Posts in Category: Wildlife

Photos, stories and ‘how I got the shot’ about birds and animals in the wild

Peregrine Falcons Have Returned

Peregrine falcons have returned to Vermont and are getting ready to nest. I was able to visit a pair in Caledonia County this morning. They spent some time seemingly discussing their nest site, with one promoting last year’s site, the other agitating for a ledge a couple dozen yards to the north. They interrupted the discussion to head out for a flying courtship display. Unfortunately, the display was out of camera range.

Peregrines were extirpated (locally extinct) in Vermont after the introduction of DDT. The state started a recovery effort in 1975 and the population is increasing again. The last year I could find figures for was 2022, when there were an estimated 60 pairs nesting in Vermont.

Peregrines are thought to be the fastest animal on earth. They can dive in flight. Estimates online range from 200 to 240 mph, without my finding anyone who claims to have actually clocked a flying falcon. But, seeing one dive is indeed impressive and the estimates are believable.

When I arrived before dawn, this bird was on last year’s nest site, the other was about 50 feet to the north on a different ledge. They repeatedly called to each other, seemingly promoting the benefits of each site.
The second bird moved up to a tree more or less over the old site and the discussion continued.
The second bird swooped the first while it was on the old nest, probably the beginning of his courtship display.
Another swoop. Both birds soon flew off to trees to the south where they repeatedly called and answered. After a bit they flew, with one somewhat lazily circling while the other swooped and rolled. Unfortunately, they were too far away for pix.
After the courtship, the both settled in trees for a bit before one headed out, probably for breakfast. After a time, the bird returned to last year’s nesting site and sat for a bit.
Still sitting on the old nest site, the mate was still in the trees to the south.
Time to fly some errands, the bird headed out and off to the east and I headed off to get my errands done.

Northern Hawk Owl

The Piermont, NH, Public Library will be hosting me to present my slideshow, An Uncommon Look at the Common Loon, next Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m. in the Old Church Building in Piermont. That’s right across Route 10 from the Library, not far south of the Route 10 and 25 intersection. Free and everyone welcome.

Northern hawk owls are small owls that live in the boreal forest, mostly north of the US. They’re occasional visitors to New England. I’ve heard of two in New England this winter. One has been persisting in Pittsburg, NH for the last couple of weeks. I went up to visit last Sunday.

Northern hawk owls are daytime hunters. Many owls have ears that are asymmetrical – they’re a bit offset from center on their heads. This allows them to pinpoint noises and allow them to hunt by ear. Northern hawk owls have symmetrical ears which lessen their ability to hunt by ear. They behave more like hawks and use exceptional eyesight – they seem to be able to see small rodents at half a mile. This means they’re out and about during the day, making photography much easier.

Easier, not easy. The owl visiting New Hampshire seems to prefer telephone poles and wires for perches – hardly photogenic.

This seems to be one of the owl’s favorite perches. It allows a good view of fields on both sides of the road and isn’t very far from a thicket of trees should it need cover. The owl didn’t seem to care about the small group of photographers patiently waiting for him? to show up. He flew in with us standing around in the road.

The owl went about his business while we waited. He took time to do some preening.

And cleaning his talons. Those are pretty big talons for a small bird.

Hawk owls stand up straight and try to make themselves skinny when there’s a predator in the air nearby. There were several eagles in the area, one flew by not far from the perch. I suspect that this helps hide the owl when perched at the top of the tree. A tall skinny shape may make the owl less conspicuous to predators.

The owl seemed to be determined to taunt the photographers. After a time at the top of the telephone pole, he flew to the wire almost directly above me.

We got great looks at him perched on the wire.

Late in the afternoon, he headed across the field to a row of evergreens and took up station at the top of one of them.

I suspect he’s spotted me.

There were a couple flights of ducks along the river in Pittsburg. And, the bluebirds have been busy inspecting our bird boxes, we’re hopeful we’ll host them again this spring.

