This past weekend, Kyle Dudgeon joined me in what has become a yearly trip for me to the Adirondacks to photograph Common Loons. We arrived Saturday afternoon, set up camp, and we were heading out in our kayaks onto Follensby Clear Pond by early evening. Moments after I got in the water, a Common Loon popped up right next to my kayak, checked me out for a minute or so, and then dove under. We spent the evening on the pond with several cooperative adult birds; the weather was great and we had some decent light for photos.
We timed the trip so that we might be able to see some loon chicks. When the sun had set on Saturday evening, we were questioning our timing since we’d seen only adults.
Over dinner, I double checked when I’d had chicks there in the past – our timing seemed okay, and when we woke up Sunday morning at our campsite there was an adult with a chick on the pond about 75 yards out. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was a rainy, dark, morning. We enjoyed seeing the adult feeding the chick and we had some real excitement when an intruder loon came into the area and “our” adult tangled pretty good with the intruder, eventually forcing him/her out of the area. The chick, in the meantime, hid itself along the shore. We knew where it was, but only because we saw it go there – it was REALLY well camouflaged. Eventually the adult came back and the two were reunited. It wasn’t long after that when the second adult arrived and the two adults took turns feeding the chick. It was pretty cool stuff to see, even though the distance and lack of light limited the number of decent photos.
Kyle was determined to get into the water and photograph the loons using a boogie board to prop his camera on. The idea is to get as low of an angle as possible, which always seems desirable for bird photography. On Saturday, at first, he tried it in deeper water and struggle to keep the camera from getting wet. Later he tried where he could stand and he had much more success. He couldn’t convince me to get out of the kayak and try it (I’ve had enough camera issues recently, I don’t need to drop one in the pond!), but he ended up swimming with the loons both days and I have to say I love the low angle he achieved:
It was a brief, but excellent weekend with the loons. It would be interesting to spend a summer with these birds – you would learn so much and the photo ops would be insane. Until that happens, I’ll try to keep up the yearly visits. Here are some more of my favorite shots from the weekend:
I wonder how many people can say they saw breeding Common Loons with a chick in the morning and a Roseate Spoonbill in the afternoon? Without taking a flight? I’m guessing not too many, if any at all, but that’s exactly what Kyle Dudgeon and I did today. Just as we were wrapping up our yearly trip to the Adirondacks after a morning of kayaking in the rain (and swimming in Kyle’s case) with Common Loons, I got a phone call from Linda Scrima. She had located a ROSEATE SPOONBILL at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Apparently a photo of a ROSP had been posted to the refuge’s Facebook page and Linda followed up on it early this morning and found the bird on the west side of the loop, just over the border into Sussex County, New Jersey. As Kyle and I got on the road, we did some quick figuring and we knew that we would certainly try for the spoonbill. Five or so hours later, we headed down the trail and joined a number of birders and photographers gathered to see the bird. It was very strange to me to see this bird up in our area, after having previously only seen them in their normal range of Florida and Texas. It was a life bird for Kyle, so that was exciting. The bird spent the duration of our time there partially hidden by vegetation, so Linda sent me one of her pics from earlier in the day to use for this post – thanks Linda!
I have a good number of Common Loon photos to get through, but I will post in the next day or so; it’s one of my favorite posts of the year, so I’m looking forward to it. Here is a teaser from earlier this morning, during a break in the rain:
From July 7th to the 14th, Tricia and I, along with seven other members of her family rented a house right on the beach in Rossadillisk, Ireland. Rossadillisk is a Townland in County Galway, Ireland. It is very small, taking up just .29 square miles of area. But, it is certainly not the smallest, as, of the approximately 4,556 townlands in County Galway, it is the 2,483rd largest. For such a small area, Rossadillisk packs a pretty mean birding punch. There is great birding along the road – with many fields and plenty of thick vegetation. And then, there is always the beach. I got into a nice routine of getting up nice and early. I would bird the beach right in front of our house and then set off to bird along the road, which is where I found most of my birds. I would finish the morning by birding what I called the “far beach”, which was much larger and more productive than the beach right in front of the house.
For the week, I tallied 46 species of birds in that .29 square miles. I mostly enjoyed the challenge of trying to find birds and identify them; in the beginning, identifying birds was not coming very easily at all. It felt a lot like starting over birding – I came to realize how much I know the birds in our area just because I’ve had plenty of experience with them before and because they are supposed to be there; they are expected. And, I also realized that I’m not actually spending all that much time truly looking at birds and recognizing and knowing their field marks. Additionally, I hadn’t done much homework before the trip, and the guides I was using* just didn’t seem to be quite as comprehensive as the ones we use for birds in the eastern United States, and finally, it was the time of year when there were many young birds around, so some of the plumages I was seeing were not in the guides. This made for some very interesting and rewarding birding, in spite of it being frustrating at times.
I hope you enjoy this little taste of Ireland’s birds – I’ve included my favorite shots from my mornings in Rossadillisk. If I’ve misidentified any birds, please let me know in the comments.
AT THE BEACH
*I used the Complete Field Guide to Ireland’s Birds by Eric Dempsey & Michael O’Clery, as well as two apps on my phone: iBird UK Pro and Birds of Britain and Ireland by Natureguides.
