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.
March 29 was a beautiful day and inspired me to pay a visit to a very active heron rookery in the Summit Metro Parks system, immediately adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) at the north end of Akron. I was pleased to discover that the resident Great Blue Herons were still working on their nests, providing me with plenty of “photo ops” for catching them in flight.
The trees that support the heron nests are part of an open wooded area, affording the birds access to fallen twigs and other materials with which to build and maintain their nests. Every so often a bird launched from a treetop, glide away, and circle down to the ground. Strolling around for a while, the heron would find just the right stick needed and, grasping it in its stiletto-like beak, lift from the brush. High into the air, the bird would soar, circling around for the right approach, and ever so gently alight near its nest. Mates, if on the nest, exchange greetings and the stick may be handed off.
Because the woods are full of herons, smaller birds and animals, raptors are also present. I had been told about hawks and eagles being around and occasionally spooking the Great Blues but I hadn’t seen them. This evening, however, was different. First one motorist, then another visitor flagged me and described where a Bald Eagle was perched. The first site was distant, in the shade, with strong backlighting — none-too-photogenic. The second site, however, put the eagle in a fairly decent position for photography: well-lit with the sky behind.
Up til now, the only Bald Eagles I had seen in the wild were either perched far away or flying away from me but not this bird! Apparently a young adult (four to five years old), the eagle watched the rookery from across a road! The eagle’s tree-top spot allowed it to see the main rookery, a secondary nesting area, and an open field; an excellent location for passive hunting. I got some decent shots, even if partly obscured by tree branches!
Sunset was approaching and I wanted to check out a nearby portion of the CVNP called Beaver Marsh, so I packed up and headed down the road. The wetland offered open waters and open sky to the west and the possibility of some nice evening views. A few visitors were on the boardwalk watching native beavers go about their business. Robins and other birds were singing their evening songs. And Canada Geese were noisily settling in for the night.
As I watched, a small group of geese began to fly over the spot where a pair had set up for the night. One of the floating birds looked up and squawked loudly as if to say, “Go! This is ours!” The birds overhead kept flying, leaving those below swimming on rippled waters lit by setting sun.
I really didn’t want to leave — the sky, the water, and the sounds were so beautiful — but it was getting cold, and I was expected home. I do plan, hopefully one day soon, to return “after hours” to enjoy evening’s wings.
Too beautiful a morning to stay home, we paid another visit to the Ira Trailhead and its canal boardwalk in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). Birds have finished rearing this year’s young and have scattered, some have begun their migration treks. It was a weekday, during the school term, so the area was nicely quiet. We spotted a tiny heron plying the waters of the old Ohio & Erie Canal. A passerby had said there was a Green Heron just up the path; did they get the ID wrong? The bird was so small! Through the telephoto lenses we could see they were correct… it was a Green Heron all right though it must be a 2015 hatchling to be so tiny. The bird may have been small but it showed the behaviors of an experienced and aggressive hunter as we watched from the path. For the most part, and typical of herons hunting, the bird stood very still and stared at the lily pads and surrounding water; it jabbed once or twice catching some tiny creature for sustenance. Suddenly something on the far canal bank caught the heron’s eye: it stretched out its long neck, jerked its head around, and stood up its crest — the first time I’ve seen such a display by a Green Heron! The crest went down. The crest went up again and our little guy popped into the air, alighted in the water at bank’s edge, and a frog flew off the bank, over the alighting bird, and safely into the water! A missed meal for Green but froggy lives to see another day!
A Favorite Spot for local photographers is Blue Hen Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I’d never been there so I checked it out Monday afternoon. I found an open parking spot in the three-car lot (more space across the road) and made the all-downhill, 1/6-mile hike to the falls observation spot. The view from the park bench was all right but, of course, I couldn’t stop there. As have many folks before me, even a few just before I arrived, I found my way down to the rocky riverbed and set up shop. With little recent rain, the falls were down to a trickle but fallen rocks, green mosses and trees, and subdued light made for a restful scene.
Walking the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) this morning I was looking to get a good shot of the “solstice sunrise” over an icy wetland area. After some past efforts, I think I got something pretty good. Okay, this was shot the day after winter solstice, and it really wasn’t sunrise but mid-morning. In my defense, I’ll say the morning of winter solstice here was overcast so, if we had clear skies yesterday, this is about what it would have looked like! Anyway, it was a beautiful morning and the sun beamed brightly for a while over a wetland area of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park just north of Akron. We take what we can get!
After the sun shot, I walked south along the trail. Exploring the frosty landscape, I stopped to photograph something on a tree. To my surprise, a small bird dropped down and alighted about a foot from my face! Turned out to be a sassy little Chickadee who, apparently, has been getting handouts from visitors. I had no food to share but took advantage of the little fellow’s willing poses as it flitted from twig to twig. Often the little bird was actually too close for me to bring into focus with my telephoto lens and was always moving. I did manage to record a couple of nice portraits before my little Chickadee figured out there was nothing in it for him and zipped away.
The weather has been interesting if uninviting for a currently part-time photographer like me. I’ve managed to get out now and again and have added photos to my Google+ account. I have also neglected this blog and my portfolio site(s). Bad. Today we took a brief walk at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Station Road trailhead to see what the rails, bridges, river, and canal looked like on a dark, mild, and snow-covered winter’s day. I shot a number of images of slush-covered wetland areas of interesting color; I’ll need to work on those some more. A couple of other shots, shown here, rather illustrated quiet midday moments in the park.This year I hope to put together another photography show, enter a juried show or two (if I can find them), and possibly enter a contest, though I usually avoid those. For now, however, I’ll simply try and get out and shoot more than I have and bring back some pleasing images to share one way or another. Happy new year!