Words and Images from Ed Felker

Posts tagged “Birds

It Was an Extra Pair Anyway…

3 (1)I’ve been keeping these wading boots down at the river, hanging up to dry in the shelter that sits on the bank. That way I can make the trek down there in hiking or work boots and have dry feet for the trip back up.

This morning I went down to get some fishing in and was startled (um, okay, it scared the crap out of me) when I reached for my boots and a wren flew out of one of them right into my face. Once my heart rate slowed to double digits, I knew what the situation was without even looking.

2 (1)Yep. She had taken up residence in my Korker wading boot.

1 (1)So it looks like I won’t be using these boots for a while. Quite alright. I love wrens, and am delighted to know this clutch is getting its start in something I provided, intended or not.

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Game Cam Lost, Then Found, Then Tells Us Where It’s Been

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A few weeks ago, my friend Chris and I went to the river to set up game cameras, hoping to capture images of the beautiful wood ducks that have proven so skittish and difficult to photograph. On that same day Chris spotted where the owl had been hiding, so we decided to set up my camera trained at the owl. The camera Chris brought we would set up low on a tree in a little cove where I have spotted wood ducks before. It has a bracket that screws into a tree trunk, then the camera slips over the bracket and you’re ready to go.

Except we forgot one thing: To keep an eye on the river levels. An earlier rain was still having an impact downstream, and in no time the camera was underwater. Being airtight and buoyant, however, it simply lifted up off the bracket as the water got higher, and floated away.

We assumed it was lost forever. But tonight when I went to retrieve the bracket and scout another wood duck location I did some looking around. Low and behold, I spotted the camera in a debris pile less than fifty feet downstream of the tree on which it was mounted. Although it wasn’t above water for long before the water took it away, Chris and I were both anxious to see what was on the memory card! The camera, while it was on its little adventure, took 1,470 photos. Here are the highlights…

This is most likely a Great Blue Heron. I’ve seen them in this cove before, and while this neck is very white like that of an egret or something, some Great Blues have a mostly white neck. Regardless, pretty cool capture. But, cool as it is, I really wanted wood ducks.

DSC06946Oh my! A wood duck! And a beautiful photo of her, too. As I scrolled through the photos I anxiously wondered, surely the male can’t be too far away.

DSC06960Atta boy! How exciting, the plan worked. The camera was in a great spot and functioned perfectly, and we got lucky with our subjects showing up before the camera flooded.

DSC06956What a stunning creature. Would he grace us with a closeup?

DSC06959There it is! This photo and some of the others are cropped a bit, and there are a few others showing the ducks, but this is just amazing.

DSC06949Here comes the river. Compare this shot to the earlier ones showing the island across the way, and you can see the island is almost submerged here.

DSC06992Next we got dozens of photos like this as the camera floated on its back for a few days.

DSC07004I have about 800 images like this and have no idea what’s going on.

DSC07015It moved again and snapped several shots from this location.

DSC07496Things must have dried out by then, as this is obviously not a water bird. Funny to think about the surprise this rabbit got when that flash went off in his face.

DSC07810I almost skipped right over this one, but those are feathers, probably of a Great Blue again. Although it almost looks like a swan.

DSC07927And finally, the last creature to show up (not counting the spider on the cam in the first shot) is the one writing this story. I was as surprised as that rabbit to see this camera down there, and when the flash went off I knew it had continued working the entire time.

DSC08401Game cameras can sure be a lot of fun in between hunting seasons! I encourage you to secure yours somewhere out of the way of human traffic. You might get some pleasant surprises!


Exciting and Utterly Unexpected Trail Cam Discovery

On several of my unsuccessful attempts to sneak up on our resident wood ducks with a camera, I reached a certain point in my sneakery when a large bird, presumably a hawk, flew from behind me directly over my head, fifteen feet off the ground. On one such occasion I raised my camera to my eye and snapped a single, blurry photo as my target quickly flew out of range. This is that image. Four times I received this fly-by, never seeing it coming and never able to identify where it came from. I had been walking for hundreds of yards, I never passed a hawk on a low branch and couldn’t figure out why one would come from higher up to dive bomb me.

owl3Then my friend Chris joined me for one of my wood duck photo attempts and sure enough, I get the fly-by. But this time I had a witness. Chris saw where the bird came from: this giant hole in a dead sycamore.

owl1But it still didn’t make sense. Hawks don’t live in tree cavities, or if they do, Google hasn’t learned of it yet. Still, we were positive it was a hawk, and Chris absolutely saw it come from that tree. So we set up a trail cam on the only available tree facing the sycamore and left it for a couple weeks. I checked it tonight and the first image on the card put everything into place. It wasn’t a hawk at all, it was an owl! And the nest in that hole is inhabited by at least one baby owl.

