Monday, March 31, 2008

Barred Owl Day Roost Sighting & Some Migrators

On friday, I went to my favorite spot for migratory bird finds. While walking on the normal path, I thought back to the barred owl I had heard hooting during the day, a few weeks ago. I remembered that over a year ago, I had flushed a barred while walking, and remembered where its location was. I decided to go off the path and investigate that area again, just for kicks. I go to where it was seen, with my eyes to the upper branches, when something out of place caught my eye. Could it be? I looked thru my lens, and lo and behold, there it was!

It was backlit, but I didn't care too much. I finally found my first ever daytime Barred Owl! I took some shots, and adjusted my position for a clearer shot. He flushed, but I watched where he went. I gave him a few minutes to calm down, and strolled in a lazy manner towards him. He flushed again. This time, I could get on his good side (not backlit), so I attempted again. Nope, he wasn't having anything to do with me, so I left him alone, for another lucky day...

I went back with Cuttidad on Saturday, to see if we could get lucky again, and stopped at my last sighting. We both checked the trees, and after a few minutes, I see him. I can't believe it. I turn around, tell Cutti, turn back and lost him. I retrace my steps, but am coming up empty. Cutti questions a spot, asks for my camera, and views the owl again. YEA! I tell her to stay put, that I am going to walk to other side where there is a high path, and get a shot that is not backlit. Her quest was to tell me when to stop to look for it on the other side using our cellphones. I wanted to put me, Cutti and the owl in a straight line, so I would know precisely where to search. I stop where she tells me to, and scan the trees for what seems like forever and am getting frustrated. I can't find him. Thats how well they can blend in. Cutti tries to describe the tree, but I just can't see which tree she is talking about. Finally, I see him and am amazed at how far away he was. I thought for sure, I would be closer on this side. I take a few shots, but can't get a clear view, so I decide to go into the woods alittle deeper, but am careful not to spook him. I stayed parellel to him the whole time, and acted like I wasn't looking directly at him. He stayed for quite a long time, but when I decided to try a few feet closer, he flushed. This is the shot I got with my 75-300mm Canon IS. I mention that lens, because hopefully my next shot of him will be with my new 100-400mm CanonL IS. I'm very excited about this new purchase which was recommended by Craig from Craigs Birds.

After an I.D. given to me by Owlman, this bird was identified as a Golden Crowned Kinglet-Thanks Owlman!

I also found a Brown Creeper, while scouting for the Barred Owl.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Migration: Some are Coming, Some are Going

I went exploring at Gebhard Woods in Morris IL yesterday, to find some migrators and found a Yellow Rumped Warbler, but the shot was crap, and 2 Wood Ducks that flushed before I could snag a shot, and... these:

Great Blue Herons are arriving for their pick of nesting sites.

A Red-breasted Nuthatch will be leaving very soon to find its summer grounds...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wildlife Weekend Washout

Since becoming part of the Nature Blog Network, I have become quite fond of a handful of sites from all over the world. One in particular is the World Bird Sanctuary. If you haven't been, check it out. They have pictures & videos of all sorts of birds from around the world. Some featured recently have been Eagle Owls & newborns, Barn Owls & newborns, and many, many more. They have something to teach/share with us almost every day. I've learned so much in just a few weeks from this site. They are located near St. Louis MO., and since I was headed in that direction this weekend, I was going to stop by and see the place for myself.
Cuttidad and I went on an adventure this weekend, going to the largest state park in Illinois called Pere Marquette State Park, and were staying in a cabin on the grounds. It is located near the town of Grafton, IL, which is located just a few miles shy of Missouri. The drive would take us about 4 hours. From their website, it looked as if we would see plenty of migrating birds because there are migrating stations all over the place down there, but... more on that later...
The drive to the Sanctuary was just another 60 miles off our original path, so we headed out into the wild expressways surrounding St. Louis on our 2nd day of stay. We came within a mile of our exit ramp, and the traffic came to a halt. We saw cars putting their cars in reverse, and driving back up the off ramps. Hmmm...must be an accident. We have just another 1/2 mile to go, so we can wait it out. As we crept up to our ramp, we discover it is closed, but we don't know why.....yet. We still figure we can detour back and find our way. Then the scene exploded. We had heard about the flooding in Missouri, but our drive from Morris Il all the way to Alton Il along the Mississippi led us to believe that it all had receded. We didn't see much devastating flooding at all....until now! It was the Meramec River that was causing all of the havoc!

