows.’

Sometimes it pays to sit around to see what comes by.

“Red Enhancement Display”

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Today while photographing from a nature center blind, we saw what is called by ornithologists a “Red Enhancement display” by a male Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). While perched, a bird (usually a male) might raise his feathers on the crown and nape so that it appears large and very red – a sign of threat. There were three birds in the tall trees behind the feeders. One was a female. The males were competing for her attention. This male really puffed up his body as well as the red feathers on his head.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are often described as sleek like the male below. His shiny red crown is more typical of what casual viewers might see. He must have been waiting to try one of the other perching displays used by Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  Sometimes they hunch their shoulders up (stiff pose) or spread their tails while their wings are angled upward at a 45 degree angle (full threat) – also to look bigger and more formidable. The full threat display may also be done in flight and is called a ‘floating threat’.

We hoped they would come close to the feeders but they stayed high in the trees. The female seemed to prefer one tree and we wondered if there was a potential nest hole in it. The males flew to several trees. We only know there were three birds because at one point, all were in the same tree – the one preferred by the female.

Young Eagle Release at Eagle Day

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

After doing our presentation at the Eagle Day Expo we drove out to the eagle viewing area below the dam on Coralville Lake. We got there just in time for Linda to get her camera and dash to get a few images of the release of young a Bald Eagle who had been cared for by RARE (Raptor Advocacy Rehabilitation & Education), a new bird rescue organization in the Iowa City area.

It was cold, windy and very dreary. There were many bald eagles in the trees and flying over the viewing area so those who came to see eagles got their wish. Some trees had ten or more birds in them.

This young eagle had been found on the ground and was taken to RARE for examination and rehabilitation. No injuries were found, except that it did have a low lead level in its blood. Even a small lead shotgun pellet eaten from carrion (perhaps a dead deer that a hunter did not find) can kill an eagle. Lead accumulates in anything that eats or drinks lead contaminated food or water. It does neurological damage to the organism. The worry is that if it eats more lead contaminated fish or meat it will be severely compromised and probably die a horrific death. Lead shot and fishing weights should be banned in all states.

As you can see above, this is a feisty bird that should take care of itself if it finds uncontaminated fish and carrion. When the bird was released, it flew through dense trees against a background of more trees. Even though the camera was set for high speed continuous images, most were obscured by branches and trees. It did circle once and is visible in this crop from a file. Its wing beats were strong and deep so there is hope for it to survive and thrive.

We hope that people continue to make regulations that protect animals and people. The health of all on the planet is determined by what caring and thoughtful people do.


Smart Animals

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Just finished Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by primatologist Frans de Waal and was reminded of a very crafty and smart Vervet monkey we encountered some years ago in Tanzania.

After a morning exploring and photographing in Ngorongoro Crater we were far from the main picnic area. Our driver said there was a rest area nearby but it was not much used because the resident Vervets (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) harassed picnickers. We decided to take a chance and saw only one monkey in the parking area so settled in to eat our sandwiches in the vehicle.

All of a sudden our driver put down his sandwich and got out of the vehicle with a tire wrench in hand to scare off the male who was headed straight for the vehicle. The monkey just kept coming and then made a wide, fast detour around to the back of the safari vehicle. He came up over the back and grabbed an apple out of Linda’s open backpack that was behind her. He did not stop but was out in a flash, across the parking area and up the tree where he quickly ate the apple before either of us could get to a camera.

After eating the apple while looking in our direction, he turned his head to look off into space (above), ignoring us. While not many vehicles stopped at this rest area because of the monkeys’ aggressive behavior, he seemed to think it was worth checking it out at midday just to see if one did. The apple was not much of a prize but it seemed to be worth his effort.

The next day at the main picnic area, we saw Black Kites (Milvus migrans) flying by to snatch sandwiches from unsuspecting picnickers. A human screech meant another bird had successfully made a grab. It has occurred to us that these animals may regard humans as not smart enough to protect their food.

The book is fascinating reading. We knew about some of the research about animal cognition. The new material gave us much to think about. In the last paragraph de Waal states that researchers are returning to the methods of wildlife photographers who hunt to reveal rather than kill. We would have used destroy rather than kill. However, we used to say that we photograph to celebrate or try to represent the essence of our subjects. Reveal is a better word and now part of our vocabularies.


Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Yesterday, the chrysalis started to darken with some of the lines on its wings  more visible. We thought it would hatch today. Well, when we came down for breakfast, the chrysalis was empty and the Monarch butterfly nowhere in sight. After a search the lady was found in a dark corner on the side of a bookcase.

Her wings were fully expanded and body seemed to be almost normal size after pumping the fluid into the wings. She was still expelling the excess. After several photos on the bookcase, we took her outside to continue resting and maturing. Here she is on an aster.

We watched her for awhile and then said “have a safe trip” and went back in the house. Even though we did not get to photograph her as she hatched, we are happy to have protected the egg and caterpillar so she can start her journey in good health.


Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Sometimes large wading birds catch small and medium size fish and sometimes they catch really small fish. In this case, this Great Egret (Ardea alba) was catching tiny minnows. It would catch them at the end of its pincer beak and then toss them up and catch them. This one was very adept. We did not see it drop any in the time we spent watching.

