Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lance-tipped Darner, Lodge Lake, WA

Indian Paintbrush grace the trail leading to Lodge Lake, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
Last weekend I posted some photos of a young one-legged Northern Harrier that I found along the trail leading to Lodge lake, in the Snoqualmie Wilderness just East of Seattle, WA. This weekend I'll feature some of the dragonflies and damselflies that I found at Lodge lake.
When I reached Lodge Lake, there were some good-sized dragonflies buzzing and hovering over the shoreline of the lake. I waited for many minutes for one of these guys to land on something so I could try to get a photo and ID, but they didn't land. They kept airborne. Sometimes they would hover over a spot for a few seconds, but mostly they cruised back and forth at varying speeds, making it very difficult for me to get a focus of one in my viewfinder.
A Lance-tipped Darner appearing in my viewfinder, Lodge Lk, WA; 8/10/2012.
After many minutes of trying to follow the path of one of these dragonflies (Above), I knew it would be in vain. Either they were too fast and sporadic for me to follow with my Sigma lens at its 500mm maximum zoom, or if I zoomed out to less magnification, I could not get any in focus, as they were too small and far away.  So I tried a new tactic...
The same Lance-tipped Darner entering further into my viewfinder...
My strategy was to locate a common spot that these dragonflies seemed to prefer. Then I chose a focus point as close to the spot as I thought a dragonfly might come close to. Then I waited (and waited...) for a dragonfly that was tending to hover instead of cruise, to come close to that area.
...the Darner almost completely in my viewfinder...
Then I would raise my prefocused camera and aim it to the area hoping that the hovering dragonfly would wait long enough in that spot and be close to my prefocal point.
...okay, he is now completely in my viewfinder, still hovering...
Once I could locate the hovering dragonfly in my viewfinder, I fine-tuned the focus trying to find the sweet spot that would put it in focus.
...getting closer to my focus...
I started bursting my shutter at the same time keeping the dragonfly as close to the center of my viewfinder as I could, while fine-tuning the focus, as the dragonfly would keep changing its position, but luckily it was still hovering and not zooming off.
...still hovering, giving me a chance to fine focus...

... getting closer to a sharp focus...
As I kept bursting, it suddenly moved into a nice focus, while I tried to keep my arms steady while trying to hold still a Sigma 150-500mm zoom lens on Canon Rebel EOS D7 body (over 6 lbs of equipment) for 15-20 seconds. But those of you who focus on a moving target while bursting, know when you think you captured a nice image, even while the shots are going by at 8 per second. I had that feeling, that I captured the shot (out of several dozens) that might be a good one.
At last ... the Lance-tipped Darner, Lodge Lake, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
I think this is it (Above), the one shot out of at least 5 or 6 dozen attempts to get a decently focused image of a Lance-tipped Darner, the perpetual flyer, the one who wouldn't land, the "catch me if you can" Odonate member. Al;l the photos in this post came from the same series of bursts.
Of course, after getting this photo, I thought I could get another, and stayed for ten minutes more trying to capture another successful image. But alas, I didn't even come close to getting another dragonfly to hover into my viewfinder. Or to be more accurate, I couldn't get my viewfinder to find a hovering dragonfly.
As you can read, I have identified this Northwestern dragonfly as a Lance-tipped Darner, but being a very much beginner in dragonfly knowledge, I cannot be sure that this a Lance-tipped Darner, but it seemed to have the most similar traits of the all the dragonfly pics I researched.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

