Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Binos

Just a quick post to say a big thanks! to my Mom and Dad for my recent b-day binoculars.  After reviewing the Canadian Tire flyer one day, I guess I had remarked to Holly that there were some nice binoculars on a really good half price sale.  But, I was going to be content with the $8 pair I had bought earlier in the year with the boys.  Both the boys and I had all bought an inexpensive pair of binoculars which CT had had on a crazy sale.  I ended up not really using them because, well... really didn't work very well.

new Bushnell binoculars beside the old Tasco

I guess a little birdie told my parents my comment, because I had not passed on any suggestions to anyone.  The new binoculars are a a huge improvement. They're Bushnell's Banner model.  Aside from the obvious difference in quality, one big difference is the size of the optics. The old ones were 10 x 25mm (10x power, and 25mm diameter lenses). The new ones are also 10x power, but 42mm diameter lenses.  The old ones felt like I was looking down big straws and only the centre of the view was really ever clearly in focus. They're significantly larger, but worth that inconvenience given I can actually see through them.  So, thanks very much Dad and Mom.  I'm enjoying them!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thanksgiving with a Bunch of Nuts

This year was my side of the family's turn to have us around for Thanksgiving.  We try to alternate back and forth between the two, and this year we were at my parent's house.  We headed to the park for some fun with all the nephews and nieces.  The kids got all the uncles and Grandparent involved in a game of tag - boy, all I distinctly remember about that is that I'm out of shape!  I'm sure the neighbours were wondering why a bunch of grown men were climbing all over the playground.  Yes, us brothers are a bunch of nuts when we get back together.  But I always say, "I hope I never grow up all the way."  I think I was balancing out some of my other "too serious" moments.

My brother Dan had his camera there too and we spent some time wandering the park afterwards, trying to capture some creative pictures.

Dandelion seed ball.

Fall coloured Maple leaves.

Soft Maple leaves.

Mom and Dad have a couple of nice feeders in the back yard, and a couple Nuthatches and Chickadees were having a festive feast as well.  Nuthatches take a seed, and then fly over to a tree with bark that has crevices or enough relief in it to place the seed.  Then they split the shell and remove the tasty "meat" inside for a meal.

Red-breasted Nuthatch placing
a seed in a bark crevice.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

And my two favourite shots of the day...

White-breasted Nuthatch

So Dan, when are you going to post any of your pictures?!? :)

We gathered inside that evening for the usual feast prepared by all our wives and enjoyed great food, visiting, and wrapped up with some hearty singing.

And a quick note tucked at the end here... my Blogger page counter ticked over 10,000 views about a week ago.  Seems kind of strange that so many people have visited the blog.  On May 13, 2011 I made my first post on this blog.  I had intended to share pictures with some friends who had been on a trip with us and were interested to see some of my pictures, and thought maybe a few other people might bump across the site. 

I've enjoyed sharing the pictures I've taken and rambling about my outings.  But one thing I never anticipated was the opportunity of getting to know a number of other people across Southern Ontario who also enjoy wildlife and capturing it on camera.  I've ended up emailing some of you for helps with bird IDs.  Posting comments on each other's sites is a nice way of sharing in the excitement of a new bird or telling of an interesting experience had while out enjoying the beauty of creation. I've even met a few of you in person, bumping into you on trails. I would count it a privilege to meet others from further away that I've not yet met in person (Dwayne, Tiffanie to name two).  Some day.

I'm still somewhat surprised that that many people have wandered by these pages, but I hope you're inspired to either get out and enjoy the marvelous diversity and beauty He's created for us to enjoy, or at the least, you are able to get little glimpses of it all through these pictures.

Take care,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To Bancroft and Back

As mentioned in my last post, a couple weeks ago we were up north at the Lodge with friends and family.  Towards the end of the week, I wanted to take a few hours and tour the countryside.  I actually contacted Mike Burrell, an avid birder who also blogs, and, until recently, lived in the area.  I was hoping he might point me to some hot spots for this time of year in the Bancroft area.  He gave me a few suggestions, but they were further west than I hoped to go in the short time I had.  He also pointed out to me (the South-western Ontarian that I am) that up in this area, touring pretty much any back road is likely to result in finding what is moving through the large "wildernessy" expanses of the area.  It turned out to be quite true.

