With the prospect of watching gymnasts at the forthcoming Summer Olympics, I thought that this Ring-billed Gull nailed it.
Here are some more photos of Crocuses I took yesterday.
Last week the refuge conducted controlled burning of areas around the marshes to get rid of some invasive plants. That cleared quite a few of the bushes while leaving blackened spots where green shoots have already managed to come up. Hopefully they are not those pesky weeds that were supposed to burn.
There was a male Red-winged Blackbird singing gleefully in a reedy area. I tried to follow it for a few minutes as it switched spots before finally finding a suitable perch and belted its song, spreading and puffing its feathers to impress potential mates.
The colorful Northern Shovelers are one of the more common ducks throughout the world. During the winter at the refuge, there are at least several hundreds of them foraging for food in the marshes with their typically long bills (2.5 inches or 6.35 cm).
In the US, during duck hunting season, an average of 700,000 Northern Shovelers are brought down each year! Yet, they are not on the endangered species list. Here are some recent photos of them at the refuge.
There were many Forster’s Terns at the refuge, with about half of them being still immature or juvenile. They were all superb acrobatic fliers and their diving into the marshes to catch fish was a challenge I cannot resist photographing year after year.
I often tried to capture the moment they caught a fish, but the best I could do this time is a not-so-sharp photo.
The weatherman says it has never been this cold on this day in our town. This morning the temperature is at 31°F or -0.5°C. With a strong breeze, it feels like 24 °F or -4.4°C. I will have to go out to the garden and see whether the tomato plants grown from seeds and put into the ground last week survived.
Three years ago I planted a yellow magnolia tree named Judy Zuk Magnolia, in honor of a former President of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It grew one flower the first year, none the second year, and this year it is displaying a dozen of bright yellow flowers mixed with small streaks of orange-red. Here are some shots of the flowers which are bigger than those of the Butterfly Magnolia from last month.
Here’s another kind of Magnolia that is blooming late in the season. In fact, it keeps blooming during a good part of the summer when all other magnolias have come and gone.
I’ll finish this post with photos of our backyard birds who have been quite busy during this spring mating season.
Then someone who thinks it is a bird.
Finally, a shot of a Red-tailed Hawk at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on February 22, before the coronavirus lockdown.
I have not been posting here since last July, but have continued to photograph, although not as often as I used to. Hopefully, the following photos may help reduce stress for all of us during this coronavirus pandemic.
I took the following photos of Green-winged Teals at the refuge a month ago. They are the smallest among dabbling ducks, much smaller than Mallards. They feed by looking for vegetation in shallow water. The ones seen below live in North America. They differ from their Eurasian counterparts by having a white stripe on their breast. The Eurasian Green-winged Teal have that white stripe along their shoulders.
Goslings are now commonly seen at the refuge and are often the subjects of the cutest Spring scenes.
My internet connection has been very iffy these past two weeks, and it was only last night that it came back to normal and allowed me to read emails and access various sites, including WordPress. My apologies for not having been able to respond to your comments or visited your posts. I will try to catch up for sure.
American Robins don’t migrate during the winter, merely keeping out of sight most of the time. They reappear with the coming of spring, when the ground is no longer too hard for them to try to pull out worms.
Flocks of Canada Geese flying overhead is another sign that the seasons are changing. However, I can’t figure out what they are doing since they seem to be flying in all directions.
Just a minute after the above shot, those Canada Geese reversed direction and flew over me again.
I thought that was the last of that flock and started walking toward the woods. Then they flew North and passed overhead once more.
Another sure sign of spring is the return of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets. They appeared two weeks ago, then went away when the weather turned cold. Now they are back.
Finally the turtles are out sunning themselves. I think they are Diamondback Terrapins, but am not positive. They all jumped into the water as I tried to come closer to them to get a better look.
Red-Breasted Mergansers are high energy birds that migrate in the winter to our coastline from Canada. Whenever I see them, they are always busy diving and looking for food. They have to eat 15 to 20 fish a day and must spend 4 to 5 hours every day diving for fish!
I usually wait until they surface to photograph them, and as a result they have a constant wet look with water beading all over their faces and bodies. Both male and female birds have the spiky and shaggy head prized by some young people today.
Two days ago I happened upon about a dozen Buffleheads involved in their annual courtship rituals at the refuge. Male Buffeheads court their future mates by a vigorous exercise of head bobbing, diving, running on water, and flying over the head of the female ducks.
Sometimes, a female Bufflehead chased a male away.
