Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Saturday morning I was playing the bachelor waiting for my wife to return from a trip, so I decided to get up early and try to do some bird photography.  I had not been out to our local nature park on the Chesapeake Bay this year so I decided to go out there in hopes of finding some Sanderlings or maybe even a few straggler plovers.  Low tide was just 30 minutes after sunrise so maybe I could get some good birds in good light.  Plus a storm had moved through Friday night and it was much cooler.  Sounded Great.  Unfortunately it was very hazy and humid, the biting flies were out in force and there were no sandpipers of any kind.  So I spent about an hour practicing getting terns and Ospreys in flight and diving while backlit.  Didn't make for great photos but it was useful practice.  I kept my camera in continuous focus, AI Servo on a Canon, while the birds flew by but once they started to hover in preparations to dive I would release the autofocus button (I use back button focus so I have control over it) and hope they stayed the same distance away as they dove.  That was a pretty good assumption and I didn't have to worry about the camera picking up something in the background to focus on or reacquiring focus if I lost the bird in the frame.
I did manage to get this series of an Osprey taking off after a dive that was decent. 

But the best was this "accident."  I was following the Osprey in the lens and didn't realize it was getting so close to the sun.  But I love the ephemeral feeling to it.
And it reminds me of the myth of Icarus who ignored his father's instructions not to fly too close to the sun.  When Icarus did, his wings, made of wax and feathers, melted and Icarus feel to his death.  But admit it, if you had wings wouldn't you fly too close to the sun?
Have a great day and enjoy some truly great bird photos at Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Catching up with flowers

I decided to go back in time this week for Macro Monday and pick some of favorites from the past.  A few are pretty recent and some are several years old.  

A few months ago I was preparing to go out to take some pictures when it started raining.  I delayed a little bit to let it pass and then went to get the "standard" water-on-petal pictures.  Although bordering on cliché, I really liked this one.  The flower is a purple Clematis that my wife has trained along the fence in the front garden.  The whole plant was in bloom creating an explosion of purple.  There was just enough light to highlight the petal while keeping the background quite dark.

 I'm not sure what type of flower this is, my wife is out right now and she is the garden expert, but it has a mound of this white star flowers. [She just returned and told me it is an Amsonia; thanks hon.] Similar to the Clematis above, I like how the limited light highlights the main subject.  I usually don't have the foresight to design that into my photographs but sure appreciate when it happens.  All of the vignetting is natural.

This is a rose bud from a native rose that is growing in our side garden.  The flowers are small, flat flowers but they have a wonderful scent.   If you look closely you can see little spikes coming over the green parts.  I'm sure there are technical terms for the bulge at the bottom of the bud and the covering.  Again, I'm sure my wife would know. I only wish I had caught that the back bud was up against the frame as there was room at the bottom to make a small adjustment.  I was probably just being careless.  Or this might be a good reason to use a tripod.  I don't remember if I did or not.  But I find that when handholding the camera it tends to drop slightly when I press the shutter button.  I have less of a problem with my DSLR but I went through a period where I was constantly cutting things off  at the top of the frame with my point-and-shoot camera.  I have a wonderful picture from Brussels of a full moon breaking through clouds behind St. Katherine's church that is partially ruined by having too much of the surrounding square and not the top of the steeple. 

 This native Columbine was taken last year on a trip to the Shenandoah Mountains. It was terribly foggy all weekend so I didn't get any mountain landscape pictures like I had hoped for but I was able to get a few good flowers and some great mushrooms.  

And finally this pink Poppy is from our front garden.  The year of  this photo we had a lot of poppies growing in this bed.  They looked really good with the Chamomile behind it.  Over the past couple of years they have been losing out to larkspurs.  I like the paper-thin petals of the poppies.  And the buds are quite cool in their own right.  The flowers come from large buds that grow up on tall, but thin, stems.  The stem hooks over letting the bud just hang there until it is ready to open.  And then everything stands upright and you get beautiful flowers like this.

