The fish are mostly gone from Colonial Lake. They were either eaten by Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Cormorants, or humans fished them out of existence not too long after the state allowed fishing in mid March after stocking the lake with trout. The large raptors are now rarely seen at the lake. However, Mallards are plentiful and didn’t mind my coming close to them to take the following photos.
Some were strolling or marching down to the water as if they owned the lake, which they probably do.
Some male Mallards were completely brown from their neck down, and were perhaps hybrids of Mallard with some other type of duck.
One afternoon, a Bald Eagle flew in and circled Colonial Lake several times looking for fish. It even dove toward the water once but still came up with no fish, but it provided good opportunities for photographing in the waning sun.
A few weeks ago, a Turkey Vulture was also soaring above Colonial Lake for several minutes, looking for carrion in the nearby woods, or perhaps for dead fish dropped by the eagles.
It came down low enough for me to take a shot looking at its back. I did not see it catch anything.
Then a Red-tailed Hawk (tentative identification) also made its appearance.
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.
There are many Double-crested Cormorants at Colonial Lake. A few days ago, they took turns taking off and flying around the lake, sometimes right over my head. I had plenty of opportunities to practice camera panning to follow their flights.
Naturally all this flying around requires a lot of energy. I saw at least two Cormorants diving and coming up with fish that they promptly swallowed in a few seconds.
Wood Ducks are among the most stunning ducks, rivaling Mandarin Ducks from Asia. I have been looking in New Jersey to photograph them for several years, going in vain to places where people have reported seeing them. Then yesterday, while I was taking pictures at Colonial Lake about 5 miles from home, I saw two ducks jump down from a tree onto the lake. It was a beautiful couple of Wood Ducks, and they were worth waiting for all this time!
As usual for ducks, the male Wood Duck was more striking, but the female was very pretty.
More photos of the Bald Eagles at Colonial Lake, NJ, taken three days ago.
About a week ago, Colonial Lake was stocked with 170 Trout. That may explain why Bald Eagles have been coming there to fish, although other lakes in New Jersey were also restocked with Trout, mainly for recreation fishing by humans.
For some reason, the half-eaten fish fell to the ground (I did not know that until much later when I passed by the tree the Bald Eagle was on).
As temperatures today climbed above 50 °F (10 °C), I went to Colonial Lake to see if the birds responded to the sudden warmth after a long winter. At first I only saw seagulls and Mallard ducks, then just as I got back into the car to go home, two Bald Eagles appeared! They flew around the lake.
Then they went to perch on tree branches and looked down on walkers, joggers, and photographers. Apparently, they had caught and eaten some fish and were just happy to sit up high and enjoy the scenery.
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.
There was a Great Blue Heron nearby, wondering what all the fuss was about.
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.
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.
Colonial Lake close to home is quite small, but it has a good variety of wildlife. An old Canada Goose, named Hank by the locals, does not seem to fly any more and enjoys eating the bread crumbs and cookies that people throw to him.
Squirrels are abundant, and at this time of the year they are stocking up on acorns and other wild nuts to prepare for winter.
An Eastern Phoebe had something in its bill, but I couldn’t tell what it was. They usually eat small insects, and sometimes small fruit or seeds.
A Ring-billed Seagull landed with a splash and caught something in its beak.
The champ was a Great Blue Heron who caught three fishes in less than 10 minutes as I photographed him.
I walked around Colonial Lake near home yesterday and took pictures of the following flowers. I am guessing the names of the first two, so please feel free to correct me if you happen to recognize them with their proper names.
One day last week I had to stop several times to let turtles cross the road in front of me. Here are a few shots of them at different places in the refuge, and one shot at Colonial Lake closer to home.
At the beginning of last century, Terrapins were eaten by humans, almost to extinction. It was only two years ago in 2016 that New Jersey officially banned the hunting of Terrapins for any reason. They are currently classified as a species of Special Concern. Snapping Turtles are classified as Least Concern.
Cedar Waxwings are quite common birds native to North and Central America. They live all year round in our area. However, it was only until yesterday that I could photograph one. It was perched high on a branch by the water at Colonial Lake. A band of them were flying around eating insects. They are normally fruit eaters but there was no fruit to be found yet at this time of the year.
The American Robin shown below was making so much noise and movement that I had to take its picture.
The target for its cries was another Robin, who watched it very nonchalantly.
Here are the two of them in one photo.
Perhaps the shouting Robin was a juvenile clamoring for food, and the older bird did nothing, as a way of telling the younger one to go find its own worm. Just my guess.
Early this morning I went to Colonial Lake, a small lake about 5 miles (8 km) from home where at least one Bald Eagle has been seen on a daily basis. Not more than 15 minutes after I arrived, an eagle swooped down and plucked a big fish out of the lake. I was not quite ready yet, so my first shot is not the best, but at least you do see the action.
The eagle took the fish to a high branch on a tree and proceeded to eat it there.
He ate the whole fish in less than 10 minutes, after which he took off right above me to go for a drink.
He had several drinks, looking up each time to check his surroundings.
Then he shifted position.
Then he flew up to a nearby tree, perched on a branch, and looked down on the lake and the other birds there, ignoring the few humans who wandered around along the lake shore.
I think he eventually took a nap for I did not see it move from his perch for almost half an hour.