A black crowned night heron. Well, call it a “black crown” if you wish, but I never saw one that extends all the way down your back, and I don’t know how active these herons are at night. So, “black crowned night heron” might be a little misleading. “Hunched-over flat-headed blue-and-white heron” might be more accurate albeit less flattering.
All I know is that it’s unusual to find one who is willing to fish right out in the open.
The ones I’ve seen in the past all required a great deal of me trampling noiselessly — which, by the way, is impossible — through the muck and peeking under clumps of marsh grass.
And no matter how stealthily I trampled and peeked, I usually managed to flush them from their matted, messy cover, and all I would get for my troubles was a frightened animal and a pair of mud-soaked boots.
Not what I had hoped for on my day off!
And certainly not what the heron had hoped for, either.
But I suppose that if I was a black crowned night heron who dared to fish right out in the open, I would do it at a road less traveled, which is exactly what this one decided to so.
WITH her chick! That’s how secluded the West Shore Trail is.
WST is smaller than the main pool down in Seneca Falls, and it’s fairly secluded with no nearby commercial development. Or nearby residential development, either. Nothing to attract anyone who might stop for a cup of coffee and a doughnut before arriving at the trail intent upon interfering with a peaceful day of fishing. In fact, that is probably the biggest reason why people drive past the signs pointing to West Shore Trail.
Even now, in the midst of the CoVid-19 scare, WST remains off the radar for most birders and photographers who are looking for something to do that doesn’t require a mask. What they don’t know is that you don’t need a mask here. No one at the trail has a problem staying six feet away from anyone else simply because you can’t find anyone else to stand six feet away from.
I am probably one of the few people who make sure to visit West Shore Trail at least once a week. I love its seclusion. Maybe that’s why it is attracting more wildlife species, too. There is no heavily traveled Wildlife Drive encircling it, like there is at Seneca Falls. So this particular black crowned night heron and its chick fished fearlessly and openly on this sunny day.
I welcomed the sunny day, too, which meant I could use a fast shutter without fear of a far-too-high ISO spoiling the shots. . .if the shots were to be spoiled, it would be my own doing, not the camera’s.
And I did manage to mess up more than a few. 😦
What do you mean, “focus on the eye”???? I could hardly find the chick, much less its eye!
However, with a a deep breath and a longer lens, I did indeed find its eye and all the rest of it, too.
The chick-in-flight is a total loss. I forgot! This camera (Olympus EM10iii) has only contrast-detect AF, and there wasn’t much contrast in the midtones that surrounded this mid-toned bird.
Nonetheless, I did manage to end up with some legible representations of a beautiful bird that is hard to shoot simply because it hides so well.
Here’s just a couple more. . . hard to say good-bye to these lovely birds.
I took these over a two-day period this week:
There is not much about Leroy Island that would make it stand out among the several small islands and peninsulas dotting Sodus Bay.
It’s accessible by a pretty-much-one-lane bridge, where there are no signs blaming your GPS for misdirecting you; in fact, there is a sign welcoming you– as long as you are a fisherman who promises to take your trash with you when you leave.
I don’t fish, but I like to visit Leroy Island anyway. I may get quizzical looks as I turn around at the marina, but no one actually makes me leave.
Every season is a good time to visit the island, but I always visit several times during the summer. That is when life — wildlife and plant life — is at its very best.
Even before I got to the bridge I knew it was going to be a good day. When I turned off Rt 104 to head north, I encountered an osprey nest way up on a utility pole, with Ma and Pa Osprey perched on another one nearby. Maybe they just had to get out of the house for a while, or maybe they had some grown-up talk to do out of earshot of the young ‘uns.
Weeds or wildflowers? I suppose that depends on your point of view, or maybe on what mood you are in.
I don’t know how you will answer that question, but today, for me, I saw wildflowers. . .and not a single weed.
I’d like to call these wild daisies, but I am pretty sure the taxonomists prefer to call them Chrysanthemum lencanthemum — much easier just to call them wild. I like the idea of these pretty flowers, which grow quietly along the roadside, being “wild.” 😉
Buttercups. Now, these are reallyreallyREALLY wild! If you eat them, they can kill you. . . or at least make you very sick.
