‘Travel’ Topics

One of the important things I want for this website is for it to become an active community blog, not just a collection of my own topics.

To this extent, for the foreseeable future, I’m happy to accept ‘travel’ themes from people who follow our posts.  Indeed, within the next couple of days I’ll be posting the first of these and it will be by Gerry McIntyre who came here to Buffalo to do a photography-related degree at the University.

It’s great to have Gerry participating like this, and I hope others among you will start to post your own topics, too.  Obviously, the main goal is wildlife-related issues but — as stated above — travel discussions will be welcome for the time being.

A Couple of Gems at Tifft Yesterday

After recently shaking off the tedium of a bad back that I’ve suffered virtually right through the winter, I took advantage of a few free hours yesterday to have a walk around the Tifft urban nature preserve.

Canada Goose in flight
Canada Goose in flight

When I arrived, at 8:00am, the temperature was just 18F (minus 8 Celsius) and there were no other cars in the parking lot.  On the small patches of open water, at Lake Kirsty, adjacent to the preserve offices, were four Herring Gulls, a solitary male Red-breasted Merganser, a pair of Hooded Mergansers and a dozen Canada Geese.

Black-capped Chickadee foraging
Black-capped Chickadee foraging

Anyway, wrapped up like the Michelin man, I set off through the woods on my way to the South Viewing Blind (hide) to look at a frozen lake!

Northern Shrike (first year bird). The hooked upper mandible is an unmissable clue to identity.
Northern Shrike (first year bird). The hooked upper mandible is an unmistakable clue to identity.

On the way there, I came across a few resting White-tailed Deer and stalked them carefully so I could get some shots of them lying down.

Downy Woodpecker (female)
Downy Woodpecker (female)

At the south blind there were only a couple of Canada Geese walking around on the ice and yelling at my intrusion, plus a few Black-capped Chickadees feasting on sunflower seeds that someone had left on the hand-rail (something Tifft staff ask people not to do).

It was while I was watching the chickadees, however, that I saw one of the day’s two gems.  A first-year Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) settled in a tree above me — its youthfulness given away by some mottled coloration on its breast and belly.  The sharply hooked upper beak — very like some hawks and eagles — gives this genus of fairly small birds away in an instant but, as its name says, this is the northern species.  Its cousin, the Loggerhead Shrike (L. ludovicianus), spends its winters in the southern states.  After identifying the bird, through my binoculars, I only had time for one distant ‘identification’ shot with my camera before it flew off, so while there’s a photograph of it in this post, it certainly isn’t a masterpiece! {:-)

For the British people who read this blog, you may have noticed that the scientific name of the Northern Shrike is the same as that for the Great Grey Shrike that is found in Europe — in other words, it’s the same species.  Europe’s other shrike, the Red-backed (L. collurio) isn’t found in North America.

As my walk continued, I saw several other species of birds — all ones that could be expected here in late March.

Coyote crossing frozen lake
Coyote crossing frozen lake

At the other main blind, however — unsurprisingly called the North Blind — I was delighted to see a Coyote (Canis latrans) appear from behind the actual blind and walk away, over the ice on the lake, to the cat-tail bed on the far shore.  Again, I was rather distant but I was certainly able to get a few pleasing photos.  Coyotes certainly aren’t rare, they’re actually widespread, but getting to see one in broad daylight in such a photogenic setting is much less common.  My own question is whether or not this could have been one of the “Coywolf” hybrids that have been spreading out from northern Ontario for the past few decades.  Does anyone know the answer in relation to Western New York?

It annoys me intensely that I used to under-rate Tifft as a place to go.  I now know it to be a very well-worthwhile preserve to visit and I do so as often as I can.  It is rare that it doesn’t turn up something special.

Get further information about Tifft Nature Preserve here.

Anyone wishing to come along on any of the walks (weekly, except in winter) of the ‘Wildlife Watchers and Nature Photographers’ group, please e-mail:           wwnp [AT] eddiewren [DOT] com   (just replace the [AT] and the [DOT] with what they say, and leave no spaces.  This is done to reduce spam to that e-mail address).

27 March 2014  —  Eddie Wren

 

Birding at Buckhorn (Grand Island, NY), 16 March 2014

About a week ahead of the walk, meteorologists had forecast a realtively balmy 25F for the day of our Buckhorn Island State Park birding trip, but as each day went by, the promised temperature dropped by about a degree until — on the day of the walk — it was a mere 18F…. a little too chilly for some.  Even so, a few moderately intrepid individuals were still “up for it,” and we were rewarded with plenty sunshine even though its warmth was completely overcome by the breeze.

