My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Archive for February, 2015

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

The rough-legged buzzard, also called the rough-legged hawk, is a medium-large bird of prey. It is found in Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America and Eurasia during the breeding season and migrates south for the winter. It was traditionally also known as the rough-legged falcon in such works as John James Audubon’s The Birds of America.

Nests are typically located on cliffs, bluffs or in trees. Clutch sizes are variable with food availability but 3–5 eggs are usually laid. These hawks hunt over open land, feeding primarily on small mammals. Along with the kestrels, kites and osprey, this is one of the few birds of prey to hover regularly, which can aid in identifying this species.

This fairly large raptorial species is 46–60 cm (18–24 in) with wingspan ranging from 120 to 153 cm (47 to 60 in). Individuals can weigh from 600 to 1,660 g (1.32 to 3.66 lb) with females typically being larger and heavier than males. Among standard measurements in adults, the wing chord is 37.2–48.3 cm (14.6–19.0 in), the tail is 18.6–25.5 cm (7.3–10.0 in), culmen is 3.2–4.5 cm (1.3–1.8 in) and the tarsus is 5.8–7.8 cm (2.3–3.1 in). The plumage is predominantly brown in colour and often shows a high degree of speckling. A wide variety of plumage patterns are exhibited in light vs. dark morphs, males vs. females and adults vs. juveniles. Extensive field experience is required to distinguish between certain plumage variations. Compared to its more common nearctic and palearctic cousins, the common buzzard (Buteo buteo) and the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), it is slightly larger, though may be outweighed by the latter.

Its feet are feathered to the toes (hence its scientific name, lagopus, meaning “hare-footed”) as an adaptation to its arctic home range. Lagopus is derived from Ancient Greek lago (λαγως), meaning “hare”, and pous (πους), meaning “foot”. Its talons are relatively small, reflecting their preferred choice of prey. A broad brown chestband is present in most plumages and a square dark carpal patch contrasting with the white under-wing is an easily identifiable characteristic in light morph individuals. The species exhibits a wide variety of plumage patterns including light and dark morphs.

Distinguishing characteristics in all plumages include long white tail feathers with one or more dark subterminal bands. The wing tips are long enough to reach or extend past the tail when the animal is perched. The common buzzard can be similar-looking, with a similar long-tailed shape and can be notoriously variable in plumage. The rough-legged is longer-winged and more eagle-like in appearance. The red-tailed hawk is chunkier-looking and differs in its darker head, broader, shorter wings, barring on the wings and the tail, dark leading edge to the wings (rather than black wrist patch) and has no white base to the tail. The ferruginous hawk is larger, with a bigger, more prominent bill and has a whitish comma at the wrist and all-pale tail.

It is the only hawk of its size (other than the very different-looking Osprey) to regularly hover over one spot, by beating its wings quickly.

The rough-legged hawk breeds in tundra and taiga habitats of North America and Eurasia between the latitudes of 61 and 76° N. Rough-legged hawks occurring in North America migrate to the central United States for the winter, while Eurasian individuals migrate to southern Europe and Asia. It is the only member of its diverse genus found in both of the Northern continents and has a complete circumpolar distribution. During these winter months, from November to March, preferred habitats include marshes, prairies and agricultural regions where rodent prey is most abundant.

Breeding sites are usually located in areas with plenty of unforested, open ground. Depending on snow conditions, migrants arrive at breeding grounds during April and May. Home ranges vary with food supply but are commonly reported to be 10–15 km2 (3.9–5.8 sq mi) during the winter, but little is known about home ranges during the breeding season. Although frequently attacked in skirmishes by other highly territorial birds such as gyrfalcons and skuas, the rough-legged buzzard is not strongly territorial.

This species is carnivorous, typically feeding on small mammals, which make up 62–98% of its diet. Lemmings and voles are the major prey items of this species, seasonally comprising up to 80–90% of their prey, but this varies with seasonal availability. Some evidence suggests that these hawks may be able to see vole scent marks which are only visible in the ultraviolet range, allowing them to cue in on prey. The rough-legged hawk will also supplement its diet with mice, rats, gerbils, pikas and insects. Besides mammals, birds are the second most favored type of prey for Rough-legs. Most avian prey species are small passerines such as snow buntings, Lapland longspur and American tree sparrow. However, they will also prey on birds slightly larger than the passerines typically targeted, especially ptarmigan, as well as waterfowl, shorebirds and short-eared owls. They usually target bird prey which are young and inexperienced, with relatively large avian prey often being snatched in their fledging stage. When small mammals are scarce, the rough-legged hawk will also feed on larger, medium-sized mammals including prairie dogs, ground squirrels, muskrats, weasels and even adult black-tailed jackrabbits of approximately twice their own weight. During winter, shrub-steppe habitats seem to encourage a strong dependence on rabbit prey. In developed areas of England, wintering rough-legged buzzards have been recorded preying most regularly on relatively large prey such as common wood pigeon and invasive European rabbits.

This avian predator hunts opportunistically, occasionally supplementing their diet with carrion, but focusing primarily on the most locally abundant small vertebrates. Rough-legged hawks will steal prey from other individuals of the same species as well as other species such as the red-tailed hawk, hen harrier, American kestrel and common raven. Prey sizes typically range from 6.5–2,587 g (0.23–91.25 oz) and adults require 80–120 g (2.8–4.2 oz) of food daily, around the body mass of the largest species of vole or lemming although most species weigh a bit less. These raptors hunt during the daytime. Like most Buteos, rough-legged buzzards have been reported both still-hunting (watching for prey from a perch and then stooping) and watching for prey while in flight. Unlike most other large raptors, they may engage in hovering flight above the ground while search for prey.

Sexual maturity is reached at about two years old. Breeding generally occurs during May but is variable depending upon dates of arrival at breeding grounds. The rough-legged hawk is thought to be monogamous, mating with a single individual for multiple years. No evidence currently suggest otherwise.

Nests are built soon after arrival to breeding grounds and require 3–4 weeks to complete. Twigs, sedges and old feathers are used as building materials. Nests are 60–90 cm (24–35 in) in diameter and 25–60 cm (9.8–23.6 in) in height. Cliff ledges and rocky outcroppings are preferred nesting sites. Females can lay 1–7 eggs but will typically lay 3–5. Average egg size is 56.4 mm (2.22 in) in length by 44.7 mm (1.76 in) in width. Minimum incubation period is 31 days, provided almost exclusively by the female. The male feeds the female during this incubation period. After hatching, young require 4–6 weeks before fledging the nest. Fledglings depend on parents to provide food for 2–4 weeks after leaving the nest.

Rough-legged buzzards that survive to adulthood can live to an age of 19 years in the wild. One female being kept in an Idaho zoo is over 25 years of age. However, perhaps a majority of individuals in the wild do not survive past their first two years of life. The threats faced by young Rough-legs can include starvation when prey is not numerous, freezing when Northern climes are particularly harsh during brooding, destruction by humans, and predation by various animals. The chances of survival increase incrementally both when they reach the fledging stage and when they can start hunting for themselves. Death of flying immatures and adults are often the result of human activity, including collisions with powerlines, buildings and vehicles, incidental ingestion of poison or lead from prey or illegal hunting and trapping.

On to my photos:

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus

IMG_4020

This is number 177 in my photo life list, only 173 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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The real learning begins

I’ve had some time now to get used to using my new 27 inch iMac, and all I can do is to rave about it! It’s fast, stable as a rock, and best of all, easy to learn.

That should come as no surprise, after all, the Windows operating system has been Microsoft’s attempt at duplicating what Apple got right in the first place. The biggest thing that I have to learn is navigating the keyboard shortcuts, as the iMac keyboard is slightly different from a Window’s keyboard.

