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

Posts tagged “Birds

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan

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.

  

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan

The Franklin’s gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) is a small (length 12.6–14.2 in, 32–36 cm) gull. The genus name Leucophaeus is from Ancient Greek leukos, “white”, and phaios, “dusky”. The specific pipixcan is a Nahuatl name for a type of gull.

It breeds in central provinces of Canada and adjacent states of the northern United States. It is a migratory bird, wintering in Argentina, the Caribbean, Chile, and Peru.

The summer adult’s body is white and its back and wings are much darker grey than all other gulls of similar size except the larger laughing gull. The wings have black tips with an adjacent white band. The bill and legs are red. The black hood of the breeding adult is mostly lost in winter.

Young birds are similar to the adult but have less developed hoods and lack the white wing band. They take three years to reach maturity.

Although the bird is uncommon on the coasts of North America, it occurs as a rare vagrant to northwest Europe, south and west Africa, Australia and Japan, with a single record from Eilat, Israel, in 2011 (Smith 2011), and a single record from Larnaca, Cyprus, July 2006.At the beginning of 2017 has been observed also in Southern Romania, southeast Europe.

They are omnivores like most gulls, and they will scavenge as well as seeking suitable small prey. In the spring, on rivers such as the Bow River large groups will float with the current, sipping the emerging insect hatch. The behaviour includes floating through a particular stretch and returning repeatedly to the same section.

The birds breed in colonies near prairie lakes with the nest constructed on the ground, or sometimes floating. The two or three eggs are incubated for about three weeks.

The bird was named after the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, who led an 1823 expedition in which the first specimen of Franklin’s gull was taken.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot last spring, 2018, as ice out occurred, but on a typically cloudy day here in Michigan

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan

 

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan

 

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan

 

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan in flight

 

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan in flight

 

Franklin’s Gull, Leucophaeus pipixcan in flight

 

 

This is number 212 in my photo life list, only 138 to go!

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

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Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

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.

  

Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

The evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) is a passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae found in North America.

The evening grosbeak ranges in length from 16 to 22 cm (6.3 to 8.7 in) and spans 30 to 36 cm (12 to 14 in) across the wings. In a large sampling of grosbeaks in Pennsylvania during winter, males weighed from 38.7 to 86.1 g (1.37 to 3.04 oz), with an average of 60 g (2.1 oz), while females weighed from 43.2 to 73.5 g (1.52 to 2.59 oz), with an average of 58.7 g (2.07 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 10.45 to 11.6 cm (4.11 to 4.57 in), the tail is 6 to 6.95 cm (2.36 to 2.74 in), the bill is 1.6 to 2 cm (0.63 to 0.79 in) and the tarsus is 1.95 to 2.2 cm (0.77 to 0.87 in). The adult has a short black tail, black wings and a large pale bill. The adult male has a bright yellow forehead and body; its head is brown and there is a large white patch in the wing. The adult female is mainly olive-brown, greyer on the underparts and with white patches in the wings.

The breeding habitat is coniferous and mixed forest across Canada and the western mountainous areas of the United States and Mexico. It is an extremely rare vagrant to the British Isles, with just two records so far. The nest is built on a horizontal branch or in a fork of a tree.

The migration of this bird is variable; in some winters, it may wander as far south as the southern U.S.

These birds forage in trees and bushes, sometimes on the ground. They mainly eat seeds, berries, and insects. Outside of the nesting season they often feed in flocks. Sometimes, they will swallow fine gravel.

The range of this bird has expanded far to the east in historical times, possibly due to plantings of Manitoba maples and other maples and shrubs around farms and the availability of bird feeders in winter.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot several years ago at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan. While this is a common species during the winter in Michigan, they seek out and stay near bird feeders for the most part, so it’s harder to find them in a natural setting than you may think. They were also shot with my old camera and lens, so the quality of these are not up to my current standards, but they will do for now.

Male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

Male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

Male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

Male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

Male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

Male Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

Female Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus

 

This is number 211 in my photo life list, only 139 to go!

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

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Connecticut Warbler, Oporornis agilis

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.

 

Connecticut Warbler, Oporornis agilis

The Connecticut warbler (Oporornis agilis) is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

These medium-sized warblers measure 13–15 cm (5.1–5.9 in) in length, with a 22–23 cm (8.7–9.1 in) wingspan. Connecticut warblers weigh 10 g (0.35 oz) when they fledge, attaining an average weight of around 15 g (0.53 oz) as adults. However, birds preparing for migration pack on more weigh to survive the strenuous journey and can weigh up to 25 g (0.88 oz). This species has light yellow underparts and olive upper-parts; they have a light eye ring, pink legs, a long tail, pale wing bars and a thin pointed bill. Males have a grey hood; female and immatures are more brown and have a whitish throat.

hey forage on the ground, picking among dead leaves, or hop along branches. Like most warblers, these birds mainly eat insects and similar small invertebrates. Specifically, they eat spiders, snails and caterpillars. They will also supplement their diet occasionally with seeds and berries.They are “skulking” birds that usually spend their time foraging within dense, low vegetation. Such behavior often renders them difficult to see well.

Despite its name, this bird only rarely visits Connecticut during migration. It was named by Alexander Wilson who observed the first classified specimen. They are fairly elusive birds, but it appears that their numbers may be declining due to loss of winter habitat.

Their breeding habitat is bogs or open deciduous woods near water, especially with poplar, spruce, tamarack or aspen, in central Canada and states bordering the Great Lakes. These habitats tend to be in rather remote areas that are hard to access for fieldwork; therefore, there is little data available on this species of birds. The nest is an open cup well-concealed in moss or a clump of grass. It is made of “dry grasses, stalk of weeds and horsehairs”.

Courtship begins right after the migrants arrive on their breeding grounds. It correlates with the time when males start to sing as this is how they court females. Couples have one brood per season. Connecticut warblers like to nest in thick understory where their young are protected from predators. Most lay in mid-June, though some populations have been observed to lay in July. Their eggs have a creamy color and they are speckled and blotched with chestnut and bay. Only females incubate. Fledglings are observed in late July and at the latest at the end of August. Both parents feed their young caterpillars, larvae, moth and berries.

