Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2013-07-12 LSCMP: Birds and "beeps". Green Heron and Marsh Wren

What a wonderful day! Finally the humidity left (for two days anyway) and I could breathe again outdoors! It has been great sleeping with windows open in lower temps. We had to get out and were well rewarded at Lake Saint Clair Metropark (LSCMP). (This used to be called "Metro Beach").  I shot tons of great pics with my new camera outfit of a Green Heron! 

We were first clued into the fact that something might be in the area by the bridge along the approach to the Day Sail parking area by seeing a stopped car there. The car moved along as we approached. I told Judy to be sure to check it out to see what they might have seen. We saw a Green Heron (our first this year) feeding in the creek. Judy shot several pics from the car. It is handy that when we go birding that she wears her Canon SX30 around her neck in the car!

I parked nearby, and 
slowly walked with my new camera back to the creek. Actually it is a used camera I bought from a friend and great birder and photographer, but it is new to me - Canon D40 with Canon IS 300 mm lens. It was "love at at first shot"!  I love the new outfit even more now!  I bought the camera outfit right after I sold my personal "albatross" of cases of sports cards from 1989-1994. It was a stupid investment, but at least I now have something useful that came of it other than basement clutter.  It was such great timing that even before I cashed the check I saw that my birding buddy was upgrading his photo equipment and selling off his old stuff. Indeed, some things are made to happen!

So ... I crept up on the heron. It was not too spooky and allowed many pics! I shot a series with the heron stalking wild edibles (bugs?) in the shallow water.

"Come to me my lovely morsels"
It flew onto a wood platform and interacted with a turtle for awhile.

I suspect if turtles could run it would have happened right then!
I know that would have scared any digested vegetation right out of me!

Turtle: "OK. I am leaving ..." 
Heron: "Me too".
I like this pic because it shows the great wing span for a relatively short bird.
It did not fly too far and landed by another turtle.

Turtle did not need to bail out - the bird left soon

Then it flew off into a nearby dead tree and posed, and posed, and kept posing for a very long time before flying away. I took dozens of shots of the bird posing on a couple of trees.  Life is good!
Great lighting shows the subtle green on the upper wings.
I love this shot!
While shooting the Green Heron, several other birds visited the tree. I saw and shot a Northern Flicker and a Flicker kid, a Downy Woodpecker, and seven more species. My day was complete just at this tree! I think I could have sat there for hours and kept sighting and recording birds at this "bird magnet". The dearth of leaves made the tree an incredible photographic opportunity. My experience called to mind a blog post by Kim Smith narrating her experience at one tree. http://natureismytherapy.com/2013/06/05/extreme-birding-one-tree-limit/

I guess this was my "one tree day". It is so wonderful that the park leaves dead trees in place rather than removing them like my condo association does! They provide food and nests - besides resting perches - and offer great photographic opportunities! Here is the main tree offering photo opportunities.

I could have watched birds at this tree all day!
OK, back to the heron. Besides shooting it posing, I was lucky enough to get several great pics (my best ever) of the bird in flight! WOW! I love this camera! The better glass - and especially the image stabilization - in the lens really helps me out!

Flying Green Heron. Wow! Did I shoot that?!!!

It's ... "Rocket Bird"! Wow again!!!
Someone told me to "go take a flying leap"...
"Look - I can balance on one leg!"
Then I think he got tired of posing  and told us where to go look for Marsh Wrens!!! (Ever have a Green Heron tell you where to go?)

"OK, you got your pics! Now go check out the Marsh Wrens over there!"
Before I wander into the marsh, I want to mention that while we were shooting the heron, I noticed that the car stopped on the bridge that originally drew our attention to the heron was now parked nearby and suspected it might contain birders. I really expected them to come down and see the bird. They did not - and we were there at least 15-20 minutes. After we went to the boardwalk, I noticed a couple head down to where we were watching the birds. We later met Rick and Connie on the boardwalk, and indeed they are birders. On the boardwalk, Rick was lugging one of those huge tripod/camera/lens things that I can barely lift. 
Fellow birders Rick & Connie at LSCMP

I want to specifically mention this because I was very impressed that they did not want to intrude on our encounter with the birds we were watching! It would have been OK, but they waited until we left the area before going down to look at the birds themselves! It really meant a HUGE deal to me! In this case, we would not have minded; actually I was hoping to share "our" bird!  We had our pics already, and it would have been fun to meet them then. But, obviously their concern was memorable to me.

