Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Osprey at Quick Point Nature Preserve...

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
...continued from the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck post.

If you've been to Quick Point Nature Preserve on Longboat Key, Florida lately, you've probably seen this fellow. He was there every time I visited, usually in this tree or the tree at the far end of the first pond. He was very chatty, and I liked that!

Ospreys always look just a bit surprised to me. It's probably because they lack the heavily pronounced supraorbital ridge above their eyes that hawks and eagles have. The pronounced boney structure tucks the hawks and eagles' eyes into shadow, giving them an intense and fierce look, not the "who me?" look that sometimes pops to mind when I look at an Osprey. (Click here for an older post that explains the supraorbital ridge and how it helps eagles and hawks.)

...and look at those talons! Who needs a supraorbital ridge when you have feet super strong and lethal...and specialized too. All four toes are the same length on an Osprey's foot, and the outer toe is reversible, almost like an opposable thumb, which helps the Osprey grasp fish. In addition, the pads of the Osprey's feet are very scaly and covered in spicules, or spines. These unique adaptations turn the Osprey into a fish hunting machine. Slippery fish rarely wiggle free once an Osprey has latched on, and an Osprey's capture rate of 40 percent (some studies show higher) exceeds the success ratio of other raptors.

"That's what I'm talking about..." says the majestic Osprey. In addition, an Osprey's talons are curved like fish hooks and are rounded, instead of grooved like other raptor's talons. Once more, uniquely adapting them to catching fish for a living.

City Osprey! This Osprey was eating his prey on top of the electric wires lining a fairly busy street that paralleled the ocean. He didn't care about trees and green leaves, he had the gulf sweeping out in front of him, and that's all that mattered...

"Birds of Prey: Majestic Masters of the Skies," by Paul D. Frost
"Birds of Lake, Pond, and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America," by John Andrew Eastman

Also...John Briggs (Birding in Maine blog) recently posted a detailed entry on Ospreys. You might want to check it out for more info.

...this is a painting I did in December '09. I'm just including it here for reference because it clearly shows the supraorbital ridge above the American Bald Eagle's eye. The shadow cast by the overhanging boney structure is fun to paint...I love the power in that eye!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks basking in the Florida sun...

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
These beautiful ducks took me by surprise. They are gorgeous...rich russets, pink-orange bills, white eye rings, really long legs and necks, and to top it off, very noticeable Mohawk racing stripes painted down the back of their heads and necks.

Look at how long those legs are--not very ducky, and the necks are longer than the average duck too--almost swanlike. Males and females both look alike, which also is a bit un-ducky.

...wouldn't you think these exotic-looking beauties would be hidden away in a secluded location far from people? Nope...they were about 20 paces off the parking lot of a golf course, and they almost seemed tame--completely opposite of the timid Wood Ducks around our town that fly away whistling in terror at the slightest footstep.

...thank you for turning your head to show off that really cool Mohawk racing stripe. You're such a dude.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks like to nest in tree cavities like the Wood Ducks. They take to nest boxes also. I didn't get to see one standing in a tree, though. It was mid-afternoon, and they were busy eating clover.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Paintings 25, 28 and 29 - Studies of a Female Black and White Warbler

I love Black and White Warblers and see and hear them a lot on the Little Miami Trail. They haven't arrived yet, though, but I keep watching for them. These studies are from a bird I saw at Clear Creek Metropark in Hocking Hills (southeastern Ohio) last July. I hope to go back there this summer. I loved my time there and saw so many cool birds, moths, and butterflies.

These paintings are part of the 100 Paintings in a Year Challenge.

Painting #26, Twenty-second Eastern Kingbird and Painting #27, White-breasted Nuthatch in Purple and Red

...these are experiments, and I loved doing them. With the 100 Paintings Challenge, not everything is supposed to be a finished painting. You have to go out of your comfort zone every now and then. Even though Painting 27 is a little gooky, I love it. I wanted to see how far from reality I could go and still produce a recognizable image. I started with a 20-second paint sketch in red (using a waterbrush) and let it dry. I then went back in and laid down the purple, letting it fall wherever it felt good. I wanted to get really dark with the watercolor pigment to see if I could still maintain form. Both Rick the Reluctant Birder and Matty recognized this as a White-breasted Nuthatch, so that was good! Matty thought it was cool, and Rick wondered if I did it with my own blood...

