Cormorant Taking Flight

Summer is slowly coming to a close, the nights are getting cooler and in a matter of weeks, some of my favorite wildlife will head for warmer climates.  So every chance I get to wildlife watch, whether by foot or by kayak, I take it!

For the last two weeks, I’ve noticed a frequent visitor to the pond . . .

a solitary cormorant.

If you look back in my posts, you’ll see that a cormorant (perhaps this one!) was one of the first birds I encountered on the lake by kayak this Spring.   It was perched on a tree branch, which is not something I see every day! Especially when it “hangs” its wings to dry them.

Lately, I see it perching on docks.  Which is where I found it last Monday.

This was quite a treat, because normally I only see it as it glides through the water past my dock, diving now and again for its next meal, much like a loon.  In fact, at first glance from a distance, you might think its a loon. It’s about the same size.  It has a long neck like a loon. It’s sleek and dives silently.  But as you can see from my photos, the cormorant’s bill is yellow with a hook in it, which helps it catch its prey (mostly fish).  Its eyes are blue and there are no white markings like this loon. (Which I also saw that day)

In my experience, cormorants tend to be a little skittish. So when I saw this one perched so prettily on the dock of a neighbor, I stopped paddling long before I was close enough to lift the camera to take photos. I just watched and let the wind drift me closer and closer.  I’d probably taken 30 or so pictures, when the cormorant stiffened.   I thought maybe it’d seen me, and I poised myself to take some rapid fire flight shots.  Then it tipped its head back to look upward.

When our visiting heron came soaring over the treeline, I realized the cormorant had seen it (or heard it) long before I had.  I swear it even ducked a little.  I don’t blame it though, look at the heron’s wing span!

This heron went all the way to the other end of the lake, where it likes to forage in the grasses.

I turned my camera back to the cormorant and took a few more photos.  Then a few more.

All of a sudden, with no tell-tale warning signs at all, the cormorant leaned forward and half flew, half fell off the dock. It did it so fast, I couldn’t even catch the moment.

But I did catch it hopping across the water flapping its wings . . .

as it made its way across the lake from me.

Until finally, it took to the air.

It didn’t go far though, just enough to be out of reach of my camera lens before it landed and went on its way.

I hope to get out again soon, before it leaves us. But if I’m craving photo time with this beautiful bird, I have only to go to our coastline towns where cormorants and loons “hang out” until our lakes are free of ice once again.

 

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The Heron on Little Wilson Pond

Feeling my relaxing summer days coming to an end, I ditched the housework and school prep in favor of a kayak paddle.  The sun was warm, the water calm.  I paddled slowly, taking in all the sights and sounds including some unusual wildlife that’s been popping up on the lake lately.

These adorable floats always make me smile.I wonder what our local wildlife thinks of them?

I heard the distant call of what might have been a young eagle or osprey looking for a handout from their parent.  And I also watched a Kingfisher as it made its way down the lake.  But I wasn’t able to focus my camera on either one.  This summer I had seen cormorant, loon, osprey and more.  But there was no sign of them today.

These painted turtles posed for me though!

Usually they roll off their log when they see me coming!  They must be savoring the last of the summer sunshine, too, before they have to think about going deep in the lake mud that doesn’t freeze where they’ll hibernate.

Looking at my watch, I realized an hour and a half  had already flown by!  “Perhaps I should head back,” I thought to myself.  But just as quickly, I decided, “One more corner to explore -”

And I almost missed seeing it . . .

Honestly, I think this heron saw me first!

I put down my paddle, and floated for a minute or two. There wasn’t any wind right then, so I didn’t have to try to stay in one place.  Eventually, the heron turned away from me to go back to foraging in the grasses.

So I picked up my camera and began my research.

I love the way they blend in with their surroundings. And they way they silently move.  Sometimes, they wave their head and neck like the grasses move in the breeze.

