Category Archives: North America (preserves & reserves)

Wildlife Reserves, etc., in North America

Acadia Birding Festival 2015 – Day 1

The Acadia Birding Festival is Maine’s premiere bird watching festival and was established in 1998.

Group at Indian Point Blagden Preserve
Group at Indian Point Blagden Preserve

This year, the Festival is from 28-31 May, plus two post-festival trips on 1-2 June, and over these days it visits 27 different birding locations.

Male Hairy Woodpecker feeding young at nest hole
Male Hairy Woodpecker feeding young at nest hole

For ourselves, the main Day One trip was to Indian Point Blagden Preserve – a path through mixed woodland leading down to the beach at the N.W. corner of Mount Desert Island and the Acadia National Park.

Red-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo

Our list of warblers seen included: Ovenbird, American Redstart, Northern Parula, and Black-and-White, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Blue & Black-throated Green Warblers.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler

Other species seen included Common Loon, immature Bald Eagles, Hairy Woodpecker (at nest), Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin and Dark-eyed Junco.

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

Species heard but not seen included: Mourning Dove, Eastern-wood Pewee, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Winter Wren.

Oven Bird
Oven Bird

And the guides for this event?  Well, there’s a whole truck-load of experts – too many to mention by name – but they are headed up by two internationally-known names:  Ken Kaufman, inter alia the author of several excellent books about birds, and David la Puma, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey.

Harbor Seal, just off shore
Harbor Seal, just off shore

But for now, I’m just looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings!

Eddie

 

Other Photos from Five Rivers

Common Yellowthroat yelling "Witchety, witchety" at me.
Common Yellowthroat yelling “Witchety, witchety” at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in breeding plumage
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in breeding plumage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted Sandpiper in flight, showing wing and tail markings
Spotted Sandpiper in flight, showing wing and tail markings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, I still can't resist getting shots of Tree Swallows!
No, I still can’t resist getting shots of Tree Swallows!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Painted Turtle in the water
Eastern Painted Turtle in the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Chipmunk
Eastern Chipmunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well-camouflaged grasshopper on wood mulch
Well-camouflaged grasshopper on wood mulch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A geometrid moth larva, looping.
A geometrid moth larva, looping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Azure butterfly on the invasive plant, Garlic Mustard
Spring Azure butterfly on the invasive plant, Garlic Mustard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Azure butterfly from above while feeding
Spring Azure butterfly from above while feeding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Geranium
Wild Geranium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe this is Corn Speedwell (Veronica arvensis)
I believe this is Corn Speedwell (Veronica arvensis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also: ‘Here Be Dragons and Damsels‘ (same location & same day)

Here be Dragons (and Damsels)!

Yes, back to the NYSDEC’s excellent Five Rivers Environmental Education Center preserve yet again, but this is something I anticipate writing frequently in this blog now that we are living once more in the Hudson Valley!

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

A 'baskettail' species of dragonfly, and - because it is perched in bushes away from water - this one is likely to be a female
A ‘baskettail’ (Epitheca) species of dragonfly, and – because it is perched in bushes away from water – this one is likely to be a female

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of spring is seeing the reappearance of odonates (a.k.a. ‘odes’)– the dragonflies and       damselflies – and even though they are only just getting started, today’s short hike (May 14) was no    disappointment.

Because dragonflies are predators and are more robust than – say – butterflies, they tend to have less human admirers, but that’s a pity because they    really  are remarkable and often spectacular.     Damselflies are   predators too,  but are typically much smaller and more delicate.

This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be
This photo, from animal-kid.com, shows how enormous ancient dragonflies used to be

They are also very ancient creatures and fossils of very large dragonfly ancestors are found from 325 million years ago. Indeed, in those days, due to there being more oxygen in the atmosphere, dragonflies used to grow much bigger, with wingspans up to 750mm / 30 inches across.

None-the-less, in recent years far more people have started taking a lot of interest, particularly in dragonflies – often birders who are finding it to be an additional and equally enjoyable use for their binoculars. (Close-focusing binoculars are by far the best for getting a good look at timid dragonflies and butterflies without frightening them away.)

A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive
A male baskettail patrolling his territory, over water, waiting for a female to arrive

One of the challenges with getting interested in odonates is that some of them are very difficult to tell apart. Recognition of various species can literally require catching them and taking a very close look with a hand lens.  The good thing is that they can be caught and handled then safely released with no harm done, but in my case I have more than enough to carry in the form of camera gear without adding a long-handled net to the burden, so I will apologise now for not always being able to give a definitive identification for all of my ‘ode’ photographs.

