Sunday, July 31, 2011


After a cormorant finishes eating a fish, they will almost always do something I call "motorboating" where they get their entire back end shaking, resulting in water splashing in all directions.  The effect looks similar to an outboard engine idling.  I'm not sure why they do it - maybe they are shaking the fish further down their gullet into their stomach - but they appear very happy when they do this.  This one added a nice touch with the oak leaves which I have only seen this once.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Passing it On

On this serene morning, the parent osprey encouraged it's offspring to follow it on a hunt for fish.  The young bird, however, kept turning back and the parent would have to come back and roust it once more.  The white flowers in the marsh are marsh mallows.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Young Eagles

Unlike almost any other species, young eagles are highly variable in their plumage before they reach adulthood, particularly on their undersides.  They can have a surprising amount of random white feathers scattered throughout. This one fact can help separate the identity of bald eagles from any other bird.  They don't develop the familiar white head and tail until their fourth or fifth year.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Second Thought...

At first glance, seagulls will attempt to eat anything they can wrap their bill around, but even they have their limits.  While it could have pulled this slimy American eel out of the river, a second after this image was taken, it dropped it and never looked back.  I have also seen great blue heron catch fish, then throw them back.  Who knew they are so picky?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

A lot of people don't realize this bird is indigenous to this area.  Cuckoo sounds like some kind of exotic bird, but they are found locally in wooded areas.  They are fond of caterpillars.  We have one around us this summer.  While we haven't seen it, I have heard it almost every day the last couple weeks.  It has a beautiful acoustic call which sounds like someone knocking on a small, hollow wooden box.  The yellow lower mandible and large white spots on the tail are good identifying markers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Target Acquired

Osprey will make a steep dive to reach the water quickly, but they catch their prey with their feet so they have to slow their descent once they reach the water.  A dive like this isn't used in every catch; just when they need to get there fast.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Stare

I have gotten this same shot numerous times, sometimes with fish, sometimes without.  I don't know if it is simple curiosity or what, but often at some point during the time I am filming ospreys, they will fly directly over my location and give me this look.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

King of the Skies

The bald eagle - king of the skies.  Not.  Often, when going about minding it's own business, it will be mobbed and harassed by crows or, as in this case, red-winged blackbirds.  I've seen them swarm an eagle while it was in the middle of a dive to get a fish, which must be very distracting.  And some of those birds must hurt because I have seen the eagles (and osprey) go through some amazing manuevers to avoid being pecked.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I have become enamored with this photo of a snowy egret I took a couple of weeks ago.  The chrystalline appearance of the water, the delicate feather detail, the glow coming off the sand, the slick zone where the snowy is standing - I just keep bringing it up and looking at it.  While it looked good in color, the sepia tone somehow made it look even better.  I may have to get this one printed large...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bug, Bath and Beyond

I'll be the first to admit, this is not a good picture.  On the other hand, it reveals an action that is pretty typical of a swallow, but probably not known to most people.  While they are whealing over the river catching bugs, they will routinely drop down and either skim the water with just their bill (drinking?) or actually perform a shallow dive (bathing?), and continue on their way.  In any case, it is over in a split second and they are back in the air, gathering bugs again.  They are among the fastest and most irratic flyers and are near impossible to keep a camera trained on in open flight. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Faux Infrared

The original photograph had disappointing color.  There are ways of producing an infrared-like look to a photograph in post production and this seemed a good candidate since the original had a strong green channel due to all the trees.  I was pleased with the outcome which, I think, communicates pretty well the generally peaceful environment of the great blue heron.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Surf and Turf

This snowy egret was fishing the Bay side of the marsh at North Beach over the weekend.  After it would catch a fish, it would bring it up on the beach so that if he dropped it, he wouldn't lose it.  Of course, they probably don't taste as good with sand all over them.  There was little color in the image to begin with, so I decided to convert it to black and white which embues it with more drama.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bringing Home the Bacon

This is the osprey nest just outside North Beach over the weekend.  Momma is bringing in a fish caught almost at the foot of the nest in the pond to her three young.  I didn't watch them all that long, but in that time, she and her mate brought three fish for the babies.  In fact, they were so sated, they seemed blase about eating another. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Unexpected

Few people go around expecting the unexpected.  It may be a clever phrase but only the crazy go around looking for the abnormal to be normal.  I glanced downriver one morning and saw a swan well out in the river slowly swimming around.  The photo is taken with a telephoto, so it appeared even further away to the naked eye - which is how my eyes usually are, by the way.  I'm pretty casual.  I haven't seen too many swans on the Patuxent, so despite it appearing very small in the frame, I continued to film.  Part of the reason was that I love the lighting on this particular stretch of shore and, at times, will photograph it even if nothing is going on.