It walks on the ground to forage insects and other sources of food. Its tail bobs up and down, which is reminiscent of wren and sandpiper behavior. When it comes to sociability, the Connecticut warbler is a solitary species; however, groups of about twenty-five will come together in the fall before migration. It also will join other species, such as Blackpoll warblers, to feed during the fall.

As mentioned earlier, the Connecticut warbler is an elusive species. Little is known about it outside of the breeding season as to this date, less than 25,000 individuals have been banded. These birds migrate to the Amazon Basin in South America in winter. Specimens have been observed in Colombia (north & southeast), Venezuela (northeast & interior), Guyana (at the border), and Peru (South). Connecticut warblers undertake different migratory routes in spring and in fall, an atypical behavior. In spring, they normally pass through the Midwest and only rarely migrate to the East coast, but in fall, larger numbers of migrating birds move through the East coast. Recently, the use of small tracking devices have enabled scientists to gather more data on the warbler’s migration routes. They have discovered some individuals fly over open water like the Blackpoll warbler. More specifically, they recorded a previously undocumented two day flight over the Caribbean to the Antillean islands. This correlates with sightings of Connecticut warblers that have occurred in Bermuda, St Thomas and St Martin. The island of Hispaniola is also a popular stop as it is rather remote due to past humanitarian crises. There, they make a minimum of 48 hour stop (it usually lasts 5–7 days) in the Caribbean. This long migration over open water calls for strong selective pressures. A comparative study between the Connecticut warbler and the Blackpoll warbler could help determine what selective pressures are present in these two species. This kind of migration also demands large reserves of fuel and this is why fat Connecticut warblers can be found on the East coast in early fall. It’s also the reason why they make several stopovers on their way South.

 

On to my photos:

So far, I have managed to shoot just three useable, but poor photos, of this species, in part, due to its elusive nature and the fact that it prefers dense growth to forage in. They were shot in May of 2016 while I was on vacation near Alpena, Michigan.

 

Connecticut Warbler, Oporornis agilis

 

Connecticut Warbler, Oporornis agilis

 

Connecticut Warbler, Oporornis agilis

 

This is number 211 in my photo life list, only 139 to go!

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

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Welcome 2019, but time for a break

Well, so far January has been a little milder than an average year here in West Michigan, however, sunshine has been as rare as ever so far this winter. I’m also having difficulty in finding birds other than eagles to photograph, and I’m not entirely sure of why that’s the case. Some of the reasons are that I’m no longer shooting photos of birds that are really out of camera range, in dreadful light, or that refuse to pose for me. Also, I’ve made what for me is a huge investment in very good cameras and lenses, so I’ve been extra cautious with that gear to protect it all from the winter weather. I’m thinking of purchasing a good quality point and shoot camera that I can carry in a pocket to take with me while walking through the woods. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to afford one until next winter though, since my purchases of the Canon 5D Mk IV and the 24-70 mm lens have left my bank account drained.

I am, however, shooting plenty of images of eagles in action, which I’ll get to in a while here. First, I’m going to start with an image that I shot at sunset on one of the few sunny days that I can remember so far in the new year.

Icy sunset

I started with that one because it fits the header of my blog better than this version of the scene…

Icy sunset, my favorite view

…which I much prefer over the first version.

By the way, besides purchasing the full frame 5D Mk IV and the two wide-angle lenses that were upgrades over the crop sensor versions I used to use, I’ve also purchased a new backpack to hold all of my full frame gear, along with another holster bag that’s large enough to accept any of my camera bodies with the battery grips and tripod quick release plates attached to the cameras.

One of my 60D bodies was slightly damaged while I had it in the old backpack, and I didn’t want the same to happen to any of my newer gear. I searched long and hard to find the right bags for me this time, and I found ones that I really love. The backpack holds any of my cameras comfortably and safely, along with my lenses and other accessories needed. It’s also very convenient to access whatever body and lens combination that I choose to carry in the top of the backpack, it stands up on its own, and I only have to partially unzip the bag to get to the second set-up. If I need an item stored lower in the bag, all I have to do is lay the bag on its back and unzip the rest of it. It also has dividers that have padding on both sides of a rigid center so the backpack is much more resistant to being crushed and my gear damaged than the one that I use for my crop sensor gear.

The holster bag is large enough to comfortably and easily hold a second body with an attached lens, and a second lens if needed, or my flash unit and other accessories for the flash if I’m planning on shooting macro images. It is also stronger than the holster bag that I had been using, along with being large enough to hold the camera bodies that I use now with all the accessories attached to the bodies.

Toward the end of last summer, or possibly early fall, I showed a photo of a rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit in place while shooting macros.

Macro lighting rig

At the time that I shot that photo, I had to remove the tripod quick release plate from the camera body that I wanted to use the lighting rig on, then screw the rig to the camera body. That was a pain to do each time, so I purchased a quick release clamp that’s the same as on the head of my tripod, so now, I can quickly clamp the lighting rig to any of my camera bodies I choose to use, then just as quickly, remove the lighting rig from the body to shoot normally.

That has worked so well, that I’m planning on coming up with a similar set-up that will allow me to use any of my camera and lens combinations on both of the tripod heads that I use.

News flash:

But, rather than bore every one with what I have in mind, I have an announcement to make.

I think that it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a while again. Over the years, I have taken several such breaks for several months each time, and they do me a world of good as far as content and motivation for continuing to blog.

There are several reasons why I’m choosing now as the time for a break, the weather and the lack of subjects to photograph, along with my computer.

First the weather and lack of subjects to photograph. It’s turned extremely cold here in Michigan, so cold that schools have been closing due to the wind chill on some days. I love the camera gear that I have now, and don’t want to risk damaging any of it by exposing it to cold that is well below Canon’s recommendations as far as temperature. Then, there’s the almost constant lake effect cloud cover that comes with the cold. We have one grey overcast dreary day after another when the weather pattern sets up as it is now, along with copious amounts of lake effect snow that makes driving a difficult task. I have to put up with it for work, I’d rather not have to do the same on my days off from work. And, I’d rather not go back to shooting poor photos just to fill my blog posts with after I’ve worked so hard to improve my skills to the level where I’m at now.