We knew, after witnessing this scene, that we would not get to the Sanctuary. We wondered if they had to evacuate, given its proximity to this devastation. We saw on the news that houses were taken by the flood. We saw a house hit an overpass and it shaved its roof off, not that it wasn't already lost. We wondered if all the good the sanctuary was doing for the birds, was lost. We prayed they had time to relocate. When I got back home, I logged onto their site, and found them to be o.k. They relocated, all was well with their birds, and they have some very interesting video of the horrible weekend.
I just wanted to stop in, say hi, & see some of the birds in person, since meeting them on video. Oh well, I'm just glad everything turned out o.k. Maybe next time I am in the area, I will get the chance to meet their extraordinary creatures, and meet the staff that take such good care of them.

In Grafton IL, along the Mississippi river, you can find plenty of public launches. This one in particular had a lighthouse replica, which looked somewhat interesting, so I waited for a gull to fly near. This day was the only time we saw sunshine.

We drove a few miles more to cross the Mississippi River to Missouri over this bridge to a migration station on the other side of the river.

The only migraters we found the whole trip were American White Pelicans.

The Pere Marquette State Park was very big. The lodge was beautiful. The cabin we stayed in had 3 separate rooms, and upon inspection, looked quite nice. Looks were very deceiving...The toilet tank overflowed, because the float didn't float. The bed was the most rickety thing I have ever tried to sleep on. Imagine sleeping on a bed suspended by chains, and the movement that might have. Horrible! The pillows were like wood. I still (Tuesday) have a very sore neck. Our cabin was next to a utility closet, which caused all kinds of noise. A constant high pitched hum was the most annoying. Someone from another cabin taking a shower at 5 in the morning was another eyeopener. All in all, I would never stay there again, which is sad, because the revenue goes to the state and the grounds. Oh well, we can't be lucky all of the time...The trip was a bust, we didn't see much, but we spent $2.99 a gallon/gas in Missouri, verses $3.25 on the Illinois side. Our only perk, but it took a tankful to get back home. I kinda felt like Charlie Brown all weekend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bark at the Moon

O.K. so its not Ozzy Osbournes next album cover redeax, but it was an opportunity to shoot something different on a boring day. The sun came out later in the evening, and I haven't shot anything for a week. The weather has been gloomy, so when I saw the sun poke its bright head out, I threw on my sneakers and took a ride to my nearest conservation area, Braidwood Lakes. My mission: Find some woodcocks. I found a number of them last year around this time, but there were none. I then rode out to Mazonia for anything I could find. I was hoping a certain road would be open that has been gated closed for more than a month, but... no luck. My opportunities are fading as the sun is about to set. There were plenty of red wing blackbirds though, so now I just needed a canvas. Looking high into the sky, I find the moon almost full. I just need the perfect angle, and voila! This brave guy did not flush as I approached slowly with my car. I positioned a few times, and he just kept singing. My mistake: I should have put more distance between me and the bird, so I could sharpen the moon up. I shot at about 180mm focal length, ISO 200 for 1/100 at f16 & +1 e.v. If I would have opened up to 300mm, from a greater distance, it would have been much better.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Completely Enveloped by Natures Mysterious Journey

Owlman at the Owlbox tagged me to write a 6 word meme to describe my inner birder. (I'm not a birder per se, but do appreciate all of natures creatures.) It was a tough one for me. I had 5 easily...3 came to me immediately, but 6 had me rattled.

Here are the rules (copied from the original blogger that started this):

1. Write your own six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4 .Tag five more blogs with links
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

So Owlman, there you have it!

I'm going to tag Craig's Birds, Ecobirder, No Ceiling, Mon@rchs Nature Blog, and The Hawk Owls Nest.