Don’t let your cows eat them, either! They could get just as sick or even die!
I remember when as children we would hold a buttercup under our chins — if the reflection was yellow, then you liked butter! I don’t think we ever found anyone who didn’t like butter when given that test.
Buttercups are just about as good as daisies for making a chain. There was just enough time during recess, if you ate your lunch real quick, to make a daisy-buttercup chain that you could wear on your head as a crown. What 10-year-old girl wouldn’t like that!
I don’t think kids do that these days. . .do they? They might be too busy tik-tokking or whatever it is they do on their cellphones.
Of course, I saw lots of dandelions, mostly in the seed stage. And now it’s the right time of year, if you are 10 years old, to make a wish! Close your eyes, make your wish (don’t tell anyone what it is or it will never come true. . .), and gently blow all the seeds from your dandelion stem.
Enough of the flowers. I also saw lots of wildlife. The kind with feathers, wings, feet, and heads and some with shells on their backs.
Turtles, even the relatively harmless painted ones, are known to be carnivorous at times, so I was surprised at this young swan family resting alongside a pile of them. I guess the cygnets are too big to become lunch at this stage of the game and besides, Ma and Pa were keeping a close eye on the turtles and the little ones.
These little ones don’t even have their wings yet, just tiny little “wing-ettes” that flap around when they walk. And they really don’t walk all that much, most of the time I saw them they were either resting or were in the water.
Mute swans are an introduced species not native to the United States. They are far from mute — get too close to a cygnet and they will hiss up a storm! Now that I think on it, mute swans are nasty creatures, especially to trumpeter and tundra swans. I once saw a single mute swan chase a pair of trumpeters clear out of the water. They weren’t trespassing near a nest, they were just swimming nearby, so I guess the mute did it just because he could. So he did.
Song sparrows are just about everywhere! This one allowed me to get unusually close before he decided to flee.
Song sparrows are pretty loud for being so tiny. But their song is pretty, and they aren’t as skittish as, say, kingfishers, so I generally have time to check my settings and get a decent shot.
I smiled when I saw this killdeer. When I first got a camera three summers ago, I took a ride out here to Leroy Island and photographed, among other things, a killdeer. I had no clue what it was until Google told me.
I’m glad this photo came out okay. . .at least it’s better than that first one was!
Oh, and I think it’s a female killdeer. Why? Because she obviously has to pee! REAL bad!
There are many, many great blue herons in western New York — too numerous to count, I think. You really can’t visit any marshy area without seeing at least one. And where there’s one, there are others hiding nearby, probably in the thick marsh grasses.
Well, I did find who one who was pleased to stick around long enough to pose, and then he was off. There is a wooded area as you go around the back of the point and up the hill , and I am sure there is a rookery there. That’s where I see most of the herons coming from and heading to when I come up here.
The road that goes through the woods isn’t heavily settled (unless you’re a heron), but the few people who do live up there are sick and tired of people looking for Crescent Beach. Because the road narrows before it dead-ends near the water, which requires that you turn around in someone’s driveway (unless you want to back out of a curvy, one-lane dirt road for about a mile or mile-and-a-half).
There are a couple of nice places that serve food and libations here (once the CoVid-19 virus scare dissipates), and there is a brand-new brewery here, too. These places are right on the bay, so you can either park your car or dock your boat. I am waiting for Phase 3 so I can visit some of these places!
Like most lakeside property owners, nobody here is pleased with the International Joint Commission’s plan 2014 meant to regulate the water levels in the St. Lawrence Seaway. It’s had a negative (and expensive!) impact on Lake Ontario water levels.
All photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D EM10iii and the Panasonic O.I.S. 100-300. All photos are straight from the camera with post processing limited to cropping (where necessary). Maybe some of the photos could use a little tweaking, but I like them just the way I saw them. I am so pleased with this little camera!
A few more from today’s Leroy Island experience:
“I’m a big boy now!” says Son #1.
Meanwhile, back at the nest, Son #2 gets some wise advice from Mom. He will likely join his brother in the brand-new world of fledglings in a few days or maybe a week or two.
Eagles take about 10-12 weeks to grow from nestling to fledgling, but it will take a lot longer (5 years!) before they attain their adult plumage. That’s 5 years of watching them fight, fly, and fish — should be fun!