One-legged Northern Harrier, Lodge lake Trail, Washington State


A 1st year Northern Harrier sitting on a downed log, Lodge Lake Trail, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
I was fortunate to spend some time in Washington State at the beginning of August to get some hiking and birding in before my busy school year tackles me. One of the cool places near Seattle is the Snoqualmie Wilderness, which has hiking trails galore. On our last day in the area, Val and I hiked to Lodge lake where I found lots of dragonflies and damselflies (a subject for a future post). About two-thirds of the way to Lodge Lake, as I was rounding the bend past a smaller pond, I noticed a trio of hikers looking intently into the brush. Not knowing what they were spying on, I slowed down and tread quietly, not wanting to scare whatever it was they were looking at. One of the hikers motioned me toward them and pointed out a raptor sitting on a dead log stretched over a marshy area. They said they saw the raptor circling above and then make a landing behind some trees. They didn't see it land, but came upon it a few minutes later - assuming it was the same bird. Noticing my large lens (Sigma 150-500mm) hanging off my harness- just a tad bit bigger than their camera phone, they wanted me to take a photo (did they really have to ask?) so they could get a closer look. I hurriedly snapped a couple of photos (Above) to make sure I had something before it flew off. I shared the photos with them and they wanted to know if it was a Golden Eagle. I told them it looked too small to be an eagle - more likely a hawk, but since raptors aren't a strength of my bird identification skills I couldn't offhand think of which hawks were completely dark reddish brown. A Dark Morph Ferruginous came to mind but I couldn't remember if it would be found in a forested area (later research proved they are more of a arid grassland raptor). A Red-shouldered Hawk also came to mind, but I couldn't remember if these would be found in the Pacific Northwest, and also it seemed to me Red Shoulders have white on their undersides. Later research proved that these are found on the West Coast, but rarely in the north, but could be found in forest habitats. It turned out that this hawk didn't have enough white underneath to be a red-shouldered.
It appears that this Northern Harrier has only one leg,  Lodge Lake Trail, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
Well, it turned out that this raptor was a 1st-Year Northern Harrier (Above), which has completely dark brown back, wings, tail and head, with Rufus breast and belly. The trait which ultimately identifies this guy as a Northern Harrier is its disc-shaped face which outlined its cheeks. Some bird guides say this hawk has an "owl-like facial disc." As I was photographing this Harrier, it didn't seem to mind us being there. In fact it didn't make any sort of move to fly away. It definitely knew we were there (perhaps 40 yards away), and it continued to scan its surroundings - presumably looking for prey.  The trio of hikers continued on their journey (opposite direction of where I was headed). I stayed to take more photos, and after a good ten minutes this harrier stayed put, and I continued my hike to Lodge Lake.
The same Northern Harrier craning its neck, Lodge Lake Trail, Snoqualmie Wilderness, WA; 8/10/2012.
It took me another 20 minutes to reach Lodge Lake, stayed there for a good 20 minutes to take photos of the many damselflies and dragonflies present, then started my return hike back to the trailhead.  Twenty minutes later, I was back at the spot where the Northern Harrier was - and it was still sitting in the same spot (Above) - over an hour later. I thought it was good luck (for taking more photos), but thought it unusual for a hawk to stay in one spot for so long. I suppose it could have left and returned. I decided to try my strategy of taking a photo and then taking a few steps closer to see if it would stay or scare off. This Harrier let me cut the original distance of over 100 feet in half, perhaps even more. I had to bushwhack noisily through some thick brush to get closer and ultimately I was probably only 40 feet away when I was at my closest - still photographing. It would glance my way periodically, but largely ignored me. I took almost 100 pics of this guy before I decided I couldn't get any better, and I continued my hike back to the trailhead where Val was undoubtedly already there waiting for me. She no longer wonders why I fall so far behind on our hikes - she knows that I am out stalking a bird. But the Harrier was still sitting in the same spot when I left it.
It was only after I was showing Val all the nice close ups I had of the Harrier, that she remarked that it looked like it only had one leg. I then looked at every single of the 100 images I had of it, and she was correct, I couldn't find a single photo that showed more than one leg. The three photos I put on this post all show one leg. It dawned upon me that this might be the reason it didn't fly off easily. I guessed that with only one leg, it might be more difficult for it to land; therefore, it stays in one spot as long as it can before it is forced to move. I was glad I decided not to get any closer which might have scared it into flight.

Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Illinois

A Red-tailed Hawk checking out the action on Blood Points Rd., Cherry Valley, IL; 8/1/2011.
This fall raptors have been on the move migrating towards their winter hunting grounds. Although I haven't been out to enjoy this season's migration, I have been keeping up with the IBET posts, and there seems to be a lot of sightings of raptors in the Northern Illinois area.  One of our more common raptors is the Red-tailed Hawk (Above), which we see year round especially along rural roadsides.
The same Red-tailed Hawk sitting on an electrical pole on Blood Points Rd., Cherry Valley, IL; 8/1/2011.
As I was biking along Blood Points Road a year ago, I saw this majestic Hawk sitting on an electrical pole (Above), which I soon recognized as a Red-tailed Hawk as I zoomed in on it to get its picture. Its obvious red tail sticking out past its wing tips was the give away. It flew across the road and settled on a dead branch not far away (Top photo).
Another Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a small tree off the loop road in Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/2011.
A Red-tailed Hawk soaring over a prairie, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 4/21/2012.
Another easy identification of this hawk, as its red tail is back lit by the late afternoon sun.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Red Admirals and Green Frogs


A Red Admiral Butterfly, Schoenbrun Nature Conservatory, Door County, WI; 6/20/2012.
This Summer I started making a point to do more Butterfly photography, which in the past was haphazard at best. As I became a little more versed in my butterfly identification I found that the Red Admiral (Above) was one of the more common members of the Brushfoot family to find in the Midwest.
Red Admiral, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/1/2012.
One of the best places for "butterfly hunting" seemed to be in two of my favorite Forest Preserves , Deer Run and Blackhawk Springs, both having excellent wildflower prairies and dark forests - both good habitats for finding butterflies. I found Red Admirals mostly in forests and forest edges many times near streams or ponds, but also had good luck finding them along roadsides with wildflowers.
A Red Admiral and Bullfrog, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/1/2012.
While hunting dragonflies at Deer Run Forest Preserve, the erratic flight of a Red Admiral caught my eye. I followed its flight pattern as it landed on a log across a murky pond. I zoomed in for a few pictures. I decided to pan back to capture it in its environment. As I was checking my LED screen to check on my settings, only then did I notice that there was a Green Frog (at least I think it's a Green Frog, not a Bullfrog) less than a foot from the Red Admiral (Above). This Green Frog totally escaped my detection until I saw it in my images.
A closer look at the Red Admiral in the sightlines of a hopeful Green Frog, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/1/2012.
After discovering its presence, I put more of my attention on the Green Frog which was definitely focused upon the Red Admiral. I am sure the Green Frog was thinking about a convenient midday meal. I tried to focus on the two to see if I could capture a strike ...
This Green Frog blended in perfectly with the log it was sitting on, Deer Run Forest Preserve, Cherry Valley, IL; 7/1/2012.
I was wondering if the Red Admiral was even aware that the Frog was there as it perfectly blended in with its surroundings, and how close it might be to ceasing to exist.  I wasn't sure how close prey had to be in order for a frog to make a successful strike. I waited for a couple of long minutes and neither amphibian nor butterfly made a move. I was guessing that Mr. Green wasn't close enough to throw its sticky tongue at the butterfly and was also waiting for Mr. Red to make a fatal move closer within striking range. Unfortunately my arms were getting heavy from holding up my Canon Rebel D7 with Sigma 150-500mm lens attached. As I lowered my equipment, the Red Admiral flew off. Both I and the Green Frog missed our opportunity.
Another Green Frog, which was eyeing damselflies, Rock Cut State Park; 7/17/2012.

Another Red Admiral, Dee Run Forest Preserve, Cheery Valley, IL; 4/22/2012.
A good look at a Red Admiral's colorful wing pattern (Above), which is pretty much unmistakable, as no other Midwestern butterfly has these fiery red-orange bands and white spots on an otherwise all black wing span.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Great Blue Heron with a broken bill

A Great Blue Heron with a broken bill, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012.
Earlier this summer while I was hiking in Rock Cut State Park, I was watching a Great Blue Heron (Above) about 200 feet across a secluded pond. I didn't notice it on my first few photos, but as I zoomed in, something looked unusual about its bill. It looked broken, but because of the branches behind its head, it was hard to discern from my distance.
The same Great Blue with a broken bill,  Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012
When it turned to a more profile position, the broken bill was more evident (Above), as its upper mandible was bent up in a 45 degree angle. I wondered how this might have happened and also expected that this condition would greatly handicap its ability to hunt fish and other food.
A close up of its broken bill, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012
 At a closer look (Above), you can see that the upper bill is broken off and bent up and to one side. The lower mandible also seemed shorter than the usual size of a Great Blue. Compare the photo to a Great Blue Heron with a normal bill (Below).

