Sunday, November 11, 2012

Back Where It all Began

The balls of my feet dug into the sand as I ran up the hill towards the parking lot. I just had spotted a Merlin chase an American Crow across the sandy woodland towards the parking lot. By the time I had reached the asphalt edges of the paved lot they were gone-vanished.... No photo, no piece of the action. Well, at least I got to see a Merlin, my first official sighting ever. I was happy with that. Walking back to where I came from, I spotted a Black Capped Chickadee in a bush. By the time I had my camera pointed at him, he was gone. A Double Crested Cormorant was drying its wings on the rocks just off of the second pier.... Got a snapshot of it.

Then the real action started....

Out from the blue and coming in from the west, was the Merlin-still chasing the crow! The hapless crow maneuvered downward into a nearby half bare tree as the Merlin overshot its strike and landed in a tree to the north. Far to distant and well covered for a decent shot. Not for long.... The pint sized falcon fired out from its roost at the crow, flushing it out of the tree, making a loop in the process. The chase was on again! Zooming towards me, I literary had a bird's eye view of this life and death struggle. The action was so fast paced that I couldn't ever get my camera ready. "Get 'em, get' em, GET 'EM !" I screamed, silently cheering for the raptor. I was amazed how diligent and small the Merlin was compared to the crow. It was about half the size of its prey! Must be hungry... The crow swerved to right and landed on a tree behind me while the Merlin landed in another nearby tree. This was an opportunity for a picture. I made off with three quick snaps before the chase resumed. With lightning speed over my head, the crow dipped down into another tree and Merlin overshot again! This time, it just flew off to the north and headed towards the lighthouse.

Merlin Shoop Park Racine WI 10 24 2012
It's not the greatest picture I had ever taken, yet I feel lucky and honored to even get this shot. The field of opportunity was quite small and I had to utilize whatever resources I had for a pic. My Sony DSC-H2 camera isn't the the most wildlife friendly one around. No high speed shutter, no interchangeable zoom lens and focusing it can be a pain. Yet, I've gotten some great pics off it. It's the opportunity to be out there and being able take these pics that drive me. It's just like hunting, except I bring home a picture instead of a carcass.

Just how did I get started with this birding anyways?

Growing up, my grandparents used to have this cottage along a lake in the boondocks of Northern Wisconsin. A big platform bird feeder was perched about six feet tall outside our picture window in the kitchen. A potpourri of birds came to the feeder-Blue Jays, White Breasted Nuthatches, Black Capped Chickadees, Dark Eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers, House Finches, Indigo Buntings, Morning Doves and occasionally Northern Cardinals. If we were real lucky, Evening Grosbeaks.In the lake there would be Mallards, Common Loons, Great Blue Herons. Sometimes an Osprey or a Bald Eagle would snatch a fish from the blue waters. I'd sit there for hours with a field guide and stare... That is, till my mother kicked me out into the woods.

In the woods was another paradise. I remember family excursions in our '64 International Truck. The engine would be ticking away through the muddy fire lanes. 4 x 4 snow tires dug deep in the ground, insuring that we would never get stuck. We would shine a spotlight on an American Woodcock, Ruffed Grouse, Snowshoe Hare, Ermine or a White Tailed Deer that happened on our path. If we were lucky a bear.

Canoeing on the creeks and bogs nearby were quite an experience. Painted Turtles basking in the sun on the logs. Cedar Waxwings and Belted Kingfishers perched on trees, looking out for their prospective preys. Beaver slapping their tails on the water alerting others on the oncoming danger. Paradise.

Then there were family vacations to the national parks out west....Yellowstone, Glacier, the Badlands, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountain, the Grand Tetons and more... Roosevelt Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, Black Tailed Tailed Prairie Dogs, Mountain Goat, Moose, Pikas, Yellow Bellied Marmots, Western Tanagers, Clark's Nutcrackers, Mule Deer and a slew of other creatures we saw... This is about time I started my wildlife photography...on a Vivitar Pocket Camera.
Yellow Bellied Marmot Rocky Mountain National Park  Colorado 1983

Somewhere, somehow, someway I lost connection. Life got in the way, I guess. I didn't do anything photography wise for years, save a few pics here and there. It wasn't till this late last winter when I was bitten by the outdoor bug.  Tender Heart Bear and I were out driving around looking at scenery at the harbor. We noticed the Mallards there. "Too small to be Mallards" I thought. Besides, they were diving underwater instead of dabbling like Mallards normally do. They were Red Breasted Mergansers. I had never seen them before. The next day we came back, they were still there, along with Lesser Scaups and American Coots. Later we started seeing Buffleheads and Eared Grebes in the harbor. Needless to say, I was impressed in what I was seeing. It was time to brush the dust off of the camera....

It was a start of a new hobby, something Tender Heart and I could do together as loving couple. As the summer approached, our interest bloomed as we swapped the camera back and forth, now taking pictures of wildflowers along with the wildlife. A team we became... We began to "discover" hot spots, hitting the woods, trails and beaches of Samuel Meyers Park, Shoop Park, Smolenski Park, Nicholson Wildlife Refuge and Trout Ponds Conservatory. We even spread our wings towards Richard Bong State Recreational Area, Chiwaukee Prairie Nature Reserve and to the crown jewel of Wisconsin, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Along the way, we managed to identify (as of this posting) 126 species of birds (Photographed 105 of them, including an unconfirmed sighting of the endangered Whooping Crane) and 120 species of wildflowers and plants. That's a lot! And we have just begun....

Winter is coming around real soon. Flowers are shriveling up and drying, The birds are migrating southward. Soon the lakes will ice up and the snow will fall. Yet, it doesn't mean that we'll be hanging up the camera. It just means that we will be preparing for spring and rest of the 2013 season... We will be spreading our wings even further.....Never where the trail will leads us....

I'll leave you with some of my favorite photos....       

Eastern Bluebird Petrifying Springs Kenosha WI 4 29 2012

Tree Swallow Trout Ponds Conservatory Caledonia WI 528 2012 

Great Egret Smolenski Park Mt Pleasant WI 8 25 2012

Red Tailed Hawk Hwy 47 between Keshena and Shawano WI 7 1 2012

Red Knot Shoop Park Racine WI 5 26 2012

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