Sunday, March 27, 2016

Red-breasted Mergansers

  Not sure how smart Red-breasted Mergansers are but it looks like the brains are not equally divided between the genders,  Today I photographed a pair of males trying their best lines on a female

Say, don't I know you?

If we were both drowning which one of use would you save?

Now what if  I was the only one drowning?

I'd save myself by swimming real fast
   Also at Ludington Harbor, a Horned Grebe shows more dignity.

The two Mutes

Friday, March 25, 2016

Sparrows in the Snow

   An early spring snowstorm had the lingering winter sparrows sharing scraps under the feeding stations with arriving spring migrants.
American Tree Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Song Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
   The snowstorm had been in the forecast since last weekend but as is often the case with spring storms, the uncertainty of temperatures hovering in the low 30's had the snowfall predictions swinging from 1-3 inches all the way to 12" plus.  We could have hit that one foot level had we not had an influx of warm air in the mid levels of the atmosphere for several hours that melted the precip on the way down only to refreeze on the 31 F ground,  We ended up with 7 or 8 " and maybe 1/4" of ice that took out the power in my neighborhood and beyond.

    The quick walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail left the dog almost covered by the nearly 2" diameter flakes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bird Dream Come True

     In my yard there is a treehouse/deer blind that the previous owner had put up.  Early this afternoon as I was walking past the sliding glass door in the kitchen I noticed that the stovepipe on the treehouse was looking a little crooked.  After a brief moment I realized that was no stovepipe, it was a freaking Snowy Owl. Bird Dream come true.

  Research  shows that dreams prepare you for situations by mixing past memories with concerns dwelling in your subconscious,   I've had the 'Snowy Owl in the Yard' dream many times over the past few years.  In these dreams the camera can't be found, the battery is dead, the lens is malfunctioning or just won't stay attached to the camera as the bird flies away. As a result of these nightmares I carry a fully charged spare battery in the pocket of my hoodie at all times and always keep the camera handy. 

   The lessons learned from the bird dreams did not come into play as the Arctic interloper  turned out to be very cooperative.  It perched on the treehouse from the time I spotted it at 1:20PM and was still there when I left for work 5 hours later.  A couple of hours into the Snowy's visit I mentioned to my wife " I hope I'm not dreaming." She asked "I'm in your dreams?"  I told her "Sure just not as often as  Snowy Owls". 

   As the owl sat practically motionless the squirrels and chipmunks continued to scurry through the yard,  But this regal predator did not escape the observant eyes of the neighborhood crows. 

Ducking the Crows

    During the photo shoot I had two windows in the dining room open in order to have different angles through the branches.  In the photo below the owl is staring down my cat Leo, who was at the other window  taking in the breeze and contemplating a 12 foot jump to freedom. 
Keeping an eye on the yellow-eyed predator in the window,

Staring down the barrel of my 500 mm Canon

If a Snow Leopard could fly......

Snowy Owl Video

  Can't wait to employ the lessons learned from the Painted Bunting dreams.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snow Geese (Blue Morphs) 3/15/16

   Early this afternoon Dave Dister called to alert me to 5 Snow Geese in Freesoil, Mason County.  I made it out there about a half hour later and was able to get some long distance photos of it.

   Out on my deck this caterpillar kind of caught me off guard as it crawled across the top of my grill.
Any idea which species? (editor's note With help from Dave Dister the caterpillar is identified as   Haploa Contigua...The Neighbor Moth Larva)

    When I had the Tundra Swan migration pass over my house on Sunday I couldn't help but wonder where they were coming from and where they were heading in such a deliberate manner.  My immediate thought about their port of departure was that it was somewhere on Lower Lake Huron.  A check of ebird's species map showed that at least 4000 were seen on Saturday on the extreme southern portion of Saginaw Bay. On Sunday only a few dozen were reported in that same area.
   To find out where they might have touched down, I checked ebirds Wisconsin reports to see if great numbers made their way onto anyone's checklist.  Sadly no such reports made it to ebird.  Not to be deterred I checked the Wisconsin birding listserve and....JACKPOT.  It seems that a birder in Shiocton, Wisconsin found thousands of them on Sunday afternoon in a field with more flocks still pouring in.  I can't say for sure that they were some of the same swans that I saw but as the map below shows, Saginaw Bay to Ludington to Shiocton is pretty damn near a straight-line.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tundra Swan Migration 3/13/2016

  At my old house in Wayne County,  I added Tundra Swans to the yardlist when 25 flew over on March 15, 2011. At the time I noted that 25 was the greatest number of any species that I recorded on the first day that I added them to the list. That was eventually eclipsed when I had 40 Snow Buntings fly through the yard in November 2012 on the day of their yard debut.

  Two days short of five years later and 204 miles to the northwest I was able to add Tundra Swans(#93) to the new yardlist and destroyed the old record first day total for yardlist addee with 2190.  
Here's the story........

   At about 9 AM this morning my wife stepped out on the deck and heard a clamor that drew her attention to a large flock of (she estimated 500)  birds flying high above the wooded lot next door. I was elsewhere in the house so it was a few minutes before she told me of her sighting.  I didn't ask what kind of birds they were since she is a non-birder. That said, I respect her numerical skills because she can keep a running total of variety of things simultaneously. She shows off this skill occasionally as I am  quizzed on her running totals in the form of questions like.... "Do you know  how many minutes late you are coming home (from work)?" : "Do you know how many times you accepted overtime when we were supposed to get together with my( her) family?" and the multi-part extra-credit question "Do you know how much you spent on Christmas, Valentine's, birthday or anniversary gifts over the past 30 years?" (trick question... the answer is $0.00). 
    I headed out to the yard and was rewarded about 20 minutes later, as I was talking to my neighbor we heard a ruckus from the east seemingly ride the light southeast breeze.  About a minute later the sky was filled with a tidal wave of Tundra Swans in configurations of V's, X's checkmarks and straight-lines in groups of 30....50... and well over 100.  I estimated the initial wave at 1000. A couple of minutes later another 500 came by.  Over the course of the next couple of hours isolated groups ranging from 4 to 140 continued on the same flight path. I was able to count these flocks accurately by twos and fives until they added up to 690.  That gave a total of at least  2190 (as the initial 1500 was estimated, conservatively, I might add), not counting the first group that my wife had seen.  

The significance of this photo is that its #100,000 that I've taken with my 5D Mark3

  I also added Killdeer (#94) to the yardlist this morning 

  A good variety of raptors were also passing through
Immature Red-shouldered Hawk

Almost mature Bald Eagle

Sharp-shinned Hawk

   Besides the swans some Canada Geese flew over along with Mallards and a male Common Merganser.
Common Merganser

   Yesterday the lighting was much better and here are the birds of interest that I was able to photograph.

   At Pere Marquette Lake

Horned Grebe
  At the Ludington South Pier
Northern Pintail

Red-winged Blackbird
  At home yesterday morning
Common Merganser

Red-tailed Hawk

Sandhill Cranes

Cooper's Hawk

Yellow Jacket
  Earlier in the week I added Song Sparrow to the yardlist.