Sunday, August 28, 2016

Shore Birds? Sure!

     It's that time of year where shore birds are on the move from their Northern breeding grounds, heading South for the winter. Ew, are we already talking about winter? It's hard to imagine winter when it was close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit today, but birds are on the move while food is abundant to fuel them on their journey, so as far south as Tierra Del Fuego (thats the most southern tip of South America).
     I headed over to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens to see some birds, and scope out the East pond, with plans to don some rubber boots and go for a walk along its shores. The pond is man made and water levels are controlled, seasonally dropping the level for shorebirds arriving in late August to expose mud flats for them to feed on. It also exposes a shore line to hike, if you don't mind some super stanky mud. The water is currently just a notch below neon green, so I can only imagine the funk that could cling to any outerwear.
     I also carried my larger lens on my cross body sling I bought and did well, despite its weight. I also toted my mono pod along to help with photos and also as a possible self defense weapon, as recently a young woman disappeared in the area, so who knows who is lurking around. Anyway, the point was I found a comfy way to walk around with my gear.
     I am satisfied with my visit, I went around noon so it was a lot hot, but the birds were still active on the East Pond. I can see why going for the haul around the pond could be rewarding, as I spotted a lot of birds through my binoculars but could not easily ID.
     Anyway, enjoy...
On the East Side trails, cicadas spooked at every turn. This one landed for a picture though. I like his little eye. What a cute, drunk-flying insect :)
I arrived to a large group birding the end of one trail that meets the pond. It was a little too crowded for my taste, but I got a good look at a spotted sandpiper (above) and least sandpiper (not shown).

Then I ventured to the bird blind on the East Pond and had it all to myself. And a group of 4 least sandpipers flew in and gave me some good views from behind the blind.

I also got some good views of a spotted sandpiper who also joined in at the area in front of the blind.
There is usually very few chances to say a bird came too close to grab a good photo, but with the 200-500mm lens, the birds came too close as I hid behind the blind.
What a handsome little sandpiper.

I ventured to the "short walk" side of the West Pond and got some good looks at a peregrine falcon, who is probably having an all you can eat buffet while these shorebirds are in town.
This is one of two peregrines I saw. This one I think is male, the other I saw was far larger, and I presume the female.
I love bird eye lids and how they close from the bottom up...
An osprey bringing home the bacon... err, bunker. The nests are empty and the kids all grown and fledged. Osprey will soon be on the move to warmer climes for the winter, but until then, they will be hunting and eating, fattening up for a long flight.
A lucky shot of a house wren before it bolted out of sight.

Prospect 8.26.16

     Decided to work a half day on Friday in that I was working Saturday, so what better way to spend that half of the day not at work? Birding in the park.
     I was fortunate to run into a birding buddy on my way into the park, so I birded in good company (and some heat, it was warm and muggy) in a park I feel like I might have neglected this summer in terms of visiting often.
     Enjoy the sights...
That guy who always shows up early to everything.... like me, this Northern Shoveler showed up to the party early. These guys overwinter in the park, but this one guy showed up early. Perhaps he is anticipating an early winter?
Very easily differentiated from any duck on the lake- even when silhouetted, that oversized bill is an indication that you've got a shoveler on your hands... err, lake.
Cedar waxwings hawking from the pink beach down to the lakeside. One landed right in front of us on the ground. The over grown lilies are thick with insects that the waxwings are after. We also had an Eastern phoebe join the feast.
A spotted sandpiper scouting a half submerged log/rock on the peninsula.
Cicadas, I have a love/hate relationship. Love their buzzing, a sign of high summer, I think they are fairly handsome bugs (and they are true bugs), and I like finding their little larval casings on trees. I hate that they fly like a drunken college student showing off their newest party trick.
So I of course pet him, and he flew, and I ducked for cover with cat-like reflexes to avoid the thing flying into my face. 
After my birding pal and I split ways (I had to get back to work, and take a shower and change before that) I got distracted by a funny looking green heron. With its wings drooped, and looking like he himself was hung over, if a bird could be.
Then he turned and revealed why he may be sitting the way he is, with duckweed all the way up his legs and wet feathers on his wings, someone looks like they may have (accidentally) went for a dip and are now drying off.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Morton with the Mama

