Return to Squaw Creek NWR

I have posted about Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge before.  One of the prime birding locations in the state, I asked Steve to accompany me for a Thanksgiving week’s trip.  Nothing is assured during this time on the calendar in Missouri, and we knew that there was a chance the entire refuge could be frozen over, pushing the 500,000 snow geese that could potentially be visiting to warmer, more southerly locations.  The weather that week was barely below freezing so we were optimistic that the refuge would be mostly open and the birding would be good.  Arriving in Mound City after dark, we were forced to wait until the next morning to check out the refuge.  Being the proper naturalists/photographer/birders that we are, we arose in plenty of time to fill ourselves with coffee and roughage, pack up the car with optics and winter gear and make it to the refuge before first light.  Driving around the well-placed road, we could hear little but wind.  At one point we left the car and Steve through a rock into the black.  The response was quite an unusual sound that was definitely not the plash expected of liquid water, but could only be the vibrations of a rock on a large flat ice sheet.  As the light grew we could see that most of the refuge was indeed frozen (>90%).  We would not get to see the numbers of snowies that could potentially be visiting, but we would see 10,00-20,000 birds that were using the two small ice-free spots.  Steve seemed impressed, nonetheless.

Presented first is an image of a few geese flying with the wind between us and the moon.  Any nature photographer worth their glass would have pre-visualized this and remembered to have taken a sharp capture of the moon in focus and then combined that with the in-focus geese to make a much nicer final photograph.  One of these days…


We were subjected to a few flybys of large groups of geese as they moved from the refuge to surrounding fields to feed on spent grain.  Collisions do occur, but when looking at it this way, it’s a wonder they don’t happen more regularly.  Of course, I was pooped on. 😉


The image below really shows the difference between the lighter, “snow” and the darker, “blue” phases this species comes in.


Red-tailed Hawks were quite common in this area of the state, but were very much different than the typical plumage seen from the eastern subspecies from the opposite side of Missouri.  This is what I believe should be considered the “western” subspecies, but can be difficult to distinguish from “Harlan’s” subspecies in winter.  The ABA has a nice article on this variably-plumed raptor.


The beauty of Squaw Creek is the potential for all sorts of bird species and other wildlife one is likely to find.  The snow show is definitely the main attraction this time of year, but other migrants are likely to be found as well.  Taking the ~10 mile auto route allows for close-up viewing in a variety of wetland habitats.  Across a canal, in some warm winter grasses we found a couple of familiar heads sticking up.  Two Sand-hill Cranes!  I got out of the car as silently as possible and set up the tripod and big lens.  They did not seem too concerned with us.  As they foraged we watched and I took photos.  A couple in an SUV pulled up not too far down the road and were not as considerate.  This seemed to be too much for the pair, who took to wing.  Luckily, I was prepared and was somehow able to squeeze this keeper.


Sunrise and sunset are the times to be in a wetland.  The lighting is perfect and the birds are most active, heading into open water for roost.  It really does seem that many birds on the wetlands fly around for the sheer enjoyment.  Trumpeter Swans are a favorite of mine to watch.


As we watched the show, we hear a familiar and longed-for music.  I can’t explain it better than Aldo… “High horns, low horns, silence, and finally a pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness, but without yet disclosing whence it comes.”  Travelling south passed a group of Cranes.


The warm temperature of the light near sunset betrays the senses.  The skin knows the eye is false.  Even so, watching this show makes it all worthwhile.


Marsh grasses, muskrat mounds and loess hills.  Can you imagine a more satisfying landscape?


I’m not sure I’ll get there next year or not, but it goes without saying that I can’t get enough of Squaw Creek.


Big Spring Trip – Autumn, 2013

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life — the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.

-Claude Monet


“Ageless Banks”


“Amber Mists”

IMG_6171 - 76

“Changing Time”

“There are those who say that only spring is beautiful, and hie themselves to a warmer climate for the winter months.  There are others, who, without the means of fleeing from the beauties about them at all seasons, waste their happiness with complaining.  And there are some who must even go to Europe for scenery, and poets as well.  But give me my native land at all hours of the day, all seasons of the year, and for all the years of my life; because its beauties, its interests and its ennobling influences are intended for its sons above all others.  And have no fear, all who may doubt, that anyone by trying may get far more of use from a stroll over its hills, than even I did on this momentous ‘Tramp in November”

-Aldo Leopold


“Autumn Regality”

Mondays Are For The Birds – Black-throated Green Warbler

The BTGW nests primarily in conifers such as white pines, spruce and hemlocks in Canada’s boreal forests.  Did you know…?  A major source of wood pulp for the paper and tissue industry are the trees that are harvested from the boreal forests of the world.  There are two easy things we can all do to limit our burden on these resources.