I’m so glad that I got the 27 inch display over the 21.5 inch display, there’s lots of room for me to work now. Not only that, but I can’t believe how much detail that I see in my old photos versus what I saw while using the old Gateway computer, my photos were better than I thought that they were. I do have to be careful when cropping photos though, as when I view them on this huge monitor, they tend to lose their sharpness when blown up all the way that I can on this display. A 100% crop just isn’t going to look good blown up to the size that I can blow them up to. 😉

Overall, Lightroom has been easy to work with as well, since I had watched a number of tutorials on how to use it. I’m sure glad that I found and watched the tutorials though, as there was zero documentation with the software, and I’m not sure if there was even any of the help loaded with the software onto my computer.

There is one thing that has been vexing me so far though, Lightroom adds two sub folders to my intended location every time that I go to import new photos to the catalog that I created. No matter what I specify when setting up to do an import, Lightroom adds a sub folder for the year, and then a second one under that for the date. Oh well, I’m sure that I’ll figure out how to stop that eventually. The extra sub folders aren’t that big of a deal, but it still bugs me that I can’t get the folder structure exactly as I want it to be.

Other than the sub folder “problem”, organizing my photos is rather easy now. I’m adding keywords and star ratings to every photo that I keep, so if I want to find a particular species of bird for example, I’ll be able to do so. That’s relatively easy to do in Lightroom, as I can add the same keywords to multiple photos as I view them. I just have to be careful when I select the photos when adding keywords. I can see why people love the way that you can organize your images and find a particular one when you want to.

As I wrote in my earlier post on making a fresh start, I spent some time learning to correct the distortion from my lenses, and making perspective corrections to some of my images of lighthouses. Since then, I have been playing with some of the other adjustments available in Lightroom. That, and learning to use the Photomatix HDR software as a plug-in to Lightroom.

It’s really great to be able to choose the three images to use in a HDR image in Lightroom, then click in the menu to send them to Photomatix to perform the creation of the HDR image, then have the final product of Photomatix sent right back into Lightroom for any finishing touches if needed. It’s even better that this new iMac handles that task so quickly that I don’t have time to do anything else while the process is happening. I couldn’t even run Lightroom on my old computer, so I can’t compare times as far as that. But, just processing three photos in Photomatix took so long that I would do dishes or change a load of laundry while the old computer did its thing. I haven’t done any large batch conversions of RAW images to jpeg yet, but the smaller ones that I have done go reasonably quick as Lightroom does the processing. And, I can do other things as that is happening, whereas my old computer was tied up with that process and I could make and eat dinner while it was working. 🙂

Anyway, I went back to the photos that I shot of the fall foliage while up north last fall. I’m still leery of working on my better images, even though neither Lightroom nor Photomatix are supposed to change the original photos in any way. So, I chose this one to work on.

Testing Photomatix and Lightroom

Testing Photomatix and Lightroom

The HDR image that I got out of Photomatix was okay, but then, I darkened the sky to better match what I saw, and also darkened the grass in the field also, as it came out too bright for the conditions under which I shot that photo. I accomplished those things by “painting in” one-third of a stop of under exposure to the sky and grassy field, using the correction brush.

Who knew that there was so much work involved in getting an image from a fairly good camera to match what my eyes saw that day?

I was feeling like a pro after seeing that final version of the image, but then it hit me what a jerk I’ve been. I’d made fun of people who do post-processing, and shoot in RAW. Now, I wish that I had been shooting in RAW from day one after I purchased my new Canon 60D.

Okay, most people go overboard in their post-processing, I hope that it doesn’t happen to me. I don’t think so, the natural world is beautiful enough to me the way my eyes see it, now I can match what I see in my photos. If I do start going too far, I hope that some one will tell me.

I’m still getting used to this display, in some of my photos, the colors seem over saturated. But then, some of the colors in everything that I see on this display seem over saturated. So for right now, I’ll keep going the way that I have unless some one tells me otherwise.

I had forgotten to save the original HDR image to show you the before and after Lightroom versions of that image. I did the same thing with a photo of a wood duck that I played with, but the good thing there was that I had shot a number of photos of the wood duck at the same time. So, here’s a photo as it came straight out of the camera.

Wood duck, no post-processing

Wood duck, no post-processing

Not bad for the horrible light that day, but, here’s where Lightroom really helps. First of all, I toned down the highlights and lowered the overall exposure slightly to get rid of the glare from the water. Then, I brought up the shadow detail to bring out the details and colors of the duck’s plumage. Since Lightroom can adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance (brightness) of individual colors, I brought up the luminance of the colors in the duck’s feathers as well. Then, a little noise reduction, and this is my post-processed version of the same duck, shot seconds after the first one.

Wood duck, post-processed in Lightroom

Wood duck, post-processed in Lightroom

If I had shot that photo so that the water was exposed correctly in the first place, then the duck would have come out close to solid black. If I had exposed the duck perfectly, then the glare off the water would have been even worse than in the first photo.  Darned camera sensors, they can’t handle the lighting conditions that we photographers run into. 😉 And to think that I used to make fun of people who shot in RAW and post-processed their images. Live and learn, it wasn’t until I realized the short-comings of a digital camera that the need for post-processing was made clear to me.

While that image still isn’t as good as I could get with good light, it’s much better than the original, as you can tell. Also, with each image I work on, I’m feeling less of a need to upgrade my camera to the new 7D Mark II. As I said in an earlier post, the sensor in my 60D is the same as the one in the original 7D, the difference in image quality between the two cameras was due to the software programmed into the camera by Canon. I can’t get over how well Lightroom does, and I’m just getting started with it.

My 60D may not have the more solidly built magnesium frame of the 7D, or the weather sealing, or the better auto-focus, but for now, I can wait until Canon offers discounts on a 7D before upgrading. With Lightroom, I can match the image quality produced by the original 7D, and come very close to that of the 7D Mk II.

Okay, next up, I’m going to whine about the weather here. Even on days when I’ve had the time to go for a walk, I haven’t, as it’s been too darned cold to go out and shoot photos. On Sunday, I had to wait until afternoon for the temperature here to rise above 0 F (-17.8 C) and the high was only 8 degrees. On Monday, I drove to the park rather than walking, as the temps weren’t much warmer. Yesterday, I slept most of the day away, catching up on the sleep that I missed due to my work schedule. Today, Wednesday, isn’t much warmer, although the temperature is in double digits above zero for a change, a whopping 11 degrees F. But to go with the slightly warmer air, the wind has kicked up make it feel even colder than it has been. Then, there’s the snow and ice. It’s been snowing on and off for days, but I have made it out between the snow squalls a few times. Those may end soon, as the Great Lakes are freezing over at an incredible rate with all this cold air in place.

Last winter, we set a record for the amount of ice coverage on the Great Lakes, and we were lagging a bit behind the pace of the ice coverage for most of this winter. No more, as with the extreme cold, the ice has been forming on the lakes at a pace never seen before. As more of the open water of the lakes freezes over, there will be less lake effect snow here. That would be a good thing, as the terminal of the company where I work got over 8 inches of snow in less than 4 hours last night.

Supposedly, there’s about a month left before spring officially gets here, but I’m afraid that spring’s arrival is going to be delayed again this year. That thought is hard enough to deal with, but these brutally cold and snowy winters usually come in threes around here, meaning next winter will probably be just as bad.

Oh well, on to more pleasant thoughts, although it’s hard to do so when I view the few photos that I’ve shot the past two weeks. I’ll start with this one, although many people will probably find it boring.

Snow fence

Snow fence

That was shot as an artistic type of photo, practicing composition, depth of field, and patterns. I like it for those reasons, although the subject isn’t very special at all. I tried a B&W version, but I liked the weathered look of the wood, so color won out.

News flash!

