In the Land of the Blind the One-eyed Man is King

Hooded Mergansers - Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary - St. Charles Co, MO
Hooded Mergansers First Year Males – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

The one-eyed man referred to in the title of this post is, of course, the photographer with a telephoto lens sticking out of a well-placed blind.  Yes, we are all aware of and use to good effect the mobile blind – our warm vehicles.  However, shooting from a car in a place like RMBS leaves a bit to be desired.

6a1a5722
Common Goldeneye – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

From a car, the angle at which the birds are photographed will always be at the same downwards angle that in my opinion is less desirable than being close to eye level, which sitting low in a a portable ‘bag’ style blind can afford.

6a1a5316
Hooded Merganser Hen – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Although I have owned such a blind for a few years, I have only recently given it some real use with friend and fellow like-minded nature photographer, Miguel Acosta.  All of the images from this post were made in our first attempts at this and even with limited light and opportunities, I can already see the potential in using this technique for improving photography of waterfowl.

6a1a5377
Hooded Merganser Big Boys – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Getting an eye-level perspective yields more benefits than just a resting duck.  Catching birds taking to flight from the water’s surface from this angle makes for a more powerful image than from above.

6a1a5598
Lift Off! – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

I’m really glad we tried this out.  It is something I’ve been wishing to do for quite some time and I guess it just makes sense that this is the way to do it.  Now I just need to think of places and opportunities to try more.

6a1a5820
Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Until next time.
-OZB

Advertisements

It’s Swan Season!

Trumpeter Swans - Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO
Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

6a1a3601
Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

6a1a3610
Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

 

6a1a3623
Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, St. Charles County, MO

A Tale of Three White Giants

Trumpeter Swans
Trumpeter Swans

Missouri is home to three giant white swan species that can be difficult to distinguish without a bit of training or education.  All three swans belong to the genus Cygnus and rank among the largest waterfowl on the planet.  The first species we will consider is the Trumpeter Swan (C. buccinator).  Ranked as both the largest waterfowl species in the world and the largest flying bird of North America, the Trumpeter Swan is considered a conservation success.  Beginning in the 1600s the birds were collected for their meat, skins and feathers.  This unregulated slaughter lasted until the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provided the species some protection. Their population rebounded from a level as low as 32 birds documented in 1932 to 15,000 – 20,000 estimated today.  Trumpeter Swans only winter in Missouri, spending their summer nesting season from the upper great plains up to Alaska.  As many as 600 birds have been counted at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary during a winter season.

Trumpeter Swans
Trumpeter Swans

The Tundra Swan  (C. columbianus) are more widespread across North America compared to its larger relative, the Trumpeter.  And, although they far outnumber the Trumpeter in total population, the Trumpeter is actually the more abundant winter resident in Missouri.  For reasons unknown, this winter we have seen an unusually high number of the comparatively rare Tundra, giving birders something to be excited about.

In single species groups, especially at a distance, the two species can be challenging to tell apart.  However, when seen up close and spaced closely together, the differences are more easily identified.  On average, the Tundra is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the Trumpeter.  In addition the border of the black color surrounding the bill is different in the two species and the Tundra usually has a yellow spot on the lores, near the base of the bill.  I’ll guide you to your favorite field guide for more specifics.  With this information, can you spot the four Tundras in the image below?

Mix of Swans
Mix of Swans

Here is a closeup of the two species in flight.  Easy to spot the Tundra here.  Right?

Trumpeter : Tundra - 2.1
Trumpeter : Tundra – 2.1

It was such a treat being able to watch a group of Tundras carrying on…

Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans

Finally, our last (and quietest) of Missouri’s Cygnus – the Mute Swan (Color).  The Mute is native to the old world and exists in North America as a naturalized resident.  Still raised and sold on the captive market, the Mute is typically a year-round resident in these parts, moving only to find open water in the dead of winter.  These birds are easily recognized by the large, orange-collored bills, often with a bulge at its base.  I photographed this pair at Binder Lake S.P.

Mute Swans
Mute Swans

There you are, a quick overview of the Missouri’s white giants.

Thanks for the visit.
-OZB

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…

IMG_1520

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. 😉

IMG_1742

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

IMG_1795

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.

IMG_2351

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.

IMG_1998

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.

IMG_2188

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.

IMG_2246

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.

IMG_2263

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

IMG_6732

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.

IMG_6750