So often the "big lens guys" get a bad rap - and a few times I have bad-rapped them myself because a few have crowded me out when I was watching a special bird in a limited area - usually at Magee Marsh. Yuk!  Cannot you wait a minute or two? BUT, it was SO wonderful to see an expression of - geez, I fail for words because it does not happen as often as it should, and I guess words cannot adequately express what I felt? Consideration! I finally got it -  yes, that is the word!!! I cannot believe it is a word that came so hard to me! I was thinking concern and humanity. What was I trying to say? (Geez, that was weird ...! But I am rambling ...) Anyway, yes indeed, they were so considerate! OK. That might be a good summation in one word for the "Golden Rule". And, yes, I am quite a bit embarrassed that when thinking of personal interactions, I had trouble remembering something so basic! Is it me - or is it when I consider (verb choice intended ...) "society" today? 

On the other hand, I have met so many wonderful bird photographers with big lenses, I truly know the few who seem to create unsavory memories are indeed the exception! Somehow the memories stick in my mind. Yes, I know I must "flush my mental toilet" of those remnants.  Today helped reaffirm my faith. 

I digressed ...

We left the heron and walked out on the new boardwalk for the first time. Wow, what a difference in Santa Rosa Marsh from a few years ago. Back then the marsh was so engulfed by Phragmites that we could hardly see into it! Duck hunters had forged a couple of trails into it, but we never had desire to slosh our way very far and missed all of the good birds reported by some birders.

A few years ago (really not more than 3 years I think ...), the Metro Park system did a controlled burn of several critical areas around the park including the marsh to eliminate the invasive Phragmites. I think they may also have applied a herbicide beforehand. Whatever, it really worked! What a huge difference! And, then, just this year, they built a boardwalk through part of the marsh. They were still working on it, and the approach from the Day Sail parking lot, but it is open. What a gift to less adventurous birders like Judy and I! 

As we walked along the boardwalk, I kept hearing unfamiliar songs. What is that bird? At some point a guy with binocs passed us, and I asked if he knew 
the song. Marsh Wren. Thanks!

Marsh Wren!!! This is one of the most "secretive" birds of all according to bird books! They were very abundant (maybe a dozen?) and singing everywhere along the new boardwalk on Santa Rosa Marsh at LSCMP. Many times I saw movement and heard singing about 3 feet away (!) but could never see the birds. They are right at my feet and I cannot see them in the vegetation. Fascinating, yet frustrating!

Rick and Connie joined us on the boardwalk. They had driven quite a way and had been on the boardwalk before that day. We really enjoyed talking with them and hearing of their experiences at LSCMP as well as Kensington Metro Park. Good company! We watched for the wrens together.

Marsh Wren
Marsh Wren
Finally a wren popped up long enough for pics! "Lifer pics"!!! Judy Setzer and I agreed that these birds are far harder to shoot than the spooky Kingfishers (we now have lots of Kingfisher pics ...). It is amazing how birds get thru the marsh vegetation! I guess the face-first thing works to their advantage with pointy beaks/bills leading the way!!! We humans have to start with our arms together leading the way to get the same effect... SO COOL to get this pic!!! And, (s)he is still singing in the pic - unconcerned about our presence!

WOW! What a day! At almost any point after shooting the heron we could have gone home completely satisfied.

Judy and I went to find some shade and chose a picnic table under trees by the parking lot. Some guy was laying out wires on the ground on a grassy mound. What is he doing? Then we noticed a large antenna in the center of the wires. Curiouser and curiouser. Fascinating. Another guy hauled a wagon to a table in the shade under the trees. OK, I was reviewing my pics and cooling off, so it was fun just wondering what would occur. It did not look like a regular picnic.

It turned out that Walt and John are members of the Utica Shelby Emergency Communication Society (USECA). It is an amateur radio club (ham radios). We spoke to them quite awhile and watched as Walt used Morse Code to communicate with people in other states. What fun! It had been years since I was exposed to Morse Code. Walt and John said if we were interested we should join them at a picnic on Sunday at Stoney Creek Metro Park on Sunday. 

Walt "Morse Code" in the shade at LSCMP.
You can see the antenna in the upper left.
Since I am just now finishing my blog post, I can relay we did so. Despite the heat (90 degrees) and growing humidity, we were very happy we dropped by to meet other members of the club. When we got to Stoney, they had three stations on the air. Walt was sending messages in Morse Code. Walt is a keypad wizard - beep, beeeep, beep - dots and dashes. As he listened to replies, he wrote down the message on a pad of paper. One of the members said Walt can send 30 to 40 words per minute using just the dots and dashes of the code.  Just like at LSCMP, to me it is just "beeping". He uses a pad to write down the messages as he hears the dots and dashes, and then has complete sentences. Well, actually, semi-complete. Because of the medium, the code guys use abbreviations for common words. Hey! The use of weird abbreviations in "texting" these days (because young people now want more immediacy and, I suspect in some cases, do not know how to spell anyway) goes back way before World War II! The ham radio guys got it first to speed along communications! For example, after entering their call sign to tell they are on the air, they start with "CQ" (i.e., "seek you"). It is the equivalent of saying: "Is anyone listening and want to talk?"