It wasn't until I returned home and loaded the photographs into the computer that I discovered the swan was actually a great blue heron that had swam all the way from outside the frame on the right to outside the frame on the left, probably a couple hundred yards!  If you have ever seen an heron's toes, you would never expect such behavior.  That was one crazy heron!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Think its Going to be Alright

They should teach school lessons in song.  Haven't heard the song in (probably) forty years and still know the words.

I think its going to be alright.
Yeah, the worst is over now.
The summer sun is shining like a red rubber ball.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Similar Species

I thought I would post a photo of a cormorant today since there is a fleeting similarity with the common loon - at least from a distance.  They both ride very low in the water with their backs barely visible.  This gives both of their head silhouettes a very snake-like appearance.  They both dive and can hold their breath for an amazing length of time while they swim around hoping to run into a fish.  This photo shows one of three catfish the cormorant caught within a short length of time and, yes, it did swallow this fish.  If you see a cormorant diving, stick around until it resurfaces, because you may have a chance to see something most people dismiss as just a boring bird disappearing beneath the water.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tossin' 'em Back

After examining the photos I took of the common loon more closely, almost every one of it's catches turned out to be small blue crabs.  I didn't count them, but it was probably eight or nine that I recorded in about an hour.  In that time, he had caught others that I didn't film.  I swear it looks like he's smiling in this image.  Unlike almost every other bird, loons do not have hollow bones.  I was beginning to wonder how it was ever going to get off the ground.  Turns out, I needn't have worried.  It never flew in the span of time I watched.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Loosey Goosey

In this photo of the loon shaking the water from it's body, I just happened to catch the water streaming off it's bill.  It allows you to see how the loon, much like an owl, can turn it's head more than 180 degrees.  It would be equivalent to being able to rotate your head completely backwards and look directly behind you without turning anything but your head.  And it did this so fast, the water is shedding off in an arc!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fishing Success

The loon was very good at finding food, rivaling the snowy egrets I have seen at the marsh.  In the hour I watched it fish, it found something to eat on almost every dive.  It had two methods of finding fish.  The first was actually diving and looking around.  He was in three to five feet of water along the shore, so you could follow his movements by the disturbance of the water.  With the other method, he would simply swim around with his head underwater looking for fish.  In this photo, he has a small blue crab, one of several I saw him catch.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Uncommon Visitor

Common loons are a winter visitor to the area, but are usually back in the northern latitudes by this time of year.  I saw this male in breeding plumage a couple of days ago on the river.  He was surprisingly bold and not shy like you might think.  I watched him fish for over an hour very close to where I stood, then watched it spend the next hour preening and napping.  He was an impressive fisherman.  I'll post a couple more photos over the next few days...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Easy Meal?

Wave action was giving enough "life" to a dead fish (the white area behind the talons) that the osprey made a very slow approach so it could inspect it.  Once it realized the fish was dead, it rejected it and flew away.  This was the split second after passing the fish when it still wasn't completely convinced.  The talons are impressive!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I'll Get My Own

How amazing is that?  In the midst of chasing the osprey with it's fish, the eagle also was able to keep an eye on the river and break off the chase to capture it's own.  Now that's multitasking!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Breaking Off the Chase

In the midst of chasing the osprey around the marsh, the eagle suddenly pulled up and allowed the osprey to fly off with it's catch.  Filming a event like this is a little different than just observing the behavior.  As a photographer, priority has to be given to concentration on camera settings, focus, when to shoot, and the like.  If you become too engrossed in the action, you won't shoot anything.  So, it wasn't immediately apparent why the eagle broke off the chase.  That is a story for tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Chase

My internet was down since Saturday, thus no posts.  Here is another shot in the same series.  Osprey fairly often do drop the fish in these situations, but it isn't because they get rattled by the eagle.  They are able to out-manuever them quite easily.  The fish are slippery and keeping a grip for an extended period is not all that easy.  Dropping a fish is a lose-lose situation since I have never seen either bird able to recover one - even when it was dropped over land instead of water.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


A form of feeding in which one animal takes prey or other food from another that has done the work of catching.  The seagull silhouette image a few days ago was another instance of kleptoparasitism.  It is probably one of the reasons why Benjamin Franklin thought the wild turkey would make a better national symbol.

This photo allows a good comparison of the difference in wingspan between osprey and eagles.  In this particular instance, the eagle chased the osprey all over creation until something surprising occurred - which I'll post in the next day or two.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Its Impossible

Many waterfowl need to be able to run across the surface of the water to become airborne.  Birds like the cormorant have nice wide webbed feet to aid them in takeoffs.  The great blue heron, on the other hand, has three toes with no webbing and huge wings that have to lift an half-submerged body straight up out of the water.  Obviously, its physically impossible.