I had a fantastic week in Connemara, Ireland, a district located on the west coast of the country, in the northwest corner of County Galway. The biggest surprise of the week was, in spite of renting a house right on the beach, I spent a large portion of my birding time with the local passerines. Songbirds were numerous on the road leading to our house and I walked it nearly every morning, trying to find and identify Irish passerines. I have loads of photos to get through, so I will put together a post or two as soon as I can. Until then, enjoy this European Goldfinch, a bird that reminded me very much of our own American Goldfinches.
Tonight, Tricia and I are flying to Ireland for a week of vacation. It’s been a while since we were there and I am excited because I feel like both my birding and my photography have improved to an extent that will make the trip that much more enjoyable for me. Because it’s a family vacation, I don’t have any concrete plans yet for birding; I think I’m going to mostly play it by ear, but regardless I know I’ll get out a good bit and it should hopefully be interesting. Stay tuned – with any luck, I will publish my first post about it a week from Sunday (07/15/18).
This morning I joined John Haas and Karen Miller on a trip to Nickerson Beach on Long Island; we were hoping to see some of the great terns that have been reported there in recent days. It was my first time to Nickerson Beach, and I didn’t really know what to expect. There are nesting colonies of Common Terns, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers – all in a relatively small area, so the shear number of birds is absolutely incredible. Our timing was good for tern chicks and we saw plenty of both Least and Common Tern chicks. We spent much of our time between the Common Tern colony and the ocean, and it was remarkable to see how well the terns were doing feeding; there was a steady stream of COTEs heading out to the ocean and coming back with fish in their bills to feed young.
We were hoping that some larger groups of terns would loaf on the beach, this would increase our chances of seeing some different terns, but this never materialized to any great extent. Whenever a larger group of terns would start to develop, sure enough a walker or jogger would come through and flush the birds. It was a perfect “beach day” after all! Apparently we had missed a Royal Tern do a fly-by while we were checking out the Least Tern colony, but we did get lucky with four GULL-BILLED TERNS which spent a good amount of time flying above and through the Common Tern colony. I was excited because of all the likely terns, this is the one I wanted to get shot of – they are a beautiful clean, sharp looking tern and they are distinctly whiter than the Commons that they were flying among. Unfortunately, we left without getting a couple of our targets – Arctic Tern and Roseate Tern. It was a great morning of birding, and getting out super early, we beat the heat for the most part.
After work yesterday I went to Knapp’s Landing in Chester, NY. I wanted to double check that my lens had not been damaged during Sunday’s spill. I’d broken out my old Canon Rebel T2i camera body – I shot the first two years of this blog with this camera body, and now I’m wondering how I did it. I’ve become spoiled with the speed and convenience of my 70D and I was floored at how slow the Rebel was in many respects: focusing, shooting, viewing pics, and changing settings. It was magnified by the fact that I was shooting in RAW; I never shot in RAW back then so it was definitely a lot quicker. That being said, the camera still takes really nice pics. I went to Knapp’s Landing hoping to shoot Bobolinks, but they were more scarce than my previous visit (likely busy breeding), so that didn’t work out. I ended up getting lucky when a pair of Northern Mockingbirds landed in a tree not far off the trail, in good light. I was pleased with the results and it looks like, thankfully, my lens made it through unscathed. Now I just have to wait for my new camera body (Canon 7d Mark II) to arrive later this week…
This morning I hiked out at Black Rock Forrest again. I have enjoyed going out there – to me there is a sense of adventure involved because you never know what you might see. I had a birdy walk with mostly the usuals, but the day did end up being eventful. I have to mention that the bugs were absolutely terrible on this hike. I walked around in a cloud of gnats and mosquitoes that never seemed to end. I’m usually fine with the insects on a trail; they don’t really bother me. But today it was overwhelming, to the point where it was affecting my birding because I didn’t want to stop as often as I normally would.
About an hour into the hike, I walked out into a clearing to find a relatively large black bear right in front of me. I took a quick series of photos, but I was nervous because I’d come out into the clearing quite close to the bear. I made a bunch of noise, but the bear held its ground, so I decided that I did not need to continue on that trail any further and slowly retreated. Not long after that, I inadvertently flushed a RUFFED GROUSE as I walked along the trail. The bird was just off the trail and instead of taking flight, it fled into the forrest on foot – giving me (sadly) my best look at a RUGR to date. I lingered in the general vicinity for a good while, keeping still and hoping for a reemergence of the bird, but it was not to be. I think you only get one shot with these birds. My final event was not a good one. I was making my way back to my car, moving at decent pace. I stopped to listen as a distant (presumed) bear had heard me coming and was making its way through the woods at a rapid pace off to my right. I never saw the bear, but it made quite the ruckus. My next step happened to be on a wet rock and I wiped out pretty good. I was fine, but unfortunately my camera did not come out of it unscathed. Fortunately the lens seems to be fine, but the body took a good blow and is not able to connect with the lens, so it looks like it will have to go in for repairs. I finished my hike having logged just over 6 miles, with 35 species of birds and who-knows-how-many mosquito bites.
It’s the time of year when just about all of the birds in our area are expected breeders, so I didn’t have any real surprises this week. I got out a good amount and, I have to say, the birding has been really enjoyable. It’s a time of year to just enjoy seeing the birds, and to watch their behavior, and, of course, to photograph them. Here’s a sampling of the birds (and bears) I had in the past week.