 

I thought  for sure the heron had had enough of me, when it spread its wings, but it was only hopping from the water up onto the beaver hut in the back corner.

Even that was done silently!

It stood still there, for six minutes or more. Again, I thought to myself, “It’s eyeing you.”  The breeze had picked up a bit, pushing me slightly closer, so I paddled back and made sure the nose of my kayak was pointed away from the heron.

Once again, it spread its wings .  . .

to land gracefully back in the water.

Whew! I really thought it was going to fly away that time!

It stood stone-still again.

I waited, camera poised.  And I waited.  And I waited.

Herons are nothing if not patient.  But my arms got tired, so I lowered the camera. Then I had to paddle backwards again.  All the while the heron was still.  Eventually it started to crouch down, its beak closer and closer to the water, a tell-tale sign that breakfast had come near, so I raised the camera once more .. .

And a minute later, he charged!

Sadly, it looked to me like he came up empty handed, so to speak.

Unbothered, he continued on his way, slowly turning and walking toward a shadier area in the corner. He seemed to be on a mission this time, though.  What could it be?

It was then that I saw the turtles.

I knew from research I did for the Cooper and Packrat series that herons eat mostly fish and frogs and snakes. But there had been reports of them eating turtles, even snappers!

Now that would be something to see, wouldn’t it?  How did they do that?  The couldn’t swallow the shell, couldn’t they?  So as this heron made its way around the shoreline, I got my camera ready.

He’s so stealthy!  Weaving in and out of downed limbs and grasses, hardly a ripple was made in the water.

And the shadows definitely work in his favor!  Can you find him in the picture below?

I watched ever so closely, trying not to move, taking it all in with photo after photo.  It’s hard, it really is, because turtles are one of my favorite animals, too. There are times that I wanted to jump up and holler, “run away!” to the turtles.   But there’s something about watching wildlife in action: how they move, the noises they make or don’t make.  This, THIS, is how I love to research and get the information I need to write descriptive wildlife scenes in Cooper and Packrat’s books.

As the heron moved out of the shadows, I held my breath . . .

Look how he blends in with the rock!

And there!  The tell-tale look downward . . . the crouch . . .

The charge!

But not the charge I thought!

Notice how the  turtles didn’t even roll off the log!  That’s how quiet the heron is!

And sadly, I think our heron came up empty again.   So I wondered, would it turn to the turtles now?

 

No, he kept walking along the shoreline, coming out of the water, looking for a new place to fish.

It was time for me to go home, though.

I wondered if I’d see the heron again this fall, what with school starting and my time on the lake being a little more hard to find.  I turned back for one last look,  and saw that the heron had found a great spot to wait and watch for its next meal.  (Fish like the shadows too, you know)

I hope he found it!

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Moose Sighting!

In the early days of running Poland Spring Campground, before it got too busy, we used to see a moose run through the 20’s (campsites) every spring and then again in the fall.  Once, it even stopped to look in a camper’s trailer window! Imagine her surprise to wake up and find a moose looking in at her!

But I wasn’t into photography then. So I don’t have any photos to show you.  I do remember it being an amazing sight, as I’d never seen a moose in the wild before. They were tall and fast and solid!

But this summer, the first summer without the campground, I knew I needed to find a moose to photograph.  Lucky for me, I have an Aunt with a camp on Ragged Lake in T2R13.  Territory 2, Region 13.

It’s up in Northern Maine, off logging roads deep in the woods.  What better place to find my next wildlife subject? I dreamed of kayaking and coming across a moose foraging on the edge of the lake. He’d dunk his head in the water and then lift it out, water dripping, water lilies hanging off his antlers. Oh the pictures I’d get!

Unfortunately, the days Dave and I picked to visit had a threat of thunderstorms, and were cloudy and rainy. The first afternoon, we took in the views.

Spencer Mountain, as seen from my Aunt’s dock. A most amazing sight!