I’m also having trouble finding birds other than eagles to photograph, which I said earlier. I should include gulls and crows along with eagles, but frankly, I have enough photos of gulls already, the same with crows. For over a month, I’ve had trouble finding even the most common of smaller birds such as chickadees and cardinals to try to photograph, and I’m not sure why that is. I’ve gone to my favorite spots for smaller birds and not seen so much as a feather during this time, and I’ve seldom even heard a bird in the distance.

Then, there’s the situation with my computer, which is an iMac. About two weeks ago I decided that it was time for me to update the operating system to “Mohave”, Apple’s latest and supposedly greatest. When the upgrade was finally installed, it was like starting with a brand new computer, most of my settings had reverted back to the default settings. The upgrade also caused Keychain, the Apple app that stores passwords and the like so that you don’t have to remember them every time you sign on to a web site to have been emptied, so I had to go to every web site that requires a password and sign in as from scratch, then store those passwords in Keychain once again.

Fortunately, I save all my passwords in a text file, so that task wasn’t too bad, but then another problem popped up. I found that my Email was going to all different folders than the way that I had the system set-up to handle incoming Emails, they were going everywhere with no rhyme or reason to which folder they were going to. It took me a while to track them all down, and send them to the correct folders. I guess that’s what I get for trying to be organized.

Then, once I had all the Emails in their proper folders, another problem popped up, this one has to do with WordPress and my ability to comment on or like posts from other bloggers. This seems to be based on the themes that other bloggers use, there are some WordPress sites that I have not been able to successfully log into at all since I did the OS update. For other WordPress sites, I have to log in both to leave a comment and then log in again to like the post, and even then, the system doesn’t always work as it should. I could go on, but I’ll sum it up by saying that it’s been a mess.

Oh, and one other thing, since I did the upgrade, neither Lightroom or Photomatix work quite as they should, and they will not work together at all the way that they used to. This means that processing the few photos that I’ve shot lately has taken much more time than it should have. This is really problematic for me, as I’m using the standalone version of Lightroom which is no longer supported by Adobe. I doubt if Adobe will upgrade the version of Lightroom that I use, they want to push every one into their subscription version that requires a monthly fee to use.

I was planning on switching over the subscription version eventually, probably later this year, but it looks as if I’m going to be forced to do so ahead of my schedule. That version is affordable, but it was an expense that I was trying to put off until I had the entire hospital bill from two years ago paid off before I made the switch. I only have a few more payments to make, so the end is in sight as far as that bill is concerned, and by taking a break from blogging for a while, it will be helpful to my wallet as well.

Anyway, time for a few photos, these were all shot last week, when there was a rare sunny (for the most part) day.

Juvenile bald eagles in flight

This series shows an adult eagle chasing a juvenile…

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

…and the gyrations that the eagles can make in flight.

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Bald eagles in flight

 

Adult bald eagle in flight

 

Adult bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

These next two show how cold and windy it’s been lately, cold enough for the ice to get quite thick, and windy enough that waves were able to break the ice up and throw it on shore.

Ice broken by the wind

 

Ice broken by the wind

 

Ice flow

These two show a small part of the flock of gulls that soar over the landfill looking for scraps of food to eat.

Gulls in flight

 

Gulls in flight

At least there was some sun before the lake effect clouds rolled back in. However, not even the 5D Mk IV captured the colors in the sky the way that I hoped that it would.

The clouds return

Going back to the day when I shot the sunset seen earlier, I shot these photos.

Testing my macro rig

 

Alder? catkins

 

Reflections of a sunny day

 

Reflections of a sunny day 2

 

Loved the colors

 

Sand patterns in black and white

 

Just a rare sunny winter day along Lake Michigan

I think that I made the most out of what little sun we’ve had around here.

Red squirrel eating rose hips

 

Red squirrel eating rose hips

 

Red squirrel eating rose hips

 

Driftwood in black and white

Since this will be my last post for a while, I may as well throw in a few more photos.

Up close with a juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

American crow taking flight

 

The demolition of the Cobb power plant continues

 

A shipwreck from the late 1800’s exposed by winter storms

 

A close-up of the construction of the ship

Okay, I think that’s enough for now, in fact, enough until I return from this short break in my blogging. Not only has the weather taken a turn for the worse, with bitterly cold temperatures forecast for over a week, but this will also give me time to catch up with other things in my life that I’ve been putting off.

I should be back to blogging on a regular basis again towards the end of March, at least I hope that it warms up by then. In the meantime, I’ll do a few more posts of individual species of birds in the My Photo Life List project, but I won’t publicize them, and they will be posted with no comments or likes allowed. Those posts have never been very popular anyway, so I doubt if any one will miss them or the ability to comment on them.

Oh, one more thing, I doubt if I will be commenting on other people’s post for the time being either, at least until there are software updates that allow me to do so without the hassles that I’m facing when I try now. Sorry!

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


Happy lichen

In a comment discussion with Allen, who writes the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, he made a remark that really stuck with me, he doesn’t know why, but lichens seem happy in the winter. And since there’s a lack of other subjects to photograph in Michigan this time of year, I’ve been spending time shooting some of the lichens that I’ve found.

Colorful lichens in the winter

I can’t identify any of these, sorry to say, but I can appreciate seeing their beautiful colors when the rest of the area is decidedly lacking in color.

More colorful lichens

For those that don’t know what lichen are, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia…A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a mutualistic relationship. The combined lichen has properties different from those of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose), flat leaf-like structures (foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint (crustose), a powder-like appearance (leprose), or other growth forms. Or to put it another way…”Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture” —Trevor Goward.

The curious somewhat scientific side of me finds lichens interesting to say the least, but the more often that I get really close to them…

Lichen

…I often wonder if I’m seeing two versions of the same lichen…

Lichen(s)

…or many different species growing together…

Lichens

…and I wonder just how many species there are…

Lichens

….and how to identify them without a science lab with me…

Lichens

…or watching the same specimen over time to be able to tell what is going on…

Lichens

…but I also enjoy seeing the other things that grow with lichens, such as mosses…

Lichens and moss

…and the closer that I look…

Lichens

…the more species I find. Looking at this white spot on the bark of a maple tree, what I thought was discolored bark was actually very tiny lichens which gave the tree bark a brown appearance from a distance…

Lichens

….yet is more of a burnt orange color up close…

Lichens

…and then I wondered if these are two species competing for the same spot…

Lichens

…or just what is going on in that last photo.

