Wright Brothers National Memorial

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The Wright Brothers flew their airplane successfully on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in the Outer Banks. Today there is a Wright Brothers National Memorial at the spot, with a visitor center, a monument, and sculptures of their bi-plane and that historic moment.

Replica of first bi-plane. Orville Wright was the pilot.

Replica of first bi-plane and first flight moment. Wilbur Wright behind the bi-plane.

The two brothers each flew their bi-plane twice that day. Their final flight covered 852 ft (260 m) before the bi-plane struck the ground and broke part of its frame.

We visited this place almost five years ago. We arrived too early, before the visitor center was open. But it was a beautiful day for photography.

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Flu Season and Birds

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The flu has forced me to stay home these past two weeks and I have not gone out to take any picture, or visited your posts as often as before. The following photos are the results of my editing of recent shots of backyard birds that show some different views of the two most common visitors to our feeder in the winter.

Dark-eyed Junco.

Carolina Chickadee.

About two weeks ago, I also caught a Great Blue Heron jumping around a pond, probably on a fishing expedition.

Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron.

Orchids and Oranges

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About this time of the year, our Orchids are blooming and a Calamondin Orange plant is showing off with a few colorful fruit, which are not sweet at all. Here are some shots I took yesterday inside the house under natural light.

White Orchid.

White Orchid.

White Orchid bud.

Calamondin Orange.

Hooded Mergansers – Nictitating Membrane

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There were two male Hooded Merganser at the refuge cruising around on a patch of water amid the ice, looking for food. They swam, dove, and came up for air. These small ducks are specific to North America, with the males very noticeable because of their black and white hood.

Male Hooded Mergansers at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Male Hooded Merganser.

Two Hooded Mergansers, one diving.

Male Hooded Merganser plunging into icy water.

In the water, Hooded Mergansers hunt for food by sight. They have an extra eyelid,  a nictitating (blinking) membrane, that they can deploy to protect their eyes, somewhat like humans who use goggles when swimming underwater. You can see it in the following shot.

Hooded Merganser with extra eyelid showing.

They can also adjust the refractive property of their eyes to improve their vision under water.

Very wet Hooded Merganser emerging from dive.

Winter Scenes

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As temperatures slowly climbed above freezing, I ventured out yesterday to view scenes of the wintry landscape left by that Polar Vortex storm everyone was talking about last week. I was hoping that a thaw would be in full force, but everything still looked cold and encrusted in ice. The first place I went to was Sandy Hook, a barrier island in New Jersey facing New York City across Raritan Bay.

View of Sandy Hook Bay.

View of Sandy Hook shoreline, with an empty Osprey nest on the right.

View of Sandy Hook shoreline.

There were hardly any bird, just a few lonely gulls and three Sanderlings.

Sanderlings.

I drove around the old Fort Hancock, an abandoned Army fort, at the tip of Sandy Hook island.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse. It is the oldest working lighthouse in the United States.

There were some antique cannons, the biggest one shown below, and two Cold War era missiles.

Old cannon a Fort Hancock.

Cold War era missiles.

Leaving Sandy Hook I went to my familiar haunt, the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. All the ponds there were frozen as well, and snow had fallen the previous day.

Winter scene at Edwin B Forsythe NWR.

Another view of winter scene at Edwin B Forsythe NWR.

Small Birds in Snow Storm

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Even though temperatures plunged and the wind was fierce, our area only got a dusting of snow. I filled the bird feeder beforehand, and for the past two days bird traffic picked up significantly, even while snow was falling. All the birds looked fluffier and bigger than in warmer months.

American Goldfinch.

Female Northern Cardinal, with Junco and Sparrow in background.

Male Northern Cardinal during a squall.

Male Northern Cardinal, in a moment of temporary calm.

Carolina Chickadee.

White-breasted Nuthatch.

Ice Cold

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Today, following the example of Eliza Waters (https://elizawaters.com/2019/01/21/brrrr/), I went to Colonial Lake close to home to photograph ice formations. The lake is man-made, capturing water coming from Shabakunk Creek, damming it, then releasing it further downstream back into the same creek.

It was around 20 °F (-6 °C), the lake was completely iced over, but the water underneath had to flow along its usual path.

Volcano on ice?

Ice bells.

Ice cold water.

Ice cover around trees.

Water and ice.

More ice than water.

Shriveled remnant of autumn.

There was a Great Blue Heron nearby, wondering what all the fuss was about.

Great Blue Heron resting.

Waves

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A few days ago, at Holgate I was captivated by the waves crashing on the beach and on the man-made barrier separating it from the rest of Long Beach Island.

The following photos are of the same wave as it folded and exploded under the wind.

Wave at Holgate.

Wave at Holgate.

Wave at Holgate.