Having an affinity for nature photography, Diet Coke, and a bargain, I am a frequent visitor at McDonald’s golden arches. I can’t help but notice what surrounds most of their restaurants, it’s pretty nice. So, I make it a habit to bring a camera with me while I wait at the drive-thru for a large Diet Coke/light ice — a real bargain at $1.00 (plus 8 cents for to support whatever programs Governor Cuomo has in mind for downstate).
It’s worth the $1.08, though, because what I find on my McStops are some really beautiful flowers and plants. . .OK, so maybe these particular ones are a bit past their prime, and the photo isn’t very good, either (but the bokeh isn’t so bad for a 4/3 bridge!).
Besides, look what they had to put up with over the past few days!
Bitter weather for spring. . .but this is western New York <sigh> We don’t always get much of a spring here. And these were taken in Wolcott, which is always just a bit colder because it is just a bit farther away. . .and lies right along the north side of Route 104. For those who don’t know it, Route 104 is the line that separates regular snow (on its south side) from the constant white stuff that falls from lake effect (on the north side).
Wolcott is my favorite McDonald’s, because it’s right on the way to the middle of NoWhere, which is where I go on nature hunts.
Anyway, when spring finally arrives, we appreciate it! I was waiting in line at Waterloo when I saw this. . .they really know how to decorate with plants!
They did this funky thing with grafts, too, so there are white blossoms and pink ones on the same tree. Not bad, eh?
Of course, it never takes too long for the weeds to pop up, snow be damned!
Waterloo also has McFlowers like these:
. . .which certainly excuses the occasional dandelion. Besides, it’s not a weed, it’s a “wildflower,” right?
There must have been a McSale on black-eyed Susans, because I see them at just about every McDonald’s I stop at.
They grow everywhere, just like dandelions, but they are so pretty who cares if they are nothing but a weed — I mean “wildflower”?
I don’t know what these are, but they look sort of like the rose mallow that grows along the sides of the marsh at Montezuma. But they can’t be rose mallow because they’re blue. . .and besides, somebody paid for this plant, so. . .
What I love most about McDonald’s though, are the McBirds. All the lovely plantings and bushes that line their drive-thru’s attract any number of flying visitors.
Here are a couple of juvenile robins. They just stopped in for a visit.
This starling looks cold and hungry; he’s probably hoping someone drops a french fry.
But the robins and starlings and other avian visitors don’t stay very long. The ones who do are small enough to fit behind the neon signs,where they build a cozy nest. Mostly these are house sparrows, but who cares? They sing a nice McSong, and their eyes sparkle if you catch the right light.
And they pose very nicely too 😉
I saw one of these once, but it was at Burger King. I really don’t know why a killdeer would hang around Burger King, but this one did for as long as it took for me to eat a burger and read a few pages of Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography.
Of course, the birds I see the most are these: Gulls! Noisy, pesky gulls always begging for a bite of whatever you have in your hands.
Whenever one leaves, two take their place. They are quiet as long as it takes for them to eat a french fry and maybe scratch an itch. . .which isn’t very long.
This one’s my favorite. He has only one foot, but that didn’t stop him from dancing:
I bought a small bag of fries just for him!
Most of these photos were taken impromptu within the past year, so I used whatever bridge camera that happened to please me at the time. Sooooo glad I am over that! The only bridge I now own is a gray-market Lumix FZ80 (FZ82 here in America), which I carry with me “just in case.” And it’s a good thing I had it with me over the weekend, when I inadvertently hit something that peeled the bumper from my car. The camera strap was sacrificed, but the camera, car, and me live on for better, brighter days.
Not very happy about the car, but look at the nice star I got from the glinting sun!
Garth Brooks may prefer his low-placed pals, especially since singing about them has pulled in a ton of money, but he is really missing out. I have soooo many friends in high places!
Most numerous of these are probably the osprey. Last year I counted 19 osprey nests on and around the stretch of Rt. 89 that brings me to the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, and that’s not counting the 6 that are perched atop the utility towers near the entrance on Rts 5&20. This year I counted 3 more, 2 at West Shore Trail and another right on the Erie Canal in Tyre.
