Monday, April 30, 2012

Fall Sunflowers

This weekend has been cool and rainy so not so nice to be outside.  I've spent some of the time looking back over my photos from last year and decided to use these two sunflower pictures from October for Macro Monday.  I particularly like how the bee seems to be hanging upside down.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Our New Arrivals

For the past several weeks we have had a Mourning Dove sitting on a nest in the Carolina Jasmine by our front door.  During the winter, we frequently scare up a few roosting birds if we come home well after dark.  The house faces south so I guess the combination of the sun warming the air caught in the porch and the dense vines of the Jasmine makes it an attractive winter roost for the night.  And for the past couple of years we have had birds try to nest in it.  But since the Jasmine is right next to our front door, and only real access to the house, the previous nests haven't been successful.  It seems like the first two attempts were just nest building attempts and no eggs were laid.  Then last year we started seeing a female Cardinal sitting on one of the nests.  But she would flush nearly every time we would go in or out.  This lasted for over a week.  We never stopped to try and see if she had eggs but there were never signs of young and she soon moved on.

First sighting of the young taken through the window
Then this year we saw a Mourning Dove sitting on the other nest left in the Jasmine.  The Dove seemed much more sedate and accepting of our sharing the space.  As long as we didn't dwell on the porch, the Dove stayed on the nest.  About ten days ago we noticed that there started being some fecal packs dropped on the porch and that the Dove seemed to be sitting up higher in the nest.  Then the middle of this past week my wife saw the Dove out in the yard and some fuzzy heads in the nest.  It looked like they would be successful.  And then Saturday morning my wife noticed one of the young sitting on the edge of the fence around our front garden.  It sat rather precariously on the fence stringer.  We both attempted to get pictures through the front window but the glare off the window and screen made photos hard.  So I stepped out the front door and and was able to get a couple of photos without scaring the bird.  We saw an adult out in the middle of the yard but after a minute it flew up into a neighbor's tree.  At the same time the adult flew off, the young one dropped down into the garden and became well hidden in the foliage.

A clearer view from the front steps

The adult watching me from behind the tree
We opened up the front windows, it was nice weather too, so we could get a better view.  Through out the day we would check back and see the two young sitting next too each other and they kept moving a little at a time to stay in the shade.

This morning we saw the two young with the two adults, including one that was feeding the young.  Mighty nice to watch such an intimate encounter.  And throughout today the young have stayed in the garden again.  We saw them sleeping at dusk.

It appears Dove normally lay two eggs at a time so it appears we have a full brood.  But Doves can nest up to four times per season.  So maybe they will be back at after these young are strong enough to take off on their own.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Robert Doisneau's birthday

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Doisneau, the famed French street photographer.  When I was in High School I worked in an art shop in a mall selling cheap posters of famous art work in cheap frames (and all at 50% off, 50 weeks a year).  But I did get to see some good photography and developed a liking for three photographers: Ansel Adams, Bob Talbot, and Robert Doisneau.  I liked Doisneau's black and white street scenes of Paris.  Although I have never felt comfortable with street photography (too shy I guess), I've always enjoyed Doisneau's images.  And when traveling, I try to force myself to get a few. 

These are not even in the same class as Doisneau's but my interpretation of the streets of Europe in black and white.

A common sight in Amsterdam; a bike on the road
This bike was left too long on the side of a canal

Late at night in Brussels at Panos

I submitted the crushed bike to a local juried exhibition and it was selected.  My first photograph selected for a photography show. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Great Raptor Day

Today (4/7) I had quite a raptor experience.  It started with my decision to take a half day and go out photographing birds.  I went to a local park where our local bird club does a twice-a-month bird walk.  It is a bit of a drive but a place I know well and usually has good birds.  I had wanted to focus on planning a picture and waiting for it instead of my typical chasing after birds hoping to get a good photo.  My usual approach leads to a lot of bird butts.  Unfortunately, the park and birds were not being cooperative.  I had thought of trying to get some bluebirds around a field that has several houses and is a reliable place to see them.  Unfortunately, it was mowing day.  No birds around.  So I moved on to a few other places where I could hear birds up in the trees but no one would come down to my level.  Eventually I ended up in a powerline cut where there are some low shrubs that occasionally have good birds.  All I found here were some deer.  I did manage a few shots of them by getting ahead of where they were grazing to.  They knew I was there but didn't seem to care until they got within about 20 feet.  Then they just walked back into the trees.

Not the birds I was hoping to photograph

As I was leaving the deer I could see out of the reservoir in the park.  Two Bald Eagles were flying in close proximity to each other.  As I walked back towards the car I wondered if I could get to the water's edge in time to see if they were heading to their nest.  But what happened was ever better.  They grasped talons and spun down towards the lake surface.  It is apparently a mating game that eagles play.  I've seen it several times in documentaries but I think this is a first for real life.  They were much to far away to photograph so I just enjoyed the view in my binoculars.  I did make it down to the waterside but they had separated and were keeping to themselves now.  After a few minutes the cold wind we are having today drove me away.