Upcoming Events

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Just a quick update to let you know about a couple upcoming evenings.

I’ve got a slideshow of great loon photos, An Uncommon Look at the Common Loon. The Walker Lecture Series will be hosting me in Concord on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, at 7:30 (I’m the second speaker, I should start closer to 8:30). Free and everyone welcome.

All the details on Walker’s site: https://www.walkerlecture.org/schedule.

And, I still have some 2024 Wildlife Calendars available.

Calendars are $25 and $3 shipping per order. You can order them online at www.IansPhotos.com or email me at UpperValleyPhotos@gmx.com to order.

Last, I’ll be up at the Burklyn Arts Council’s Craft Fair in St. Johnsbury next Saturday. I’ll have calendars, lots of note cards and prints, large and small. Stop by and say hello.

One Loon Chick Left

Thursday morning, I headed up to check on the Eastons. When I las visited, the parents weren’t on the pond and the chicks were practicing takeoffs, but couldn’t quite get airborne.

The adults usually stick around this pond until the last week of September, with the chicks departing in the first week of October. Looks like the parents took an early leave this year, with one chick following.

The chick on the pond was foraging lazily when I arrived. I watched for a time before hearing a loon calling overhead. I was expecting one of our parents to drop in to check on things, but the loon appeared to fly over.

Our chick was foraging lazily and swimming, covering a good distance with each dive.

After a time, another loon was calling overhead – or maybe the same one that flew over before. Our chick tried to call. He’s first attempt sounded like someone stepped on a goose. But he quickly found his voice and yodeled.

That’s interesting for a couple reasons. First, only male loons yodel, so we know he’s a he. Second, that’s the response of an adult loon to an intruder. No longer is our chick hiding to protect himself.

The intruder landed at the far end of the pond. The exchanged wails and yodels for a time.
When the intruder came down the pond, our chick took to the air. He circled over the pond for about 20 minutes.
The intruder dove a few times, foraging. Then spent a couple minutes preening before stretching. Our chick continued to circle over head. Eventually the intruder took off and headed out.
Our chick landed and went about his business.
He found something to eat – probably insect larva – on this branch before getting to work diving for a proper meal.
Second breakfast completed, he settled in for a nap.
After a while, he woke up and swam over towards my boat. This may well be the last photo I get of him. With the rest of the family gone, I won’t be surprised if he follows. But, I’m hoping he sticks around to let me visit with him again.

Learning to Fly, Checking in on the Loons

Our loon chicks are now 12 weeks old. They’re almost ready to take care of themselves. This week, they’ve been practicing adult calls, postures and they’re trying to fly. I was able to visit the Eastons twice since the last post.

I’ll be down at the Fall Crafts at Lyndhurst Show in Tarrytown, NY this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Stop by to check out all the new images in prints and note cards. All the show details here.

Last Friday, the Eastons’ pond was above most of the fog at sunup. As I headed down the pond I met one chick coming up.

The chicks are ever more independent. They’re roaming the pond away from each other and mom and dad. Unless they’re hungry, then they’re looking for a parent to provide a handout.

The morning’s big project was working on adult calls. This chick attempted several wails – sounding sort of like a gull laughing and a distressed horse. After a time, the other chick started answering, without much improvement. One of them did get off a proper wail when it counted – a large hawk flew low over the pond. This chick is letting loose with a pretty impressive tremolo.

After a bit, our chicks joined up. They were lazily foraging and taking time to call.

Soon mom started calling back and all three joined up. This is the pond where dad is banded. Dad was nowhere to be found this morning. He may have been off for some R&R at another pond. The chicks were very aggressive in crowding and pinching mom to get fed.

Both chicks were sticking close to mom and would immediately close on her when she surfaced. She popped up on the far side of my boat – away from the chicks – several times throughout the morning. Maybe she needed a moment’s rest where the chicks couldn’t see her?

Mom inbound with another crayfish. The chick’s make very quick work of the crayfish now, no more fumbling with them.

