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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

 

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Our first visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at Boothbay was most certainly worth the effort.  The location is about an hour north of Portland, ME, and three hours north of Boston, MA.

This isn’t an article/text blog so hopefully I’m just going to let my    photographs speak for themselves:

The 'Bleu Aimable' tulip
The ‘Bleu Aimable’ tulip

 

The 'Angelique' tulip
The ‘Angelique’ tulip
'Rote Glocke' Pasque Flower
‘Rote Glocke’ Pasque Flower
'Rote Glocke' Pasque Flower
‘Rote Glocke’ Pasque Flower
'Pink Chintz' Wild Thyme
‘Pink Chintz’ Wild Thyme
'Pink Chintz' Wild Thyme among 'Angelina' Stonecrop
‘Pink Chintz’ Wild Thyme among ‘Angelina’ Stonecrop
And last but not least some wonderful ferns
And last but not least some wonderful ferns

 

 

Garden in the Woods – NEWFS

Garden in the Woods, at Framingham, Massachusetts, is a remarkable piece of woodland that has been developed and nurtured over many decades with the primary aim of encouraging the use of NE USA native plant and flower species in people’s gardens, and the protection of endangered species.

One of the ponds at Garden In The Woods, Framingham, MA.
One of the ponds at Garden In The Woods (cellphone photo)

It  is  the headquarters of the  New England Wild Flower Society [NEWFS]   and   –   especially in May – is a delight to visit and see so many flower species in bloom.

A Trillium (I believe 'grandiflora', but I need to check that.)
A Trillium (I believe ‘grandiflora’, but I need to check that.)

My own first visit to G.I.T.W. was a couple of years ago and I will always remember it for two reasons.  The first of these was that I had never encountered such a delightful setting for so many species of wild flowers.  The second, however, was for one of the worst-possible reasons, and that came in the form of a telephone call from my wife, telling me that evil, homicidal morons had just set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, only a few miles to the east.  Enough said.

Not exactly a native species, but azaleas are an obvious, spring high-point in virtually any garden.
Not exactly a native species, but azaleas are an obvious, spring high-point in virtually any garden.

Since then, I have been back three further times, including my most recent visit, to which this post refers.

I have to confess, though, that I have yet to time a May visit to perfection – in other words to be there when the spring ephemeral flowers are at the height   of   their   glory.  This time I was just a few days too late.

A small but very eye-catching mint or deadnettle species that I need to check more thoroughly.
A small but very eye-catching mint or deadnettle species that I need to check more thoroughly.

 

Star Flowers
Star Flowers

Bad timing aside, this visit did bring me into contact with some extremely pleasant people, the first of whom – Dave T. – is a volunteer at Garden in the Woods.  Dave, I enjoyed our conversation greatly and a large part of that enjoyment came from your knowledge and great enthusiasm for this remarkable place.

As a Twitter acquaintance wrote, that's me "getting down and dirty!"  Yes... Can't deny it. But I like to think it was in a good cause! {:-)
As a Twitter acquaintance wrote, that’s me “getting down and dirty!” Yes… Can’t deny it. But I like to think it was in a good cause! {:-)

And then there was an immensely pleasant couple who were sufficiently amused to find me laying flat on my face across a path, in order to take a photo of starflowers, that the gentleman in question photographed me doing so, and one of his shots is shown above!  (Please know that my daughter in England saw your photo on Twitter and made me laugh when she commented:  “My Dad is so normal. I know who to blame now!”  {:-)

The pendulous flower of a Purple Pitcher Plant
The pendulous flower of a Purple Pitcher Plant

Oh, and for those of you with children or grand children to entertain, I was really pleased to see that a very imaginative and very natural play area has been installed that is clearly on a woodland theme and will undoubtedly be a great and rather crucial way to introduce youngsters to the natural world that is nowadays increasingly ignored in favour of computer games and other, related distractions.

I intend to add more to this post in a few days’ time, after my wife and I get home from a few days vacation in New England (some of which will be the subject of additional wildlife photography posts in this blog).

I can't close without showing you a lovely little 'Skipper' species of butterfly on Eastern Bluestar
I can’t close without showing you a lovely little ‘Skipper’ species of butterfly on Eastern Bluestar

Until then, I hope that at least you can enjoy the photos I have posted here.

Stay well!

Eddie

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]

 

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.

The Amphibians Awake

On the same walk as my blogs for ‘Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Wannabees‘, and ‘A Mixed Bag of Birds at Fiver Rivers‘, I photographed the pond life that’s started to flourish once more since the winter ice melted away.

Snapping Turtle on the move... Slowly!
Snapping Turtle on the move… slowly!

 

A Snapping Turtle that appears to need a bigger log to haul-out onto.
A Snapping Turtle that appears to need a bigger log to haul-out onto.

 

Eastern Painted Turtles
Eastern Painted Turtles

 

Juvenile Eastern Painted Turtle plus fish and a Water Strider (lower right)
Juvenile Eastern Painted Turtle plus fish and a Water Strider (lower right)

 

A bullfrog tadpole resting in shallow water (after over-wintering under the ice)
A bullfrog tadpole resting in shallow water (after over-wintering under the ice)

 

The dorsolateral folds (i.e. raised lines down either side of its back) show this to be a one-year-old Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)
The dorsolateral folds (i.e. raised lines down either side of its back) show this to be a one-year-old Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)

 

A Mixed Bag of Birds at Five Rivers

On the same walk I wrote about in ‘Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Wannabees‘, I grabbed a few photos of birds that conveniuently appeared nearby.  I don’t think there’s anything that needs adding in terms of a ‘story’ here, so this is just a small selection of the resultant images:

Nesting territory dispute - Canada Geese
Nesting territory dispute – Canada Geese

 

Northern Roughwing Swallow (Stelgidopterix serripennis)
Northern Roughwing Swallow (Stelgidopterix serripennis)

 

Territorial dispute - Canada Geese
Tree Swallows (Tachicineta bicolor) staking their claim to a nestbox

 

An American Robin, nothing much like the Eurasian Robin from which, presumably, a homesick immigrant gave this ginger-breasted species of thrush its hand-me-down name.
An American Robin, nothing much like the Eurasian Robin from which – presumably – a homesick immigrant gave this ginger-breasted species of thrush its hand-me-down name.

 

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)