Species #282 – Veery

Veery, Tower Grove Park, St. Louis Missouri

Miguel Acosta and I decided, along with many other birders and bird photographers, to head to Tower Grove Park to check out the latest migrant action.  Although the migrant songbirds were overall pretty disappointing, the morning was surely not a bust for me as I was able to photograph my 282nd species in Missouri and contiguous states – the Veery.

Veer!

This guy’s polyphonic vocalizations have been among my favorite of bird songs for a long time.  On the rare occasion these guys sound off during migration, the songs come from a deep thicket and I rarely get to lay eyes on the songster.  The beauty of migrant traps like Tower Grove and Carondelet Park in the heart of the city is being able to get great looks at these northern nesters.

Veery

-OZB

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How I Spent Superb Owl Sunday

For the first time since junior high I did not watch a single down or minute of the NFL this season and I couldn’t be happier for it.  Rape my town three times, NFL – shame on you.  I’ve been pleased to get those precious free minutes back for my Sundays, several of which I found I could spend not dreading the upcoming workweek.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

When the forecast showed a near perfect meteorological condition for shooting the Short-eared Owls of BK Leach, I figured this could be promising.  While most other naked apes with functioning vision would be in front of the picture box and ingesting mass quantities of wings and beer, I would enjoy the warm and lightly breezy evening in my own kind of chair with friends of a different sort.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Of course there is never a sure thing.  Often, when I have expected the best due to light and temperature, the owls don’t show where I set myself.  On this particular day, all conditions came together and I had a super time.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

I want to give huge thanks for my lovely and talented wife, Sarah, for the special help she gave me this season in getting my best to date SEOW in flight shots.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

A perfect day ended in the perfect way – with a great sunset on the Lincoln Hills.

Sunset on the Lincoln Hills
Sunset on the Lincoln Hills

Until next time…
-OZB

The Goldeneye

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

Just a few of my favorite Goldeneye shots from RMBS this season.

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

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Common Goldeneye, Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

Until next time…
-OZB

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coat – Laughing Gull

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Laughing Gull – Galveston Ferry Crossing, TX

When traveling to a new location it is always interesting to see what gull species is the local equivalent to our Ring-billed Gull.  In the case of the Texas gulf coast, that is definitely the Laughing Gull.  We found that a really great place to see hundreds at great distance is the ferry ride between the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston.  Be sure to check the water as well as the skies if you take this 20 minute boat ride.  Steve and I were able to spot a bottlenose dolphin or two during the crossing.

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Laughing Gull – Anahuac NWR, TX

After hearing their vocalizations for quite a long period, we can say this species is quite aptly named!

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Laughing Gull, Anahuac NWR, TX

In summer plumage, this is obviously one of the easier gulls to identify.  Largest of the hooded gulls, with red bill, legs and feet, slate-colored back and black primaries.

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Laughing Gulls, East End Lagoon Preserve, TX

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – Black Skimmer

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Black Skimmer – Skimming – East End Lagoon Preserve, Texas

Coastal bird photographers, particularly those who have access to areas highly trafficked by humans, have really got things easy.  We were consistently surprised at how much luck we had getting close enough to our subjects – and this was with visiting these locations for the first time.  I can’t imagine the fun to be had with some time, experience and practice.

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

The Black Skimmer just may be one of the perfect targets for the bird photographer.  The species is colorful and contrasty, which is so nice for autofocus.  This species is rather large.  It prefers to spend time in groups that enable the photographer to capture interesting social behaviors.  If you are lucky enough to be at the right time and place, the chicks are unbelievably cute.  And, if that isn’t enough, they of course have their namesake feeding behavior that can be seen in the image at the top of this post.

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

Closely related to the gulls, auks and waders, the skimmers are in the small family – Rynchopidae (roughly translated to beak-faced).

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

If you inadvertently flush a group, don’t give up or chase.  Skimmers have favorite resting places and will often settle to the same stretch from which they flushed.

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Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

Until next time…
-OZB

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – White-tailed Hawk

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White-tailed Hawk – Fort Bend County, TX

This stunning and large buteo is often seen with the last Texas gulf coast bird featured, the White-tailed Kite.  This was one of the birds that Steve and I got a big kick out of finding.  Although common and abundant over much of its range in the Americas, the White-tailed Hawk can only be found along the Texas coast and the Rio Grande Valley within the United States.  I was doubly fortunate to be able to find another perched in a tree in Fort Bend County when my New-Englander friend, Sam, and I came across it during a few precious hours birding following several hectic days on the job.

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White-tailed Hawk, San Bernard NWR, TX

White-tailed Hawks are birds of the air.  Pete Dunne (Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion) suggests that the species is most often spotted in the air.  Steve and I first located a pair at San Bernard NWR on an island of trees within coastal prairie.  I paid the price by taking a number of fire ant bites by wading through the prairie trying to get a bit closer.  We watched as the pair eventual flushed and rose higher and higher on the coastal thermals, eventually rising to a height where they were almost invisible to the naked eye.  Once spotted in the air, there is no mistaking this species with any other bird, with contrasting white body with black-edged wings and striped tail.

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White-tailed Hawk – Fort Bend County, TX

Until next time…
-OZB

In the Land of the Blind the One-eyed Man is King

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Hooded Mergansers First Year Males – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

The one-eyed man referred to in the title of this post is, of course, the photographer with a telephoto lens sticking out of a well-placed blind.  Yes, we are all aware of and use to good effect the mobile blind – our warm vehicles.  However, shooting from a car in a place like RMBS leaves a bit to be desired.

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Common Goldeneye – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

From a car, the angle at which the birds are photographed will always be at the same downwards angle that in my opinion is less desirable than being close to eye level, which sitting low in a a portable ‘bag’ style blind can afford.

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Hooded Merganser Hen – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Although I have owned such a blind for a few years, I have only recently given it some real use with friend and fellow like-minded nature photographer, Miguel Acosta.  All of the images from this post were made in our first attempts at this and even with limited light and opportunities, I can already see the potential in using this technique for improving photography of waterfowl.

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Hooded Merganser Big Boys – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Getting an eye-level perspective yields more benefits than just a resting duck.  Catching birds taking to flight from the water’s surface from this angle makes for a more powerful image than from above.

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Lift Off! – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

I’m really glad we tried this out.  It is something I’ve been wishing to do for quite some time and I guess it just makes sense that this is the way to do it.  Now I just need to think of places and opportunities to try more.

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Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Until next time.
-OZB