A few of us headed up to Montrose Harbor on the north side of Chicago yesterday in search of a rare and late shorebird visitor. There has been a Piping Plover that has intermittently been using the beaches here since October. We visited following approximately four straight days that the bird was sighted and the weather forecast was great for this time of year. Unfortunately, the bird was a no-show for us on this day. Since the Lincoln Park Zoo was almost directly across the street, we checked to see if they had a Piping Plover in their collection. This is the female bird in winter plumage pictured above.
The harbor held a decent number of waterfowl that we were able to get close enough for some shots. See below.
Seven of us made the long drive to our destination on the morning of the 23rd . The week of
Thanksgiving can be an excellent choice for visiting Loess Bluff NWR, but always depends on the
weather. We were a bit concerned with the early cold snap our region experienced this autumn.
However, in the week or so preceding the trip, the weather warmed so we were not hampered by ice
that can completely cover the shallow waters of the wetlands. Having open water affords very close
views of our photographic subjects and the primary reason we drove such a distance – the blizzard.
Typically, one million to two million Snow Geese will make this location a stop over during spring
and autumn migration and numbers of over 500,000 birds on a single count are not uncommon.
During our visit, the official counts were slightly over 100,000 birds, but the feeling with the group
was that this was grossly underestimated.
If conditions allow, getting the moon behind the Snow Geese can make a nice composition.
On our first day of the trip we were faced with mostly cloudy weather. As I told the group, this provides an opportunity to more easily try panning motion shots like the one pictured below. This is not my most successful attempt at such an image, but I wanted to share it here to demonstrate the multitude of opportunities for a diversity of photos to be made.
Snow Geese are not the only subjects that make this trip worthwhile. The refuge also provides
important habitat for birds such as Bald Eagles, sparrows, a variety of ducks and wading birds, as
well as mammals like white-tailed deer and muskrats. On our initial entry to the park, Dave and Bill
found a Merlin on a relatively good perch above the road. We spent some time photographing the
bird, but regretted that the rest off our party were on the other side of the refuge and would not
likely be able to get the looks we did. Fortunately, a Merlin – likely the same bird, was spotted on
our second day and was viewable by all.
With subjects in the hundreds of thousands to the millions, making a purposeful image can be challenging. It is quite natural to want to shoot at everything that moves, but try and focus. Finding smaller action scenes is one way the photographer can focus on the individuals and their stories that make up the grander scheme.
Although we experienced skies with periods of heavy overcast, we were presented with fantastic
sunsets on both days. Being able to make the birds part of the story made these images all the more special.
The WGNSS Photo Group is committed to an overnight trip to this and similar locations within the Midwest on Thanksgiving week. If you’d like to join us next year, please let me know!
Until this autumn, I never considered targeting our abundant white-tailed deer as a photo subject. When my friend, Miguel, brought up the idea along with a place with a lot of potential, I asked him to lead the way. We set up in a copse of trees located near the center of a scrub field in an area that does not allow hunting and Miguel’s predictions of worry-free males still on the hunt came to fruition.
Although I cam ill-prepared, leaving my tripod and any other means of support at home, the light was just sweet enough to allow for proper hand-holding the big 500mm. Once I took off the unnecessary teleconverter, it worked even better.
We counted at least two larger bucks that patrolled the area, but found this young spike buck as well. He was not quite as confident as the other two.
Females walked the area as well, but were more skittish. The bucks were more curious when they first heard the sounds of our shutters slapping and picked up our sent in the light morning breeze. The does, however, tended to trot away at first sign that something different lurked in our copse.
This spot turned out to be quite nice. With the rising sun to our backs, the trees at the far edge of the field provides for a nice backdrop for that warm light to hit against. These guys have probably, or will soon be dropping these nice racks. With any luck we can try more of this next year.
I’m so glad I spent some time at home this afternoon. This gave me the opportunity to find the first Red-breasted Nuthatch that I have found visiting our backyard feeders. I so wanted to some how tell this little one that I would have seed available all winter long as it consistently went back and forth from the big oak to the feeder, each time carrying a sunflower seed to hide in the bark. I am pretty certain that this bird visited the feeder more than 50 times in the couple hours I watched.
