Category: bird watching

Photography Challenge Day 90: Two Sparrows at the lake

So today’s winner for the photography challenge were the two sparrows that I managed to get a picture of two weeks ago on an afternoon walk.

One sparrow decided it didn’t want to sit for the photo shoot.

Unfortunately, I can’t really tell which type of sparrow these two are. I know that there are several different types that call Stillwater home during spring to fall months, but I’ve never really been good at telling them apart.

It is even more difficult to tell them apart when you’re looking at their back ends (as the most distinguished marking are usually on the front & head). I do know that the sparrows like to sit and fly through the tall grasses and bushes along the edge of the lake, so hopefully this summer I will be able to get some other pictures and maybe even determine which sparrow species I’ve been photographing lately.

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Photography Challenge Day 87: The Bald Eagle, our national emblem in flight

The winner of today’s photography challenge is our national emblem—the Bald Eagle. Truthfully, it wasn’t until I got home and put the pictures on the computer that I realized that I managed to get a fairly decent picture of one in flight.

The Bald Eagle soaring over Boomer Lake

I’m not a stranger to photographing Bald Eagles, when we would go up to northern Minnesota and stay at the family cabin, we’d usually see a Bald Eagle or two perched on the top of some of the trees.

Bald Eagle overlooking Lake Vermilion, St. Louis County Minnesota

While the eagle is in the raptor family, it is actually an opportunistic predator. It will hunt, though it does by either watching from a high perch and then swooping in to catch the prey unexpected or by cruising low over the water or land. It is known to be a scavenger feeding on dead carrion. It will also harass other fishing birds (such as Ospreys) and steal their food from them.

They usually have one or two young a year, though if it is a scarce year in terms of hunting only one of the young may actually survive (the strongest one to get to the food dropped in the nest). It is usually four or five years before the eagles will mate, and they may mate for life. They may also reuse the same nest, adding to it each year making it bigger and bigger. It isn’t unheard of Great Horned Owls stealing the nest of Bald Eagles.

What are some other cool facts about Bald Eagles?

It was almost beaten by the wild turkey for choice of the national emblem (that was the bird that Ben Franklin wanted chosen).

They have been observed to “play” with plastic bottles or other objects (such as sticks).

The largest nest on record is in St. Petersburg Florida and was measured to be 2.9 meters in diameter (or 9.5 feet) and 6.1 meters (or 20 feet) tall.

The young bald eagles (under the age of five) spend the time in nomadic exploration, and fly hundreds of miles.

They can have long life spans—the oldest recorded bird was ~38 years old. It had been hit and killed by a car in New York in 2015; it had also been banded in New York—but in 1977.

References: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/bald-eagle;  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle/overview#

As much as I would love to try to get a picture of their nest–I know that they’re probably not nesting around Boomer Lake, and therefore I won’t be trekking in to see if I can spot the young being fed. Now if I was up at Lake Vermilion–that would be another story (though I’d have to be extremely careful not to drop my camera into the lake).

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Photography Challenge Day 86: Cormorant taking flight

Today’s post is probably going to be a little on the short side–I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

So while I was on my walk Sunday, I noticed that there was still at least one cormorant that was still either hanging around, or passing through town.

So either there is a cormorant that has decided to stay in town, or one that is taking it’s merry time migrating.

Though if it’s passing through town, it’s taking its time migrating–since it is basically mid May already.

Obviously it was tired of getting it’s picture taken

This was one of the first times that I saw one starting to run across the water to gain the traction they need to launch into the air.

It almost looks like a gargoyle.

I wonder if people got ideas for gargoyles from watching certain birds take off from the water.

And then it flew off.

Will have to see if I can spot any at the lake this coming weekend, or if they’re migrated on already.

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It’s a Monday–the heron was fishing for it’s meal. Photography Challenge Day 85

So today’s post is going to be on the short side–mainly due to the fact that it is a Monday, and it took me a little longer than I thought it would in choosing today’s picture series.

