Monday, March 29, 2010

Sandhill Cranes and Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Not Alone:
After about 1 minute of observing the Sandhill Cranes I saw something flying toward me and quickly turned my attention to this beautiful adult Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Thanks to Jerry Liguori for helping me with the ID) who took a path right over me.  These are by far the best flight shots I have of this species, and my first of an adult in flight.  There was an Male Northern Harrier that flew by a little later but did not get this close.  It was interesting that the Cranes didn't even notice the Sharpie, or the Harrier for that matter, which are too small to take one of these birds.  The other songbirds in the area however did take notice.

And a few more Sandhill Crane shots to round things out....

Learn how to ID raptors by reading Jerry Liguori's Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors which features one of my photos

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sandhill Cranes

Cranes Invade:
A pair of Sandhill Cranes were found about a week ago in North Sea have showed up again this weekend.  Yesterday they were seen in Sagaponack at Sagg Pond.  I took the venture out there but once I arrived I realized I had foolishly forgotten my battery at home. . . no time wasted even looking for the birds as I headed straight back home.  The word got out again today that they were being seen in a farm field, so I made the trip (with battery in tow) and was annoyed when there was nothing in the field.  A trip to Sagg Pond didn't provide anything so back to the field I headed and sure enough they were there.  Lighting was awful and the background was even worse.  Took a while to position myself properly with the light and an acceptable background but I'm pretty content.  Hopefully they will remain a while longer giving me an opportunity for better shots.  There is a photo on the cover of this weeks Southampton Press by Evan Marks which is gorgeous with excellent late evening lighting - it's my hope to get a shot which can rival it.

A big thanks to Angus Wilson for e-mailing and posting about the location of these birds - I would never have gotten them without his help as well as the help of all those who have spotted and reported them.  

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sunrise at EPCAL

Harriers and Meadowlarks:
I woke up ridiculously early this morning to get to EPCAL in hopes of seeing a good variety of birds in addition to a skunk that was seen recently.  Unfortunately the weather is going through a bit of a cold spell and it was about 25* this morning - likely spoiling my chances for seeing a skunk ambling around but it didn't prevent the birds from putting on quite a show.

The first thing I saw when I arrived was a Northern Harrier perched on some vegetation all the way on the South end of the runway.  Would have been nice to get closer but the lighting makes up for it a bit:

Back at the entrance to the taxiway on the northern end of the property was an Eastern Meadowlark which I found to be quite scarce today in contrast with my first visit:

Back to the South end and the Harrier was annoyed by a murder of American Crows that were hanging out - the Harrier (a juvenile) tried out several perches perhaps trying to figure out what to do about these annoying raucous birds:

It didn't take long for the Harrier to decide to give the Crows a run for their money and chase off the most annoying of the bunch:

... it wasn't long before the Crow tried to turn the tables:

Bluebirds and more:
After driving around a bit I noticed some movement to the West of the end of the tarmac and spotted an Eastern Bluebird checking out the many nesting boxes setup.  I went for a walk and was surprised to not only find a few handsome male Bluebirds but a cooperative American Robin, and even better, 2 Tree Swallows who were probably far to cold to think about wasting energy flying.

and the 2nd Swallow. . .

As I took a few more loops around the runway/taxiway I spotted a female Northern Harrier perched on the ground and thought for sure it would bolt as soon as I stopped but it surprisingly stayed still.  I got into a better position - assuring I could get catchlight if I got the proper head turn.  I wasn't worried about getting closer so it would fill the frame as I knew it would take off eventually (the wind seemed to be bothering it) and had to leave room for the wings to move around in the frame.  The results are the best Harrier shots I have taken (after about 2 years of frustrating "practice" along Dune Rd" but still lack the catchlight on the eye:



And soar...

An American Kestrel was hunting in its "usual" place but was quite a distance away.  The auto-focus was struggling to keep focus because of the small size of the subject so I had to rely on manual focus for this shot - which I must say I'm pretty proud of.  Too bad the background isn't more pleasing.

More Swallows:
I was just about to leave when I saw a flock of Tree Swallows flying above the pond at the entrance to EPCAL and thought I'd see what I could get.  To my surprise, 3 Barn Swallows were mixed in the flock.  The lighting was getting a bit harsh at this point and I couldn't get the angle I wanted for most shots but still the best ones I have of this species together.

One of the Tree Swallows was checking out the nesting box to see if it was suitable.  Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds will nest adjacent to one another - but once a Tree Swallow has occupied a nesting box, it won't let another couple of the same species nest nearby, thus allowing the Eastern Bluebirds (who nest later in the spring than many birds) a chance to move in.  

Phragmites may be annoying and "ugly" but it creates a perfect perch for these light birds:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Montauk and EPCAL

It's been awhile since I've updated and in the interim have started a new blog for all things natural and non-avian. That blog can be accessed here: Wild Long Island or by clicking "View Complete Profile" on the right hand side.  Over the weekend I was able to visit Montauk at sunrise for some seal photos I've been waiting to get all winter (and now into spring).  While there I was able to take in some Common Eiders and a cooperative Song Sparrow:

After leaving Montauk Point, I noticed some crows acting odd and had a hunch they were harassing a hawk.  I pulled over and sure enough a Red-Tailed Hawk was perched on a telephone pole with Crows dive bombing it until it finally flew off.  Accidentally took these at ISO 1000 so they are extra sharp!