IMAG0047What a special discovery! I wish I could get the camera closer, these images are enlarged and cropped.

IMAG0053Excitedly scanning through over a hundred photos, I almost skipped right past this one. But there is a Mommy or Daddy owl hanging back in the shadow of the hole, keeping a close eye on the fuzzy little tyke.

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I have 22 images showing owl activity, and they are all in the middle of the day for some reason. Between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. I don’t know why the sensor isn’t triggered when the adults go out hunting at night, maybe it’s too far away. Regardless, if the owl is making an appearance mid-day, I think it would be worth trying this idea: This shelter faces the river. The tree you see to the left of it is the Owl Tree. I think I will cut a hole in the back of the shelter big enough to watch through a telephoto lens, and see if maybe some patience can pay off with some baby owl photos.

photoIn the meantime, do any of my bird experts out there want to hazard a guess on the type of owl this might be? I can tell you that the adult bird that flew over my head was large, close to red-tail hawk sized.


The Wildlife Center of Virginia

Ed Clark, President and Founder of The Wildlife Center of Virginia, spoke this weekend at the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association Conference. His passion for wildlife is infectious, so when he invited attendees to stop by and tour the center after the conference, several of us jumped at the chance to see this state-of-the-art facility. Our tour was given by Director of Outreach Amanda Nicholson, who showed us many of the educational animals at the center. These animals were brought to the center for rehabilitation after an injury, and for either behavioral or medical reasons were deemed not releasable into the wild. As part of the education/outreach team, they were trained for participation in educational programs both at the center and beyond, at schools, fairs and other events. This Eastern Screech Owl is named Alex, and if she wasn’t tethered to Amanda, I would have smuggled her out in my coat! Click here or on the photo below for a brief video clip of the adorable Alex.

2Here is sweet Alex, getting a smile out of Amanda and everyone else in the room.

3Since 1982, the Center has treated more than 60,000 wild animals, representing more than 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians!

12During our visit, a badly injured Red-shouldered Hawk found alongside a highway was being examined. The center is a veterinary teaching hospital, with veterinarians from all over the world spending time training in the care of ill or injured wildlife.

4I liked this pegboard containing all the raptor hoods. Look at the difference in size between the eagle and kestrel hoods!

5Outside we got to see the enclosures where the educational birds reside. The campus also has several different sized flight pens for the bird patients to fly and exercise as part of their rehabilitation.

6The American Kestrel.

8This is a Great Horned Owl. It didn’t even look real!

10Next month Buddy the Eagle will celebrate his fifth “birthday” at the Center!

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The center’s mission is “teaching the world to care about and to care for wildlife and the environment.” And they rely on donations from people like us to do it. I encourage you to go to their web site, learn more about the important work being done here, make a donation if you can, or just spend some time watching animals real-time on one of their two Critter Cams!

cam

Note and Lesson: Just bring your camera everywhere, even if you don’t think you need it. I did not have mine today and very much wished I did. All photos and video are taken on my iPhone 4S.


2012: My Year in Photos

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My favorite photos from this year feature more birds than dogs, surprisingly, and more dogs than people, not surprisingly. The picture above, a wild brook trout being released into the cold, winter waters of Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park early this year, is my favorite. Holding a slippery trout in one hand while operating a DSLR with the other is a low percentage proposition. But luck is a big part of photography. At least it is in my photography. The best of the rest of 2012 are below, in no particular order.

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This misty photo of the so called Platform was one of the most popular images I shared on facebook this year. In fact, a few friends now have the print hanging in their homes, which is a great honor to me. This grownup tree fort is one of my very favorite places, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word.

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I chased this impossibly vibrant sunrise around for a half hour before work one morning, looking for an interesting foreground to silhouette against it. When I came across this tree with a group of black vultures perched in it, I hurried to get this shot as the fleeting, red was fading with each passing moment.

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The blog post that featured photos from the falconry event I attended was featured on the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ page, an incredible honor that brought many new viewers to this blog. Welcome and thank you to those who still follow from first seeing it there.

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Something about grey, snowy days make me want to capture them with the camera, but it’s challenging. I’m really going to put an effort into photographing some winter scenes this year.

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We are lucky enough to see bald eagles regularly where we live, but they are hard to get good pictures of without a zoom lens. I got lucky as I had borrowed a nice lens from a friend and had it when this eagle came around. Taken from our back yard in Virginia, that is the town of Brunswick, Maryland across the river in the background. I’m happy to report that my wife got me a 75-300 lens for Christmas! So look for more eagles and other wildlife pics in the future!

