Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Time For Every Season

Through the four seasons of each year, from winter 2007 until spring 2012, I documented in this blog (as an amateur naturalist and photographer) the natural life in and around the small pond in the photo above. Life circumstances had brought me to a home near the pond and life circumstances caused me to leave my home near the pond.

All the posts on this site were written in real time. It was a joy to study the pond and to learn from it - not just about nature but life lessons as well.

(Since I have hundreds of photos from the pond, taken over the years I lived near it, I may sometimes post here, for the joy of revisiting a place I loved. If I do, I'll make note that they are old photos.)

The picture above was taken on one of my last excursions at the pond in late spring 2012. Until that day, I'd only walked around the pond or across it on one or two occasions when it was well frozen. It was amazing to paddle on the water and see turtles, large and small, and fish pass below me. The pond is very shallow in most places so I was able to study the surface of the floor of the pond, too.

I consider this post the last official post of this blog. Thank you to all who have visited and to those of you who have commented!

Mary McAvoy

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Empty Nest Syndrome - Baltimore Orioles

My hopes of having Baltimore oriole hatchling and fledgling photos were dashed yesterday when, after two days away from the pond, I found the nest to be empty!

Looking back on my history of photos of this nest, I think it's possible that the young birds did fledge in my two-day absence. I'm so disappointed to have missed more photos of the nest activities. 

On May 28, I saw the mother oriole's beak just poking above the top of the nest. At this point, I think she was waiting for her eggs to hatch.

From the 6th to the 8th of June, I captured lots of feeding photos. I know the focus of these is not great, my excuse is the swaying of the nest in the breeze, the low light conditions (resulting in a slower shutter) and various obstructions, the most pesky showing in the photo below - an errant twig that would wave in front of the nest constantly, causing the camera to repeatedly make attempts at refocusing! The best shots here were probably done with manual focus.

While the four photos above show an attentive mother at work, today, in honor of Father's Day, the next photos show the  diligent father being both protective and providing of food while also...

...taking out the trash (a poop sac), shown below in his beak.
I'm afraid I was off in my estimate of the age of the baby birds and so misjudged when they would fledge. The hatchlings take 11 - 14 days to prepare. I think now that they hatched around the first of the month and departed on the 13th or 14th.

Also, I suspect this nest had only one or two hatchlings. It was a much quieter nest than one that holds several birds, which I've had the pleasure to watch in the past. Only once did I see a beak in this early summer nest, shown below, poking up for a bit of food from its father.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Male and Female Baltimore Oriole and Their Nest

I love the nest of the Baltimore Oriole. Woven like an intricate basket, it suspends freely in the shelter of leafy branches. The winds and rain of late spring can batter it and knock it about, but it is fastened so well, it remains in place.

I love to pass under the oriole nest on a warm summer day as it sways gently in a breeze and rocks the hatchlings as they sleep. I have an image in my mind, perhaps from a passage in the book Indian Boyhood, by Charles Eastman (native name, Ohiyesa), of a papoose child-carrier swaying in a soft wind from a low branch in a tree while the mother worked nearby. I think of this image when I see the oriole nest, certain that indigenous people learned from and imitated nature.

Above and below are photos I took today of the mother oriole at the nest. 
The two photos below are of the father oriole at the same nest today. Like most male birds, his colors are richer than the female.
In my observation, the male and the female are equally involved in the care of the nest and the offspring.
I haven't yet seen signs of the baby birds, but I suspect they are in this nest either as eggs or tiny hatchlings! I hope to have an update and more photos in the next couple of weeks!
(Click on an image to enlarge and then scroll through all photos in this post.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Green Darners Mating

This seems to be the week of lucky shots (see the two posts below). The green darner dragonfly has been nearly impossible to photograph in the past. I have only one good picture of it, taken two or three years ago, when to my dismay it clung to a tree branch, perfectly still, for about an hour. All other times I've seen it, it flies constantly and rapidly - by far the fastest (as well as the largest) of all the dragonflies I see at the pond. I can go a whole season struggling in vain to capture the darner with my camera. 
Yesterday, the brilliant, light blue body color of the male darner caught my eye as it sat in the old and new grasses alongside the pond's edge. Looking closely, I could see that it was attached to a female, in a way that reminds me of the refueling of a jet, mid-air. Research tells me that at this point the mating for reproduction has occurred and the attachment is to serve the purpose of keeping any other male from mating with this female. I get the sense this has more to do with keeping pure the gene pool than possessiveness!
The female's tail end was busy going from side to side in the water, laying their eggs. At times, the dragonflies would alight, reverse direction in the air, then set down again and continue the process.