Another Great Blue heron, RCSP, IL: 7/16/2012.
As you can see (Above), the lower mandible seems to extend further out than on the Heron with the broken bill. The Heron with the broken bill was obviously an adult-sized bird, so I am speculating that the injured bill was probably recent. It most likely was not born in this condition because it wouldn't have been able to hunt and feed very well, thus not letting it grow to normal size. And more than likely the broken portion of the bill would have long fallen off.

If the broken bill condition has been with this bird for some time, I am wondering how it has adapted its hunting skills in order to survive. It seems to me that it would have to jab deeper in the water to catch its prey in the back half of its bill, instead of a normal Heron who could nab a fish with the slimmer and pointed end of the bill. I am also wondering that if indeed this injured bird has been a successful hunter, what kind of prey it has been able to capture. It probably cannot probe into the mud at the bottom of a pond to catch crustaceans, but it might be able to grab onto slower prey such as turtles or larger fish such as catfish that it might be able to hold onto with its back half of its bill.

This is the only time I have seen this particular handicapped Heron, but I haven't been out to Rock Cut State Park much during the summer. Now that it's three months later, it would be interesting to find this guy again and what kind of condition it might be in.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Northern IL Summer Warblers: Cerulean, Prothonitary, and Yellow-throated.

I'll finish my series about Wood Warblers who live in Northern Illinois for the summer with a group of my poor quality pictures of the cerulean warbler, Prothonitary warbler, Yellow-throated warbler and Ovenbird. The reason I am showing bad pictures, is because I didn't get any better photos of this group of warblers that I don't get a chance to see very often. I also entered my "excuses" for the poor picture quality.
Cerulean Warbler, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/12/2012.
It took me some time to finally spot the beautiful Cerulean warbler, as I heard it singing but couldn't find it. Unfortunately it was a dark gray day and the photo quality wasn't very good.

Ovenbird, Mississippi Palisades State park, IL; 5/28/2012.
Ovenbirds are warblers I hear far more than see. Surprisingly this Ovenbird (Above) was high up on a tree branch. They are usually scrounging around in the underbrush. This guy was not only high in a tree but also probably 200-250 feet away in a dark part of the forest, and I had trouble getting a sharp focus with my hand-held 150-500mm Sigma Zoom lens.
Prothonitary Warbler, Colored Sands Forest Preserve, Shirland, IL; 6/12/2012.
This Prothonitary Warbler was also hiding pretty well high in the tree tops and (Above) was probably my best effort as it popped out for a brief second and before I could sharpen my manual focus, it flew off out of sight.
Yellow-throated Warbler, Rock Cut State park, IL; 6/15/2012.
I thought I lucked out when I saw a Yellow-throated Warbler sitting wide open on the road in front of me. I took a quick shot out of my car window (Above), before I pulled over and tried to stealthily get a better vantage point of this beautifully appointed bird. I tried my trick of shooting a photo then moving slowly closer, but this crafty little guy wouldn't cooperate. As I took one step closer, it would fly 20 feet further down the road. it stayed in the open, but was always a little too far out of my "sharp focus" range and it stayed in the tree shadows at the side of the road and finally out of sight completely. So it turned out that my best shot was the one I took out of the window of my car. My only other photo of this species was a blurry one-attempt shot earlier this spring (Below).
A blurry Yellow-throated Warbler, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/5/2012.
This ends my series of summer warblers from northern Illinois. To see a complete list of Warblers that call Northern Illinois their summer home, see my post from 8/19/ 2012.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

North. IL Summer Warblers: Black-throated Green Warblers

A Black-throated Green Warbler, Rock Cut State Park, IL, 5/20/2012.
Another summer warbler that resides in the Rockford area of Northern Illinois, is the Black-throated Green Warbler (Above), which I was fortunate to find at Rock Cut State Park last May. At first I didn't recognize its song because I never heard one before in the wild. The only other time before this when I saw one of these warblers was in Mexico two winters ago (Below), but it wasn't vocalizing.

A black-throated Green Warbler, Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/2010.
Then this past June while I spent a couple of days in Door County, Wisconsin, I heard Black-throated warblers all over the place, but they stayed hidden deep in the trees and I couldn't get one to find itself in my camera's  viewfinder.