Nesting Great Horned Owl

While in Florida in January, I was able to see and photograph a Great Horned Owl nesting in a very large, old oak tree. It was a highlight of my trip to Florida.

Great-Horned-Owl-in-Nest

Great Horned Owls are commonly found throughout North America and their population is estimated to be over 6 million with about 45 percent in the United States. Chances are you have seen and photographed them too. I have seen and photographed them before, but on this occasion, all of the critical elements for capturing a really good (keeper) image came together.

Great-Horned-Owl-in-St-Cloud-FL

I was prepared with the right gear: Nikon D800 mounted on a 600mm lens on gimbal head and tripod. At times, I used an SB-910 Speedlight with a Better Beamer for some fill flash and catchlight.

Great-Horned-Owl

There were a couple of exciting moments. After about 30 minutes of watching and  photographing, I noticed through the viewfinder a very little, young owlet popping its naked head up from the nest towards its mother’s beak. The owlet’s eyes were not open yet. It probably hatched the day before or early that morning. 

Female-Great-Horned-Owl-with-Owlet

My timing at the nest was incredible. I was probably seeing and photographing the owlet’s first feeding (below). Notice how the female owl, although feeding the owlet, is literally keeping an eye on me.

Female-Great-Horned-Owl-Feeding-Its-Newly-Hatched-Owlet

Before the owlet appeared, the mother owl was feeding on something in the nest. I could not see what it was. Later the owl pulled a dead mouse out of the nest. With the mouse in her beak, the owl looked around and then flew up into the tree, and quickly returned to the nest without the mouse.

Great-Horned-Owl-with-Mouse

Nature photography opportunities like this, when everything comes together, are rare. Sometimes it is luck, but more often it is perseverance and persistence, as well as being prepared. Images like these feed my desire to shoot more, even when it is very early in the morning, far away, cold or hot, wet, bug infested, etc.

And in conclusion, one more image…

Great-Horned-Owl-Stare

Comments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Like this: section.  You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Black Bears at Alligator River NWR

Sunset-from-the-Ferry-2

In early December, a friend (Ernie) and I went to the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina (NC), where we planned to photograph wildlife at several refuges on the inland side of the NC northern coast. The refuges included MacKay Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Alligator River NWR, Mattamuskeet NWR, and Pocosin Lakes NWR. High on our list of wildlife to photograph were Black Bears, but we also expected to photograph Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, and various species of migratory ducks. This article is devoted to Black Bears, and subsequent articles will include the other wildlife. The above sunset image was taken from the Currituck – Knotts Island Ferry, as we crossed the Currituck Sound.

The first day at the OBX before sunrise, we drove to Alligator River NWR in search of Black Bears. Alligator River NWR contains over 154,000 acres and is one of the last significant habitats for Black Bear along the East Coast. Ernie had been there a few weeks earlier and had photographed several bears; therefore, our expectations were high. When we arrived at the refuge it was still dark, and we readied our cameras, lenses, and tripods, and then moved further up a dirt road separating open fields. As soon as we approached the first field, we spotted a large male bear. Since it was dark, I used a Nikon SB-900 Speedlight (flash) with a Better Beamer to extend and narrow the beam of light. The flash of light got the bear’s attention, turning directly toward us with its eyes glowing from the light (below). I also had to use a high ISO, and therefore, the image is grainy.

Black-Bear-at-Alligator-River-NWR

The area where the bears are more commonly seen is very large (hundreds of acres) and wide open, so while waiting for the sun to rise and provide better light, we drove further into the refuge. We saw several bears to include a very large male that strolled across the road in front of the truck. My only shot was through the windshield, and I took several until the bear disappeared into the woods. I made an animated GIF of the bear crossing the road. If you click on the below image, it will open up in your browser, and a sequence of four images will be presented.

Bear-Crossing-Road-1

After the bear crossed in front of the truck, we continued our search for more bears. Below are several of my favorites images.

Black-Bear-5

Black-Bear-at-Alligator-River-NWR-3

Black-Bear-11

Patience and persistence often pays off when photographing wildlife. I am not a patient person, as I am reminded regularly by my wife, but when outdoors in a natural setting, I relax and enjoy the natural world around me, and it often pays off enabling me to capture memorable images, like the images in this blog article, and in particular, the below two images.

Black-Bear-at-Alligator-River-NWR

Black-Bear-10

I have not posted any blog articles since November, but have been busy pursuing my passion for nature photography at many locations to include Florida. I am in the process of preparing other articles to include migratory water fowl in North Carolina, Wood Ducks at Prairie Creek Preserve in Gainesville, various wildlife to include a Bobcat on Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, and most recently, a Snowy Owl at Little Talbot Island State Park in northern Florida.

The images in this article were photographed with either a Nikon D700 or D800 and Nikon lenses to include a 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 600mm.

Comments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Like this: section.  You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in National and State Parks, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Barred Owl and American Bald Eagles

Barred OwlOn the Internet, many videos, articles, and images go viral, but my blog will never be one, and it is not expected. However, my blog did break another milestone today by exceeding 70,000 views. Such views and all of my blog followers are very much appreciated, since my blog provides a means to share my passion for nature photography and some of nature’s spectacular beauty that I experience. To celebrate this milestone, I am sharing a few very recent images that I processed within the last couple of days.