It’s early Thursday afternoon as I’m working on this, and I’ll be going into work at 2 AM tomorrow to do an overnight run to Columbus, Ohio and back. So, I’m going to rush through the rest of this in hopes that I’ll be able to post it before I leave. I could go for a walk instead, but the temperature is still in the single digits above zero F, too cold for my old bones. I may not be able to reply to any comments for a day or two, since I won’t be home until sometime on Saturday. I’m also planning on going to the Airzoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Sunday, as the weather won’t be any better then. I’ll decide if I’m going to the Airzoo on Sunday, when I see how I feel after this overnight run. If I don’t make it this weekend, there’s always next weekend, as this extreme cold is forecast to last through the end of February at least.

Please don’t be offended if I don’t replay to your comments right away.

These overnight runs aren’t my favorite thing to do, but they do pay extremely well. not only is the pay per mile great, but the company pays $88 for a driver’s expenses on an overnight run no matter what, to pay for the motel and food.  So, if I find a motel for less than the $88 that the company pays, which isn’t hard to do, then anything left over, I get to keep.

So anyway, I’m going to throw in a few of the photos that I shot the past two weeks rather quickly here, and not prattle on at length about them. They really aren’t that special anyway, as cold as the weather has been, I’ve been hesitant to chase the birds, what few I’ve seen. This winter is hard on the wildlife, I don’t need to add to their stress by trying for photos.

I’ll start with a few of the snow scenes from around here. I tried doing a HDR image of several of these, but the HDR versions weren’t that different from what I got straight from the camera. I also tried converting a few of these to black and white, but decided that I liked the color versions better.

Snowy field

Snowy field

Almost frozen creek

Almost frozen creek

Snow scene

Snow scene

Holly in the snow

Holly in the snow

On one particularly cold day, I found that it was so cold that even the ice covering the creek was forming ice crystals, so I shot a few photos of that. I should have found a way to get closer, and use the macro lens, but I didn’t feel like falling into the creek if I slipped on the snowy bank. I’ll only go so far to get a photo. 😉

Ice crystals on ice

Ice crystals on ice

Ice crystals on ice

Ice crystals on ice

Ice crystals on ice

Ice crystals on ice

And, despite the cold, this lichen looked almost cheery to me, at least it had some color to it.

Unidentified lichens

Unidentified lichens

Speaking of cheery and color, here’s another shot that cheered me up despite the cold.

Red bow on a cold day

Red bow on a cold day

I believe that the captions alone will do for this next batch.

Maple buds waiting for spring

Maple buds waiting for spring

Fiber streetlight pole

Fiber street light pole

Oak leaf "bouquet"

Oak leaf “bouquet”

Douglas Fir cone

Douglas Fir cone

Okay then, on to the few bird photos that I shot.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

I had intended on cropping that last one down at least a little, but it wasn’t as sharp as I had hoped it would be. I hate to go on and on about the cold, but I’ve been having trouble getting any of the lenses that I’ve used to focus well in this cold that we’ve been dealing with. That’s been the worst with the 300 mm prime L series lens, the lens that is supposedly best suited for cold weather. However, no lens or camera is rated for the cold that we’ve been having around here, at least not any that I know of.

I did make good use of that photo of the blue jay though, one of the features in Lightroom is finding and fixing spots in photos as a result of dust spots on your camera’s sensor. I also shot a few other snow scenes with the other camera body that I haven’t included here, that allowed me to check the second body for sensor dust spots as well. I am happy to report that due to the great care that I take while changing lenses, and/or the sensor cleaning feature of the Canon cameras, I had zero dust spots on both bodies. I did get a dust speck on the Tamron tele-converter once, but I noticed it right away, and was able to clean the dust off before it showed up in many photos.

So, other than the weather, things are going well around here. I’m loving this new iMac more every day, as it’s fast, and I’m really glad that I bought the model with the larger display. I’m getting on well with Lightroom, other than getting the file structure exactly as I would like it to be, but I know that I’ll get that fixed soon. My work schedule leaves a little to be desired, but the way that the weather is, that doesn’t matter right now, and I’ve been raking in the money the past three weeks, far more than at my old job. This overnight run will mess up my weekend a bit, but that’s my choice. Overnighters are always voluntary at this new job. I could have turned it down if I had wanted, but for right now, I’ll take the extra cash in my bank account.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

This post represents another milestone of sorts, I am starting on the second half of the list from the Audubon Society that I am working from as I add species of birds to my life list. So, I thought that once again, this post deserved to highlight a species with the “stature” befitting such a post.

American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

The American white pelican is a large aquatic soaring bird from the order Pelecaniformes. It breeds in interior North America, moving south and to the coasts, as far as Central America and South America, in winter.

The American white pelican rivals the trumpeter swan, with a similar overall length, as the longest bird native to North America. Both very large and plump, it has an overall length is about 50–70 in (130–180 cm), courtesy of the huge beak which measures 11.3–15.2 in (290–390 mm) in males and 10.3–14.2 in (260–360 mm) in females. It has a wingspan of about 95–120 in (240–300 cm). The species also has the second largest average wingspan of any North American bird, after the California condor. This large wingspan allows the bird to easily use soaring flight for migration. Body weight can range between 7.7 and 30 lb (3.5 and 13.6 kg), although typically these birds average between 11 and 20 lb (5.0 and 9.1 kg). Among standard measurements, the wing chord measures 20–26.7 in (51–68 cm) and the tarsus measures 3.9–5.4 in (9.9–13.7 cm) long. The plumage is almost entirely bright white, except the black primary and secondary remiges, which are hardly visible except in flight. From early spring until after breeding has finished in mid-late summer, the breast feathers have a yellowish hue. After molting into the eclipse plumage, the upper head often has a grey hue, as blackish feathers grow between the small wispy white crest.

The bill is huge and flat on the top, with a large throat sac below, and, in the breeding season, is vivid orange in color as is the iris, the bare skin around the eye, and the feet. In the breeding season, there is a laterally flattened “horn” on the upper bill, located about one-third the bill’s length behind the tip. This is the only one of the eight species of pelican to have a bill “horn”. The horn is shed after the birds have mated and laid their eggs. Outside the breeding season the bare parts become duller in color, with the naked facial skin yellow and the bill, pouch, and feet an orangy-flesh color.

American white pelicans nest in colonies of several hundred pairs on islands in remote brackish and freshwater lakes of inland North America. The most northerly nesting colony can be found on islands in the rapids of the Slave River between Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta, and Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. About 10–20% of the population uses Gunnison Island in the Great Basin’s Great Salt Lake as a nesting ground. The southernmost colonies are in southwestern Ontario and northeastern California. Nesting colonies exist as far south as Albany County in southern Wyoming.

They winter on the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts from central California and Florida south to Panama, and along the Mississippi River at least as far north as St. Louis, Missouri. In winter quarters, they are rarely found on the open seashore, preferring estuaries and lakes. They cross deserts and mountains but avoid the open ocean on migration.

Wild American white pelicans may live for more than 16 years. In captivity, the record lifespan stands at over 34 years.

Unlike the brown pelican, the American white pelican does not dive for its food. Instead it catches its prey while swimming. Each bird eats more than 4 pounds of food a day, mostly fish such as like Common carp, Lahontan Tui chub and shiners, Sacramento perch or Yellow perch, Rainbow trout, and jackfish. Other animals eaten by these birds are crayfish and amphibians, and sometimes larval salamanders. Birds nesting on saline lakes, where food is scarce, will travel great distances to better feeding grounds.

American white pelicans like to come together in groups of a dozen or more birds to feed, as they can thus cooperate and corral fish to one another. When this is not easily possible – for example in deep water, where fish can escape by diving out of reach –, they prefer to forage alone. But the birds also steal food on occasion from other birds, a practice known as kleptoparasitism. White pelicans are known to steal fish from other pelicans, gulls and cormorants from the surface of the water and, in one case, from a great blue heron while both large birds were in flight.

