Black Ducks Near Portland, Maine

Black duck standing on a submerged log

Black duck standing on a submerged log

 

The feather-preening and log-loafing black ducks in my video –  https://youtu.be/TofxUhwBtyY  –, along with some mallards and wood ducks, seem to have given their stamp of approval to the Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Land Trust’s Robinson Woods Preserve.

Beaver ponds can be very interesting places, and this particular one is easily accessible via the CELT’s Robinson Woods Preserve trail.

On this series of visits, centered around 28 November 2016, beavers were active as evidenced by standing and fallen trees with recent beaver “chews”, winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) were loaded up with red-colored and orange-colored fruits (occurring interestingly enough on separate shrubs), and cattails were in “full fluff”.

The water in the pond had not yet frozen over so the ducks seemed to be contented with the habitat conditions.

Be sure to check out the trails and preserves in the Cape Elizabeth area if you visit Portland, Maine.  The Cape Elizabeth Land Trust folks can be reached at www.capelandtrust.org

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Greater or Lesser?

Greater Yellowlegs?

Greater Yellowlegs?

Check your bird books to see if you agree, but based on the bill and the relative size of the bird compared to the nearby killdeers, I think the bird in the video —      https://youtu.be/769yOjm50Eo     – is a Greater Yellowlegs.

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Great Blue Heron Fan-like Feather Display

 

 

Great Blue Heron Fan-like Feather Display

Great Blue Heron Fan-like Feather Display

When I first studied the photos and video clips depicting this feather display and bird behavior, I asked myself “What is going on here?”

Although I have watched lots of great blue herons over the years, this is the first time that I’ve seen a great blue heron fan its breast feathers like this.  The arrangement of these breast feathers when fully spread made me think of the fanned feather displays of wild turkeys, sage grouse, prairie chickens, and sharp-tailed grouse during their various dance / breeding displays on their leks.

In an attempt to solve the problem, I will treat it as I were trying to determine the definition of a “new” word encountered while reading.

The first clue will be the context of the activity, just as the context of how a word is used in a written passage typically provides some insights as to what the word means.  As with reading, the result is a “best first guess”.

However, to be sure of a “new” word’s definition (and its various nuances) one really needs to consult a dictionary for the accepted definition.

In this context, I have formulated the following working hypotheses to contemplate until such time as I am able to consult the “dictionary”, which in this case will be one or more appropriate life history study reports for the great blue heron.

My first hypothesis is that the fanned feather display is a breeding behavior.

My second hypothesis is that the fanned feather display is an aggressive / displeasure behavior directed at my intrusion on the scene.

My third hypothesis is that the fanned feather display is an aggressive / territorial / personal space threat posture behavior directed at a nearby great egret.

These hypotheses are based on the following narrative of the situation.

When I first drove up in my vehicle, a great blue heron flushed from the nearby boat ramp.  The great blue heron flew across the narrow inlet and in turn flushed a great egret from its perch.  As the great egret flew off, the great blue heron landed and occupied the great egret’s former perch.

As I sat in my vehicle with my camera pointed at the great blue heron, the great egret returned to the perch tree, landed and occupied a new perch position 5 to 8 feet above and to the side of the great blue heron.  The great egret looked around, walked 3 to 4 feet closer along its new limb perch, and started to preen its feathers.

The great blue heron alternately looked in my direction, looked up toward the great egret, and tucked its head in its breast feathers in an apparent sleep / dozing posture.  At the same time, the great blue heron fanned its breast feathers – sometimes in an exaggerated fashion, sometimes in a near-normal posture.

At the moment, my analyses of the various working hypotheses leads me to believe that the great blue heron was irritated primarily by the presence of the great egret and possibly secondarily somewhat irritated by my intrusion (i.e., the initial flush and my continued presence).

I did not see or detect the presence of a second great blue heron in the area, although my view was limited by a tree line on my side of the inlet.  Also, late-December seems to be early for any serious great blue heron breeding activities.

My guess is that the great blue heron’s fanned breast feather display was a non-vocal, persistent, non-contact signal to the great egret that the great blue heron was alert, irritated, and that the great egret had best mind its manners.

Although this is the first time that I have personally seen this behavior, and I have not yet read about this posture, I would be surprised if this posture and its associated behavior have not been studied before.

I’ll know for sure when I encounter the appropriate “dictionary” (i.e., an applicable life history / behavioral study for the great blue heron).

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Avian Sushi, Pied-billed Grebes, and Photo Ecology

JWT CF 1935-1112-C

The small flock (aggregation?) of nine or more pied-billed grebes in my Avian Sushi video https://youtu.be/n0kVChmNqhQ were fishing in an arm of Lake Eufaula just south of the Lakepoint Resort State Park about 5-6 miles north of Eufaula, AL, on 12/15/2016.

On other days I have seen a similarly sized flock / aggregation of PBG fishing in the Lake Eufaula embayment located at the boat ramp at Old Creek Town Park on the north edge of Eufaula.

These two locations are separated by a distance of 2-3 miles, and I do not know if the PBG aggregations are the same flock or if they are different flocks.

When I initially reviewed (in camera) the video clips and still photos of the pied-billed grebe shown trying to swallow what appears to be a sunfish (?), I thought the grebe had been successful and had swallowed a large fish compared to the grebe’s size.  However, as I was preparing the video it dawned on me that, on this occasion at least, the fish appeared to have either escaped or had been released on purpose.

Also, as best as I can tell the views of the grebe seem to show it holding the fish by the fish’s head.  While this would be logical for swallowing the fish, it did raise the question in my mind as to just how did the grebe catch the fish?

