31 May 2011

Willdlife portrait: June

This is a small  sketch I did a long time ago of a Weasel.  Since then I have been experimenting and modified the sketch into the image below.  Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comment section below.

My modified Sketch of a Weasel


Subscribe in a reader

26 May 2011

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch walking down
The White-breasted Nuthatch is a lovely species of bird that is non-migratory.  It's very distinct voice can be heard year round, and although not loud in volume, carries quite the distance.  The nuthatch is the only species of bird that can be seen walking headfirst down the trunk of a tree, or clinging to the underside of a branch.

Of the nuthatch species, the White-breasted Nuthatch is the largest.  They are omnivorous, although in winter they eat mainly seed and in summer mostly insects.  They will also eat fruit, as well as nuts, which they jam into the bark of a tree and then pound away at the shell to crack it open.  Doing so makes them sound remarkably like a woodpecker.  The most interesting fact about these birds, is that they smear dead insects and beetles around their  nest hole in the trunk of a tree to deter squirrels and predators such as snakes.

White-breasted Nuthatch foraging
Peeking around the trunk
The White-breasted nuthatch has very strong legs and feet, as well as a long, sharp beak.  This beak is displayed prominently, especially when it is holding it's head straight up while perched on the side of a tree, as shown at the top of the post.  It was this bird's habit, that first brought it to my attention, as it demonstrates an alertness to predators.

White-breasted Nuthatch close-up
If you wish to attract this bird to your back yard or garden, simply add sunflower seeds and peanuts to your bird feeder, or hang some suet.


19 May 2011

Swainson's Hawk in glorious color

Swainson's  hawk stooping
This weekend I set out on bird watch with the sole purpose of capturing images of some of the water fowl and smaller species of bird that are returning to the area, or just passing through to their summer breeding grounds.  However, it goes without saying that when I see, and have the opportunity to photograph a hawk or an eagle, I will take it because I simply derive a great  deal of joy from watching them.

Of all the hawks that I have seen and photographed, the Swainson's hawk seems to be my constant companion.   I see this hawk, more often than not, every summer.   It doesn't seem to matter where I am, or what I am doing at the time.  As a result, some of my best wildlife photos feature this particular raptor.

Swainson's Hawk in flight
So when I reached my destination for the day, a pond that is somewhat out of the way, I was happy, but unsurprised, to be greeted by a Swainson's immediately upon arrival.   Now for some reason that I have yet to figure out, lately my camera simply refuses to focus properly on any bird flying in the sky, and this time was no different.  Although I tried, it just wasn't happening.  The result was quite a few badly blurred shots and more than just a few soft curses.  After a great deal of frustration, I eventually lost track of the hawk altogether and simply returned to my original purpose.  But, after an hour or so spent taking a couple of hundred photographs of small and unfamiliar birds, I really lucked out in the way of opportunities.  This opportunity came with a challenge however.

In the tree top
Around one side of this pond stands a very small forest, and behind that, a couple of farmer's fields.  I was walking around between one of those fields and the little forest searching for more birds, when one spoke.  That is to say, it voiced a sound I had never heard, which had me searching immediately for the source and it took less than a minute to find it.  Sitting high in a tree top, in the middle of the mini forest, in full light and glorious color, was the Swainson's Hawk.

Swainson's in glorious color
Now, as it happens, the weather was nearly perfect for outdoor photography.  Except for the wind.  It was gusting so badly that I almost lost my hat a couple of times and there was absolutely nothing to shelter the trees from the force of that wind.  Branches were constantly jostled about violently, and the trees themselves were swaying wildly.

It was a focusing nightmare for a photographer, especially an amateur like myself.  But seeing the Swainson's hawk so clearly and so perfectly portrayed, meant that I really wanted some photos showing him just like that.  I didn't hesitate for an instant.   Although, as I was taking pictures of this magnificent bird, with my shutter on the fastest possible speed, I was sending out a general prayer to the universe for the pictures to come out clear.

The windy conditions had me twisting, turning, crouching and stretching myself to keep the hawk in view of the camera's lens, but in the process I got one of those feelings that said simply: some of the photos turned out alright.   By the time the hawk flew off, my memory card was full, which meant I was done for the day.  I headed home happy and totally wired with excitement.  In fact, I was so excited that I didn't even take time, like I usually do, to eat and drink something before I sat down at the computer to upload the photos.  As you can see from the last two photos above, if you click to enlarge them, I had good reason to be and good reason to share.  


17 May 2011

Pileated Woodpecker: an update

When I first photographed this beautiful giant woodpecker, I thought she was just passing through like so many of the other birds do during migration.   I didn't really know a lot about the species then, but I am happy to report that this Pileated woodpecker has apparently decided to stay for the time being.

