Just before I arrived at the Osprey nest, I saw the father finishing the head of a big fish that he had caught. He flew with the rest of it to the nest, handed it over to the mother, then perched up high, keeping watch.
While driving at the Edwin B Forsythe Wildlife Refuge this past Sunday, I saw a few Monarch butterflies from time to time. What made me stop and take the following pictures is the intense orange of the milkweed flowers (Asclepias Tuberosa) which perfectly matched the Monarch’s colors. There were many other weeds around the area, but the Monarchs did not mind.
I could not miss these Oystercatchers even from a distance. They are larger than most shore birds, and are quite colorful with red eyes and bills on a black head and a brown and white body. They use their pointed bills to kill partially opened shellfish. Their call can be a long series of “wheep” easily traced back to them.
Oystercatchers are on the endangered list of birds, but I have seen them almost every year at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
First a brown shape dove straight down from the sky, at a blazing speed. It was gone almost instantly. Then I saw a Snowy Egret floundering among a group of Cormorants swimming at the spot where the dive bombing occurred.
Then the Cormorants began fleeing the scene.
Eventually the Snowy Egret managed to fly away and went hiding among the tall grasses of the marshes. Meanwhile, a Peregrine Falcon was perched on top of a nearby pole, watching. I wonder if it was the same one who had dive bombed and scared every bird away. Peregrine Falcons are super fast and capable of reaching 200 mph (320 km/h) on a dive. They are also known to attack mid-sized birds and ducks.
Ospreys stay at the refuge from Spring to Fall, making their nests on platforms built for them. Last week I saw a pair at one of the nests which can easily be seen from Wildlife Drive. She was eating half of a fish that he had brought to her. He observed her for a while, then took off flying. He flew around the nest before circling back to her.
All of this love making lasted just a few seconds. In about two months I may be able to have pictures of Osprey chicks at this same nest. Note that the female was banded on one leg.
At another nest, a pair of Ospreys had already finished their breakfast and were just enjoying some down time.
Geese form beautiful skeins when they fly, and capturing them in flight is irresistible to most photographers. A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to see both Snow Geese and Canada Geese in V formation heading along on their Spring migration paths.
In the fall, Snow Geese migrate some 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from the northernmost reaches of Canada to as far South as Mexico. In the Spring they do it in reverse, and so we get to see them twice a year, in flocks of a few hundreds to as many as hundreds of thousands of them. In the latter case, they cover the ground like snow, and the sight of them lifting up to fly is a wonder of nature.
The above photos were taken at Merrill Creek Reservoir on a bright sunny day three years ago. The following photos are more recent close ups of Snow Geese in flight. They were taken at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on an overcast day.
It has been below freezing for the past several days with up to a foot (30 cm) of snow to fall two days from now. I have not been outside, except to go see a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata, a live broadcast from the New York Metropolitan Opera at a local movie theater. The singing was outstanding, but the stage set was minimalist and truly disappointing.
In any case, I went back to some old photos taken about a year ago and found the following with pairs of flying birds as the common subject.
When I left the house this morning to go to the recently reopened Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, it was 17 °F (-8 °C), perhaps too cold for the birds to show up. Sure enough there were not many, and most of them were seagulls that live there throughout the year.
However, just as I was about to leave the refuge, I saw a Great Blue Heron catching a fish for lunch.
All of the above, and some other intervening action, mostly shaking and turning (not displayed here), took less than a minute.
In a band of about several dozens of Snowy Egrets mixed with Great Egrets, some were showing beautiful frilly feathers under the morning sun. At first I thought perhaps the wind was messing up their feathers, but if so, many if not all of them would have displayed those frilly plumes. Or was it breeding hormones acting up on some and not on others? Or were they trying to attract potential mates? I will let you decide.
Yesterday, near the beginning of Wildlife Drive at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, I saw Canada Geese and Snowy Egrets sharing a small area of the pond. I stopped for a few minutes to take pictures of the egrets.
