Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pic of the Day

     The Clark's and Western Grebe were long thought to be the same species.  Clark’s Grebe was first described to science in 1858, but was dismissed as a variant of the western Grebe.  It was not until 1985 that the two species were split and the Clark’s gaining its own species status.

Clark's Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii:  Bear River Bird Sanctuary; Brigham, Utah

    Though they both perform the same style of courtship display and occupy the same habitat.  The differences in facial patterns keep the two species from interbreeding.  The black cap of the Western Grebe extends to, or below the eye while the Clark’s has a distinct white margin between the eye and black cap.  I have also noticed, and this is easily recognized at a distance, that the Clark’s flankes seem to be lighter than those of the Western Grebe.   This makes identification of the two species quite easy at a distance.
    Other identifying features are the bill color and voice.  The Clark’s bill is a bright yellow-orange, while the Western shows a yellow bill with an olive tinge.  The voices of the two species are different as well.  The Clark’s voice is a single syllable “kreeek,” and the Western a distinct two syllable “Kree-eeek.”

Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis: Bear River Bird Sanctuary; Brigham, Utah
Note: that the two Western Grebes shown here shown different facial patterns.  The 
 foreground bird shows the black cap extenuating to the top of the eye while the bird in 
the background show the black cap extending below the eye.

     The Clark’s Grebe is named in honor of John Henry Clark.  Clark was a 19th century American surveyor who was a naturalist and collector.  The genus name Aechmophorus comes from the Ancient Greek words “aichme”, meaning spear, referencing the grebes long dagger like beak.

Hear the call of the Clark’s Grebe:
Hear the call of the Western Grebe:

Top:  Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f4, 1/200 second @ f/6.3
Bottom:  Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f4, 1/400 second @ f/10

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pic of the Day

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris:  Bear River Bird Sanctuary; Brigham, Utah
     Marsh Wrens seem as numerous as the cattails at the Bear River Bird Sanctuary, and their vociferous chants could be heard continuously as I drove along the wildlife drive. Many of the wren’s territories are deep within the mass of rushes, but this fine fellow was building a nest within easy reach of my lens.  As soon as I stopped to shoot, it flew to a nearby reed, began singing and perfectly posed for my camera.  I wish every shot could be as easy.

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/800 second @ f/9

Saturday, June 20, 2015

     Photographing birds is perhaps one of my greatest joys, and this Least Tern just added to that joy.  I have made a couple of trips to the Biloxi tern colony over the last twenty years and have been happy with the results each trip.  But this trip, I photographed a particular pair of birds over a period of four days that gave me some really nice images.

Least Tern, Sternula antillarum:  Tern Colony; Biloxi, Mississippi

     I had no idea how long incubation had been underway, but the pair I was photographing was at the very edge of the colony.   They were most likely latter nesters since the choice nesting sites are at the center of the colony.  The terns at the center of the colony already had chicks.  I had hoped that eggs would have hatched while I was there, but it just did not happen. 
    To photograph this tern, and all the other tern images taken, I used camouflage.  While still at home, before heading to the colony I purchased a beige sheet (twin size), and spray painted a few blotches of green to mimic the green vegetation on the beach.  I also used a pie pan with ball head attached as my camera mount.  This places the camera low to the ground giving a tern view perspective.
     Once on location I check for birds nesting on the edges of the various colonies in relation to the rising sun.  Once I found my spot, I arrived the next morning about twenty minutes before sunrise.  Long before sunrise a tern colony is a swirling mass of birds.  Some flying out to sea, others returning, and other just irritated by their neighbors.  I quickly found my spot at the edge of the colony, wrapped the sheet over my head and body, then, lay down on the sand.   Perhaps this is a good place to say that I would love the beach if it were not for all the sand.  Sand gets in everything, but I must say it is more comfortable laying is sand than gravel.
     As soon as I covered myself with the sheet the birds that had flown out to bombard me with tern poop were back on their nest.  As soon as I pulled the sheet over my body the danger had disappeared.  I lay on the beach for two and half hours each morning shooting the birds as they went about their morning activities.  Typically the female incubated, and the male would make forays to the Gulf to fish that it would bring back to its mate.  While I was invisible to the birds, I often thought that the birds knew I was there.  On occasion, after delivering a fish to its mate, the male would walk toward me and give an inquisitive look into my camera lens.  It was as if he knew I was there watching his everymove.  Or, perhaps he was just wondering what kind of idiot would bring such an expensive lens to a wind blown sandy beach.

