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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Prince's Pine, aka Pipsissewa


Before I left Ohio for our trip to Maine, I was speaking with one of our preserve managers about the Prince's Pine or Pipsissewa, Chimaphila umbellata. This tiny little shrub in the heath family grows less than a foot tall, and has seemingly become quite rare in Ohio (not that it ever was extremely common).  I've never seen it here, and after my conversation with our manager at Conkles Hollow, I learned it no longer occurs there either.  I happened to wonder upon on my exit from the Witt Swamp Preserve in Norway Maine, owned by the Western Foothills Land Trust. What's funny, is that in my excitement headed into the swamp, I completely missed the giant patch right at the entrance.  I spotted it on the way out, and thought how lucky I was to see a plant that has become quite rare in Ohio.  Have you seen this denizen of acidic habitats?  If so, where?

-Tom

Monday, July 25, 2016

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Family in Maine


While I never found the nest cavity where the brood was hatched, a pair of yellow-bellied woodpeckers had raised their young, and, had found a wonderful place, apparently, to eat, right in the yard of my in-laws in Maine. Quite honestly, I have no idea how the tree is still alive, but it showed no signs of distress.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are given this name because they actively make small holes in trees to eat the sap and to eat insects attracted to the sap; I've read that the round holes are deeper, while the square holes are shallow. It's a bit tough to tell the difference between them above- most are somewhat intermediate to my eye.



Once I realized the sapsuckers were around, it didn't take me long to figure out that they were frequently this tree nearly all day, but especially in the morning and evening.  There were at least two, maybe three, young-of-year hanging closely to their parents, perhaps learning what it takes to be a sapsucker.



The yellow on the belly is subtle- Through binoculars or a long telephoto lens, it's visible, and in the hand, I'm sure it would be quite striking . Remember, when most of our North American birds were named, high quality optics didn't exist, so the tool of the earliest ornithologists were shotguns!  The yellow tinge is just visible flanking the female's dark patch below the throat.

In males, the white throat patch is replaced with red, which is stunningly spectacular in person.  This was the first opportunity I've had to photograph a male.



What an incredible bird!  As you can see here, there is in fact yellow on the male's belly, but it is subtle, easily overlooked if you are not looking through binoculars.

This was just another of family of baby birds that was frequently Little Pond.  Without having to leave the yard, we were treated to wonderful looks at multiple species of baby birds. Ahh, to be in Maine again!

-Tom

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Has Got Game!



The first thing that alerted me to the presence of YBSA at Little Pond was the crab-apple tree that was riddled with holes in its bark.  The second was the piercing tapping sound that I heard from around the other side of the house while I was photographing near the feeders.  Ah, a yellow-bellied sapsucker!  Hey, if you're a male YBSA, I couldn't think of anything much louder to drum on and announce your territory than this old basketball backboard.  I imagined the metal roof pictured in the background was just a little too slippery for him to get a hold of.  For us in Ohio, these are rare breeding birds, but they do show up with regularity in the winter.  I've even had them in our backyard bur oak and I've photographed a female at Delaware Preservation Parks' Deer Haven Preserve.

-Tom

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Baby Birds Would Not Quit!



So, this isn't a dinosaur or some strange quail- it's a song sparrow that has lost its tail feathers, probably due to a natural molt, but I'm not an expert in this area. We just kept remarking on how many baby birds were seeing around Little Pond.  I just kept getting great shots.  The song sparrow is one of our most common here in Ohio (at least of the native sparrows), and I regularly see and hear them in our suburban yard in Worthington.  They also call Little Pond home.

-Tom

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Red-breasted Nuthatch



Another bird known to Ohioans as a somewhat uncommon winter visitor, the red-breasted nuthatch is quite common around Little Pond, Maine. I could sit in a lawn chair with my legs outstretched and pressed against this big white pine, and the nuthatches, red-breasted and white-breasted, had no fear of me.  I had some come so close that I could have reached out and touched them had they been inanimate.  This one may have not been the prettiest individual (perhaps it was a young-of-year?), but they were sure fun to watch.

