The Gray Jay on a Gray Day

Quick, guess what the subject of today’s post is going to be.  Did you guess a captivating discussion on how Socialism never wins out in a Free Democracy?  or maybe a dissertation on Why Spending The Youth of the Nation’s Wealth on Fictitious Global Warming Threats Is Criminal.   If so, you are unfortunately wrong, but if the answer was “Birdies” then you are dead on (don’t be sad, the other articles will likely be published later in the year).

Today’s feathered feature is the Gray Jay.

We encountered this bird in the parking lot for our hotel at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone.  We pulled in on a wet/cold afternoon and started hauling our gear out of the car to take into the room.  The minute we opened up the hatch, this bird came flying in an perched on the vehicle next to us.  It was extremely intent on watching us unload.  Since it was still there on our subsequent trips I grabbed the camera and took a couple of snaps.  I think we should round up some of these birds and fly them into Iran.  It will keep their president up at night worrying about  birds the US has trained to spy on their country (think I am kidding… Google it, you will get a laugh).

I did some reading and it looks like the coloring on this one means it is a juvi.  It also gave some clues to why it was so interested in us.  Apparently it is a bold campsite robber so it was likely waiting for some food item to hit the ground.  I can attest to the bold description based on the complete lack of concern it had for me walking around it while unpacking and taking pictures.

Definitely less scary than the Raven eh?

Nevermore … actually a lot more on the way

First off, being that this is the first post of the new year… Happy New Year everyone!  I have yet to decide on my 2010 goals and as a result my blog requirements are not set yet, but that isn’t any reason not to give a post or two.  One thing is certain, I am way behind on my wildlife posts based on the number of pictures I have in my “to post” folder for my blog.  As a result, I am going to bombard you with bird posts this month.  To be honest, I am actually having some problems identifying a few of them which is somewhat upsetting based on the amount of bird books I own and that wonderful thing they call the Internet is not helping out.  Thanks for sticking with the blog and looking forward to another year of observations.

As promised, here is the first of the bird posts.  Mr. Poe would be proud, however, it personally scares the bejeezzus out of me:

We were walking around the parking lot of Old Faithful when we saw this monstrosity of bird for the first time.  Although we had read about them and seen them in numerous horror movies, we had never actually seen one up close and quite frankly that was not a bad thing.  These common ravens are HUGE and apparently only have one thing on third little bird brain.  That, of course, being the dark seeded desire to peck our eyes out.  By the way, although it scares me, I happen to really like this particular photo and had one blown up to hang in our great room.

We had a Hitchcock flashback the first time we encountered these demon spawn.  As we walked across the parking lot to see the geyser a shadow crossed over us and landed directly above us on a light post.  Fortunately, we had our cameras and snapped a few quick shots.

Without a measure reference it is hard to actually appreciate the size of these birds.  The reference books indicate they range up to 24″ long with a 53″ wingspan.   The Smithsonian guide even credits them for removing rivets from aircraft.  This isn’t too surprising since they clearly want us dead.

Eventually this one heard the camera’s focus collars and quickly located the source.  None to pleased, it started a loud squawking in an effort to call in reinforcements.  Not wanting to test my martial arts skills against Raven-Fu we hauled it out of there and headed for the water spout.

They even stomp around with authority.  At another site we were on our way back to the car when this one made a grand entrance about 20 feet from the car.  Having experienced this previously, we took it in stride, but the family next to us were busing warning each other to find cover.  Once landed it started goose stepping its way around the cars.

On another day I did get the opportunity to snap this one.  I don’t know if this one was a juvenile or not, but it was slightly smaller than the other specimens above.  After reading all three of my bird reference books and checking on the Internet, there appears to be very little distinction between the Common Raven and the American Crow beyond the smaller stature of the latter.  So for all I know, this was an adult American Crow or simply a younger Raven.  In either case, I’ll keep the zoom lens on and keep my respectful distance.

