March 26, 2011 — More backyard birds

Since we put up a bird display in the hallway outside my office, I’ve been trying to get some really good shots to go in the digital frame we have at the center of it.  After going through my collection, I found that there were some very common species that I did not have a really good image of.  I’ve been keeping my feeder full and blasting away in burst mode.

From Winter 2011

Some, like this one, I’ve already labeled for use in the digital frame.  This one would be better without the shadow.

From Winter 2011

This one looks fairly natural, but there’s a suet feeder inches away.

From Winter 2011

This mourning dove is right below the finch feeder.

From Winter 2011

These move so fast that it’s hard to get a shot without motion blur.  The catchlight in the eye really makes this one.

From Winter 2011

These obnoxious grackles will rob out most of my feeder contents, but they are beautiful birds.

From Winter 2011

I finally got a nice sequence of Tufted Titmouse, away from the feeder, even.  They also move very quickly, and usually don’t light anywhere nearby.  Click through to see more of this species, and a few more in the online album.

From Winter 2011

The red-breasted nuthatch is rare enough, and they don’t like to hang around the feeder long.  I’m sure this is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of one.  I’ll have to settle for it being on the feeder.

From Winter 2011

This killdeer was downtown by “The Slough.”

From Winter 2011

This is the “supermoon” we had last week.  It was overcast on the night it was full, but I caught it here on an earlier, clear night when it was 85% waxing gibbous. 

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March 15, 2011 — Sandhill Cranes

For several years now I’ve been wanting to see the famous sandhill crane migration in central Nebraska. It happens during spring break, which is perfect timing for me.  I talked Stacey into spending a weekend and a vacation day on this adventure.  We loaded the car with our luggage, all my camera gear, and the two dogs.  Big Guy rode in the back seat while Gretchen rode in the lap of the person in the passenger seat. 

As soon as we hit Grand Island we started to see cranes flying around in small flocks.  It wasn’t long before we saw fields full of them.  We arrived at Kearney some 8.5 hours after our departure and checked in to our hotel.  There was a tiny bit of daylight left, so I headed out for a brief attempt at photography.  The darkness was a bit overwhelming, however, and I got little but silhouettes in the sunset. 

From Winter 2011

Sunday morning we got up…to freezing rain.  I wasn’t sure it was safe to drive on the street, much less go out looking at cranes.  Later in the morning it cleared a bit, though it was still full overcast.  We drove the country roads, stopping wherever we had birds close to the road.   Fortunately, there was almost no traffic.  The dogs were very cooperative, and never barked at the cranes.  I took over 1000 shots, but most were too murky because of low light levels.

From Winter 2011

Sandhill cranes are big, beautiful birds, but during courtship they look absolutely goofy.  They have a variety of behaviors and postures they go through when dancing.  It was great to watch, even if most of the pics didn’t turn out.

From Winter 2011

Landing in formation.

From Winter 2011

One of the most interesting of these behaviors is stick tossing, which we observed many times.  This one used a corn cob, which was common (no surprise there).

We also observed some other birds; there were ducks and geese using the same resources as the cranes: roosting on the Platte River at night and feeding in the cornfields during the day.  All these species are on a stopover during their northern migration.

Lesser Snow Goose

This was a loner, but we saw flocks in the thousands many times.

White-fronted geese.

I haven’t seen one of these in decades, and I’ve never photographed the species before.

After we ate lunch in the hotel room, we came out to find snow falling–densely, and sideways like a blizzard.  It wasn’t sticking to the streets, but it would obviously make photography impossible.  We hung around the hotel room, napped and watched TV.

Monday morning dawned relatively free of clouds, but the area was covered in thick fog.  We went out on a preliminary foray, only to find that the birds weren’t even in the fields.  Apparently, they don’t take off when they can’t see where they’re going.  We burned some time by going to the Archway Museum and getting gas.    Afterward, we drove the fields again, ending up at the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary.  By then it had cleared a bit.  I got some bird-in-flight shots from a blind there. 

From Winter 2011

BIF

Dance party. 

We drove more roads, angling east toward home.   We found that when we pulled up, a lot of birds would start dancing, especially if it was a fairly open field.

From Winter 2011

Juvenile and adult.

At one spot, we had birds about 30 feet from the car.  It was the best positioning I got the entire time.  The light wasn’t bad, and after awhile, one of them started dancing.

From Winter 2011

Bowing posture, one of the best shots I got.

From Winter 2011

Tossing the corn cob.

From Winter 2011

Another corn toss.  I’m guessing the one on the left is the pitcher.

From Winter 2011

Maybe the second best for image quality.  Click through to see more on my Picasa album. 

We got out later than we had planned, but it was worth it.  I got by far the best images on the last morning, though the clouds moved in and limited the light.  I think I’ll go back again another year.  I sure didn’t get tired of it in one visit!

May 11, 2011–Waterfowl

As the Mississippi River thaws, plenty of dead fish are left behind.  Ducks and other birds migrating north take advantage of this abundant food source.  On an outing with my class this week,  we saw American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Buffleheads, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Scaup, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, and Canvasbacks.  It was too cloudy for effective photography that day, but today I went back to the same areas and got a few decent shots. 

From Winter 2011

Bufflehead hen

From Winter 2011

Bufflehead drake.  These were doing courtship behaviors earlier in the week.

From Winter 2011

Bufflehead pair.  These ice ducks won’t hang around long.

From Winter 2011

Pied-billed grebe, dripping

From Winter 2011

Pied-billed grebe–this was has a genuine pied bill.

From Winter 2011

Pied-billed grebe with a decent fish.  He was lucky the gulls didn’t take it away. 

From Winter 2011

Incredibly, he swallowed it in one piece.

From Winter 2011

Spotted at Wakonda State Park on my drive home.

From Winter 2011

A lone individual.  It had been hanging around some Canada geese, but ran from the water when I pulled up.  I managed to get some shots between the trees.  This one’s probably a cripple, and has poor prospects for survival.  It should be with a flock of thousands of Ross and Lesser Snow Geese heading north.