As noted above, they are colonial breeders, with up to 5,000 pairs per site. The birds arrive on the breeding grounds in March or April; nesting starts between early April and early June. During the breeding season, both males and females develop a pronounced bump on the top of their large beaks. This conspicuous growth is shed by the end of the breeding season.

The nest is a shallow depression scraped in the ground, in some twigs, sticks, reeds or similar debris have been gathered. After about one week of courtship and nest-building, the female lays a clutch of usually 2 or 3 eggs, sometimes just 1, sometimes up to 6.

Both parents incubate for about to one month. The young leave the nest 3–4 weeks after hatching; at this point, usually only one young per nest has survived. They spend the following month in a creche or “pod”, moulting into immature plumage and eventually learning to fly. After fledging, the parents care for their offspring some three more weeks, until the close family bond separates in late summer or early fall, and the birds gather in larger groups on rich feeding grounds in preparation for the migration to the winter quarters. They migrate south by September or October.

Occasionally, these pelicans may nest in colonies on isolated islands, which is believed to significantly reduce the likelihood of mammalian predation. Red foxes and coyotes readily predate colonies that they can access, the later being the only known species to hunt adult pelicans (which are too large for most bird predators to subdue). Several gulls have been known to predate pelican eggs and nestlings (including herring, ring-billed and California gull), as well as common ravens. Young pelicans may be hunted by great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, and golden eagles. The pelicans react to mammalian threats differently from avian threats. Though fairly approachable while feeding, the pelicans may temporarily abandon their nests if a human or other large mammal closely approaches the colony. If the threat is another bird, however, the pelicans do not abandon the nest and may fight off the interloper by jabbing at them with their considerable bills.

On to my photos:

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

This is number 176 in my photo life list, only 174 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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A look back, a fresh start

Well, I did it, I went out and purchased the 27 inch display iMac that I had written about in my last post. All I can say so far is wow!

While I was at the Apple store, I looked at my blog (and the photos) and was blown away by how much better things looked on a better computer than my old Gateway. That’s been reinforced since I’ve been playing with the new computer since I’m getting it set-up. I may have to tone down some of my camera settings, I think that the color saturation was set too high for one thing. But, I’ll hold off until I get a chance to view more of my photos.

I’ve formatted the 4 Tb drive to Mac to hold just my photos. I moved my old photos from the old 1 Tb drive to the larger drive, then formatted the old drive to be used as a system back-up. Of course this hasn’t been easy, I’ve never used a Mac before, and I was dead tired last night as I was getting started.

I’ve installed Lightroom, and created two catalogs, I think. Since I’m also new to Lightroom, I can see why there are so many tutorials on how to use it floating around online. I could have gotten by with just one catalog, but I want to mark the point in time when I made the switch to Mac, and I’m beginning to use Lightroom. I’m working on learning Lightroom, it certainly has a lot to offer.

I’ve also installed the Mac version of Photomatix to do HDR images, and set it up to function as a plug-in to Lightroom.

Anyway, that takes me back to the computer for a bit, it’s faster than a speeding bullet! This new Mac can process a HDR image in just a few seconds, rather than the ten minutes or so that it required on my old computer. That’s with it running with Lightroom also running, I couldn’t use Photomatix at the same time that I had the Canon editing program running. I’d have to pick the photos in the Canon software, then exit it to do the HDR image, and then restart it after having closed Photomatix.

And, I’m so glad that I went with the larger display, I would have been happy with the smaller version, but this huge 27 inch display is the bee’s knees for working in multiple applications at the same time. That, and having the computer power to do so. I have Lightroom working on a task in the background right now as I’m typing this, and things are going along so quickly that it’s already hard to remember having to wait all the time on the old computer.

Seems as if I’ve created three catalogs, oh well, better safe than sorry. I can always go back and delete the extra one, once I’m sure that the other two are safe and contain the images that I wanted.

Okay then, let’s see if I can add a photo here that I just shot, and used Lightroom to convert it to jpeg.

My new iMac!

My new iMac!

Hey, it worked!

Now then, you’d think that I would have spruced that one up a bit since I have Lightroom up and running, but a snapshot of my computer isn’t really worth playing with, other than to see if I could get Lightroom to do what I wanted, convert the RAW image to jpeg, reduce the size and quality for online use, and even add a watermark to my image. Yup, it worked.

I have been playing with a few of my older images in Lightroom, you may find this funny, but so far, what I’ve played with most has been fixing the perspective distortions caused by my lenses. What I mean by that, is especially with wider lenses, vertical subjects get distorted, leaning  in towards the top in most images. One of the many features of Lightroom is that it will automatically fix those distortions. So, I’ve been going through some of my old photos of lighthouses, and fixing the distortion, so that the towers of the lighthouses don’t lean, and are vertical the way that they should be. Here’s the before…

White River Lighthouse before

White River Lighthouse before

…and, after.

White River Lighthouse after

White River Lighthouse after

That may not be the best example, but it gives you an idea of what I mean.

Back to the computer, I played with the trackpad a little more while at the store, and decided to go with just the mouse for now. Apple calls it the magic mouse, and it is, as it also functions much the same as a trackpad. I can scroll both up and down and side to side by swiping across the top of the mouse, it’s a really cool feature!

If I seem to be jumping all over the place here, there are several reasons for that. One, my sleep patterns were destroyed by my work schedule last week. Then, I was up for over 24 hours yesterday, after working 15 hours, I picked up the computer, and played until I had to get some sleep. Being as excited as a kid at Christmas, I was up way too early to begin playing again the morning. I feel a nap coming on, and it’s only 9:30 AM. 😉 So, I’ll get a short nap in, then go back to learning more about Lightroom and my new Mac!

I’m back, I had a nap, did some more set-up work on the new Mac, and played with Lightroom a little more. Both the Mac and Lightroom have so many capabilities, it’s hard keeping track of what they can do. Even though I have watched an online tutorial on using Lightroom several times, I was finding it difficult to find all the little icons and other tricks in Lightroom to allow me to access the controls I was looking for.

So, I watched the video again, this time with Lightroom up and running, so I could play at the same time that I watched.

By the way, that brings up a pet peeve of mine, I received zero documentation with either Lightroom or the new Mac. I know my way around a computer, so figuring out the Mac isn’t too bad, but I’d be lost in Lightroom without the videos.

Anyway, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to work on a relatively good photo yet, so I played with some that should have been deleted. You may remember this HDR image that I shot a few weeks ago.

Snow covered evergreens

Snow covered evergreens

That’s one that I played with, just to see what the adjustments in Lightroom do. I may have gotten carried away, but here’s the new version.

Snow covered evergreens 2

Snow covered evergreens 2

You’d think that I would play more with the exposure, however I find that exposure isn’t that hard to get correct in the first place. Also the software that came with my camera did quite well and adjusting the exposure. So, I have been playing with the other features of Lightroom in order to learn them.

A side bar, I have set up the new Mac to use the voice dictation to work on this post. It isn’t foolproof by any means however it does work much better than an earlier version that I used on a Windows machine. In fact this doesn’t work bad at all. If I can just speak into the computer and create my posts that way, blogging will be a lot easier.

Any way one of the other bad photos that I’ve played with is this one that I shot as a record of the weather that day.

Gloomy day

Gloomy day

As you can see the sound barrier wall on the left hand side of the image leans in towards the top, so I used Lightroom to correct the lean. Since it seemed like a good candidate to do more playing with I kept plugging away at it, removing the noise and correcting the exposure to get this.

Gloomy day 2

Gloomy day 2

On the same day that photo was shot I found this mourning dove, so I tweaked this photo a little to see how well Lightroom worked.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

I know that none of these are great photos, like I said, I’m just trying to learn the software now.