The next morning, instead of kayaking like I hoped, my Aunt drove Dave and I up and down the logging roads, including the Golden Road, stopping at every bog and stream along the way. It was so interesting!  At every turn, I hoped . . . .

After 2 hours, I thought we were going to miss out. Perhaps it was too cloudy.  Too humid. Wrong timing.

But then, on the last leg of the loop back to camp, David said from the back seat, “There!”

(And this is where I remind my readers, I have a very powerful camera lens, I’m not as close as this pictures appear)

I got out of the car, quietly focusing, but keeping the car door open. Just in case.

He was gorgeous! Foraging in the swamp, he kept one eye on me, but he didn’t stop eating.

I snapped tons of photos, one after the other.  Of the six hundred I took, these are the best.  And this is my favorite . . .

Doesn’t it look like he’s smiling at me?

Late afternoon, back at camp, the sky cleared a little. Enough for my Aunt and I to get in the kayaks for a short trek.

We got a little wet when the rains started to roll in, but we didn’t care.

As the sun set that night,

We made a pact to get up early the next morning, as it was supposed to clear up and be beautiful. Dave and I needed to leave by noon-ish the next day, but that would give the three of us plenty of time to paddle to my Aunt’s favorite cove.

The day dawned bright and sunny. We could see Spencer Mountain clearly.

I saw eaglets and loons in the distance, but alas, no moose were seen that day. But wow! What a gorgeous and interesting kayak ride that day!

I didn’t want to come in . . .

But somebody reminded me that there were places to explore on the way home, too.

Until next year, Ragged Lake and Spencer Mountain!  I can’t wait to visit you again, Aunt Ginger! This was surely one of the highlights of Summer 2018 <3

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Ashley: A Media Sensation

After my Maine Author Day booth at the Maine Wildlife Park was packed up last Saturday, I couldn’t resist going behind the scenes with a photographer pass to see this little media sensation up close and personal. Meet Ashley (park name for her), the orphaned moose whose adorable video went viral last month.

A huge shout out to Curt Johnson, who patiently answered all my questions about Ashley and how she came to be there, in spite of it being a busy time at the park for a photographer pass.

Ashley is doing well. Please know though, that raising a moose calf isn’t easy, as they have very specific dietary needs. Getting her through the summer is their main goal right now. What was most fun to watch, was her interaction with the fawns in the pen behind her. Curt tells me they are great friends!

Sadly, I’d forgotten my short lens, and had to make due with the 500mm in a small space. But I’m hoping to get back there to try again. And oh, what a hardship that would be . . . she’s just so darn precious!

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Northern Flicker Sighting

Look who came to visit me yesterday, a Northern Flicker! Another of my favorite birds. I was surprised to see him spending a lot of time on the ground on the lawn, and at first I thought there was something wrong.

I just love the red heart-shaped patch on the back of his head.

Back at our house in the campground in Poland, I only saw them on the feeder in the winter. After looking at the photos I took, and reading more about him online, I realized one of their food sources is ants underground, and they’ll peck away at the ground much like other woodpeckers peck at trees.

It didn’t take long before this one heard the click, click, click of the camera all the way across the lawn from my porch. It sat still for at least five minutes.

Then suddenly, it stretched its wings .  . .

showing the yellow underside of their wings. So beautiful!

It scratched a little itch.

Puffed up a bit . . .

and then it was gone.

It was such a cool, unexpected sighting!  I hope he comes by again soon.

 

 

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Cormorant Sighting

A couple weeks ago, I noticed this Cormorant perched on a branch to dry its wings. Look at its webbed feet ~ perching like that can’t be easy!

I always thought Cormorants were more or less identical to loons in their behavior. They swim like a loon, can dive for long periods of time, will dive 100 feet for a fish and are seen on lakes and the ocean. But where a loon typically nests on the very edge of a lake (because they can’t walk on land very well), a cormorant will nest in trees that are near or over water, on islands, or on sea cliffs. I’ve now put a nesting Cormorant on my photography bucket list!

