The rut of 2020 turned out pretty well for me. I was able to get to my favorite place for this type of photography five or six times. I tried for a few more days, but weather and flooding caused me to change plans. I didn’t get any high action shots, but I am happy with the portraits I got of some of the larger bucks in this herd.
This year it looks like the popular roosting tree at the Grafton, IL Visitor’s Center is playing host to this gray morph Eastern Screech Owl. I have photographed red morph individuals in previous years that were using this same cavity. You can find a few photos of those here and here. There have been reports of brown or “chocolate” morphs being found here or in another nearby location over the past couple of years, but as of yet, I have not been able to photograph that color morph.
My friend Dave and I made this visit and were fortunate to find this bird somewhat active. For a Screech Owl in the daytime, this is fortunate indeed. By “active” I simply mean it would move in and out of its tree cavity and open its eyes to have a look around once in a while.
We were told by a local constable that the name they have given the bird was “Winky,” which I find to be pretty apt for an owl. One thing we noticed during this visit is that the unobstructed viewing lanes are becoming harder to find due to the encroachment of the bush honeysuckle growth. Dave and I could only find two lanes that worked well for photography purposes. If I can confirm they do not use this cavity in the summer, I would like to return to do a little landscaping.
While we waited for the owl to return from its hiding inside the tree, we had a nice opportunity to photograph a Pileated Woodpecker that had flown in to forage among the dogwood berries.
Today I’m sharing a couple of plants that Casey introduced me to that have a preference for growing in dry, sandy places. The first is a monarda that I did not know existed and has since become my favorite of the beebalms for certain.
Next up is Callirhoe triangulata, the clustered poppymallow. This supremely saturated flower strongly prefers, dry sandy soils. A stunner of a plant! We looked for compositions that allowed us to feature not only the flower, but the triangular-shaped leaf as well, which is indicative of this species. This species is very rare to possibly extirpated in Missouri.
We found this equally striking Rufous-banded Crambid moth (Mimoschinia rufofascialis) on an open flower. This moth uses these mallows as a host plant, feeding on the immature seeds. I’m not sure, but I doubt the adults feed; this one was likely just using the flower for shelter.
I have traveled to Kaskaskia Island, IL at least 7 times in the past four years in hopes of being fortunate to find these beautiful birds in close distance to a road. Most visits result in being able to find them, but most often they are a football field or more away. Back in early January 2020, Sarah and I finally won the lottery.
We found these birds quite close to the road and actively foraging in the permanent drainage canals of this river valley farming area.
Whooping Cranes are still endangered; however, thanks to the USFWS/USGS captive breeding and reintroduction program, this species has come back from the brink of extinction. In 1941 the species was down to only 21 individuals due to rampant conversion of natural habitat to farmland, coastal development, and unregulated hunting. The captive breeding program was initiated in 1967 and today there are now more than 800 birds in the wild.
Captive breeding and reintroduction has now been transferred from the federal institutions to a good number of other organizations who will continue towards the goal of making the Whooping Crane self-sufficient again. This efforts is not completely without problems as there have been and continue to be problems associated with getting the reintroduced birds to migrate, interact and successfully nest.
A case in point may be the recent history of these birds in the state of Missouri (only the 8th record in MO since 1953). The first reports of a four-bird cohort observed in Columbia MO was in May, 2016. These were the same birds observed over-wintering in Kaskaskia Island, IL. These four birds were from a release who then strayed from their population that was following the traditional Wisconsin to Florida migration route. Since then at least two of the original four birds have died. Hopefully these two (I have been told, but have not yet been able to confirm that this is a sexual pair) will get back on track one day and do their part in propagating the species.
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.
The 275th bird species I have photographed in Missouri and contiguous states turned out to be a special one. This Eastern Screech Owl is definitely the current most famous bird in the bi-state area. Many thanks to Miguel Acosta for the information. A long time coming.
Way back in April Steve and I visited Larue Road, AKA “Snake Road”, to visit the swamps of western Shawnee National Forest. We came up mostly short on snakes and found way to many naked apes on this particular Saturday, but we were pretty certain to find a good feathered reptile show, and we were not disappointed.
The Prothonotary Warbler is a staple of southern swamps and this area sure has its share. We were pleasantly surprised to find a number of these birds foraging along the road, without a care about what we were up to. This allowed for some very nice looks and photographic opportunities.
The image above shows how these guys (and most warblers) go about making a living. They know better than any entomologist that the best opportunities for finding caterpillars and spiders is to look under leaves and inside the folds and crevices of new leaves and flowers.
We didn’t find a nest cavity of one of these monks during this visit, but they were undoubtedly tending nests and potentially caring for eggs. If only this area were not a three hour drive!
Lastly, at one end of the road we were greeted by a gang of Coots feasting on Coon’s Tail.