A pleasant thing about getting set-up for the macro photos so far is that I found other subjects than just lichens to shoot…

White pine sap flowing from a wound in the tree

But still I wonder, just what it is that I’m seeing in photos such as this one?

Lichens?

The same applies to this one as well, just what is going on here?

Fungi?

I assume that the base “structure” is a fungus, but what about the transition areas that show up as green?

Is this an algae growing on top of an existing fungus?

Fungi?

Even as close as I could get with my macro lens, I can’t tell what it is that I’m seeing.

If it is an algae growing on a fungus, is this the way that lichens first develop?

Fungi?

To make things even harder, is this a mold growing on a lichen?

Mold growing on lichen?

Or another species of lichen competing for space, or has the photosynthesis stopped in the white parts of the fungi, causing it to lose its green color?

Mold growing on lichen?

No matter what I was seeing as far as the different forms of life, it was nice to see a color other than brown this time of year as I shot these macro photos.

Fungi

Still more things to ponder, has something such as a mouse or squirrel eaten the ends of this lichen, or is this something else, possibly related to reproduction?

Have these lichen been eaten back?

I’m more familiar with this type of lichen fruiting body, called apothecia.

More lichen

I got distracted by the brighter colors in this shot…

More lichen

…I was going for a closer photo of the apothecia…

Lichen apothecia

…and tying to get as close to them as my macro lens is capable of…

Lichen apothecia

…I cropped this one a little to get as close as I could.

Lichen apothecia

One last look at a lichen.

Still more lichen

So that this entire post isn’t only lichen, I have a few landscape images to use up.

Pine plantation

These next two show how snow and sand blow around equally this time of year.

The top of a dune

We get some snow, the wind blows sand over the snow, then it snows again, and the process repeats for most of the winter.

Winter in the dunes

Crepuscular rays are a sight often seen in association with our lake effect clouds during the winter, so I’m trying to learn how to get them to stand out more in my photos.

Crepuscular rays over Lake Michigan

I suppose that I should throw in one photo of a bird as well. After all the gloomy skies, I thought that this one would be a good choice.

Male American goldfinch last spring

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


Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata

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.

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata

The blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) is a New World warbler. Breeding males are mostly black and white. They have a prominent black cap, white cheeks and white wing bars. The blackpoll breeds in forests of northern North America, from Alaska, through most of Canada, the Great Lakes region and New England. They are a common migrant through much of North America. Come fall, they fly South to the Greater Antilles and the Northeastern coasts of South America in a non-stop long-distance migration over open water, averaging 2500 km, one of the longest distance non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a migratory songbird. Rare vagrants to western Europe, they are one of the more frequent transatlantic passerine wanderers.

The blackpoll warbler is a fairly small bird which attains the weight of a ball point pen. However, it is one of the larger of the diverse genus Setophaga (formerly Dendroica). In the species, body length can vary from 12.5 to 15 cm (4.9 to 5.9 in) and wingspan can range from 20 to 25 cm (7.9 to 9.8 in). Body mass can vary from 9.7 to 21 g (0.34 to 0.74 oz), with an average bird anywhere between 12 and 15 g (0.42 and 0.53 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 6.6 to 8 cm (2.6 to 3.1 in), the tail is 4.5 to 5.4 cm (1.8 to 2.1 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1.2 cm (0.31 to 0.47 in) and the tarsus is 1.8 to 2 cm (0.71 to 0.79 in). The summer male blackpoll warblers have dark-streaked brown backs, white faces and black crowns. Their underparts are white with black streaks, and they display two white wing bars. The adult females essentially resemble washed-out versions of the summer males, and in particular, the females lack the strong head patterns, and their crowns and faces are shades of gray. Another outstanding physical characteristic of the species are the bright orange, pink legs.

Non-breeding birds of this species have greenish heads, dark-streaked greenish upperparts and yellowish breasts, with the yellow extending to the belly in young birds. Their wing bars are always present.

In the southern portion of their breeding range, blackpoll warblers can be found on the higher elevations of mountains in woodland or brushy areas. They also spend their summers on the wooded coastal islands of Maine and the Maritime Provinces. Farther north they have been reported throughout the boreal coniferous forest. Blackpolls breed nearer to the tundra than any other warbler.

Although fairly large for a warbler, blackpoll warblers are fairly easy to miss because of their relatively inactive foraging style and tendency to perch in dense foliage near the canopy of the trees. They are more often heard than seen, though their song is one of the highest pitched known. Their songs are simple repetitions of high tsi notes.

The blackpoll has a deliberate feeding style with occasional flitting, hovering and hawking around branches. They are primarily insectivorous. The species appears to be quite a generalist, preying on a great diversity of adult and larval insects and spiders. Documented insect prey for the species includes lice, locusts, cankerworms, mosquitoes, webworms, ants, termites, gnats, aphids and sawflies. It has been suggested that this species may be a spruce budworm specialist, but there is no obvious connection between population trends of the two species. The blackpoll will opt for berries in migration and during winter. They often forage high in trees, and sometimes catch insects while in flight.

Their breeding habitats are coniferous woodlands, especially those in which spruce trees grow. The bird’s breeding ranges extend to the taiga. Blackpoll warblers commonly nest in a relatively low site of a conifer. They lay 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest, rarely up to 9. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days and the young leave the nest when they are only 10 days old, before they can fly well. Their parents feed them for a total of around two weeks. Mated females usually begin second nests right away and leave post-fledging parental duties to their mates. The high incidence of double brooding, coupled with and partly a function of low nest predation and parasitism rates, results in high annual productivity for this species.

The blackpoll warbler’s transoceanic flight has been the subject of over twenty-five scientific studies. Sources of data include radar observations, bird banding and weights taken, dead birds recovered from field sites and fatal obstacles. It is unknown if they feed on insects while in flight. Blackpoll warblers have the longest migration of any species of New World warbler. This is likely the reason that they are one of the later warblers to appear in spring migration, after one or more short overwater flights and a relatively prolonged movement overland after through North America anytime from early May to mid-June. The peak of their migration is in late May, when most warblers are on their breeding grounds.