I have been given a lot inspiration lately by a number of Facebook friends to photograph the great birds that visit our feeders, or to put it another way, make these models work for their supper. On a recent birding trip, Sarah and I collected some great drift wood that I turned into horizontal and vertical branches in the backyard, not too far from the feeders and our sun-porch.
I drilled a few extra holes towards the rear of some of these to act as unseen cavities to place my homemade bark butter. It only took the Juncos a couple of hours to find their favorite food. These guys go crazy trying to figure out how to get to this stuff. I made sure to place a few feeding spots near horizontal perches that they could access without too much difficulty as they cannot grasp vertical perches very well. These guys are so tame that they were my primary subjects, other species being a little more timid to visit the close perches and seed deposits that I sat close to.
For a first attempt, I’m pretty pleased. These were shot hand-held in mixed lighting with my 100-400 mm lens and I shot through the not-so clean windows of the sun-porch. I tried sitting behind the open windows, but this must have made me much more conspicuous. I sat for an hour or more with few birds coming in to feed. Within seconds of me closing the windows, the Juncos came to the feeding stations.
I’m a little concerned that my resident Downy Woodpeckers might have a little too much of the rich food I am providing. They now have access to the peanut and tree nuts in the no-mess mix I provide, beef tallow suet blocks, and now the bark butter. But, I suppose it would take a lot for a wild bird to over indulge.
Anyone who feeds their wild birds and has an interest and access to photography should give this a try. I’m looking forward to more cold mornings spent outside trying my hand at this.
It has been a while since I’ve shared some photos from Wilson’s Promontory National Park, along the southern coast of Victoria, Australia. This is definitely one of my favorite places I have ever visited and today I want to tell an ecology story of a special plant that I had no idea existed until making this trip in December, 2017.
The Banksia are a highly adapted plant that are found along a number of coastal habitats surrounding Australia. Wilson’s Promontory has four recorded species, two small to medium tree type forms, Banksia serrata and B. integrifolia and two smaller brush/shrub forms, B. marginata, and B. spinalosa (1). The most abundant species on the Prom and the only one I had sense in taking photographs of is the sawbank banksia, B. serrata.
Banksia are easily identified by their bottlebrush-shaped spike inflorescence, which can contain hundred to thousands of of tiny flowers. Typically, only a few flowers will produce a hard and woody follicle that may hold the seed enclosed on the inflorescence “cone” within the canopy for as many as ten years. Although hard fires will cause the death of established Banksia, it is a necessity for most Banksia to remain stable in their habitat. Wild fire causes the woody follicles to dry and allows the opening of the hinges that releases the seeds within and promotes their germination (2).
The photo below shows a very old “cone” that is still being held on the plant despite the seed having been released due to fire-induced desiccation.
The Banksia are well-adapted to fire as the next photo attests. Collin and I found this recent cut along a trail access. The thick and furrowed bark helps to keep fire from destroying living cells underneath.
There is a great case for describing Banksia as mutualist keystone species. Nectar produced at the base of the flowers was used by original native peoples, the Gunna and the Boonwurrung, to sweeten their water. This nectar also feeds a wide variety of important insect and bird pollinators during the day and mammals, like the eastern pygmy possum, at night. Birds such as Spinebills, Wattlebirds and Lorikeets have tongues adapted with brush-like tips that helps them specialize in feeding primarily on nectar and pollen (2). The photo below shows a Rainbow Lorikeet that I was able to capture in the act of feeding.
Only the largest of seed-eating birds, like the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, can use their strong curved beaks to break into the woody seed pods of Banksia to feed on the seeds within.
B. serrata and B. integrifolia are among the tallest of trees in heathlands and similar habitats where they are found in the Prom. Because of this, they are important architecture for perching and nesting birds as well as providing shelter for small mammals. This male Fan-tailed Cuckoo is one of a few birds we found using the Banksia.