Friday, July 31, 2015

The Smorgasbug

At the pond recently, I spotted a Wood Duck which appeared to be a little young-of-the-year male. He snuck up pretty close to me without me noticing him. I don't think he noticed me. At least he didn't act like it.

If you look at this photo and the next, you can see what looks like rice scattered around the images. Those are actually some type of small fly that tend to stay under the leaves. The number of insects surprised me since I have never been bothered by flies while standing there.

The attrition rate for these broods of Wood Duck chicks must be very high. They can swim within a day of hatching and early in the season, I saw families of as many as ten or twelve following the mother duck through the spadderdock. By this point in the season, however, all you see are single almost-grown chicks or perhaps two swimming together.

In this image and the last, you can also see drops of water falling. What was happening was the duck would glide from one group of pads to another and at each, it would bump the stem of the leaves. This caused both the insects to fly and the dew that had accumulated in the cup just above the stem of the leaf to pour out.

I am not sure if this duck can fly even at this late stage in it's development. Until they can fly, the chicks tend to stay out in the middle of the pond hidden among the lily pads. So, what preys on them and reduces their numbers so drastically? My guess is big carp. Osprey can prey on chicks, but I don't think it is very common. I have never seen it personally, but one time when my wife and I were fishing, she witnessed an Osprey take a duckling. That doesn't leave too many alternatives and I have heard (and seen) some really large splashes caused by fish from time to time.

Here is an example of what I am talking about. I took this photo back in April. The mother and her brood of nine chicks are about to swim through an area where (probably) a carp is thrashing around in the water. It may be spawning, but you can see the break in the duck weed where it had broken the surface and you can see it's dorsal fin sticking up out of the water like a shark fin. At the time, I was thinking that mother wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.

I thought at first the young duck was trying to eat some of those small flies, but I changed my mind after seeing what it was doing in this photo. He was looking for dragonflies and knew he could get them to fly by bumping the leaf stems.

Smart little duck. You can see dragonfly wings hanging out of it's bill a second later.

Many young birds can look somewhat dissimilar from adult versions of their species. Female Wood Ducks have a teardrop-shaped white eye ring which this bird lacks. Males, on the other hand, have a noticeable white line extending from the jaw up towards the back of the eye which this one has. That is why I think it is a male.

I have been hoping for a couple of month to have a Wood Duck swim in this close. He actually swam through the area close on two different occasions, so I was pleased.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Right Light

I have numerous photographs of this same spot. When I am standing there filming birds and the sunlight falls on this spot perfectly, I cannot ignore it. Even though I have many other photos, the light can be very different from one to another. That is how I justify taking at least one more image. So, you may have seen this spot before, but I can guarantee you have never seen it quite like this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Just Like a Kid

This is the view the birds get to look at on the river where they live.

Here, one of the chicks is practicing his newfound flying and hunting skills. Notice all the rose mallows in bloom along the far shore.

With not much going on, the young Osprey appeared to settle upon harassing a Great Blue Heron that was minding it's own business fishing.

I once watched a young eagle fly above a Great Blue Heron over and over again as it was searching along the shore for the remains of a meal it had eaten earlier in the morning. From what I have read, eagles have been known to occasionally try to attack Great Blue Herons. The eagle didn't seem to stress the heron on that morning, however. Not so with this Osprey. The distance makes the detail a little hard to see, but the heron has his crown raised and his mouth open and he doesn't want to be teased. After circling a couple of times, the Osprey left him alone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Family Life

Once the chicks reach almost adult size, the parents will give them more space while still keeping an eye on them. They will take to perching on a limb that is within the line of sight of the nest. In the case of the nest I watch on the Patuxent River, they retire to a favorite limb on a nearby sycamore tree. The female has recently been in the water and is drying her wings while the male has his eye on the water below looking for a fish.

The male spots a fish and, with encouragement from the female, dives down to try and catch it.

This chick is not easily distinguished from an adult — at least, not by it's size. When they reach this size, the parents will allow them to sleep in the nestbox by themselves. I was able to take this photo of outstretched wings just as the sun was cresting the horizon.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Morning At Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens 2

I hope you won't mind me spending another day with the water lilies. I was like a pig in a puddle at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Every where you turn, the eyes are assaulted by gorgeous flowers.

