Nature Encounters

A few days after my encounter with the Northern Waterthrush, an occasion I described in “Photos and Commentary,” I came face to face with a red fox. My wife and I had just gotten out of our car and were busy watching the Osprey nest (and one I’m now monitoring for the Pennsylvania Game Commission). We were also discussing how the female might be on eggs.

Female Osprey on nest
Female Osprey on nest

As we stood watching and as I took a few photos like the one above, we noticed movement on the ground below. It was a red fox, and it was headed our way. I said something like, “We know what to do in situations like this, don’t we? We’re pretty well trained.” Well, our “training” paid off as the fox came within 50 feet of us. I took a number of photos as it headed in our direction, with this one being the last. I captured the moment the animal saw us and the moment before it fled.

Red fox
Red fox

Two days later I visited a local park in the early morning hours, the best time to see wildlife. I was on a path in the woods and had stopped to try to ID a warbler. I knew I had one because warbler song is distinctive. In a flash, a large bird landed on a limb just above me. It was an adult Cooper’s Hawk with something in its talons. Here’s how the scene looked. I may have been in the woods, but there was plenty of light: light that in this case beautifully backlit the bird.

Cooper's Hawk with prey
Cooper’s Hawk with prey

Here’s a closer look. It was clear the raptor had caught and killed an American Robin.

Cooper's Hawk with prey
Cooper’s Hawk with prey

Moments later, the bird exhaled as it called, its breath condensing in the cool morning air. The photo is reminiscent of Kathryn Swoboda’s prize-winning photo of a Red-winged Blackbird forming smoke rings. Her subject was also backlit, which made her photo all the more compelling.

Cooper's Hawk with prey
Cooper’s Hawk with prey

Not long after I took the shot, another Cooper’s Hawk swooped in and took that one’s place. Things like that happen a lot in nature, don’t they? Neither bird is really in focus here, but the photo still captures our attention and imagination. A photo doesn’t have to be perfect to evoke a response.

Cooper's Hawks
Cooper’s Hawks

This young white-tailed deer with its “furry crown” caught my attention a few days later. I spotted it while walking along a utility corridor near my home. The corridor is wide with low-growing ground cover and wooded borders. Wildlife abounds there, as it does in so many places like it. Don’t neglect those places, either.

White-tailed deer
White-tailed deer

I shared a different photo of the buck on Facebook and asked if anyone knew its age. A hunter named Jim responded. I’ve learned through the years that hunters know more and care more about wildlife than many of us realize. Here’s Jim’s response: “Likely 2 1/2 years old. The best way to determine age is to examine the teeth. A second way is head configuration, particularly the nose. Having taken many, many bucks over more than 50 years of hunting and having a good number of them checked at a deer check station, you develop a good feel for age.”

Shortly after I saw the deer, I kept walking. I managed to get a decent close-up of newly arrived and always vocal Eastern Kingbird. Fortunately for me, the bird was close and almost at eye level.

Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird

The corridor ended in an area that had once been farmland but was now being developed. Areas like that can be great places to find wildlife, too. I quickly spotted the stormwater control ponds that were part of the development and noticed the good numbers of shorebirds in them. I took a few photos, and to my surprise, one of them contained a group of 10 Solitary Sandpipers. I looked around with my binocs and counted 15 more in other spots. “Solitary no more,” I thought. I’d never seen more than 1 Solitary Sandpiper at a time. Here’s the photo of the 10, followed by one of a single bird.

Solitary Sandpipers
Solitary Sandpipers
Solitary Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper

While I was there looking over the ponds, I also noticed a number of swallows. No wonder, as swallows are often found feeding near water. I took quite a few frames of the foraging birds, but here’s my favorite. At first, I described it this way on FM Forums: “I caught this Barn Swallow snatching a flying insect out of the air as it flew or glided on its back.” Another member soon responded that unless his eyesight was failing him, the bird was NOT flying upside down but had turned its head 180 degrees to catch a flying insect. He was right, and I made the correction. The swallow was flying or gliding as it normally does. I also added that the photo highlights the Barn Swallow’s remarkable ability to maneuver quickly to catch prey. That ability is partly due to its deeply forked tail.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow

If you’re interested, I used the same camera autofocus area mode here that I used to capture the Tree Swallows in, “A Few Sights and Sounds.” I use that mode often if the background is clean and there’s no chance the AF system can lock focus on something else.

On my way back to my truck, I caught up with this eastern cottontail. The corridor is cottontail central. I don’t usually take photos of rabbits, but I couldn’t resist capturing this one. It looked like it was struggling to wake up. It also made me think me of how I probably look most mornings.

Eastern cottontail
Eastern cottontail

And This Just In

While I was walking the corridor on a different morning, I heard a sound coming from the woods. I thought it came from either a Great Blue Heron or an owl, and I used BirdNET Sound ID, a great new app, to try and figure it out. BirdNET was stumped, as was I. I reached out to Andy McGann on the Maryland and DC email list to help me with the call. Here was his response: “Good reason why they are stumped! It’s the alarm “snorting” sound of a White-tailed Deer!”

Quip, Question, Quote(s)

Keep the following in mind if you want to experiment with backlight photography: do it early or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky, and slightly overexpose the image so your subject won’t appear too dark.

Keep this in mind, too. It’s a great daily reminder quote, and it’s also great advice: “Don’t try to be the best [photographer] – work hard to be the best that YOU can be. Create and record moments with your camera, focus on the emotion of your shot. Strive to have people look at your work and pause and consider it. If you’re like me, work for that WOW response.” Joe Edelman

Thank you for reading.

We remember our heroes.

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