Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bring in the Professionals

In all the years we have owned homes, the tree damage (see yesterday's blog) was the first time we had ever made a claim. The insurance company suggested a professional tree company to remove the fallen trees. They had to be removed before the insurance claim agent could even survey the damage. In talking to the foreman, he related that they have a safety meeting every morning before working to make sure everyone has their head in the game. They even keep track of how many days have passed since the last accident and reward the crew with things like dinner at a restaurant when they reach milestones.

These guys were terrific. If you live locally and want the name of a good company, let me know. I'd be happy to recommend them. They made safety their first priority and respect for our property their second. I don't think they took more than four hours to complete the clean up. I was taking pictures from the second floor to stay out of their way and for a better perspective.

I was in awe of their chipping equipment and the little guys hauling the pieces away.

I think I found a cure for insomnia.

That is the log from the last picture being shot into the back of the truck. I didn't know you could chip logs that large! They chipped those entire trees into the back of two trucks, leaving only the base of the trees.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Disturbance in the Force

Back in June, we had a thunderstorm come through in the evening which didn't seem too different than many others we have had. Except that this one had some straight line winds in front of it that just happened to be blowing in the right direction to fell two fairly large trees in our yard.

I suspect one of the tulip poplars started to fall and took the second with it. Fortunately, they fell across the back of the house and not on the house — although they did some damage to shingles, siding and the gutter.

It could have been so much worse than it was. My wife was sitting at her computer just on the other side of the door on the right. They missed her by a little less than twenty feet. The trees missed the little fish pond in the foreground and didn't damage the glass table despite landing directly on it. It even missed a hummingbird feeder hanging in front of that window. Out of all the stuff on the back deck, two chairs had to be thrown out.

It did not damage the decking itself, but it did take out about half the railing around the deck. When I think of all the families who have lost homes this summer in the California wild fires, I consider myself very fortunate.

Monday, September 28, 2015

They Didn't Make the Cut 2

Some Great Blue Herons migrate, like snowbirds heading to Florida for the winter. Others would just as soon stick it out. I'm not sure why, because the ones that do stay, always look miserable, like they hadn't eaten a good meal in days. And, yes, this one is standing on ice.

I discovered an aerie last winter. Other people knew it was there, but the weird experience of seeing an eagle on the ground, to begin with, on two different occasions two weeks apart, made me stop and consider why I would see such a thing. You just don't see them on the ground that often. It turned out the Eagle was gathering hay for the interior of the nest.

If it had just been the geese, I wouldn't have bothered. But, it was that golden sunshine in conjunction with the geese that I couldn't resist. I remember where I took this and, come this winter, I am going to look for another opportunity to incorporate that sunlight.

Some people hate winter; I don't mind it so much. This was one of several storms last winter that dropped a few inches of snow. Our driveway is a little longer than a football field. Go out for a pass.

Snow I don't mind; ice I hate to see. The winter just before we moved here, the county experienced an ice storm that took two weeks to recover from. There were trees down all over the place and travel was almost impossible. We still have large trees around us that got bent over with ice that were never able to straighten back up, so instead of growing up, they grew sideways.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

They Didn't Make the Cut

Since I am taking a couple of weeks off from actively shooting, but I still wanted to keep up with the blog, I decided to sort back through some of the photos I shot earlier this year and post some that never made it into the blog for one reason or another.

I am a sucker for geese and I particularly like this spot for shooting them. I can shoot from the side of the road, there is a vernal pool that attracts the geese and their habitual flight path takes them right past me. What's not to like?

I don't always have to leave home to find birds. We are so fortunate to live in a house surrounded by woods. By offering water and seeds, we benefit from a constant show of a variety of birds. We always have a dove or two hoping to find some corn under the feeder. I can't fathom how someone can shoot these sweet birds. I'm not knocking hunting. I just personally could not shoot doves.

Here is another occasional visitor to our yard, appearing mostly in winter. I would not have been surprised if it was called the Harlequin Woodpecker and you can see why. But, no, it is called a Northern or (in the East) a Yellow-shafted Flicker. The mustache marks this one as a male. The beautiful golden yellow is also found under it's wings. I finally figured out the reason for him hanging out in space like that was because he was trying to eat the wild grapes that can be seen in front of his tail area.