Pleasant dreams everyone … Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore

That is One Steller Jay

The WordPress update effort has put me slightly behind, but nothing a quick jump back to the Yellowstone pictures can’t fix.  While we were out there, we came across this interesting bird.  This was actually the first time I have ever seen this particular variety and it caught me off guard when I saw it walking across a picnic table.  This is not my best effort in getting tack sharp photos, but it was a struggle to get it to stand still for even a second so I could zero in on it or attempt to focus through the branches.  According the trusty Audubon guide this is a Steller’s Jay and member of the Jay and Crow family.

According to the field guide, this bird is on the brash side and mostly omnivorous.  True to the description, it was indeed scrounging for food among the various groups picnicking in the area.  From a visual perspective, it is quite stellar looking with a bright blue back offset by a black plumed head…. somewhat woodpecker looking with a different color pallet.

From this particular picture it is obvious our presence was intruding on his foraging.  Okay, I admit it, my focus hand was shaking out of fear the bird was going to stab me with its beak and rip my eyeball out.  What, you do not believe me?  Take a look at this shot smarty pants and tell me if this isn’t one pissed off bird.

Oh yeah, his meat instincts are kicking into high gear.  I decided from that point on that all further pictures would stealth shots outside its vision.  Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this quite interesting bird

Continue reading That is One Steller Jay

Robins in the Hole

There has to be something wrong with the rotation of the earth.  I know this because it is obvious I am getting shorted days in my months.  Take for instance this month.  I start my blog entries a little later than usual, but no worries, I have plenty of time to get my quota in.  Then all of a sudden I am staring at 2 days left in the month and I am sitting at only 5 posts.  Oddly enough, the tides do not appear to be affected much by the increased earth spin, but it may be the reason for all the rain we are getting and the fact I woke up to about 60 degree weather at the end of August.  Guessing Gore finds that fact an inconvenient reality.

No fear, I have plenty of content to pull from our vacation this year.  On our trip, we stayed at a Best Western in the Jackson Hole Wyoming resort area.  On a side note, that night’s stay was the most expensive place we stayed the entire trip.  I recommend finding somewhere else if you do not want to pay through the nose for a place to sleep.  As we were leaving, we passed a window looking out into the pool area.  It was too cold to actually swim outdoors, but I find it nearly impossible to pass a window without taking a look.  Besides, there just might be a blogging opportunity waiting for me to observe.  Sure enough, there it was sitting a few feet out from the window.

Nesting Robin

My guess is you are not too impressed by this particular robin, especially if they are as common in your area as they are in Illinois.  Although it was somewhat interesting that this particular bird would choose to nest so close to people (lots of people were continually passing this window but based on my analysis, very few of them were taking the time to take a peak).  So what was the tipping point that warranted taking the time to get the camera out?  … and by time I mean a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to shoot through the glass and get the focus through the numerous evergreen branches.   Hit the jump to find out

Continue reading Robins in the Hole

A Wise One Captured

I have a lot of bird pictures I really like, but to be quite honest, the next couple are definitely in my group of favorites.  It is not so much the quality, lighting, pose etc. as much as it is the amount of things that fell into place in order to actually be able to take this shot.  First off, Linda and I were heading out one morning to check out the Peoria Zoo and thus had both our good cameras with us.   It was a fairly nice sunny day so we dropped the top on the convertible which allowed me to take in the scenery as we were passing our favorite park just down the street from us.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that a large object was sitting in the branches of a dead tree (in a yard across the road from the park).  I had Linda slow down allowing me to make out that it was this sitting in the tree:

