Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Heron and the Turtle 2

How the Green Heron handled the turtle problem in the last post wasn't the first incident involving herons and turtles I had witnessed. A Great Blue Heron a few days earlier encountered the same kind of obstacle course — except there were more turtles.

He walked up the log and stopped. You could almost hear him thinking. I was really interested in seeing how he was going to solve the problem of reaching the other end of the log.

After giving it a moment's consideration , it is as though he thought, "Oh, what the heck," and stepped over the first turtle and onto the back of the second.

The first turtle slipped off the log but
the one he stepped on held it's ground.

The Great Blue Heron just kept walking.

"Move on. Nothing to see here."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Heron and the Turtle

Even though it is all one pond, it is much more likely you will see herons at one end rather than the other. I am not sure why. I have wanted the opportunity to film Green Herons for quite some time and this pond has several. It is not obvious from this photo, but there is a large turtle on the log next to where the heron landed. It's back is covered in duckweed, which camouflages him very nicely.

I thought I was seeing things at first, but the heron appeared to be stabbing at the air. Then I realized it was eating (or at least trying to catch) dragon flies that were buzzing around it's head. If you look closely in a couple of the pictures you can see them.

Actually, if you look again, the log is not really a log. It is one of the rhizomes  out of which the spatterdock grows. Some of these "logs" are twenty or more feet long and as big around as dinner plates. You can see a root laying across the rhizome over on the left looking like a garden hose. Maybe it is a root or perhaps it is a leaf stem. I'm not sure.

So, the heron decides the fishing is probably better at the other end of the log, but the turtle is in the way. You can almost hear him thinking. What to do? What to do? It doesn't appear that flying as an answer ever crossed it's mind.

Apologizing vociferously, the heron somehow found room to squeeze by the turtle.

Whew! Made it. Notice there are a number of other turtle heads sticking up out of the water. That pond is full of turtles. Big turtles. I never realized that turtles like the Red-eared Sliders and Red-bellied Cooters I've seen here could even get that big.

You can almost see him get his confidence back as he moves down to the end to return to fishing.

While he is standing there, another denizen of the pond, a muskrat, swims by. I just happened to have seen it earlier out in the middle of the pond. I am always surprised by the things that can be seen just by quietly sitting on the edge of a pond.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On A Recent Morning

I looked up and just happened to see this female Wood Duck slipping through the spatterdock. I think she may have seen me first. It is so easy for them to slip under the leaves and disappear from sight like ghosts.

Using another animal as a size comparison doesn't always work. Case in point. You might think that is a fairly small Green Heron, but you would be wrong. That is a very large turtle. The turtle is a Red-eared Slider and, surprisingly, it not native to Maryland. They were introduced by mothers releasing their children's turtles into the wild after they have grown tired of them.

Smaller song birds care not a whit whether an Osprey or Eagle is in the middle of a hunt. They just want them out of their territory. So, even though this Osprey had no interest in the King Bird's nest and, in reality, was simply trying to catch breakfast, it was chased mercilessly.

I have read that Mute Swans are very aggressive toward other birds, but I no longer believe it. Yes, I have seen this swan go after Canada Geese a number of times and she absolutely will not tolerate one on 'her' pond, but that is the only species of bird I have seen her act aggressively towards. First, I was very surprised to see her and a Black-crowned Night Heron chatting pleasantly a week earlier in this same spot and then I saw this scene on a recent morning. She was surrounded by three male Mallards (which are not all visible in this picture), dozing and preening while baby Wood Ducks swam past her unconcerned for their safety. She may have been wrongly accused of having a short temper.

I was fishing Little Seneca Creek in Montgomery Co. years ago when I received an astounding lesson about fish. The lateral line is a sense organ found in fish, used to detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water. I came to a fairly large pool and very stealthily slipped my foot into the water. Despite not making a ripple, I saw fish scatter in every direction. That is how sensitive they are to pressure/sound.

Since I don't move around much when I am photographing birds, I often see fish like this carp. I think it was grazing on the duck weed. Just before this — and this was right at my feet, so it was too close to photograph — a fish pushed itself up out of the water and came to rest with it's chin right at the very edge of the water. I thought it was about five or six inches long and the upper half of it's body was above the water's surface. After a moment, it lunged forward onto the shore using it's tail to go after a fly and I realized it was closer to a foot long. I don't know what species of fish it was, but who would have thought they behave like this? If I had been moving around, I would never have seen it do this.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Trying to Make the Best of a Bad Situation

The earlier or later in the day you take pictures, the more important the position of the sun becomes to your photographs. Photographing outdoors is at its best in the "golden" hours near dawn and dusk — although the time is not actually an "hour" but a period.