Then this afternoon as I was checking the mail I felt a swift breeze o the back of my head.  I turned and saw a Cooper's Hawk chasing a Mourning Dove down the street.  The dove dove between two houses and got away.  But they must have passed just a few feet behind me.

Later in the evening I heard a bunch of crows making a ruckus in the back yard.  Crows seem to particularly enjoy mobbing birds of prey and the victim often takes off after a minute or two.  But this time, the crows continued on for several minutes.  While watching from the window I even saw a Great Blue Heron flying by drop down to circle the mob a few times and let out a croak or two.  Since it had lasted so long I decided to try to go out and see who the crows were harassing.  As I approached the mob I saw a Great Horned Owl sitting up in a pine tree.  It finally had had too much and took off across the marsh.  I ran out to the pier hoping to see where it went but the Owl, when crows in tow, flew all the way across the marsh and ended up behind a house directly below the sun.  I could still hear the crows as I walked back to the house.
Great Horned Owl (taken about a year ago in a local park)
Be sure to check out Wild Bird Wednesday.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Great Dismal Swamp

This past weekend my wife and I made a trip down to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  The swamp is a 112,000 acre refuge straddling the Virginia - North Carolina border.  While there are several access points including great paddling access from the east, we decided to try Jericho Ditch.  All of the trails are along old drainage ditches for the swamp and are in long straight lines. We have only been to Jericho Ditch twice before, both for guided bird walks.  Our main purpose was to bird and try to catch some of the spring migrants before the woods leaved out and you couldn't see anything any more.  That's been the problem in the past, the woods are so dense that as soon as the leaves come out you can't see more than a few feet into them. So you can hear a lot of birds but seeing them is difficult.  And our bird call skill just isn't up to it.  And while we are at least a month earlier than we have been past years, there was still enough growth to give the birds plenty of cover.  We heard much more than we saw.  Nonetheless, there was a nice list of birds that we could either identify by sound (like the Red-wing Blackbirds and Prairie Warbler)  or did manage to get a glimpse of (like the Common Yellowthroat and Wood Duck).

After a few hours the birds became quiet so we turned back to get our camera.  There were quite a few things in bloom that we wanted to capture.  Almost back to the car we starting hearing an unusual bird song from close by.  After a few minutes of inspection we finally saw a rather nondescript song bird with a bit of yellow wash on the sides, an olive green back and  either spectacles or an eye-ring.  It wouldn't stay still and in the open long enough to get a good look at the head.  It finally dropped down in the brush and stopped singing before we could agree on an identification.  It would have to remain a nice song without a name for the singer.
 After taking a water break and getting our camera gear we headed back down the ditch trail.  I stopped early on for a tree in bud while my wife continued on down for a few blooms she had seen.  As I was stowing my gear I heard that song again.  This time the bird popped out into a leafless tree close by.  I grabbed my binoculars and got a descent view.  I could see a strong yellow line leading back to the eye.  Quickly changing lens for my telephoto, I managed a few diagnostic shots.  And when it stayed out in the open singing, I hurried back to get my tripod and managed a few better shots.  It was still far off (do I need an even longer lens???) but they are descent shots.
White-eyed Vireo
 There were a number of nice flowers in bloom.  There were several of this fleabane that was along the trail side.  There were also some pretty little yellow flowers growing down close to the ground.

Fleabane (Erigeron sp?)
After a few more stops I eventually caught up with my wife who was busy taking pictures of these gorgeous native azaleas.  I was able to use my telephoto lens with an extension tube to get these rather "close-up" pictures from a distance.  I was also lucky that the far bank of the ditch was in shade giving the wonderful black background.

While photographing the azeleas, my wife pointed out the butterfly attractor.  We had been seeing a lot of butterflies since starting our walk back to get our camera in the morning.  There were dozens of Pearl Crescents, Tiger Swallowtails, Zebra Swallowtails, Palamedes Swallowtails, Little Azures and dozens of even smaller ones we didn't identify.  I eventually had at least 10 Zebra Swallowtails on the little pile (see my wife's blog to find out what the pile was).

Our eventual goal was to make it back to a Luna Moth we had seen right before turning back earlier.  It was still hanging on a little stick out over the drainage canal.  Again, the shadows in the background really helped the photography.
 And to top it off, there was this beautiful Palamedes Swallowtail sitting in the middle of the trail right next to the Luna Moth.

All in all, it was a great day out.  Perhaps not as many birds as we might have hoped for but wonderful nature and some fabulous photography opportunities.