Osprey look like small eagles; it’s their size and the brown eyestripe that give them away. Ospreys chirp pleasantly, almost like a songbird, but if they are stressed they string them together in a woeful, whiny series. It’s enough to drive other osprey (and pesky photographers) far away!
Osprey like to nest upon platforms, which is why utility towers located near a marsh, pond, or stream soon become prime osprey real estate. The nests are used and reused year after year, maybe or maybe not by the same osprey family but certainly by other osprey, who repair and improve them to their own liking. The nests can become pretty big real fast.
Osprey eat fish, fish, and only fish. Which is why they are also called fish hawks.
Great blue herons also number among my high-placed friends. No platform nests for them; the great blues prefer to build in the V formed by intersecting tree trunks and branches.
Like ospreys’, herons’ nests are permanent structures, unless they blow down in a windstorm or if the host tree falls.
Great blues may lay claim to an existing nest or may start up a new one all their own; in any event, nest building (and rebuilding) is part of the great blue heron courtship ritual. It’s so beautiful, I could watch for hours as male herons search for suitable twigs and branches — some from a nearby forest and others from a nearby nest! — to impress his lady.
I’ve written something about this in another essay on this blog after observing one enterprising young fellow surreptitiously de-construct another heron’s nest in order to build his own. Amusing for sure. . .as long as you were not the other heron.
Great blue herons are goofy sometimes
Great blues are numerous up here. I’ve found rookeries in some of the strangest places, including one at the edge of a suburban housing development in Penfield and another off the side of the busy New York State Thruway. Just about any marshy area with a cluster of trees, dead or alive, might support anywhere from 3 to 15 heron nests.
I am counting more and more eagles among my friends in high places. This year I’ve come across 6 nests, 3 more than last year. I’m sure there are many more, but they are hard to find and difficult to access. When the DEC discovers them they construct (or have the landowner construct) barriers around them at 330′, and if the eagle activity can be easily seen, the barrier must be double that.
S’OK, though, eagles are pretty smart. They choose to nest in areas that are essentially self-secluded, either by impassible land, bodies of water, or both. Two of the nests I am following are visible from the roadside but require a long lens to view — they are about 1000′ away, protected by a swampy area that itself is protected by a large ring of perennial mud.
The eagle population was nearly decimated in the U.S. in the 1970s, primarily by the overuse of the pesticide DDT. The story of Montezuma and its pivotal role in restoring this population has been told many times but is summed up quite nicely by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9380.html).
That program increased the eagle population from a single known nesting pair in 1976 to 10 pairs in 1989, when the program ended. A real and ongoing success, which is confirmed by more recent numbers. Ten years ago (2010) the DEC counted 220 bald eagle nesting pairs; no doubt there are even more today.
Eagles, too, will use and reuse older nests — even if the older nests aren’t exactly eagle nests. Last year I saw an eagle family squatting in an osprey nest, and this year another eagle family has settled into a heron nest. I guess they don’t encounter much opposition, since eagles begin nesting weeks before osprey and herons return to their western NY homes, and by the time they do arrive it’s way too late to kick out the squatters.
Owls do the same thing. Why bother with nest-building when you can use someone else’s? I was intrigued to see a great horned owl tending a nest at the heron rookery at Sterling this year, although the resident expert, Jim the Wandering Naturist, tells me this has happened regularly in years past.
It was fun following the progress of the three little babes, who rather quickly grew into three big babes — all of whom enjoyed a feast of goose before fledging the nest and heading off into the nearby woods.
I have lots of other friends who utilize high places even if they don’t live there. You may consider utility poles and wires a bothersome intrusion in the wetland environment, but I don’t. They make great rest stops and observation towers for gulls, hawks, eagles, and even songbirds.
I don’t think Garth Brooks will bother reading this blog, but if he does I have a message for him: Look up! That is where you will find friends in high places!
More friends in high places:
I didn’t even know what a bridge camera was until maybe a year-and-a-half or so ago, when I decided to concentrate on nature photography. That’s when I yearned for a 400mm lens to replace my very-good-but-now-hardly-used 300. It wasn’t long before I wanted a 600 to replace the 400 — and that’s where I was stuck until I discovered bridge cameras. Sure, I could live with a smaller range of apertures and a cap on shutter speed if only I could trade it off for a 60x lens! or an 83x!