Painting 27, White-breasted Nuthatch in Purple and Red

Painting 26 is a 20-second watercolor sketch of an Eastern Kingbird, and I love it too! I used one color and sketched it with a waterbrush. Twenty seconds is longer than you think when you're just trying for form and not detail. I will probably turn this sketch into a complete painting one of these days. I want to do more 20-second sketches too. It's fun to slop paint down and see if it looks like something!

Painting 26, Twenty-second Eastern Kingbird

These paintings are part of the 100 Paintings Challenge. If you're an artist and want to join, check out the 100 Paintings Challenge Blog hosted by Laure Ferlita.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I had no idea ants were so shiny...

While photographing this tiny flower, an ant popped into view. I had no idea they were so shiny....

...from the soft, velvety plushness of the Red Velvet Mite in the previous post, to the sleek, shiny, smooth-as-glass finish on this ant, macro photography lets you see things you had no idea were there.

...don't worry, even though I'm loving the hidden beauty I can find with the macro lens, I'm not going to go all bug on you...

...but for crying out loud, that little face is cute.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Red Velvet Mite through the macro lens...

Rick and I spotted this fellow while walking along the Little Miami Trail near the river. For such a tiny little thing, he was conspicuously visible. His bright red color seemed to glow in the dark shadows of the hillside as he scurried around on a leaf at the base of a sycamore tree. I switched over to the macro lens Rick gave me for my birthday to see if I could photograph him. What a busy little mite he was. He went in and out of focus so quickly. These photos aren't the best, but they do show off his red velvet appearance.

...not to worry, this little guy does not like the taste of humans. He neither bites nor stings...and he most definitely will not try to suck your blood!

Red-velvet Mites live in the leaf litter and other damp areas of the woods. They are important to the environment and help speed up the decomposition process. Click here for a link to an article in Chicago Wilderness for more info.

...just like with brightly colored butterflies such as the Monarch or Pipevine Swallowtail, the Red-velvet Mite's red color is a warning to predators to stay away. Apparently they just don't taste good. I read a few references of scientists actually tasting a few of the mites, but I couldn't find any first-hand accounts (and although I am now curious to what kind of aftertaste these fellows would leave, rest assured mom...I won't be picking up any to taste-test myself!).

...love the segmented leg in this photo. I'm finding out macro photography is really cool. This Red-velvet Mite was no more than a millimeter, so those little segments are really tiny!

...don't you love those little lobster-like claws? They are actually mouthparts, and are therefore recognized as Chelicerates (a branch within the Arthropod Phylum). Click here for more info on Chelicerates. According to my "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders," adult Red Velvet Mites eat insect eggs. The larvae are parasites and suck the blood from insects, spiders, daddy-long-legs and scorpions.

For a cool video of Red-velvet Mites scurrying around, drop by Wildcast.

If you're interested in the macro lens I was using, it's a Nikon Nikkor Lens, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. I have a lot to learn about macro photography...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Red-bellied Woodpecker eating a salamander (or lizard)...

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
...now that's not something I see everyday. As a matter of fact, it's the first time I've ever seen it at all! I was birding at Quick Point Nature Preserve on Longboat Key when I heard this Red-bellied Woodpecker tapping at the bark in the tree above me. It was a duller thud than usual, and when I looked up I found out why. He was also pulling at something stretchy. As I focused in with the camera lens, I was surprised to find the "something stretchy" was a salamander. A totally new sight for me. Our woodpeckers tend to stick to the bugs and berries. We have salamanders in Cincy. Lots of them, but they are mostly on the ground or in the creeks. In Florida, they are everywhere--and fair game for a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

After lodging the salamander under the bark, he began alternately tapping and tugging at him. Does anyone know what type of salamander this is likely to be? I haven't a clue.