I know, call me "sucker." I love the way waterfowl use their feet as rudders and brakes when they are coming in to land. Additionally, wing and tail feathers are all working together to bring them to a "softish" landing. (Why is spell checker flagging "softish?" If it is not a word, it ought to be...)

Can you believe this one didn't make the cut? What's not to like? This is a Hermit Thrush who picks our neighborhood as it's winter destination. It would make a festive Christmas card, don't you think? Well, some people are into those kinds of cards.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Survey Says...

I took a little trip around the time the hummingbirds left to see what was happening at some of the locations I have been visiting this year. This was a week or so ago. There were still one or two hummingbirds around, but visits to the feeder were so infrequent that it was not worth the effort.

I had a keen personal interest in seeing what the spadderdock looked like at this late stage in it's growth cycle. I wouldn't have cared at all if I hadn't been observing them since early spring. If you follow my blog, you may remember that I was surprised six or eight weeks ago at how the plants seemed to have collapsed. Large numbers of them were brown and dead. So, I wasn't sure what I would find when I returned. Surprisingly, the fields of leaves appeared green and healthy. Most of the plants had grown new leaves, which weren't nearly as large as the first. This very much mirrored the growth cycle of a water lily my wife had in a fish pond on our back deck. It too was constantly rejuvenating it's leaves.

Early fall is a time of change in the bird kingdom also and I didn't expect to see many of the birds I had filmed earlier in the summer. I wasn't disappointed. At the large Depot Pond as it is known, there were only a few birds, most of which are year-round residents. The Mute Swan was there, a couple of Great Blue Herons, and a few Wood Ducks, and that was about it. Many birds had already begun their migration from the area, but few migrants from up north have shown up yet. Teal are the first of the waterfowl to arrive from parts north, and few have shown up yet from what I can gather in messages I have read on the Ducks Unlimited site. If you look carefully at the fallen tree just behind the spadderdock to the swan's right, you can see a couple of Wood Ducks.

I was surprised to see one bird, however. There was a Double-crested Cormorant, the first I have ever seen there, standing on a branch across the pond. The water in front of it is probably the deepest in the entire pond and I would be willing to bet it is not two feet deep. Cormorants swim below the surface to chase down fish and I wouldn't think the pond was deep enough to do that. If a fish darts into a shallower area, it would have a hard time following. I don't expect to see him there the next time I visit.

Here are four more Wood Ducks perched on a dead fall. I didn't see great numbers of woodies and I am pretty sure most of these are young-of-the-year. I don't have any idea where the adult ducks go after they discharge their family duties. I was surprised (from what I observed back in the summer) how early in their lives the females leave their chicks to fend for themselves.

Since there wasn't much going on there and I was so close to another pond, I decided to run over to Schoolhouse pond near the administrative building in Upper Marlboro. We're talking a mile as the crow flies, but twice that by road. If anything, there was even less going on. I was surprised to see another cormorant actively fishing in the middle of the pond but, bird wise, that was about it. Just a few Red-eared Sliders enjoying the warm sun on a shared log.

The following afternoon, I visited the marsh in North Beach. I saw exactly what I expected — not much. There was one lone young-of-the-year Osprey perched high in a tree over the marsh. His parents have already left to fly south and he is probably trying to figure out why he had this urge to do the same. I know it is a young bird because when I zoomed in, I could see the copper-colored feathers on the back of it's head which are indicative of a young bird.

There was a flock of about twenty Snowy Egrets and a Great Blue Heron gathered around the opening where the creek which connects with the Bay enters the marsh. There were a few Mallards around, including these three that were practicing water ballet routines. And that was about it. I think I am going to take a couple weeks off to attend to a few projects around the house. That would probably be a more profitable use of my time.

Friday, September 25, 2015

And To Think I saw it on Mulberry Street — Dr.Seuss

When I leave home to walk to school,
Dad always says to me,
“Marco, keep your eyelids up
And see what you can see.”
But when I tell him where I've been
And what I think I've seen,
He looks at me and sternly says,
“Your eyesight's much too keen.”