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A brown thrasher sits on her nest protected by the thorns of a lemon tree at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia.

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None of my photos are technically perfect. But sometimes they are so flawed that they become interesting in a more abstract way than was originally intended.

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Low light photography is equal parts fascinating and frustrating to me, and extremely rewarding when it works out. This is an evening shot from our place looking out over the Potomac River.

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I wrote a blog post I’m pretty proud of about the space shuttle Discovery and what it meant to be present for this historic event. You can read that post here.

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Oddly, my favorite photo from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum shows neither water, nor a boat.

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I have better pictures of ducks, and better pictures of snow. But I love the mood of this picture of ducks in snow, taken at my next door neighbor’s pond.

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Same pond, different time of year. Here a green heron is chased by a female wood duck as they both try to escape a clod without a zoom lens trying to get close enough to take their picture.

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This is one of those technically flawed, lucky shots that turned out nicely. I was unaware as I was composing the photo in the viewfinder, that the balcony rail was aligned with the line in the background where the snowy foreground meets the woods. The result is an interesting effect, I think. I’m surprised at how many of my favorite shots came on less than pleasant weather days.

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These amazing miniature donkeys are hard to photograph in the same way puppies are: They are affectionate and curious about the camera, so by the time you get down to their level, they’re in your face wondering what you’re doing and if you have any treats.

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The Virginia State Police would surely be alarmed to know how many photos I have tried to take of my dogs in the rear view mirror. This is a challenge while parked, never mind while driving. But I love this one of Finn and remember exactly the day I took it because that’s my 3-weight Scott fly rod in the rack. We were on our way to the Rapidan.

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I love this photo of Winnie, taken on a summer kayak outing. You’ve seen a cropped version of it before, it serves as the masthead image for this blog, but I thought the entire image warranted extra mention here.

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My first, hopefully of many, trip to Yellowstone National Park was a life changing event. It is an extraordinary, magical place I will never forget, and a place I will long to return to more each day until I drive through its gates again.

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Another gloomy, blue-grey day, in the woods near our house.

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Ever tried to take one picture of four dogs? It’s not easy, but I’m really happy with this one. Clockwise from top left: Finn, Petey, Monkey and Winnie.

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2012 had a few amazing lightning shows. I was lucky enough to capture this strike from our deck. The rain had stopped but the lightning continued for more than an hour, the perfect opportunity to try to capture it.

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I love this little bird, walking on his tiptoes on a sun bleached dock at St. Michael’s, Maryland.

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A bull elk bugles in Yellowstone. I had never seen elk before this day, nor heard their bugle. I was very lucky to capture this on the first day I experienced both.

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My friend Anna and I stood in the bitter cold trying to capture a meteor from the Geminid shower in December. This was one of the brightest of the night.

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Driving on a Montana highway, when we saw this amazing old car with a tree growing out of the roof, my friend Joel turned the car around so I could get some pictures of it.

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We had the privilege of attending a local Mexican Rodeo, an incredibly fun day immersed in culture, food, drink and awesome people.

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In Washington, DC for Memorial Day and the mind blowing Rolling Thunder rally, I took hundreds of photos. But I like this one best.

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Fun with dogs, fly rods and waterproof cameras. I’m fascinated by the turbulence in the water and how the camera captured it.

Maybe my favorite of the night. It was great to watch (and photograph) these with the reflection on the Potomac. - 2012-07-02 at 22-09-07
Another low light image I’m pretty happy with. This was taken from our yard, my guess is probably some time in early July.

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Nature is full of surprises. Who knew butterflies looked like this close up? Not me!

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Finn and I are similar swimmers. We dog paddle, poorly, and never open our eyes under water.

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Another accidental photo I ended up liking. While fishing for smallmouth, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. I had it set on macro, so it kept trying to zoom in and focus closely. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire fish, but I love the textures of the fish and water here.

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It was hard to choose one photo from Slough Creek in Yellowstone. Simply the most beautiful place I have ever had the honor of being. We hiked in about six miles to get there, and the moment we arrived, I was sad at the thought of having to leave it later.

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Hiking with ‘Team Orange,’ my two Wirehaired Vizslas, has been a recurring joy this year. But I seldom come back from a hike with a photo of them I’m crazy about. This is an exception.

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On the same night as the meteor shower, I captured this peaceful image of a vintage tractor, quietly rusting beneath the winter sky.