At first I didn't know if he was eating the salamander or just playing with him. After a while I could tell he was most definitely eating him. The salamander seemed to be dead throughout the ordeal. I didn't see him trying to crawl away. Most of the time he was lodged under the bark.

...this was not a quick process. The woodpecker had to work for his dinner...

...such a strange sight for me, but I guess Florida birders see woodpeckers eating salamanders all the time.

After tugging him loose here, he shoved the salamander back into the crevice in the wood and started pounding away at him again. I didn't get to see how long it would take him to eat all of the salamander (or if even if he would) because a guy with truckload of mulch drove up underneath and scared him away. A little before that a female flew in for a bite, but the male chased her away. I guess he wasn't in the mood for sharing!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Even though it's killing me...

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
...I'm going to go ahead and post these gorgeous photos of one of my favorite birds. I didn't take these photos. Nope. I was out looking for Oystercatchers. Rick the Reluctant Birder took these shots. Seems he's not so reluctant when the subject stands three feet away with an azure sea as a backdrop and a sparkling blue sky overhead...

I'm a prehistoric beauty. I've looked this way for over 1.8 millions years...don't mess with perfection.

There's no denying the colors and detail in these photos are fantastic, and I'm jealous. RRB is a technical photographer. He knows how to use all the gizmos and settings. He can lock up the mirror and actually knows what that means. I tend to use The Force when I photograph, feeling out a shot and ignoring the settings (just like a good little Jedi should).

Grrr. I hate it when math and technicalness win...

...love that foot. Its structure is so cool.

He makes me think of Lurch here (Yoga Lurch doing a perfect tree).

You rang?

This shot has more of a Count Dracula feel...

...love looking at the feathers. This is a cool shot, Rick!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Digiscoping at the Heronry

Rick the Reluctant Birder and I headed over to the Great Blue Heron heronry tonight to see if we could do a bit of digiscoping. The nesting activity is really picking up, and we were hoping to capture a few cool images. The viewing area for the heronry is really far away, probably between a quarter and a half mile away, plus the trees are at least 80 feet tall, so it's hard to get decent shots with my camera. Rick is infinitely more technical than I am, so he set the camera up. We used a Swarovski KA TLS 800 35mm camera adapter and a Swarovski DCA Digiscoping adapter, and for the really close-up images, added a Nikon 50mm F 1.8 lens. He used his Nikon D3 camera with the mirror locked up and a wireless remote. The spotting scope is a Swarovski ATM 80 HD, which I love. This was our first time out, and the images aren't that bad when you consider how far away we were. The evening sun was beautiful and lit the nests very well. He shot at a 200 ISO, RAW.

Digiscoped and lit in the warm glow of evening, this Great Blue Heron appears deceptively close.
Without binoculars, you could barely see him...

Watching his long breeding plumes blow in the breeze was a beautiful sight, especially when you consider he's at least 80 feet off the ground at the top of a Sycamore tree and well over a quarter of a mile away!

...flying out for another stick possibly...or maybe just dinner...

This pair was busy nest building. Most of the herons are already sitting on eggs,
but this couple was still footloose and fancy free!

These were the super close-ups. They came out in a funky color of blue, so I desaturated them in Aperture and made them black and white. Knowing how incredibly far away we were, I can't get over the detail. Digiscoping is so cool!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A fun new bird book!

I just finished reading “Flyaway,” by Suzie Gilbert, and I loved it! “Flyaway” is a book about birds, a bird rehabber, and the adventures she and her family go through as she builds Flyaway, Inc., a non-profit bird rehabilitation organization.

Suzie steps us through the evolution of a dream, sharing stories of the love, work, doubt, fears, and sacrifice that go into caring for wild creatures. Her stories are fun and quickly pull the reader in. I can only imagine what those early days were like in her house as she cared for the birds in her bathroom, kitchen…bedroom…get the picture? At one point, while housing an injured Great Blue Heron in her bathroom, her husband remarks “Have you noticed,” he whispered, “that it smells like Sea World in here?” Comic relief comes in quick quips like that, as well as hysterically funny situations, but unfortunately, not all of the stories have a happy ending because not all the birds can be saved—and parting with those who have recovered isn’t easy either. Be prepared to grab a tissue when George (a crow you will fall in love with) says goodbye to Suzie and flies away into the wild.

