Sunday, May 31, 2015


All three ponds in Upper Marlboro are largely covered by a perennial lily-like plant called Spatterdock. In late winter, it was already emerging before the ice had even cleared the ponds. Their presence immediately tells you a pond is shallow since the stems do not exceed six feet in most cases.

Both the leaves and the inflorescence grow from rhizomes which sink their roots down into the mud. Some of the rhizomes are years and years old and can be as much as eight inches in diameter and fifteen feet or more long. This one in the center of the image is the size of a man's upper arm. They act almost as a landmass and the ducks will stand on them to preen and doze.

The small yellow flowers are inconspicuous and do not open much more than a buttercup blossom does.

Spatterdock makes a superb habitat for Wood Ducks since it is very good at concealing them from predators. How many ducks do you see in this photo? There are eight ducks that I can see. Four in the air and four along the edge of the spatterdock.  Once they drop down into the fields, they are almost impossible to spot.

The Wood Ducks swim in the open knowing that they can very quickly find cover if danger approaches.

I enlarged the last photo a little so that you could see the mother duck concealed within the stand of leaf stems on the left ahead of her brood. Notice too the turtle out in the middle.

Spatterdock provides habitat for other fish, birds and mammals as well. There is a female Red-winged black bird that has woven a nest among several spatterdock stems out in front of the spot where I often stand and photograph. When the wind is not blowing them around, you will occasionally see one leaf suddenly reel and pitch around where something like a beaver or carp has bumped into a stem. If the wind is blowing, they will all be moving around.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Diamond in the Rough

When I consider it, I am amazed that the Depot Pond, as it has come to be known, continues to exist. My wife and I first discovered it when we use to do a lot of fishing. That was thirty or more years ago, back before the Home Depot was even there. That red brick building in this photo in the sweet spot at the end of the pond are Sheriff's offices. It wasn't there at the time either. The pond itself, I estimate, is roughly five football fields in length or about five hundred yards long. I don't know how that would translate into acres. It is maybe 1-1/2 - 2 football fields wide.

It has probably survived because it is under wetlands protection. It's actual owner is unknown to me. I call it a diamond in the rough because there are a lot of industrial businesses surrounding the pond. In this image, Home Depot is behind me and this building on the far side of the pond is an insulation company.

A CSX train track runs along the edge of the pond, the sunny area in this photograph. It mainly carries coal to a power plant in southern Maryland. I chose the wrong polarizer to take these three images. I used a blue and gold polarizer which I really like, but I should have used a simple polarizer. Leaves facing left turned blue and those facing right turned gold.

It may look fairly rural from the first three images, but I assure you it is not. From this vantage point, you can see St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic church not too far away on the main road through the town of Upper Marlboro. Those tracks are right on the edge of the pond. Those dead trees are standing on the edge of a second, smaller pond called Boundary Pond on the other side of the tracks.

With such a nice view overlooking the pond, you would think the Sheriff's office would keep their blinds open. But, they probably can't see computer screens with the light coming in so the view is lost on them.

The level of noise can be high, but most of it doesn't seem to disturb the wildlife. Except for the train whistle. When a train approaches the crossing at the main road leading into town, they sound a long warning. That normally causes the birds to take flight and leave the area for a while. Notice it didn't bother the Great Blue Heron in the foreground, though.

Andrews AFB and PAX River are both close, so there is a fair amount of military traffic. This is a DC National Guard jet loaded for bear. It was one of three that passed over the pond a couple days ago.

I never knew this was possible until I saw this a couple days ago. I guess you better know what the train schedule is if you are driving this vehicle. There is also a concrete (sand and gravel) facility across the street from the pond where concrete trucks are constantly coming and going. There is always someone talking over a loudspeaker at that business. It sounds like something out of the book, 1984.

This is another view of the main road going into town from the pond. Believe it or not, Boundary Pond lies between the trees and the road. Plus, the western branch of the Patuxent River flows under that bridge. With the exception of the jet photo, everything in the remaining photos is in a flood plain that was underwater following Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. That white truck at the top of the hill may have been above the flood waters.