Above is a close up of one of the Barred Owls that lives near my home. They occasionally come very close to the house, allowing closeup photographs like this one. I have posted many of the owls’ images on my blog, but never a closeup. Owls are my favorite group of birds because of their dignified and majestic beauty, distinct calls, nocturnal habits, and silent flight. Did you know there are over 200 species of owls? Owls are divided into two groups: Barn Owls, consisting of 16 species, and True Owls, consisting of about 190 species in 23 genera. Some better known True Owls include screech owls, horned owls and barred owls.

Conowingo-Dam-Eagle

Above and below are two images of American Bald Eagles that I photographed a couple of weeks ago at Conowingo Dam in Maryland. The adult eagle above was flying above the Susquehanna River looking for fish, and below is an immature eagle also flying over the river.

Conowingo-Dam-Immature-Eagle

I was at the dam again yesterday with a good friend and fellow photographer, Ernie Sears. It was cold when we arrived at the dam, 26 degrees, but it warmed up as the day progressed. Unfortunately, it was not a very active day for eagle photography, but we did manage to capture some activity. I will be processing those images over the next few days. Ernie’s photography can be seen at:  http://www.fromwatersedge.com/index.html. If you enjoy bird photography, check out Ernie’s American Wild Bird website.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine-Falcon

Two weeks ago at Conowingo Dam in northern Maryland, while photographing eagles, a Peregrine Falcon flew very quickly in front of me and my camera, and I was able to capture the above image. I have seen Peregrine Falcons before and tried photographing them, but they were too far away or flying too fast to get a decent image. This one is not bad, not perfect, but worth sharing.

I photographed the falcon with a Nikon D800 and Nikon 600mm lens with a TC 14 teleconverter at 1/1000 sec, f/8 and ISO 200.

Peregrin Falcons are the fastest flying birds and fastest member of the animal kingdom, diving to catch their prey at speeds over 200 mph. They feed almost exclusively on birds. The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species in many areas because of the widespread use of pesticides, especially DDT. The Peregrine Falcon has made an excellent recovery since the ban on DDT and protection of their nesting places.

If you look closely (click on the image), you can see that this falcon is banded with a green identification band. Green bands have been used on Peregrin Falcons in Virginia since 2000. If you would like to read more about the banding of Peregrine Falcons, go to this website http://www.ccbbirds.org/what-we-do/research/species-of-concern/peregrine-falcon/report-sightings/

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature | Tagged | 5 Comments

Barred Owl and Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Barred-Owl-with-Fall-Colors

Last week, I heard a pair of Barred Owls hooting and carrying on across the lake. Occasionally, they fly over my house or perch in a nearby tree. After hearing them, I was hoping to see one so I prepared a camera just in case, and I was glad I did, because shortly after getting my camera set up, one of the owls perched in a nearby tree. Using a flash (Nikon SB900 with a Better Beamer), I was able to get the above shot. I have photographed the Barred Owls before, but this was the first time at night with the autumn colored leaves partially lit behind the owl.

Yellow-rumped-Warbler-3

Above and below are a few images of a Yellow-rumped Warbler that I photographed at Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge. Warblers do not stay in one place but for a second or two. As they search for insects, they are constantly on the move. Therefore, they can be challenging to photograph. I was in the right place at the right time and prepared, as this warbler searched a tree for food.

Yellow-rumped-Warbler-4 Yellow-rumped-Warbler-2

In the above image, the warbler spotted an insect and was just about to leap from the branch and out of sight.

I am planning a trip to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and hope to see and photograph some migrating ducks and snow geese, and will be posting a new article  soon.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Roseate Spoonbills – Unusual and Oddly Beautiful Wading Birds

Spoonbill-in-Flight

While in Florida in May, I photographed several mated pairs of Roseate Spoonbills. I was excited to see so many spoonbills and watch their behavior, and tried to capture some unique images. The spoonbill pairs were in different stages of mating, nest building, and raising young. There were a few pairs that were building nests; some with young chicks in nests; and at least two pairs’ young that had recently fledged, but were still at the rookery being fed by their parents. Therefore, there was plenty of activity and many photography opportunities. However, the spoonbills did not always cooperate (e.g., hiding in shadows, flying in the wrong direction, partially hidden by branches or leaves).

Roseate-Spoonbill-in-Flight

Roseate-Spoonbill-in-Flight

Roseate Spoonbills are large wading birds, spending most of their time in shallow water feeding, except when raising young. They are interesting to watch as they hunt for food (small fish, shrimp, mollusks, snails and insects), because they sweep their spoon-shaped bills back and forth in the shallow water for food. Scientists believe their pink and red colors are derived from some of the crustaceans that they eat.

