Bringing out the Big Birds

Since no one has cried “Uncle” yet on the bird posts from the Yellowstone vacation last year, I’m bringing out another set of birds.  These are what I call the Big Birds of the water.  I actually have a better set of this particular bird from a couple of photo session in Lacon IL, but sticking with the theme, here is one I snapped on that particular trip.

This is the Great Blue Heron and to be honest, outside the Eagle, this is my favorite bird.  Not only is this a fascinating looking bird while on the ground, it has a truly majestic flight.  Along with the 72″ wingspan it has a flight form that recalls impressions of the pterodactyl.  Having stood less than 10′ from one while clearing the brush by our stream last year (recall Operation Parkify) I can assure you these birds are huge.  If I was to guess, this bird’s legs are the same length as body to head.  Obviously this particular fishing spot is a few feet deep.  It was interesting just how calming this setting was and it felt more like a painting.  And yes, that is snow in the upper left.  We were out there in the June timeframe, but snow was still melting off.   Don’t worry, I’ll zoom you in a bit.

Based on the plumage this appears to be an adult breeding male.  Interesting enough, I have never seen one nesting.  According to the field guides, they nest colonially in tall trees.  This one also has his head up pretty high which probably gives a better radius for finding  fish/frogs etc. swimming around him.  They will also fold their neck back on itself (as in pterodactyl)  which quite frankly when combined with that sharp long spear of a beak looks like a serious weapon.

Unfortunately, I did not get this in focus due to the low ISO being used for reduced noise, but at one point a bird (guessing swallow) cruised in next to the Heron momentarily distracting it.  This was the only time while watching him that a ripple appeared in the water.

You can make out the fuzzy image of the pesky swallow in the shot above.  Undaunted the Heron stiffened up again, the water calmed and soon he was back on his fishing game.  Expect to see more sets of this bird in the future.

An clever reader may have noticed I pluralized the title.  “Clearly the little swallow doesn’t count as a big bird and there is only one other bird in pictures -what gives blog boy?”  Well, it’s a bonus day because I am also highlighting another set of birds that managed to catch my attention while driving through the park.  My birding awareness must be improving.  As proof, Linda was driving through the park when this scene caught my eye.

Having never seen this particular bird before, I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  The legs were somewhat invisible which made it seem like a couple of ground hogs playing on the side of a hill.  Curious, I had Linda stop on the side of the road and walked back to the spot I saw them.  Still not sure, I focused the zoom and to my surprise it had a long neck and legs.   They were pretty far out there, but I’ll try to bring it in a little.

Pretty cool eh?  Hit the jump to see more pictures of these two Sandhill Cranes.

Continue reading Bringing out the Big Birds

It’s VDay and Love is in the Air

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!  Hopefully you were able to spend some time with your significant others and remember the first time you knew she/he was the one to complete you.  In honor of “Couple’s Day” I bring you some water fowl I came upon while out on our Yellowstone trip last year.  I don’t think I am ever going to get through all the wildlife pictures we took while out there.  Thankfully we’re in the digital age or the film bill would have been horrendous.

First off is the Lesser Scaup.  Warning, these pictures are not tack sharp due to having to pull them in from so far away.  Based on the blurs, I am guessing I also did not have time to put the glass on the tripod either.

As you probably assumed, the male is the more colorful one.  His bill is actually a pale blue which blends in perfectly with the water making him look slightly odd from this angle.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell from the guide books the real difference between the Lesser version and the Greater version beyond the size (Lesser is ~1.5″ shorter and 3″ shorter between the wingtips resulting in about .5 lbs less in weight).  It does appear the Lesser’s have a more southern population during winter than the Greater.

Here is a better set of pictures from a small lake bordered by evergreens.  The trees gave an interesting green reflection on the water.

The green brings out the pale blue on the male much better.  The spooky aspect of the male is the yellow eyes.  In person they really pop against the dark purple head.  As you can tell the Lesser Scaup has all the standard male characteristics as he turns to check out the female’s tail feathers.  Clearly she is playing hard to get.

But in true Valentine’s spirit, she gave in to Cupid’s buckshot.

Just to contrast this romantic scene, there was another water fowl that wasn’t experiencing the joys of courtship.  This Western Grebe was trolling around all alone in a lake to himself/herself.

Unfortunately, once again I was pulling this fowl in from the extent of the glass.  The male and female do not seem to differ much from the pictures in the guides so I can’t tell if this lonely bird was a female or a male.  Following the trend of colorful eyes, this bird actually has a red tint and like the Scaup, really stands out against the darker head coloring.

This shot is pulled in a little more to help show the interesting coloring.  It is amazing how naturally camouflaged it is for his environment and when it moved out of the darker tree reflections you could barely distinguish it from the white clouds being mirrored in the water.   Based on the information in the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds, the Western Grebe has quite the courtship ritual involving synchronized scooting across the water (just their feet touching the water) and a cute “weed ceremony”  where each bird dances upright with the other while holding water weeds in their bills.  I definitely have to try to get a shot of that the next time I am out West.  Here’s to hoping our little friend above gets his chance to experience this interesting courtship.

Gotta go now, the Olympics are starting up again and this is one sports junkie who never gets enough of athletes trying their best to represent their country… unless it’s figure skating in which case I’ll switch on over to Spike TV.