Wood Ducks and Green Herons


My neighbor sent me a text today saying there was a wood duck with ducklings in his pond. There are a few birds I see here from time to time that I have had no luck whatsoever getting close enough for a photo. Wood ducks are one, and the beautiful green heron is another.

Well one of the reasons I never get good shots of these is I don’t have a long lens. My 15-85mm all purpose lens is literally that, because it’s the only lens I own. So I end up spooking most birds long before I get close enough. When I reached the pond, I saw the female wood duck and two ducklings, staying close to the weeds along the edge of the pond. And standing right nearby were two juvenile green herons.

The birds must have felt safe tucked in the weeds because they allowed me to get fairly close. But enough was enough, evidently, and in a burst of water and feathers and motion the duck and two herons bolted from the grass and flew to the far side of the pond. I snapped a few photos and really like the one above, two elusive subjects captured in one frame. Never mind how dorky that heron is (let’s hope he grows out of that awkward phase!).

After a pause, the ducklings made a break for it and paddled their hearts out to meet up with Mom across the pond. Luckily I still had the camera ready, because this was cute to watch them cut those little trails across the top.


Four New Neighbors


Our local blue birds have comfortably set up camp in the house we installed for them on our paddock fence. It’ll be fun to watch their progress!


Repurposed

I followed about a mile of deer trails with the dogs this evening, searching for antler sheds. No antlers spotted, but I did find this special little nest that must have blown out of a tree with the recent high winds we’ve been getting. I don’t know what kind of bird made it, something about wren sized I would guess. But I love the threads of frayed, plastic tarp this industrious bird weaved among the twigs.


Falcons, Hawks and Lucky Rabbits


“I swear I’ve seen a lot of stuff in my life, but that…was…awesome.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Really, Ed? Starting a blog post about the ancient art of falconry with a quote from Tommy Boy?” Well sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. And besides, I want to be able to capture all the web traffic from people who might Google the terms “Chris Farley” and “Rabbit Hawking” together.

When I learned the Virginia Falconers Association was having a meet not far from where I live (which was right after I learned that falconry was practiced at all in this part of the U.S.), I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about. I will be writing more about the sport and my day, but for now I wanted to share my favorite photos from this amazing experience. I hope you enjoy them.

(The beautiful bird pictured above is a first year, or “passage” Red-tailed Hawk named Kingsley. Thank you C.B.)

Gyrfalcon

A Gyrfalcon soars above rural Virginia.

Eva and Kira.

Eva with her Red-tailed Hawk Kira.

Harris Hawk

A close look at the beautiful Harris Hawk.

Eva King and Kira (Red-tailed Hawk)

Eva releases Kira in pursuit of rabbits.

Eva King and Kira (Red-tailed Hawk)

We spotted three rabbits, or possibly one rabbit three times. But came back empty handed. The closest encounter involved a rabbit almost running into Eva's feet, but Kira was tied up at the time.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Kira scanning the woods.

Red-tailed Hawk.

As the hunting party moved, Kira flew from tree to tree above us.

Gyrfalcon

Andrew's stunning Gyrfalcon, Arc.

Gyrfalcon

Arc sitting patiently for photos while Andrew answers questions.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Kira.

Hawks

The birds seemed to be used to each other as everyone met before the hunt. but the only birds that can hunt together are Harris Hawks like the one in the foreground here.

Red-tailed Hawk.

Even without the hunting, which was an incredible experience, just being close to birds of prey is unforgettable.

Red-tailed Hawk

Hawks (this is Kira the Red-tail) use their feet and talons to kill their prey. They are strong and wicked.


Bald is Beautiful


Being lucky enough to see American Bald Eagles fairly regularly where you live but never being able to get a good photograph of them is, as the expression goes, one of those good problems to have.

My closer brushes (there was one yesterday when I didn’t know an eagle was perched in a tree I was directly beneath) usually catch me off guard without a camera. But this morning I saw a pair hanging out in our sycamore tree by the river. I got the camera and came back out, and tried to be stealthy and get a little closer. I shot a few through the trees (photo below) where they probably couldn’t see me, but as soon as I tried to step closer they casually flew away, not particularly threatened but I’m sure I made them uncomfortable, even from a hundred yards away. Later, while I was at my desk writing this blog post, a single eagle landed in plain view of my studio window! I went back out with the camera and caught him leaving, headed downstream.

I put the pictures on the computer and, yet again, realized I’m just not close enough to get a decent shot. Certainly not with my 15-85mm lens. But the subject matter warranted some more effort, so I decided to just mess around with some effects. I’m pretty new at these effects, they’re fun to play with but the program I’m using (a demo) is cumbersome and very slow. Still, I like my results here, and hope you enjoy them too.