Return to North Chagrin

Around the same time last year I attended a photo workshop in Ohio focusing on wood ducks. I had so much fun that I decided to return on my own. This time I had plenty of sunshine. Another plus was the fact that the deck near the nature center and a trail to another deck were finished. This allowed me to zip around checking on possible photo opportunities. I knew the ropes by now and, when the lighting was good, I was ready with my camera and lawn chair to await the action. And action I got.
Besides wood ducks, I also observed Canada geese, a great blue heron, red-winged blackbirds, chickadees, a robin, and a marsh wren. It is no wonder that the park was very popular with visitors young and old. I consider it one of the best places I have photographed birds at so far.

An Autumn Garden

Our backyard is a riot of colors right now. Red, yellow, and brown trees compete for our attention. Bumblebees and honey bees are still visiting our native garden with its New England aster, goldenrod, and panicled aster; creating a pleasing color scheme in purple, yellow, and white. The milkweed seed pods are opening, releasing their seeds to the winds.

The hummingbirds have departed and other birds show up in their place. We hung our feeder last week and have attracted a variety of birds. Besides the usual chickadees, titmice, cardinals, house sparrows, and mourning doves I have also spotted a white-crowned sparrow and an Eastern towhee. Last night we heard a great horned owl through an open window and went outside to investigate. Without the help of a moon we could not make out its shape, but we heard its hoots through the night air. There is always something new to discover in our backyard.

A New Bird in our Yard

As far as bird sightings are concerned, summer has been quiet in our yard. There were the usual robins, and goldfinches drinking from our bird bath and eating seeds in our garden (and dozens of house sparrows in our front yard). So, when the blue jays out back made a racket on Monday morning, my husband went to investigate. He never did find out what upset them, but instead he spotted a warbler. Now, we have lived here for 13 years and have never seen a warbler in our neighborhood. As is usual in those cases, identifying which kind of warbler was impossible. A few minutes later I headed out with a camera to perhaps photograph an intruder, and saw a female rose-breasted grosbeak instead. I haven’t seen any grosbeaks since spring and it is a sign that the birds are beginning to show up. We are therefore getting ready to hang up our feeders because they really are bird magnets. We purchased black-oil sunflower seeds, thistle, and safflower for cardinals.
We haven’t spotted any hummingbirds for a while and assume that they are on their way south. May they return safely next spring!

Backyard Visitor

As we strolled through our backyard last week we noticed this small groundhog in a tunnel made out of cut grass. We wondered:
Maybe it is sick?
Maybe it is young?
Maybe I should get my camera?

That last thought spurred me into action and I set up my tripod and 400mm lens. All this commotion did not disturb the little guy, but when I clicked the shutter once it made a hasty retreat. Such is the life of a wildlife photographer. You may only get one shot…

Award Winning Bird Photography

Today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has an article about me and my incredible feat of winning three major awards for the same photo of an airborne Tufted Titmouse.

Failures of the Gardening Year

While the successes outweigh the failures, we had a few duds in our garden:

We purchased salvia for the first time this summer and, while they added a splash of red to our flower island, they did not attract any insects at all.

A spicebush had been on our wish list for years. This year we finally found one at a local nursery and planted it in our backyard. Here it receives shade in the morning and then full sun. Its leaves are now black around the tips and edges and the whole shrub looks sickly. We don’t know whether it is getting too much sun in this location and are considering to replant it in a shadier spot. Or perhaps it needs some nutrients and a dose of fertilizer would help. Or–it has just been too dry this summer to support a newly planted shrub.

Hummingbird Air Combat

Every year in late summer there are aerial battles going on in our backyard. Before they head south for the winter hummingbirds like to gourge themselves on syrup and nectar. Our syrup feeder is therefore more popular than ever. When one hummigbird approaches it carefully checks out its surroundings and then sits down on the perch to drink. Its caution is warranted, because soon another hummingbird – usually a male – arrives and drives the first one away from the feeder. Other times, the first hummingbird perches on a tree branch and waits for another hummingbird to land on the feeder. Then it takes off and chases the second bird around our yard. As if there isn’t enough syrup for everybody! This goes on until it is dark, and it’s much more entertaining than anything that is on TV.

Successes of the Gardening Year

It is time to take stock of the successes and failures of gardening year 2010. 

The winners are: Zinnias. Even though the first growth was eaten by rabbits the zinnias made a nice comeback and are clear favorites with insects. Whether they’re cabbage, eastern tiger swallowtail, black swallowtail, or monarch butterflies, or bumblebees, they make a bee line (pun intended) to the zinnias and ignore every other annual on our flower island.

It’s a tie between common milkweed/butterfly weed and Joe-pye weed. Besides the fact that milkweeds are the only host plant for monarch butterfly larvae, they are also very popular with insects. During their bloom they were literally covered with flying objects all day long.
Our Joe-pye weed (a cultivar named ‘Little Joe’) has grown much taller than last year. It is, in fact, taller than me. It enjoys a long blooming season and is a great draw for insects. And it doesn’t look like a weed at all.

An Amazing Hummingbird

While we were out on the wetland trail at Raccoon Creek State Park we were able to see a hummingbird up close and personal. It drank eagerly from a swamp thistle, oblivious to our close presence. Its wings rotated at such a speed that we were unable to see them. Even though I could have touched it, the hummingbird did not see us for quite a while. At one point it was almost right above me and I had to crane my neck to observe it. At last it stopped its motion for a moment, apparently noticing our presence. It flew off, leaving us behind as we marveled at the closest encounter with a hummingbird we had ever witnessed. Unless one lands on our hands we will probably never see another bird this close to us.

Summer at the Wetlands

After weeks of humid, hot weather we finally had a nice weekend. We celebrated it by going for a hike at the wetlands trail at Raccoon Creek State Park. We enjoyed many butterflies – mostly Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, and Questionmarks – and the wildflowers of summer: Joe-pye weed, various sunflowers, jewelweed, and the very popular thistle. The trail was often overgrown and we were thankful for our hiking staffs, which we used to blaze our way through the wilderness. We watched a female mallard and her grown chicks on the lake and listened to numerous bullfrogs. Countless catbirds made it clear that they did not like us being around. After ducking under several fallen trees we came to a challenging tree and decided it was time to turn around. We observed the following wildlife: a blue heron at the spillway, catbirds, a hummingbird, mallards, a water snake, and a shorebird (possibly a juvenile Greater Yellowlegs).