Despite all that activity, all the noise, all the traffic — the pond hosts an incredible diversity of birds and other wild life. There is a revitalization plan for the area which could impact the pond even more so than it already is affected. The plan has been around for a number of years and doesn't seem to have really gone anywhere, so maybe the pond can continue to thrive for years to come.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Turtles and Ducks

Turtles have an easily identified profile when they are in the water and emerge for air. It is more vertical than a frog coming up for air.

My wife and I were visiting ponds over the winter and in March, turtles started emerging from their long winter hibernation. There was still ice on the majority of this pond when I took the photo. Two other ponds within a mile of this one support similar populations of turtles.

What struck me is how well the turtles and ducks got along. Both seemed unconcerned by the presence of the other as demonstrated in this image. There are all kinds of turtles — coots, sliders, mud and painted turtles. I have yet to see a snapping turtle in one of these ponds.

Notice the turtle at the foot of this Canada Goose hauled out on a spatterdock rhizome. This also was in March. I was surprised to learn how early they come out of the mud.

There are five noses sticking up out of the duck weed in this image I took a few days ago, giving you some idea of how many I have been seeing lately.

I happened to see this Wood Duck preening the other morning between two turtles. The one on the right is as big as she is! It just surprises me that an amphibian and fowl appear to co-exist peacefully.

If you look closely, you will see a turtle head poked out in front of the duckling that is raised up out of the water. The mother duck is just to the right out of the picture, but was completely unconcerned by the close proximity of the turtle. I know snapping turtles will eat baby ducks as will snakes. I haven't seen either at this pond.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Black-backed Night Herons

I have been concentrating my photographic efforts on a pond in Upper Marlboro, heavily frequented by Wood Ducks this time of year. I counted thirty adults in one spot a few mornings ago — and those were just the ones I could see!

While standing at one end of the pond, I saw a heron at the other end of the pond that I did not recognize. It had body characteristics similar to Green Heron (which I have also seen there on each visit), but differed in other markings, including color.

They proved to be Black-crowned Night Herons, which are found world-wide and which are suppose to be fairly common in the U. S. Despite that fact, I have never seen one until the past week. The closest I have come is having seen juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a similar species, numerous times. There again, however, I have never seen an adult bird.

I have always chalked it up to the fact that they are nocturnal, which is why they are termed night herons. The two I have been seeing at the pond, though, seem to be fairly active in daytime.

They are relatively wary birds. Not much had been happening at the end of the pond where I had started out on this recent morning and I happened to see one of the night herons at the other end of the pond near the sheriff's offices (first image). It is farther than it looks. Remember, I am using a 400 mm telephoto lens.

I decided to move down there to see if I could get better images of them. I am not sure why they seem to prefer the micro habitat at that end of the pond, but over a week, I have never seen them up at the other end of the pond.

It doesn't have anything to do with water depth. The entire pond is quite shallow and I doubt you could find a three foot deep hole anywhere in it. So, that isn't it. Maybe there are better logs and branches to hunt from up at that end, although I would also dispute that observation.

As soon as I came down the bank at that end of the pond, they both vacated the area. That is when I was able to take the second and third pictures. I set up and waited, pretty confident they would eventually return. And, sure enough, about an hour later, they flew back in. They are both in breeding colors and if you look carefully in some of the photos, you will see that the bird on the left has long hind neck plumes. The other one does not appear to have them. That may be a male/female distinction; I don't know. The bird books I look at don't show any difference between male and female.

It seems to me they should have been named Black-backed Night Herons because, at a distance, the pattern of their back makes them easy to identify. (Were those Black-crowned Night Herons? I don't know; I couldn't make out the pattern on the crown of their heads.) There is no other heron with a similar black back. They have all the typical characteristics of some of the smaller wading herons — stocky neck, short legs with long toes, and short tail.

In this last photo, you may notice the heron is gossiping with a couple of turtles about the latest pond news. They may be discussing why I keep showing up. This pond is loaded with turtles too. They are everywhere you look. I haven't seen any snappers, however, and neither have I seen any snn...snn...naakes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Help Identifying A Duck

I was at a local pond on a recent early morning because I knew Wood Ducks were present in large numbers. True to form, at one point I counted thirty within sight of where I stood. We all know "you have to make hay while the sun shines," and this time of year is the best chance to see large numbers of this duck species.