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June’s Wildlife Sightings

June has been a very exciting month for wildlife watching! I couldn’t resist showing you some of the sightings over the past few weeks.

I’m so in love with our new location. There’s so much to see, so many animals to watch and learn from!

 

Now that we’re on the verge of summer, I’m out on the lake more and more.  I’ve learned there’s three beaver huts . . . and at least one is occupied.

Beaver sighting

Because I received a warning, not once, not twice, but three times!

A beaver tail splash!

Many mornings I see a cormorant diving for breakfast, so I knew it liked to frequent the lake. But imagine my surprise to come upon it hanging its wings to dry while perched on a tree branch!

 

A cormorant hangs its wings to dry

 

Cormorant in flight

Cormorant from a distance

I know there’s a visiting heron too!  I haven’t been able to get close enough for good photos, but here’s the proof, all the way on the other side of the lake.

From loons . . .

To painted turtles . . .  

I’m greeted by wildlife around every corner.

Goose and gosling enjoying dandelions for lunch

Canadian gosling

 

Mallards

Just this past Thursday morning, a snapping turtle laid eggs in my garden!  I was late for work, watching her move around, looking for just the right spot.

I’ll post more on that experience later, after I’ve edited all the photos.

School is out in just a few more days!  Check back soon for more posts on my backyard nature sightings, and some travel nature sightings as well!

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This Spring’s Backyard Visitors

When I talk to students at school visits, I always show my wildlife photography on the big screen.  Loons, eagles with chicks, fox kits at their den with the adults, bears, snapping turtles battling.  I talk about how researching them first-hand from hiking trails and my kayak inspires my stories and helps me find just the right describing words so that readers all over the country can picture these animals in their minds.

I end the visit with backyard photos, and tell my readers that with a little patience, they can wildlife watch, too!

I’m fortunate to live near a lake, and I never sit by it without my camera, as you never know when you’ll have visitors to photograph!

This pair of loons seemed to be searching along the shoreline in early May.  After they passed by the first time, I grabbed my camera and ran down to sit on the rock wall at the edge of the water.  Sure enough, forty minutes later, they passed by again.

My patience had paid off!  Because I sat so still, they came right past my dock . . .

They even seemed to be checking “me” out!   I’d hoped they would nest nearby, but alas, I haven’t seen them that up close and personal since.  Only from afar.

And only one at a time, so I suppose there’s a chance the other is on the nest.  I hope to get out in the kayak soon to investigate.

Another time, a Canadian Goose family came close enough for me to capture a photo with my long lens.

I kept hoping they’d come by the dock too, but they turned and traveled across the lake to the other side.  I saw enough to know there are three families traveling together!

One of my favorite photography subjects in my new backyard, is the hummingbirds.

I must take two hundred photos to get one good one!

They’re so quick!! They’re wings beat 53 times per second!   I may just have to use my camouflage cloak to try to photograph them.

I have tons of flowers in the yard and by the lake ~ hanging pots, flowering bushes, and perennials. They won’t go hungry in my gardens!

A visitor I had had in the campground each Spring, without fail, was the Baltimore Oriole.  I’d put out oranges  May 15th, and two or three pairs would arrive almost immediately.  When I heard they’d been seen in the area, I put out a couple orange halves, even though it was only May 5th.  I waited and waited, but I only had the one visitor around May 20th for a day or two.  But it takes time, so I haven’t given up quite yet.

Another day, as I crossed from the house to my gardening shed, I saw this gorgeous Garter Snake, doing the same!

It was crossing from the shed toward the house, but he took a quick turn to head down to the lake.

It was so long!

What I loved most while watching this snake, was how it would slither through the lawn, then raise his head slowly and sway back and forth with the grass while the wind blew.

I really enjoyed watching the Garter Snake. As long as I was at the end of my long,  500mm lens, that is.

There are so very many birds flitting in and out of my yard this spring!

