Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Great Horned Owl & Pack Rat

I visited the Great Horned Owl’s nest at 6:45AM to find just one owlet resting sleepy-eyed at the entrance. 

The adult male Great Horned Owl was standing guard, a hundred yards away, on his usual perch.

I watched the lone nestling nod for fifteen minutes.  He was so sleepy!  It’s understandable though, given the hour. He’s young and he’s an owl, it’s late. But looking around I saw the female, wide-eyed and awake behind me in a tree. She looked a lot more exciting!

She was an impressive bird; fully lit by the rising sun and framed by the tree.  Every soft feather was in place and she was flashing three-inch long nails. She was gorgeous!  That assumes you like a female who can turn her head 360 degrees.

Suddenly she focused on something in the distance and stretched her neck upward to see it.  She did four or five neck extensions each time rising a little higher, as if something she saw out there was passing out of sight.  When she was sufficiently certain it was something good to eat she went after it.

On her way she flew past me, but so gently I didn’t hear a wing beat.   

I swung around 180 degrees to catch her arrival at the nest, but she beat me. She was already standing at the entrance when I got into position.  

Not only that, she had a pack rat in her mouth now too. She is amazing!  It took her about ten seconds to spot, capture and deliver dinner to the family.

After resting briefly at the entrance she turned to call the kids to dinner!  All three came forward.  One chick was especially hungry; he chewed on Mom’s leg feathers in anticipation.  

She delivers the WHOLE rat to him, no longer torn into little bites or divided equally; he got it all!  

It was a fat rat too and he struggled mightily as Mom and his brother watch in amazement.

But the rat would not go down…just so far and no farther.  He coughed it out time after time.

 At this age nestlings are expected to handle the whole rat. Mom isn’t going to be cutting up their food any longer. 

He kept trying to swallow it, but it was just to big.  Mom and brother intently watched this rat-gagging episode for two and a half minute, according to my camera’s time-stamp.  

When Mom couldn’t take it any longer, she flew off leaving the youngsters to figure it out for themselves. She joined the male, who wisely avoided the feeding-the-kids drama all together.

So now, ‘What’s junior to do?’  He has a rat he can’t swallow, a brother who can’t help him and a Mom who left him!  This required consultation. 

He coughed up the rat one more time and consulted with his brother for advice.  They stare at the dead rat for a full 17 minutes imagining their options. 

After much staring and pondering they came up with the only solution they’ve experienced in their short lives. They lie down on top of it and go to sleep!

April 21, 2012

Greater Roadrunner

Luckily I had my camera pointed out the patio door when this Greater Roadrunner jumped into our backyard and started to make trrt, trrt, trrt sounds. They make that sound with their bill.  The trrts called me away from my picture editing to see what was going on. 

I walked over to my camera and started to shoot. The roadrunner immediately reacted to the shutter clicks.   

He snapped into an erect stance and when he couldn’t take the shutter clicking noise anymore, he bolted. 

I got two-dozen rather similar pictures before he left. I quickly ran to show the pictures to my wife, Linda, who was freshly out of the shower.  I was looking for the appropriate wifely ooh’s and aaah’s.  After I got all the congratulations I could expect from a wet woman for a bird picture, I went about editing the best three to send to you. 

April 15, 2012 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Indigo Bunting

I haven’t had much luck finding or photographing Indigo Buntings in the wild, despite the fact they are common and widespread. My friends who feed the birds say they come to their feeders all the time and I’m sure they do, but finding one to photograph in the wild has been far more difficult for me. The reason may be in deep shade or backlit they don’t look blue…rather a blue-gray.  Sunlight has to hit then just right to reflect indigo blue.

I heard this Indigo Bunting singing while riding along the Ozaukee Interurban Bike Trail.  Indio Buntings sing all day long, so if you recognize their song, they are easier to find.  He flew away when I approached, but not far away.  That gave me a clue that I may be in his territory and he might come around again, if I returned with my camera.  I came back and so did he.

Indio Buntings migrate to and from Central America, mainly at night, using the stars to find their way. When they get here they prefer weedy, brushy habitats on the edges of fields and along railroad tracks to make their nests.  The male establishes a territory early in the spring when there is little to eat except for tree buds. 

The brownish female arrives later.   She is a warm brown color and is hard to distinguish from other sparrow-like birds, except for her stout beak.  The nest, built solely by the female, consists of fine grasses, leaves and bark and is held together with spider webs.

This male undoubtedly had something to defend in the lower vegetation along the bike trail; otherwise he would not have consistently challenged me.  He bounced from branch to branch, crisscrossing over my head, objecting to my presence. I didn’t want to annoy him, so after he gave me a few good pictures, I left him in peace.

July 24, 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Photographing hummingbirds is an exercise in frustration.  It’s worse than golf!  It’s like herding cats or picking up raindrops.  If you get the light right, the bird right, the focus sharp and both wings lined-up perfectly, press the shutter quickly. If you get it right, they are magnificent! 