The heron was going for seconds

So on my walk yesterday I managed to get several pictures of this heron fishing for it’s lunch. I really liked the result of this picture, where you see the water actually splashing up as it goes under water to grab it’s meal. This was after it had already caught and eaten one fish.

The heron caught a snack.

So I was able to quickly snap a picture of the heron coming up with the fish caught in its beak.

And now it swallowed it.

Then I managed to snap the picture of it swallowing the fish–though it popped it in quicker than I could get the picture–but you can see it’s throat slightly bulging from where the fish is sliding down to it’s stomach.

By the time I got around to the other side, to where I could try to observe without scaring it off, that is when I managed to get the picture at the top. I was a little too far off to notice if it actually had caught the fish or not (and if it did–it quickly swallowed it).

Hopefully over the course of the summer, I may actually be able to get a photo series of it fishing from start to finish.

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Photography Challenge Day 84: The Mallard Family

So on my walk today around Boomer Lake, I noticed that it isn’t just the geese that have already hatched a brood this year–there is a small number of baby mallards on the lake now as well.

The mallard family swimming on the lake.

I came across this family starting to swim out into the lake, shortly after seeing a great blue heron catch it’s morning snack.

So some facts about how mallards nest and raise their young:

Usually the female will form a shallow depression/hole in moist areas (that are usually close to the water), and as she is doing that she is pulling vegetation towards her. So in other words—she makes a nest in a area that provides ample protection and material to line her nest.

She will lay anywhere from five to fifteen eggs (with the average being seven to ten), and the incubation time is anywhere from twenty-three to thirty days (so basically three to four weeks). The young are able to leave the nest within a day after hatching. They stay with their parents (mainly the mother), and are able to fly within fifty-two to sixty days after hatching. Mallards usually have just one brood a year (as it is basically three months from egg laying to the time the ducklings are able to fly), though if they have the first one early enough in the year—they might have a second one mid to late summer.

References: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/mallard; https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/lifehistory

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Playing catch-up on the photography challenge. Days 80 to 83.

Well today’s post is actually going to be several posts combined into one to play catch-up on the photography challenge. Since the weather has been rainy, cloudy, and then slightly sunny—our internet/wifi has been the same—down, down, up, down, down, oh you can have access for about three minutes and then down again over the past few days.


This unfortunately is why I didn’t get pictures posted after Tuesday (yes, I could have tried to find the time at work to post—but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that) night. Therefore today’s post is going to be a mix of different things. So let’s get started on the photography challenge catch-up.

The winner for day 80 (Wednesday) is the hummingbird at the back feeder. We usually try to get our hummingbird feeder out in mid-April to feed the hummingbirds as they migrate through—though the ruby-throated hummingbird does summer in Oklahoma. It looks like either it’s a female ruby-throated hummingbird at the feeder, or a young male that hasn’t molted into the bright red throat.

Ruby-throated hummingbird has made an appearance in the backyard.

What are some cool facts about the ruby-throated hummingbird?

This is basically the only hummingbird that is seen in the eastern United States; as it is the only breeding hummingbird east of the Great Plains.

It can beat its wings approximately 53 times a second (that means its beating its wings almost 3200 times a minute).

Due to having extremely short legs, it shuffles along its perch (it doesn’t walk or hop). But it can still scratch its head & neck if needed.

It’s either a female or a very young male–I don’t see the red throat.

It belongs to the order Apodiformes (along with swifts), and the name means “without feet”—mainly because in flight it doesn’t look to have feet.

While they mainly feed at flowers (or feeders that have sugar water), they will occasionally eat small insects as well.

Depending on the number of broods, the female may start building a new nest while still feeding the nestlings in the first nest (as the nest will stretch as the young grow).

They can migrate a long distance (for example from Canada down to Costa Rica), and often fly over the Gulf of Mexico during migration (either way).