I’m finding it difficult to work on my old photos and I’m not sure why that is. Part of it is just getting used to Lightroom and learning my way around it. But another part of it is that I want to make a fresh start using new photos that I shoot from this moment on. Although I did go back to my trip up north first weekend of October and do a new HDR image from the photos that I had shot in RAW then. I also tweaked this one a little in Lightroom after using Photomatix to create the HDR.

Just a test

Just a test

I’m finding that Lightroom does not do well on jpegs, at the least not as good as it does on RAW images. I didn’t begin shooting RAW all the time up until the past few weeks. Therefore, I don’t have that many images to play with yet. I hope to remedy that as soon as the weather gets nicer. It’s so cold outside right now that I wouldn’t want to subject my camera gear to this cold.

So, I’ve got a lot of learning ahead of me, a whole lot of learning! While I can navigate the Mac fairly well already, I still have much to learn about it. But, I do know that the purchase was worth it, this thing screams! I can be running Lightroom, Photomatix, and several other programs all at the same time, and Photomatix takes just a few seconds to process a HDR image. According to the activity monitor, I’m barely using any of the processing power that this Mac has available, which is a good thing. As quickly as it can process a HDR image now, I see no reason to rush out and add more ram for the time being. I haven’t tried converting a batch of RAW images to jpeg yet, I’ve been doing them one at a time so far. But, I don’t think that it matters, as I can let the batch conversion go on in the background as I do something else.

Lightroom is a different story though, not that it doesn’t run fast on this Mac, but that there’s so much to it that it’s going to take me a while to master it. I will catch on though, it will just take me a while to learn what adjustments do what, and how much of a difference that they can make. We’ll see, heres a snowy owl that I tweaked slightly.

Snowy owl landing

Snowy owl landing

I know that I could make more improvements to that image, but I still haven’t learned how yet. That will come with time and experience.

Earlier I mentioned a fresh start, so to go with that, I have an announcement of sorts about my blog. This didn’t start out being all nature all the time, I used to occasionally do posts on other subjects. I love photography, always have, and I’d like to expand my subject matter to more than just nature. Not to worry, it will still be nature most of the time. However, I read other people’s blogs and see the photos that they have of historic buildings and other things as well.

We don’t have many historic buildings around here, but there are a few, especially some of the old churches in downtown Grand Rapids that I would like to photograph. I would also like to do more landscape photography as well, when I get the chance. If next weekend is anywhere near as cold as this weekend, I may go to the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan to photograph the World War II era planes that they have there. I had planned to go there last winter but never made it, as the weather started to improve about the time that I decided to give it a try.

Last winter was bad enough we got a lot of snow and it was cold but this winter is shaping up to be even colder. The windchill outside right now is -25 degrees Fahrenheit (-32 C) and that’s just too darn cold to go outside and try to photograph something.

There’s also the Fredrick Meijer Gardens as a source for photos. I already missed the orchid show this year, but I did do a post on that several years ago. They have added a lot of artwork since the last time I was there and they have also begun work on a Japanese garden which I would like to see.

Well, that’s about all for this one, as I have a lot of studying to do trying to learn Lightroom. I may need another nap before I go grocery shopping too.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Some blasts from the past

In preparation for the arrival of my new computer, I’ve been looking at a few of my old photos, shot a few years ago with my old Nikon camera and lens.

I’ve asked around as to whether the new iMac would be able to read the image files that I have on the back-up drive that I have, and the answers have been yes, no, and maybe, so I’ll go with maybe for now. However, I think that I can transfer a few of the photos at a time to a flash drive that I have, and import them onto the new iMac that way, or so I’ve been told. So, I dug up the flash drive and found the images that I’ll use for this post, a best of the best from my old Nikon I suppose you could say.

But first, some other news, I have received my long-term visitor’s pass to the Muskegon County wastewater facility. That means that I don’t have to call ahead each time to arrange to have a pass left there for me on weekends, and can go anytime that the weather makes it worth going.

Then, there’s the weather, it seems like when I get time off from work, it’s cloudy and dreary outside. I did make it out on Sunday, not only was it dreary, but it was foggy as well, very poor for photography. I’m saving the few photos that I shot until the new computer arrives. I would have had time for a walk today, but the day dawned much as it did yesterday, although right on cue, just before I had to leave for work, the sun came out. That seems to be the way things have been going lately, if I’m working, the sun is out, if I have time off, then the weather stinks.

Now then, I have received my Federal Income Tax refund already, which bulged my checking account beyond what I needed for the new computer, and was all set to order the 21.5 inch display iMac that I had decided was the best for me. Funny thing, 1 to 3 days to build it special for me, and 2 day shipping to get it to the local Apple store became 10 to 14 days before it would arrive.

This coming weekend is going to be miserable for any outdoor activities, and I wanted the new computer here by then so I could get it set-up while the weather was too bad outdoors for even me. Wind chills down so low as to be dangerous with off and on lake effect snow is not good weather to be out in.

So, I did some more research. I thought that I could purchase the base model iMac with just 8 Gb of ram, then add more myself, no can do. The case of the 21.5 inch iMac is sealed, the ram has to be added at the factory when the computer is built, or by an authorized service center, meaning big bucks to add ram to it.

So, more research again. I found that the 27 inch display iMac can be upgraded by the user. You push a button on the back of the computer, a small door pops open, and you can add more ram yourself. Not only that, but the maximum ram for the 21.5 inch is 16 Gb, while the 27 inch will accept 32 Gb of ram.

Okay, the base 27 inch model is $300 more than the base 21.5 inch model, except that with the added ram that I wanted, and the other upgrades, it works out that the base 27 inch model is less than $100 more than the 21.5 inch model that I was going to special order.

You know what that means, I’ll be picking up the base 27 inch model this weekend. There are more advantages than just being able to add ram myself. The 27 inch comes with a faster processor, faster hard drive, and better video card as well. I’m sure that the standard 8 Gb of ram will work for me for the time being, and I can add more ram later, and for probably less than the $200 that Apple charges to do so. More ram is always good, so being able to go all the way to 32 Gb rather than 16 Gb is a good thing. Not to mention the much larger display to view my images on. 😉

So, if things go as planned, this weekend I’ll be getting a new 27 inch display iMac set-up and ready to go in time for spring, as I look out my window and not feel guilty about not going out as the wind howls and blows the snow around. 🙂

Okay then, now it’s time for some photos. A few of you may remember some of these, as I said earlier, they were shot with my old Nikon for the most part, although I may slip in a few from my Canon Powershot as well. They were taken when I still lived at the previous apartment complex where I lived at the time these were shot.

While I don’t miss those apartments, or the poor management there, I do miss the wildlife, especially my “pet” red-tailed hawks.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Because of the way that those apartments were laid out, each summer I got to witness young hawks learning to hunt, and they grew used to my presence, allowing me to shoot some good photos despite the quirks of the Nikon.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Then, there were the man-made lakes that surrounded most of the apartment complex. The land had been a gold course at one time, built in a naturally wet area. The golf course went broke, and developers built the apartments along what had been the fairways, and left the old water hazards in place. With several small bodies of water connected by a creek that flowed between them, and eventually to the Grand River, each summer, there would be great blue herons hunting along the water edges.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

During the spring and fall, migrating waterfowl would stop over at some of the lakes for short periods of time, like these mute swans.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swans

Mute swans

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Probably one of the most memorable and beautiful things that I have ever witnessed in nature was the courting behavior of a pair of swans.

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

The lakes attracted plenty of geese as well.

Canada geese taking flight

Canada geese taking flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

The trees that had once lined the fairways of the old golf course became the home for many small songbirds as well.

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

American robin

American robin

Male house finch

Male house finch

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

We also had a flock of turkeys that called the area home.

Male turkey

Male turkey

Young male turkey

Young male turkey

As you can see, I used to luck out and get a few good photos from the old Nikon before it croaked. However, I’d love to have my new Canon and my current lenses and live in an area like that with so much wildlife around. But, moving has worked out better for me overall, this area has plenty of wildlife also, but it’s spread out more, and critters are wilder, not as used to people. That makes it tougher to get as close as I used to be able to get where I used to live, and remember, I’m posting the best of the best, not the thousands of poor images I used to end up with while I struggled with the Nikon.

In fact, to prove that it’s not so much the camera as the person using it, here’s a few from my old Canon Powershot, a compact digital point and shoot camera.

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Iris

Iris

Green heron

Green heron

Fall foliage

Fall foliage

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Patterns on the Lake Michigan beach

Patterns on the Lake Michigan beach

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle

IMG_2032

Spring flowers

 

Green heron

Green heron

I think that this post is about done, but I have two photos from my old Nikon of a bald eagle that I’d like to share as well.

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look back in time, I know that I have. I still have a few more of the best of the best that I may post soon, when I get the time. I plan to be busy this weekend getting the new computer set-up, if everything goes as planned. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. 😉

Oh, one more photo for this one.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

The eagle and the doe were the only winter photos that I could tolerate posting at this time of year, I am so looking forward to spring! I want to be photographing flowers, insects, and of course, songbirds, especially as they are singing. Just a few short weeks to go, and winter should be about over with, I hope!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by, and I hope that my next post will have been written on my new computer!


Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

This post represents a milestone, I am now half-way through the list from the Audubon Society that I am working from as I add species of birds to my life list. So, I thought that this post deserved to highlight a species with the “stature” befitting such a post. Therefore, I have chosen the tundra swan to mark the occasion.

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

The tundra swan is a small Holarctic swan. The two taxa within it are usually regarded as conspecific, but are also sometimes split into two species, Cygnus bewickii (Bewick’s swan) of the Palaearctic and the whistling swan, C. columbianus proper, of the Nearctic. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to lump the two sub-species together, as that’s the way that they appear on the list that I’m working from.

C. columbianus is the smallest of the Holarctic swans, at 115–150 cm (45–59 in) in length, 168–211 cm (66–83 in) in wingspan and a weight range of 3.4–9.6 kg (7.5–21.2 lb). In adult birds, the plumage of both subspecies is entirely white, with black feet, and a bill that is mostly black, with a thin salmon-pink streak running along the mouthline and, depending on the subspecies, more or less yellow in the proximal part. The iris is dark brown. In birds living in waters that contains large amounts of iron ions (e.g. bog lakes), the head and neck plumage acquires a golden or rusty hue. Pens (females) are slightly smaller than cobs (males), but do not differ in appearance otherwise.

Immatures of both subspecies are white mixed with some dull grey feathering, mainly on the head and upper neck, which are often entirely light grey; their first-summer plumage is quite white already, and in their second winter they moult into the adult plumage. Their bills are black with a large dirty-pink patch taking up most of the proximal half and often black nostrils, and their feet are dark grey with a pinkish hue. Downy young are silvery grey above and white below.

Tundra swans have high-pitched honking calls and sound similar to a black goose (Branta). They are particularly vocal when foraging in flocks on their wintering grounds; any conspecific arriving or leaving will elicit a bout of loud excited calling from its fellows. Contrary to its common name, the ground calls of the whistling swan are not a whistle and neither notably different from that of Bewick’s swan. The flight call of the latter is a low and soft ringing bark, bow-wow…; the whistling swan gives a markedly high-pitched trisyllabic bark like wow-wow-wow in flight. By contrast, the whooper and trumpeter swans’ names accurately describe their calls, a deep hooting and a higher-pitched French horn-like honk, respectively. Flying birds of these species are shorter-necked and have a quicker wing beat than their relatives, but they are often impossible to tell apart except by their calls.

As their common name implies, the tundra swan breeds in the Arctic and subarctic tundra, where they inhabit shallow pools, lakes and rivers. These birds, unlike mute swans, but like the other Arctic swans, are migratory birds. The winter habitat of both subspecies is grassland and marshland, often near the coast; they like to visit fields after harvest to feed on discarded grains and while on migration may stop over on mountain lakes. According to National Geographic, when migrating these birds can fly at altitudes of 8 km (nearly 27,000 ft). Tundra swan flocks usually fly in V formation.

In summer, their diet consists mainly of aquatic vegetation, e.g. mannagrass, Potamogeton pondweeds and marine eelgrass, acquired by sticking the head underwater or upending while swimming; they also eat some grass growing on dry land. At other times of year, leftover grains and other crops such as potatoes, picked up in open fields after harvest, make up much of their diet. Tundra swans forage mainly by day. In the breeding season, they tend to be territorial and are aggressive to many animals who pass by, outside the breeding season they are rather gregarious birds.

Healthy adult birds have few natural predators. Arctic foxes may threaten breeding females and particular the eggs and hatchlings. Adults typically can stand their ground and displace foxes but occasionally the foxes are successful. Another surprisingly serious nest predator for tundra swans are brown bears, which were apparently the primary cause of nesting failure in both the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Other potential nest predators include red fox, golden eagles, parasitic jaegers, and glaucous gull. Brown bear, golden eagles and, rarely, gray wolves may on occasion succeed at capturing and killing an adult. Small or avian predators usually illicit either an aggressive response or the behavior of sitting tight on nests while larger mammals, perhaps more dangerous to adults, usually illicit the response of leading the cygnets into deep waters and standing still until they pass. About 15% of the adults die each year from various causes, and thus the average lifespan in the wild is about 10 years. The oldest recorded tundra swan was over 24 years old.

The tundra swans mate in the late spring, usually after they have returned to the nesting grounds, as usual for swans, they pair monogamously until one partner dies. Should one partner die long before the other, the surviving bird often will not mate again for some years, or even for its entire life. The nesting season starts at the end of May. The pair build the large mound-shaped nest from plant material at an elevated site near open water, and defend a large territory around it. The pen (female) lays and incubates a clutch of 2–7 (usually 3–5) eggs, watching for danger while sitting on the nest. The cob (male) keeps a steady lookout for potential predators heading towards his mate and offspring. When either of them spots a threat, they give a warning sound to let their partner know that danger is approaching. Sometimes the cob will use his wings to run faster and appear larger in order to scare away a predator.

The time from laying to hatching is 29–30 days for Bewick’s swan and 30–32 days for the whistling swan. Since they nest in cold regions, tundra swan cygnets grow faster than those of swans breeding in warmer climates, those of the whistling swan take about 60–75 days to fledge, twice as fast as those of the mute swan for example, while those of Bewick’s swan, about which little breeding data is known, may fledge a record 40–45 days after hatching already. The fledglings stay with their parents for the first winter migration. The family is sometimes even joined by their offspring from previous breeding seasons while on the wintering grounds. Tundra swans do not reach sexual maturity until 3 or 4 years of age.

 

On to my photos:

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

This is number 175 in my photo life list, only 175 to go! Half-way through, woo-woo!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Around home, 13 days to go!

Well, today is February 1st as I begin working on this post, and the 13 days to go refers to when I’ll be ordering my new iMac computer! At least I hope that it will be just 13 more days.

I probably should be out walking right now, as it is a Sunday, but there’s a snowstorm raging outside, and I decided to catch up on some things inside, one of them being getting my taxes filed, along with some mundane chores such as laundry.

The taxes have been filed, and with the refunds that are due me, that money will put me over the top of what the new computer will cost. If I remember correctly, it doesn’t take but a week or two for the refunds to show up in my checking account. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll wait until my next payday, which is February 13th, and a Friday the 13th at that.