Damselflies' eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies' eyes (see above) typically touch at the top of the head
Damselflies’ eyes are set wide apart, like a dumbbell, whereas dragonflies’ eyes (see photos above of the baskettail species) typically touch at the top of the head

As the photos in this blog show, this hike turned up a beautiful dragonfly (just one species, I believe) and at least two species of damselflies.  (I should add that in both types of creature it is common for males and females to look very different, but that is not always the case.)

Apart from the positioning of the eyes (see the above photo caption) another good way to tell dragonflies from damselflies is how they hold their wings when they are not flying.  If you look at the top photo on this page, of a dragonfly, you can see that it rests with its wings straight out at right-angles to the body.  Now look at the damselfly photos, above and below this paragraph and you can see that their wings are held along the body, not sticking out to the sides.

A beautiful male 'Eastern Forktail' damselfly
A beautiful male ‘Eastern Forktail’ damselfly (Ischnura verticalis)

One thing they do all have in common is a need for water for the reproductive phase of their lives, so any water (other than the sea) can be a good location to see ‘odes’, whether it is a large pond, a small pond, a fast stream, a slow stream or even a tiny ‘seep’.

If you decide to try photographing them, be aware that they have huge eyes for a reason.

I believe this is a female but I'm not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)
I believe this is a female but I’m not yet sure what species. (It also has a distinctive kink in its abdomen.)

They have near-360-degree vision and because many birds will eat them they react instantly to fast movement, so approach very, very slowly.  Some species are easier to photograph, though, because they will habitually come back to the same twig or blade of grass as a perch, so watch where they land then move closer – at which point they will probably fly away – then move closer again and keep your fingers crossed that they do come back to the same place.  Patience will pay dividends!

If you would like to look at books on this enjoyable subject, I wholeheartedly recommend (for North America):

  1. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Dennis Paulson; Princeton Field Guides
  2. Unsurprisingly the same author does a book for the ‘West’, too
  3. Dragonflies Through Binoculars, by Sidney W. Dunkle; Oxford University Press.

[Also see ‘Other Photos from Five Rivers’ – same location & day]

 

New Dragonfly & New Moth at Tillman Road

A last-minute change of plans took us back to our old stamping ground in Western New York State at the weekend, so I grabbed a couple of hours to re-visit the Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area, at Clarence.  The WMA is described by the NYS DEC as “a wet lowland with an emergent marsh, open water, grassy fields, a deciduous swamp and hardwood forest.”

A male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly
A male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly

Tillman’s greatest appeal to me, over the last 12-or-so years that I have been a regular visitor, is that one never knows quite what will be found on any visit and ‘drawing a blank’ is rare.

Carolina Saddlebags, rear view to show wing detail
Carolina Saddlebags, rear view to show wing detail

This time, I turned up two new insect species I had never before  seen or photographed:  a male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly  (Tramea Carolina), and what – to the best of my very limited ability with moths – I believe to be a White Spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata).  The latter sat motionless on a leaf, to the extent that I wrongly presumed that it would be some sort of ‘bird dropping moth’ but the former was on high-speed patrol along the margin of a pond and settled only briefly, each time, before doing another lap of its territory.

I believe this to be a White Spring moth
I believe this to be a White Spring moth

I’ve been very careful in identifying the dragonfly because it is very similar, in both appearance and range, to the Red Saddlebags (T. onusta) but I’m fairly confident I’ve got it right… However, as is always the case on my blogs, if anyone recognizes that I’ve made a mistake please do add a    comment below to put me right, and I will correct any error.

The various species of ‘saddlebags’ dragonflies get their name from the dark patches on the inner section of their wings, and when seen – usually in silhouette – from below, this creates an outline that looks like what the name says.

A Red Admiral butterfly, laying an egg
A Red Admiral butterfly, laying an egg

Up where we were, close to Lake Ontario, the Carolina is fairly close to the northern limit of its range, which is over the border in southern Ontario province. Even in this part of New York State, it is further north than its usual breeding range.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

 

My other insect of the day was a rather worn-looking Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atlanta) which – to my surprise – was laying eggs in low, rough vegetation where I could see no trace of any of the future caterpillars’ necessary food plants.  Does a first-brood adult lay eggs randomly around an area in the hope that at least some of their offspring will find suitable food after the plants all grow?  Or was this one operating by smell (chemical sensing) and by that means actually knew the right places to leave eggs?

Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow

As for the other photographs, well I’m always a sucker for violets and I’m not going to walk past a ‘posing’ Tree Swallow, either!

Nature at Olana

It could be argued that if ever architecture looked out-of-place for its location it is at Olana, in the Hudson Valley, New York State, on the east bank of the river, on the opposite side to the town of Catskill.  It’s origins, however, are of significant artistic interest.

Frederic Edwin Curch's Persian-style mansion at Olana
Frederic Edwin Church’s Persian-style mansion at Olana

Olana is a Persian-inspired mansion that was built for Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, and perhaps best known for painting large panoramic landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets… Church’s paintings emphasise light and a romantic respect for natural detail…  [For more detail, go to Wikipedia.]

Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone

I paid two visits to the grounds (which is free on weekdays but costs just a few dollars for admission on weekends and public holidays), once in late April and again early in May.  As I was short of time on both of these occasions I limited my walks to a lap of the man-made lake     although there are several other walks available to visitors.

Hepatica
Hepatica

On both of my visits only a couple of spring ephemerals were present: Rue Anemones and Hepatica, although the latter was past it’s best on my May walk.

As for the lake itself, I have been here a few times but this was the first time I was able to see that there are some Koi carp present (either that or some very large goldfish, if that’s not the same thing!).  The other non-native that was present, but fortunately in very small quantities was the invasive reed Phragmites.

Koi Carp in the lake at Olana
Koi Carp in the lake at Olana

Much more interesting were the male Common Green Darner dragonflies that were patrolling sections of the shoreline, waiting for the arrival of females.

Several birds were present, though I didn’t get good photos of as many as I usually manage.

The ones not photographed included:

  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Blue Jay
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Song Sparrow
A male Baltimore Oriole
A male Baltimore Oriole

I certainly expected to see more species of migrating warblers passing through but             disappointingly that didn’t happen.

The two species that did surrender to my lens were the      ubiquitous America Robin and the spectacular Baltimore Oriole.

My bird ‘stalking’ usually gets more prolific results!

Last but by no means least, the humble Inch Worm!
Corrected caption:  NOT an Inch Worm but likely a Noctuid moth caterpillar!

While I was there, though, what I took to be an ‘inch worm’ dangling in the sunshine caught my eye.  Most Americans undoubtedly have seen inch worms but after I got home from this walk I looked it up and was staggered to find the claim that there are, in fact, over 1400 different species of inch worm in North America!  To check further, I sent the above photo to someone vastly more knowledgeable than I about entomology and their response was that this was not even an inch worm – a fact     given away by the number of pairs of ‘sucker’ legs!  Instead, this is likely to be the caterpillar of a ‘Noctuid’ species of moth, and there are hundreds of different species of those, too!  My thanks to ‘Ask An Entomologist’ – on Twitter @BugQuestions – for this information.

For those people interested in Mr. Church, his home and his artwork, guided tours of the house are available on certain days. For details go to: www.olana.org/plan-your-visit/

Over the delightfully-named Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the town of Catskill, one can also visit the home of Thomas Cole – a famous English-born artist – which is now a National Historic Site. More info at: www.thomascole.org/visit-main/

 

Kaaterskill Falls – Early May (Page 2)

Continued from Page 1…/

The walk back down from Kaaterskill Falls to the road was one of those occasions when verse by my favourite Welsh poet sprang readily to mind:

EWr-7D2-150502-011_KaaterskillFallsPath©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-7D2-150502-005_RedTrillium©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-014_DelightfulCompany©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-015_MossyBoulder©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-013_TexturedBuds©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedWhat is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H. Davies

As for the “streams full of stars,” I looked and wondered whether this particular one also held any Brook Trout.  I have a delightful little 3-weight, 7’6″ fly rod that I could be easily be tempted to go back with, to that gorge.

And then, of course, there are all the larger creeks and rivers in the Catskill Mountains.  They might need longer 4- or even 5-weight rods.  I wonder how many Americans know that the Catskills were actually the first place fly fishing was ever done in the U.S.A.  These mountains are certainly classed as the home of such in America.

The Red Trilliums (see above) were, of course, a wonderful bonus.  So many spring wildflowers are white or pale-coloured but not these ones!

We also saw a few small birds flitting about on the far bank of the creek and some long-lens photographs showed these to be Louisiana Waterthrush – a little gem in a lovely setting.