It seems to be thirsty today.

As much as I’d love to get a picture of one trying to shuffle along a branch–they usually perch extremely high (sometimes I can get a picture of it sitting on the power lines), but I doubt I’d be able to catch it close to its nest where it’d most likely be shuffling along a branch.

References:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ruby-throated_Hummingbird/overview

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/ruby-throated-hummingbird

The winners for day 81 (Thursday) are the squirrels hanging from the birdfeeders in the backyard.

Someone doesn’t want to hunt for seeds…

So we had to buy a new birdfeeder after the squirrels had chewed a hole in the lid of the one I’d bought a few years earlier from the national wildlife foundation. This is a birdfeeder we have hanging in front of the window in the living room, where the cats can lay on the back of the loveseat and watch the birds, and anyone sitting in the recliner across the room can also watch the birds.

Since we live next to a small creek, and not that far from some wooded areas, we have quite a few squirrels in the neighborhood. These little critters also like to help themselves to the birdseed and bird suets in the backyard, so we try to get the birdfeeders that claim to be “squirrel proof”.

They’re doing an upside down “hug” to stay on the feeder.

Well as you can tell from the picture—the squirrels have figured out how to get around the “squirrel proof” byline and get to the birdseed. This particular feeder is suppose to be weight sensitive—to where if something heavy is on it, the bars slide down and the animal can’t get to the bird seed.

A young raccoon had broken the lid earlier this spring—I’d found the feeder on the ground and the lid pulled off, and since then the squirrels have figured out that if they “hug” the feeder they can distribute their weight and still get to the bird seed.

So yesterday would have been day 82 of the photography challenge. This is the day that I usually try to also share some of the fish pictures I’ve taken over the years–making it a FishyFriday post as well. So in addition to that–it’s also a FlashbackFriday post to one of my trips to the New England Aquarium.

I’ve realized that one thing I should start doing when I go to aquariums/zoos/museums and am taking pictures—I should also try to get pictures of the plaques that state what animals are in the exhibit (or time period if I’m in a museum).  It is quite difficult to google “black and white stripped fish new England aquarium” and actually get a good hit on what that particular fish actually is.

Thankfully, I have managed to identify all three of the fish (though it took quite a bit of time to be able to do so).

A French grunt swimming in the large ocean tank at the New England Aquarium

The yellow-striped fish is actually a French grunt fish (Haemulon flavolineatum). This fish species is actually native to western Atlantic ocean and can be found basically from South Carolina down into the Gulf of Mexico & Caribbean and then downwards towards northern coast of Brazil.

They feed primarily on small crustaceans and mollusks that they hunt for during the night. They stay in close proximity to coral reefs (probably to be able to dart to safety to escape predators) while hunting.

Their name comes from the noise they make when they grind their teeth together.

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haemulon_flavolineatum; https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/haemulon-flavolineatum/

A fish that is known by many names: pufferfish, balloonfish, and blowfish

The second fish is the balloonfish. This fish is also known as the pufferfish, blowfish, and bubblefish (just to name a few of the other names).

The habitat of the balloonfish, are the warm shallow coastal waters; more specifically coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds. They stay hidden for the most part during the day—though I’m sure they’ve given plenty of scuba divers and snorkelers a shock if they’re accidentally awoken in their hidey-holes.

They are nocturnal feeders, going after clams, snails, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and other mollusks that dwell on the sea floor.

If something comes upon them (and they think they could be eaten), balloonfish will puff up to almost three times their normal size; this puffing also allows for special scales to stick out, and they then look like a spiked football, which most predators will then leave alone. The bubblefish will then float away, and may wait awhile before releasing the air (or water) to shrink back down to its normal size.

References: https://www.scienceandthesea.org/program/201008/balloon-fish

Honeycomb cowfish swimming in the tank at the aquarium.

