Friday, March 29, 2013

Wood Duck - Homage to the Hen

It was a marvelous Spring morning along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia - delightful temperatures, brilliant blue sky, few people, and 25-30 Wood Ducks.

The drake Wood Duck is arguably the most beautiful North American duck - brilliantly colored, showy - even gaudy. I have known many people who, when given a good look at the drake, catch their breath in astonishment. With good reason ...

But ... when I moved to Vermont 15 years ago, a neighbor (now friend and birding companion) advised, almost off-handedly, not to overlook the hen - that she was the most attractive female duck in North America, a rival to the male of some other species. She is easy to overlook. When seen together, attention is naturally drawn to her mate ...

My friend was, and is right. With wonderful lighting and conditions, and many opportunities, I focused my camera's attention on the Wood Duck hen. Here is a homage to a beautiful lady ...

As I walked along Forbidden Drive, most of the males who were warming themselves on the sunny shore of the creek, quickly retreated to the opposite side. Not this hen, she found something tasty on the creek bottom, and she was not put off as I crept close to spy on her. She simply dabbled away ...

The Wood Ducks on the Wissahickon are wild, but opportunistic, sometimes mixing in with the semi self-domesticated Canada Geese and Mallards, and competing with them for the bread crumbs which people throw. This hen, bless her, did not allow the testosterone driven, aggressive drake, nor the many-times larger goose, to intimidate her. She grabbed the soggy morsel, and it was gone. ... 

Dessert to the visual Wood Duck feast, was the repetitive call of the Eastern Phoebe, and the first tentative bubbling of the Winter Wren. Spring! ... and Good Birding!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Heinz NWR Today - Swallows, et alia

The snow this past weekend was Winter's last gasp - or so folks in Philadelphia hope. Remains to be seen what winter may still have in mind in Vermont, but in Philly the snow is gone, the sun in beginning to warm the world, and it feels like Spring.

At Heinz NWR it was the first true Spring day this year. Or at least, the Tree Swallows certainly think it is Spring and time to be about the business of renting accommodations and getting hooked up for the season ...

Tree Swallows

In the process, they provided this pent-up photographer several good photo ops ...

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Spring and Fall, Heinz has been a dependable place for the Rusty Blackbird, a bird whose numbers are in serious decline and one that has most often eluded me in New England ...

Rusty Blackbird

Great Egrets are arriving in greater numbers and in full plumage splendor, although this individual is a bit drawn in on him/herself ...

Great Egret

Additional images from the day, just because ...

Great Blue Heron

And finally, along the Wissahickon Creek, apparently not all Wood Ducks are paired up. These four bachelors were harassing one hen, although it is difficult to know whether she was annoyed by the attention, or relishing in it ...

Wood Ducks - 4 drakes & 1 hen (and one Mallard)

Good Birding!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Day of Spring

Spring arrived a few minutes after 7:00 am, and to say that Spring is welcome is an understatement. The winter has been dreary with few bright days, but this first day of Spring was sunny and bright.

We welcomed Spring with a day trip to Cape May. As we arrived at the state park, a small group of birders was watching 28 Great Blue Herons crossing the Delaware Bay, joining up with those who stayed through the inhospitable winter months.

Great Blue Heron
 In the FOY category (first of year), it was a delight to have the Eastern Phoebe and Pine Warbler ...

Pine Warbler and Eastern Phoebe
Also in the FOY category were Killdeer in several locations, and a very shy Gray Catbird - skulking in tangles and unresponsive to pishing, suggesting that his hormones still haven't kicked into high gear ...

Gray Catbird
Other signs of Spring were seen in a pair of courting Fish Crows. If this gentleman appears miffed, it is probably because my stroll through the conservancy interrupted his wooing ...

Fish Crow
Along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia, Wood Ducks have returned, most apparently having paired during the winter; drake and hen were consistently seen near each other ...

Wood Duck - drake and hen
Good Birding!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sounds and Sights of Spring

In Philadelphia, the sounds and sights of impending Spring are all around. Residents are singing, often dueling with neighbors in their song:

Northern Cardinal vigilant on his territory

Tufted Titmouse singing with purpose.
 The Bald Eagle pair at Heinze NWR are well into their nesting, with hatching having occurred, or about to occur ...

Bald Eagle and aerie at Heinz NWR
 In parks, ponds, fields, and streams, the Canada Geese are in constant contention ...

Canada Goose confrontation

The first migrants are beginning to appear, such as this lone Great Egret ...

Great Egret - FOY

Through it all, the Northern Saw-whet Owl continues to roost in the same spot at Heinz Refuge ...

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Good Birding!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Pileated Woodpecker

During the last few years, I have done a lot of different programs and talks on birds. Everytime the Pileated Woodpecker entered a program, I used J.J.Audubon's painting of the bird. I did not have any photographs of the Pileated Woodpecker.

I see this bird several times every year, but those sightings are usually very brief ones as the bird flies across the road, or an opening in the forest. Fifteen years ago, I sat on a wooded slope in central Pennsylvania and watched one excavating a hole. Wood chips flew everywhere. I was not a photographer then.

Last year I had an excellent opportunity to photograph the Pileated Woodpecker - it was close to a trail I was on, working a fallen tree close to the ground. But I had violated Rule #1 for getting good photographs. I did not have my camera with me!

Early Sunday morning I carried my camera and binoculars from my apartment in a high rise building in Philadelphia down to the parking lot. Part of the parking lot is lined with large trees which screen a major city road. The road runs parallel to the Wissahickon Park - a significantly large piece of nature in the middle of the city.

I heard tap-tapping. I glanced casually, saw some red, and thought, Red-bellied Woodpecker. But I looked closer. A Pileated Woodpecker was busily pounding on a dead branch.

Then - grab the camera. Turn it on. Shoot off the documenting shots. Then work around for better views, better lighting, new angles. For about 15 minutes I photographed the bird as it worked along dead limbs.

Pileated Woodpecker - female, with black stripe on chin

Digging out the good stuff

I was so busy photographing the bird, that I almost missed the fact that there was a second bird present ...

Pileated Woodpecker - female, with just the tail of a second bird on the right
But he was cooperative, and stayed around to work the tree with his mate ...

Pileated Woodpecker - male
Then for a couple of minutes, the pair worked the same limb, rapidly tapping in tandem. It was eerie, almost as though one were the mirror of the other.

When the pair finally flew, I continued to Heinz NWR for a morning of birding - a morning that was good in the very first few minutes!


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