The courtship also took place underwater, perhaps with the males trying to prove they could be good foragers. I saw them dive and spend a minute or two submerged, but unfortunately was not equipped to take photos under water.
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.
About two weeks ago, I also caught a Great Blue Heron jumping around a pond, probably on a fishing expedition.
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.
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.
They can also adjust the refractive property of their eyes to improve their vision under water.
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.
There were hardly any bird, just a few lonely gulls and three Sanderlings.
I drove around the old Fort Hancock, an abandoned Army fort, at the tip of Sandy Hook island.
There were some antique cannons, the biggest one shown below, and two 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.
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.
Here are more waves assaulting the man-made barrier.
By the way, a birder reported seeing not one but two Snowy Owls at Holgate, two days after I was there!
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.
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.
A Herring Gull was standing on the beach. I approached it carefully, 20 steps at a time, taking a camera shot before continuing.
When I finally got too close, it flew up holding a piece of clam in its beak.
Near the entrance to Holgate, there were a dozen surfers.
When I came home and looked at the photos on my computer, I saw some Long-tailed Ducks in several of them.
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.
When still immature, the blue morph colors are less pronounced while the face has not turned white yet.
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.
Perhaps they were wary of some Bald Eagle, for they soon settled back on another part of the refuge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the season for Snow Geese migration, and there were many thousands of them at the refuge.
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.
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.
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.
As I was taking a shot, one Hooded Merganser decided to fly. I missed capturing that take-off.
The following day, almost at the same place, I was chatting with a fellow photographer when a male Hooded Merganser decided to fly.
After about a minute, I saw him, accompanied by a female, flying overhead.
Several young Bald Eagles were flying around a small island in the middle of the marsh. Some attempted to catch a fish but failed.
The one above landed on the island where a mature Bald Eagle was watching everything.
For several minutes the older Bald Eagle seemed to be calling to the new arrival.
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.
Finally the younger Bald Eagle had to take off again.
A Great Blue Heron held in its bill a small fish that it had caught. A Willet had just caught a bigger fish, and flew up right in front of the heron. I was too far and actually did not see this small drama until I got home and displayed the image on my computer monitor. It looks like the Willet was bragging about its catch, and the heron was by no means happy.
Here’s a closer look.
The American Goldfinch stands out with its bright yellow coloring in Spring and Summer. The rest of the year, when they are not breeding, their colors are more subdued, even drab, although they still remain very cute.
Another ubiquitous bird is the Red-winged Blackbird.
The female Red-winged Blackbird does not have that red and yellow patch on her wings.
In the fall, Red-winged Blackbirds often join with European Starlings to form flocks of birds that roam through refuges, importuning even Bald Eagles.
The smaller birds temporarily took over a favorite perch of the Bald Eagles at Blackwater NWR.
Finallly, many flocks of Canada Geese flew over the non-migrating Bald Eagle.
You won’t believe how many times I have missed capturing, or badly captured, birds in flight. Two days ago, at the refuge, I finally was able to get several good shots of a Great Blue Heron as it took off from the marsh.
On the same day, a Great Egret also put on a good show.
The Ospreys have migrated from the refuge to warmer places down South, leaving their nests empty. A juvenile Peregrine Falcon was preening and posing in one of the nests for about five minutes, enough time for the following shots.
It was banded on both feet, however I could not make out what the letters or numbers were. Peregrine Falcons are no longer on the endangered species list, but people are still very keen on helping it make a come back after it became almost extinct between 1950 and 1970.
Unfortunately a flock of Sanderlings distracted me for a minute, and when I looked back at the nest the Peregrine Falcon was no longer there.
An Eastern Box Turtle crossed my path as I drove out of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. It was a small but colorful turtle that moved very slowly, allowing me to circle it and take the following shots. It was the smallest adult turtle that I have ever seen, measuring about 5 in (12 cm).
Eastern Box Turtles often get run over by cars, and are now classified as vulnerable. People (children) also like to have them as pets because they are small and colorful, but they require good care in order to survive.
Yesterday a band of Boat-tailed Grackle congregated on a section of Wildlife Drive at Edwin B Forsythe NWR. I had seen this bird before, but never in such numbers, or so brazen, posing conspicuously for photographers.
Their bright yellow eyes make the Boat-tailed Grackle appear fierce. By the way all these photos show male Boat-tailed Grackle and I did not see any female around. The female birds would have been brown. Usually, one male bird would have a cluster of female birds as his harem.