It wasn't just the Sacred Lilies. The other water lilies seemed to be exceptionally nice this year — and there seemed to be more blooms than other years I have been there. There are no labels on the pond so it is hard to know their individual names, but it doesn't lessen their beauty.

Here is another pink beauty.

This is a guy with a lot of courage. I mean, would you be willing to paint a picture with people constantly passing by and watching? This type of painting is called "En plein air," which is a French expression meaning "in the open air" and used to describe the act of painting outdoors. I had never seen anyone painting there before.

This is one of my favorites from the trip. The Lotus blossom fairly glows and I like the silhouette of the seed pod in the background and the two buds just beginning to open. If we have another low humidity day in the next couple weeks, I may just go back one more time. By then, there will be all new blossoms.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Morning At Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The weatherman was predicting a gorgeous day with low humidity and comfortable temperatures, so my wife and I decided it might a good day to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. And it was! It is a very difficult place to take pictures because you feel like photographing every flower you see. And they are all so beautiful! There were Rose Mallows blooming all over in a variety of colors. Their blooming season is also at its height right now. I liked the way this one was lit.

If you like Sacred Lilies, you will go nuts in this place. There are ponds stretching out like Dutch tulip fields full of Lotus blooms. They are also at their peak and should last for another two or three weeks.

All the ponds have plantings of native bushes and flowers around their edges. Rose Mallow, Hibiscus, Button Bush and Purple Loosestrife such as pictured here are common plantings. Loosestrife is considered a weed, but it is a beautiful weed.

The centers of the Lotus start out in one of the most beautiful yellow colors I have ever seen. Eventually, the petals fade from reddish-pink to a light yellow-white and finally fall off. It leaves the center cup standing alone.

Here is one of the seed heads after the petals have fallen away. In time, the entire head dries out and turns brown. They kind of look like a salt or pepper shaker. I imagine they can be used for decorative purposes. I'm not sure if the seeds would produce more lotus plants or not. If you live locally, I encourage you to visit the park. It opens at dawn and is relatively easy to find with gps or a map.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

We Must Maintain Order

Birds take pecking order to an extreme. Ask anyone who owns chickens. "Pecking order" is a term describing the hierarchy of dominance in a grouping, which is particularly conspicuous among birds. We see it at our bird feeder all the time where there is a certain order of birds which will claim priority over other birds when they appear. The behavior crosses species lines. In other words, a bird of one species will bump a bird of another species as well as it's own kind. Often, it has to do with size, with larger birds bumping smaller ones off.

The Osprey entering into this branch where two siblings are perched is using a technique I call 'hazing' in an attempt to dislodge one of it's siblings and take it's spot. It is kind of like a game of chicken. They will fly in as though the spot is empty and pretend they are going to land to see if they can induce the bird already in the spot to fly. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. The first image is amusing if you look at their eyes as I can just imagine the bird on the left saying to the other, "Don't let him in, Allen."

And, they didn't let the sibling land. The "intruder" returned to the nestbox and sat there alone. This behavior doesn't seem very polite but it seems to be hardwired into their genes. Maybe this kind of behavior helps to disperse the species over a wider area resulting in less chance of starvation due to overcrowding.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Food, Glorious Food

I thought this image was perfect for a little joke about hearing. I keep asking my wife to repeat herself. I don't know if I'm losing my hearing or she has a secret plan for driving me insane. But, she accuses me of the same plan when I ask her to repeat something for the third time.

The chicks from the current year's brood begin to fly towards the end of July. From then until the adults leave in the early fall, the parents will supplement the fish the chicks are able to catch. In this photo, the adult male has returned with what appears to be an eel. He will swing back around and drop it in the nestbox.

There is no hesitation on the part of the chick who snatches it up and flies off to eat it.

Once they begin to fly, they almost prefer to fly to a tree to eat unharassed by siblings.

The female parent looked as though she was going to return to the nest to feed this small fish to her offspring, but it disappeared before she got there. I think she was so famished, she decided to eat it herself, which she did on the fly.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Patuxent River Morning

One of the aspects that make the place on the Patuxent where I film ideal is the relationship of sunrise and the direction of the river. The sun rises behind the camera, perpendicular to the flow of the river, so there is plenty of light on the subject more often than not — unless a wing shadow gets in the way.