(Click on the images for full-sized viewing.)

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

I came upon this butterfly on the path along the backside of the pond today. It's a gorgeous insect; the colors are so striking. The body appeared more black to me than they appear in these photos, which look brown. But when I researched it, it is described as brownish black. At first, I thought it was an Eastern Black Swallowtail, but the markings weren't right. So, I investigated further and now think it's a Spicebush Swallowtail.
I think I've seen this butterfly in past years (or perhaps the Eastern Black Swallowtail), maybe two other times. It had a frenetic movement, flying erratically, never alighting for more than a second. Taking its picture was nearly impossible. 
Today, it sat still for so long that I wondered if it might have just "hatched". Most of the time I watched it (a total of about 35 minutes), it stood with its wings closed and it trembled - perhaps from the slight breeze - but I had the sense it was disoriented, not quite sure how to "go". After a time it flew, but within the same small area. Several times it flew around me - landing at my feet often. 

Its colors are remarkable. The blue on the inside of its wings is an iridescent teal that looks like a sprinkling of stardust. The same color radiates from its spots of orange on the outer side of its wings - making a fading trail, like a comet's - to the edges.

At last, it flew directly into the woods alongside the pond, and after it had gone about 30 feet, I lost sight of it.

(Click on any of the images for full-sized viewing. 
Scroll through all photos.)

Great Blue Heron

At last, the great blue heron has been seen at the pond. I had started to think it might be a year when it would not appear at all. But I encountered it for the first time yesterday. The weather was amazing - warm, dry and sunny - and, as a result, I lingered and kept walking the path. The heron lingered for reasons of its own.
Because of its prolonged stay, I had the opportunity to take many photos. It first settled at the far end of the pond (above) where it took its predatory posture - stock still. I suspect it had its eye on a tasty something, but before it had a chance to strike, it was frightened off by someone on the path. This was the theme of the heron's afternoon as so many people were walking (themselves and their dogs) as well as running the path that circles the pond.
A few months ago, a fellow photographer at FineArtAmerica commented that my photos looked dark. So, I've been trying to manually set my camera (a Nikon D40 with a 55 - 300mm Nikkor lens) for various light conditions hoping to lighten them up. This is risky business as I lose so many shots to over or under exposure, as, from shot to shot, light conditions change - there being nothing static about the light, minute to minute or place to place, in this pond setting. Some of the heron photos here were wing and a prayer clicks.

Camera light setting is tricky, as lighting is tricky for the camera. I think each of the photos - above and below - are beautiful. They were take a second apart. I didn't change any settings on the camera. But apparently, the light conditions changed just enough to cause both of these images to show as dramatically different and strikingly alike. The heron had traveled perhaps ten feet in that second and was flying into the setting sunlight. I think it crossed a line directly in front of me (and the camera) where, as I tracked the bird, new light illuminated it. I think the bird was gaining elevation as well, so the second shot was angled higher.
As the heron proceeded to the right (below), the shots became increasingly more overexposed as the sunlight was brilliant, too bright for the manual setting I had chosen for the darker, far end of the pond from where the heron had taken off.
But let's not get bogged down on the technicalities (about which I know precious little...), and instead just enjoy these pictures of the heron!
I took all of the photos in this post over the course of two hours and I have the sense this could be the best reaping of heron images of the entire season.
Here are a few great blue heron facts: 
the weight of the bird is 5 to 7 pounds (I would have guessed at least double that), the wingspan is 5.5 to 6.6 feet, the lifespan is 15 years on average.
What I love about the image below is the graceful line of the left wing. See how the visual variation in thickness enhances what we see as motion, undulation even, in the wing. This bird has a beautiful elegance!
(Click on any of the photo for full screen viewing and scrolling through them all.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

Long before I knew their name
my toddler fist brought you bunches of bluets
that you'd put in a tiny glass on your kitchen shelf.

"Honeysuckle" I first heard from you.
You lived in your own Eden of crocuses and lavender irises 
and your red lace-leaf maple and the cookie tree
and pretty, flower-filled window boxes.
I kept meaning to send you a picture of this
hoping you could tell me what tree it is.
You'd smile when I'd ask you to give me warning before you left, 
so that I could pack up and go on the big adventure with you. 

As foretold, we knew not the time 
and we were caught by surprise.
You've gone on ahead of me but you'll always be within me.

I love you and miss you.