Well, not being made of money (because I am a short-round, opinionated, and retired — that means “poor” — old lady with an unhealed hand injury), I had to start small and light, which I did in the used market with the Canon PowerShot SX60. It wasn’t long before I thought the Sony DHC-HX400 would provide better color. It did, but the reach was smaller than I wanted,and the lag on the EVF guaranteed that only feet or tails would show in my portraits of flying birds. So I jumped up to a Nikon p900. . .but it didn’t have raw capabilities; plus, it was a little wiggly at full extension. So, when I learned that the lens on the Nikon p1000 would reach to a whopping 125x, I was hooked into saving every penny I could find so I could get one of my very own. This wasn’t a camera, it was a small telescope! And I wanted to buy it NEW!
It wasn’t quite a month or two of mostly fuzzy long shots before I was sorely disappointed. Maybe “disappointed” doesn’t describe it. I was disappointed when my Sony a6000 had to be returned for servicing four (4!) times during its one-year warranty period. . .so when the Nikon p1000 failed to live up to its expectations I had similar but vaguely different feelings. Sad. Yes, I think “sad” describes it best. All this promised power bundled into a camera that failed on the most important promise of all, a fully usable (and dependable) superzoom. Why?
Asking that question taught me a very expensive lesson about sensor sizes, effective lens length, and centers of gravity, but it was the physics lesson that sobered me up and got me off the long-lens train. A camera with a 539 mm lens that can zoom in to a calculated 3000 (!) is impressive, but it’s also long. . .and heavy. . .so much so that it makes the camera unbalanced and front-heavy at full extension. I mean reallyreallyREALLY unbalanced and front heavy. . .to the point that even a tripod can’t stabilize it, not unless you jury-rig something like a cut-up Manfrotto 293 to support its center of gravity, which varies with the amount of extension required for your shot. Even on a tripod. Especially on a tripod. And that was the point where I packed up the no-longer-cherished p1000, kissed it good-bye, and sent it off to the used department of a large camera shop.
I should probably loathe Nikon right about now, or at least hate the advertising executives who push the p1000 as the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I don’t. After all, it’s a bridge camera, and bridges, even those packed into a camera, can lead us to new places. So, I find that I don’t loathe this foray into Nikon-Land as much as I thought I would. I mean, I wish I had my money back, but hey, it’s a pittance compared to what REAL cameras cost. Nope, I loathe neither Nikon nor its wobbly bridges; I’m actually kind of grateful, because it led me right into the World of Micro (mirrorless) Four-Thirds, and I (finally!) have a camera that is a reasonable compromise of zoom and sensor size that doesn’t wimp out in the areas of aperture and shutter speed. The full range it offers means that you can get decent results even on a gray day. AND it weighs less than 2 pounds! So far (I’ve had it for about a week) it is working out fine. I am hoping that with my new Oly + Panny combination I can pay more attention to improving my photography and less attention in trying to make the camera live up to its expectations. I mean, cameras should do that all by themselves, without us having to worry about it. . .right?
Still, I had to be certain before I jumped right in to the 4/3 pool, so I tried out the Panasonic Lumix bridge, the FZ80 (gray-market-speak for the FZ82). I wasn’t impressed with its full-length focus, but I think I’ve given up on all that superzoom hype — it just isn’t going to happen with the tiny sensors used in bridge cameras and all the lens and other material that are necessarily built around it. Still, it was inexpensive (around $200 used) and, like the other bridge cameras, produces good photos when the light is good — as long as you don’t push the zoom.
Despite all the talk nowadays about mirrorless cameras displacing the DSLR, I am not ready to forsake my Canon — not yet and maybe never. My investment in Canon, Inc. is “only” a 77d, which I consider the poor man’s 80d, but it is a true workhorse. The optical viewfinder guarantees that, with BIF, what I see is what I get. Coupled with an L series 100-400 f/4-5.6 and a 1.4x converter I can get some really decent photos at a not-too-shabby-but-calculated 896 mm, even as a greenhorn newbie! And now that I’ve learned the lesson about bridges, I’m not as green as I used to be.
