Yesterday during my Hallmark moment I heard a slight ripple in the water behind me. I turned around just in time to see one of the fiercest creatures in the bog sneaking up on me. Two beady little eyes, a tiny wet nose, and whiskers are all you’ll see of this ferocious beast snaking its way through the algae toward you. This baby muskrat swam right up and just sat there looking at me, even as I swung my gear around and tried to find a weed free position to get a shot.
A fresh coat of bright green algae has covered the bog since I was here last. As I approach the water’s edge, a mother mallard and her six favorite ducklings move away as quickly as they can through the thick green slime, leaving behind a wake seemingly frozen in time. A bit further out on the bog a pair of Green Herons are chasing each other around flirtatiously, plopping down on the algae periodically to look for fish. The sun is up now, filtering through the trees on the other side of the bog, and I realize I’ve been accompanied by an Eastern Phoebe. She’s in her favorite spot, preening and occasionally leaving her perch to ever so elegantly catch a passing insect, the way that only a phoebe can. A catbird is “meowing” in the brush nearby while a nuthatch crawls around on the tree in front of me uttering his standard call, “Meep, meep, meep,” which, loosely translated, means I like bugs, I like bugs, I like bugs. I can hear a Red-winged Blackbird singing in the distance and goldfinches flying by are filling the sky with their joyous noise. It’s times like this that I realize getting the photos is not always the most important thing. Just then- CROAK!!! Kersplash!!! What must have been a forty pound bullfrog hopped off a log behind me and belly-flopped into the water, scaring the crap outta me and completely destroying my moment! Thanks a lot frog, now I wish I would have gotten some dang pictures.
Each spring around the time the warblers arrive, dragonfly larvae begin crawling out of the bog and shedding their skin, becoming the beautiful winged creatures we see flying around all summer long. Dragonflies actually spend most of their lives under water, in their larval stage, and that means from two months to five years depending on the dragonfly! Pictured here are a pair of Blue Dashers, a pair of Common Whitetail Skimmers, and a Widow Skimmer.
The Northern Flicker is one confused woodpecker. He’s been called a Common Flicker, a Flicker, a Red-shafted Flicker and a Yellow-shafted Flicker, among other things. Well, today I’m going to straighten this whole mess out! He’s officially called the Northern Flicker. However, there are two distinct sub species: yellow-shafted and red-shafted. Eastern flickers have yellow shafts on their primary flight feathers as well as yellow on the underneath side and are known as Yellow-shafted Flickers. Western flickers have red shafts and red on the underneath side, and are known as Red-shafted Flickers. That’s simple enough, right? This fella right here is the yellow shafted variety.
Whenever I post a sparrow I can almost hear the collective yawn from my thousands of followers and I just don’t get it. Sparrows are fascinating little creatures and there are around 35 different species in North America. Sure, most are just brown and gray but some, like the White-crowned Sparrow, have that extra bit of bling that sets them apart. And the female’s crown, I think it’s actually made of gold!
I’m not saying I went back to the bog this morning after yesterday’s ill-advised adventure, but if I had gone I probably would have seen a baby Downy Woodpecker practicing his drumming on a nearby twig. He has much to learn about proper tree selection for drumming, as he sounded more like a worn out old tambourine than a woodpecker.
It’s been a week since my knee surgery; doc said stay off my feet but he didn’t say for how long. So, on this fine Fourth of July morning it’s 54 degrees and sunny, and I’m going to the bog! I laced up every knee brace I could find and slapped on every piece of neoprene and velcro in the house. I felt like Randy from A Christmas Story, when his mom bundled him up for school and he couldn’t put his arms down, but only with knee braces instead of snow suits. I actually gave some thought to falling down: could I get back up and if not, how long before anybody found me out here!?! Being the fearless wilderness explorer that I am, I decided to risk it, and so I hobbled my way down to the edge of the bog. I spent a few minutes with a preening Eastern Phoebe and I got the feeling that there were photos to be had if I could spend a few hours out here this morning. I also got the feeling that my dang doctor was right too, I had to get off my feet immediately so I bid my Phoebe a fond farewell and crawled on home.
I always assumed this little gem was a member of the thrush family, related to the American Robin. I was wrong, Ovenbirds belong to the wood-warbler family. But how on earth could the world’s foremost leading ornithological expert have made such a mistake!?! Let’s start from the beginning; thrush-like eyes, thrush shaped head, thrush shaped little body. Ahah! This is a tiny little bird, way too small to be a thrush. That, along with the too short, warbler-like tail and the warbler-like beak. I now agree with the classification of this bird as a wood-warbler. I’m sure the scientific community was sweating it out while they awaited my final decision on this matter!