I first headed to Bancroft to do a few errands, and on the way, spotted this small flock of black birds.  I pulled over, and tried to approach but they quickly flushed into the trees and then headed off to a more isolated part of the forest.  It wasn't till looking at the pictures later, that I saw something peculiar.  It was obvious that the birds on the ground were Common Grackles, but looking closer, noticed peculiar tail feather configurations.  No amount of searching on the net gave me even any hints.  I emailed the pictures to my two trusty sources (Dwayne Murphy and the Scholtens father-son team).  I think it ends up that I caught pictures of molting Common Grackles, and not some rare Blackbird of some sort.

Common Grackles -
Some with molting tail feathers producing an interesting feather configuration.
My errands done, I headed up the granite cliffs along a steep lane to Eagle's Nest Park and Lookout.  The view from the lookout was nice, but southwest winds and cloudy skies were not suitable for any raptor migrations.  I did actually see a hawk buzz right over my shoulder and into the woods at one point, and swoop up the path into the forest.  I followed but never found it back.  About the only thing on wing I saw there was a very different dragonfly which was patrolling near the lookout and landed on the railing briefly for a picture.


After trying to find the illusive raptor, I bumped into a gentleman who was collecting buckets of acorns.  Apparently it was a bumper crop this year and they were bringing them to a tree nursery to be start and become seedlings for planting in parks and wilderness areas.  He pointed me to the trail which circles the park.  I'd been to the lookout a number of times but never walked the trail there.  Many of you who read this  have been up to Eagle's Nest likely skipped over the trail like me.  Next time you should hike it.  It's beautiful.  Here is a link which has a map if the trail.  The trail passes through a cool valley with dense trees and mossy ground, and then climbs back up onto the granite outcrop which Eagle's Nest is known for.  You'll see a large pond which is perched hundred's of feet above the surrounding area, and then walk along the stone ridge overlooking the northern vistas of Eagle's Nest "mountain.

As I headed down the trail, almost right away I walked through a small group of warblers busily chasing and catching insects in the oaks and maples above.  They were Black-throated Green Warblers and ended up being life bird #101.

female Black-throated Green Warbler

male Black-throated Green Warbler

to the perched "Lake" up on Eagle's Nest rock

Beaver's work at perched Brethour Lake

Brethour Lake (taken with my cell phone - thought I'd try the panoramic mode out)

I was not intending to be gone for too long, so I rushed this trail.  I could have stayed and enjoyed much more.  Definitely a spot to return to in the future.

As I headed back to the Lodge, I noticed a few Turkey Vultures circling relatively low, and passing quite close over the road. I stopped, thinking I might get a few nice flight pictures.

soaring Turkey Vulture

Canadian Thistle flower

As I took pictures of the soaring birds, I noticed they seemed to be a few of them and they were really concentrating on one location.  Even though I sheepishly thought I was probably just making the stereotypical  assumption that there must be something dead they were interested in, I crossed the road, and walked to a clearing.  As I rounded the corner, a Turkey Vulture flapped its way out of a tree nearby and laboured up into the sky and circled closer overhead.

One of the MANY Turkey Vultures I flushed out.

Well, that was the first of about 25 that I flushed out as I rounded the corner further and walked deeper into the clearing.  That was after I caught whiffs of the distinct odour of something dead.  My nose lead me in the right direction and the many vultures confirmed I was in the vicinity of what had attracted them.  There was a dead White-tailed Deer which had been dumped down a bank.  I saw a set of tire tracks directly up the bank from the deer and wonder if it was a road kill which had possibly been brought there... It did look like there was a bullet wound right at the kill location above the front legs and behind the neck.  Who knows, but the Turkey Vultures were certainly not going to worry how it got there.

dead White-tailed Deer

Most of the huge birds flapped away and either circled me above, or found more distant perches to wait me out.  Two lingered long enough for me to get very close and get full frame shots!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture on the top of the bank above the deer.
A Common Raven had also joined the scavengers and though a poor picture, still better then the only other picture I'd gotten earlier in the summer.

Common Raven

Again, I figured I'd better get going, and cut short what could have been a very interesting place to stay and watch from a bit of a distance.  I'm sure they would have gotten used to me and I could have watched an interesting scene.

But, my trip back was not going to be quick.  As I rounded a bend, a young doe and a fawn were at the side of the road.  The doe didn't like my slow approach with the camera out the window, but the fawn stayed long enough for some nice pictures.  

White-tailed Deer fawn

White-tailed Deer fawn showing its namesake.