The final fish is the honeycomb cowfish. This fish gets its name from the hexagonal scales that cover most of its body.  This is one of the ways that the fish is able to blend in with the coral reefs it calls home, though they are also found in seagrass beds as well.

This fish is found in the western Atlantic (east coast of the United States), the Caribbean, and then down towards Brazil. While it isn’t found in the Gulf of Mexico, it can be found around Florida (mainly on the Atlantic side and the Keys).

They feed on shrimp, algae, and sponges during the day.  Another way that they protect themselves from predators (aside from the hexagonal scale like armor) is the ability to change their color to blend in with their surrounds as well. Once they sense a threat—they can change their colors, and then remain stationary for quite some time.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeycomb_cowfish

Now we’re finally up to today’s photography challenge winner, and it’s one of the hundred or so I took last year on our small vacation down to New Mexico. One of the places that we went to was Carlsbad Cavern National Park.

One of the many formations one can see in the grand cavern at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

. While we only spent a short time in the caves, I managed to get over a hundred pictures of the caves. Because no matter which way you turned, there was a new angle to take a picture, different lighting, and so forth.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the caves, showing the “draperies” of the caves. As one of the signs stated: “Draperies form where water containing dissolved limestone runs down the ceiling leaving traces of calcite. Over hundreds of years, calcite crystals accumulate. When water stops flowing, draperies stop growing.”

The proper name for the draperies is actually “speleothems”. Since we only spent time in a small part of the national park (the main caves and then a small drive through one of the canyons), I’d like to go back at some point—but maybe actually signup for a tour of the inner caves—which is basically a five hour round trip in and out (which is one of the reasons why I didn’t do it last time). I know that I need to be in a little bit better physical (and possibly even mental) state than what I currently am in.

So I’ve managed to catch up on the photography challenge, and hopefully the wifi connection will behave and I won’t have to many other multiple post days. Though while in a slight enforced ban on electronics–I was able to get some other things done (there will be several posts coming over the next few weeks on this)–so that was one small bright spot. Until the next picture–remember to try to find the beauty in the everyday.

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The Migratory Baltimore Oriole: Photography Challenge Day 79

Today’s winner for the photography challenge is the Baltimore oriole that has decided to nest around Boomer Lake. These birds are yet another indication that spring is fully here and that summer is right around the corner.

I spy an Baltimore Oriole in the tree….

I noticed several brightly colored birds flying around a tree and managed to stand still long enough that I manage to get a couple of decent pictures. One was definitely a mature male Baltimore oriole and the other was either a female or a younger male (as it was a lighter orange color).

Either a female Baltimore Oriole or a young male Baltimore Oriole

The Baltimore oriole can be found east of the Rocky Mountains (and part of that range is actually their migratory paths for heading north). They winter down in Mexico, Florida, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Their diet consists of insects, berries and nectar. In terms of the insects, they eat caterpillars (even the hairy ones that other birds avoid), beetles, grasshoppers, wasps and spiders.

The male Baltimore Oriole sitting in the tree.

What are some other cool facts about Baltimore orioles?

They prefer only ripe, dark-colored fruits (mulberries, cherries, purple grapes) and will ignore other ripe fruit that aren’t as dark in color. They will also take sugar water as well.

The only thing New World and Old World orioles have in common is that they are brightly colored, have long tails and long bills, and build woven hanging nests. Old World orioles are in the family Oriolidae, while the orioles found in America are in the family Icteridae.

The male Baltimore Oriole playing “peek-a-boo”

They raise three to six young a year (usually about four to five), and the female will incubate the eggs for about two weeks, and then after hatching both parents will feed the young. The young will usually leave the nest about two weeks after hatching.

In terms of how the Baltimore oriole will adapt to the continuing changes in temperatures is something that is still being studied—it may gain ground in terms of summer/breeding territory, but it could lose it’s winter grounds potentially in the southern US (namely Florida). As most of its winter grounds are in the tropics—more data will be needed to see how they would survive.