Tundra Swans (with a couple of Canada Geese) resting on an island in the Niagara River
Tundra Swans (with a couple of Canada Geese) resting on an island in the Niagara River

New person Donna, plus myself and Andrea were the first to arrive at Woods Creek canoe launch parking lot and we were all promptly caught napping when a small flock of birds was spotted in a nearby tree, stunningly highlighted in gold by the sunshine.  I think we must all have been momentarily mesmerised by what can genuinely be called a beautiful moment, to the extent that the cedar waxwings in question all flew away before any of us had the sense to “get the shot!”  Yes, “only” cedar waxwings, but you should have seen that light on them!

Donna and Andrea at work
Donna and Andrea at work

After the short walk through the woods to the river, it took only a few moments to pick out over 40 distant Tundra Swans, huddled down with their heads tucked in, for warmth.  A couple of them later lifted their heads and an additional swan flew in, and these two little incidents gave us a somewhat better look (see above).

Male and female Bufflehead
Male and female Bufflehead

With the vast majority of the waterbirds being well out into the Niagara River, it was inevitably longer lenses that were most useful.  However, courtesy of Andrea, I was trying out her Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM zoom lens and I’ve posted a few of the cropped results on this page. (Thanks, Andrea!)

Red-breasted Merganser - male
Red-breasted Merganser – male

For any birders not from this area on the US/Canadian border, it is worth adding that the Niagara River is classed as an Important Bird Area [IBA] by both countries.  Indeed, in winter, the Niagara River hosts up to 20 percent of the world population of Bonaparte’s Gulls, making it a globally significant IBA.

A male Common Goldeneye and a female Red-breasted Merganser
A male Common Goldeneye and a female Red-breasted Merganser

More information about the Niagara River IBA may be found at http://www.ibacanada.ca%2Fconservationplans%2Fonniagrarivercorridor.pdf

Three male Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) - a.k.a. just 'Scaup' in Britain
Three male Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) – a.k.a. just ‘Scaup’ in Britain

At the bridge over Woods Creek, right where the creek hits the Niagara, a few Greater Scaup, some Bufflehead and some Red-breasted Mergansers had come in closer to the shore, which made the challenge easier.  At this location, many of the photos here could have been taken with a pocket-sized camera (subject to cropping) — something which doesn’t happen as often as one might like.

Two Red-breasted Mergansers -- a definite female in the foreground, with an apparent first-winter bird behind.
Two Red-breasted Mergansers — a definite female in the foreground, with an apparent first-winter bird behind.

The bird species I noted during this walk were as follows (but anyone else that can add to the list, please let me know what you saw, and I’ll include them):

  • Tundra Swan (>40)
  • Canada Goose
  • Canvasback
  • Greater Scaup
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Common Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Greater Black-backed Gull
  • Rock Dove
  • American Crow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal

Andrea-Burke_140316-1442_ice-&-tree

Finally, on our way back to the cars, it would appear that neither Andrea nor I could resist being distracted for a few moments by what will hopefully be the last of the winter woodland sights for this year: Andrea by a water- and ice-bound dead tree and myself by one of one of my own favourite winter subjects — red  berries!

Just as the warlord in the movie 'Last of the Samurai' allegedly spent his life looking for the one perfect cherry blossom, I think I'm equally addicted to red berries! {:-)
Just as the warlord in the movie ‘Last of the Samurai’ allegedly spent his life looking for the one perfect cherry blossom, I think I’m equally addicted to red berries! {:-)

As for our Wildlife Watchers and Nature Photographers group, anyone in the WNY or South Ontario areas who might be interested in coming on some of our walks please just e-mail me on wwnp [at] eddiewren [dot] com

From the first of April until Nov/Dec, we will be out somewhere most weekends.

Eddie Wren

 

Basking in the Sun during Buffalo’s March 12 Blizzard!

Yes, I admit I was having fun at Buffalo’s expense.  I was very briefly in California with perfect (lucky!) timing to avoid the March snow

Heading south into the Santa Monica Mountains R.A., on the Pacific Coast Highway
Heading south into the Santa Monica Mountains R.A., on the Pacific Coast Highway

storm in WNY, and having finished my work at 2:30pm I hurried back to my hotel, swapped my suit for jeans and a T-shirt and headed south from Ventura down the Pacific Coast Highway, also known simply as “Route 1”.

Looking southwards on the PCH, near Mugu Peak
Looking southwards on the PCH, near Mugu Peak

 

Retrospective of the previous photograph
Retrospective of the previous photograph

I was on my way to the beautiful hill roads in the Santa Monica mountains — an area I have been lucky enough to get to know quite well over the past few years — but it would take a better man than me to simply drive down “the PCH” without stopping to admire the views!

Two California Ground Squirrels. (The eye of the well-camouflaged, second animal is up and to the right from the eye of the front one.)
Two California Ground Squirrels. (The eye of the well-camouflaged and shaded, second animal is up and to the left from the eye of the front one.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At one of my stops, I found and photographed a couple of California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi), an interesting but skittish creature that lives in a communal burrow, but each of which allegedly has its own private entrance tunnel.