When it finally headed for the cover of the forest, I noticed there was an older, larger doe there as well.  It was much larger than the other doe, and had a greyish coat than the other's more tan.  It stared me down and I was able to slowly drive closer, crunching along the gravel road before it elegantly bounded into the forest after the other two. 

White-tailed Deer doe.
Well, with the afternoon really getting on, light fading, and the spit of rain starting to hint at more than that coming, I headed for the Lodge once again.  But, I'm afraid I didn't make it with that departure either.  In a small pond beside the road was a Great Blue Heron sharing the water with a number of Mallard ducks.  The males were just getting their colours (or were they molting and getting them back?)

Mallard Ducks just getting their colours.

Great Blue Heron - just landing.

Great Blue Heron

I scrambled over some blue berry clumps and through soggy ground and long grass to get closer (never close enough though!).  The heron seemed less concerned about me than the ducks, but eventually the soggy ground and water stopped me.  I was able to watch and see it catch a frog though.

Great Blue Heron - hunting

Great Blue Heron with frog.

I did eventually make it back to the Lodge.  By that time the rain was spitting harder and I had no choice but to follow the road, looking neither left or right lest I be tempted once more.   A great afternoon out in the "wilderness" of the Bancroft area.  Until next year.  Or, maybe a winter trip?  We'll see!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Lot of Tails

So yes, except for one of the items in this post, they all have a common element - a tail.

A few weeks ago we were able to take a week off and head up to the Lodge for a week, first with some good friends of ours and then family joined us for the rest of the week.  Being up at the Lodge during the fall is completely different than during the summer.  The bugs are gone and we can actually hike in the trails in the bush, the colours are already started compared to home which is a couple hours south, and the crisper temperature mean the woodstove is on to warm the place up.  Evenings are inside with games and talks in the great room.

Our good friends Adam and Kerri have boys almost the same ages as ours, so we hiked all but one of the trails in the "back forty".  Coming back from the trails, the boys brought back tales for the moms (Ok, corny and a stretch!)

Crazy gang of hikers!  Adam and his boys with mine.

Some bright fungi on a log.

More fungi on a tree stump.

But, on our way back from one hike, we must have just scared off something eating a Garter Snake it had caught.  The kill must just have happened because even though it was half eaten, when touched, the tail would still constrict and grip your finger.  I really wonder what we scared off.  Too bad we didn't see it.  The boys were quite fascinated by it though.  (There is tail #2)

Half-eaten Garter Snake.

Throughout the week, I was also glad to get a number of  opportunities to get some nice pictures both around the grounds and on an outing to Bancroft one day.

In a canoe ride fishing on the lake with two of my boys, we were surprised by a big splash and soon spotted a beaver. We were close enough to shore to go back and get the camera in the fading afternoon light and followed him around to get quite close.


 A bad picture of the "splash and dive". (but tail #3!)

By the lodge, I got a couple other pictures of interest... One of a daring Red Squirrel which chewed into Holly's plastic container to get at some homemade Sweet-Marie bars, got it open and managed to get a way with a huge square.  Later, it was found licking off the spoon from one of our Apple Crisp desserts.

Red Squirrel finishing off our Apple Crisp.
(tail #4)

I saw only one butterfly the whole time up there, but it was one I hadn't seen before.

Morning Cloak Butterfly

Morning Cloak Butterfly -
missing its characteristic blue spots though.

This post is going to have to end here as I should be off to bed, it's getting long, and I obviously ran out of tails!

I'll post the rest of the pictures from this trip soon where I did my day trip out towards Bancroft.  The trip ended up going way longer than the couple hours I had planned as I kept bumping into more creatures...but I'm getting ahead of myself. :) And I won't torment you with more corny themes like "tails".

Monday, October 8, 2012

Morning Light on Coote's Paradise

Today was Canadian Thanksgiving, so I'm going to try and accomplish two things... finish this post, and then share some thoughts on thanksgiving itself. :)

A couple weeks ago I left home for work early and headed to Coote's Paradise for one more morning shoot.  The early light of morning is great for picture taking - it's colour is warmer and if the sun is at your back, it illuminates what your photographing directly in stead of with hot, bright spots on top of your subject..

Many of the shore birds were already on their way, making their trip south, but the outlet bay of Chedoke Creek was full of white birds: about 14 Great Egrets, many juvenile Caspian Terns, and lots of gulls.