1) Recycle: Recycling is quite easy in much of the country and has a significant role in limiting the need for virgin wood pulp.  Also consider purchasing products made from recycled paper products.

2) Limit use of unnecessary paper products: A horrible player here are solicitous catalogs and junk-mail.  There are ways we can drastically reduce the pounds of this we receive in a year’s time.  The disposable paper towels and other sanitary wipes are other industries that use significant percentages of wood pulp.  There are many ways we can reduce usage of these products as well.

Yes, wood pulp is a renewable resource, and yes, humans are part of planet and will always be users of these resources.  However, what many do not realize is that replanting trees is not the same as replanting natural habitat.  Many bird species, including several wood warblers will only nest in specific, old-growth trees.  These habitats have taken hundreds of thousands of years to develop the complex interactions of this original, world wide web.  Planting a monoculture of cultivars developed to best meet the needs of man comes nowhere close to replacing the splendid diversity or wilderness aspects of these places hold.

“The only conclusion I have reached is that I love all trees, but I am in love with pines.”

-Aldo Leopold-


“Black-throated Green Warbler, September 2012”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/5.6, 1/640 sec

Wilson’s Warbler

I realize I missed the focus on this one, but the little guy was posed so nicely.  I figured this was a species that would take a lot of time and patience to capture, and I was very surprised to get this much.


“Wilson’s Warbler, Autumn 2012”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/5.6, 1/400 sec

The Marvellous Gasteromycetes

No worries.  Although the biology, terminology and classification behind the fungi is a course of study that is as beautiful as any human language, I will not try to fill this post with all that specialized nomenclature, especially since I am a novice at it myself!  This particular group of fungi are polyphyletic (similar or convergent in nature, but no recent common ancestor) and have been grouped together based on their habit of passive spore dispersal.  While most other fungi have mechanisms that forcibly discharge their spores, in this collection of orders the spores are passively dropped and released by rain drops, wind, insects and other animals.  These fungi go by the names of earth stars, puffballs, and earth balls.  The palate-pleasing truffles and the oh-so fascinating bird’s-nest fungi are also included in this grouping.  The phallic (order Phallales) stinkhorns spores are spread by flies and other insects that are attracted to the rotten smells they exude.  The bizarre jelly and “ear” fungi are also placed in this group.  Finally, the economically important rusts (Uredinales) and smuts (Ustilaginales) also fall in this category, often finding conditions in our modern monocultures perfect and in little time can cause severe declines in yields of cereals and legumes.

The photo here shows the “Acorn Puffball” (Disciseda sp.).  In nature, the spores are forced through the ostiole (opening) when struck by rain drops or falling leaves or other matter.  Often they may separate from their base and roll across the landscape ejecting spores as they move along.  In this photo I used a small twig to push on the side of one of the fruiting bodies that discharged the cloud of spores I hope is apparent.  This took some time and patience to get just right.  I did not have any artificial light source, so reflectors and trial and error with exposure settings had to suffice.  These guys are most often found in dry habitats like desserts, dry grasslands, pastures and dry woodlands.


“Acorn Puffball, Autumn 2012″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/13, 1/6 sec


“At 3:40 this morning (sun rose at 4:09) a wood pewee sang over and over with perfect regularity a song of five drawling notes – pee-a-wee, pee-wee – both phrases ending on a rising inflection.  The syllables and the pauses between them were so regular that I could time by my breathing.  Pee-a-wee corresponded exactly with an inspiration, then, with a short pause the pee-wee finished at the end of expiration.  Then a longer pause – just as long as the rests between breaths – and after this he repeated his song with my next breath.  I was breathing, I suppose, about 16 times a minute, and the bird slowly fell behind, but he fell behind not from any irregularity, but because his rate was slightly lower than mine.”

-Arthur Clevland Bent

“Life Histories of North American Flycatchers, Larks, Swallows, and their Allies”


“Eastern Wood Pewee”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/5.6, 1/500 sec

Black & White

I have been coming to a realization lately that although it is nice to try and continue to know, understand and discover ourselves, it may be of detriment to actually try and define ourselves.  We as humans love the definition.  It puts a nice bow on the subject at hand and we can then go on to define the next potentially scary or perplexing item.  However, if we hang a much to determinate definition on ourselves then it doesn’t leave too much room for change or growth.  By definition we become somewhat of a fixed, static entity.  As fond as I am of Tolkein’s Middle Earth stories, I am becoming less and less engaged in stories of black and white, good or evil.  As time goes on I am finding myself far more interested in stories with characters of the in-between.  One recent example is the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George Martin, but there are other better ones.  Any suggestions?


“Black and White Warbler, Autumn 2012”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 800,  f/5.6, 1/200 sec