We have a pair of cardinals . . .

And a pair of hungry Hairy Woodpeckers down by the lake.

There’s also two pair of Robins who are collecting grasses for their nearby nests.

There is so much to see in our backyards if we only stop for a moment to watch and listen.  Listen and watch. From Insects to birds to reptiles to mammals . . .

I’d love hear what you find.

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Loggerhead Sea Turtle Release

Those who have followed along on my wildlife adventures, might remember that I have a connection to Sanibel Island.  My husband’s parents introduced me to it years ago and it has become a home away from home.

It’s been a couple years since I’ve been able to go, and I couldn’t wait to get back with my camera. It’s a routine for me to get up in the morning and walk the beach just after sunrise, because the stillness of the world at that time of day and the softness of the light, makes it one of the best times for wildlife watching.

On our second day in, I almost didn’t take my morning walk because David had twisted his knee a bit and had decided to rest a day and you know .. . I thought, “if he isn’t going” . . . any old excuse to sleep in a bit.

But he encouraged me to go. So we made plans for me to walk the beach, then on to one of our favorite breakfast places, where he’d meet up with me. It was a half mile to the beach from Periwinkle Park Sanibel, two miles to the Sanibel Lighthouse and another half mile to a little restaurant for breakfast.

On the way, I got teary several times with all the beauty and wildlife around me . . . . ospreys feeding chicks, herons wading, a little banded Snowy Plover (Endangered! More on it later), a type of heron I’d never seen before (research needed), dolphins, more osprey, and shells galore! My heart was full.

And then, I saw a crowd on the beach up ahead. A news crew was there. People were smiling, nodding, and at the center of it all, an actual Loggerhead Sea Turtle! *GASP*

I’m such a nature geek . . . you all know that . . . I ran to join the group and waded into knee deep water with my 500mm lens and camera bag . . .

and to witness CROW – Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc. release this gorgeous creature back into the wild. it was such a humbling experience!

The turtle was a female, who was suffering from red tide poisoning and loggerhead anemia poisoning. Congratulations CROW on a successful rehabilitation!

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Under The Shed ~ The Mystery Continues

It seems I spoke too soon with my last blog post!

You see, after the video where the fox went under the shed, there was this video showing the male bringing her a meal.  I felt this was a sure sign the vixen was having kits, because the female stays in the den with her young for the first couple weeks while the male hunts for food.  Turn on your sound to hear the two of them “talk”.

 

But the next couple of days showed only one fox visit, and in it, he brings a meal, but leaves with it right away. No calls. No lingering.

I feared I had chased them off unwittingly, after all.

The next couple of videos brought us back to squirrels and birds.  But not as many as before . . . so I still hoped the foxes were around.

And then suddenly, all in one night, there were six videos showing a porcupine coming and going from the entrance to the den under the shed. I suspected it was the climbing the young pine tree next to it, eating. This is the last video of the night . . .

 

It went inside!  That showed us two things, one, I was right about the female fox not being inside with kits. Perhaps I scared them into moving to their backup den, or perhaps they hadn’t had the kits yet, after all.

But this brought up a new question, did the porcupine have a porcupette under there?  (They typically have only one – two is very rare)  It is breeding season for them as well, after all.

That’s it, I thought. We’d be documenting porcupines this spring. They’re cute. And interesting!   This could be fun!

Then the next night, after a video or two of the porcupine hanging out, the fox returned to check on what was probably now their “back up” den.

Doesn’t he look a little surprised????

And the next day, I pulled the memory card again . . .

 

 

Did you see the porcupine move toward the den opening to protect it?  That’s the fastest I’ve seen it move yet!  The other behavior I noticed right away was how it slapped it tail in a “I mean it” way.   I was glad to see the fox take the movement seriously, so it didn’t get hurt.

So now I’m not sure who will end up claiming the den!

Stay tuned . . . I don’t think this is over yet . . .

 

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