-Tom

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Drought in Maine; Male Purple Finch

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd never seen the area around Little Pond so dry.  A quick look at the U.S. drought monitor revealed the following graphic:

U.S. National Drought Monitor Map for Maine, July 12, 2016

Little Pond is in Oxford County, the large county forming the western border of the state.  Nearly the entire county is listed as yellow, which according to the drought monitor is considered abnormally dry.  Little Pond is on the little southeast nub of the county, and very near the tan color, which is one step drier on the scale and is considered to be an area of moderate drought.  It definitely showed on the landscape, primarily in the form of the white pines looking quite thin and even brown in places, reaching high up into the trees. The brown needles littered the forest floor, which was crunchy with drought compared to its usually soft touch underfoot.  It took a while to get used to!

The local newspapers were recounting stories of wildlife in search of food from people, especially bears, because of the poor fruit crop (think Maine blueberries- yum!) due to drought.  I noticed that there were more birds than ever at the feeders this year, perhaps responding to the low fruit production as well.



One bird that I saw more than ever, and that that I enjoyed watching was the purple finch.  I've never seen one in Ohio, but they are around, especially at feeders in the winter.  Many Ohioans mistake the house finch for the purple finch, but the latter is a much more colorful bird.  This year in Maine, several pairs readily came to the feeders.  I happen to catch this male displaying with wings open and moving rapidly up and down and crest straight up.  Was it for a female?  I believe so, but I was focusing on the bird and not what he was trying to attract!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Chalk-fronted Corporal



The chalk-fronted corporal is quite the rare dragonfly here in Ohio, but quite the common dragonfly in late spring and early summer in Maine.  I've visited before and seen scores of them.  But in July, there are just a few hanging around.  It's always nice to see this species each year on our visit to Maine.  I have found them to be most easy to photograph when they bask on the wooden dock- in fact, most all my photos of this species are of them perched on a non-natural substrate.  In Ohio, they're only known from two northern counties, and are extremely rare here.

-Tom

Monday, July 18, 2016

Male Common Yellowthroat



Boy, what a stunning little bird.  Common yes, but one of my favorite warblers!  These are frequent in the bog at Little Pond where they nest, but I've never seen one venture up the hill to the bird feeding station, where I was planted in a lawn chair with my camera.  I imagine this guy wanted to catch the warmth of early morning rays a little earlier than they would reach the shaded bog below. This photo really shows off that yellow throat.

-Tom

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Drop it right here Mom!



The theme of our visit to Little Pond this year?  Baby birds.  And I mean a TON of baby birds.  To the extent I've never seen so many fledglings.  I spent about 20 minutes photographing tree swallows before I figured out what they were doing.  The youngsters were just hanging out in the tamaracks on the edge of the pond, waiting for a quick transfer from their parents who were hawking insects above the water.  Wow, what a cool nature find.  With rapid fire action like this, I really had no idea until I looked at this series of photographs.  This one told the story!

-Tom

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Magically Appearing Blueberry

And we're back from Maine!  We've actually arrived back in Worthington Monday afternoon, but I've barely had to to look at my nature photographs from my twenty-seventh trip to the Pine Tree State.

The sun breaks the horizon at 5:00 a.m., so I set an alarm to get up early.  While walking down to the dock, I'm prepared for landscape photography.  I typically head out in the canoe to capture the sunrise before switching to the long lens for bird photography around the edges of the bog.  But on this morning, my second there, I believe, two cedar waxwings caught me by surprise.  These photos were taken in rapid succession at 5:09 a.m. in very, very, low light.  I knew the bird on the left was a young-of-year begging for food, but it wasn't until I examined my photographs this evening that I understood what had transpired on that so very early morning.

Uh, Mom, aren't you going to feed me breakfast?

Hmmm... Let me see what I can find.

Yep, I've got something for you.  Just hold on.  Quit flapping your wings!  Be patient.

Oh yes, is that a blueberry Mom!?!    Yes, fledgling, yes it is.  Now just let me get this into the right position.



Mom!  That looks delicious!  I Can't wait!

There we go, are you ready? Put your wings down!

It's coming!

There you go!  How's that?  And I'm evening sending over a little string of  bird saliva!

Oh Mom, that was delicious.  Can I have another?

Let me check....

Hmmm....

Nope, I got nothing.  It's been dry around here this year, and there aren't many blueberries!

Like she said- it has been dry this summer in Maine.  In fact, the driest I've ever seen it since I've been coming here regularly since 2005.  All in all, we had a blast, catching lots of great critters at Little Pond and photographing many more.

-Tom