Name that bird!  It doesn't seem to be a female towhee and it's bill is to slender for it to be other species I can think of.  Does anyone know what it is, please?
Name that bird! It doesn’t seem to be a female towhee and it’s bill is to slender for it to be other species I can think of. Does anyone know what it is, please?

 

Nearby, I saw and photographed a small bird, in scrub, but for the life of me I can’t find anything quite like it in Sibley or my other bird books.  The nearest thing I can think of is a female towhee, but that doesn’t fit, either. Can anyone help me out with the I/D, please?

Around 5:40pm, I reached Decker Canyon Road and headed off up one of my favourite hill roads in that area.  (All of them are enjoyable but they are narrow so great care has to be taken on the many blind curves, in case someone is coming the other way.)  By that time of evening, the temperature was still in the mid-70s….. a little different to ‘back home’ in Buffalo!

The first proper 'hairpin' up Decker Canyon Road from the PCH. Further up the hill, the road follows the line of utility poles that are visible higher on the right-hand side of the photo.
The first proper ‘hairpin’ up Decker Canyon Road from the PCH. Further up the hill, the road follows the line of utility poles that are visible higher on the right-hand side of the photo.

 

West Seneca Oxbow Wetland Restoration, WNY

As someone who is not exactly from Western New York originally — {:-) — I had no idea that there even were any old oxbow lakes in the area, let alone one on which restoration efforts had been made, but there is and its in West Seneca.

The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper [BNRK] website states that “West Seneca’s oxbow wetland on Buffalo Creek is just a few miles upstream from the industrialized Buffalo River, a Great Lakes ‘Area of Concern’. As one of only three major wetlands in the lower Buffalo River watershed, it is considered a source area for future habitat and species restoration in the AOC.  Planning studies over the past 40 years have recommended that the oxbow site be protected.”

According to the  ERIE [Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange] webpage, “the restoration of the  oxbow wetland began in 2008 as part of the Buffalo River Watershed and AOC  restoration effort.  The project was led by BNRK and funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“In Fall 2009, six ERIE trainees became involved  in the restoration project… [and] donated over  1000 hours in fieldwork and analysis of flora, fauna, soils and groundwater.  The trainees developed a habitat restoration  and management plan for the 14-acre parcel of the oxbow. The plan used an  adaptive management framework to control invasive plant species and reintroduce  native plants to the site based on historical and nearby reference  communities. ”

To see pictures of the Oxbow and ERIE trainees working on the project (courtesy of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper), click here.

IfI can establish that there is public access to this site, or get us permission to visit, then this seems like a good venue for one of our ‘Wildlife Watchers & Nature Photographers’ group walks.  I’ll let you know the outcome of this.

When Catching a World-Record Fish Ends in Heartbreak

On 8th February this year, retired navy captain Rob Scott, from Minnesota caught a 4-pound Lake Trout (actually a species of char, not a trout — Salvelinus namaycush) while hand-lining through ice on Lac la Croix, on the Minnesota/Ontario border.  Shortly afterwards, he was checked by an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officer who recorded the fact that Rob had kept his one permitted lake trout — the Ontario provincial limit.  Ironically, if the retired captain had been just a short distance away, on the same lake, he would have still been in Minnesota and would have been allowed to keep two lake trout, and — as you will see below — on this occasion this matters.

Retired navy captain Rob Scott and his 52-pound, world-record Lake Trout. February 2014
Retired navy captain Rob Scott and his 52-pound, world-record Lake Trout. February 2014

The problem came later that day when Rob hooked a second fish, which — at 52 pounds 3 ounces — was not only a new world record for lake trout but was a mind-boggling 77 percent larger than the previous, 18-year-old record of 29 pounds 6 ounces!

According to the book ‘Freshwater Gamefish of North America’, by Peter Thompson, the average weight of a lake trout is just 4-10 pounds, so at 52 pounds he probably thought he’d hooked a stray submarine!  In lake trout terms, it was a behemoth.

All went well until the same  Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officer who had checked the 4-pound fish saw a subsequent newspaper report about the enormous laker, and regrettably this started an official ball rolling.  As a result, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officer confiscated the record-breaking fish from a Duluth taxidermist, and it was then destined to be handed over to Ontario officials.

As a retired police officer myself, I am very aware that rules are rules, and all that sort of stuff, but I really would like to ask Ontario officials just what they think they have actually achieved on this occasion, other than perhaps leaving a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people.  Of course conservation is crucial, and the majority of fishehrmen I know and fish with would be the first to agree with that belief but in my own opinion, this time around, the Ontario people have scored a PR ‘own goal’ and have little, if anything, to actually be proud of.

Eddie Wren

Bird and Wildlife Photography Equipment

A 15-minute video (and advertisement) by Tony and Chelsea Northrup which does give a good introduction to different-sized lenses, different maximum apertures, teleconverters, and so on:

Now, get a large cup of coffee and get comfortable for a two-hour video sponsored by Canon, taking a different, in-depth view of the same topic: