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A Look Back at Our Loons in 2022

Lazy photographers everywhere squeeze an extra post out of their favorite pix of the previous year. Why should I be different? Let’s look at some of my favorite pix of our loon families from last summer.

If you liked following the loons on my blog, you might be interested in seeing my presentation An Uncommon Look at the Common Loon. I’ve put together a PowerPoint presentation with some natural history of loons and we’ll follow a loon family from nest to the chicks in flight. I’ll be giving the presentation a couple times this week.

The first presentation will be at the Thompson Center in Woodstock, VT, this Thursday, January 12, at 1:00 p.m. The second presentation will be at the Blake Memorial Library in East Corinth, VT, this Friday, January 13, at 6:30 p.m. Both are free and everyone welcome.

And, if your interests include steam locomotives, I’ll be giving my presentation Under Steam at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Jct., VT, on Wednesday, January 25 at 1:00 p.m. We’ll take a look at some of the US’s remaining operating steam locomotives. I’ve been tracking down the last steam engines since the 1970s, this show looks at the highlights from coast to coast. Also free and everyone welcome.

One of our parent-to-be adult loons still has time for relaxing on a spring morning before the kids arrived.
Another nice stretch shot.
Both chicks have hatched. This was early Sunday morning, the chicks would have hatched Friday and Saturday. That’s dad on the nest (he’s banded). The family left the nest for the last time just minutes after this was taken.
Just a few minutes after leaving the nest, the parents have set to work feeding the chicks.
Our chick woke up with a big yawn….
A good wing flap and head shake to complete the morning’s preening.
One of our chicks patrolling the pond at sunrise.
The intruder retreats! This loon challenged the home team one morning. After several displays of how tough everyone was, the home team was able to chase this loon off. He’s running to gain enough speed to lift off.
Not today, little guy. One of our loon chicks makes a one of his first serious efforts at flying. He had a couple weeks to go before his wings were ready to lift him. But, he does look proud of himself.
Will this time work? Our chick is ten weeks old and making repeated efforts to get airborne. A couple days after this was taken, both were able to take flight.
Our loon family was spread out across the pond, sleeping in when I arrived. A few minutes before the sun reached the pond, the pack of coyotes that lives to the west convened to discuss – loudly – the issues of the day. That got one of our adults stirring and starting the day with a big stretch.

Bluebird Chicks, Day 5, May 11, 2022

The chicks are getting big! They’re beginning to get their first feathers. Soon, they’ll look like grumpy old men 😉

I’ve been out on a local pond watching the loons and other wildlife. There seems to be a pair of loons that have claimed the pond, but every morning two to four other loons come in to challenge them. I’ll be keeping track of them throughout the year and hope to find two families that hatch chicks to follow.

We’re watching eastern bluebird chicks in a nest in a box that has a camera installed to let us watch without disturbing them.

The Usual Suspects, May 6, 2022

Let’s round up the usual suspects. I finally had time to get the kayak in the water and have ventured to a couple of the local waterholes. Let’s see who I’ve found.

Geese seem to be everywhere near the water this time of year. Lots of them coming & going or squabbling over territory. Here’s one inbound.
Another goose outbound.
One of a pair of geese that landed near what another pair of geese considered their territory. This goose left in a hurry.
Go away!, he explained.
Lesser yellowlegs foraging along the bank.
A swamp sparrow surveying the territory.
A male yellow-rumped warbler, aka ‘butterbutt’ and lots of his friends have been out gleaning along the water’s edge.
Mrs. Butterbutt thinks nabbing a tasty bug is as easy as falling off a branch.
Elvis, the kingbird, is back for the season.
I was headed upstream when I met a muskrat coming downstream.
A turkey vulture circling overhead.
An adult bald eagle flew down the river, briefly silencing the geese.
A murder of crows escorting a red-tailed hawk from the premises.
The crows seemed pretty insistent that the hawk move along.
I was lurking peacefully in the reeds when this bittern let out a pump-er-lunk just a few feet from me.
This beaver escorted me from one end of his pond to the other, slapping all the way.
The beaver put on a good show.
This is just after the tail slap, just a foot remains above water.
A common gallinule appeared – briefly – from the reeds.
And a male red-winged blackbird claiming his territory.
There was a pair of loons foraging on the pond Sunday evening. That’s the beaver in the foreground. The loons seemed unimpressed by his tail slapping.
A local common loon heads out on some errand. Loons are excellent fliers, but have to run across the water for many yards to get enough speed for liftoff.
Our outbound loon had to circle the pond a couple times to gain enough altitude to get over the hills surrounding the pond.
A loon stretching. That’s the beaver in the background.

I’ll be following a couple loon families throughout the summer, along with other critters. Sign up for notifications to follow along.

More Work on the Bluebird Nest

Another busy morning for our bluebirds. Mrs. has been hauling in building material and is starting to form the ‘cup’ in the nest for the eggs. She’s pressing her underside down into the grass and fluttering her wings to get the right shape for the cup. Mr. Bluebird peeks his head in from time to time to make sure everything is going well.

