I couldn’t help but laugh out loud while watching a tiny Red Squirrel chasing a much larger Gray Squirrel around the bog. Then I heard snickering behind me. It was another Red Squirrel eating some lunch while enjoying the festivities!
Have you ever seen a Solitary Sandpiper sneeze? I have and I gotta say, it was spectacular! A few things must happen to execute the perfect sandpiper sneeze, first, find a nice boggy log to stand on. Next, spend a few hours preening, making sure to get every single feather nice and clean, and arranged in a neat and orderly fashion. The final step, and this one is critical, let it RIP! Ahhhchploooey!!!
Ahhh, yellow birds in the spring, fluttering amidst the newly budding leaves. That can only mean one thing… warblers! Wait a minute, I thought the same thing a few days ago and they weren’t even warblers. Oh boy, what if I’m wrong again!?! Aww heck with it, I’m diving in head first! Woohoo! Spring warbler migration is here! These Pine Warblers are always among the first to arrive, along with the yellow rumps and the palms. I usually only see one of these pines at a time, but today there was a pair, and they seemed to be enjoying the bog almost as much as I was enjoying watching them enjoy it!
The following are excerpts from a minor disagreement with myself regarding going to the bog on Sunday morning. Me: We’ve been to the bog four times in the past two days. Me: So what, it’s gonna rain all week and this is our last chance for a while. Me: We’re kind of in between ducks and warblers right now and there’s not much happening at the bog. Me: So what, this is usually when we find something spectacular. Me: Fine, let’s go. Upon arriving at the bog, the winds picked up and the skies clouded over, and I was still whining about taking the day off. Me: Let’s get a coffee and go plop down on the couch. Me: No, get your butt out there and take some pictures. Me: Fine. So I was walking along and having a pretty good time, no surprise there, when something yellow this way fluttered. Warbler alert! I couldn’t get very close to this dude, which is strange for warblers, but I did manage a few shots. As I followed him down the trail, checking some of the shots I just took, I couldn’t help but notice those awesome eyes. There seems to be some gray or white in those eyes, this isn’t any warbler I’m familiar with. I was completely stumped! I know there are only a few birds with eyes like this, wait a minute, is that a vireo beak? A vireo beak is distinctively thick and has a “hook” on the end. Why yes it is, and I seem to recall some kinda bird called a White-eyed Vireo or some such name. That’s it! I’m sure glad I convinced myself to go bogging today!
Maybe I’m a sucker for big yellow eyes, but I just love the Brown Thrasher! I typically only get one glance at this magnificent bird per year even though I’m right in the middle of his summer range, and that one glance happened today. Usually this shy dude retreats rapidly into the densest brush around, but today he was content to sit in this bush and watch me. Also in the bush at the same time was my Eastern Towhee, and if you think I stood there with a big stupid grin on my face while people walked by, you’d be absolutely correct!
The towhees are back! They flew in Friday night and boy are their arms tired! Nope, wings, boy are their wings tired! Rats, that joke just doesn’t work with birds, I guess because they actually do fly. Seriously though, I could hear the towhees singing as I pulled into the entrance on Saturday. I hadn’t heard a towhee in six months, but I was instantly reminded that it’s one of my absolute favorite sounds in nature. I walked right up to this little guy and he seemed to remember me, although he did stay in the confines of that brushy tangled bush for a few seconds before hopping out into the open and singing me my favorite song. A group of towhees is known as a tangle, and I think the final photo in this series pretty much illustrates why.
As I pulled into the entrance of the bog, a pair of bright yellow goldfinches flew past me. Very nice, that’s a good sign, I thought as I proceeded down the narrow, winding road. Up ahead I could see Tree Swallows perched atop all the posts lining the road, almost as if they were welcoming me personally to the bog. Thank you, thank you Tree Swallows. A couple of honking geese flew over for good measure, and then I heard the towhees calling back and forth, Hi Dan, we’re back! Hi Dan, we’re back! I hadn’t been at the bog ten seconds and I’d already forgotten why I was so grumpy all winter long! They gave me such a grand entrance that I knew the only way to improve on this trip would be to spot my first warbler of the year. A few minutes later, I was photographing a sapsucker making sap holes in a tree, when suddenly a Yellow-throated Warbler flew up and starting sucking sap outta that sapsucker’s sap holes!
Its been a while since I stayed at that old cabin in the woods along the mighty Mississippi River, so I called to make a reservation. Guide dad and spotter mom are still giving river tours so I signed me up for some! During the last tour we were looking for eagles, and boy did we find them. This time around though, the eagles aren’t in season so we’ll be looking for pelicans. Big American White Pelicans to be exact, and by big I mean nine foot wingspan big! I loaded my gear and off we went to LeClaire, IA and lock and dam no. 14. There wasn’t much pelican activity at this location, not anything close enough to photograph anyway, so we headed to downtown Davenport and lock and dam no. 15. This is more like it, I knew guide dad and spotter mom wouldn’t let me down. There were cooperative floaters and flyers all within my range. At one point I made the comment that they looked like WWII floatplanes, and come to find out later that a group of pelicans is known as a squadron, my new favorite name for a group of birds. Oh, and the breakfast menu? Same as the last time: biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, and sausage! Them folks sure do know how to give a river tour!
118. I dunno what to make of the number 118. Is it a lot? It would be a lot of pizzas. It wouldn’t be a whole lot of pennies. This Ring-billed Gull is the 118th different bird species I have photographed at the bog and posted on my website in the past two years. That seems like a lot of different birds for this tiny little slice of heaven. And we mustn’t forget the three squirrel species, two turtle species, one chipmunk species and countless insect and plant species. Yeah, 118 seems like a lot.
