A change of place

Cooper's Hawk - Panaxonic Lumix GX1 w/ 100-300mm lens.I’ve had cabin fever. I blame it on this never-ending winter. I get out for a walk as much as I can and don’t mind the cold as long as the wind is reasonable. But for a while there I was doing more shoveling than walking.

More often than not I take a camera with me. Sometimes just my iPhone. But I had been taking the same routes over and over. And while they take me by Lake Erie, or a feeder creek, or some woods, it has become a bit repetitive. To break that routine I went to some of the parks that have trails in the adjacent county.

My walks pair well with my newish hobby of birding. On the first visit on a new trail I photographed a Cooper’s Hawk in flight (with my new used camera). That same day I just missed an owl. I saw it, heard it, and discovered it’s nest but couldn’t get a photo. Today I went back just as the snow passed through. I took camera and lens with a little more reach. When I got to the area I slowed and scanned the trees. To my left I saw a Barred Owl, about 40 feet from the path. I spent about 45 minutes trying to get the best image. It only moved once, to a new limb about 10 feet deeper in the woods.

Oh, and I scared the crap out of a jogger, who never saw me, my monopod or my ginormous lens until she was five feet from me. She actually did a little jump dance. Sorry.

So take your camera out for a walk. You never know what you’ll see.

Barred Owl - Nikon D7000 w/ 300mm lens and 1.4 extender.

Long story short

Bald eagle in nest, re-arranging the furniture.

Here’s the story.

With the temperature hovering at 50 degrees today, double what has been the norm, I decided to go to the Sandy Ridge Reservation of the Lorain Metropark system. It’s a great place for birding and to get some exercise. I took my longest glass with me (techtalk - Nikon D7000 with 300 f2.8 lens and 1.4 extender).

It was bright and sunny but the footing was poor – mud and snow on a gravel path. As I emerged from the woods to the lake area I saw a fellow photog set up on a tripod with easily double the glass I had. So I grabbed my binoculars (8x) to see what he saw. Oh, a Bald eagle nest, about 500 yards away.

I felt bad about vulturing his shot but it was a public venue. I made a few frames but then decided to walk around a bit since the eagle was in its nest and making no indication of leaving. I walked a bit; squirrel, chipmunk, red-winged blackbird but not much out there. I was approached by a ranger in a Club Car (a modified golf cart with knobby tires) who reminded me that the park closed at 4:30 (two hours before sunset). It was 4:10 so I started back.

This is the full-frame image that the above photo is taken from.About half way there I heard someone coming up behind me on the trail, on the run. It was the Ranger, who said he had gotten his Club Car stuck along the trail and was heading back to the HQ to get a truck to  pull it out. He sized me up and asked if I would be willing to help him. Yup, not doing anything else.

He came back with the truck and we headed to the cart. As we cleared the trees and made the turn there was the eagle about 150 yards away, sitting on the top of a dead tree. Awesome photo. I told him that on our way back he had to let me stop and get the photo. He agreed.

We got to the Club Car on the side slope of the walking path. We could move it, but not get it back up to the path. He hooked up a tow line to the cart but it was way to sloppy to get any traction with his two-wheel-drive Chevy S-10 in need of new tires. He had to leave it for the morning shift guy to deal with and we headed back to the HQ.

At the junction where the eagle was I took a look and it was gone, back in the nest. Oh, well.

When I got home I related the story to my wife (BA in English, former copy editor). Apparently the story I told (above, near verbatim) was waaaaaay too long as I perceived from the eye-roll. So I asked her what I should have said.

“You saw an eagle in a nest. A ranger asked you to help get his cart unstuck but you couldn’t. You saw the eagle closer on the way to the cart but it was gone when you came back.”

Isn’t that what I said?

Confessions of a closet birder

I guess you’re a birder if you keep a list. A birder is the official name for a bird watcher. Like any hobby, it can be taken to the extreme. I’m definitely on the casual end. For instance, I have made no attempt to count seagulls, or gulls as I was gently schooled by Marie at BAYarts.  I think Marie keeps a list, too.

Marie did me a kindness a few weeks ago. We were chatting on the front porch of BAYarts after I had taught my Thursday class when she asked me if I had ever seen a Barred Owl. I told her I had not. “Well, there’s one right there,” she said, pointing to an oval hole about 30 feet up in a tree about 40 yards away.

Sure enough, a fledgling was sitting right in the opening. And all I had was my iPhone. So I tracked it Friday and Saturday with some better equipment and photographed it on two occasions as it waited for it’s mother to return from shopping. I never saw the mother, and I never saw the fledgling sit up in the opening again like the first night. By Sunday the nest was vacated.

But I had a solid photo, which my daughter absolutely loved because of that Harry Potter thing, I guess. And she’s 21 now. So that was nice.

When I was a kid, whenever we saw a swarm of birds flying in an aerial ballet, we called it a “wedding.” As in, “that’s my wedding.” I don’t know the origin, I don’t know why. But I know now that their performance is called a murmuration, but only if they were Starlings.

If they were Larks, for instance, it would be an Exhaltation, for Pheasants, a Nide and for Goldfinches, a Charm. Some collective nouns for birds in flight are not so kind. Like a Murder of Crows, Pandemonium of Parrots and an Unkindness of Ravens. As a Browns fan I can relate to that.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been following the progress at a Robin’s nest in my backyard. She built her nest in the most photo-opportunistic location possible, at the corner of a patio structure, surrounded by vines.

I have been posting photos on Instagram (as pixellarry) from the start, the first one showing three blue eggs in the nest, of which one bird remains. But on Sunday I set up a 300mm f4.5 lens with a 1.4 extender and settled in. Within 10 minutes I had my photo.

I already had a Robin on my bird list, but the Barred Owl was a nice addition. Oh, and I also saw a White-Crowned Sparrow.

Happy Birthday to my Dad. He would have been 89 today.