     On Tuesday I took the day off from work after working a very long weekend. I got in touch with my mom to see if we could spend a day out together. We planned to head out east on Long Island, and perhaps I was inspired by all the things I passed for my weekend work like wineries and wildlife.
     Our day began with a special Trip to Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge, lunch is Sag Harbor (um, lobster rolls, anyone?), a wine tasting at duck walk vineyards (and wine haul), and picking up fresh fruit at a local farm stand.
     I want to make a special shout out to my mom, who just finished her chemo treatment and totally kicked some cancer butt. She is amazing and I am so proud of her for being proactive and fearless and teaching my sisters and I about doing the same for ourselves.
     I had a great day out with her and it was a real treat to share Morton with her, we totally fed some birds, responsibly of course!
     Enjoy our trip to Morton...
A silver spotted skipper feeds from the garden outside the ranger station.
An eastern pondhawk suns itself and energies itself to eat lots of mosquitoes.
Skipper species feeding amongst many other pollinators.
Mom caught a back-capped chickadee! We mad sure to only put 3 or 4 seeds in our hand and not to spill on the ground. Rats are an issue here and we saw people handing bags of seeds to kids who just broadcast it everywhere. This unfortunately leads to uneaten seed, which feeds rats, which in turn destroy the nests and eggs of the endangered piping plover that uses the beach on this property.
The wild turkeys were not shy. Initially I was a bit weary- I've been approached aggressively by turkeys as a zookeeper, but these seems to know that good behavior resulted in the ability to mooch from humans with seed. 
A bullfrog in the pond, which also contained turtles, and some large swans.
A cute little pearly crescent suns itself near the open meadow area.

I really enjoyed the turkeys, they were pretty adorable.
We watched a mama turkey with her half grown chick walk the path in front of us. My mom felt bad about eating turkeys because it was pretty cute to see. Often people disregard the turkey as clumsy and dumb, but they can fly (not like a flacon, but they can get lift), they are pretty smart, and when angry- terrifying. Seriously, never cross a turkey- those Thanksgiving drumsticks are muscle and equipped with spurs, they can really kick ass. When that little stuck up kid in Jurassic Park thinks Dr. Grant's description of a velociraptor sounds "more like a 6ft turkey," believe me, you don't want to meet a 6ft turkey. (Also Velociraptors only got about the size of a great dane, but thats another story for another day when I take up paleontology).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A New Toy!