Last week as I was photographing those Horned Grebes I heard a huge Kersplunk!!! I assumed that when I turned around there would be some bratty kids chucking rocks into the bog, but there were none. I looked everywhere and couldn’t identify the source of that sound, and then I looked up. I recalled a squirrel at the top of an old dead tree out on the bog munching on a walnut, and sure enough, when I looked up, there he was peeking over the edge at his long lost lunch.
I guess I always expect to see Downy Woodpeckers on the sides of trees or hanging upside down from branches, so when I come across one that’s climbing around a downed limb on the ground, it takes me a minute to get my head around it. I guess if I was eating a pizza and it fell on the ground, I’d be eating off the ground too. Yup, that puts it into perspective for me!
Through the brush I could see a distinctly grebe shaped floater staring back at me. This one seemed different than my Pied-billed Grebe though, but before I could get a better look, Bloop! He dove under the water. I was in a bad position anyway, what with the brush in the way and looking right into the sun, so I moved some fifty feet down the trail to a nice clearing. When I’m shooting diving birds I like to wait until they dive to make any moves, it also helps to know exactly where they’re going to pop up, and simply move to that location. I thought I had lost my grebe, he was nowhere in sight, but then… Bloop! He popped up right in front of me! We were both so surprised that I forgot I even had a camera and he didn’t know what to do either! And just when I thought this day couldn’t get any better, Bloop! His girlfriend popped up and insisted upon getting her photo taken too! Nothing makes my day like a Horned Grebe resurfacing.
In the spring large flocks of Canada Geese can be seen flying north in perfect “V” formations with military-like precision. As the crow flies they go, and straight as an arrow. They are the picture of migratory efficiency. And then there are the Sandhill Cranes. They don’t do formations, or straight line anything! They are commonly seen flying over cities, in big sweeping circular patterns, and they look a little bit ridiculous doing this. Until you consider what they are actually doing, that is. Hot air rising above cities allows these cranes to gain altitude, and so they sacrifice some forward progress during their spiraling ascent, then they glide along until the next city or thermal comes along. Here’s another expert birding tip brought to you by birdsofthebog.com: when you hear a strange, high pitched chortle coming from the sky during migration, don’t give up on looking too soon, because you can typically hear the Sandhill Cranes long before they come into view.
I’ve always perceived swans as merely decorations floating around in fountain pools and garden ponds. Imagine my surprise then, the first time I saw one floating by at the bog! I’ve never seen one in flight, I guess I just figured they walk everywhere. The day I see one flying overhead will probably be a mind blowing event for me!
Day 2,553, the Brown Creepers have finally accepted me as one of their own. This is a hard bird to get; you don’t photograph a Brown Creeper unless a Brown Creeper wants to be photographed. First of all, they are constantly climbing up the sides of trees, and there are only two spots on that tree where a proper photo is possible; the left edge and the right edge. Then there’s a small matter of light; they like to stay in the shadows. They never sit still, constantly in motion. So what we end up with is a bird that is totally impervious to the camera of even a world class photographer such as myself. But on this day all the creepers I encountered went against everything I’ve come to expect from them throughout the years. They all paused. On the sunny side of the trunk. Until I got my photos. It was as if my probationary period was up and I was now a full fledged (pun!) member of the Brown Creeper family!
The muskrats came out last weekend in a big way. Everywhere I looked there they were: sitting on the ice, swimming around, and piled up on logs! On the south side of the bog, a juvenile swam right up to me and let out the cutest little squeak! Then he swam away, but popped up to my right, squeak, and he swam away again. Each time he swam away, he’d pop up in a different spot and let out a little squeak. For a brief moment I considered scooping him up and taking him home, but I figured my squirrels would get jealous and start chewing everything up!
I thought it would be cool to photograph two different duck species flying in the exact same formation. So, using a rudimentary communication system created with sticks and moss, I was able to send information to these Redheads regarding the positioning of the mergansers in my photo from a few days ago. It only took one pass and they nailed it!
I just love spring time, plants are starting to sprout up out of the ground, heck, there’s critters coming out of the ground too! Last week the snakes came out by the bucket load, and the muskrats were all sitting on top of the ice. The warblers are on their way, I just know it, but the winged creatures blowing through right now are the water fowl. Floaty birds of all shapes and sizes are out on the open water these days. I would love to get some close up shots of a Hooded Merganser with his big white head on full display, but for now I’ll have to settle for nice little fly by.
Shortly after my adventure with the baby snake, I heard a tiny little chirp. It was one of those chirps that sounded like it could be coming from a mile away, or only a few feet. Just to be sure, I looked everywhere for the owner of that tiny little chirp, and I found him! Large crest and a black mask? Cedar Waxwing! He was just a few feet away, on the other side of a large bush, so I used my ninja training to sneak over there and get a shot. Of course, just as I raised my camera into position, he moved! Grrr!!! If there’s one thing I know about waxwings though, it’s that they never fly away too far. I figured I’d get another shot at him in a few minutes, and I did!
I was at the bog yesterday thinking about a similarly nice day we had back in November, I photographed a Garter Snake that day and I remember thinking that it was awfully late in the year to be seeing snakes. That’s a strange thing to be thinking about right now, and before I could even finish that strange thought, I heard a rustling in the leaves. Haha! Snake! I shoulda’ known, my strange thoughts always happen for a reason! This was a baby snake exploring the bog for the very first time, and it was quite comical. He’d go zipping past me to left then turn around and go back to the right, stopping periodically to check me out. He investigated every leaf and slithered over or under every little obstacle. I could tell he was having a blast, just like any other baby animal experiencing the world for the first time.