Monday, March 17, 2008

New Camo Tent Chair-& Other Weekend Wonders

I have tried and tried to become invisible to animals over the years with little success. I've purchased head to toe camo clothing, which I am sure has helped for at least a second more in those moments of discovery before flight. My stealth is limited at best. I am the creature critters always run from, whether I am brightly colored or blending in like an oak tree. I can creep along like a turtle or stride along at my usual gate. For some reason I am always 2 steps behind the shot. I've hidden behind many trees, & sat deep in a few trenches trying to blend in. Soooo....I invested in a tent chair. As the picture above displays, (I added the red "no guns" symbol.) it is a decent size tent surrounding, & attached to a typical camp chair. It weighs about 12 lbs, has a few pockets for stuff inside and can conceal a tripod with no problem. There are 3 zipper windows (the zippers seem to be on the cheap side) and the chair even has a cupholder. I found mine at Amazon, and with shipping, ran me $102.97. ( I thought it was a bit pricey, but I figured I could sit in it and move all I want.) Setting up is easy after you get the hang of it. The instructions claim you can do it in under 10 seconds, but that is pushing it. It is awkward to close up, but the carrying bag makes it easy for transport. I can now outsmart those elusive critters, I hope.
So... I set out this weekend to give it a try. I chose a location I have tried to sit at before. It is along a river inlet with plenty of scrub brush to blend into. I was after ducks, and to be specific-the Hooded Merganser. It is very common to see all kinds of ducks there, but very tough to get close. There is also a Mute Swan in the area, so that would be a bonus. I arrived about 6:30 a.m., set up and waited. And...waited. And...waited. Not a duck to be had...but... I did see a muskrat! I saw the swan, but it never did round the corner into my view. I left after an hour and a half. I did see Canada Geese making a nest on my walk back to my car.

Cruizing past other good spots I find that a Redtail Hawk was working on a nest on a different tower down the road from the previous GH Owl.

At another locale, I find my Hoodies but my car sent them into the air.

I tried another spot on another day. The beaver pond. I set up on 1 end of a very large pond which is fed by the Kankakee River. It is nestled in at the forest's edge (probably 100 feet in), making for an easier hike than most. A beaver has worked this pond for a really long time. His work can be seen absolutely everywhere. The old cuts and newer cuts are a constant obstacle along my path. It is always amazing to see him doing his beaverly duties. The pond has always attracted ducks. There were 8 of them when I arrived. I couldn't tell what they were, but none were of the merganser variety.

(The beav swam by as I took this crappy reference shot, but I didn't even know it until I downloaded. Dammit!)

I saw 2 kingfishers rattling to eachother, but of course stayed on the other end. I knew I would have to wait this one out. It was going to take a long time for them to get comfortable again. It took a good hour for the first brave duck to swim in my direction. He acted pretty shy though, and zigzagged closer, then farther. Just as I had hope he might come into range, something spooked them all, and flew away. They flew in my direction and away into the sky. Later, I found that fishermen were close by, at the river's edge.

The beaver swam by and dove as he probably heard the shutter fire a few clicks. I didn't expect any new arrivals so I packed up and headed back. Just as I did, of course a canada goose pair flew in and landed. Oh well, I'll be back. I'm expecting wood ducks to arrive soon...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Great Horned of Fire!

My wildlife buddy Pam and I took our annual trip to see the famous Great Horned Owl on her nest for the 4th straight year. I have said it before, and I will say it again; This is the best nesting site I have ever run across. (It is located in the center of a city suburb at the county courthouse with loads of noisy traffic and lots of people walking past to the cute little shops surrounding.) We set up on the sidewalk, and shot high into the Tamarack Tree at a distance of about 30 feet. As each year passes, I have undoubtedly gained more experience and gadgetware for this event. This year marks a truly great one. The tree was struck by lightning last year, but the community came together to keep this owls famous nesting site alive. The town patched up the burnt trunk which was split pretty deep, and treated it with some sort of black substance. The nest was relocated to a lower branch because of the damage, (you can see the old nest above her) all because of this owl and her chosen home during her nesting season.

We arrived around 10:30 a.m. for the timing of the sun hitting the nest for good exposure.

This years addition to my gadget collection was a right angle viewfinder. I "needed" it just for this occasion. In years past, my neck would cramp up from stooping over to look through my lens up into the tree for many hours. I am thrilled with the results of the purchase. It worked great!

I was also happy with the settings I used verses last year. I mainly shot iso 200 @ f9 for 1/80th a second with my Sigma 500mm, circ. polarizer & UV filter, 1.4x teleconverter, tripod, shutter remote, and the right angle viewfinder on my Canon 400D.

There was 1 lil owlet that we could see moving, but never could get a clear shot, although we did try from this angle here.

She kept tending to her lil one which makes her such a successful mom. I am hoping to get back up there for more shots as the owlets grow...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March Madness! Its Looking Alot Like Spring!