References:

http://climate.audubon.org/birds/balori/baltimore-oriole

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/baltimore-oriole

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Baltimore_Oriole/overview#

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Photography Challenge Day 78: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in flight

So the winners of today’s photography drawing were two scissor-tailed flycatchers I spotted on my weekend walk around Boomer Lake. This is one place in town where you can almost be guaranteed to see at least one scissor-tailed flycatcher (depending on the time of day).

One of the scissor-tailed flycatchers sitting by the edge of the lake.

So there were two male scissor-tailed flycatchers trying to stake out some territory around one sheltered area (numerous small bushes) at the lake.

The second scissor-tailed flycatcher, sitting not that far from the first.

Both were sitting proudly on the branches of various bushes that were just starting to leaf out.

Then one decided that the other was too close……

But then they decided that the area may not be big enough for both of them, and they started fluttering around (I’m assuming to try to establish dominance in the area), and this was the best picture I could get of them both in flight–of course flying away from me at that point.

It will be interesting to try to keep count of how many I see on any given weekend (even though I know that I may or may not be counting the same bird several times) as we get into the summer months. I know that on Saturday I saw at least four, and then I saw two on Sunday–which means that there are at least four scissor-tailed flycatchers up at Boomer Lake right now.

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Sunday bird day: The Canada goose family. Photography Challenge Day 77

Today’s photos are brought to you by the family of Canada geese I saw walking this morning.

One of the parents and two of the goslings grazing on the grass seeds.

So this year there are quite a few geese pairs that are raising their first brood of the year.

The parents and the four little goslings.

This pair has hatched four for the first round of young this year.

Three of the young grazing in the water puddles in the street this morning.

They actually managed to slow the little bit of traffic down this morning as they were playing in the street, before deciding to go graze in the grass.

One of the goslings deciding to catch up with its siblings.

I love how cute and fuzzy the young gosling look, though I was smart and stayed a good distance away from them. I don’t need to tangle with overprotective geese parents–they’re technically mean enough as it is without them thinking I’m a threat. Though since they’ve already started having broods–my early morning walks may be curtailed due to just the normal number of geese at the lake.

Though I can always take the morning walk and try to see how many different song birds I can find (instead of looking for different waterfowl). Decisions, decisions, decisions—we’ll have to see how the summer goes.

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The migrating white-crowned sparrow. Photography Challenge Day 76

Today’s photograph is brought to you by the migrating white-crowned sparrow. This sparrow actually spends the winter months in the southern part of the United States (and Mexico) before heading back to the northern parts of the US and Canada.

White-crowned Sparrow hiding in the peach bush

The diet of these sparrows is mainly seeds, though they will eat insects as well. During the summer months is when they will eat insects and spiders (as that is what they feed the young). Though they will also feed on berries and small fruits as well during the spring, summer, and fall months. Winter is mainly feeding on seeds of weeds and grasses, though they will grace bird feeders as well during this time.

Depending on the part of the country that they are breeding in the birds may have one to three broods per year (more the further south they are). The female will sit on the eggs for about two weeks, and then once the young hatch both parents will feed the young. The young will usually leave the nest within a week to a week and a half after hatching.

White-crowned sparrow under the suet feeder

Some other cool facts about the white-crowned sparrow include:

Young male sparrows learn the basis of the mating call during their first few months by listening to the songs being sung in their immediate area.

Migrating sparrows can cover a large distance in a short time period. Sparrows that breed in Alaska will then fly approximately 2600 miles south to winter in southern California.

White-crowned sparrow by the suet feeder.

They will share territories with fox sparrows but will chase out chipping sparrows and dark-eyed juncos.

The loud singing is usually the males, and the quieter and more variable singing is the females (which may only be during breeding season or looking for food in the winter).

These sparrows actually have song dialects, as they tend to return closely to the area that they were raised.

References:

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/white-crowned-sparrow

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-crowned_Sparrow/overview

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