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.  https://www.catalogchoice.org/  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-

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“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
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Birds of the Great Confluence – Part Two – Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

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.

http://missouri.sierraclub.org/home.aspx?/emg/sierrascape/s2009m10/05_casino.html

http://www.savetheconfluence.org/

http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2009/11/conservation_area_casino_faces.php

Migrating to What End?

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 100,  f/5.6, 1/320 sec

The Snow Goose ranks right up there with the warblers, in my opinion, in a peculiar sector of the natural world that lie conspicuously under the noses of the vast majority of our neighbors who have no idea they even exist.  Take one of your friends outside for a spring-migratory birding experience.  Explain to them that the population of the bird we call Snow Geese stands at more than five million and that the majority of these birds travel twice a year through the Mississippi River Flyway Migratory Corridor, which ranges from eastern Nebraska and Kansas to Eastern Illinois.  In February and March, find a nice open piece of high land within 50 or so miles of either side of the Mississippi River and let them watch with binoculars or scope as groups of birds ranging from 50 to 5000 birds or more travel back to Canada for their nesting season.  Similarly to the beautifully colored and tiny wood warblers who travel through Missouri northward bound mainly during the months of April and May, your friend or neighbor will most likely tell you that they had no idea these beings even existed, much less spent some time in the trees or skies right outside their own front doors.

The Snow Goose population may actually be a harbinger of things to come for the human species.  Low numbers of traditional predators combined with the fact that these birds are both extremely difficult to hunt (compared to other water fowl) and are not a source of desirable meat are resulting in this species’ increasing population to a critical mass.  These birds taste for a particular diet in their nesting grounds and as stated above, low levels of predation, are pushing this species very close to a population crash.  Current research is showing that Snow Geese are currently experiencing increased levels of starvation and disease incidence.

In my opinion, this could be analogous to the human population’s pace of continued growth with too little concern for population control and resource management.  As long as political “leaders” focus the majority of their efforts on up to the minute economic concerns, rather than the long-term prosperity of our planet and the resources of the commons, we will continue towards a similar state.