Years and years ago, while I was still in college, I worked as an Animal Health Technician in a veterinary office, so I immediately identified with lots of Suzie’s stories. I’ve restrained injured ducks and geese, taken radiographs of broken bones, and debrided necrotic tissue and days-old lacerations crawling maggots, but I was always on the other side of the table. I wasn’t the one going home with an injured bird to feed and watch over 24 hours a day. Suzie shows us what it’s like to totally give oneself over to the care of birds no one else will care for. In this passage, Suzie quickly paints a picture of what it’s like when you become an orphaned baby songbird's mama:
“Tiny, delicate, and insatiably hungry, baby songbirds are food-processing machines. When they’re hatchlings (just born) and young nestlings (older but still unfeathered), they need to be fed every fifteen to twenty minutes from sunup to sundown. Then they knock off for the night, giving whatever exhausted creature is caring for them—be it avian or human—a little time to collapse before work resumes at daybreak.

When the babies’ pinfeathers start coming in the feedings can be moved up to every half hour, then the time between feedings can be slowly increased in increments of five minutes. When they’re around around 2 ½ weeks old, their feathers have opened and they’re out of the nest and perching, and you’re practically on vacation—feeding them only once an hour.”
We all have a role to play in the quest to save the planet and its wildlife. Susie has found her place. By rehabbing one bird at a time, she is working to preserve and protect wildlife. I like Suzie's belief in the individual, and her conviction that every bird has value:
“If we’re talking about the greatest return for one’s effort, then never mind the baby birds – why rehab wildlife at all?
Exactly, critics say; rehabbers are nothing but a bunch of bunny-huggers wasting their time. Populations are what count, not individuals. It’s not worth the effort.
First, when any potential critic looks down on me from his lofty position and deigns to grade my effort, I tend to ignore (or mock) him out of principle. But this is an argument easily won. Although wildlife rehabilitation begins with the individual, there is a ripple effect that extends far beyond the single animal. If critics of wildlife rehabilitation are looking for numbers, they will find them not in the release rates of a single rehabilitator but in the numbers of people who have been reached and educated because of her (or him)."
...and there's more! You know how I love bird art... The book is illustrated with beautiful drawings by Laura Westlake. I love her soft style. She really captures personalities in each of her illustrations.

If you'd like to learn more about Suzie Gilbert and Flyaway, Inc., click here for Suzie's Website. You can buy the book on the Website or purchase it on Amazon. You can also make a donation to help support Flyaway, Inc. on the Website.

I learned about Flyaway through TLC Book Tours. There is always something good to read posted there!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reddish Egret fishing in classic "canopy" stance

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
"Wow...his bill really is two-toned pink!" is what was going through my mind when I finally saw my first Reddish Egret. Half pink, half black, there was no mistaking this bird's bill, and then as if on cue, he immediately launched into the distinctive Reddish Egret fishing dance to confirm his identity! Over the years, I've read all about how Reddish Egrets raise their wings to form a canopy to cast a shadow over the water, reducing glare and helping them see their prey better, but seeing it in action is way better than reading about it. The shadow has a secondary effect of attracting small fish and frogs to its presumed safety. Since fish seek shadows to hide in, they will often swim right into the Reddish Egret's striking range unaware of the danger. If that doesn't work, the Reddish Egret might dance around a bit to scare up a bite or two...or chase a fish through the water. I got to see it all!

After dancing around, this Reddish Egret slowed a bit and started raising his wings to form a canopy to reduce the sun's glare on the water.

In full breeding plumage, the Reddish Egret was a spectacular sight with wings extended into a canopy.

...walking around, walking around...love his long nuptial train feathers...

...even in poor light, the pink on his bill was noticeable.

...a beautiful bird. I want to go back to Longboat Key to see him again!

...unfortunately, I was pretty far away from this guy, so I had to crop the photos way down, but for me, a grainy photo of a Reddish Egret is better than none at all. Just looking at these photos reminds me of his cool dance...