Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thousands of Blackbirds

Last week while we were heading for Brazos Bend, we came across a stunning sight in a farmer's fields near George Ranch. In the fields there were literally thousands of blackbirds with a total of over 10,000 very probable. These blackbirds are wintering here in Texas and have found plenty of food in the form of grain in these fields.


The species in the largest numbers were Red-winged Blackbirds, numbering an estimated 7,000 and were followed by Brown-headed Cowbird at about 3,000. There were also many starlings along with some Common and Great-tailed Grackles thrown into the mix.


Unfortunately for the blackbirds, many raptors had found this feeding bonanza as well and had shown up, not to feed on the grain but to feed on the blackbirds. There were more than 20 raptors in a space of about 500 sq. yards


About 10 Caracaras, 1 Harrier, many Red-tailed Hawks, several White-tailed Hawks and some Turkey Vultures were hanging around, waiting for the right moment to attack. The blackbirds were very wary and anytime a raptor entered their midst, thousands of the blackbirds would rise up and fly off all at the same time, whirling and twirling in an attempt to avoid capture.



We saw evidence that the raptors were eating well as one of the White-tailed Hawks, an immature, had a very full crop, meaning that it has had a lot to eat. Unfortunately, I didn't get a decent shot of the White-tailed.

Below is a typical winter grassland scene in Texas; a Harrier, blackbirds, hay bales and caracaras.




Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Brazos Bend

Last week, my family and I took a trip out to Brazos Bend SP, about an hour's drive south into the heart of gator country. Brazos Bend is well known for it's big gators and we soon found out why.


Any explanation needed??? When you have big ole' gators like this lazing about, you are grateful for all the fences and railings you can get. This guy is relatively large for alligators in the area and is probably about 16 feet. We saw close to 30 gators in the 3 hours that we were at the park and were very impressed by their size, teeth and laziness; I don't think we saw one move much more than 2 feet!


We had a very nice trip with some rain pounding down for all of about 20 minutes. Some of the highlights were a pair of Fulvous-Whistling Ducks, a male Wood Duck, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, some Stilt Sandpipers, a lone Roseate Spoonbill and, obviously, the gators.




Stay tuned, I will have a post about the amazing sight we witnessed on our way to the park coming up shortly!!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Heron Haunt

My neighborhood is  very urban and at first glance, you could easily believe that it is devoid of wildlife; but how wrong you would be. After living here for several months, I have started to discover little niches, tucked away just out of sight, where, the attentive eye will discover various forms of wildlife.

Recently, I found a small bayou that looked worthwhile checking out. So that's what I did. And I found it to be a favorite haunt of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets; here are some photographs of a Great Blue Heron that frequents this delightful little urban secret.


The light proved to be a little tricky this day because of the clouds that kept covering the sun and then leaving as quickly as they had come, prompting much exposure-changing from me.


At one point, the heron abruptly lifted off, only to land 30 feet away.


The heron also engaged in preening itself, a fascinating process that I had never seen before.


Herons are fascinating birds and when you find a good spot to photograph them, you can become completely and utterly entranced!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Magnolia

Today, we went exploring, searching for a local park in which to do some bird photography. We found a place 25 minutes away in Magnolia; in my mind, we hit the jackpot with this particular park. We found Unity Park, a small park recently created that gets very few visitors. In the park, is a small swamp, home to several turtles. In the swamp, were dead trees still standing, perfect habitat for woodpeckers.














One of these trees was home to a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers; I managed to get a shot with the fall colors in the background. We also saw White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Carolina Chickadees, Field Sparrows, a Brown Thrasher and Eastern Phoebes, among other species.

All in all, a great little park that I hope to return to soon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mallards

Spent a very enjoyable several hours at the local pond this weekend, photographing whatever nature I saw. There were plenty of the local mallards there, as well as a Great Blue Heron, a coot, some cormorants and two Golden-crowned Kinglets. For this post, I will only include the Mallards. These guys were fairly shy, more so than most Mallards and it took me a good ten minutes crawling on my stomach to come within range. Once I did though, I spent close to an hour photographing them, experimenting with different settings.

This domestic Mallard was hanging around with the wild Mallards. I used my Canon 200mm for this shot, and caught him in mid-quack; I liked the tongue.

For this shot, the light came through the trees perfectly and, coupled with flash, came out to what I thought was a pretty good photo.

Not quite as good a shot, below, but I liked the wing detail and the blue patch.


This shot I played with afterwards, not usually what I like to do, but I wanted to try it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Beautiful Loons

On a recent camping trip to Kikomun Creek Provincial park in south-eastern British Columbia (near Fernie), I spent hours out on the main lake at the campsite; Surveyor's Lake, observing and photographing Common Loons. Home to a breeding pair of loons, Surveyor's lake is a busy lake; hundreds of people crisscross the lake each day in canoes, rafts, paddleboats and kayaks. All these people, however, do not deter the loons and once again, they have nested in the area and have one big young one.
Due to all the traffic on this lake, the loons are not shy and will sometimes even approach people. At one point, I was sitting in my raft photographing these beautiful birds when one of the adults and the young one started to swim towards me. They came closer and closer until I could have touched the young loon with my paddle!
The young loon seemed to be doing an impression of an eel; he would get down low in the water and start swimming about. This last photo shows how close the young loon came; this was taken with my 500mm lens and is uncropped; I had to sit very still, otherwise a sudden motion would have scared the youngster away!
The adult loons were very protective of their young one; when an immature Bald Eagle flew low over the lake, the adult loons had already seen it, were loudly giving their alarm call and both parents were protectively circling around the young loon.
Occasionally, the loons were too fast for me and my camera and would dive right as I would take a photograph.
While I watched this loon family, they consumed a lot of food and I later found out that one pair of loons with two chicks will eat more than 1000 kg of small coarse fish over a breeding season. That is a lot of fish! Hopefully the lake is well stocked!

I immensely enjoyed watching this family; it was amazing to watch their lives as they try to raise the next generation of loons. I also saw hope; despite this species sensitivity to human disturbance, these loons can survive among humans and this adaptability could help keep these magnificent birds off the threatened species list.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

I recently did some photography at a small local lake where I found a total of 38 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. I was shocked at this number as I have never seen more than 20 at a time before.


These guys, thought they let me get reasonably close were very cautious and the minute I came to close, they all moved into a prime position for a quick getaway.


My next goal is to find some Fulvous Whistling Ducks; definitely won't be as easy as going to a local park!!!