In the fall the birds migrate from their breeding grounds across the northern latitudes. They converge on the Northeastern United States south to Virginia starting in mid-August. Most blackpolls fly directly from northeastern North America over the Atlantic Ocean to their winter range. Data from nocturnal accidents, banding stations and sightings have shown that blackpolls are rare autumn migrants south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, whereas north of Cape Hatteras they are common. Part of the fall migratory route of the blackpoll warbler is over the Atlantic Ocean from the northeastern United States to Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, or northern South America. Island stopovers at Bermuda and other places are evidence of migratory pathways. To accomplish this flight, the blackpoll warbler nearly doubles its body mass in staging areas and takes advantage of a shift in prevailing wind direction to direct it to its destination. When they fly southward over the Atlantic they burn, 0.08 g of fat every hour. This route averages 3,000 km (1,900 mi) over water, requiring a potentially nonstop flight of around 72 to 88 hours. They travel at a speed of about 27 mph (43 km/h). Blackpolls can weigh more than 20 g (0.71 oz) when they leave the United States and lose 4 or more grams by the time they reach South America. Some of the blackpolls land in Bermuda before going on. Some birds, often with lower body weights, do not make it.

Using a tiny light level geolocator biologists have proven that the black poll flies an average of 2540 km (2270 to 2770 km) non-stop over an average of 62 h, up to 3 days, corresponding to about 41 km/h. In 2013, 37 blackpolls from Vermont and Nova Scotia carried a miniaturized geolocator weighing 0.5 g with harness on their back. The device recorded light-levels, from which longitudes and latitudes could be estimated, and in 2014 the scientists recovered five of the original 37. Four of the five birds departed from western Nova Scotia between September 25 and October 21, and traveled at speeds between 10.7 and 13.4 meters per second. The study revealed that the spring migration overland and the autumn routes overwater were “dramatically different”. When the flight distance per body mass was compared to other birds, only the ruby-throated hummingbird might travel more kilometres per gram (estimated around 210–280 km/g vs. 233 km/g for blackpolls).

On to my photos:

These images were shot in the spring of 2018.

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, female

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, female

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, female

 

This is number 210 in my photo life list, only 140 to go!

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

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Eagles in action

It’s winter here in West Michigan, and it’s been a blah type of winter so far. It’s been cold and cloudy most of the time, but we haven’t had very much snow so far this year. It’s been cold enough that many of the smaller bodies of water have frozen over, so most of the waterfowl have flown south for the winter. It’s been getting tougher to find subjects to photograph with every passing week, mostly due to the weather.

One constant for over a month has been the large number of bald eagles hanging out in the vicinity of the Muskegon County wastewater facility and the adjacent county landfill. At one point, I counted 13 bald eagles in view at one time, although they were scattered across the frozen surface of the storage lagoon at the wastewater facility. Bald eagles aren’t fussy about what they eat or where they find their food, they’ll scavenge the landfill just as the gulls and crows do. They also are able to pick off an occasional gull or one of the few remaining waterfowl, along with small mammals and other sources of food.

The photos in this post will all be of eagles that I’ve shot the past two months, and many of them aren’t very good, but they do show eagle behavior that many people never get the chance to see. I’m going to start with one of the better images that I’ve shot lately.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Of course it was a juvenile eagle, although this image of an adult is pretty good also.

Adult bald eagle in flight

And, it’s been relatively easy to get two eagles in the frame at once, as in this adult gliding past a juvenile perched on the ice.

Adult bald eagle flying past a perched juvenile

When the eagles first showed up, I was shooting them no matter how far away from me they were, and no matter how poor the weather was at the time. I’m going to include this series because it shows a juvenile eagle challenging an adult, even though they were too far away from me, and there was a huge flock of Canada geese between myself and the eagles. But, this shows both the eagles in action, and the large number of geese that remain around here.

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

 

Juvenile bald eagle challenging an adult

I should have known that a week or two later I’d be able to shoot two other eagles going at it a little closer to me.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

 

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

I can’t say for sure that it was intentional, but it looked as if the eagle that had been perched filled its talons with ice and snow…

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

…and dropped it on the other eagle’s tail.

Two juvenile bald eagles establishing their pecking order in the flock

These “battles” seem to be all posturing, with no actual physical contact between the two combatants.

By the way, if it matters, all of these were shot with the Canon 7D Mk II and the 400 mm f/5.6 prime lens because of the 7D’s higher frame rate so that I could capture the action takin place.

Now then, on the other end of the behavior scale, I caught the two resident eagles doing a little early season courting. I can tell that they are the resident pair, because the male’s head looks flat and small compared to most eagles, I’ve seen them often enough to recognize the male. And, I can tell that they were courting by their behavior. That includes “billing”, that is they touch their bills together, and them calling to one another as you’ll see here.

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

 

Adult bald eagles courting

I was hoping that when first one of them flew off…

Adult bald eagles

…followed closely by the second one…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…that I’d be able to witness and photograph them mating which is done while they are airborne with their talons locked together in a downward spiral, but that wasn’t to be the case. By the way, eagles mate for life, so this pair was renewing their vows for the upcoming year.

Again if it matters, that last series was shot with the 5D Mk IV, the 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-converter because of how dreary it was that day, and because the eagle’s courting action was much slower than when they are fighting or flying. I also used that same set-up for these.

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

 

Juvenile bald eagle touchdown

I switched to the 2X tele-converter for added reach for these two, which shows an adult bald eagle with its kill, an unlucky fox squirrel that wasn’t paying enough attention to the dangers lurking above it.

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

 

Adult bald eagle with a fox squirrel it had caught

In deciding which photos to include, along with how many of each action sequence, I also asked myself if I should wait until I shoot better ones in better light and when the eagles are closer to me. I’m reasonably certain that I’ll get better images in the future, but I also have to remember that many people who look at my blog have never seen a bald eagle in person, let alone the behaviors that I managed to capture, even if the photos are poor.

I suppose that it’s one of the good things about blogging, if or when I do get better images of the same types of behavior, I can simply do another post using them. I only hope that I don’t bore the readers of my blog too much as I practice for the big day when I get the chance to shoot the images that I’d really like to post.