Pileated Woodpecker female
On a downed tree trunk

This means that there is obviously enough food in the ravine to sustain her and apparently a need for her presence.  She will be consuming the insects and parasitic beetle larvae that are harmful to trees, and helping to keep the trees healthy.  Which in turn will benefit those of us who value spending time in the surroundings of the ravine.  Her presence will also benefit and attract other bird species, as the holes she drills into tree trunks provide shelter for many of those birds.

Pileated Woodpecker
Having a look around

Pileated Woodpeckers do not migrate and can live up to ten years.  They create a new nesting site every year; a cavity carved into a tree in which they lay three to five eggs in April.  Both parents take on the responsibility of incubating the eggs.  I have yet to see a male of her species, but I am really hoping that there will be a mate for her, with the end result being many more of these beautiful birds in the area.


15 May 2011

Redheaded Duck

A couple of years ago I got many blurry shots of the Redheaded Duck at a distance.  I am gratified to say that  I finally saw this duck again, when I was exploring some ponds that I had heard about last fall.

redheaded duck
Male and Female
beautiful male
Mated pair-redheaded ducks

The bright red head of the male stands out even at a distance, however this duck is shy of the attentions of humans.  As a consequence I had to move carefully in order not to startle this pair into flight.  Fortunately for me, this pond, although large, has a sort of bottle neck at one end, which is where I  managed to capture them on camera.

This beautiful duck makes it's home in northern prairie marshes and potholes.  Unfortunately, because of loss of habitat, the Redheaded duck is declining in number, which is likely why I don't see them often.


5 May 2011

Pileated Woodpecker: The largest woodpecker I ever saw

Peeking over the top
I haven't been this surprised by a bird, since I saw an Osprey fishing in  a city pond.  And all  because I was totally focused on searching for a Goshawk, whose call I had heard a just few minutes before.  It is actually quite typical of me to be focused on a raptor, because raptors happen to be my favorite species of bird.  So naturally, I was scanning the trees at mid height and lower, as soon as I heard it, just in case the Goshawk had had a successful hunt.

So when I happened to glimpse a flurry of wings, my heart rate kicked up a beat, while my mind picked up on the oddity of seeing the inside of a large set of wings very low on the side of a tree trunk.   I didn't get a complete view of the bird right away, even though I immediately stepped into the undergrowth to get a closer look.   After a few minutes spent looking around, I reversed my steps, having decided that I missed whatever it was.  However, when I rounded a bend in the trail I was following, there was her bright red head right in front of my eyes.   She was on the ground not ten feet in front of me, a Pileated Woodpecker, pecking away at a fallen log just off the side of the trail. 

On the wrong side of the tree
Now my heart rate went into overdrive as all thoughts of the Goshawk fled my mind.  This species was new, very nearby and an unexpected opportunity for some close up photos had arrived.   Trouble was, there were many obstructions such as bushes, dead weeds and small trees in the way, and my camera simply wouldn't focus properly because of it.  Not that I didn't try anyway, but I knew the photos wouldn't be very good.  The only solution was obvious.  I had to move.   As she didn't seem to be bothered by my presence, or the sound of my camera anyway, I went towards her very carefully, attempting to get into just the right position for a couple of clear shots.

It didn't happen.  At some invisible point I simply got too close.  She flew off, leaving me to think I had lost her, as well as the opportunity all together.  A few swear words came to mind.   My disappointment was acute, to say the least.

What a bright head

Nevertheless, I went ahead and followed the direction of her flight, and spent some time very carefully and quietly making my way through the bushes, with every sense I have on full alert.  As it happens, I was also following the path of the creek, which winds it's way through this forest, and  it's a good thing that I did.   Soon enough, I spotted the woodpecker again not far off, just on the other side, where fortunately there was a small break from the ever present, and numerous obstacles.  This time I managed to get some decent photos.

Pileated Woodpecker Female
Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpeckers are one of the largest species of woodpecker in North America.  They are the same size as a Crow.  The female sports a prominent black stripe beneath her eye, while the male has a flashy red stripe in the same place.  If you are searching for this woodpecker in particular, look to the trees for clues of their presence.  The Pileated Woodpecker carves square holes into the trunk of a tree in search of insects, or when carving out it's home.  Also look for recently excavated fallen tree trunks. 


Please  leave  a comment, I  would love to hear what  you think.

1 May 2011

Wildlife portrait May

As requested by a friend who loves ducks.

Mallard Duck
Please leave me a comment, I would love to hear what you think.