The Broad-billed Hummingbird is so-named for his broad bill.  Surprisingly at 0.1 ounce he's a fierce fighter! The red and black bill, although not the longest of the eighteen species of hummingbirds, is seen as a formidable weapon.  He's aggressive and bold when guarding his nectar claim and other hummers know it.

Like other hummingbirds, he is attracted to red.  The red may be a flower or the red shirt you’re wearing.  If you’re lucky, you might get inspected by one as something sweet…it’s a treat.  They are even known to inspect red car taillights as a food source.

I’ve had hummingbirds check-me-out. Their  wings humming in my ears were the first clue of their arrival. They’d hover around my head inspecting me for possible food. They are a joy to watch, but if you reach out to them they're gone in a flash.

April 4, 2012

Eastern Bluebird

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds nested nearby and successfully raised a brood of at least three.  The three are mostly independent now, but I’ve seen an adult staying close by.  Most likely it was the female still watching after her brood, as the male’s contribution is mostly nest location and protection of it.  She builds the nest and incubates the eggs. 

The three youngsters have favorite perches for insect hunting and return again and again, if the hunting is good. Judging by the hunting activity here, there are enough insects to merit sticking around for a while.  

The three offspring are still a pale imitation of the parents with only muted color on their primary and tail feathers.  Their back and breast feathers still blend in well with their surroundings. 

Next year they may return to Wisconsin in full color.

This could possibly be their father, but I don’t know that.  Some studies suggest that one out of 4-5 eggs involve a male from outside the family pair.  The male will attack birds such as, cowbirds, starlings, sparrows, mockingbirds and jays that come too close to the nest, but it seems he can’t be everywhere.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Costa's Hummingbird

      The little Costa’s Hummingbird was still warming up in the early morning sunshine when I saw him.
It gets cool overnight in the desert.  That’s probably why he didn’t fly away immediately…maybe a little stiff. 

At 3.5 inches long and weighing only 0.11 ounce, he doesn’t have a lot of body mass to store heat for cool nights.  He will need nectar soon.  

There weren’t any flowers on the bare tree where he perched to sun himself, but in less than a minute the sun had warmed him sufficiently and he was gone. 

April 30, 2012

Green Heron

If you don’t move, they can’t see you.

That pretty much explains why this Green Heron landed just thirty feet from me in Huntington Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  I was standing motionless when he flew into an eyelevel treetop right next to me.  I was so surprised to see him, I couldn’t think fast enough and I couldn’t move slow enough to get his picture. I thought I’d be lucky to get just one shot before the shutter click would frighten him.  He was so close I thought he could hear me breathing.

He is a marsh dwelling bird a little larger than a football, with a similar shape too. The Green Heron and I share the same technique of standing still for long periods of time to catch something, although the Green Heron is far better at it. To find one you usually need to scan the reeds closely to notice one patiently waiting.  They are in a small group of birds that have learned to bait the water in front of them with insects or objects to attract prey.

A football shaped bird would seem ill equipped to catch anything as fast as a fish, but underneath all those colorful feathers is a surprisingly long neck. He did a little preening and rearranging of his feathers. 

He stretched his neck to survey his surroundings, but most of the time he kept it tucked in close. The green in his name comes from the green in his back.

I watched him intently for the three minutes he allowed me. Then he took off calmly, never noticing I was there.   Luck and waiting patiently worked for me today.

June 20, 2012

Tree Swallow (juveniles)

Trinity Creek runs near our house, but only when there is sufficient rainfall to keep it flowing.  The pond that supplies the creek is low due to lack of rain.  The lack of rain accounts for the lack of mosquitoes, which is good for us, but not so good for birds that rely on insects for food. 

These four baby Tree Swallows, born somewhere nearby, have fledged, but are not yet self-sufficient.  They still rely on their parents to supply insects, as they seem endlessly hungry.  Mom and Dad travel from pond to perch continuously, but not fast enough for the four hungry mouths.

Still not capable of catching their own food and only strong enough for short flights, they mostly watch and wait.  When scared off their perch by a dog walker, they quickly returned because they’ve learned this is where the food arrives. 

While waiting, the four fledglings practiced their balancing skills with mixed results.

Whenever a parent flew by, even without an insect, the babies’ bright yellow-orange beaks would open in unison in hopes of a meal.

If the parent didn’t stop with food, the disappointment was noticeable.  The begging faded softly and their beaks closed slowly as the parent flew away.  Then it was back to waiting and watching again.  Thankfully, with two insect-hunting parents working continuously, the next meal was not far away.

By what appears to be random selection, one wide-open beak gets the bug, while the others lose out.  

This was a non-stop, air-refueling operation where the food was transferred in a split second on the fly to one gaping throat at a time. It was an air show worth admission, if it weren’t already free.

The Trinity Creek Wetlands Habitat supplies Trinity Creek, a tributary of the Milwaukee River. Reclaimed from drained cornfields years ago, it now holds rainwater for slow release.  That process recharges ground water supplies and provides habitat for fish and birds. Migratory waterfowl and songbirds pass through twice yearly.  This Tree Swallow family is a current beneficiary.   

June 28,2012