I hope you have a great week and be sure to check out the other photos are Monday Macro.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great Blue Heron

As you can guess from the title of my blog, and my introductory post, if you read it, Great Blue Herons are one of my favorite birds and a key instigator in my enjoyment of bird watching.  So it was a great joy this past weekend when I came across this heron that was busy feeding.  I had joined the semi-monthly bird walk with our bird club at Newport New Park.  We were just a few minutes into the first stop and it was turning out to be a pretty quite morning.  We were a small group with a few new watchers who where discussing the differences between Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.  I wandered around the corner to get a better look at the reservoir to see if there was more to be seen; the egret discussion was being well handled already.  Just beyond the tall grasses at the water's edge I saw this heron waiting patiently as only herons can.  I like this particular picture where you can see the resting female Mallard to the right.  There is a nice echo in how they are holding their heads.
As I waited the heron saw some food in the water and started trying to scare it up.  The heron took several stabs at the poor prey, then whipped it around and dropped it only to start the cycle again.

By this time the rest of the group had caught up but the heron keep on working on it's breakfast.

The heron finally stopped hunting.  We weren't sure it it had eaten the meal or not.  And eventually it flew off and right past us.
I was able to zoom in on one of the pictures and see what it was trying to catch.  We had thought it was a frog but it now looks like a large fishing lure.  Glad he wasn't hurt by it.

Enjoy the other bird photographs at Tuesday's Tweets (also a Great Blue Heron; I didn't know until just now) and Wild Bird Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Downy Woodpeckers

We have always thought that our yard was good for the birds with plenty of food and cover and even places for them to nest.  We have left the vines and shrubs to get a little out of hand but with a steady flow of birds in and out we always convince ourselves that it is beneficial to the birds and us not to be too neat.  Many times during the summer we are rewarded with a group of young birds feeding in the yard.  Maybe a handful of chickadees sitting in the tree with the parents shuffling back and forth from the feeder.  The young ones crying out "feed me, feed me."  Or the robins walking around in the grass with the adult showing the pale young how to grab and tug on a worm.  But this summer is the first time we have found multiple nests in and around the yard.  First there were the Mourning Doves nesting by the front door.  Followed soon by Robins in the tree out front. And this past week we found too busy nests.

As my wife was taking some garden waste to the compost bins she heard the insistent, high-pitch whine of nestlings.  She couldn't pinpoint the noise but it seemed to be coming from a neighbor's tree just across the property line.  So a little while later when I walked by she took me back there to hear them.  We scanned the trees with our binoculars and found a likely branch full of five different holes.  Then in came an adult Downy Woodpecker and stuck its head into one of the holes.  The kids went wild.  The father soon followed, waiting his turn to feed a morsel to the kids.
Pair of Downy Woodpeckers returning with food for their young.

The adults flew off and we waited.  Several minutes passed before we decided we needed to return to our garden work.  Surely the babies would be there for a while.  Later in the afternoon I returned with camera in tow to capture the excitement. I didn't have to wait long until momma bird returned with an insect in hand, or bill I should say.  Again, dad was right behind her.  The first would fly in to the broken off tip of the branch and then work their way down to the nest hole.  As soon as they departed from the tip, the other would land.  The second adult would move part was down the branch before pausing while the first adult feed the children.  As soon as the food was gone the first adult would leave and be replaced by the second.  The nestling's whining never stopped.

After a few more visits, the male slipped into the hole after feeding the kids.  He stayed inside for a minute or two before departing with a fecal sack that he dropped in the yard (yuck!).  About half an hour later the male again slipped into the nest hole.  this time he was inside for several minutes.  The female returned twice with food.  I guess it had become so crowded that the baby had to stick its head part way out to get the food.
Young Downy Woodpecker reaching out for food.
Finally, after the female had left the branch the male peered out to see what was going.  After checking the scene out a few times he flew off, again with a fecal sack in tow.

It has been a week since these picture and we can still hear the young calling from their hole.  According to All About Birds, Downys take 18-21 days to fledge. So maybe there is another week or two to wait. It would be wonderful if I happened to be back there when they leave the nest.  But what are the chances they do that on a non-work day?

Be sure to visit Tuesday's Tweets and Wild Bird Wednesday for more fabulous bird stories and pictures.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Laughing Gull Lunch

While I was sitting out on our pier this past weekend, this Laughing Gull came around the bend following a piece of food flowing in on the tide.  I never did figure out what it was after; bread maybe? But if so, who throw it in as it didn't come from a direction with much access?

The gull circled around four or five times snagging little pieces but never able to get the whole piece.  I like the shape and pattern in this next image as the gull pulls up and away after another missed approach.

Finally the gull managed to get a pretty large piece off right before it disappeared under our boat dock. It then flew up and landed on a piling to eat in peace.

