Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sit and Wait - Bald Eagle Edition

Once again the "Spring" weather was completely uncooperative and the temperatures were quite cold with a biting wind coming from the North.  I have no problem spending a few hours waiting around for the nesting Bald Eagles to "do something" but the fact that it's almost April and there was snow (!!) on the ground made it a little less enjoyable.

When we arrived we spotted the Eagle a long ways off from where we were on the trail.  I checked on the bridge trail which leads to the island the bird is on and found a sign informing visitors that the trail is closed temporarily due to nesting bald eagles.  This was a real sign of relief due to the fact that last weekend a photographer spent a lot of time practically under the nest spooking the birds - then lamenting that he was surprised the bird took off every time he got near it.  Well, at least the Baldies won't have to worry about that - and a big thank you to a few of my friends who made the calls to make it happen.

While sitting around hoping the Eagle would do something of interest - we saw a few Mute Swans fight (related: NYSDEC updates Mute Swan Management Plan), listened to the incessant rattle of the Belted Kingfisher (this one was a male) and saw a few species of ducks zing by.  When we decided to leave - the Eagle had put up and disappeared but as we travelled down the Trail my wife thought to look around one last time to see if she could find it (She's much better at this type of thing than me) and sure enough it was a few hundred yards away from the original perch.  I went to show a friend of mine who had shown up the new location and after awhile some Osprey appeared - soaring well above the island and I knew that the Bald Eagle wouldn't be having it.

A short bit later the Eagle took off and flew back toward the nest, settling on a perch in order to defend his (her?) efforts against the pesky Osprey.  It was a short-lived tiff (unlike last weekends) but was fun to watch none-the-less.

Later in the afternoon I stopped by "Swan River Preserve" in East Patchogue to see if there were any ducks of interest on the pond as I had some past success with a male Bufflehead.  There were a few mallards and some Gadwall - but overall it was quite quiet.  I really hoped to get a shot of the Gadwall taking off (as they shoot up vertically, much like mallards) but JUST missed after waiting for the moment to strike (a nearby dog was sure to spook the bird).  After this I headed to Bellport Docks which has had some nice wintering waterfowl and would be a nice haven for birds with the wind out of the north - but aside from a red-necked grebe and some far off Buffleheads (or Bufflebutts as I like to call them) it was dead quiet.  Another stop yielded nothing but a frustrating Harrier and it was time to call it - but overall I was really happy to photograph Eagles once again. Next weekend (weather permitting!) I hope to checkout another nest (that will likely also be very far away) nearby (and whose location I would be more comfortable posting on this blog).

If you are interested in learning more about wildlife on Long Island and seeing beautiful images of what this Island has to offer (including many by me) - checkout this book by Naturalist John Turner:  

Here's a video of the Bald Eagle just hanging out (no volume).  You can see some "waves" distorting the image - this is from atmospheric haze caused by the heat moving the air which is magnified by the extreme focal length used.   

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I'm back - and so are Bald Eagles

After a nearly year long hiatus from posting on this blog (and instead focusing on my instagram account) I'm back and look forward to bringing weekly (and hopefully oftentimes daily) posts to this blog.  With the creation of the Long Island Wildlife facebook page (2,500 followers and growing) I realized that there are a lot of people from Long Island (and elsewhere) that are truly interesting in seeing what our Island has to offer.

So I'll start this off with a quick post about something that has generated a lot of buzz in the nature photography and birding community starting a back in winter (wait, is it still winter??).  Bald Eagles have for decades been a rare sighting on Long Island.  From time to time Birders or photographers would make a note of observing one flying high above - often times a subadult (which lacks the famous "bald" head).  I myself had seen sub-adults twice, once above Mill Pond in Water Mill and again in Flanders with a sub-adult perched on a high-tension tower eating a freshly caught fish.  But aside from these sporadic sightings, if one wanted to see Bald Eagles in the NY Metro area, you would head up to the Hudson near Croton and observe the dozens or more of Baldies that congregate there in the winter to feed on fish and carrion that was always plentiful.

This winter - Bald Eagles started being seen with relative frequency all across the Island.  Nassau, Central Suffolk and the Twin Forks seemed to have their fair share and after awhile it was obvious that there were many regular's across the island.  One of the more "popular" (read: most frequently observed) was a 4th year bird that had one silver band on its leg that spent time between Artist's Lake in Middle Island and Patchogue Lake in Patchogue Village.  While my wife and I tried often to find this bird - we never did, always "just" missing it.

Another mainstay was an adult (and often times a second along with some subadults) in Downtown Riverhead, right behind the aquarium (of all places).  After a few attempts at this bird, we finally got the timing right and I got a few wonderful photos of the first adult I'd ever seen on the island.  Later that day I saw a few more sub-adults further up the Peconic River.  Based on reports I saw on the facebook page and the NYS Bird listserv, I estimate that on the best days there were upwards of 30 Eagles from Montauk to Manhattan, with a daily average probably in the 15-20 range.

This past weekend, after getting a tip on a potential nest site, my wife and I found a pair of Bald Eagles at a local park.  It appeared from what I observed that the birds were incubating eggs and fiercely defending the nest (and their territory) from the recently arrived Osprey.  A report from a photographer we met there indicated a few subadults had been around the day before.  We are headed there again tomorrow in hopes of finding the birds again and getting some better shots.  **NOTE: The location of this nest is NOT being disclosed (for obvious reasons).  While it is at a publicly accessible location - I'm waiting on word from the NYSDEC regarding the closing of a trail which runs very close to this nest.  Once I've been assured of that and know that the nest location is common knowledge, I would be happy to share with others.  But for now, please don't ask as the nest is vulnerable to those who are not familiar with the site and their needs.

In the next week or so I'll try to elaborate on the Bald Eagle's recovery on Long Island including how many active nests there are and some reasons for their return.  For now, enjoy the images!