I would assume the typical underwater scenario to be one of a grebe pursuing a fish which would be trying to swim away from the grebe.  Given, however, the possibility of school of fish scattering at a grebe’s approach, the grebe may have caught the fish head-on.

I have found that these types of questions have arisen quite often as I review and contemplate the photos and videos I have taken while simply watching wildlife in the field.

In the past (i.e., before I really began to attempt my version of wildlife photography), I would typically spot a bird, view it in my binoculars to confirm some field marks, mentally check it off, lower my binoculars, and move on to look for another bird.

In contrast, I have found that the process of capturing video clips and still photos in the field with an eye toward possibly aggregating them into a “fun” video has changed my style of observation.  Bird behavior seems to have replaced simple identification as the primary goal of my trips afield.

I have also found that these telephoto images have surprised me in that I am now seeing what various birds really do look like.  Sometimes these enlarged views seem to be too close for comfort as some of the typical field marks that I have used in the past may be less evident in a really close view than they were in more distant views.

Given the current trend for coining phrases and calling old activities by new, more elegant names, I believe I’ll call my new approach Photo Ecology.

If it doesn’t exist already, I presume a Society of Photo Ecologists with a Journal of Photo Ecology will soon appear on the horizon

Avian Sushi

Pity the poor fish in the drink,

Changed from predator to prey in a blink,

Hungry mouths and gullets galore,

Move nitrogen from sea to shore,

Life can be tough for an ecological link.

                               James W. Teaford

                                    12/16/2016

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Four-spotted Pennant

Based on my resources and interpretations, I think this dragonfly is a female Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida).

 

Female four-spotted pennant

Female four-spotted pennant

 

Some of the items to note are the four brown spots on the wings, the white stigmas (tiny spots on the leading edge of the front wings), the brown striped thorax, and the reddish-brown and black patterns on the abdomen.

 

Female four-spotted pennant

Female four-spotted pennant

 

If these dragonflies will remain perched long enough for me to get a good view of them, they are one of the few species that I can identify reasonably well without a photo.

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Fallen Limb

Based on the size of this fallen dead limb, the energy of impact must have been noticeable – and this spot would have been an unhealthy place to have been standing when this limb fell.

 

Fallen limb

Fallen limb

 

Here are a couple of scenarios to consider.

First, imagine that you were a deer munching contentedly on some tender green plants when this thing landed beside you.  In that case, you might still be running.

Second, think of yourself as a happy-go-lucky squirrel jumping from limb to limb, until you chose this dead branch in the canopy.  Shortly after you landed and with a mighty crack, the limb lets go and down you go holding on for dear life.  After that experience, would you take the time to distinguish dead limbs from live ones before you jumped and try to avoid the dead ones, or would you actively look for more dead limbs on which to joy ride?

 

Limb impaled into the ground

Limb impaled into the ground

 

Walking in the woods can be a fun activity – as long as one doesn’t get conked on the head by falling debris.  I guess the moral of this story is to take time to glance overhead on occasion.

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Decayed Post

Sometimes even the ordinary has the potential to be quite interesting.

 

Decayed post

Decayed post

 

The decay in the top of this post has created texture patterns that have lots of potential to serve as subjects for the black and white photographer who arrives on scene when the light is “just right”.

Photo subjects are where, and when, you find them.

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Cat-faced Pine

This and a few other remnant cat-faced pine snags can be found at the west end of the boardwalk in the Boy Scout Trail area at the Big Branch Marsh NWR near LaCombe, Louisiana.  The USFWS folks there have a nicely done set of interpretative signs explaining the situation.

 

Pine snag with cat-face

Pine snag with cat-face

 

Apparently either the land surface has subsided here, or the sea level has risen, or some combination of both has occurred.  I would suspect that someone has studied the situation as there should be lots of evidence still present.  I also suspect that the underlying soils are mostly mineral (i.e., not primarily organic) based on the remnant slash (?) pines previously utilized to gather naval stores, but that could be easily confirmed or refuted by some simple soil auger samples.

 

Brackish marsh habitat

Brackish marsh habitat

 

However, on the off chance that the area has not been studied, the general area would make a great learning laboratory to study and demonstrate the effects of these recent changes.

With all of the emphasis on climate change these days, one should not have too difficult of a time proposing a very interesting study for this site and these circumstances.

Good luck.

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Bull Tongue

The bull tongue plants are named for the wide, long, linear nature of their leaves which presumably resemble the tongues of bulls.  However, with my serious cowboy experiences limited to riding a broom-handle horse at a young age, I’ll have to leave the verification of this resemblance to others.

 

Sagittaria lancifolia flowers

Sagittaria lancifolia flowers

 

Most Sagittaria flowers seem to be similar, and while it may be relatively easy to identify a plant as a Sagittaria, telling the different species apart generally requires more effort.

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Hard Times for Dragonfly Larva?

This area was inundated from the fall / winter of 2013 to sometime in the late-spring / early-summer of 2014.  When this area was inundated this spring (2014), there were lots of adult dragonflies buzzing about.  On several occasions I observed dragonflies laying eggs and white ibis foraging for crayfish in the water found here.

 

Where is the water?

Where is the water?

 

Now, however, the surface water is gone and the truly aquatic organisms apparently have to fend for themselves, or croak and join the detritus community.

 

How’s this for aquatic habitat?

How’s this for aquatic habitat?

 

Although I have seen few to no chimneys, I presume that the crayfish that survived the white ibis and feral hog foraging bouts can and probably have excavated burrows down into the still moist subsoil.

Survival in these habitats might be more of a challenge for aquatic dragonfly larva if they require a true water column, and not just moist mud, for a development period that overlaps these summer dry spells.

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