Monday, December 29, 2008

#4 Vermillion Flycatcher vs. #13 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

#4 Vermillion Flycatcher

12 subspecies of Vermillion Flycatchers have been identified.
The male presents an insect to the female before copulation.
If kept in captivity male Vermillion Flycatchers tend to lose their bright red plumage.
A group of flycatchers is called a “zapper” of flycatchers.
A breeding male Vermillion Flycatcher spends approximately 90% of the day perched.

#13 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo occasionally lays an egg in the nest of other birds.
Young cuckoos develop more quickly than almost all other songbirds.
Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the nestlings.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos migrate at night in small to large flocks.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest low to the ground to about 12 feet.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Look at Polarizing Filters

If you are a nature photographer and do not have a polarizing filter you should definitely purchase one as soon as possible. The filter has many affects including cutting down on reflections and increasing saturation in photos. The filters also make skies bluer when in many situations the sky would appear very light blue to white without the filter.

Here is an example of the affects on saturation and reflections.

A polarizing filter was used in the first photo but not used in the second photo. Look at the changes in the reflection of the water and the increase of saturation in the leaves in the upper right hand corner of the photo.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Photographing McCormick's Creek State Park

The main attraction at McCormick's Creek State Park is an approximately 12 foot waterfall but many of the prettiest parts of the park are down creek from the falls. There are many small falls and rapids throughout the valley both above and below the main falls. For photographers and nature lovers alike hiking below the falls creates many beautiful scenes. Even though the water level is still a bit low I use some waders to create most of my images at this location. Many times the best anlgle at a falls or rapids is from the middle of the creek. There are also great backdrops from the creek including mature Sycamores and cliff faces. In a couple of places the cliff faces can turn into waterfalls during periods with lots of precipitation. Lots of wildlife also lives in the valley. Many species of birds use the area year round and Brown Creepers can be very easily found during the winter. The CBC in this location has one of the highest counts of Brown Creepers for Indiana every year. You can find many herps in the area as well including snakes, salamanders, frogs, and toads.

I made this shot while wading in the stream. This little set of two small falls in below the major falls. Many interesting compositions are possible with this falls.

This shot shows some rushing water and some interesting Sycamore trunks. To see the detail in the trunks click on the photo for a larger version.

I photographed this area of the creek from in the water. Coming in the morning would give better and warmer lighting so I will be making a trip back here when the conditions are better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#4 Reddish Egret vs. #13 Western Grebe

Reddish Egret

  • Reddish Egrets are known for their “dancing” while they feed. They use their shadow of their wings to drive prey in front of them.
  • Reddish Egret populations where severely damaged during the 1800’s when they were hunted for their feathers. They were actually completely extirpated from Florida at one point.
  • Reddish Egrets nest in colonies with other herons that are typically located on coastal islands
  • Today, Reddish Egrets are threatened by the destruction of coastal habitat.
  • There are two forms of the Reddish Egret, White and Dark. While 2 dark phase adults can have white chicks, 2 white phase adults can never have a dark phase chick.

Click here to view more information on Reddish Egrets.

Western Grebe

  • Western Grebes nest in large colonies consisting of hundreds of birds, typically on large inland lakes.
  • A group of grebes is known as a “water dance.”
  • Western Grebes are the largest North American grebe species.
  • Western Grebes build their nest on the water and hold it in place by attaching it to reeds.
  • Western Grebes are unable to walk on land due to the placement of their legs.

Click here to view more infomation on Western Grebes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

There has recently been some very disturbing news reported on the Ohio Birding listserv. It seems that some people in Cleveland, Ohio have absolutely no respect for birds and most likely wildlife in general. They are committing disgusting crimes against birds and are going completely unpunished. While it may be hard to catch these criminals, they would most likely be barely punished if they did happen to be caught. Before we get to that, let me explain the situation that has caused me to begin to look into these weak penalties.