Wave at Holgate.

Here are more waves assaulting the man-made barrier.

Wave crashing against barrier.

Wave crashing against barrier.

By the way, a birder reported seeing not one but two Snowy Owls at Holgate, two days after I was there!

Holgate

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Holgate is the southern end of Long Beach Island, NJ and a part of Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. In previous years I often went there to photograph Snowy Owls, and I tried to do that again three days ago. Unfortunately surveyors were roaming Holgate that day, traipsing into dune parts that Snowy Owls frequented. As a result, even though I hiked the length of Holgate and back, there was not a single bird that day, except for one seagull.

Surveyor at Holgate.

It was cold, starting at 17°F (-8°C) and slowly climbing to above freezing. As the tide was coming in, the wind made beautiful waves.

Waves at Holgate.

Wave at Holgate.

A Herring Gull was standing on the beach. I approached it carefully, 20 steps at a time, taking a camera shot before continuing.

Herring Gull.

When I finally got too close, it flew up holding a piece of clam in its beak.

Herring Gull snatching food from beach.

Herring Gull turning right.

Herring Gull turning left.

Near the entrance to Holgate, there were a dozen surfers.

Two surfers at Holgate, one with a paddle.

Surfer almost hidden by wave.

Barrier and surfer at Holgate.

When I came home and looked at the photos on my computer, I saw some Long-tailed Ducks in several of them.

Two Long-tailed Ducks in the surf.

Handsome Red

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This male Northern Cardinal was perched on the magnolia branches near the bird feeder. He easily outshone the other nearby birds: female Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, House Finches, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Juncos, and so on.

Northern Cardinal.

A scratch was needed.

Feeling better!

Ready for a feast.

Snow Geese Blue Morph

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Snow Geese are mostly white (white morph), but some only have a white face, with the rest of their bodies dark brown and dark blue. They are not too rare, as I usually can see at least one or more in any flock of Snow Geese.

Blue morph Snow Goose amid white morph geese.

When still immature, the blue morph colors are less pronounced while the face has not turned white yet.

Juvenile blue morph Snow Geese among white morph geese.

Juvenile blue morph Snow Geese.

There were several thousands Snow Geese at the refuge while I was taking the above photos. Suddenly they shouted to one another and rose up in the sky.

Snow Geese rising up to fly.

Perhaps they were wary of some Bald Eagle, for they soon settled back on another part of the refuge.

Tundra Swan Drama

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There were about a dozen Tundra Swans at the refuge, far away from the road and apart from the larger Mute Swans which are all-year residents. As their name indicates, Tundra Swans migrate from the artic tundra to the Midlantic shore to spend their winters under warmer conditions.

As I began shooting a Tundra Swan was landing.

Tundra Swan landing. Two other Tundra Swans were agitated by the newcomer. In the background are American Black Ducks.

Landing scuffle.

Now one swan is chasing the others.

Chaser seems to have the upper hand.

Oh, oh … Resistance?

Fighting?

Victory!

Peace.

Chickadee and Woodpecker

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In addition to Northern Cardinals, other regular birds at our bird feeder include Carolina Chickadees and two kinds of Woodpeckers. On the same cloudy days that brightly lit the cardinals, I was able to get several good shots of these other birds.

Male Downy Woodpecker.

Male Downy Woodpecker.

Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Carolina Chickadee. The eyes are often hard to discern, but here they are clearly visible.

Carolina Chickadee.

One more photo taken on January 1st, 2019.

Female Downy Woodpecker searching for food. It looks like a sunflower seed left under the bark by another bird or a squirrel.

Something Different

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Readers of this blog know that I am mainly a bird photographer, with infrequent landscape and flower images. Recently I went to Bonnet Island, a newly opened section of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge, also called Manahawkin Bay Bridge, linking mainland New Jersey to Long Beach Island goes through Bonnet Island, and it has been undergoing repairs since 2010.

The part of EBF NWR on Bonnet Island, opened since last July, looks underwhelming at this time of the year.

Bench at Bonnet Island.

One of two pavilions at Bonnet Island.

What one sees is mostly weeds and new plantings, all with different variations of the color ochre. There were a few birds or waterfowls, but they were all too far away for my lens, even with the 1.4 extender attached. As soon as I took a picture of the following hawk, it flew away.

Hawk on Bonnet Island, maybe a Red-tailed Hawk.

There were mergansers and ducks swimming in the bay waters, but they appear tiny and blurry in all the images I took. So I turned toward the bridge itself and started photographing it from different angles.

Manahawkin Bay Bridge as seen from Bonnet Island.

West end of Manahawkin Bay Bridge.

East end of Manahawkin Bay Bridge.

Traffic and construction on Manahawkin Bay Bridge.