Woodpeckers are funny little creatures; when they find a tree full of food all inhibitions are immediately cast aside. Neither photographer nor big angry Red-headed Woodpecker was going to spoil this Red-bellied Woodpecker’s breakfast. Red head sure tried though, chasing the red belly through the woods repeatedly, returning to the tree each time to find that red belly was right back there again, eating. Finally, exasperated, red head went to look for food elsewhere.
The Black-and white Warbler is the only warbler species known for creeping around on the sides of tree trunks. In fact, it was originally classified as a Black-and-white Creeper, until someone came along and correctly identified it as a warbler. This bird has such a knack for sneaking up on me that I feel like creeper might be more accurate.
Last Saturday morning I was working on a Squirrel Sunday in my office, the spacious one with the outdoorsy feel and the charcoal grill, when something came crashing down out of the trees. Maple trees shed big chunks of tree all the time so it wasn’t a big deal, I was a little concerned about it landing on my head though. It seemed like this big piece of tree was falling in slow motion; it would hit the limb below it and pause there, then fall again and pause on the next limb down. I watched as this thing fell a hundred feet, hitting every limb on the way down, until it finally hit the last limb which was right in front of my face. It was a squirrel! He sat there for a moment checking his vitals, meanwhile his pal, who had been running down the side of the tree after him, had finally caught up and they hopped across the yard like it was no big deal.
Like the Dickcissel, Killdeer are named because of their call. And a loud, clear Killdeer call it is. You’ll know right away when there are Killdeer around, and you’ll know when you are getting close to a nest because the calls become louder and more intense. I never did see a nest on this day, or babies for that matter, so I wonder what they were so upset about. Probably nothing, just wanted their pictures taken, and all the fame and glory that goes along with making it on birds of the bog.com.
I got plum run’d out of the bog by skeeters the other day, worst mosquitoes I’ve ever experienced, anywhere. I suspect this is why the birds have seemingly vacated the area as well. It’s too perfect a day to stop shooting though, so I headed to the southwest and a massive prairie guaranteed to be mosquito free, but is this where all my birds went as well? Immediately upon my arrival I was greeted by a group of angry Killdeers expressing their displeasure with my existence on earth; thankfully Killdeers are quick to forgive and forget. In the grass nearby I could hear a Song Sparrow belting out his favorite morning tune and beyond him, way out on the prairie, I could hear the huge song of a Dickcissel. That’s who I’m gonna shoot today, a Dickcissel. Hey, they don’t let me name the birds. Curious as to why this bird has such a strange name, I did a little research. It turns out that his favorite call sounds a bit like dick-dick-cissel. Still, I would have come up with something cooler, like mini-Meadowlark. As I headed across the prairie I started to feel light-headed, must have lost a lot of blood over at the bog because I swear that’s a teepee over there!
On Sunday I had all but given up on finding anything cool to photograph and then right on que, epic baby raccoons happened! Friday was much the same, I was ready to pack it in after having no luck whatsoever, but then I got that epic feeling again, and ten seconds later I was photographing baby Tree Swallows! There’s an old dead stump out on the water with about a hundred holes in it, and I just happened to notice some beady little eyes peeking out of one. Then mom and pop started circling with food and the photo frenzy was on!
I was on the north side of the bog trying to figure out where all the dang birds went, moping around and probably pouting a little too, when I came to the realization that something epic usually happens at times like this. Alakazam! Nothing. Kazamo! Rats. Snorkel? Hmmm… c’mon! Gimme something ep- whoa!!! That tree is moving! Epic time, it never fails. Mama raccoon had the kids out for a climbing lesson and was in the process of putting them back to bed. What I know about baby raccoons is, that’s no easy task, especially when there’s a world-famous photographer standing in front of their house. These guys clowned around and mugged for the camera a little bit, then they headed for the front door. They looked like those suction cup Garfields people used to put in their car windows, stuck to the side of the tree while they waited their turn to go in! And of course, once they were all in, there was no going to bed until each and every one of them got to peek outside at the photographer one last time.
There are a whole bunch more baby raccoon photos in the Critter Pics page so don’t forget to go over there and have a look.