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!
The weather was splendid today, if slightly cool for August in Northeastern Ohio. We took a little jaunt down to the Ira Road area of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to walk the wetlands boardwalk portion of the Towpath Trail. It wasn’t long before we spotted the first, and boldest, of three Great Blue Herons. This big guy was perfectly happy to stand in the shallow waters of the abandoned canal stalking prey as we watched from the nearby trail. I’ve a wonderful set of shots of the big bird staring, preening, and yawning. This closeup, however, is my favorite and possibly my prettiest shot of a heron yet.
The heron was, however, all about making a living and we as we watched it spotted something between the lily pads and, with lightning speed, struck at its prey full-force. Whatever the would-be lunch was, it got away this time, leaving the heron thrashing in the water, even appearing embarrassed as it flapped up to a log to shake off water and shame.
Within sight of the big bird I thought I saw something much smaller and less familiar but I wasn’t sure. Was it an upturned lily pad or, yes (!), a Green Heron! Typically skittish I fully expected the little thing to rocket skyward as I approached on the trail. Like it’s giant cousin, however, the Green wasn’t shy and went about its business with us watching. It had been about two years since I’d last seen a Green Heron and this was a welcome sight.
It was a great day (and photographically productive) in the soft sunlight and fresh air spent stalking the stalkers!
This morning we paid a visit to the heron rookery, or heronry, to see how the Great Blue Herons were getting on with their nest building. This particular communal nesting area is within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, at the north end of Akron. It was a fine, warm, spring day with large patches of milky clouds floating in a pale blue sky. A strong breeze flowed from the west-southwest and we could see the big birds struggling, at times, to control their landings high in the naked tree branches.
The bright cloud layers made many of our photographs into silhouettes; working with that was difficult but a few nice images emerged. Still, my personal favorite shots of the day were pictures that showed off the size, power, and primitive beauty of the herons — possibly my favorite birds to watch and photograph.
Today was a day off due to the Memorial Day holiday observance. Our little town had a solemn ceremony at a local cemetery that is home to a war memorial. We spent the morning revisiting the Bath Road heron rookery and neighboring Ira Road/Beaver Marsh nature areas in and near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). The rookery continued to be noisy with the chatter of the many birds occupying nests high in the trees. Once in a while a bird would leave seeking food or arrive bearing it for the burgeoning young. It’s hard to spot the birds amongst the trees but those nests that are visible harbor several large birds these days. I did manage to capture one bird feeding another — a tangle of necks and feathers — though that was even harder to see! Human families, too, dropped by to see how their avian counterparts were doing. I think in many cases the parents were more interested than their children in what the birds were up to but I was heartened to see so many people out appreciating the show.
The Towpath Trail, key to much of the popularity of the park, was seemingly busy as a freeway with families out riding their bicycles. Though a cyclist myself, I nearly forgot where I was and almost stepped into the path of an oncoming cyclist! Among the many visitors to these particular areas, however, were many birdwatchers. A small group of them, along with us, was surprised when a young Great Blue Heron alighted on a tree branch only about 20 feet overhead. After a quick preening, the bird glided down and landed in the shallow waters of the Ohio & Erie Canal, just south of the Ira Road Trailhead. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I quickly and quietly hiked down the trail to see what we might see. We were treated to close-up views of an apparent juvenile bird as it slowly waded in the shadows, seeking a meal. Though we were close, the heron seemed either not to care or was unaware of our presence as we took turns shooting photos from the bank of the canal. Plants and twigs blocked much of our view so when we felt we got as good photos as we could, we left the heron to its work and headed north on the trail.
We enjoyed the short walk along the canal and up to Beaver Marsh where nature-lovers were watching Tree Swallows, Wood Ducks (and ducklings), turtles, and fish. Nature watchers happily pointed out their discoveries to each other helping us, by the way, to see a Baltimore Oriole and her nest. The day was hot and humid so we sought shade and lunch around midday. It was, however, a fine day out once again and way too soon to be thinking about work!