Besides fish, egrets eat a wide diet of amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, crustaceans, and insects. Anything that may live in a wetland or along shallow streams. We are seeing more egrets as they are migrating through our area. It is nice to find them close to home.

Again a high speed continuous shutter or burst is useful in capturing behavior. Sequences of the behavior are a bit like stop action animation as you can have higher quality files than pulling smaller jpgs out of a video.


Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

The Monarch caterpillar has taken its time maturing. It was 13 days old, plump and pretty, and still devouring leaves on last Friday.The number of days for each instar is said to be temperature dependent. It is usually 1 to 3 days for the first four instars and 3 to 5 for the last. That is a range of 7 to 17 days.  It pupated on the 16th day.

We had put several branches near the milkweed stalk and it did not like them. It crawled up and down the sticks and milkweed for several hours. The branches and milkweed were in glass bottles which it could not walk down so it let itself fall. Linda put it back several times and finally decided it and the sticks would need to be put in one of our wire insect cages covered by a 12 inch pot saucer.

The caterpillar crawled round the fine wire mesh wall and then went to the top where it made its cromaster (the little white pad on which it will hang). It attached, and hung in a J. Since it had chosen a place that was inconvenient for photography, we had to figure another way to hold the pot lid up high enough to photograph and make some video when it started to pupate. The wire mesh cage was not going to work.

After a search of the house, Linda spotted three heavy empty wine bottles. She put slender dowels poked into corks and had a scaffold for the pot saucer. Sometimes a need is really the mother of invention. The 3 light reflectors have cool white 1150 lumen LED bulbs and are attached to light stands. The lights were aimed up into the saucer and we were ready. Or so we hoped.

When checked on frequently, the caterpillar was still in a J so we thought it was taking its time to extend down and let its tentacles go limp. An hour later when we checked it, we found it doing the Monarch caterpillar hula as it turns into a chrysalis.  So it was lights, camera, action. Both stills and several short videos were made.

The chrysalis and the setup are to stay where they are on a table in the basement until the butterfly hatches. We have put a small lamp nearby to turn on in daylight hours so it has a somewhat normal light regimen. Other caterpillars we have raised have hatched in about 13 days. We wonder what this one will do.

Gone Fishin’

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Some of the birds in the park along the Cedar River are very tolerant of photographers. This Great Blue Heron comes quite close as long as one stays in the vehicle.

On Saturday Bob was able to get a series of it catching. repositioning and swallowing this fish. When it caught the fish, it held it perpendicular to its beak for a few seconds and then started adjusting it so it would go down head first. It seemed to flip the fish parallel to its beak and then clamped down and with a few gulps the fish disappeared.

It all happens so fast that the camera setting has to be on high speed shutter. Our cameras can do 10 frames per second which helps in these situations.

Behaviors are more interesting and challenging to photograph than portraits. Though we enjoy making portraits almost as much. It is the challenge of the behavior that delights many photographers, including us.

Young Family

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

Yesterday we did not find the male Wood Ducks nor the older juveniles and their mother. We did find the younger family we had seen earlier in the week. The best images for the web were made as they cruised the far bank. Though it was late afternoon, the sun on the larger ripples in the middle made many bright highlights that distracts from the closer views of the birds.

These ducklings are very young this late in the season. Since Wood Ducks sometimes have two broods, this may be a second for this female. We wonder if they will mature in time to migrate. Or they may be part of the group that are found year round in the Midwest.

After the family disappeared into one of the little side coves, we found three female Wood Ducks preening on a fallen tree at the west end of the backwater. A shaft of light came through the trees to where they were, so we stayed with them until they flew.

There must be enough hollow trees or nest boxes along the river bordering this park for there to have been at least two successful nests and three more females plus the two males we saw briefly in just a few hours of photography.

More Than Half Grown

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

For the last several days we have been photographing birds in a local city park. Egrets, Great Blue Herons, as well as the usual Mallards and Canada Geese, were possible subjects. The Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) have been a particular pleasure.

These 3 juveniles were seen with their mother two days ago. This painterly photograph happened as they were swimming along a bank in light shade causing the sandy bank to be reflected and their reflections to be very sharp on the flat water. The water was very still in this protected spot. Yesterday there were only two with her.

We watched the mother of these three (now two) planning a strategy to cross the park road at a narrow spot between two pond-like backwaters. Traffic late in the afternoon was quite busy. She brought her children to where some grass hid them in the water along the road bank. She did this several times before making a dash across to the other side with her mostly grown children close behind. She ignored all the Mallards and Canada Geese, who were gathering where people sometimes feed them, and made a bee-line across to some branches in the water, where we lost sight of them. She obviously knew where she was going.

In this portrait, the water is green with reflected trees and her reflection is blurred because of the moving water. Most of our images of the ducks have various colors (mostly greens) from the reflected vegetation along the far bank.

Earlier this week there had been another female with 3 younger ducklings. Sometimes they intermingled. We did not find her yesterday. We did get glimpses of two male Wood Ducks who stayed in the little coves along the far bank. We hope to see and photograph them in open water when we go again later this afternoon.