Drive-by Shooting

Driving home after work one day last week, a small hawk came gliding low across the road in front of me. I was heading into the sun, so I couldn’t tell much about the bird other than he was too small to be a Red-tail. Watching him as he crossed the road, he looked as if he were making an approach to land in a tree a short distance from the right of way. I mentally marked the tree, drove the few hundred yards to the next cross-over between lanes and turned back to have a look.

I pulled off on the shoulder and started scanning the tree where I thought he’d landed, but didn’t see anything. I started to pull back into traffic but decided to take one more look. This time I spotted him, higher in the tree than I’d expected and partially obscured by foliage. But through the binoculars, it was clear that he was a Broad-winged Hawk.

Had he been a Red-tail, he would have been long gone. But Broad-wings aren’t generally that spooky and he was still sitting there ignoring me. With the passenger side window down and the motor turned off, I shot a few photos from within the truck. Now that I had a few photos, I got out and went around the truck and started shooting again. I was able to work my way to the left and get his head clear of the obstructing limbs.


He was still not moving, so I started walking through the Sericea lespedeza in his direction. Unfortunately, the bank dropped steeply away after a short distance and I could go no further. I was closer to the hawk, but the light wasn’t as nice as before and I prefer the images shot back near the truck. The background is more attractive.

I ended up with around 80 frames but since the hawk wasn’t moving more than turning his head, they’re all very similar. Still, it was well worth the trouble of turning back and taking the time to shoot.

Birthday Bird

I had my 50th birthday back in May. Usually, Dayna and I go day-tripping on my birthday, looking for birds and a good place to eat. But this year found me out in the Powder Mill area, documenting flood damage.
At one stop, I saw something large and shiny in a little clearing back in the dense bottomland cover. I made my way to it and as I got closer it resolved itself into a 500-gallon propane tank. While photographing the itinerant tank I realized I was hearing a familiar song coming from nearby. I stopped to listen and realized I had a Swainson’s Warbler almost on top of me.
Fortunately, I was carrying two cameras. My D7100 with a 150-600mm lens was hanging from my shoulder, so I was properly equipped for this unexpected opportunity.
I was standing in a small clearing that actually had a bit of light, but the bird was back in the deep, dark cover. Taking a decent photo there would be essentially impossible so I needed to bring him to me.
I also had a Bluetooth speaker clipped to my belt loop and it was soon hanging from a low limb on the edge of the clearing. I was only planning to use playback for 30 seconds or so, but I only needed half that. By the time three repetitions had completed, a small brown missile came tearing out of the woods.
I tapped my phone to stop the playback, got the camera up and started shooting. The light still wasn’t great, but it was the best situation in which I’ve encountered a Swainson’s. He hung around for a couple of minutes and I kept the camera firing at its full 5 frames per second, ending up with over 200 photos.
Many were near duplicates of course, but I still had a veritable gold mine to dig through. This was my favorite shot:

The others are on Flickr if you would like to see them. Links are below. And Happy Birthday to me!


Organized by Collection

Organized by Album

Sex on the Pond

I finally got off my lazy ass and mowed the grass around my pond for the first time since last summer. It was waist-high and keeping me from getting close to the pond, due to the number of ticks it harbored. But with it freshly mowed, I can get to the pond without worrying too much about the damned ticks. They’re still there—you can’t get rid of them that easily—but their prevalence has been much reduced.
Now that I had regained access, I carried a lawn chair to the pond’s edge and parked myself in the shade with the sun at my back. There were Common Green Darners (Anax junius), Slaty Skimmers (Libellula incesta), Spangled Skimmers (Libellula cyanea), and Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia). There were also several species of damselfly, most of which I can’t identify without keying they out.
But the most common dragonflies at the pond are the Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis.) The males were all around the edge, flying about, engaging in miniature dogfights and staking claim to the most prominent perches.

The number of females is smaller or, I suppose, they’re just more circumspect. I only saw two of them, but there have to be more than that or the male/female ratio is seriously askew.

I hadn’t been sitting long when I noticed one of those females hovering a short distance away, dropping eggs into the water.

It was very bright out and I was able to use a very fast shutter speed, 1/2500th of a second I believe. Dragonflies only beat their wings about 30 times per second (a bee has a rate 10x faster), and that shutter speed was almost fast enough to “freeze” her wings.

She was there doing her thing and minding her own business when a male decided she needed his “assistance.”

They briefly joined to form a wheel and copulated.

Briefly, indeed, the male soon departed, returning to his patrols and battles while the female resumed to her duties.