Owl

The best I can tell, it is a Barred Owl which according to my guide can be active into midmorning.  We always hear these birds hooting at night, but rarely have we seen one out in the morning sun.   Unfortunately, I had to crop it a little tight to block out some unappealing background.  I prefer to give my birds some room to move in the frame, but technically he is facing backwards to me so he does have room to escape out the left side.  Although this was a pretty close encounter, Linda and I have had two other experiences.  One was at our old house while walking along a trail in the woods.  We startled a huge owl that literally dive bombed us before getting enough uplift under the slowly unfurling wings enabling it to lift into the sky.  That one made our hearts skip a beat, but the other one just about killed us.  We were heading home late one night in my wife’s Wrangler.  As we came down a hill, there was a large object in the road.  Although there are conflicting reports on what actually occurred next, the consensus is my description is the accurate one.  For some reason my wife either did not see the LARGE OWL in the middle of the road or had some owl angst from a childhood experience and thus decided not to hit the brakes (she claims she was preventing a rollover due to the top heavy Wrangler). The owl unfurled its wings and began the slow process of lifting into the air.  Let’s stress the word slow in relationship to the speed we were traveling.  The next thing I see is a full window of owl feathers making an ugly smack sound.  Since the Wrangler has a flat windshield, my guess is that owl is toast.  For my own since of tranquility, I chose not to look back and just assumed the plumage cushioned the blow allowing it to survive the horrific event.  I keep reminding her of this night every chance I get and threatened to paint a silhouette of an owl on her vehicles next to the hundreds of other wildlife she has run down in their prime.

Oh, the other lucky factor is the owl gave me just enough time to get one still shot before he assessed the situation and headed off.  I did get one pretty cool flight shot but lost him in the zoom lens as he turned into the woods.

Barred Owl in Flight

Again, so many things had to come together to get these two pictures.  If I get a chance I might post another one of my favorite bird shots I submitted to the State Fair photography exhibit.  I am a little hesitant to post our best pictures on the web yet, but I am looking into some watermarking or labeling to give me a little more piece of mind.  I enjoying sharing, but I have been getting some stories from my fellow photographers that are concerning me.

Hoping to have more owls to share in the future!

Things I Am Unable to Explain

Deadlines Deadlines Deadlines.  Cutting it close this time, but this post brings me to my self imposed minimum of 6 posts a month.  Before jumping back into the trip pictures, something strange occurred today while working in the yard.  It was time to deal with the trimming so I brought the trimmer out, gassed it up and reved it up.  As soon as the engine fired a barn swallow flew up behind me and started hovering in the air.  Actually, it was more like a bird backstroke because the birds body was actually vertical while the wings did a backward flap.  Not phased in the least by me turning to look at him, I decided to play out the situation.  As I was whacking down the weeds a moth flew up into the air.  At that point it all became very apparent.  The bird launched into action, chased that moth down and caught it.  I was impressed, not only was he pretty agile, he (assuming a male at this point) was smart enough to associate my trimmer with dinner.  This went on for about 15 minutes until he was either full or needed a rest.  For the curious, I could care less about the insect.  I draw the line there in favor of actual animals unlike PETA which apparently doesn’t know what the ‘A’ actually stands for based on their recent declaration against Obama killing a fly.

With that out of the way, I’ll lead with this picture.  Take a minute and just absorb the image….

Rock Hard Man

Linda thinks I’m crazy, but it sure looks like a rock man with ummmm… well… let’s just say that is some hard rock.   She vetoed my idea of merging it with one of the pictures of Old Faithful.

While in South Dakota, this truck passed us on the highway.

Truck Skull

All I could think of was the movie The Jerk when Steve Martin picks up the red chair and claims that is all he needs.   I would think the paint would be getting scratched up pretty good, but I must admit, the skull was a nice touch.

Catch a couple m0re shots after the jump

Continue reading Things I Am Unable to Explain

These Mallards Play in Water

I figured I would go ahead and close out the Davenport Iowa bird shoot.  We’ve done the eagles, the gulls and now presenting..

Mallard

That’s right, the Mallard Duck.  This guy was enjoying the 50 degree weather in march.  The shot turned out pretty good with the green shimmering nicely in the sun and you can even make out the water droplets on the duck’s feathers.  This was pretty fitting since the Quad Cities’ minor league hockey team is actually named The Mallards.  Here is another one with a different direction to the sun giving a slightly different shimmer pattern.

Mallard Duck

There were actually a number of them (can’t remember the proper term for a grouping of ducks at the moment).

