Sighting an American Bald Eagle in Northern Ohio was once, not that long ago, seeing a rare bird. Fortunately the eagle population is growing and sightings are more common, though still thrilling.
A juvenile American Bald Eagle glided on the updrafts along the shoreline at the Lake Metroparks Lake Erie Bluffs park. While we eventually saw two eagles of the same apparent age, I was only able to photograph (above) this one; I believe it to be in its first year. The distinctive white head and tail feathers take about five years to fully develop.
On an earlier September visit to Sheldon Marsh State Park, Huron, Ohio a mature American Bald Eagle soared majestically over exciting visitors as it fished the shallow waters on a Sunday afternoon. We saw the bird swoop in low over open waters, apparently missing the fish it had spotted, then climbing high to continue its patrol of the wetlands. Other visitors saw the bird catch a fish, only to have it escape. Even a fierce predator misses most of the time.
Taking advantage of a recently-rare pretty day, we paid a visit to the Lorain County Metro Parks’ Sandy Ridge Reservation – a haven for nature lovers and, especially, birders. A long trail through swampy woods connects the reservation parking lot with a large, open wetland area. While most speedily hike the trail in an effort to get to the open area (or away from resident mosquitoes) there is much to be seen in those woods. The excitement began as we heard an unusual (to our ears) bird call — a Plieated Woodpecker noisily announcing itself as it dropped to the forest floor in search of insects in and among the decaying logs there. This particular bird seemed especially large even for a Pileated Woodpecker. We watched and photographed for a couple of minutes as it powerfully plunged its beak into soft wood, hopped from spot to spot, and then took off deeper into the woods. A Most Impressive Bird!
Along the shores of the shallow open waters of the wetland, we spied a Great Blue Heron. Expecting it to take flight at any moment, we were surprised when the heron tolerated our close approach; it was fully focused on hunting for fish. The bird, either fearless or (more likely) naive, slowly paced along the shore, wading in very shallow water, stopping when it sensed prey nearby.
This particular heron enjoyed three successes while we watched, snagging small fish and then swallowing them whole. Someone commented that the woodpecker was a beautiful dinosaur and, while that may be true, Great Blue Herons make me think of Pterodactyls every time!
The Sandy Ridge Reservation is a haven for Great Egrets; I see more of the big white birds there than anywhere else we roam. The egrets hunt, squawk at each other, fly from spot to spot, providing lovely contrast to the largely darker, more subdued wetland scene.
The wetlands of Northern Ohio with their crops of cattail reeds are ideal homes for Red-Winged Blackbirds. We enjoyed the blackbirds’ songs and raspy calls, and the shiny black plumage of the males with their colorful shoulder patches. More subtle, less visible, but wholly beautiful are the female Red-Winged Blackbirds with their streaked bodies and warmly-colored heads; they are a delight to discover.
We saw yellow warblers, water snakes, many Great Egrets, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, a nesting Bald Eagle, dragonflies, squirrels, Tree Swallows, chipmunks, turtles, and during our wood-lined exit, a little Gray Treefrog, all on our walk in the woods. It was a day full of wonder.
Sunday night, March 18, was to bring a lovely sight to our western sky: a conjunction of a very thin crescent Moon, with planets Venus and Mercury. I arrived at the Medina County Park System’s Letha House Park, where I have after-dark privileges, about half an hour before sunset. I was a bit disheartened when I saw the entire western sky covered with a mixed pattern of cirrus clouds. I thought, “Oh, well, even if I can’t see the Moon and planets, it should be a spectacular sunset!” I need not have worried.
While I waited I was delighted by the evening songs of hidden birds. That sense of peace was shaken by Canada Geese, jostling for nighttime position, squawking and chasing each other in the air and on the waters. The geese provided me with entertainment and some lovely scenes of sunset-lit ripples and splashes.
As the Sun sank below the horizon, the clouds thinned considerably leaving some streaks floating in the light, reflecting in lake waters. The sunset, while beautiful, wasn’t as spectacular as I might have expected but suddenly the Moon became visible, then Venus, and finally tiny Mercury — and brighter than expected.
So, I shot many photos, changing exposure and composition, and captured a few images I rather like. I was a bit surprised and disappointed with the captures from the Canon 7D Mark 2 camera (a “crop sensor” camera) — they came out “grainy,” even though I stayed with ISO 400 for the whole shoot; that’s the camera I typically use for wildlife shots, not scenics, and I normally don’t see the grain. The full-frame Canon 6D performed very well (its images are typically “smooth”) though I wish I would have increased my exposures — too many were too dark and not recoverable — I’ll blame that on trusting the camera’s built-in LCD panel whilst judging exposures. The LCD, of course, looks brighter in the dark tricking my eye!
Still, in all, a beautiful night for a gathering of Moon, planets, and sky.
At Lorain County MetroParks’ Schoepfle Garden last Sunday, I spied two snakes sunning themselves on the bank of a pond. The snakes became aware of me but unpanicked, moved into the water and away at a leisurely pace. As they submerged and wriggle-swam, the pair changed from dark and dusty — nearly black — to their true shades of brown, revealing beautifully-patterned skins. As the larger of the two reptiles turned to meet its (apparent) mate which had gone in the opposite direction, it passed by a large bullfrog. Wary of the possible danger the frog, though too large to be swallowed, held perfectly still as the water snake passed.
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.
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.