I’ve installed cameras in several bird nesting boxes in the yard to allow us to watch the birds without disturbing them.

Mrs. Bluebird Works On Her Nest

You need to add a widget, row, or prebuilt layout before you’ll see anything here. 🙂

Today is the third day that Mrs. Bluebird has been working on her nest in our camera equipped nesting box. She made several trips in with material this morning before taking a midmorning break.

I installed a camera inside the box to let us watch their progress without disturbing them. Today’s video is in black and white because the camera has a automatic exposure sensor that switches to B&W in low light. We’re having a gloomy morning here in Vermont and there isn’t much daylight.

Our Bluebirds Have Returned!

Our bluebirds are back and they’ve selected a bird box for their nest. They’ve started building this week. Check back regularly for updates as we follow their progress.

I put a small video camera in the box to let us watch without disturbing the bluebirds. I’ll post updates regularly while their building the nest and raising their family.

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Sometimes I Think They’re Hiding From Me

Nature’s camouflage makes critters hard to find

A great gray owl in an evergreen tree showing how well the owl's camouflage works
A great gray owl does his best to blend in.
An American bittern camouflaged in the reeds
An American bittern in the reeds

One of the toughest challenges for a nature photographer is to show how well a critter’s camouflage works. If the critter has blended-in nearly perfectly, they’re hard to highlight. Here a couple examples and how I handled them.

The great gray owl was almost invisible against that evergreen tree he was in. With his eyes closed, or nearly so, there wasn’t much of a shot. Patience paid off when he finally opened both eyes while half in the sunlight.

With the American bittern, the solution was to get in close (actually with a 500mm lens and a big crop) and use a wide aperture (small F-stop number) to blur the foreground and background.

Attract More Birds With Homemade Suet

Attract more birds to your yard with this easy to make homemade suet

You can make homemade suet quickly and easily to attract more birds to your yard. You’ll find lots of birds love suet, not just woodpeckers. Here’s a recipe you can make at home.

Our woodpeckers love our suet!

Harry woodpecker eating homemade suet from a hole in a tree
Close up of a hairy woodpecker eating homemade suet from a hole in a tree

We’ve had thrashers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and more feeding at our suet feeder.

White-breasted nuthatch eating homemade suet from a hole in a tree.

No-Melt Suet

Yield:   5 cups

Time:    10 Minutes

Ingredients

    2 cups quick-cooking oats
    2 cups cornmeal
    1 cup flour
    1 cup lard or melted suet
    1 cup peanut butter

Directions

Melt the lard and peanut butter together over medium-low heat on the stove. Keep the heat low, cleaning up scorched peanut butter is a mess.

Combine the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients to the melted fats.

The original recipe suggests pouring into a square pan about 2 inches deep. I found a few commercial yogurt containers (that hold a couple gallons). I make a double batch in one of them. It stores nicely in an unheated garage.

To serve, just scoop out some of the mix and press it into a rough square and put it in like a commercial suet cake.


Options

Some people use bacon grease instead of the lard. I’ve seen suggestions that the salt may be bad for birds. I suspect few birds live long enough to worry about atherosclerosis, but you may want to err on the side of caution.

Several of the recipes I found suggest chopping up raw peanuts. I substituted crunchy PB.

You can add dried fruit, berries or mealworms to the mix. I’ve experimented with a variety. Birds eat it readily with or without the additions.

Norfolk Southern 11R at Tunnel, NY

Norfolk Southern train 11R (Ayer, MA to Harrisburg, PA) emerges from the tunnel in the aptly named Tunnel, NY, behind SD70ACe 1191 on November 4, 2020. This is a perfect example of why you need to ‘be prepared’ and camera ready at all times.

I was on my way to Cass, WV, and driving down route 88 and as I passed Oneonta, my scanner gave a burst of static. I got several more useless squawks as I went south, eventually getting close enough to figure out there was a train stopped by the hot box detector near Unadilla. Dropping down onto NY 7, I found him just before he got going south again.

Track speed isn’t what it was back in the real D&H days, staying ahead of a train on the main is much more of a challenge these days, the grab a shot, stop for gas, head for the next spot days are gone. I took off and headed to Tunnel, hoping there would still be some light.

Luck was with me, there was one spot of late afternoon light left just before the signals. With the 400mm, the framing was right for a nice vertical with the tunnel as the background. The rail gods cooperated and he managed to arrive before the light died.

So, after a short detour, I ended up with pretty nice shot on the fly, no planning. Packing the scanner and gear proved worthwhile.

Hello world! This is Ian’s new blog

Welcome to my blog’s new home. All my old posts are still up at www.IanClark.com/blog, but future pics and posts will be here. This new site gives me more flexibility for posting and new features. More about them and more posts coming soon!

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