I have more than enough saved to purchase the base model iMac that I was originally going to purchase, but after Apple lowered their prices right after Christmas, I decided to go for the top of the line 21.5 inch display model, the one with a faster quad-core processor vs. a dual-core, 16 GB RAM and a 1 GB RAM video card, which added $500 to the price of the base model. Just enough more to make me wait another two weeks to pull the trigger on the purchase, but it will be worth it to have a machine built to do what I intend to do, edit photos.

I’m still not quite used to budgeting based on getting paid every two weeks though, I know that I made a good chunk of money this past week at work, so the paycheck that I receive on the 13th should be a good one. I’ll hold off until my next payday to be sure that I have not only enough to buy the computer, but to pay my bills for the month as well. 😉 Then, the tax refunds are only for insurance so to speak.

Since I’ve been working as much as they’d let me the past two weeks, I haven’t had many chances to get outside to shoot photos, but it will be worth it to have the new computer. And, the weather hasn’t been that great either, since it is winter in West Michigan. We haven’t gotten much snow until the storm today, but it has been cold, cloudy, and dreary most days.

But hey, we’ve turned a page on the calendar, it is February, the shortest month of the year. I’ve already heard birds singing their spring songs, so they know that spring isn’t that far off, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. By the first of March, signs of spring will be appearing no matter how bad the weather is, so that will be something to look forward to.

I say that even though it’s now February 2nd, groundhog’s day, and the snowstorm yesterday was the real deal. We received over a foot of snow, and today, the temperature has dropped into the bone chilling range. Even though I’d have the time for a walk today, I’m going to chicken out again. I’ll continue to work on my inside chores, and get them out of the way before spring does arrive.

It has dawned on me that I may have already ordered and possibly received the new computer by the time that I post this. I don’t have enough photos saved to fill out a post, and from the weather forecast for this coming week, I may not add many either. We’ll see, and it will also depend on my work schedule.

That’s the downside of seeing and/or hearing some of the first signs of spring, it gets me all wound up for the better weather to come later in the year, and that makes it harder to deal with the brutal cold that often sets in this time of year. Going for a walk when the wind chills are well below zero Farenheit and I have to trudge through over a foot of snow just doesn’t appeal to me any longer, I’m getting too old for that. And, that’s what the weather forecast is calling for most of this week.

So, what to write about until then? Well, I guess that I’ll start with the photos that I do have saved.

Icy morning 3

Icy morning 3

You may have noticed that I titled that one Icy morning 3, that’s because this is the first of the series of photos that I shot.

Icy morning 1

Icy morning 1

I liked that one, but knew that I could find a better photo in the ice patterns than the that, so I continued to view different portions of the ice through my viewfinder, this is the second shot.

Icy morning 2

Icy morning 2

And eventually, I found the image that I began with, my favorite of the lot.

As you can see, we do get some sunshine around here at times, but it’s a rare treat, rather than the rule. So, I played with another shot of some ice patterns, this is the normal exposure.

Ice patterns 1

Ice patterns 1

Typically, I then go down with the exposure to increase the contrast, but in this instance, I went up for this one.

Ice patterns 2

Ice patterns 2

I found that I liked the slightly overexposed version, which surprised me. It never hurts to play around, I learn a little more every time that I do. That now includes playing during post-processing my images to make up for poor light. My last post from along the lakeshore was filled with images that I tweaked the exposure on, here’s two shots of mallards that I have also post-processed. The first was easy to tweak.

Swimming mallards

Swimming mallards

All that I had to do was lighten up the shadows a little to bring out the green in the males’ heads.

Now, you would think that as I walked towards the mallards that they would fly away from me, no such luck, as then, I’d have had good light for a mallard in flight photo. They turned around, and flew straight at me so I had to shoot this one as the male passed me, and got between myself and what sunshine that there was.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Not great, the only reason that I’m including it is because I was able to salvage it using the editing software that came with my camera. It took a lot of adjustments to get it as good as it is, for what it’s worth. However, I’m seeing the value of editing more, the more often that I try it. Before editing, the mallard was mostly a dark blob, I’m amazed at how well this one turned out with the software that I currently have to use.

Anyway, on the same day that I shot the video of the house finch singing, there were plenty of other birds in the same thicket as he was. Here’s another male house finch eating lunch, which I shot while searching for the one that was singing.

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Male house finch

Here’s a dark-eyed junco fluffed up against the cold.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

And, here’s a goldfinch that was also fluffed up against the cold.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Maybe I’m imagining things, but I think that I see the first hints that the goldfinch is a male, and beginning to grow his brighter summer feathers.

All the birds in the brush were staying well hidden, and here’s why, one of the worst photos of a Cooper’s hawk that I have ever posted.

Hidden Cooper's hawk

Hidden Cooper’s hawk

I could not get a focus on the hawk, with it behind so much brush. But, I wanted to include the reason that all the birds were staying deep in the brush that day, including the house finch that was doing the singing. I think that I’d stay hidden with a predator so close to me!

I spooked the hawk while trying to get a clear view of it, then, the small birds came out into the open a little more for these photos.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

When the birds were hunkered down in the brush to avoid being seen by the hawk, it was easier for me to get close to them, as the birds were more afraid of the hawk than me. With the hawk gone, their fear of humans took over again.

One of the mornings when I had a chance to walk, I was out just at sunrise, a golden one at that.

Golden sunrise

Golden sunrise

As the sun rose, the light changed to icy blue.

Icy blue morning

Icy blue morning

I’m not sure if I caught both colors in this next one, or if it was just a lens flare. 😉

Golden icy blue morning, or lens flare

Golden icy blue morning, or lens flare

The early morning light gave me plenty of opportunities for photos outside of the box which I typically shoot from.

Icy morning 1

Icy morning 1

Icy morning 2

Icy morning 2

Icy morning 3

Icy morning 3

Icy morning 4

Icy morning 4

Icy morning 5

Icy morning 5

I’m not quite sure if I like all of those or not, especially the sumac, but it was fun to play shooting photos that aren’t in my usual style. It never hurts to play around with shots or settings that one normally doesn’t, it’s always a learning experience even if the images end up getting deleted in the end.

With ice crystals covering many things, I headed for the British soldier lichens that grow on a fence at the entrance to the park, as I had found very interesting ice crystal formations there on an earlier day. Once again, I tried, and failed, to get a good photo of the complex ice crystals on the lichen.

Ice crystals 1

Ice crystals 1

The best examples were in the shade for the most part, sheltered from the sun that was already beginning to melt the ice formations that it hit. I attempted to use my monopod with the new ball head attached so that I could stop the lens down for more depth of field, but I was foiled by the fact that when the county plows a small parking area for the dog walkers, they push the snow right up against the fence. With the piles of snow in the way, I couldn’t find a good example of the ice crystals that I could use the monopod on, until I found this less complex formation.

Ice crystals 2

Ice crystals 2

One of these days, it will work out so that I find something like that with a less jumbled background and where I can get set-up properly for a good photo, maybe. 😉

Maybe it’s time to go back to birds.

Pigeon in flight

Pigeon in flight

I didn’t have time to turn off the IS as the pigeon flew past me, so there’s the ghosting present in that photo as a result, darn.

Okay then, as I was heading towards home one morning, I heard a flock of blue jays making a fuss in the apartment complex across the street from the one that I live in. I kept an eye out for what would be causing the jays to carry on like they were, and soon, one came flying straight at me with something in its beak. It landed almost directly over my head, and set a piece of pizza crust down in the crotch of the tree. Then, the jay hopped to a branch where it could look back at where it had come from.

Blue jay

Blue jay

After a few minutes, the jay went back to where it had placed the pizza, picked it up, and moved to a better location at which to dine.

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Blue jay eating pizza

Sorry for so many of the blue jay, but I thought that it was an interesting glimpse into their behavior.

On a sad note, this is all that remains of one of the woodlots that I walk past when I do go for a walk around here.