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


Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

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.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

The bay-breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea) is a New World warbler. It breeds in northern North America, specifically in Canada, into the Great Lakes region, and into northern New England.

This species is migratory migratory, wintering in northwest South America and southern Central America. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

This species is closely related to blackpoll warbler, but this species has a more southerly breeding range and a more northerly wintering area.

The summer male bay-breasted warbler is unmistakable. It has a grey back, black face, and chestnut crown, flank and throat. It also boasts bright yellow neck patches, and white underparts and two white wing bars.

Breeding females essentially resemble washed out versions of the male. The females are greyish above and white below, with much weaker head patterns. The females also only have chestnut markings on small flank patches, although tiny tints in their grey crowns have been observed.

Non-breeding birds have greenish heads, greenish upperparts and yellowish breasts. The yellow extends to the belly of young birds. The two white wing bars are always present in every stage of life. These birds differ from non-breeding blackpoll warblers in the absence of breast streaks.

Their breeding habitats are coniferous woodlands. Bay-breasted warblers nest 5–20 ft (1.5–6.1 m) up in conifer trees, laying 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest. Incubation is 12 days. More eggs are laid in years when high numbers of spruce budworm are present.

These birds feed on insects, and the numbers of these birds vary with the abundance of the spruce budworm. These birds will also feed on berries and nectar in wintertime.

Their songs are a repetitive high-pitched si si si.

On to my photos:

These images were shot in the spring of 2018.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

This is number 209 in my photo life list, only 141 to go!

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

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2018, a look back, and ahead

It’s getting close to the end of the year, so I suppose that it’s time to take a look back at a few of the photos that I shot this year.

It’s been a big year for me as far as how much my skill as a photographer has improved. In selecting the photos to put in this post, I’m including subjects that I rarely photograph just as a change of pace as much as I can, along with photos that I shot this year that taught me a great deal as I shot them.

Even at the beginning of this past year, I was shooting and hoping that I’d get a photo good enough to post here in my blog. Looking back at the photos that I posted from January, I see that there weren’t many, mostly due to the weather, but also because of a lack of subjects to photograph.

Snowy owl

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Those two aren’t bad, but I could do so much better now, especially the one of the eagle in flight, that it’s apparent to me now how much my images have improved this year.

February of 2018 was also cold and snowy as I remember…

Gray squirrel

…but there were a few sunny days…

Female northern cardinal

…and being a bit bored by the lack of subjects to shoot, I began experimenting more, using my 16-35 mm lens to shoot a flock of gulls in flight.

Gulls in flight

March brought the first flowers of the year…

Crocus about to bloom

…along with a couple of subjects that I rarely see…

A mink on the run

…which may not be all that bad.

Skunk

As I remember it, April was also well below average as far as both temperature and sunshine…

The Basilica of Saint Adalbert at night

…so I expanded the range of subjects that I shoot to include these night scenes from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live.

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

I also learned a good deal about macro photography as I shot the following image.

Unidentified bee

I had shot many good macro images before that one, but it was one of the first warm days of the year, and I was laying on the ground to shoot the dandelion flowers when the bee landed near me. Not being in any hurry to move, I played around with the camera and lens settings, and also put an extension tube behind the macro lens.

May of 2018 was our first warm month of the year, in fact, it was as if some one had flipped a switch, and we went from winter to summer in just a week or so. With the quick flip in the weather, the birds migrating north were in a hurry to reach their destination, so it seemed as if they all passed through the area in only a week or two. It was in May as I was shooting migrating warblers that I decided to upgrade from the crop sensor Canon 7D Mk II to the full frame sensor 5D Mk IV, based on the images that I shot one dreary day.

Bay-breasted warbler

The 7D Mk II is a fine camera when there’s enough light for it though, as these images show.

Unidentified (for now) butterfly

And, since it will shoot 10 frames per second, I still prefer it over the 5D when shooting action images, such as this one.

Clear-winged or hummingbird moth in flight

 

American avocet

 

Barn swallow chattering away

And, I was still working on my camera settings and techniques to shoot birds in flight.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

June brought more flowers, and I began to work on improving my images of them.

Iris

Especially when it comes to adding extra light with my flash unit to get good sharp images without any harsh shadows present in the images.

Wild geranium?

I also discovered an osprey nest about an hour drive from where I live, so I visited it a few times to get this image of a male osprey returning to the nest with what’s left of a fish after he had eaten his share of it.

Male osprey carrying a fish

I also increased the number of landscape images that I was shooting to work on my skills in that genre of photography.

Dunes at Muskegon State Park

The time that I spent at the osprey nest and at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve helped me to hone my images of birds in flight to the point where they are nearly as good as my images of perched birds.

Green heron in flight

 

Female belted kingfisher

July of 2018 saw me trying my hand at more night photography, in this case, the fireworks on the 4th.

4th of July fireworks

Even though most of the landscape photos that I shot over the summer weren’t good enough to post in my blog, I continued to plug away at improving my skills.

A summer day on the Muskegon State Park beach

And, with all the time that I’d been putting into improving my bird in flight images, it was time to tackle one of the hardest birds to photograph in flight.

Tree swallow in flight

I also continued to work on my macro photos when time permitted, both insects…

Red milkweed beetle

…and flowers.

Bull thistle up close

August is when I purchased the Canon 5D Mk IV, and I was stunned by the increase in its dynamic range over the crop sensor cameras I had been using.

Hemlock grove

On a scouting trip up north, I put the new 5D to the test, shooting the Milky Way at night (of course).

Manistee River Valley at night

Along with learning to use it for landscapes.

Sunset at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse beach

I spent a day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park testing out my newer lenses, my trusty 100 mm macro lens, and a lighting rig that I’m still working on to shoot images of the tiny world around us, both wider shots…

The lone fungi mini-scape

…and close up.

Unidentified purple fungi

With the purchase of the 5D, I could now use one of my 7D bodies for dedicated macro work, rather than one of my older Canon 60D bodies that I had been using.

Goldenrod soldier beetle mating

I think that the results speak for themselves.

