Loess Bluffs NWR – Autumn, 2020

A mass-lift off of Snow Geese at dawn. Loess Bluffs NWR, MO.

A visit to Loess Bluffs NWR in Holt County near the far northwestern tip of Missouri is a must for any nature enthusiast who has the means to do so. I’ve made this trip approximately seven times during the Thanksgiving week over the past ten or so years. You can see more photos I’ve taken at this location here, here, here, and here. This year, since the pandemic limits so much of social gatherings and we hoped visitor numbers would be low, we made the trip on a very warm  Thanksgiving day itself. Today, I am sharing some of my favorite images made during this visit.

Use low-light situations to try your hand at an artistic pan-blur shot. A relatively slow shutter speed of 1/100 sec produces a greater sense of motion in the flight of these Snow Geese.

Not wanting to stay in a hotel during the great pandemic, we decided to make this a long day trip. We left St. Louis around 1:00 am. This gave us plenty of time to make the ~5 hour drive with stops and allowed for a quick nap before first light when we arrived.

During late autumn in Missouri, light is typically usable for nature photography all day. However, the warm glow of the golden hour is still the best time to be in the field, ready with camera in hand.

I highly recommend to anyone making the visit to be sure and be here for as much of the day as you can, whether it is one full day or over the course of days. I always find it amusing to watch photographers arrive 2-3 hours after sunrise or leave before last light. By doing so, you are missing some of the best light of the day and perhaps the most activity of the birds and other wildlife.

A great day on the refuge will be when more than 100,000 Snow Geese are present. Here, both phases of Snows can be seen – both juvenile and adult “blues” as well as the “snows”.
With the numbers of geese and the often-times great distances, finding a pair or a few geese to isolate from the group can be a challenging but rewarding way of creating a different type of photograph.
A trio of Snow Geese coming in to claim their spots.

Snow Geese may be the main attraction, but they are not the only species worth paying attention to. Approximately 25,000 Green-winged Teal were present on the refuge on the day of our visit. Not only that, but they were focused on foraging near the eastern banks of the large pools of the refuge, allowing easy access for getting a little closer.

Sitting still and low can yield a pleasant, eye-level view of your waterfowl subject.
A Green-winged Teal drake and hen. This species nests in the northern half of North America but follow the ice-line south during winter.
A handsome Green-winged Teal drake preens in shallow water.

We found this Pied-billed Grebe preening near the road and stopped to shoot way too many photos of it.

A Pied-billed Grebe preening under good light.
Reaching its head to collect secretions from the oil gland above the base of its tail, the Pied-billed Grebe will spend large amounts of time preening and water-proofing its feathers.

I have had much better success with raptors on other visits but we did find a few Bald Eagles. These birds are always present on the reserve at this time of year. I was surprised there were not more of these and other scavengers. We found at least a dozen goose carcasses in the pools of the refuge, likely the result of mid-air collisions as the blizzards blast off into the air.

This yearling Bald Eagle perches above the refuge drive, likely waiting to find an injured or dead waterfowl.

I have spotted Sandhill Cranes at the refuge during previous trips, but not in the numbers we saw this year. With a final count of near 35 birds, it was very nice to see. Unfortunately distance and light angle limited our photographic option.

A group of Sandhill Cranes forage together across a flooded field.
This individual Sandhill Crane was displaying in front of another, likely a subordinate or mate.

Muskrat mounds are always worth a closer inspection as you make the drive around the refuge. Not only will you likely find muskrat, but several species of birds like to perch upon the them.

An American White Pelican stretching and preening atop a muskrat mound.

Of course daylight is at a minimum this time of year and it’s always surprising to notice how quickly the sun begins to set. This is a fantastic location for sunsets and the snow geese are just as active as they have been all day.

A “blast off” of Snow Geese. I would love to know why these geese use their resources to lift off the water several times a day simply to fly around and land virtually in the same places of the pool they left from.
Situations like this may be my favorite. Here you can see that multiple large groups of Snow Geese have “blasted off” the pools at the same time. Seeing close to 250,000 geese in the sky at once is something that should not be missed!

Hopefully these images might persuade you to go and see this spectacle for yourself. It is a natural wonder of the world found in Missouri and should not be missed!

Snow Geese are still active during the last light of day.

-OZB

Floating the Upper Current

Upper Current in Autumn
Upper Current in Autumn

I’m finally ready to share a few more images from a float down the upper third or so of the Current River that Steve and I had the great fortune to experience this past October.  We started at navigable mile 8.0 at Cedar Grove Access and pulled out three days later at mile 51, the confluence of the Current and that other, oh-so desirable, Ozark stream – the Jacks Fork.  If one floats slow and quiet, the opportunity to see wildlife is very high in this National Park (Ozark National Scenic Riverways N.P.).  I’v shared a couple of images of these guys previously.  I believe we found 8-9 Mink during the first day of this float.  It was enjoyable watching them busily hunt along the stream banks, mostly oblivious to our presence.  As usual, Steve did a great job in keeping us quiet and pointed in the optimal direction for capturing some images.

American Mink
American Mink

It was quite a challenge to keep up with these guys as they fished.  This one below had caught a nice-sized crayfish and barely slowed to stop and enjoy his snack.

Ozark Lobster!
Ozark Lobster!

Here is a photo of one investigating the water prior to dipping back in.