Mallards

Believe me, it was extremely tough to get them to all go in the same direction.  You also have a nice mixture of the females included in this shot – clearly they were stiffed when the coloring was handed out.

Follow the jump to see some more shots of the Mallard

Continue reading These Mallards Play in Water

Dr. Livingston I Presume

 Gull

This post is a first for our little off-ramp on the Information Highway.  Today we have, in a sense, a guest blogger.  The pictures contained in this post were actually taken by my wife.  As with the previous posts, these were taken up in Davenport IA.  We had parked at the rollers on the Mississippi River looking for eagles and she decided to snap a few shots of a flying gull.  It actually took a while to identify this particular bird.  Previously, we had always referred to them as seagulls.  That name was mysteriously missing from the field guides I use.  After looking and relooking and re-relooking we have decided to go with a Herring Gull.  The beak does not appear to have a strip (ring-billed gull) on it and the range appears to fit.

Gull

Although they are often considered the vermin of the airways, these birds do have a certain aura about them that gives the appeal of a heavenly glow.  A very pure white with a touch of highlighting like a quill dipped in the inkwell.

Gull

While I was trying to identify the species, it occurred to me I couldn’t see his feet (one of the gull types has yellow feet).  Guessing the belly is pretty fluffy allowing him to tuck them under for greater aerodynamics – or possibly warmth.  I saved the best image for last.  I really like this shot and left it a little larger to hopefully show a little more detail.  The sunlight radiates through the wings almost to the point of transparency.  Personally, I think their quite beautiful, but then again, I do not have to live with the pain of their constant scavenging.

Gull from the Heavens

Thanks again to the wife for taking some pretty shots

Eagles Through the D90

 Juv Eagle Taking Flight

I can’t remember if I mentioned if previously, but we purchased a new camera a month or so ago.  The previous pictures (particularly the wildlife photos) were taken with a Nikon D70.  I actually really like that camera and does a great job with the exception of low light.  The 70 can only go to 1600, but the Nikon D90 can go to 3200 which makes it better for the indoor dog show pictures my wife spends her time on.  The remainder of this year will be spend trying to figure out how to use all those new features.  We took it on a test run up in Davenport IA again and the shots were fantastic.  The reduction for this website cuts the quality some, however, they still stand out in my opinion.  The image above of the juvenile taking flight is one of my favorites.

For some reason there were no eagles at our standard spot (at the locks in Davenport).  It was a little late in the season and the temps were starting to head upwards generally signaling their departure.  Disappointed, we headed back to Davenport to see if they were down on Rockingham.  As we drove along the river I noticed a pair of them sitting up trees.  They were actually perched on the opposite side of the road from the river and basically in the front yard of a mansion.

Eagle Pair

This had the added benefit of a clean shot since it was the only tree (granted huge) in the yard.  I learned my lesson a long time ago, so the image above was a quick shot from afar.  Never waste the moment by trying to get too close before the first shot.  Eventually, I worked my way a little closer which didn’t seem to bother them at all.  It never occurred to me before how much more sinister the juveniles look than the matures.  Guessing the juvi is a little cocky sitting next to the 2nd in charge of the skies (Owls being the top of the chain since they will actually attack and kill an eagle).   I finally moved into position and capture this stunning shot.  The full sized image is a lot better and really brings the talons out on the mature.  I’ll probably make this my background.

Eagle Watch

Follow the jump to see some more pictures we captured while we were up there.

Continue reading Eagles Through the D90

The Yang and the Um Day

EyeFirst off, I have to admit I am currently on a major sugar high.  My wife and I tried out the new ice cream establishment in Peoria Heights – the previous home of delicious Spotted Cow.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the establishment (two uncommon names), but apparently it is a small ice cream boutique chain out of Boston.  We both decided to splurge and get the dipped waffle cones.  Linda chose the nestle crunch with cake batter ice cream and I went with the dark chocolate cone with seriously chocolate ice cream flavor.  Wow, that was tasty.  Needless to say, my sugar level is through the roof, but it was totally worth it.  A tad expensive, but we both agreed it was far better than our previous favorite Cold Stone.

