Overheard a pair of Northern Shovelers foraging for food:
All this time I have shown you the birds and animals at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Yesterday, I shot the following photos so you can see what the refuge actually looks like at least in the fall when the green has given way to brown and sepia. The same juvenile Bald Eagle from last week was also there, ruling over the fall landscape.
At the end of my drive through the refuge today, I saw a Painted Turtle ahead, in the middle of the road! I got out and took these two photos.
After that I moved the turtle gently to the side of the road. Still, it withdrew inside its shell as soon as I touched it.
Painted Turtles are small creatures and have been around for 15 million years. Today was very warm, 76 °F or 24 °C, which may explain why this turtle came out and tried to cross the road. When it gets colder, they will go into deep hibernation.
Yesterday was cloudy and cool, ending up with heavy rain. Only a few people showed up at the refuge while the birds were even more scarce. I got some lucky shots of a juvenile Bald Eagle before it flew away from its perch. It is probably between two and three years old.
Two other cars stopped by and it finally had enough of the photography sessions.
Starting in late summer, when you drive on Wildlife Drive, flocks of birds often fly in and out of both sides of the road in front of you. There could be hundreds of them, and they are mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and sparrows, sometimes mixed together. The moment you stop your car to look closer, the birds land and disappear in the dried reed and grasses. Last week I stopped long enough to find them and take some photos.
Finally, a European Starling perched above the reeds, on a road sign.
A new sluice gate has recently been built on Wildlife Drive at the refuge to channel ocean water into and out of Vogt Pool North. As I drove by a few days ago, a Great Blue Heron was standing guard at the gate and would not budge even as I parked no more than 20 ft (6 m) away from it. There was plenty of morning sunlight and the conditions were perfect for photography.
Seven minutes later, it was still on the same rock, staring into emptiness.
Yesterday, when I arrived at the Brigantine unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge the tide was high and ocean water was pouring into the salt marshes, bringing with it fish and other sea creatures to feed the Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Seagulls, and various smaller birds. Some juvenile Cormorants were having a feast and kept diving into the churning water and coming up with fish in their hooked bills.
Another Cormorant was so happy to have caught a fish that it danced around in the water.
Suddenly, it dropped the fish and dove in the water to retrieve it. However, many Laughing Gulls were hovering in the air, and one quickly swooped down.
The Laughing Gull snatched the fish and left the young Cormorant clamoring for its lost meal.
For the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge 114: Negative Space, here are two images I shot recently. The first one is from 12 days ago.
The second one is from yesterday at Colonial Lake In Lawrenceville, NJ when a fisherman caught a fish with the name of Crappie! He threw it back as soon as I finished taking the photo.
As temperatures dropped, a good number of birds have left the refuge. Some non-breeding Forster’s Terns remain, displaying their skills at diving and plucking food out of the water. I finally managed to photograph one of them in a successful dive.
Yesterday, conditions were almost ideal for photography. The refuge was dry, the sun was shining bright, and an ocean breeze was cool if at times gusty. I had just stepped out when a Great Egret flew toward me. I barely had enough time to lean against the car and bring my camera up to shoot. This was likely the closest I ever came to a Great Egret in flight.
The Great Egret and Snowy Egret shown below were feeding in the marsh, stabbing the water, and jumping and turning around on a dime. They were very successful and got a fish at every attempt.
In this last photo, it was amazing to see the Snowy Egret twisting itself while looking for fish.
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.
Hurricane Isaias is only glancing at Florida and is headed to the northeast. Storms with strong winds (70 mph or 112 kph) are predicted for our area. Yesterday, I went to the Edwin B. Forsythe refuge and saw groups of shorebirds huddled together on the water sleeping. Maybe they flew away from the storms and were resting there?
There were many American Avocets that are usually rare in New Jersey.
Sand flies were also abundant and forced me to go home early. There hibiscuses and milkweed are in full bloom, and butterflies were flittering about.
The following images, in random order, are what I am seeing this summer with limited travel, too much heat, and more time at home.
The Eastern Bluebird couple in our backyard is still busy bringing food back for their second brood.
Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba) is plentiful this year. We have two trees which give more fruit than we know what to do with. Pawpaw does not ship well, and is not available in grocery stores. It has been described as tasting like a combination of banana and mango. Chilled pawpaw was a favorite dessert of George Washington.
This week I went to the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge again, after a 5-month hiatus. Greenhead flies were already out and I had to keep my car windows closed, except for brief moments to take a photo. Shots taken through the windows turned out badly. Here are some better ones taken with the window quickly open.
Since I was inside the car and not wearing a mask, a female Red-winged Blackbird could not resist acting like a Karen.
Following are photos taken recently at home of other birds.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been coming in greater numbers. Capturing their flight is usually a challenge, but here are some of the better shots.
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.
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.