As I waited for hummingbirds to visit the feeder, I often saw other birds around the yard and enjoyed their antics. Small, common birds are not high on the shot list. Some did get my attention, though. It also put me in mind of Dr. Seuss' poem — with it's theme of seeing things other people didn't see or inflating the facts surrounding things he did see. But, would I do that? Well, I feel like my story just won't be complete, 'til I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.

The rest of the poem is at the end of the blog if you would like to read it.

A White-breasted Nuthatch caught my attention one morning as it was sunbathing in a nearby tree. They get very dopey acting when they do this. It is the first time I have ever seen one sunbathe in a tree. Usually they sunbathe on a flat surface.

Wrens are among my favorite birds. This beast was so big, you might think it was frog, but it was not: it was a bug.

He jumped around trying to subdue it for quite some time and finally flew off with it. It had stick-like legs and a red spot on it. Sometimes, I wonder where they get this stuff!

Many birds spend a lot of time looking under leaves as they work over a tree. This Tufted Titmouse found a big fat worm under a leaf. Look how she is hanging on to the leaf with her left foot.

A weed-free lawn is a worm-free lawn. The chemicals that kill the weeds also have adverse effects on the organic life below the lawn. We have several American Robins that spend their day pulling worms out of the lawn to feed their young. I am always amazed at the number of worms they pull out of the lawn. Look at how this Robin (which I am pretty sure is a male) has the worm sectioned and stacked in it's bill to carry back to the young.

Another favorite of mine is the diminutive Chipping Sparrow, easily recognized by it's chestnut crown. He has found a caterpillar to feed to his babies. It is funny how the smaller the bird, the less they seem to be afraid of humans. Most Chipping Sparrows will let you almost walk right up to them before they fly.

Birds are more curious than you might think. Over the month I had the hummingbird props set-up out in the yard, four different species of birds, other than hummingbirds, landed on the rig. That was just while I was around. I am embarrassed to say, until recently, I thought the chickadees around our house were all Black-capped Chickadees.

Their range overlaps in this area with the Carolina Chickadee. I actually think this IS a Black-capped Chickadee, but I am not real good at identifying similar species. There are three features that make me think it is a Black-capped Chickadee: the ragged margin on the lower edge of the black bib, the buffy thighs and the white margin around the tail feathers.

I was sitting quietly on the porch waiting for the hummingbirds. A few feet away, I had a ladder resting against the roof for a little chore I needed to do on the roof. I heard a metallic tapping on the ladder. When I looked over, I saw a Titmouse checking out the holes at the end of each rung for bugs. I thought she was the one making the tapping noise. Just a few seconds later, however, this male Downy Woodpecker flew over to the pole I was using to prop up the line to inspect everything. He had been at the bottom of the ladder pecking at something. Ironically, there is a woodpecker called a Ladder-back in the southwest U. S. Maybe he was just doing his best imitation.

"And now we return to our previously scheduled program..."