Enjoy your lunch today and be sure to check out fabulous bird photos at World Bird Wednesday and Tuesday's Tweets.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Little Snack

There is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh berry right from the vine or a warm fig with the sticky sap still leaking out.  And luckily, I get to enjoy these pleasures throughout the year.  While we have not had a rousing success growing vegetables in our yard, there are plenty of fruits to enjoy: some planned and some not.
Last week we finished the first crop of strawberries from our yard.  The sunniest place we have is in the front garden but since this is the spot that everyone sees from the street we haven't turned it into a vegetable garden yet.  Plus, it is where all of my wife's sun-loving plants are.  But we do try to stick a few food plants in there.  And one is the strawberry plant.  There is a little sliver of dirt between the fence enclosing the patio and the main part of the garden and the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the front door.  It is a small spot so we don't get many at a time but during strawberry season there is usually enough to top our cereal. 
Across the front patio is a Serviceberry tree.  It was chosen since it is a native tree and offers plenty of food for the birds.  But the crop is large enough that we are able to grab a few bowls as well.  The berries are small but quite sweet.  Again, wonderful on cereal or ice cream or just straight to your mouth.  This year the tree has received a lot of attention for a Robin family.  They nested in the oak tree about 20 feet from the serviceberry and are often stopping by for a snack on their way home.
Serviceberry fruits ranging from quite ripe to green.

Pear fruit just starting to get color
When we bought the house there was a small "orchard" in the back.  We were never quite sure how it survived since the area only gets about 4-5 hours of direct sun, even during the summer.  There is a line of tall trees running down both sides of the yard.  But there they were.  Several apple tress, a few pears and even a peach if I remember correctly.  In our first fall in the house Hurricane Isabel stuck and took down many trees including most of the fruit trees.  We have been left with just one pear tree that had been poorly pruned for years and one apple tree that was tilted over in a subsequent thunderstorm. 

A bunch of early apples
The apple tree is a favorite of the local deer and now that it is leaning, they can get to most of it.  So we have had to try and cage it.  But after given our tithes to the deer and bugs, we are still left with plenty of apples and pears.  The pears need to be cooled before ripening so every fall we pick them, stick them in the refrigerator for several weeks and then slowly take them out to ripen.  It is hit-or-miss but when they turn out good they are very sweet and tasty.  Not like the large, firm things that past for fruit at the grocery store.  The apples are cooking apples, Grannie Smith, perhaps, so they usually go into deserts or a nice fall soup that we have. 

Just a start to figs; still a few months to wait
The previous owners also left us with a few fig trees.  These are wonderful.  About mid-summer the figs will ripen and we are out every morning grabbing the new ones before the birds or squirrels can get to them.  The figs we will fight for.  I had never really had figs before moving here and I don't think you can really understand figs unless you can pick them.  They don't keep long and I have never seen fresh figs in a market.  But I understand why they were the foods for the Greek and Roman gods.  The whole combination of the texture, the flavor and the warm, even if they have been inside all day, is heavenly. 
All of the fruit trees are late summer fruits so they have only proto-fruits right now.  But those proto-fruits hold the promise of a tasty summer. 
Ripening Mulberries

Green blackberries
One final relevant legacy of previous owners are the weedy mulberry trees and blackberry vines.  Both are a bit invasive and we try to keep them under control. But the fruits are nice when they come.  We had tried having a veggie garden in the back yard but the lack of direct sun always doomed our attempts.  But the blackberries have moved in and they are doing fine.  So we are quite content to let them have the beds (as long as they stop grabbing me while I mow).  They have just finished flowering and the berries are starting to take shape.  A few more weeks I hope.  And there are usually enough of these that we can use them for ice cream or even pancake syrup as well as a healthy snack.  The mulberries are ripe right now.  We had one weedy tree that was getting too big for where it decided to grow so we had it taken down this past winter.  But there is a smaller one further back that has fruit on it.  The birds are quicker to that one than we are so we usually just settle to grabbing a quick bite as we walk by. 

Hackberry Tree
And our final snack tree is a hackberry that is growing at the entrance to our pier.  Hackberries are very small fruits that are very sweet but with very little flesh.  They are the size of a BB and about 80% of their volume is the seed.  But you can pull it off the tree and scrape the flesh off the seed with your teeth and get quite a sugar rush.  Because of the big seeds they are only good for eating a few on the run.  They are also a favorite of the raccoons in the yard.  During hackberry season we seen raccoon scat that is very little beyond hackberry seeds. 
Well, writing this has made me hungry, see you at the blackberry bush.