After hearing reports about Eastern Meadowlarks (which I've never seen nor photographed before) being present at EPCAL (Enterprise Park at Calverton) I decided to swing by after work since it's not too far out of my way and the lighting and temps were good.  As soon as I approached the former runway a Meadowlark shot across the road and hovered like a Kestrel letting me rip off quite a few photographs.  I have seen quite a few photos of this species on Nature Photographers Net (NPN) and was under the impression they allowed close approach - well the ones at EPCAL certainly can't be categorized as such as they spooked as soon as my car would come anywhere near them.  Maybe I'll have better luck if I go in the morning.

A little later in the evening I spotted this beautiful Eastern Meadowlark in full breeding plumage on a stand of Common Mullein:

Soon after this sighting I was cruising down the Western runway for the first time (I believe it has recently been "opened" to the public) and spotted a Female Northern Harrier who seemed to be cleaning her talons getting ready to catch her next meal:

It then flew in front of the sun for some nice backlighting on the feathers:

After this I spotted an adult Red-Tailed Hawk:

Next up was a pleasant surprise - an American Kestrel.  Have only had a few experiences with this species and this was certainly the best.  It paid no attention to my presence and let me get out of the car and approach a little closer on the grasslands.  It appears that it was hunting (successfully) some early insects - most likely grasshoppers.  Unfortunately for me however, this bird is really quite small (compared to other raptors especially) and even though I was "close" it still was small in the frame which results in lots of cropping and lower image quality.  The Kestrel was partaking in a distinct behavior called hovering where it abruptly stops in midair and quickly beats its wings like a hummingbird or steadies itself in a strong headwind peering down below waiting for the right moment to make its move: 

The American Kestrel blends in well to its preferred habitat: 

While the plant known as Common Mullein is invasive and not desirable in a "healthy" grasslands, it is a good perch for small falcons like Peregrines and Kestrels as this individual demonstrates:

I found another Red-Tailed Hawk which let me get 1 great shot before it flew off.  This is a rather unusual perch for a Red-Tailed Hawk as they prefer to be higher off the ground - but in a grasslands those types of perches are few and far between.  Unfortunately my AF didn't want to stay locked on the bird and ruined 3 potentially amazing flight shots.  Better luck next time.

I left for a bit to check on a reported Seal in the Peconic River not too far away and after striking out I thought I'd head back to the grasslands in hopes of seeing some Short Eared Owls which in past years have been regularly reported but only sporadically seen this year for unknown reasons (though sightings of irruptive species, such as Snowy Owls have been way down on Long Island).  There were no owls to be seen, but I did get another nice surprise, a male Northern Harrier, also known as a "grey ghost".  These are rarely seen because there are far fewer males than females of this species.  My last sighting of a grey ghost was about 2 years ago in a field in Sagaponack just north of Billy Joel's ocean front estates.  It's a shame the sun had just about set as my shutter speed was awfully low and the quality of the image isn't what I'd hope for but I'm still happy seeing and photographing this male hawk.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring is here

I meant to do this blog post on Sunday but mother nature had other plans, knocking out my power for a few days, so here we are and it will be brief in words and heavy in photos.

Last week an acquaintance of mine photographed a Snowy Owl (2 days after I had photographed "mine") on the North Fork.  It wasn't too far away and the next morning was supposed to be gorgeous so I thought it would be worth a shot.  Well, no Snowy Owl, but I found a beautiful Sharp-Shinned Hawk along Pier Ave. in Jamesport and a Northern Mockingbird at a small pond:

When I arrived at work a Mockingbird was being loud as usual and posed for me:

Here is a Red-Winged Blackbird from last week which I didn't get around to posting.  They are quite difficult to expose, but I liked the X made by the 2 pieces of phragmites and the nice lighting/colors:

This evening after work yielded the first Osprey of the season.  It was the first Osprey that I spotted last season as well and was munching away on a fish.  I'm a bit concerned about the nesting platform as this weeks storm caused the metal base to curl up which certainly will inhibit building a nest.  These are big birds and it's amazing how large the platform is:

As the sun was setting I spotted some mergansers on the West side of Ponquogue Bridge and this one had an odd habit of scurrying across the surface instead of swimming or flying, the lighting made for a beautiful scene:

Almost immediately after this photo I turned around and saw 2 birds flying off the huge wireless tower at the Coast Guard Station in Hampton Bays and snapped some photos.  At first I thought Mourning Dove based on shape and popularity, but a quick look at the LCD showed me something far better:

The pair of Peregrine Falcons flew south toward the ocean and I briefly thought about going back to that side to locate them but the sun was getting low and I still needed to run over the bridge and back.  After I returned from my run, I got in my car and was about to pull onto the road when I saw a dark bird shoot down toward the water then loop back up and down again before flying right over my head and landing on the big tower next to me.  One of the peregrines had returned.  Hopefully this means it is a nesting pair and they will set up on the Tower or the Bridge which is oddly their preferred habitat.  I'm not sure on this - but I'm venturing it will be the first nesting pair in Southampton Town in a very very long time.  I hope I'm not getting ahead of myself.