While ducks were coming and going, I took the above photo of what I thought at the time was a female Wood Duck. When I am taking photos — and I can't speak for anyone else — I am too busy tracking the bird and trying to nail focus to stop and study the subject in much detail. "Shoot first and ask questions later," is my motto.

Afterward, I realized the duck had no eye ring like a female Wood Duck, but neither could I identify it as any duck I had ever seen before. What to do?

When I got home, I went to the American Birding Association website where people can post news about birds they have seen. I posted a message asking if any of the members could identify the duck I had seen earlier in the day. I tried to post a photo with the message, but it wouldn't work, so I posted the picture to my blog along with a couple others and gave the address so people could go there to see the bird.

People are amazing! Within minutes, I received several emails identifying the bird and the reasons why people thought it was that particular bird.

Most people agreed it was a Hooded Merganser. I had seen Hooded Mergansers numerous times over the winter at two other ponds very close to this pond, but never at this pond. I don't know if there was a change in plumage since the winter months, but those females looked very different to me. The female is on the right and her mate is on the left in this photo.

The nice thing about the blog site I use is that you can view a report of activity for a specific post. I was amazed to find that 268 people had viewed the photos of the unidentified duck in the day since! Plus, there was a total of 360 page views for the day, so some people must have also looked at other pages. That is much higher traffic than I have ever gotten from my blog. I would just like to thank all those who helped me identify this duck.

To see the other photos of the duck, see the blog entry entitled, "Unidentified Duck." The American Birding Association site is: ABA's Birding News >> Maryland - DC. To see news about local bird sightings, go to:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Feathering the Nest

Even when a bird is not actively molting, they lose an occasional feather when they preen themselves. You can see a feather on the water's surface in this photo of the Mute Swan.

I happened to be watching a tree swallow chasing bugs over the pond when she swooped down and picked a feather from the surface of the water.

She did not have a good hold on it, though, and a breeze took it away.

She quickly caught up to it and got a hold on it. They are such good aerialists. I have seen them actually feeding their babies while flying!

Once she gained a good hold on it, it was off to the nest (I presume) to add it to the soft interior. Swallows are devilishly hard to film for a couple of reasons. First, they are extremely fast and, too, they change directions so often it is hard to track them with a camera.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Unidentified Duck

These four images were taken this morning, May 25, 2015, at the Depot Pond (East) in Upper Marlboro.

I had been taking photos of numerous Wood Duck pair as they came and went. I thought this was a Wood Duck while I was shooting. I was concentrating on focus and tracking, so I wasn't really looking at the bird so much.

Much like the Woodies, she made a pass or two to make sure everything was safe before attempting to land. It wasn't until afterward, I realized there was no eye ring and took a better look at it.

Then, like a Wood Duck, she landed in a tree. I didn't see the actual landing because she ended up on the far side of an oak tree, but I am pretty sure that is what she did.  If it is not a female Redhead, I am out of guesses myself. Can anyone identify the bird confidently? If you click on the pictures, you will see a larger image.

Ducks in Trees

Even when you know Wood Ducks nest in trees, it is a little weird to see them perched in trees. The male is the upper bird and the lower one is the female.

Towards the end of winter when most duck species were again heading north, I began to see quite a few Wood Ducks at this one pond. I thought I would come back and check it out in spring to see if the Wood Ducks stayed to nest. Wood Ducks do not normally migrate in this area.

I was surprised by the number of ducks I saw on this outing. There were actually five ducks in this tree when I took this photograph, but I couldn't get them all in with my fixed lens.

The duck on the lower branch kept pacing up and down the branch. All birds display hierarchy which is so common among bird species it was given the name pecking order.

For whatever reason, the bird on the right wanted the spot where the other one was perched.

He flew in and bumped the other bird from the perch. Sometimes they won't haze and the aggressor has to find another place to land.

It wasn't until I saw this picture that I began to understand why the male may have been so agitated. There is a female in the upper right of the photo that is probably the mate of the one that was the aggressor. He probably didn't want this male that close to her.