I took a long ride yesterday afternoon to all of my favorite spots since the weather outside hit 50 degrees and the sun was out. Finally! It was the perfect day for driving, minus the rugged terrain caused by Old Man Winter. At Mazonia Fish and Wildlife Area, I found that a boat launch was totalled due to heaving. It's pretty sad to see, because the conservation areas in my part of the world are in financial woes, causing them to close their parks twice a week during certain times of the year.

I found my first killdeer of the year at Goose Lake State Park.

This shot of an American Coot was all I could grab as a car was behind me. I wanted to capture their strange feet! It was found walking the embankment at the Dresden Cooling Lakes, near the covered bridge.

The deer were sunning themselves under the protection of this small grove of trees near the Dresden Lock and Dam.

And...another shot the the great horned mama. I stopped again, because I saw white fuzz at the edge of the nest, suspecting a newborn, but as it turns out, it was just her. The day was too perfect not to take a shot.

Shots that got away: Horned Grebe, mallards, & hooded mergansers

Friday, March 7, 2008

Not My Barred Owl Best....Yet....

It is definately owl season, with the Great Horned's on their nests, but another type, the always a thrill. They are cavity nesters, so finding them are definately harder within their confines. Yesterday, I went to a park where I "heard" a Barred Owl doing the "Who cooks for you" call at about noon. (What a thrill to hear one during the day!) I searched and searched the woods, but couldn't find my caller. It put me in the mood, thats for sure. So...I decided to seek out my newest friend last night at a famous location. This particular owl in the past couple of years has favored a certain utility line which borders a forest and a country road. Now, mind you, I'm not sure it is the same owl, but the 2 territories are only a few miles apart. I've seen him in the past, but have not been back to visit him since September of last year. Last night, I got just a glimpse, as he flushed to the protection of the forest, but this morning, I thought I would check at twilight and again he was there. He tolerated me alittle more, but my new flash with a beamer attachment failed me ( I discovered later that I didn't have it attached completely! Aaarg!). I had to resort to the flip up, but at the distance I was, it was useless. is my shot, and... with alittle more care taken with my accessories, I am hoping to drastically improve the quality.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Tadbit Sick of Tidbits! + GH Owl nesting behavior

Since I have gotten virtually no response to my Tidbit game, which also means I have given out ZERO freebies, I am putting the whole thing to rest. I don't understand how something so simple could be so difficult for participation. RANT: LOSERS! Thanks RNS! You win a photo of your choice just because you played!

Anyhoo, I'm excited about a few things coming up: There are 2 Great Horned Owl nests I am watching, although both have their disadvantages. One is located locally, but it is on a high wire tower near a busy road. The site is on a curve, where traffic could be dangerous, so stopping there for shots is minimal. Also, I am waiting for the owlets to be born, so I don't disturb or stress out mama owl while she is incubating. ( I took the photo below as a reference shot)

The other is located about 50 miles away, but it is the best site I have ever known about. Mama has chosen this site for the past 4 years, and maybe more; I've only known about it for that long. She chose a tree on a courthouse property right next to a sidewalk, where visibility is within 20 feet. In years past, I've set up my tripod, remote, and shot to my hearts content. Here is my favorite shot from last year:

I still can't imagine her choosing this site, but she has returned year after year, so the eating must be good, and outweighs the disturbance of constant human threat. Anyway, I went to see her on Saturday, but all I could see of her was her butt. The nest is deep, therefore, she can practically lay down , which helps in keeping her stress level low.

My own thoughts on seeking out owls: Everybody on earth is curious. Thats a given. Everybody wants to see elusive creatures up close, who wouldn't? Some people don't give thought to consequences to our own actions & thus, animal impact. Owls are elusive because we are their #1 threat. Fact: Great Horned's don't have any natural predators other than another Great Horned. But...when nesting, their babies are at risk from snatching. Hawks, crows, and various other predators do steal eggs. Raccoons and opossums will kill/eat a newborn. There have been accounts where an owl parent has attacked a human because we got too close to the nest. They will protect their young, and no one wants to be in the clutches of their huge talons. Their talons can completely close around something as large as 2 inches in diameter, let alone embedding their claws into most anything that is fleshy. Be careful! Stay a decent distance away for your own protection, and use binoculars to see them closer. Also, use common sense and keep quiet. Don't tell all of your friends so that they can disturb it too. If an owl is disturbed too much, they will abandon their nesting site altogether. Curious is good. Curious brings excitement, which leads to knowledge. Knowledge brings protection, thus conservation. Be curious, not ignorant!