Monday afternoon I spent a couple of hours (4:15 – 6:30 PM) “down back” at our beaver-made wetland. I was interested to see how the population of odes was doing here. My impression is that the total numbers of odes was low here, as it was at other sites that we visited late last week.
Usually, there are large numbers (dozens) of darners flying out over the wet meadow. On this visit there were a few… maybe five or six… on patrol mainly over the beaver pond. I also saw a single male calico pennant and a single male frosted whiteface. That was it for dragonflies.
As for damselflies, I observed a handful (maybe six total) of spreadwings. The most common damsel was the sphagnum sprite. There were both males and females present and I saw two pairs flying in tandem. That was it. I saw no bluets at all.
The rose pogonias and swamp candles that were blooming a couple of weeks ago on my last visit “down back” were completely finished blooming. However, I did note the presence of sundew which I had never seen in this location before… probably because I was’t paying attention!
Since there were so few odes around on Friday, I took to making photographs of the flowers that Joan has growing around the vegetable garden.
At one point, I was aggressively investigated by a female ruby-throated hummingbird. I guess that she decided that I was not going to eat too much nectar because, after the initial close encounter, she proceeded to visit a few flowers while I fumbled to take the extension tube off my camera. I was too slow and she headed off before I could make a photo of her.
Thursday afternoon Joan and I headed out to explore… Joan was interested in wild orchids and I in odes, of course. Our “targets” were the cedar swamp at Lovern’s Mill and the Bradford Bog.
The most significant observation was the low numbers of odes we encountered in what are usually rich environments. The number of dragonflies we observed in four or five hours can be counted on one hand. Damselflies were slightly more numerous, but only at Lovern’s Mill; we saw none at the Bradford Bog.
The main trail near the Lovern’s Mill boardwalk yielded a handful of ebony jewelwings. This is always a reliable place for them. The actual swamp/boardwalk yielded single individuals of two other species. (All of the photos shown below were made at Lovern’s Mill.)
The dearth of odes continued when I took a careful look around the house on Friday. I saw small numbers of damselflies and two or three dragonflies.
Last Tuesday we had periods of torrential rain which came and went beginning in the evening and continuing for most of the night. I wonder if this weather is related to the general lack of odes?
If you look closely, you will note that all of the photos of the ebony jewelwing are of the same individual (with a bent wing tip). We encountered this fellow both coming and going from the swamp. We saw three or four other individuals as well.
Monday afternoon I stopped by a local beaver pond. While I was getting out of the truck I clearly heard the sounds of a beaver near the dam. As I walked to the waters edge, I saw him/her dive quietly. I set up the camera and tripod and waited for the beaver to reappear. I waited more than a half hour and had only two quick glimpses of a nose poking out of the water.
I entertained myself by photographing the reflections on the dead-calm water. I am a sucker for the abstractions of reflections!
Below are photos taken over the past few days…
The first five photos are from last Friday at the heavily wooded stream flowing from Willard Pond into the nearby Mill Pond. There were lots of male ebony jewelwings present but no females and a smattering of other species. There were also many odes out over the Mill Pond proper that I did not get a chance to photograph.
On Saturday, I gave a presentation titled “Photographing Dragonflies and Damselflies” as part of the Athol Bird and Nature Club’s Dragonfly Institute. The presentation was followed by a couple of hours in the field at a nearby park along the Miller’s River. I did not make many photographs here but I did get a nice photo of a Halloween Pennant, a species that we do not have in our NH neighborhood.
Joan and I spend Sunday afternoon over at camp.The weather was overcast and windy and it rained for a couple of short intervals. There were not too many odes out and about. There were, however, a fair number of variable dancers hanging out low in the vegetation just above the waters edge… most seemed to be in active mating mode with many pairs flying in tandem. I did get some nice photos (the last four) of “behavior”.
Lastly, an update on the nesting loons. I visited the nest last Friday and again yesterday (Monday). There has been no change; the pair is still sitting on two eggs. This is not good news at 36 days since I first saw them sitting on the nest. The normal incubation period is usually cited as 26-30 days.
A fellow loon watcher who was there yesterday (and whose name I can’t remember) said that he read of a pair of loons who sat on a nest for 70 days before giving up!
Yesterday afternoon, I donned my waders and spent a few hours at the beaver swamp “down back” on our property. I am always amazed how quickly time passes while I am out in the field. The old saying “time flies when you are having fun” is certainly true for me!
Darners have appeared out over the wet meadow since I last visited the swamp. You know…the ones that I have yet to figure out how to photograph! Their numbers are small right now but their arrival is, to me, a signal that summer is truly here.
Additionally, male spangled skimmers and male frosted white faces were present in good numbers. Mating season for the bluets (which I can not identify exactly) was in full swing… I saw more pairs flying in tandem than I did individuals.