“Stop telling such outlandish tales.
Stop turning minnows into whales.”
Now, what can I say
when I get home today?
All the long way to school
And all the way back,
I've looked and I've looked
And I've kept careful track.
But all that I've noticed, Except my own feet
Was a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street.
That's nothing to tell of,
That won't do, of course....
Just a broken-down wagon
That's drawn by a horse.
That can't be my story. That's only a start.
I'll say that a ZEBRA was pulling that cart!
And that is a story that no one can beat,
When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.
Yes, the zebra is fine,
But I think it's a shame,
Such a marvelous beast
With a cart that's so tame.
The story would really be better to hear
If the driver I saw there were a charioteer.
A gold and blue chariot's something to meet,
Rumbling like thunder down Mulberry Street.
No, it won't do at all... a zebra's too small.
A reindeer is better; he's fast and he's fleet,
And he'd look mighty smart
On old Mulberry Street.
Hold on a minute! There's something wrong!
A reindeer hates the way it feels
To pull a thing that runs on wheels.
He'd be much happier, instead,
If he could pull a fancy sled.
Hmmm.. A reindeer and a sleigh..
Say-anyone could think of that,
Jack or Fred of Joe or Nat--
Say, even Jane could think of that.
But it isn't too late to make one little change.
A sleigh and an ELEPHANT!
There's something strange!
Say! That makes a story that no one can beat,
When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.
But now I don't know... It still doesn't seem right.
An elephant pulling a think that's so light
Would whip it around in the air like a kite.
But he'd look simply grand
With a great big brass band!
A band that's so good should have someone to hear it,
But it's going so fast that it's hard to keep near it.
I'll put on a trailer! I know they won't mind
If a man sits and listens while hitched on behind.
But now is it fair? Is it fair what I've done?
I'll bet those wagons weigh more than a ton.
That's really too heavy a load for one beast;
I'll give him some helpers. He needs two, at least.
But now what worries me is this..
Mulberry Street runs into Bliss.
Unless there's something I can fix up,
There'll be an awful traffic mix-up!
It takes Police to do the trick,
To guide them through where traffic's thick –
It takes Police to do the trick.
They'll never crash now, They'll race at top speed.
With Sergeant Mulvaney, himself, in the lead.
The Mayor is there, And he thinks it is grand,
And he raises his hat as they dash by the stand.
The Mayor is there and the Aldermen too,
All waving big banners of red, white and blue.
And that is a story that NO ONE can beat
When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street!
With a roar of its motor an airplane appears
And dumps out confetti while everyone cheers
And that makes a story that's really not bad!
But it still could be better. Suppose that I add...
A Chinaman who eats with sticks...
A big Magician doing tricks..
A ten-foot beard that needs a comb...
No time for more, I'm almost home.
I swung 'round the corner and dashed through the gate, I
ran up the steps and I felt simply GREAT!
For I had a story that NO ONE could beat!
And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street!
But Dad said quite calmly,
“just draw up your stool”
and tell me the sights on
the way home from school” There was so much to tell, I
JUST COULDN'T BEGIN! Dad looked at me sharply
and pulled at his chin.
He frowned at me sternly from there in his seat, “was
there nothing to look at..No people to greet?
Did nothing excite you or make your heart beat?”
“Nothing,” I said, growing read as a beet,
“But a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tiny Dancers 2

How fast a hummingbird can flap it's wings depends on the bird's size. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flap their wings about 55 times a second. That translates into an almost infinite number of possible wing positions, depending on what the bird is doing. With the hundreds (thousands?) of photos I have taken of hummingbirds over the years, I am not sure I ever caught one quite like this one with the right wing looking very much like a parallelogram. That wing with the feather shafts radiating outward is almost the only reason I kept this image.

I probably didn't notice at the time, but the tiny stone I put over the back "flower" on the feeder is visible in this picture. I do that to discourage visitors from hiding behind the bottle. Usually, I position the feeder so the stone is not visible from this camera angle.

Until I started working on this image in post processing, I didn't really think it was anything special, but now that I have finished it, I really like the intimate atmosphere this picture communicates. The ability to isolate one or two blossoms of the Torenia also seems to improve on the look of the flower. It does not look particularly good when you can see "mass quantities" (as Coneheads are prone to describing things) of Torenia blossoms. Speaking of which, How did they get the Conehead's Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin to look so young in that insurance commercial that came out recently?

Another handsome (it's a male) tiny dancer. Come back next year when you have your ruby gorget and let me take some pictures. Oh, you don't think they return to the same place after traveling all the way to South America for the winter? Well, let me tell you a little story. [Oh, no! Not this one again!] Yeah, some of you may have heard it before, but bear with me for the sake of those who haven't.

I didn't believe the same tiny bird could fly all the way to South America, crossing the Gulf of Mexico twice in the process, and find it's way back to my house either. At one time, at our former home, we had a feeder hung from a piece of heavy fishing line on the side of the garage. After the hummingbirds left for the year, I took the feeder down, but left the string hanging there. The following year, I was a little slow in getting the feeders up and the hummingbirds were already back. When I saw a little hummer fly over to the string and inspect it, I knew it had been there the year before. It was the only way it could have known there was a feeder hanging on that string the year before.