Two of the situations occurred on the same day at the same lakefront park in Cleveland, Ohio. In the morning, someone drove a vehicle through a group of gulls sitting in the parking lot. This resulted in the death of at least 20 Ring-billed Gulls and the injury of a number of others. No one saw this happen and the individual that did this will undoubtedly go unpunished for this disgusting crime.

The second situation occurred at the same park and is just as disturbing if not more so. A birder observed two men pull up get out of their truck corner and catch a Canada Goose, kill it and proceed to dump the dead goose in a dumpster and drive away. While there is a description of the vehicle and the individuals that committed this crime, it is unlikely that they will ever be caught. Luckily for them, their license plate was covered by snow and the birder that viewed this incident was unable to record the plate number.

These two situations point to a much larger problem. Both of these crimes are a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but this legislation carries such a weak penalty that it is hardly a deterrent to people who have no respect for wildlife. Currently if you are caught in violation of this act, you are subject to at most a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of a $15000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. While that may seem like a lot, courts rarely hand out these penalties. The courts have so many felony cases, that such a “small” misdemeanor hardly ever gets much attention.

In November of 2007, a bill was introduced to the United State Congress that would finally give the Migratory Bird Treaty Act some teeth. It would make any intentional killing of a bird in violation of the act a felony with a maximum fine of $50,000 and a one year prison sentence. Any other violation would also be a felony with a maximum $25,000 and a six month prison sentence. While this is a much better deterrent, little can be accomplished without additional policing. These proposed changes do little if there are not more people out actively seeking to catch and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Waterfowl Identification: The Swan Trio

There are three species of swans that occur in the United States: Mute, Trumpeter, and Tundra Swans. The Mute Swan was introduced into the United States from Europe. After seeing this graceful beauty you can understand why people would want to have the Mute Swan live close by. The Tundra Swan has the most extensive range but only migrates and winters in the US. The Trumpeter Swan has had a tougher time adapting to habitat loss but in the recent past many reintroduction programs have made a large improvement in the population.

The Trumpeter and Tundra Swans are very similar in appearance while the Mute is easily distinguished from these two. The main difference between the Mute and the other two is that the Mute Swan has an orange bill. Also the Mute Swan usually swims with a more gently “S” curved neck than the other two swan species. At times when the bill is not visible, for example when flying overhead or when sleeping, the identification can be more difficult. In both of these situations look for the long tail of the Mute Swan to differentiate it. In flight the legs will not stick out past the tail tip in the Mute Swan. When on the ground the Mute and Tundra Swans have an uneven rounded back that is humped much closer to the tail than the neck. In the Trumpeter the hump is almost directly in between the neck and tail.

The differences in Trumpeter from Tundra Swans can be very subtle but with the knowledge of a couple key features most can be identified. The Tundra Swan has a spot of yellow on the lores that the Trumpeter does not have. This field mark can be difficult to discern at times depending on the lighting and viewing distance. The bill shape differs as well. The Tundra Swan has a concave upper mandible making the Tundra’s head and bill look much more sloping than the Trumpeter’s.

No matter which swan species you see remember to enjoy it as these birds are as graceful and beautiful as any.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

#3 Blackburnian Warbler vs. #14 Chestnut-collared Longspur

#3 – Blackburnian Warbler

  • The Blackburnian Warbler only form flocks during migration and are solitary on their wintering grounds.
  • The Blackburnian Warbler is the only North American warbler with an orange throat.
  • While Blackburnian Warblers are typically insectivores, they will eat berries on their wintering grounds.
  • Due to the height of their nests, there is little know about their breeding ecology.
  • Blackburnian Warblers are depended on spruce trees on their breeding grounds.

#14 - Chestnut-collared Longspur

  • A group of longspurs is known as a “drive.”
  • Chestnut-collared Longspurs prefer to nest in areas that have been recently grazed or mowed.
  • Longspur refers to the elongated claw of the hind tow.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur numbers have decreased as native prairie habitat has been destroyed.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspurs nest twice during their breeding season from the beginning of May to the end of July.