Suddenly a cacophony of honking and water splashing rose up. I turned my camera in the geese direction and shot the following photos. What happened was that a gander was trying to invade the turf of another who had a female goose by his side. If you don’t like violence, don’t look at the following shots.
When calm returned, he escorted her out of the area.
Meanwhile the other gander put up some face-saving moves.
Then he had to cool off his hot face.
Snowy Egrets are probably among the best egrets at catching fish. Here’s a series of photos I took at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge last week when there were many of them, together with Great Egrets, flying around and fishing.
The Great Egrets were not so successful at finding fish. At least I did not see any of them catching anything while the Snowy Egrets were plucking fish now and then out of the same pond.
Around this time of the year, breeding season makes the Great Egret grow long feathers called aigrettes. Those were much in demand by women more than a hundred years ago, leading to the extermination of 95% of the Great Egret population by the end of the 19th century. Today, they are no longer an endangered species and can often be seen in wetlands in North and South America. The one pictured below was standing by itself, occasionally straightening his neck to look for fish.
Ospreys have been back at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge for at least two weeks already. Yesterday, I saw four nests that had been built up by them with twigs and branches. At one of them, the male Osprey was eating a fish on a perch not far from the nest where the female was incubating. By the time I got set up with my camera and tripod, he had finished eating the head and took the rest of the fish to her.
Snow Geese migrate every year between the tundras of Alaska and Canada to as far south as Mexico. They have become very efficient flyers, taking advantage of high thermal currents to move great distances. When they are not flying, they are foraging for food and eating their way across fields and swamp lands. Here are a few shots taken last month of these birds doing what they do best, flying. They were among a flock of several thousands at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and all I had to do was point the camera up and click away.
Buffleheads fossils have been found going back as far as half a million to two million years ago, so they have been around a long time. They are ducks that are somewhat smaller than Hooded Mergansers, but they have a large head. Male heads are mostly white, making them visible at a distance.
A month ago, when I saw them, the sky was cloudy and lighting was below average at best. There was some commotion in one of the ponds at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. A male Bufflehead was mating with a female and was holding her under water for a few seconds at least. She finally came up for air.
Here are two shots of perhaps the same pair, taken two weeks later in the same pond. The weather had not changed: cloudy, no sun to speak of.
What do you do when hundreds of Snow Geese descend from the sky and started landing around you? This happened to me at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago.
I initially tried to capture everyone of them in one photo! But I quickly gave up that attempt and concentrated on two of them. Here are the results, with all the following photos taken in less than 2 seconds.
He was standing on a bank of the marshes, his back turned to me, his face to the water. I stopped to take his picture, and as I aimed my camera at him, he turned around, a severe look on his face.
So I drove on. The tide was falling, and water from the marshes was pouring out toward the ocean. At one of the outlets, I found a Hooded Merganser swimming by himself, coming very close to where I was, as if he had not noticed me. This was the closest I had ever been to these usually shy ducks.
There were female Hooded Mergansers in the vicinity, but they were paired with other males. None paid any attention to our handsome bachelor!
I moved on to another pond and saw a pair of Northern Pintails busy in their favorite pursuit: dabbling in shallow water to find plants and crustaceans to eat.
After a while, they paused and struck a classic pose, with water still dripping from the male’s bill.
Before the coming monster snowstorm descends on us tonight, I am posting photos of Hooded Mergansers taken last week. There were quite a few of them searching for food and socializing among themselves. They were real dandies, at least among ducks.
I saw a small group of American Coots at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in mid December last year. They mingled with Mallards, but they are not ducks since their feet are not webbed. They are also called mud hens and are closely related to Moorhens or Common Gallinules.
American Coots are mainly dark, almost black, with a white face and red eyes, with a patch of red on their forehead. They mainly eat plants. Since they are not an endangered species, they may be hunted but not as much as ducks since hunters disdain their meat!
This past Sunday, some Snow Geese found a good place for food on the banks of the salt marshes at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
As I watched them, every minute or so more Snow Geese kept flying in. I only had to point my camera up to the sky to catch them landing at their new feeding spot.