West Shore Trail is in the northern part of the Montezuma Wetland Complex. It’s rather isolated; nobody seems to go there much except me. That’s too bad because now that the simulated drought is over, the water levels at West Shore have risen even higher than those at the main pool in Seneca Falls, and the resident wildlife is even more varied here than it ever has been.
Unfortunately, the 2019 drainage practices forced nearly the entire muskrat population to relocate. There’s still a lodge here and there but nowhere near the hundreds that dotted the marsh last year. Though few, the lodges now serve double duty — one for the great blue herons (resting) and another for the ducks (nesting).
Nobody actually hikes the West Shore Trail. Part dirt road and part gravel path, it’s wide enough to drive, albeit slowly and quietly so as not to disturb the animals. The trail ends rather abruptly where the land is too wet to support a roadbed, but that is fine — looking up, there is a sturdy osprey nest resting atop an old utility pole. It hasn’t attracted any squatters yet, but it’s still early in the season. . .besides, if you look off in the distance at the line of poles running past the old bridge supports, you’ll see two new osprey nests that have indeed attracted family-loving osprey.
There is an eagle nest, too! I didn’t see this in years past, so it may be new. . .or maybe not. Maybe I just didn’t see it. In any event, an eagle pair has taken it over. It’s too far away to see any little ones, but there are signs of life in the comings and goings of the parents. There are probably other eagle nests deeper in the woods, because there is always a juvenile or two or four perched on trees, poles, or atop the muskrat lodges as they seek out fish, frogs, and other delicacies swimming in the marsh.
Great blue herons are also seen at the Trail marsh as are great egrets, which have only recently returned from migration. Beautiful birds!
Ruddy ducks, redheads, and mallards reside here as well as pie-billed grebes and coots. They ply the water for an occasional fish, but their diet is mostly grasses and other submergents. Common gallinules (a fancy name for moorhens) like the grasses, too, but they will also forage for spiders (eww!), insects (eww!) and tadpoles. They are much better swimmers than they are flyers, although they will indeed fly if provoked by a heron, an egret, or maybe even each other.
Gulls and terns are good fishers, too, and there are lots of them here at West Shore Trail.
Curiously, this is one marsh that is nearly devoid of Canada geese! I saw a few the other day, but the others must have found a marsh that isn’t quite so crowded as this one.
Even though the West Shore Trail spans just about a mile, the water is sparkling, clean, and deep enough to support vegetation and fish. . .just what a food chain needs!
But that’s how the Caspian terns do it — a nonchalant flyover that begets a frenetic flying frenzy! They circle and hover for several minutes in crazy cycles before suddenly and spectacularly dive-bombing for the prize.
The prize could be a crayfish but more likely is an unlucky fin fish, which the tern will immediately make short work of. And as soon as it is consumed (or forwarded to the young ‘uns for breakfast), the frenzy begins all over again.
Poor little fish! They probably never know what hit them!
Caspian terns look like gulls, but they’re not. They are slender, more colorful, and less annoying (unless you’re a fish — in that case, they are dangerous!). All About Birds, Cornell University’s website on all-things-feathered, states that “there is little information on Caspian Tern population trends,” but notes survival of the species is of “low concern.”
The truth is, Caspian terns are just about everywhere — they are found on every continent except Antarctica (environmentalists call this a “cosmopolitan distribution”).
There must be several colonies of Caspian terns where I live in western New York, because I see them flying over just about any of the wetlands I visit.
And why not? Their diet consists of fish, fish, and more fish, but if they are reallyreallyREALLY hungry they are not averse to making a meal of crayfish.
Or snacking on big, fat insects.
(Insects — ewwww!)
Caspian terns have to be alert and cautious while hunting, though, because any laggards could themselves easily become a tasty meal for owls or eagles. . .
. . .and maybe even gulls. . .
. . .not to mention foxes or raccoons.
If the terns leave their nests unattended for too long, they might return to find them pillaged, their eggs and little ones having been a delectable lunch for one of the above.
I mean, who knows of a raccoon that doesn’t enjoy a feast of eggs?
However, Caspian tern predators must be stealthy and sly; otherwise, they might find themselves surrounded and harassed by a mob of angry tern parents.
Caspian terns understand the harsh nature of nature, but they will fiercely protect their families from it!