So yes, the path up to the Kaaterskill Falls is steep and a bit rough in parts but it is not much more than quarter of a mile so, as long as you take your time, a lot of people could manage it.  And as I hope my words and photos have shown, it is very worthwhile!

Eddie

[Go back to Page 1]

Kaaterskill Falls – Early May (Page 1)

[Go to Page 2]

We had never been to the famous Kaaterskill waterfalls before, but at least we knew three key things about them:

  • The upper part of the Falls is high – 264 feet is the stated drop, and that’s roughly the same height as a 27-storey building;
  • The walk up to the Falls, from Route 23A west of Palenville, was said to be a steep and rather difficult walk;
  • Over the years, quite a few people have been killed by climbing to the very top of the falls then slipping and falling off.
The upper section of Bastion Falls, just yards above Route 23A
The upper section of Bastion Falls, just yards above Route 23A

The actual path leaves the road just below a second, much smaller pair of waterfalls called Bastion Falls, and these are photogenic in their own right.

The sections of steps, on the steepest bits of the path, had been washed out by rain or melt-water and were a bit of a nuisance.
The sections of steps, on the steepest bits of the path, had been washed out by rain or melt-water and were a bit of a nuisance.

Sure enough, parts of the path did prove to be a bit steep, with rough bits that require small-scale ‘boulder hopping’, or stepping over tree roots.  Indeed, two sections had man-made sections of staircase but so soon after the end of winter these were in poor condition and need some repair work to stop them from being more of a hindrance than a help.

One of the nice advantages of being laden down with cameras, lenses and a very large tripod, in circumstances like this, is that it is easy to pretend one is pausing to check-out the view and perhaps line up a photograph. But not me… I wasn’t just taking a breather; honest!  {:-)

From what we saw during our hike to the main Falls, I’m going to guess that early spring or late fall will be equally great times of year to visit Kaaterskill:  Not too much          foliage on the trees, together with nice colours.  Certainly our spring-day walk was beautiful in this respect – the bright greens of tree buds opening and glorious sunshine that wasn’t too hot for comfort.

The two-tier Kaaterskill Falls, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State
The two-tier Kaaterskill Falls, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State

Before our hike, I had recently bought the book ‘Hiking Waterfalls In New York’, by Randi and Nic Minetor, and it warns that a lot of people visit Kaaterskill even on weekdays.  We were there on a Saturday so it could be no surprise that there were indeed quite a lot of people coming and going at the Falls.

I got one of my cameras set up on my tripod at the viewpoint I wanted to use but rather understandably I then had to wait more than an hour and a half before I could get some shots without any people in view.  The wait was no problem:  The sun was just nicely warm and the mosquitos are all apparently still on vacation, snowbirding down in Florida; there certainly weren’t any there to spoil our day, even though they’ll undoubtedly hatch out from last year’s eggs and re-emerge, to bzzzz and be nasty again before too long.

EWr-7D2-150502-001_KaaterskillFallsSign©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-Reserved

So did anything spoil the day?  Yes, sadly it did.  I had no idea that so many people had difficulty with reading!  The number who ignored the warning signs and climbed up to the top of the falls – despite fair warnings about the number that have been killed doing so – was saddening.

While we were there, one young woman even played hula-hoops near the lip of the falls, with a hoop she had apparently carried all the way up there for that very purpose… Astonishing.

If individuals feel an absolute need to put Darwin’s “survival” theory to the test, perhaps they could at least choose to do so in places  where other people won’t have to risk life and limb to recover what’s left.  (Incidentally, back home in the Lake District National Park, in England, I was a member of two different mountain rescue teams in my younger years, so this is a subject that is dear to my heart.)

A very long lens was used to capture the light and movement in this shot of a tiny section of the upper falls (from the same viewpoint as the distant shot of the Falls, above)
A very long lens was used to capture the light and movement in this shot of a tiny section of the upper falls (from the same viewpoint as the distant shot of the Falls, above)

Right!  Now back to the good things about Kaaterskill Falls, and the main one of these is that it is a very beautiful location.  No wonder that members of the famed Hudson River School of artists made the place famous in the 19th Century.  Thomas Cole allegedly led the way, 190 years ago, in 1825.

Anyway, here’s a tip:  After you have visited the Falls, don’t be in too much of a rush to get back down the hill to your car.  Take time to enjoy the real beauty and wildlife of the little gorge that the creek tumbles through, because it is indeed beautiful.  To read about this aspect of the walk, click on Page Two.