Since moving here late last year, I’ve wondered if the pond drew more than ducks and geese to feed, rest, and nest. This morning we spotted this beautiful Great Blue Heron perched on a tree trunk! I shot pictures as I slowly moved closer; the heron was aware of my presence. It wasn’t until the bird had enough of me that I learned, hidden below the edge of the bank was another Great Blue Heron! Hate to admit it: I was totally unprepared for the pair taking off together over the still waters of our pond. Still, I’m pretty happy with this portrait.
The weather hasn’t been very conducive to nature walks of late, that is if you don’t like getting stuck in mud! Over several recent days, however, there has been enough break in the rain to make trails more passable and skies a bit more cheerful. On a walk on the Buckeye Woods Park, Chippewa Inlet Trail we heard and encountered a number of birds I’d not seen before; most escaped my lens. My shot of the day, however, didn’t bear wings: it was a common American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus). I was delighted by the position of the frog amongst wetland reeds and how the scene led from light to shadow — a beautiful arrangement. The frog, perhaps to avoid being noticed, held perfectly still while I photographed. I’m quite pleased with the results.
On Memorial Day we visited the Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve — a spit of land in Huron, Ohio that extends into Lake Erie. Wetlands line the paved trail and the area, though small, provides habitat for many varieties of bird, and a rest and refueling stop for migrants. Bird songs filled the woods, and wildlife was easy to see, including two snapping turtles laying their eggs in holes they excavated along the paved footpath! My shot of the day at Sheldon Marsh was a beautiful female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). The bird alighted on a low bush and furiously shook and preened itself while I watched and shot photos. Then, all sorted off, the blackbird shot into the woods to go about her business. It was wonderful, in the truest sense of the word, to get out and explore everyday natural beauties.
The Red-Winged Blackbird announced itself from the branches of a small tree nearby. He allowed visitors to approach only so much, then flew off. Repeating.
For wildlife, springtime is usually when family life begins. The hard winter is nearly gone, spring’s warmth is moving in, and the hope of a summer plentiful with food is ahead; so it is with the Great Blue Herons. Large numbers of herons annually nest together at their rookery in Cuyahoga Falls, at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The big wading birds build nests of twigs and some surprisingly large branches, pair off, and raise their young. On Sunday, the herons were mostly quiet, little mating, nest building, or flying, and no vocalization at all. The sky was milky white with cirrus — not the best conditions for bird photography. Still, a silhouette can tell a story of the ancient rite of spring,
I had been told there was a Screech Owl resident within sight of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s (CVNP) Towpath Trail. I’ve heard about the bird for at least a couple of years. I had even been told where to look for the owl on previous hikes but never saw it or its hidey-hole. Though I wasn’t seeking the bird Sunday, I was on a little hike to see if anything was happening in the CVNP’s Beaver Marsh area north of the Ira Road Trailhead. As I began my walk, a returning couple said, “The owl is out today!” So now I had something to look forward to! Farther along, I could see a group of people stopped on the path, looking westward and off-trail … right about where I knew the owl was said to live. “Yes,” they told me when I reached the group, “there he is!” They pointed. They described how the owl could be seen: “see that snag? Now look for two trees behind it, and it’s about three trees over that way.” Directions like that didn’t help me much; it’s a heavily-wooded area! Finally, however, a patient woman let me stand behind her as she described the location and pointed… and there, at last, was the owl! The little bird was sitting at the bottom of an elongated opening to the hollow in a tree. From the trail, the owl’s plumage made it look very much like a part of the tree. Excellent camouflage. Far away. Darned near invisible! I was carrying my camera with a 400mm telephoto lens attached (~600mm with sensor cropping) and shot a few images. The owl never moved that I could see but the light changed as time passed. I could get only one clear view of the bird — fairly thick woods — but that was enough. So I captured my first images of an owl in the wild as it enjoyed the afternoon’s weak sun. Making the hike was a wise choice.
Walking in the Hinckley Reservation of Cleveland Metroparks today, the first day of summer, I spotted a group of visitors looking at something along the path ahead. As I drew closer I discovered they were watching and photographing a hawk! The bird was perched upon a signpost and did not appear to be bothered by the attention of nearby humans. Carrying my DSLR fitted with a 400mm telephoto lens, I was able to capture especially close-up images of the beautiful raptor at it watched for people and potential prey.
At one point a cicada flew within a couple of feet of the hawk and the bird turned to watch. Fortunately for the insect, it was just a bit out of reach for the hawk and, for its part, the bird seemed to think pursuit wasn’t worth the bother.
I left after several minutes of photography, moving around and a bit closer to my subject. Not wishing to spook it into flight, I left the hawk still on its perch from which it could see and be seen.
UPDATE: The original version of this post mis-identified the location of the Tree Swallow photograph. While there was much activity at Sandy Ridge Reservation, the nest box bird portrait was actually made at the Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve, Huron, Ohio.
On Monday we ventured to Lorain Metro Parks’ Sandy Ridge Reservation for a walk and to see how wildlife activity was going. In short, the protected wetland is becoming busier all the time. We saw Canada Geese sitting on their mounded nests, some just a step off the trail, and we spotted the first goslings of the season … all ready! A flock of Coots floated in one area, and four widely-separated Great Egrets waded, looking for prey. Tree swallows zoomed over the waters, between hollows in trees. We even spied a water snake catching some rays, that unusually warm afternoon!
We also visited the Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Huron, Ohio. Tree Swallow activity was very high there, and finding a bird that would stay perched for more than a minute was pretty rare. One swallow, however, stayed put — perched on a nest box — for several minutes, providing a great photo op! Among the numerous shots I made of the little bird was the one shown here: my best ever of a Tree Swallow, showing off its beautiful iridescent head and back. Although I have other good shots, the one of a little bird looking into the sky is my pick of the day!