Images of a large flock of blackbirds taken at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area back in January, 2021. Mostly composed of Red-winged Blackbirds, this flock contained thousands to tens of thousands of birds.
Hoping for shorebird opportunities this spring, this was one of three birds I found foraging near the road at Columbia Bottom C.A. earlier this month.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. In fact, with the Northern Harrier, a bird with keen eyesight and talent for being as far from people as they possibly can, I’d say being lucky is the best thing to be.
During a recent trip to Columbia Bottom C.A., I spotted this formel (an old-school name for a female hawk or raptor) flying back and forth over this small patch of sorghum that was planted near an equipment shed and a small patch of woods that were both near an easy place to park. I doubted I would have the time to get close enough without being seen, but thought I’d give it a try.
I realized I was in a promising position in which I could move perpendicular to the course the bird was moving. I just needed to make sure I was either hunkered into the scrub-lined woods on the one side, or plastered against the equipment shed on the other. I did this without either being seen by the bird or at least by not being considered a threat.
When I was close enough that I felt I could put my 400 mm f/4 lens to good use, I was ready to shoot the next time she came by. I was able to get some shots on a couple or three passes before she started to move to other locations. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera settings optimized for such an occasion. I left a lot of potential aperture (DOF) and shutter speed on the table (these were mostly shot at ISO 100). But, I am happy with what I was able to get while being sure I did not make the bird too uncomfortable in the process.
Hello again and happy holidays.
These five were all taken at the confluence, either at RMBS or CBCA.
This gorgeous juvenile light-phase Rough-legged Hawk spent nearly a week at the confluence recently. These infrequent winter residents nest up north, far north, like arctic circle north. One of my favorite birds, it is always a pleasure to find one of these guys. Sarah and I very much enjoyed this bird, nearly the size of a Red-tailed Hawk, as it hover-hunted much like what is seen by the American Kestrel.
Steve and I were tipped off to these Ross’s Geese at Teal Pond by a kind birder. I can’t imagine a cuter bird. Well, maybe a few.
This has really been my year with the Harriers. I don’t know if it is luck, patience, or what. This one drifted by closely yo me at CBCA recently.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the dark-phase Red-taileds invaded the confluence area. I do not believe I have ever seen such a dark RTHA on the eastern side of Missouri before this one.
This handsome young Kestrel was quite cooperative in posing for me recently at RMBS.
This image is from a series I took early this summer at Colombia Bottom Conservation Area. These two dancing birds were among a large group of Great Egrets competing for standing room only space in a shrinking pool that was loaded with fish. These moves reminded me of the dancing and rhyming styles of that old hip hop dynamic duo of my youth, Kid ‘n Play. If I ever get around to processing all the keepers from this series, you will definitely not want to miss the shot I took of the bird I was able to get to wear a “Kid wig”. 😉
Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody… We Just Dancin’ Ya’ll!
“Kid ‘n Play”
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/400 sec
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/400 sec
I arrived at CBCA well before dawn. I knew from a visit a week earlier that a large amount of waterfowl, specifically Pintail, were using the habitat here and my hope was to catch some early morning photos of these birds flying by. In one of the large pools alongside the road I saw nearly 50 of these bizarre birds with a bill almost as long as their bodies. They were not very flighty at all, allowing me in my “mobile blind” to easily get within distance for some decent shots.
Members of the Scolopacidae family of shorebirds include the traditional Sandpipers, the beautiful Phalaropes, the Curlews, the Dowitchers, and several others – including the bird pictured above, the Common Snipe. The Scolopacids are well known for their complex and diverse mating behaviors. Not as complex or developed as the Passerine songbirds, this group also uses extensive advertisement vocalizations, most likely evolved to be well understood on their vast tundra breeding grounds.
Similar to its cousin, the Woodcock, the Common Snipe uses a “winnowing display” to attract mates. These birds will fly high into the air and plummet towards the ground while fanning their tail feathers, which make a distinctive winnowing noise as the air rushed rapidly over them.
Looking closely at the length of a shorebird species’ bill gives a great clue to what the bird feeds on and how much water they typically forage in. With the great diversity in the morphology of these birds, the specific depth of water and vegetation these species are accustomed to and food sources they utilize, it is no wonder that habitat management programs can be quite complex. What works great for waterfowl or a particular species of shorebird may not be useable at all for another species. CBCA has come a long way in providing the diversity of habitat and the managers seem to be doing a great job in their management practices, especially considering the unpredictable weather patterns we have had in this region the past several years.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/640 sec
The Great Rivers Confluence is the area where North America’s two largest rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, meet together and flow as the Mississippi. This confluence is just north of St. Louis, Missouri and provides many opportunities for birds along the Mississippi migratory flyway to find the habitat they need. These areas provide great opportunities for bird-watchers, hunters, and other outdoors types and go by names such as Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Jones Confluence State Park, Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, Marais Temps Clair CA, and a handful of other public properties that have been given mandates based on conserving the basic habitat that wild birds and our other wildlife kin rely upon for their existence.