The town of Manahawkin is a coastal community facing Long Beach Island. Manahawkin comes from a Lenape Native American word meaning “fertile land sloping into the water”.

View of Manahawkin from Bonnet Island.

View of Manahawkin from Bonnet Island.

Northern Cardinal

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Today the sky was mostly cloudy and it was rather nippy outside. A lot of birds came to our bird feeder. At one time, as I walked by the patio door, I saw three bright red Northern Cardinals perched on the magnolia tree, waiting for their turn. I got my camera out and started shooting, first with the 1.4 extender attached to the lens.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Two hours later, they were still flying in and out. This time I did not use the 1.4 extender.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Male Northern Cardinal.

Female Northern Cardinal landing on a branch. Her right leg is motion blurred.

I prefer the shots taken without the 1.4 extender as they are noticeably sharper, which will come in handy with large-size prints for framing.  However, the ones with the extender are really not too bad.

Happy New Year

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Some 2018 pictures to wish all of you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

Happy New Year: Clivia Miniata in full bloom.

The following three photos show an adult Mockingbird feeding a young one, like 2018 passing the baton to 2019.

Mockingbirds.

Mockingbirds.

Mockingbirds.

Happy New Year: budding Hibiscus.

2018 Unpublished Photos

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In 2018, some of my photos did not appear on this blog, normally because I didn’t want to have too many in any post. Now at year end, looking at them, some actually deserve to be shown, and here they are.

Northern Cardinal in January 2018.

Mallard mother and ducklings, May 2018.

Great Egret at Montezuma NWR, September 2018.

American Robin, November 2018.

Blue Jay, November 2018.

Cosmos brought inside, October 2018.

Long-tailed Duck

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Long-tailed Ducks breed in the Arctic parts of Canada and Alaska, and only migrate to the coast of New Jersey in the winter. Thursday of this week, I saw several near Barnegat Lighthouse.

Female Long-tailed Duck. Only the males have a long tail.

I could not photograph a male Long-tailed Duck swimming in the water, so here’s a photo of two males taken in 2016.

Male Long-tailed Ducks, immature in background and mature at center.

This past Thursday, there was a male that took off from the water as shown in the following flight shots.

Male Long-tailed Duck taking off.

Male Long-tailed Duck taking off. Noe the long tail in the back.

Male Long-tailed Duck taking off.

Male Long-tailed Duck flying.

These ducks are about half the size of Common Eiders, and their take off is shorter and quicker. Although there are no estimates of their current population, they are classified as Common Bird in Steep Decline as of 2014.

Common Eider Flight

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Since they are so big, Common Eiders take a long time to get airborne and fly, like Cormorants and Swans. Yesterday, one immature Common Eider put on quite a show.

Immature male Common Eider.

Immature Common Eider trying to take off.

Immature Common Eider trying to take off.

Immature Common Eider becoming airborne.

Immature Common Eider flying.

Common Eider

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In late fall, Common Eiders appear as far South as the coast of New Jersey. Yesterday several dozens of them were swimming along the jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse. They are the largest ducks, weighing from 2.5 to almost 7 lbs (1.1 to 3 kg).

Barnegat Lighthouse as seen from jetty.

It is not breeding season yet, so the males are not showing their distinctive and handsome colors.

Male Common Eider.

Female Common Eider.

Female Common Eider and two males.

There was some kind of hunting going on and I often heard sounds of gunfire coming from the other side of the bay. An immature Common Eider was sitting on a rock right next to the jetty. It would not move even as I came very close to it. A fellow photographer said that it may have been wounded by a shotgun pellet, could not move, and would probably die eventually.

Immature Common Eider, wounded perhaps.

In the 19th century, hunting almost wiped out this species in the Atlantic. However, their population has rebounded and Common Eiders are not on the list of endangered species.

Taking Photos with an Extender

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One of the must-have equipment for wildlife photography in general, and bird photography in particular, is to have a telephoto lens powerful enough to capture subjects with sufficient details and sharpness, without having to come too close to them. Since most of us can’t afford super telephoto lenses, also called second-mortgage lenses, some of us resort to using an extender, which is much less expensive, to increase the reach of our lenses. With a 1.4 extender, a 400 mm lens  will be equivalent to a 560 mm lens.

I have had such an extender for two years, but almost never used it because the results had been disappointing especially in terms of sharpness. Finally, looking at photos posted by Jerry from Quiet Solo Pursuits here on WordPress, I decided to give it a try with the Canon 5D Mark IV that I have been using since last year.

Following are some of the shots I took yesterday at the refuge and at Colonial Lake under a bright sun with the 100-400 mm lens and a 1.4 extender.

Great Blue Heron shaking a fish.

Great Blue Heron in “flasher” pose facing the sun to warm itself up.

Mallard in flight.