Ex-woodlot

What used to be a woodlot

Funny thing about myself, I look at that photo and I’m struck by how I should have set-up and done a HDR image of the scene, even though it’s a throw away type of photo. The snow is blown out, and now, that bugs me when it didn’t use to bother me.

In one of his recent posts, Allen, who does the New Hampshire Gardens Solutions blog was worried about birds and small animals finding water in the winter that they could drink. Here’s one source of liquid that I’ve seen both birds and squirrels use in the winter.

Frozen sap

Frozen sap

That tree had been damaged and the sap was flowing from the wound. As cold as it’s been around here, the sap eventually freezes, but I’ve seen small birds and squirrels drinking the unfrozen sap either from where it flows from the wound, or from the drops at the tips of the icicle that form. Chickadees in particular will land on the icicles, and drink the drops of sap off from the end. Squirrels tend to go for the sap as it exits the wound in the tree, but I’ve seen them reach up to slurp the drops coming down as well.

The next two are rather boring, if I had others, these would be deleted. The first is a shot of the sun on a cloudy day, as the image came from the camera.

Old Sol

Old Sol

This next one is a HDR that I tried, just to see what I’d get.

Old Sol, HDR

Old Sol, HDR

It made the sun look more like the moon, which is why I was prompted to try that shot.

The next one is quite boring as well, but it was the only photo that I shot that day, and it seems silly to walk that far and not come back with at least one photo.

Boring ice

Boring ice

That’s every photo that I have saved on my computer right now, other than bird photos for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. Speaking of that, my next post in the series puts me at the half-way point, not too bad for having started it almost exactly two years ago. I have 29 more species saved after the half-way point, so I should be able to stay ahead of my posting schedule for those.

Since I’m developing a case of spring fever, despite the bitterly cold temperatures outside right now, I’m going to throw in my last butterfly photo that I saved for just this time of year.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

I’ll tell you, it’s so tempting to run over to the Apple store and pick up one of the base model iMacs and use the time during this cold spell to get it set-up the way that I want it. But, I’ll hold off, since I know that I’ll be happier with the better model in the long run, besides, the cold doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. Now that I’ve been working on this post for a few days, the countdown is down to 10 days until I order the model that I really want.

I’d also like to get outside and shoot some photos, but I know that getting my housecleaning and other chores done before the weather gets nicer will pay off in the long run as well.

I may not be posting much for the next few weeks, other than species of birds once a week. It will depend on the weather, my work schedule, and a few other things. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because I’m busy preparing for spring! That, and hopefully setting up my new iMac when it arrives.

I’ll have to set-up Apple’s Boot Camp to run windows on my Mac in order to use the software that came with my GPS unit and a few other bits of software that I have. I have a copy of Windows Vista on hand, and while Vista stinks, I doubt if I’ll be using it very often. I have a copy of Lightroom to install and set-up, along with the 4 Tb external drive. Since I’ve never used a Mac before, I think that it will take me at least one full day of getting it set-up the way that I want it. I’m also trying to decide if I want to go with a traditional mouse, or with one of Apple’s trackpads, decisions, decisions. 😉 I tried the trackpad in the store and really liked it, but I wasn’t using the software that I’ll be running on my Mac. I’ll probably buy it with the mouse to begin with, then add the trackpad later, that sounds like a plan.

Can you tell that I’ve been doing some planning and getting very excited! Between the new computer and seeing spring on the horizon, I may well burst. 🙂

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

 


Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

The magnolia warbler is a member of the wood warbler family Parulidae. This warbler was first discovered in magnolia trees in the 19th century by famed ornithologist Alexander Wilson while in Mississippi.

This species is a moderately small New World warbler. It measures 11 to 13 cm (4.3 to 5.1 in) in length and spans 16 to 20 cm (6.3 to 7.9 in) across the wings. Body mass in adult birds can range from 6.6 to 12.6 g (0.23 to 0.44 oz), though weights have reportedly ranged up to 15 g (0.53 oz) prior to migration. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 5.4 to 6.4 cm (2.1 to 2.5 in), the tail is 4.6 to 5.2 cm (1.8 to 2.0 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1 cm (0.31 to 0.39 in) and the tarsus is 1.7 to 1.85 cm (0.67 to 0.73 in). The magnolia warbler can be distinguished by its coloration. The breeding males often have white, gray, and black backs with yellow on the sides; yellow and black-striped stomachs; white, gray, and black foreheads and beaks; distinct black tails with white stripes on the underside; and defined white patches on their wings, called wing bars. Breeding females usually have the same type of coloration as the males, except that their colors are much duller. Immature warblers also resemble the same dull coloration of the females.

The magnolia warbler is found in the northern parts of some Midwestern states and the very northeastern parts of the US, with states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin comprising its southernmost boundaries. However, it is mostly found across the northern parts of Canada, such as in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. During the winter, the warbler migrates through the eastern half of the United States to southern Mexico and Central America. The warbler breeds in dense forests, where it will most likely be found among the branches of young, densely packed, coniferous trees. The magnolia warbler migrates to the warmer south in the winter, wintering in southeastern Mexico, Panama, and parts of the Caribbean. In migration it passes through the eastern part of the United States as far west as Oklahoma and Kansas. During migration season, the magnolia warbler can also be found living in woodlands.

The magnolia warbler undergoes multiple molts during its lifetime. The first molts begin while the young offspring are still living in the nest, while the rest take place on or near their breeding grounds. The warblers molt, breed, care for their offspring, and then migrate. Chicks hatch after a two-week incubation period, and can fledge from the nest after close to another two weeks when their feathers are more developed. After about a month, the chicks can leave the nest to begin living (and later breeding) on their own since they are solitary birds. Magnolia warblers typically live up to 7 years.

This warbler usually eats any type of arthropod, but their main delicacies are caterpillars. The warbler also feeds on different types of beetles, butterflies, spiders, and fruit during their breeding season, while they increase their intake of both fruit and nectar during the winter. These birds also tend to eat parts of the branches of mid-height coniferous trees, such as spruce firs, in their usual breeding habitat.

Researchers have observed two different types of songs in male magnolia warblers. Their songs have been referred to as the First Category song and the Second Category song. Females have not been observed to have a distinct song yet as the males have; while they do sing, they don’t have separate songs for different situations. In general, the male warblers use their songs during the spring migration season and during the breeding season: one is used for courtship and the other is used to mark their territory each day. Both males and females have call notes that they use for various alerts: the females have short call notes to signal when a human observer is watching them, and the males have short call notes to signal when any sort of threatening predators are close to their offspring.

Male magnolia warblers go to their breeding grounds about two weeks before the females arrive. After the females come to the breeding grounds, both the males and females cooperate to build the nest for a week. Because of the difficulty of locating their nests among the forest’s dense undergrowth, it is hard to know whether the warblers re-use their original nests each breeding season, or whether they abandon them for new ones. The nests are built in their tree of choice, different types of fir trees, such as balsam fir and spruce fir. The nest is made up of grass, twigs, and horsehair fungus, and they are relatively small, shallow, circular-shaped nests, barely exceeding 10 cm on all sides. The nests are usually found close to the ground, commonly in the lowest three meters of the firs.

Female magnolia warblers usually lay three to five eggs during each breeding season. The female will not incubate her eggs until all of them are laid. The female sits on the eggs for about two weeks before the eggs hatch. The female is also the one that warms the newborn chicks by brooding, or sitting, on the nest; she is also the one who feeds the newborn chicks most frequently, though the males also engage in feeding the offspring at times. Because the males are technically as equally responsible for feeding the newborns as the females are, this means that the males are monogamous because they expend a large amount of energy looking for food for their young. The baby warblers are ready to fly out of the nest by the time they are ten days old.

On to my photos:

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

First year male Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

Magnolia Warbler, Setophaga magnolia

This is number 174 in my photo life list, only 176 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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