You might wonder why - with a global internet and cell phones - anyone would want to do the ham thing except for fun. Check out the name of the group - about emergency communications. Now think about 9/11 or the massive power outage a couple of years ago - or floods or hurricanes or anything that takes out the power grid and use of any cell towers with it! These guys are ready! The network of hams made a big difference on 9/11! 

On Sunday, we also saw one station using voice, and another with the ham rig hooked up to the internet with a special sound card. And all of this was happening with small portable antennas and being run on battery power from a local park!!! These hams do it all of the time - just to hone their skills and stay prepared. 

Fascinating! Darn! As if I needed anything new to grab my attention ... But what is life about except continual learning? Keeps me going!

Some USECA members meet outdoors at the Metro Parks frequently, and they accepted my desire to join their Facebook group, so I am sure Judy and I will combine birding with learning more about this great group! 

"Birds and Beeps"! Great day!!!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Flashing Flickers and more


Judy and I went to Stoney Creek Metro Park (Inwood Rd. area above the park proper) to see if the Bald Eagle kid had fledged yet. She - the eagle kid - (banders identified her as a a female) was still on the nest and moving around and flapping quite a bit. Another birder - Joan Bonin - said she visited at least once every day to try to catch the day of first flight and expected it would happen very soon. The nest was quite far away and pics are less than desired, but we had reasonable views with binoculars.

From the parking lot, we had good views of the cell tower where the ospreys are raising their brood. Joan told us that she saw two fuzzy heads of the chicks a couple of times. We saw both adults and I did get a few pics of the adults that I might add later.

"Best bird" was the "lifer" Yellow-breasted Chat! It is a large warbler and is rare in these parts. It is always cool when eBird asks me to comment so that my sighting can be verified! Besides knowing it had been sighted here, I was lucky enough to be assisted by a good birder - Scott Gridley. Scott and I chatted  :)  earlier so I knew he was on the lookout for the Chat. As we were leaving, we stopped to chat with another birder, and I saw Scott waving me back to the Mulberry tree where the Chat had been sighted. Thanks Scott!!! Post haste we backtracked and were able to see the bird in question. I suspect for most birders in this area it might be a "nemesis bird", but my life list (now 184 species) is so short I seem to get many great birds before I get some of the most common ones. Interesting! Anyway, we watched three Chat flights from the Mulberry to other trees and back, and I did get a great look with binoculars. Sadly no pics.

Yes, I know this was "chatty", but tried to use caps where needed. A "Chat/chat" within a "ramble"! Now that is cool - or at least I think so ... ;)


As in all birding expeditions, as Judy and I say "You never know...". So here are two sets of pics of other birds. (Finally the object of the story ...)

Sexy Feisty Flickers Fancifully Flashing Feathers (say that fast three times!):

As we were walking to the viewing area for the eagles, I spied two birds along the road. Wisely this time, I did not use binoculars first but raised my new camera. I lucked out to capture an amorous encounter! (The male is the guy on the left with the "moustache"...)

Do I have your attention?

She did seem quite interested ...!
Check out this tail!
Still interested!

How about these "pecs"!!!
Good try, but she lost interest and wandered away. Geez! How could anyone resist such a display? Maybe one brood a year is enough? Anyway, for me it was a wonderful capture!

My best ever pics of a "bug-eater"

While observing young Tree Swallows waiting for aerial parents to bring food, I saw a different bird on nearby vegetation. Here are the pics I took. I would appreciate verification of my identification of the bird as an Eastern Wood Peewee. In "the books", I see it could also be a Flycatcher - maybe a Willow Flycatcher. I think the under-tail coverts should be darker in the Peewee?

"Let's see if your new lens can find me in the weeds..."

"OK. Just in case, I will pose for you!"
(I love the clarity of the new lens!!!)

"Coming at you! Dare you to shoot me!"
(Geez! Another lucky shot! I wonder how may people ever shot one of these guys head on!)

Whatever the ID, these are my best shots ever for this set of birds. I just love my new lens! Cool!!!

So ... without rambling further right now ... I just post this addition to my blog now and await feedback.

I hope y'all have a birdy 4th of July!!! I think I had mine a couple of days early.

[BTW, this area is fairly close and is great for birding and we would visit more, but the access road is a very bumpy washboard from the local farmers' machines and the fast-paced drivers, and it shakes the heck out of our car, so we do not do it much. I just want to keep the nuts tightened ...]