They made big splashes but that hardly bothered those who were busy eating.
Yesterday was cloudy all day, but I went out anyway to the Edwin B Fortsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Brigantine, NJ to see what I could photograph. It turned out to be not much. Most of the photos turned out mediocre at best and had to be discarded. However, it was high tide and at two of the locations where sea water came into to the marshes I found Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads merrily diving for food.
Buffleheads are small ducks, even smaller than Hooded Mergansers. They kept their distances, and I could only get one good shot at a pair.
The Hooded Mergansers were bolder, coming within 30 ft, seemingly undisturbed by the guy with a white car and a black camera.
There were several female Hooded Mergansers who looked quite coquettish even as they dived and resurfaced constantly.
Three days ago, Hooded Mergansers were still in abundance at Vogt Pool South, a freshwater pool at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. They swam and dove looking for food, ignoring the very strong wind that at times pushed my camera and its long lens sideways. I had to take most of the following shots from well inside the car.
Meanwhile, the wind caused another bad hair day for these ducks, again.
I reported my sighting of the Snow Goose with a collar, UP62, (see previous post https://neihtn.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/snow-goose-collar/) at the following link:
Yesterday, Dr. Gilles Gauthier, the bander of the Snow Goose, sent me a Certificate of Appreciation.
So UP62, a Greater Snow Goose, was hatched in 2014 in Nunavut, a vast expanse as large as Greenland at the northernmost part of Canada.
The record warm weather here has probably confused the Snow Geese which usually come down from the Artic tundras to winter in the Midlantic region. For two weeks in a row I have seen large flocks of them fly North. When winter finally gets here, will they again fly South?
In the meantime, it was a great opportunity for me to photograph them at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
Yesterday I saw a Snow Goose wearing a yellow neck collar with two letters and two numbers: UP and 62. Neck collars have been used to study the life and migration of these geese. A yellow collar means that it is a female. The letters and numbers probably mean something also, but only the researchers would know that.
Right on cue, the female turned in my direction to allow me a better look at the collar.
Suddenly, the male Snow Goose signaled they should take off.
Hooded Mergansers are good-looking ducks with their crest, or hood, which is black and white for males and cinnamon for females. They are not as rare as Harlequin ducks, and I see them every year around this time of the year around many ponds and marshes in our area.
Last week there were several swimming around the Danzenbaker Pool at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
Further East of the pool, a couple of these ducks had just emerged from a dive, their crest feathers matted down, making them look well coiffed..
However, as they turned, the strong wind gave them a bad crest, or bad hair, day.
Ring-billed Seagulls are very common in our area, and probably in most other coastal areas as well. They are very friendly and their flight is graceful. I couldn’t help taking their pictures when they put on a display last week at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge around a spot where seawater pours into the marshes at high tide. All kinds of birds congregate at that spot to catch fish, clams, and other foodstuff that the ocean provides at least twice daily.
A pair of Ospreys that I have been observing every time I drive through the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge must have young chicks by now, although they remain unseen in their nest. Yesterday, the mother was not incubating but standing guard at one side of the nest.
About a minute later, her mate, who is quite a handyman (handybird?) returned with some twigs to build up the nest even higher.
He started rearranging things as she watched.
Suddenly, she jumped in.
She grabbed the remaining part of the fish which was her meal, after he had previously eaten the head.
Holding the fish with her feet, she circled the nest.
Then she landed back.
She proceeded to eat the fish while the handyman kept working on their nest.
The refuge has seven or more Osprey nests, but this couple has the best looking and well-built fortress.
The Red-winged Blackbird, an ubiquitous bird in North America, likes to sing. The other day I saw and heard one belting out a famous aria.
My apologies to Puccini and any opera lover that I may have offended. If you want to hear a human tenor sing E lucevan le stelle from Tosca, here’s the best:
While photographing the pair of Ospreys sharing a meal, I kept hearing a loud “wheep” every few seconds. The source of the noise was an Oystercatcher, a large shore bird I had not seen up to this point.
Here are more images of the companion bird to the above. Maybe they were a couple.