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/2500 second @ f/8.

Pic of the Day

Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis:  Bear River Bird Sanctuary; Brigham, Utah

     Another image of the Western Grebe in the previous post at its nest in the Bear River Bird Sanctuary.  Note how far back the legs are on the grebes body.  The grebe is an excellent swimmer, but very awkward on land.

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4 with 1.4 teleconverter (effective 700mm f/5.6), 1/2000 second @ f/11

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pic of the Day

Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis:  Bear River Bird Sanctuary; Brigham, Utah
     On my recent trip to the Bear River Bird Sanctuary at Brigham, Utah, I found Western and Clark's Grebes in various stages of nesting.  Most birds I saw had chicks, some large and some small, but this Western Grebe was still sitting on eggs.  
     I was fortunate to find this bird nesting very close to the road.  I rarely shoot with a tele-converter, but I used one for this shot to increase the distance, thus causing less disturbance to the bird.  I was very careful in my approach, as not to disturb the grebe, but another pair came very close to the nest.  They must have come too close, because the female slid off the nest and chased the other birds away.  Within a minute of chasing the intruders off she climbed back on the nest allowing me to get this shot.  Shooting this bird and its eggs was a real treat, making the long drive to Utah worthwhile.

Nikon D800, Nikon 500mm f/4 with 1.4 teleconverter (effective 700mm f/5.6), 
1/5000 second @ f/7.1

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pic of the Day

Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis:  Bear River Bird Sanctuary; Brigham, Utah
     I photographed this beautiful Western Grebe at the Bear River Bird Sanctuary as it swam along the edge of one the refuges water impoundments.  Its mate was sitting on eggs about twenty feet away.  As other grebes came close he was quick to chase the interlopers away.  It seems as if he was doing a good job of protecting the nest and his mate.  I will post the bird on the nest another time.  Please check back soon.  

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter (effective 700mm f/5.6 lens).  1/5000 second @ f/7.1

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pic of the Day

Least Tern, Stemula antillarum:  Least Tern Colony; Biloxi, Mississippi
     Male least tern bringing home the bacon (okay, fish) to its mate in the background.  Shot during early morning light.  The best time of day to shoot!

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4,1/2500 second @ f/8

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pic of the Day

Least Tern, Stemula antillarum:  Least Tern Colony; Biloxi, Mississippi

     Taken at one of the Least Tern colonies between Between Biloxi, and Gulf Port, Mississippi. The female was sitting on eggs when this handsome fellow flew in with a fish for her (out of focus in the background).  She jumped up as soon as he touched the sand and turned to give her the fish. Unfortunately, all I got of the transfer was the tail end of the tern.  Thought you might like this angle better.

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/3200 second @ f8

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pic of the Day

Brown-headed Nuthatch, Sitta pusilla
Guntersville Dam Recreation Area near New Hope, Alabama
     The Brown-headed nuthatch is a small bird.  It is only 4 inches long and has a wingspan from 6 1/2 to 7 inches. This little nuthatch is a bundle of energy.  It rarely stays put, making it difficult to photography.  They constantly flit from limb to limb or race down the trunk of trees searching for any morsel of food.  
     The Brown-headed nuthatch is restricted to pine forest of the southeastern southern states.  This bird was photographed in a stand of Loblolly Pines on the north side of the Tennessee River.  Its call sounds like a child's squeaky toy.  To hear the nuthatche call click this link:

When four or five of these birds get together, they can get really noisy.

Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/500 second @ f/8

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pic of the Day

 Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinals (male): Horsecove, Alabama

Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinals (immature): Horsecove, Alabama
    This afternoon I spent a few hours in the blind photographing feeder birds.  I have a ton of cardinals at my feeders and these two were so close that I took headshots.  Most resident birds here in North Alabama have already raised their first brood and most have started their second.  Immature Cardinals out number the adults by more than
 2 to 1. 
     The top bird is an adult male and the bottom is an immature.  Note the gray eyes and horn colored beak on the immature.  By the end of the summer the immature bird’s beak will be quite orange, like the adult.  What I find most interesting is the immature bird’s full crest.  It seems to be fuller and larger than the adult male.

Top:  Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/60 second @ f/10
Bottom: Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/80 second @ f/9