All summer long, I noticed that I was slowing down, putting more thought into my photos before I shot them, and that trend has continued.

September was the month when I began putting all the things that I had learned up until then together, and I found that the rate of keepers I was getting each time I went out with the camera was going up, even though I was shooting fewer subjects in any one outing.

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Unidentified orange fungi

 

Male northern cardinal molting

 

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

 

Purple coneflower

I found that there was almost no learning curve involved when I began using the 5D Mk IV along with the 7D Mk II, they’re both from Canon’s line of professional cameras, and the only real difference is the much higher image quality of the 5D. However, I also found out that what I learned using the 5D was transferable to the 7D most of the time, other than the 5D’s improved low-light performance and higher dynamic range. So, as long as I use the 7D in good light, I see very little loss of image quality when I use it rather than the 5D.

I was hoping for a splendid display of fall colors here in Michigan during the month of October, but it wasn’t to be, due to the weather again. But, I did try my best…

From the high rollway observation deck overlooking the Manistee River

…but finding bright colorful leaves was tough to do this year.

Just to show some color 1

It was on the trip up north where I shot the images above that I learned just how well the new 5D works in low light when I shot this eagle in flight.

Adult bald eagle in flight

I’ve detailed how I got that image and the settings used before, so I won’t repeat myself again. I will say that the 5D has three user saved modes available, and that I have two set for birds in flight under different lighting conditions, one of which I used here. The third one I have set for shooting landscapes, so when a scene such as this one appears, I have to only turn the mode dial to the correct saved mode to shoot such scenes.

Down on the farm at sunrise 1

And, I still use the 7D for action photos.

Eastern bluebird bathing

We had our second gloomiest November on record this year, with more than twice as many days with completely overcast skies than days when we saw any sunshine at all. With the flowers and insects gone for the year, I was left with birds…

Merlin

…and landscapes to photograph.

As the squall approaches

I did make the best of a few hours of sunshine that I had while I was out with my gear.

Two male northern shovelers

In my last regular post I said that I had a growing feeling of contentment as far as my photography is concerned, and that has come from my growing confidence in my gear, and my ability to use it effectively. I think that many of the images in this post show that, especially when I’ve begun shooting subjects that I had never shot in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t still be trying to improve my images even more as time goes on. And, that means that I’ll still be experimenting, as I did in these next two images from December.

I saw the a stiff wind was blowing freshly fallen snow across the ice at he Muskegon wastewater facility, and tried to get a photo to show that.

Wind blown snow over the ice

I wasn’t happy with the images that I got, so I thought that this would be a good time to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens so that I could reduce my shutter speed to show more of the snow coming across the ice, and so that it would appear like moving water does in long exposures. I haven’t used the neutral density filters that I have very often, and I still have a lot to learn, as this attempt shows.

Wind blown snow over ice, longer exposure

I think that I had the right idea, but that my execution was bad. In the second photo, the weeds in the foreground aren’t sharp, because they were moving with the wind, just as the snow was. The second one does show more of the snow blowing over the ice, but it took me so long to get set-up, that I missed the best display of what I was trying to capture. I should have stuck around longer, for I’m sure that the amount of snow increased again later, but it was darned cold out there exposed to the wind.

Also, the ND filters that I have are 6 stop reduction of light, which to some one used to trying to get as much light into the camera as possible, seemed like a huge amount of light loss. But, I learned that 6 stops weren’t enough, I could have used a 10 stop ND filter, as 6 stops only got me down to a 1.6 second exposure versus 1/30 of a second without the filter. So, while I consider this experiment a bust, I did learn from it, and that’s what matters.

I’m also learning that I may have to rethink how and when to go about getting the best images of colorful birds in flight images.

Mallards at take off

On a cloudy day, there are no harsh shadows anywhere in that image, and the vivid colors of the mallards show up very well.

More mallards in flight

My mistakes in these images were that I used the 7D, and therefore there’s too much noise in the images, and I had the 400 mm prime lens on the camera because I didn’t expect the mallards to be where they were. If the mallards had been closer, the 400 mm lens would have been okay if I’d been able to get only one of the mallards in the frame, but it’s too long for flock shots.

Of course it takes a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the birds and the water drops that are part of the experience of seeing a flock of ducks take off, so the ISO required on a cloudy day would have made the 5D a better camera choice, since it does so much better than the 7D in such circumstances. However, as I’ve noted in the past, the higher frame rate of the 7D helps to get such photos. So, I have made changes in my settings in the 5D in the way that it records the photos to both cards in it, the fast CF card, and the much slower SD card. I have the 5D record RAW images to the CF card, but large JPEG to the SD card, so that the buffer of the camera doesn’t fill as quickly as when I recorded RAW images to both cards.

I haven’t had a chance to put the new settings to the torture test yet, but it should help the 5D’s frame rate enough to make it more suitable for action photography. That’s what it’s all about, learning your gear inside and out to get the best possible images that you can. And, that’s why my confidence in my gear continues to grow as I learn the little tweaks that help me to get the images that I want.

Since I wrote that, I have tested the new settings for how the camera records to both cards, and it does seem to help to speed the 5D up a little.

Also, it has occurred to me that shooting flocks of birds in flight is more similar to landscape photography than shooting a single bird in flight. The focal length of the lens is far more important when shooting flocks of birds. That’s because of how much long focal length lens compress the distances between both the birds and the background, and also because the depth of field increases with shorter lenses versus longer lenses. While I’m tempted to go on at length about that, I won’t, I’ll only add one last image that I recently shot with my 70-200 mm lens.

Canada geese taking off

While I was hoping that more of the thousands of geese present would take flight, this one taught me a good deal more about how to go about getting the shots that I’d like to eventually get.

It’s now officially winter, as of today. From now on, for the next 6 months, the hours of daylight will be getting longer again. We had a few sunny days lately, but never when I had time off from work to shoot any photos. So, I haven’t shot many photos lately, and the ones that I have shot are mostly of eagles. My next post will be another in the My Photo Life List project, but the next real post that I do will be of the eagles in action.

Also, with Christmas coming up in a few days, I will take this opportunity to wish every one a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, which ever you prefer.

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


Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

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.

Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is a medium-sized  crepuscular or nocturnal bird within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. Once aerial, with its buoyant but erratic flight, this bird is most conspicuous. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

This caprimulguid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The common nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

The common nighthawk measures 22 to 25 cm (8.7 to 9.8 in) long, displays a wing span of 51 to 61 cm (20 to 24 in) weighs 55 to 98 g (1.9 to 3.5 oz), and has a life span of 4 to 5 years.

The common nighthawk may be found in forests, desert, savannahs, beach and desert scrub, cities, and prairies, at elevations of sea level or below to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They are one of a handful of birds that are known to inhabit recently burned forests, and then dwindle in numbers as successional growth occurs over the succeeding years or decades. The common nighthawk is drawn into urban built-up areas by insects.

The common nighthawk is the only nighthawk occurring over the majority of northern North America.

Food availability is likely a key factor in determining which and when areas are suitable for habitation. The common nighthawk is not well adapted to survive in poor conditions, specifically low food availability. Therefore, a constant food supply consistent with warmer temperatures is a driving force for migration and ultimately survival.

During migration, common nighthawks may travel 2,500 to 6,800 kilometres (1,600 to 4,200 mi). They migrate by day or night in loose flocks; frequently numbering in the thousands, no visible leader has been observed. The enormous distance travelled between breeding grounds and wintering range is one of the North America’s longer migrations. The northbound journey commences at the end of February and the birds reach destinations as late as mid-June. The southbound migration commences mid-July and reaches a close in early October.

There are no differences between the calls and song of the common nighthawk. The most conspicuous vocalization is a nasal peent or beernt during even flight. Peak vocalizations are reported 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

A croaking auk auk auk is vocalized by males while in the presence of a female during courtship. Another courtship sound, thought to be made solely by the males, is the boom, created by air rushing through the primaries after a quick downward flex of the wings during a daytime dive.

In defense of their nests, the females make a rasping sound, and males clap their wings together. Strongly territorial males will perform dives against fledglings, females and intruders such as humans or raccoons.

Frequent flyers, the long-winged common nighthawk hunts on the wing for extended periods at high altitudes or in open areas. Crepuscular, flying insects are its preferred food source. The hunt ends as dusk becomes night, and resumes when night becomes dawn. Nighttime feeding (in complete darkness) is rare, even on evenings with a full moon. The bird displays opportunistic feeding tendencies, although it may be able to fine-tune its meal choice in the moments before capture.

Vision is presumed to be the main detection sense; no evidence exists to support or refute the use of echolocation. The birds have been observed to converge on artificial light sources in an effort to forage for insects enticed by the light. The average flight speed of common nighthawks is 23.4 km/h (14.5 mph).

The common nighthawk breeds during the period of mid-March to early October. It most commonly has only one brood per season, however sometimes a second brood is produced. The bird is assumed to breed every year. Reuse of nests by females in subsequent years has been reported. A monogamous pattern has also recently been confirmed.

Courting and mate selection occur partially in flight. The male dives and booms in an effort to garner female attention; the female may be in flight herself or stationary on the ground.

Copulation occurs when the pair settles on the ground together; the male with his rocking body, widespread tail wagging and bulging throat expresses guttural croaking sounds. This display by the male is performed repeatedly until copulation.

The preferred breeding/nesting habitat is in forested regions with expansive rocky outcrops, in clearings, in burned areas or in small patches of sandy gravel. The eggs are not laid in a nest, but on bare rock, gravel, or sometimes a living substrate such as lichen. Least popular are breeding sites in agricultural settings. As displayed in the latter portion of the 20th century, urban breeding is in decline. If urban breeding sites do occur, they are observed on flat gravel rooftops.

It is a solitary nester, putting great distances between itself and other pairs of the same species, but a nest would more commonly occur in closer proximity to other species of birds.

Females choose the nest site and are the primary incubators of the eggs; males will incubate occasionally. Incubation time varies but is approximately 18 days. The female will leave the nest unattended during the evening in order to feed. The male will roost in a neighbouring tree (the spot he chooses changes daily); he guards the nest by diving, hissing, wing-beating or booming at the sites. In the face of predation, common nighthawks do not abandon the nest easily; instead they likely rely on their cryptic colouration to camouflage themselves. If a departure does occur, the females have been noted to fly away, hissing at the intruder or performing a disturbance display.

The eggs are elliptical, strong, and variably coloured with heavy speckling. The common nighthawk lays two 6–7 g (0.21–0.25 oz) eggs per clutch; the eggs are laid over a period of 1 to 2 days. The female alone displays a brood patch.

The chicks may be heard peeping in the hours before they hatch. Once the chicks have broken out of the shells, the removal of the debris is necessary in order to avoid predators. The mother may carry the eggshells to another location or consume a portion of them. Once hatched, the nestlings are active and have their eyes fully or half open; additionally they display a sparing cover of soft down feathers. The chicks are semiprecocial. By day 2, the hatchlings’ bodily mass will double and they will be able to self-propel towards their mother’s call. The young will hiss at an intruder.

The young are fed by regurgitation before sunrise and after sunset. The male parent assists in feeding fledglings and will also feed the female during nesting. No records exist to support a parent’s ability to physically carry a chick.

On their 18th day, the young will make their first flight; by days 25–30, they are flying proficiently. The young are last seen with their parents on day 30. Complete development is shown between their 45–50th day. At day 52, the juvenile will join the flock, potentially migrating. Juvenile birds, in both sexes, are lighter in colour and have a smaller white wing-patch than adult common nighthawks.

Like other members of the caprimulgid clan, the nighthawk’s ground nesting habits endanger eggs and nestlings to predation by ground carnivores, such as skunks, raccoons and opossums. Confirmed predation on adults is restricted to domestic cats, golden eagles and great horned owls. Peregrine falcons have also been confirmed to attack nighthawks as prey, although the one recorded predation attempt was unsuccessful. Other suspected predators are likely to attack them, such as dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks, American kestrels, owls, crows and ravens and snakes.

 

On to my photos:

These images were shot way back in the spring of 2013, in northeastern Michigan while I was on vacation. I had hoped to get better images, or to catch one perched, but I haven’t been lucky enough to do so.

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

This is number 208 in my photo life list, only 142 to go!

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

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