Having the sun at your back means the subject out in front of you will benefit from an abundance of sunlight and few shadows. Facing into the sun, on the other hand, means fighting the high contrast of a well-lit background and a subject in shadows. Photographing a subject with highly reflective water only makes it that much more challenging.

By embracing the problem of shadows in the first image, I was able to create something more memorable perhaps than if I had tried to overcome the shadows. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when using this technique. You want the silhouette to be recognizable so, based on the subject, you'll want to consider the angle that best accomplishes that. Perhaps you may have to wait for the subject to simply turn slightly. Another point to keep in mind is that an animal's fur or feathers can further enhance a photo by creating an interesting rim light.

The second photo represents an attempt to do the opposite; to open up or reveal the parts of the image that were in shadow. Whether the background is set against the sky or water the result will be the same: the obliteration of any detail in the brightest parts of the image. In this image, I liked the "each duck is an island" type effect it had.

By waiting for the ducks to move away from alignment with the sun, the contrast lessens and details in the water and reflections can be incorporated into the image. These photos were all taken at the marsh outside North Beach on the same early morning, a period when birds and other animals are more active. Unfortunately, the park the town built is on the wrong side of the marsh for good early morning photography since you are facing into the sun.

Conditions improve as you turn away and the angle between the sun and your subject increases. This photograph was taken with the sun closer to ninety degrees to my left increasing the options for what can be done with the light. Here, what cannot be seen actually increases the interest of the image in the same way as saying what something is not also informs you about what something is.

Here is another photograph from the same morning where I was able to take advantage of cross lighting to capture an image of a male Downy Woodpecker in a more environmental type shot. The bird doesn't always have to fill the frame. Sometimes showing more of the environment yields a more interesting image. Lighting conditions even allowed me to render the sky as blue rather than a blown out white. A glint in the eye also makes an animal appear more alive.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Caught in the Act

I thought I had seen it all with Osprey. I have been watching them pretty closely for almost a decade. But, the other day I saw one do this and I have never seen one act like this before.

It was drying its wings out. Vultures routinely do something similar.

It must have set the cycle on fluff dry.

Odd thing was, just a couple weeks earlier, I had seen a Great Blue Heron do the same type of thing. I had never seen one do this either. I am fairly sure it was sun bathing, something many species of birds do. I didn't hear it making any sound but I could see its throat vibrating rapidly. I'm not sure what that was all about.

Anyway, returning to the Osprey, I didn't realize it was multitasking. As it sat there drying out, it was also scanning the pond's surface looking for fish activity. Sure enough, it took off after only a few minutes.

Most of the time, they spot fish while soaring, circling or hovering over the pond. It isn't too often you see them spot a fish while perched in a tree.

I was impressed. The Osprey had seen this fish from what I would estimate was almost the length of a football field away. I am not sure what type of fish it was; I am thinking a carp of some kind.

The other thing that impresses me is that there is enough fish in this pond to support all the birds I see hunting there.

I see Osprey, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and Black-crowned Night Herons all catching fish on a daily basis. I would not have thought there was that great a population of fish in this pond.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Maryland Geese

If a goose never returns to Canada, does it deserve to be called a Canada Goose? I don't know how you tell the difference, but I think there are even two separate hunting seasons in Maryland for nonmigratory and migratory Canada Geese.

If you are a photographer taking group shots, you can organize the people in a pleasing arrangement before you shoot. Out in the wild, you have to take what you get. Once in a wild (pun intended), they arrange themselves exactly as you might have. This pyramidal grouping gives a nice broad base, implying family stability. That is my take on it anyway.

Here is another similar pyramidal arrangement. Oddly, it doesn't even seem to matter that the head of the adult in the lead isn't in the image. That is another piece of advice I would give a new photographer. Don't make assumptions about what is essential to a photograph. You would be surprised what can be left out at times.

I learned that by shooting from the hip; taking photos without looking through the viewfinder. Simply pointing the camera and pressing the shutter can produce some very dynamic, off kilter and interesting results.