Testing the Water
Testing the Water

Not only does a float down the Current allow for great observations of wildlife, but many geological features are most easily seen by being on the river as well.  Cave Spring can now be accessed via a nice newer trail, but it is much nicer accessing it by boat.  The endpoint of a vast and interesting karst drainage system, Cave Spring rises from the back of a short cave.  At the rear of this cave one can guide a boat over the vertical conduit of the spring, which is ~155 feet deep!  What an eerie sensation it is to shine your light down and still see no more than a fraction of the length of the conduit shaft.  In the image below, I am on a dry exposed shelf adjacent to the spring’s outlet and Steve is guiding the canoe towards the river.

Cave Spring
Cave Spring

Pultite is a spring found on this upper stretch of the Current River that is surrounded on all sides except the river by private property.  This means that one must boat or wade/swim to visit it.  At only ~ 1/10 the output of Big Spring, Pultite is still quite a good-sized spring with and average daily output of ~ 25 million gallons.  The effluent channel on this one is quite attractive and I hope to visit more often.

Pultite Channel
Pultite Channel

If day one was for the Mink, day two was our River Otter day.  We had no Mink, but 5 or 6 of these large weasels were spotted.

North American River Otter
North American River Otter

Not to forget the birds!  These days, a trip to nearly any permanent Missouri water source will likely bring an encounter with a Bald Eagle.  Observing these guys in the Ozarks will never get old to me.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Another constant companion on these floats are the Fish Crows, here pictured finishing up a little Ozark lobster.

Fish Crow
Fish Crow

We were fortunate in having mostly clear and dry skies on this trip, which allowed us to throw our bags directly on whatever gravel bar that struck our fancy and sleep directly underneath the stars.  A morning fire was necessary – not only to burn the dew off of our sleeping bags, but of course, for the river-water French-press coffee.  Dark skies on these streams afford great opportunities for astrophotography.  My only wish for this trip is that I was a little more tolerant of the cold, tiredness and laziness that limited my patience for getting better nightscape images… 😉

Nightscape on the Upper Current
Nightscape on the Upper Current

I will be posting more images of this trip on my Flickr account in the near future.  Thanks for visiting and I hope to post again in the near future.

-OZB

 

Bald Eagle Nest – The Fledging

Greetings on a gorgeous wintery day.  I hope everyone is safe.  I was driving yesterday evening when the snow was really coming down, and was reminded that the first day of winter precipitation in the StL metro area is very much like one of those figure eight races.

I want to give a very late thank you to all of the folks who visited the Art at the Shaw Nature Reserve 9th Annual Show & Sale last weekend.  I enjoyed and appreciated seeing all my old friends and meeting new ones.  I apologize for being tardy with this message.

I also want to apologize for being so tardy in posting these images from my last visit to the Bald Eagle nest.

Bill Duncan – 11/16/2014

The Nearly Empty Nest...
The Nearly Empty Nest…

Arriving near first light on a very foggy morning, I could not find any presence in the nest.  I feared that the chicks had fledged and the family had moved on.  After waiting about 30 minutes, I decided to walk under the nest tree to see if I might find evidence of what they ate, or some other artifacts that may have landed during their nearly three month stay.  Not finding much on the ground, I peered up the trunk of the giant sycamore to see what the nest looked like from my vantage.  As I did, I saw both chicks 10-15 feet above the nest looking down at me!  They were hidden from my view earlier due to the low light, fog and foliage.  Not wanting to disturb them, I slowly hiked back up the hill to my usual observation spot.

IMG_4307
WEEK ELEVEN

I watched for a few hours as they climbed up and down the stout branches that rose over their nest, exercising their wings as they went.  I was sure they were close to taking that first plunge.  Little did I know what was in store.  I watched as the older and bolder of the two took what was likely its first flight attempt.  It fell like a rock.  After the initial “flight”, I listened for sounds of life behind the dense foliage below the nest.  I heard not a single sound for nearly half an hour.  I had to see if the bird might have broken its neck or perhaps landed in the river below.  I slowly walked down the slope, under the nest tree and onto the flat of the river’s bank.  I looked up and finally, to my relief saw this one looking back at me from about 50 feet above me and ten feet or so from the nest.  Not much of a first flight, but this one was out of the nest.

WEEK ELEVEN
WEEK ELEVEN

With its older sibling out of the way, the remaining chick put even more efforts into practicing…

WEEK ELEVEN
WEEK ELEVEN

The chick spent a lot of time in limbs well above the nest.  When one of the parents brought a meal, it must have been confused that nobody was there to take it…

WEEK ELEVEN
WEEK ELEVEN

The chicks have been out of the nest for about five months now.  I hope they are doing well and learning a lot during their first winter.  Maybe we’ll run into each other one day.

WEEK ELEVEN
WEEK ELEVEN

 

 

Bald Eagle Nest – Week Eight – Part One

There were no real interesting shots taken during the hour that I spent at the nest in week seven.  So, let’s skip to week eight, where I found the birds to be more active.

The first two shots were taken from the other side of the river.

IMG_2419
Week Eight – Exercising
Week Eight - Mom's Home!
Week Eight – Mom’s Home!
Week Eight - Portrait Time
Week Eight – Portrait Time
Week Eight - Getting Large
Week Eight – Getting Large
Week Eight - More Fish
Week Eight – More Fish