Roseate-Spoonbill

The spoonbills’ colorful feathers were used to adorn ladies’ hats and fans in the 1800’s. Unfortunately for the spoonbills, by the 1930’s, there were only 30 to 40 nesting pairs, which were located on the keys of Florida Bay. Since becoming a protected species, their numbers have significantly increased to an estimate of over one thousand mated pairs. However, they may be in trouble again. In one of their favorite nesting areas, Florida’s Everglades, the number of spoonbills is declining. Poor water management in the Everglades has significantly changed water depths and salinity levels in Florida Bay, which is impacting the spoonbills’ diet. You can read about this at: http://www.audubonmagazine.org/articles/birds/roseate-spoonbills-send-warning-signs-about-florida-everglades

Spoonbill-with-Nesting-Material

Spoonbill-Resting-on-Old-Post

Besides their obvious red, pink, and white feathers, they have orange tail feathers, which can be seen in the above image and the last image. I really like the above image, even though the spoonbill’s unique bill is hidden, because of its “pose” on the tree stump and while trying to sleep, it kept a close eye on me from time to time by looking over its back when hearing my camera’s shutter.

Spoonbill-fw2

As you can see in the above closeup, Roseate Spoonbills have bright red eyes and both male and female adults have no feathers on their heads, which contributes to their very unusual appearance.

Immature-Roseate-Spoonbill

Above and below are recently fledged spoonbills. Their colors are muted, and they still have soft white feathers on their heads.

Immature-Roseate-Spoonbill-11

As mentioned above, a couple of the Roseate Spoonbills pairs had young in their nests (below). The young in the next images are about two weeks old.

Roseate-Spoonbill-Chick-in-Nest-Deep-within-a-Tree

One of my favorite images is below showing the pitiful look on a hungry chick’s face looking up to one of its parents, wanting to be fed, which is what all young birds are constantly demanding. Both the male and female spoonbills take turns on the eggs (usually 2 to 5) in the nest and both will take turns looking for food and feeding their young.

Roseate-Spoonbill-with-Chick-in-Nest

A couple more images follow of a pair that were building a nest deep within a tree.

Pair-of-Roseate-Spoonbills-12

Pair-of-Roseate-Spoonbills-13

The loving couple pose above. Below are a few more images.

Roseate-Spoonbill-on-Tree-Limb

Roseate-Spoonbill-about-to-Take-Off

Feeding-of-Spoonbill-Chick

Above, a fledgling is being fed. Unfortunately, I only had one opportunity for this shot, because as I came around to the right to eliminate the foreground trees, the spoonbills quit feeding and flew away. Below is the perfect image to end this blog article, since it is a tail-end view of a Roseate Spoonbill showing its colorful wings and bright orange tail. They are very unusual and oddly beautiful birds–Mother Nature has quite a whimsical imagination.

Rosette-Spoonbill-Wings-Spread-from-Behind

One more…this is the end.

Roseate-Spoonbill-Preening

Comments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Like this: section.  You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged | 12 Comments

Great Blue Heron Spear Fishing

Great Blue Heron (1 of 1)Last week, while cruising leisurely around Lake Montclair, where I live in Virginia, I spotted one of the many Great Blue Herons that also live on the lake. I brought my boat within about 25 feet of the heron, who did not seem to mind, because it was obviously watching a potential nearby meal. The heron was intently looking into the water and ignoring my presence.

Great Blue Heron (2 of 3)Within about a minute after getting close to the heron, it quickly plunged its head into the water with a large splash. The heron slowly pulled its head out of the water, and I could see that it had caught a small, unfortunate fish.

The fish was not moving or flopping about because, as I was able to see later on my camera, Great Blue Heron (3 of 3)the heron had speared the fish with both tips of its bill, which is the manner in which Great Blue Herons capture much of the fish that they eat.

The three images to the left show the sequence of the heron watching and catching the fish. If you click on the images, you can see them in more detail.

Below, you can clearly see how the heron speared the fish. Watching wading birds, like Great Blue Herons feed is interesting to observe, because the next step in the process is dislodging the fish from the end of its bill without losing it, and then getting the fish inside its bill and down its throat. I am sure that process takes a lot of practice and that young herons must lose a lot of meals.

Great-Blue-Heron-with-Fish

Below, you can see that the heron has managed to move the fish from the end of its bill and is about to swallow the fish.

Great Blue Heron (1 of 1)-3

After swallowing the fish and having had enough of me watching and photographing it, the Great Blue Heron flew off.

Great-Blue-Heron-in-Flight

I always enjoy being on the lake, and always take one of my cameras, since I never know what I will see. Clearly, it paid off last week.

Although obviously not a Great Blue Heron, I am including an image of a Carolina Wren that entertained me last week too, when it was hunting for insects among the dead leaves in a tree.

Carolina-Wren

Finally, one more image to share, which is a female Common Yellowthroat Warbler. that I photographed last weekend while at Leesylvania State Park. I was hoping to see more migrating warblers, but this was the only one. I hope to find and photograph more this coming weekend.

Common-Yellowthroated-Warbler-3

Comments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Like this: section.  You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Lake Montclair, Leesylvania State park, Nature, Wildlife | 2 Comments