I have been bird watching in this region for about five years and taking bird photographs here for the last two or three. In a previous post I showcased six of my favorite images I made at Riverlands MBS and Confluence SP. Today, I will feature another group of bird photographs taken at Columbia Bottom CA, which sets on the south side of the Missouri River.
These areas may seem very different to us bird watchers because it is about a 15-20 minute drive between the two. The birds, however can literally move between the two locations in 20-30 seconds. Such was the case with this Red-tailed Hawk, which is pictured above. This guy was present in the confluence area for three weeks or so and I had several great opportunities to photograph it. This is probably my favorite bird photograph to date. My wife and I were doing a drive through CBCA and in one of the smaller gravel parking lots here was the bird perched atop a post. I slowly pulled within about 25 feet or so from her going as slow as possible so not to flush her. The bird cooperatively sat still for maybe five minutes before another car flying by a nearby road caused her to take off.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec
One of the great things about birding the confluence region is that every season brings with it a different species composition. On a monthly basis you will find that some species have arrived and some have left in the ever ongoing event we call migration. The bird pictured above is a Horned-Lark and he is found in about equal numbers year round. They are a little more noticeable in the winter season, however, because they tend to aggregate in small flocks – most likely to make finding food easier and potentially spotting predators quicker. Starting in early spring they will slowly form the mating pairs that will spend the breeding season together.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/250 sec
This relative of the Cardinal is the monotypic, Dickcissel, and is very much a summer visitor. These guys arrive en masse to the confluence area around mid-May and following the breeding season leave just as abruptly to their over-wintering homes that lie from southern Mexico to northern South America. These guys are usually very numerous, but their population in recent decades are facing pressures. Dickcissel are grassland specialist, seed eaters. As such they have found there are easy pickings in agricultural areas. In their off-breading homes in Latin America, where there are fewer regulations against such things, farmers are using very dangerous poisons that have been documented in the killing of thousands of these birds as well as other non-targeted species.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/320 sec
The widely distributed, Black-crowned Night Heron is the quintessential marsh associated bird. These guys are perfectly adapted at catching and consuming a wide variety of animal prey items that they come across in wetlands across the world. I very much enjoy watching and photographing these birds. They can be found in the confluence region during the warmer months of the calendar.
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec
In bird photography nothing beats a typical, perfect, “documentary” style shot. You know, the photograph in which you were actually able to get close enough to your subject to come close to filling the frame, acheive a perfect exposure and obtain sharpness that will make your eyes bleed? That is definitely nice, but just as much, I appreciate the “bird as art” image; the photograph in which, with intent or not, you are able to show the subject and/or its environment in a way that looks different than a mere documentary of what the species “looks like”. The image above of a Great Egret is probably somewhere in between these two image styles. I wanted to exaggerate the length of this bird’s neck by cutting it from its body. The shallow DOF separates the bird from the background to further emphasize the subject and its lengthy proportions.
Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec
The Cadillac driving, fancy-pants of the duck world, the Northern Pintail is probably my favorite of the waterfowl. Much like any photographer who can’t afford to own $10K in glass that will reach, I always struggle to get close enough to ducks. I made this image just this weekend and it’s probably the closest I’ve ever been able to get to this species with a camera. The Confluence area lies almost directly in the middle of these guys range. We are near the northern limit of their wintering range and the southern limit of their breeding range. Their presence is hard to predict in this area. Typically they will start to arrive in early spring, but they are not uncommon to find any time during the winter when unfrozen water is present in marshy habitats. They typically are not found here in the summer as northern Missouri has only a small number of breeding pairs on record.
Folks who give a darn about things other than economic concerns have recently saved the confluence region from an environmental threat. The development that was proposed would have threatened and endangered many of the birds that rely on this region of the Mississippi River Flyway. I have attached a few links below for those of you who may be interested in this story.
Columbia Bottom Conservation area, where this image was taken, and Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary across the river are famous for the birds and other wildlife they support. I have enjoyed birding these places, located at the confluence of North America’s two greatest rivers- the Missouri and the Mississippi, for more than five years now. But, there is another reason I love being able to visit these locations. These are two of the closest places near St. Louis to see open skies, open skies without hills, trees, building or too many power lines and utility poles. I love shooting sunsets here because of the amount of sky that can be captured. True, I did not cover much sky in this image. This was due to the limited clouds in tonight’s sky. If there were more clouds throughout the sky I would have loved to have let the sky cover two thirds or more of the frame.
It always saddens me when I’m driving to or from work and see one of the many spectacular sunsets or sunrises from the car and know I can’t be out in nature trying to experience that moment and capture it in a lasting image.