Coote's Paradise full of white birds.

Further to the right.

My first tendency to take pictures was to go to the east side of the water, with the sun at my back and light on the birds.  But I thought I'd try the back-lit view first.  My dear wife loves this setup for people pictures, and is very successful at using it well too.  I took the picture below, and never realized till editing it later, that the Great Egret was standing on an old barrel of some sort.  A sad mix of natural beauty and someone else's very poor judgement and carelessness!

back-lit Great Egret 

A juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron was a short distance away to my left, blending into the surroundings with its first year colours.

juvenile Black-Crowned

Once I moved to the east side, my pictures were front lit, a little closer, and free of any debris.

Brilliantly lit Great Egret

With the group of egrets jostling about for the prime spot, it was funny to watch them... I think it was the "quarter on the ground" syndrome.  You know, when you were young and your buddy would find a quarter on the ground?  What did you do right away?  Come over and look in the same area, hoping to find "the other one" before they did.  Well, the egrets were doing the same.  One would catch something and the neighbouring egrets would hurry over for a look-see, hoping to cash in on the great spot surely evidenced by the recent catch.  That would usually result in a few short lived, noisy chases like the picture below.

Great Egrets jostling for hunting space.

As I walked along the mud flats that even now are still there and even larger, I was accompanied by one of the few remaining Lesser Yellowlegs.  It was a little braver than the ones I had photographed before, so I got some closer shots.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

"Aagh! I swallowed a bug!"

A wary eye to the sky...

...possibly checking out this juvenile Caspian Tern - note the
patchy, smoky black cap.

Lesser Yellowlegs with some sort of catch.

On my way back over the baily bridge that crosses the Chedoke Creek, I spotted another juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron. Again, its first year plumage helps it to blend in well, compared to the much more obvious what and black feathers it will wear next year.

juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron
on the bank of Chedoke Creek

It flew under the bridge and landed on the
other side into much better lighting!

juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron

juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron

Well, Thanksgiving Day has passed (for us Canadians at least).  On the way to my parents today, Holly pointed out how blessed we are where we live, to be able to enjoy this holiday when almost every year at this time, God has just painted the countryside with the perfect combination of bright colours, the cooler air is crisp, and extra big clouds fill the extra blue sky.  And on top of that, we live in a privileged country, with more comforts and wealth than we know.  At my family's gathering this afternoon, someone noted that many of us today spent the day in a spirit of thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is a good thing, but who too?  That person pointed out that, if all this blessing we enjoy is not from someone specific, than why all the thanksgiving?  Aren't the recent harvest, another year of provision and protection cause for thanksgiving to someone?  Isn't thanksgiving by nature directed to someone personal, and not just to chance?  Can all around us that we see, enjoy, live and experience really just have happened? Or is all the beauty, intricacy, and provision all crying out, pointing us to Someone who longs to have us personally say, "Thanks!"?

For most of us, with bellies full of turkey, roofs over our heads, and work to go back to tomorrow, we're also challenged with the fact that "too whom much is given, much will be required."

I bet you came here expecting only bird pictures and not a "sermon"!  :)  Was my post introduction fair warning?  I love wildlife and the creatures we get to enjoy seeing, but hopefully you can also tell that I have a God who I get excited about, both in what He has created, but also who has done great things for me.  He has given me so many reasons to be truly thankful, not the least of which is to rescue me and save me!  That is my greatest reason for thanksgiving, especially at Thanksgiving.  We all have a need much greater than just our daily sustenance to be thankful for... We all mess up daily and we really can't even say "thanks" properly to Him because we repeatedly made choices and live lives that break His perfect standard repeatedly - sometimes in big ways, some times in small ways.  Since He's an honest judge and He can't just bend the rules or look the other way, all the mess-ups/sins make us guilty on the scales of justice.  But as well as being just, He's being gracious and He's provided a way through Jesus to cover our debt!  My debt and your debt too if you'll accept the gift.  If you're ever curious or interested in knowing more about this fix, I'd be more than glad to discuss it more with you in any way you like.

As I keep saying, I'm behind on posts and have at least two more coming when I get more time to edit and type up a post - you might think leaving the sermons out will make that more likely! :)  One upcoming post is my recent week at the Lodge (with a life bird no less), and some pictures from today at my parents house.

But for now, I hope you enjoyed a great weekend, and now have the bonus of a short week!
Take care,