I may still post a few more hummingbird pictures, but this is probably the last one which includes flowers. As a photographic aside, notice how the camera position (it's low elevation in reference to the subject) affects what the picture communicates. To me, part of the communication of this photo is that the hummingbird is supremely confident in sampling a flower right over my head. That is not really true, since I was using a telephoto lens and the bird was not actually over my head, but the impression still remains that the bird is supremely confident — and that almost is entirely due to the angle at which the picture was taken. So, I'm just saying, always consider the camera position in your compositions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tiny Dancers

I could have included this image in the blog about guilty pleasures because this bird is acting very guilty. If they are not spending their time greedily pigging down the sauce and are looking around, it usually means they are feeling guilty. This is a young bird; it could even be the offspring of the grand dame of the feeder.

This is a little first-year male. I imagine he is looking at the flowers wondering how in the world he is going to sample all that nectar.

The lighting is very striking on this image. I like the chiaroscuro effect. The only thing I don't like is the wings — especially the right wing. Other than that, I really like the starkness of this picture with it's rich red and emerald green.

This is why you don't take pictures of molting birds. It is a nice photo that could have been better if the bird's feathers were in top shape. She has pin feathers still in their sheaths and a general frumpy look from her newly opened feathers not being smoothed down yet through preening.

When I first got the Allamanda, I thought a bloom that had it's petals drooped back like the blossom at the top was on it's way out. I now realize it is a new bloom that is not fully open. That knowledge does not make me feel any better about a blossom whose petals are droopy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Guilty Pleasures

When I first went to the Philippines, everyone looked the same to me. "They all looked alike," is such a commonly heard phrase in speaking of ethnic groups that I know I was not alone in that boat. After I was there for a year, however, I could look at a person and pretty much tell whether they were Filipino or Filipino/Chinese or some other combination of ethnicities.

It is pretty much the same with a lot of things — including birds. After you observe them, you become familiar with characteristics like behavior and you begin to understand what they are doing or why they are acting certain ways.

That is why I put these images all together. I know just by looking at their behavior and their posture that they are feeling guilty about being discovered at the feeder by the hummingbird that considers it her property. They are experiencing...  guilty pleasure.

Actually, on a couple of these, it is the "owner" who is sitting on the feeder looking around to make sure no other bird is trying to horn in on her honey pot. I can tell this is her in this image. Don't ask me how; just trust me on this one. I can tell she is a Colombian/Guatemalan bird mix.

Here is the grand dame as I refer to her. I know from her posture that there is another bird right over her head who would like to visit her honey pot. She may not actually be saying anything audibly. Birds are pretty good at speaking simply using body language.

This little male is just plain guilty, guilty, guilty! Getting back to the opening line of thinking — everybody (justifiably) profiles. You constantly evaluate — consciously or unconsciously — for your own safety. That, in itself, is not the problem. The motives behind the profiling is where the racism raises it's ugly head.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Molt

Probably the best time of year to find a hummingbird feather is during the molt which occurs in late summer in advance of their migration south.

I didn't consider it when I decided to take pictures late in the season, but I probably should have. The circumstances are very similar to filming flowers. You don't want to wait until they are past peak and start to show signs of decay. In the same way, the less-than-prime look of the bird with worn feathers can be distracting. Here, you can see pin feathers on her chest.

It wasn't too long before the pin feather had lost it's sheath, but now the feather was sticking out and needed to be smoothed down.

The birds seem pretty miserable when they are molting and itch all the time. As small as the birds themselves are, the tiny feathers just behind her bill are incredibly small. I think it is one of those that is falling.

She has pin feathers sticking out all over her head! Look at the tiny ones around her eyes. Before the pin feathers open, they actually have blood flow to them and the bird can lose a significant amount of blood if they are damaged.

She looks like she is wearing a pompadour, doesn't she?

Here is a good example of what I am talking about. The photo is pretty nice in all respects, but those feathers on the crown of her head become a focus of attention and a distraction. I think one thing I resolve to do next year is start a little earlier.