The most common damselfly present was the sphagnum sprite. I had forgotten how frustrating these are to photograph. They spend all of their time down low in the vegetation and are very small. One finds them by looking for the bright blue spot on the end of their abdomen. Then the challenge is to find a clear “window” through the grasses and sedges in which to photograph them. All good fun!
The fragile forktail is quite rare here. The single individual I saw and photographed yesterday represents only the second time that I have observed one “down back”.
In the water at the edge of the pond, there were large numbers of rose pogonias in bloom. I had not noticed them in years past. Their foliage is very inconspicuous and thus they are easily missed if you do not catch them in bloom.
Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time observing the nesting loons again. No chicks yet… a worrying state of affairs as they have been sitting on the nest at least since the 9th of June.
I did watch the two adults switch places twice during the four hour interval (1:15 to 5:15 PM) that I watched them.
Photographs of loons actually leaving or entering the nest are not very interesting. These birds leave the nest without any obvious (to me anyway) warning… they simply slide off the nest into the water. Loon butts do not make for interesting photos! Conversely, watching an adult loon climb back onto the nest is a vivid reminder that these are water birds… the word “ungainly” comes to mind.
Once the incoming adult gets on the nest, they proceed to move the eggs about a bit and do a bit of housekeeping by rearranging a stick or two before settling down on the eggs.
Take a careful look at the loon photos… see any other animals present?*
The best place to photograph the nesting loons is from atop a large rock. Yesterday, I kept noticing that two or three small gray birds would briefly appear on another nearby rock and then disappear back into the bushes behind the rock.
Eventually, an adult appeared with a single small insect that one of the three fledglings gobbled up in a microsecond. There are only two young birds in the photo because the “winner” did not waste any time in getting away with the prize. The two you see are still yelling at mom or dad “where’s mine”!
The appearance of the adult allowed me to identify, without the need for a book, the birds as gray catbirds.
*I am now to the point were I can photograph odes without trying!!!
I am a bit behind on the blogging… too much to photograph!
On Sunday, I spent some time roaming the yard and the logging road across from our driveway. The most common ode present were many immature male calico pennants. There were also at least two female spangled skimmers and a smattering of other species. Not a bad assortment for a warm and windy afternoon.
Yesterday, I headed out to check on the nesting loons. I was last there two weeks ago and I was hoping that there would be some chicks. No luck… however, there was an adult still sitting on the nest, so there is still hope.
I first observed the loons on the nest on 10 June… 25 days ago. Their incubation period is cited as 26-29 or 26-31 days, so hatching should be any day now. I’m hoping to head back tomorrow!
The female mallard and her brood of four duckling were still in the same area, so I photographed them instead of the loons.
Part IV is here.
One Afternoon in the Life of a Wildlife Photographer, or… Waiting for Merlin.
Based on A True Story – A Play in One Scene
- Hoary wildlife photographer… bearded and pony-tailed, dressed for the field and carrying camera with a large telephoto lens mounted on a tripod.
- Male merlin
- Female merlin
- Small song bird, recently deceased (exact species is the male merlin’s choice)
- Mosquito Ensemble (as many as the production budget will allow; there can not be too many)
A narrow clearing in the woods near the Audubon Camp on Hog Island in Maine. A trail enters the clearing at the near (downstage) end. At the far (upstage) end of the clearing is a tall snag that ends in an inverted “L”.
The weather is warm and humid. The skies are a flat gray.
The Action (There is no dialog):
Approximately 1:30 PM…
Photographer enters the near end of the clearing, sets up his camera/tripod and points it at the top of the snag. He fiddles with the camera and lens for a short time, applies a liberal coating of “bug stuff” to self and proceeds to stand quietly next to his camera.
For the next two-and-a-half hours…
Photographer occasionally looks through the viewfinder or checks a setting on the camera.
Photographer regularly swats at the cloud of mosquitoes that has assembled around him.
Once during this interval a merlin is heard to call briefly from stage right.
At 4:09 PM…
Female merlin enters stage right, lands on the snag and, during the next eight minutes, she spends time looking around in various direction and twice she calls.
At 4:17 PM…
Female merlin exits stage right.
At 4:25 PM…
Female merlin enters stage right and lands on snag.
At 4:27 PM…
Female merlin exits stage right.
At 4:41:49 PM…
Raucous merlin calls are heard from both stage left and stage right. Photographer comes to full attention and peers into camera.
At 4:41:59 PM…
Male merlin enters stage left carrying the small song bird and lands on the snag. (See the first photo below.)
Photographer makes a burst of photographs over the next five seconds.
At 4:42:00 PM…
Female merlin enters stage right, snatches the song bird from the male nearly knocking him form his perch and exits stage left. (See the second photo below.)
Merlin calls cease.
Male merlin regains his grasp on the perch and begins to preen. (See the third photo below.)
Photographer makes an additional four or five exposures over the next three minutes. (See the fourth photo below.)
At 4:45 PM…
Male merlin exits stage left.
At 4:46 PM…
Photographer packs up gear, shoulders tripod and jauntily exits down the trail whence he entered.