The Span of Life

Going through some of my older photos, preparing them for Flickr, I came across this image.
At the top of the screen, you have a pair of breeding Common Green Darners (Anax junius.) The female is ovipositing, placing eggs in the water beneath the pads. Darners typically stay on the wing almost continuously, making them difficult to photograph. But now they were an achievable target and I’d been following them around, trying to get close enough for a photo.
I didn’t notice the Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) feeding on a second male darner until I looked at the photo on the computer. I’m still trying to think of a scenario where a spider would’ve been able to catch a darner. That’s not a terribly large spider and darners are pretty robust. It had to have been an ambush situation where the darner landed for some reason and the spider took him by surprise.
I thought the breeding pair laying eggs and the other male dead and being consumed, neatly encapsulated the life cycle of the darners.
As soon as I saw the image, I thought of the only poem I’ve ever memorized, The Span of Life by Robert Frost. This poem is the very epitome of succinctness.

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

And to pull this post around to a proper ending, here are the remains of the darner once the spider had completed his meal. That’s assuming it’s the same dragonfly (it was in the same spot if I remember correctly) but it looks like something other than the spider had been munching on it.

Grin and Bear It

Yesterday, on my way home for lunch, I saw my first wild bear and I’m still giddy and excited, twenty-four hours later. I have been looking for one for about 35 years, ever since my brother and I found a track in a small patch of melting snow. Since then I’d found more tracks and a couple of piles of poop, but no bear.
One of the scat piles was in a very dense canebrake, deep under the canopy back in 1991 or 1992. A friend and I were working a breeding bird atlas block, following a game trail through the canebrake and came upon a very fresh pile of what had to be the answer to “Does a bear shit in the woods?”. Discretion became the better part of valor and we decided we didn’t really need to know what birds were in that particular canebrake. Besides, there was something important needing attention back at the truck.
The second instance was on May 31, 2009. I was out by myself, looking for Swainson’s Warblers. I was on the Minshall Tract, south of Big Spring on Z Highway. This tract has a hayfield that has to be 20 acres in size and I was working the perimeter searching for birds. I had gone completely around the north half of the field with very little to show for it. Giving up and heading back to the truck, I followed a game trail across the field. Right in the middle of the field, I came very close to stepping in a large pile of poop. It was all shiny and fresh, meaning the damn thing had crossed the field and taken a dump while I was up in the north end. This time I didn’t evacuate (the bear beat me to it), but instead tried my damnedest to find that bear, but to no avail.

Bear poop. This is not the first turd I’ve photographed and I doubt it’ll be the last.

I photographed the poop, much to Dayna’s chagrin and showed the photo to the Park’s Resource Specialist. She had worked on a bear project when she lived in Wisconsin, so she literally knows her shit (scatological humor never gets old). She agreed that it was indeed bear scat. So I had gotten close to a bear, but only had a photo of turd to show for the experience.
Which brings us back to yesterday. On most days, I drive home at lunch time to let the dogs out and I was on my way, lost in thought. The part of my brain that was keeping me on the road jerked me back to reality as it realized that there’s a bear sitting beside the road. I’m pretty sure I yelled “Holy F*ck! That’s a bear!” as I stomped the brakes and threw everything in the floorboard including my phone. My D7100 with the 150-600mm lens was not in its usual spot beside me, but still behind the seat following a trip the vet a couple of days before. The phone was now vitally important if I had any hope of a photo.
I glanced in the side mirror before diving into the floorboard and saw the bear swap directions, heading for the trees. I finally got hold of the phone, slammed the truck into reverse and stomped the accelerator. The tires were squealing and I went flying back down the road (thankfully there wasn’t anyone behind me).
The bear, of course, was gone. The tree line is pretty dense and I couldn’t see him or even detect any movement. If he had gone past the tree line, stopped and remained still, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see him anyway.

The bear was about this color. By Appalachian Encounters (Flickr: "Cinnamon" Black Bear) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t have a photo, but I HAD seen a freaking bear. He was a black bear of course, but he was actually not black, but rather chocolate or cinnamon colored. He was absolutely gorgeous with a beautiful coat and if I had to take a wild guess, I’d put him in the 300 lb. range (about my size!).

Mr. Bear was sitting very much like this when I first saw him. This is NOT my photo; I found it in my collection of reference photos with no attribution, so I don’t know where it came from. If it’s yours and you want it removed, say the word and it’s gone. If you don’t mind me using it here, Thank You Very Much!

The weird thing was that he wasn’t standing or walking when I saw him. No, he was sitting on his haunches in the grass at the edge of the pavement, facing the road. He seemed bored and was watching traffic go by to entertain himself.
If I’d been paying closer attention, maybe I see him from further away instead of when I’m right on top of him. Then I might have been able to approach him more cautiously and not scare the devil out of him by locking up my brakes and screaming to a stop. Ah well, if ifs and butts were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.
Did I mention that I saw a bear??