Category Archives: Nature

Photographing the Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech owl in flight

The eastern screech owl is a subject that I’ve wanted to photograph for many years, with no success whatsoever. Although I’d heard their eerie and distinctive song many evenings, I had never even seen one in the wild until this year. In late January I discovered one using several wood duck boxes on my pond as roosts and nocturnal feeding stations. The only photographs I took were of the owl asleep inside a nest box. My luck finally changed in April when I spent six nights over four weekends photographing an eastern screech owl nest at a local refuge where I do volunteer work. The nest was located about 100 feet out in a swamp, where the water depth was two to three feet. On four of the six nights that I spent with them, I used a Phototrap infrared beam tripper, three flashes and two cameras to photograph the owls. As the owls broke the infrared beam, the flashes would fire and the images automatically recorded by the two cameras.

To ensure that the equipment did not interfere with the nightly routine of the owls, I stayed awake the entire first night and used a red-filtered spotlight from a distance to monitor the owls. The flashes did not seem to disturb the owls. They even returned to the nest on two occasions when I was changing the batteries in my cameras about 20 feet away.  On the remaining three nights of Phototrap use, I either sat in a lawn chair or took naps in a sleeping bag at the edge of the swamp.

During the nights I photographed the owls, they visited the nest about every 30 minutes on average. The interval between feedings was much longer when larger prey were delivered. Prey items included insects and insect larvae, fish, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs and mice.

On the final two nights of photography I used a blind to try to photograph the nestlings at the cavity entrance. The first night I had to abort due to a severe thunderstorm that collapsed my blind. The second night I did have some success, capturing images of the nestlings and parents at the nest.

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How Big is a Wood Duck?

Wood Ducks are typically shy, elusive creatures of woodland waterways. They are generally less commonly seen than some other types of waterfowl. And for those who have never personally seen one, it’s often hard to tell the size of a wood duck from a photograph. Most such images consist of a single wood duck, a pair, or several in a group. They lack a sense of scale for size comparison.  A field guide will give you the metrics: an average adult wood duck is listed at 18.5 inches in length, with a 30 inch wingspan, and a weight of 1.3 lbs. But that still is not easy visualize.

So I thought I would share some images of wood ducks with some more commonly seen animals, so that you can get a better idea of their size.  However, it may actually just be an excuse to share some images.

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Watching Wood Ducks

 

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Over the last two and a half years I’ve spent more than 260 hours observing and photographing the wood ducks on my pond.  On at least 110 different days, spread across all four seasons, I’ve hiked down to my pond for the sole purpose of watching and photographing wood ducks. And I still look forward to each opportunity to spend time with them. It may be hard for many to understand why I am so drawn to them and it is not particularly easy for me to explain. Those that have a love for nature and the outdoors will find it easier. First, the ducks themselves are such beautiful, fascinating creatures with so many interesting behaviors. Second, the wood ducks are close by. We’re neighbors, sharing the same land. I’ve always been keenly interested in the nature around me; much less so in the natural world of more distant areas. That is probably the reason I have never had any desire to go on a photo safari to Africa or some other distant region. Third, and possibly most importantly, time spent in nature can have a calming, refreshing effect on the heart and soul. Stress melts away, the cluttered mind clears. Life slows down for a while. Continue reading »

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Welcome

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Welcome to the first post on my website. It is taking a little time to figure out the workings of WordPress, so please be patient with me. I’ll be adding more images to the galleries and begin posting articles in the near future.

I just returned from the annual Western NC Foto Fest held in Montreat, NC. While I did enjoy the nature photography presentations, I was much more excited about the opportunities to do a little photography in the area. I spent one morning photographing the elk at Cataloochee Cove, about an hour and a half away in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On another morning I tried to capture a sunrise image at Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but was shut out by clouds and fog. I also spent one morning and evening photographing the mandarin drakes at Lake Susan in Montreat. I was able to get some decent images of elk, but the best images I obtained were of the mandarin drakes. Two of my favorites are shared with you here. Continue reading »

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