On to the topic of the day.  Yesterday morning I had my one year check up on my LASIK surgery.  Nothing like an 8:25am appointment on a cold, snowy and windy Saturday morning to get the day started.  Being that early, I figured there would only be few people there and I’d be in and out quickly.  I was totally shocked when I entered the building and there was a line of people waiting to get checked in.  Faster than expected, I made it up to the counter and noticed once again a large number of flowers behind the desk.  Every single time I have had an appointment, there have been a large number of wrapped up flowers with various names on it.  First thought was there must be a large number of birthdays or possibly births or the doctors were extremely appreciative of their helpers.  After validating all my insurance information, I proceeded to the waiting area where about 30 people were sitting.  Somewhat stunned, I took a seat in the socially acceptable location – translated, maximized distance from existing customers, much like the bathroom principle with the exception you are still allowed to talk to people and make eye contact.  Pondering the situation, it clicked that Fridays were a primary LASIK surgery day and they always had a followup the day after.  This gave and explanation to the large number of people.  My name was eventually called and the nurse began verifying my vision.  She started asking me if I was taking my steroid and anti-inflammatory drops and how everything was going.  This was not processing correctly so mentioned that I stopped taking the drops over a year ago which resulted in a strange look.  Remembering the deduction in the waiting room, I mentioned that I was in for my 1 year checkup.  With that cleared up, she took down all my powers (dual eye 20/15) and moved me to another room to get checked out by my doctor.  Good News!  Everything is fine and the eye healed up perfectly.  Definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

Another quandary was resolved at the checkout desk.  An older lady was completing her exit papers ahead of me and trying to plan her next followup a few days later.  Guessing with the fact she was not wearing any glasses and needed such a quick followup, the assumption was she just had cataract surgery (too old for LASIK) and was in for her post-surgery followup.  As she was getting ready to go, the receptionist handed her one of the flowers (with her name on it) and said it was a gift from her doctor.  That made a lot more sense than my original thought.  What a nice thing to do, it is relatively cheap compared to the cost of the surgery and it sure made the lady very happy.  Kudos to the doctor for a very nice touch.

But life is based on the Yang and the Um (for the non-Koreans, the Ying and the Yang).  The dualism of life; the good and the bad, sweet and the sour, life and death.  It is this constant opposition that keeps us grounded (morality) and leads to our character definition.  I came home from the appointment elated that my surgery was a complete success.  Later that day, there was a large crack against our great room window.  Typically this indicates a bird had just realized the concept of glass.  I didn’t think much of it since this tends to happen 2 or 3 times a week usually leaving the bird somewhat stunned, but able to fly off once the webs clear.  About an hour later I happened to look out the window and saw a beautiful cardinal sitting under our porch furniture below our large picture windows.  He looked alert, but was just sitting there opening and closing his beak.  It was still pretty cold out and the wind was gusting causing him to continually adjust his balance.  I pondered the situation for a few minutes while observing the bird.  Typically, if the birds don’t initially break their necks, they are able to recover and fly off.  Rarely do their wings get seriously injured since the impact is typically on the beak/head.  But this bird was alert, but wasn’t really moving that much other than adjusting to keep from being blown over.  It didn’t appear any sound was coming out of his beak movements but it was a steady opening and closing motion.  I could try to shield him from the wind or possibly get a box and move him to the basement until he recovered, but eventually decided to let it be hoping he would pull through.  If he was seriously injured, there was nothing I could anyway.  I also didn’t know what the laws were pertaining to a state bird (other than I think they are protected in some manner).  Going on with my daily tasks, eventually the situation left my thoughts.  I checked to see if the bird was still there later in the night and I am sorry to report, the little guy didn’t make it.  He had succumbed to the cold so he must have badly injured himself.  Yes, it was just a bird, but it did trigger memories from the teachings in the dojo.  The happiness of clarified sight in the morning paired with the reality of death in the evening.  The good news is one of the local farm cats will find a special treat when the show up to get out of the cold.

Life is a circle (see the pupil)