Mallard in flight.

Female Mallard.

Snow Goose.

Snow Geese.

Snow Geese.

Some Favorites of 2018

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The following photos are some of the favorites that you, my WordPress readers, have either liked the posts where they were posted in, clicked on their images to see them in larger size, or mentioned them in your comments.

Northern Cardinal, June 2018.

White Lotus, August 2018.

Ospreys, June 2018.

Goslings, May 2018.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, August 2018.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, October 2015.

Great Blue Heron, December 2018.

Squirrel, October 2018.

Jackie, the Golden Retriever, and frisbee, April 2018.

Oversized Bills

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At this time of the year, I often see Northern Shovelers at the refuge. From afar they look like Mallard ducks, but with longer, oversized bills. They dabble back and forth with those bills to catch crustaceans and seeds from the marsh.

Northern Shovelers, female and male.

Female Northern Shoveler. Note comb-like filters at the edge of her bill.

Female Northern Shoveler preening.

Male Northern Shoveler.

Male Northern Shovelers.

Flocks of Northern Shovelers are known to swim in circle to corral food and make it easier for them to catch. However, I saw this band early in the morning and many were still sleeping.

Female Northern Shoveler sleeping: “Call me back in an hour.”

Peregrine Falcon, Snow Geese

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Now that the Ospreys have migrated South, their nests are being taken over by squatters, temporary ones anyway . One of them is a Peregrine Falcon that I saw perched on a nest.

Peregrine Falcon sitting on Osprey nest.

Peregrine Falcon checking out photographer.

This is the season for Snow Geese migration, and there were many thousands of them at the refuge.

Snow Geese at Edwin B Forsythe.

Snow Geese at Edwin B Forsythe NWR.

Snow Geese at Edwin B Forsythe NWR.

Snow Geese lifting off, with the skyline of Atlantic City in the background.

Great Blue Heron Flying

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Friday morning, a Great Blue Heron was standing in the water at the refuge, looking left then right. As the light was near perfect, I started to photograph it. When it decided to take off and fly away, I just kept pressing the shutter.

Great Blue Heron standing in water at Edwin B Forsythe NWR.

Great Blue Heron at start of flight.

Great Blue Heron flying.

Great Blue Heron flying and turning.

Great Blue Heron flying and turning.

Great Blue Heron flying.

Great Blue Heron in classic flying pose.

Buffleheads 2018

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Buffleheads are the smallest diving ducks, no larger than 16 in (40 cm) in length. They are a joy to see as they appear to be constantly smiling and moving about, bobbing, and diving to find food. They swallow their catch of crustaceans (shrimps) and mollusks under water, and I have yet to see a photo of one Bufflehead holding food in its short, smily bill.

In past years I usually had a hard time taking good pictures of them, especially the male ones, because their eyes are often lost in the dark patches around their heads. This year sunlight was with me, most of the time, as you can see in the following photos.

Female Buffleheads at Colonial Lake.

Female Bufflehead at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Female Bufflehead at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Female Bufflehead at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Male Bufflehead at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Male Bufflehead beginning to dive.

Male Bufflehead approaching female who just dove.

Male Bufflehead and his harem.

Female Bufflehead angling for photo.

Female Bufflehead and Canada Geese.

Hooded Merganser 2018

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Hooded Mergansers are small ducks that are seen in the fall and winter at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The male ones have a prominent crest (hood) in black and white, making them stand out from other ducks. This year there seems to be many Hooded Mergansers, male and female, and I had no problem shooting the following photos.

Male Hooded Merganser.

Female Hooded Merganser.

Hooded Margansers. The male was just coming out of a dive.

As I was taking a shot, one Hooded Merganser decided to fly. I missed capturing that take-off.

Hooded Mergansers.

The following day, almost at the same place, I was chatting with a fellow photographer when a male Hooded Merganser decided to fly.

Male Hooded Merganser starting flight.

After about a minute, I saw him, accompanied by a female, flying overhead.

Hooded Mergansers flying.

Hooded Margansers flying.

Flying Lessons

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Several young Bald Eagles were flying around a small island in the middle of the marsh. Some attempted to catch a fish but failed.

Young Bald Eagle.

Young Bald Eagle.

Young Bald Eagle.

The one above landed on the island where a mature Bald Eagle was watching everything.

Young Bald Eagle landing on island.

For several minutes the older Bald Eagle seemed to be calling to the new arrival.

Young Bald Eagle landing. Note the older Bald Eagle calling.

After the young one landed and stood to the side, the mature Bald Eagle kept calling, perhaps telling the younger one to fly again and go catch some fish.

Mature Bald Eagle: “Go catch some fish!”

Finally the younger Bald Eagle had to take off again.

Young Bald Eagle resumed flying.