     I had a "treat yourself" gift to myself, especially since it was like my birthday and stuff, and also since I have been casually looking at different lenses, out of curiosity. Then at the end of July I accidentally discovered a Nikon lens with good reviews for wildlife photography and that was "affordable." I use that term, affordable lightly- it still cost a pretty penny, but was under 2k and I had secretly been saving with the intent of splurging one day.
     So I splurged on this: AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm - I ordered through Amazon after getting frustrated with B&H, and Amazon having the same prices and free shipping with prime. I picked my package up at a UPS pick-up location and like a kid on their birthday, I opened up that box and attached this lens to my Nikon D5100-- and it made for a hilarious sight. I guess the next thing I will one day do is upgrade our camera body.
     Anyway, I was very very eager to go out for a test run, so after work yesterday I did a driving tour of Green-Wood Cemetery to my favorite spots to see what I could capture. I did not bring binoculars, because the lens kind of did that and also my sole purpose was just to photo and play. The results are in- enjoy:
So here is the thing-- when I go out to explore my mind is set to "don't expect anything." Why such a "negative" vibe? Well, I know I am looking for wildlife, the animals and what they do is out of my control, they are wild, with instincts, and their own habits, it helps me not get my hopes up. It also helps me get unbelievably excited when the wildlife just does amazing things in my favor. Just after a 100 yard drive in from the main arches I see a hawk on this guy's head.
A very cooperative red tailed hawk at that. My images are still cropped but I did find that I did not always have to zoom in at 500mm, especially to get the scene set of this hawk sitting on this bust positioned over a grave site. I mostly shot in manual, and with overcast skies I set my ISO at 125 or 150. I find that with my camera the higher I set my ISO the more noise- or grainy-ness to my photos. Again, a more fancy model of camera may work better than mine.
Also a nice chance to see a nice hawk adaptation- a day-time hunter wants to keep the sun out of their eyes. Hawks have nice ridges above their eyes, like a baseball cap brim to keep their eyes shaded as they hunt.
And this hawk, he seems pretty comfortable with me staring at him. One leg up is an indicator that he is at rest on his perch. I think he was more concerned anyway with mockingbirds, notorious for pestering and chasing hawks from their perches as they aggressively fight off potential predators.
Another predatory adaptation, like humans, hawks and other birds of prey have binocular vision. Looking at them head-on, you can see them looking right back at you, as their eyes and ours are positioned as forward facing. As a hunter this helps them judge distance to their prey and get a more precise location when they swoop in for the kill.
The lucky bust to have a hawk perch upon his head, Peter Brunjes.
And of course another predatory adaptation- a hooked beak to help you rip and tear, for feeding on your prey.
In walking back to my car, I caught this view and had to grab it. If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush-- I wonder how much a bird on the head is worth...
I drove to my next location- I opted to drive for a few reasons- I had only a little over an hour before the cemetery closed and I did not want to break my new lens in traveling by bike. And in the end, I'm glad I drove, the lens is heavy. I now have a good idea of when and when not to use it. It is best for driving with or planning to be fairly stationary with. It will be great for beach birding and hawk watching especially!
At the Sylvan water I found this Kestrel wayyyyyyy up a tree. I brought my monopod- which I should have used for this (another good way to use this lens is with a tripod or some kind of support).
These pictures are okay. With a larger zooming capacity, images shake a lot more in the viewfinder- especially when craning your neck upward to the sky, which is why I should have used my pod. This little male American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in N. America and a predator of small birds and voles.
One tool that I invested in and found useful was if I were to carry this gigundo lens around, I found a nice strap to support and carry it with. I got this cross-body strap on Amazon that makes toting a bit easier.
After the Sylvan water I was off to the Dell and Crescent waters, hoping to find an egret (and it was a mistake to hope for that, because there was no egret to be found).
While walking around the Dell water I heard some loud chewing. Turned around and found this ham of a woodchuck. Someone has been eating well. It was so funny seeing them earlier in the spring, looking so skinny after hibernating off all that winter fat. Well, it looks like if he keeps it up, he will be very well prepared for a winter underground.
Sniffing out some potential snacks and giving us a nice view of those incisor rodent teeth.
Remember how I said to never expect anything. Well, this was totally unexpected. It resulted in my melting into the grass under a tree and wasting 20 minutes of my life in a world of cute... and donating about a pint of blood to the cemetery mosquitoes.
A very young (and adorable) raccoon maybe got up a smidge too early- it was about 6:30pm- maybe the overcast skies threw off his little internal raccoon clock. I was not worried, because he was not acting "weird," he did not approach me, actually, I surprised him as he ran off from me to this tree and then with both of us in shock (one of us in shock of cute, the other more like fear), had a stare down to understand what the heck was going on.
Then, a spotted sandpiper flew in and stole my attention for a second...
After standing at the tree for 7 minutes he then brought his paws back to the ground. But continued the stare. This is very much a cropped image, FYI. I just needed to get a full frame of cute.
Then he decided I was okay, and went and walked through the grass near his safe haven tree.
It's not uncommon to see some of the young raccoons out early or during the day. They are learning and have to compete (especially in a crowded city) with other raccoons and may need to head out early to find food (which for a raccoon is dangerous). If you see a raccoon by day, it's not completely out of the question, especially in the evening or early morning- but if they exhibit abnormal behaviors, that's when you should call your local animal control for assistance. 
He looks like a kitten, I can't stand it! I know raccoons are not people's favorite animals, but I really do adore them.
I needed to get back to my car so as to not get locked into the cemetery, and this guy did the right thing. I am big and scary so he retreated to his tree.
But he did so with an ounce of curiosity for my benefit.
Those front paws are very hand-like and great for grasping. Raccoon hands are very sensitive to touch and grasp very well, and many times we mistake their "washing food" as them just being aware of their hygiene. In reality raccoons forage in the wild near water (raccoon prints and fecal evidence was all around the Dell water) where they use their extra sensitive paws to feel around for shellfish, plants, and other treats to eat- but in another case of us anthropomorphizing- we see it as washing. In captivity raccoons move their hands and food around in water just the same, doing what they would naturally do in the wild- they are not really washing their food.
So how would I rate this new toy I got myself, I'd give it a 9 out of 10, I love the quality of pictures, I love the zoom, and I am super satisfied with what I got for the price. The cons are that it is heavy, might require sitting or a mono/tripod to get a good focus on your subject,, especially if far off or high up, and it is best for very particular situations - I will not be taking it on a long hike any time soon. But overall I am very satisfied and look forward to opportunities to use it!
And super huge thanks to the hawk and raccoon for making my first outing with it a memorable one!