Most mornings, there are other people enjoying the river. Some are simply walking; others are walking their dog(s). The road is part of a popular (and fairly safe) route for bicyclists. One guy drives his Labrador down to the river once in a while just to let it enjoy a swim while fetching sticks.

It is strange. I stand out in the open, mostly on a dock. Boats go by all the time yet hardly anyone will see me standing there. I have taken a lot of photographs of boats in various weather conditions. This one was taken before the sun was up. I like the way the boat and the people kind of jump right out of the dark background.

Two of the Osprey chicks enjoying the freedom to practice flight and change their view any time they want now that they can fly.

Here is a near-perfect example of the sun to subject relationship. This Osprey could not have been any better lit in a studio. I love this shot — even if I do say so myself. I don't say that to brag. It is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and having the right equipment for the task.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Attempted Fratricide

Even though I stand close enough to hear and despite what it looks like, no audible conversation is occuring between the two Osprey siblings. And yet, somehow, they appear to be communicating. Is it simply through body language? I have my doubts. It would not surprise me if experts learn at some future time that there is a mechanism for communication that was only just discovered. After all, it has only been in recent times that scientists found elephants can communicate across miles at a frequency that the human ear cannot detect. The bird on the left is a female. I believe the one on the right to be a male. You can see the two of them seemed to understand each other even if I did not.

The male suddenly got right in the female's face. You can see in her eyes that she did not expect the aggressive behavior.

It was fight or flight and she chose to fly in a split second decision that no doubt saved her being injured at minimum.

The way in which the male's talons are extended is the same posture as when they are about to grab onto a fish in the water. Some birds, such as the not particularly admired crow, live in extended families with inherent advantages. That is not true of Osprey and this type of aggression may help to encourage the birds to disperse.

The dispute continued for quite a while after they flew from the nestbox. Once airborne, it is much easier for the female to avoid the other bird.

The legs extended downward and the talons extended outward demonstrate that he would do bodily harm if he could.

The female managed to evade the sibling until he finally tired of the chase. The female did end up leaving soon after and I never saw three birds (the total number of nestlings) at the same time after that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Nasties

The word 'nastic' is a term having to do with movement. It is the same term used to make up the word "gymnastic." Nastic movements are usually a response to something in the environment, light (photonasty) or water (hydronasty) or chemicals (chemonasty) or temperature (thermonasty), among others.

Many, if not most, water lilies are subject to nyctinasty, which are movements in response to the onset of night or the dark. This time of year, I usually plan a trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, run by the Park Service on the edge of the Anacostia River in Washington. It doesn't pay to arrive too early in the morning, however, because most water lilies remain closed until the sun touches them.

My wife has a little pot pond on the deck with one goldfish that survived the winter and a lily which we bought early in the spring. It flowers and exhibits nyctinasty behavior, opening after the sun is well up and closing again by mid afternoon.

The movements are caused by a specific type of tissue in the base of the leaves that are subject to circadian rhythms. The native plant, bloodroot, exhibits this same behavior.

The first time I became aware of it was while I was filming bloodroot blossoms. When I first arrived at the bank in the woods where I had discovered them, the blooms were all closed.

When the sunlight touched them, however, you could actually watch them open almost like watching a time-lapse film. They would go from completely closed to fully open in no more than a minute. Like little diamonds, God's creation holds so many fascinating facets!

Monday, July 20, 2015

To Build a Bird 2

These photographs are a continuation of yesterday's post in which a Great Blue Heron (GBH) appeared to be building a nest. There were too many photographs to include in one post.

This may be the way a colony gets it's start. GBH's normally nest in rookeries or heronries, probably as a means of looking out for common dangers such as predators.

Both parents participate in incubating eggs and feeding chicks.

The largest heron chick will often grow stronger at the expense of it's siblings. It will out-compete for food and will sometimes push younger, weaker chicks out of the nest.

Notice how the GBH is using dead branches from the tree it is standing on. It is an ideal tree because smaller branches that could damage wing feathers are absent.

The nesting season is well past, so the question is, Is he/she looking forward to the next year? Osprey also seem to be forward thinking and will continue to build up the nest even after the chicks have grown and flown.

After some time, it appeared the GBH had a change of heart.

It appeared to begin construction on a second nest higher up in the same tree.

After placing only a couple of sticks, it abandoned the entire endeavor. It remains to be seen whether anything will ever come of this nest building activity.