There were about twenty geese, but only one pair had any goslings. Even at this young age and small size they wear huge boots. I named the one in the middle Miley Cyrus.

There are few animals that will so readily form lines as a goose — except maybe a Wildebeest. Think of how they fly in V's. They learn it early on as you can see here. Or maybe it is in their genes. If I had to guess, I would say the first goose is the female and the last is the male. The male is on constant alert in the interest of protecting his family. My guess is that the tallest goose in the first image is also the male.

All the other "childless" geese stayed out in open water, but the parents decided to take the babies into the spatterdock to either hide or rest. These goslings had to have been born close by because their wings are underdeveloped and they cannot yet fly. It will be two or more months before they can take to the air.

Here they are, slipping into the spatterdock. You can see the rear adult (or is it, the adult rear?) over on the right. If you look carefully, you can see the head of the lead adult over on the left of the photo. The spatterdock provides excellent cover from predators.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Schoolhouse Pond

It is not quite Minnesota with it's thousand lakes, but I don't know of any other place in Maryland where you can find three ponds in such close proximity. On May 30th, I wrote "A Diamond in the Rough," a blog describing the Depot Pond. In it, there was a picture of  St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. Schoolhouse Pond can be found directly behind the church at the bottom of the hill. It is a more developed pond and the Park Service has oversight of it's care.

I have wanted to revisit the idea of abstract reflections produced by focusing on the boardwalk ever since February. I am fascinated by water and the ever-changing reflections they produce.

This reflection image with a sleeping Mallard was taken at this pond back in February. All the other images in this post were taken over the past weekend on an early, very steamy morning.

I think swallows and swifts are pretty cool birds. Barn Swallows can be found throughout the country. Notice how long the feather is on it's forked tail. These are apparently pretty use to people walking around the pond.

I am a sucker for Canada Geese — although "Canada" may be a misnomer. The combination of geese and the lovely water reflections was more than I could resist. I was looking for more abstract groupings of geese. While there was a general dearth of birds to film, the geese at least were accommodating.

For those who don't live in the area, Prince Georges County is one of the largest and most populous counties in Maryland. The town of Upper Marlboro is the government seat despite the fact that the population of the town itself is relatively small. This administration building faces Schoolhouse Pond. I took this photo from the back side of the pond with the telephoto. It is all the building I could squeeze into the frame, but you get the idea. The pond is not in the middle of nowhere.

There is a path all the way around the perimeter of the pond. The start at either end is an inviting boardwalk, which becomes an asphalt path on the back side of the pond where it wanders through a wooded section. This photo shows the entrance to one end of the boardwalk.

There is not nearly the variety of birds there now that there were over the winter, but it is still a good place to see unusual birds. Fishing is also allowed, but I am not too confident it is very good. I did see what appeared to be a carp near the surface on this visit. I don't know if it was feeding or just gasping for air.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Recent Photos

Here are a few images from a recent early morning trip to the pond. I wonder if the swan ever gets restless or lonely. You would think she would want to be with others of her kind. I knew of a Sandhill Crane that spent several years alone locally and seemed perfectly content to have it that way. You see the white feather over on the right? She swam over to it, picked it up, dropped it after examining it and swam off. Is she bored or what?

I happened to see one of the Black-crowned Night Herons fly the length of the pond and land in a tangle. I'm not going to be the one to suggest their circadian clock might be off and they should be sleeping in the daytime. I do think they are active until about mid morning or so.

Almost every time I have been to the pond, I see a Green Heron or two, but I have yet to see them at a very close distance. They have a rather loud one-note squawk which is often my first indication they are near. I may do a blog in the near future on them.

It wasn't close, but this Red-bellied Woodpecker caught my interest on two visits. On both, I saw it land on this same dead tree and, when I looked closely, both times it had something round in it's bill. I would guess a nut of some kind, but it is too early in the season. In any case, both times it was heading in the same direction which I imagine is a tree cavity with a young family of chicks to feed.

Many of the male ducks are beginning to look raggedy as they molt into their nonbreeding colors. The beautiful green crest is gone as well as most of the other bright ornamental breeding colors. Even the red around the base of the bill has disappeared on this male. They reacquire their breeding colors again around October.

It isn't too difficult to figure out when a field trip has been fairly uneventful. I come back with off-topic photos of other things that catch my eye. Often, it is because of the way the light is being cast.