The handoff.

And another crayfish.



A chick crowding mom, just in case she didn’t know he might be hungry.

Both chicks crowding mom.

One of the chicks captured a stick covered in weeds. And, had to taught the sibling with it. The stick proved inedible and the chick dropped it. The second chick immediately picked it up to try it for himself.

One last crayfish delivery before I had to head out.

I returned to the pond Tuesday morning. The pond was mostly above the fog again. Beautiful blue skies and the hills to the west were in full sunlight. The pond was stuck in the shadow of one stubborn thick cloud.

The chicks were alone on the pond, both parents were elsewhere. The chicks were foraging about two-thirds of a mile apart. Both successfully feeding themselves. As the sun came up, a breeze grew and the chicks took time to practice flying.

Loons have to run across the surface for some distance to build up speed to get enough lift for takeoff. This chick is giving it a good try.

Further into his run. He doesn’t yet have the strength to get his butt clear of the water.

Here’s the other chick preparing for an attempt.

The first upstroke with the wings for his run.

And back down with the wings. Note how much water he’s kicking up already.

Full extension on the wings…. will it be enough?

Reversing direction on the wings at the top of the stroke. This picture was taken with a shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second, not fast enough to stop the motion.

This attempt didn’t work, he’s slowing and lowering himself back down on the water.

After a quick preen to get all the feathers back in place, he stoop up to stretch. Or his he taking a bow?

The second chick making a second attempt.

He’s really got his wings moving, his butt is nearly clear of the water. Could this be it?

Oh so close! His body – including his butt are clear of the water. But, he’s still pushing off with his left leg.

Rats, not today…. Watching through the lens, I thought he’d made it airborne. Only on the monitor at home did I spot his right leg down. A great try. He’ll be airborne before I can get back to the pond.

The Middletons appear to have scooted from their pond, they haven’t been spotted in almost a week. The Westons were doing well as of this past weekend. Both chicks are growing and getting independent. I’m hoping to get a chance to visit them before they head out.

Loon Chicks at 10 Weeks

Monday morning there were stars above and a thick fog over the river in the valley below. I decided to risk a trip to visit the Eastons. Most of the trip to the pond was slow going through the fog. As I started to climb towards the pond, I rose back above the fog to find a beautiful morning.

Dad was foraging by himself near the boat launch, he paddled in close to hoot softly to me before returning to feasting on crayfish. Mom called a couple times while I was getting the boat in the water. This is the pond where Dad is banded, letting me tell who is who if I can see a leg.

Heading down the pond, I encounter our great blue heron doing some predawn fishing.
And our other heron posing nicely in front of the shadows.

The chicks were keeping mom busy. They’re very demanding, poking and pulling feathers whenever she got near. She didn’t spend much time on the surface, she’d dive quickly when a chick got near. I’m convinced this is why the parents leave the pond before the chicks – they just want some peace.

Mom has just handed off a crayfish that the chick swallowed quickly. The chick started to crowd mom to encourage her to find more.
Just in case mom forgot she has chicks and chicks get hungry, our chick gives her a gentle reminder that it is time to eat.
Mom takes the hint and finds another crayfish.
Mom dives again before the chick can grab some feathers.
Mom is looking good. She surfaces close in, but on the side of the boat where she’s hidden from the chicks.
One of the chicks wanders off on his own and waits for me to look the other way before practicing taking off. They’ll both be practicing, but there’s still a while before they get airborne.
Mom passing by with another crayfish for the chicks.
The crayfish isn’t going to last very long.
Giving a quick head shake after swallowing the crayfish.
Mom serves up yet another crayfish.
Our chick wrangles the crayfish into position.
The chick is trying to swallow this one head first, the crayfish objects.
The crayfish gets a temporary reprieve as the chick spits it out. He’ll flip it around and swallow it tail first.
The chick seems to be pleased with the way that battle turned out.
Mom is inbound with another crayfish, but needs to stop and stretch.
One of our chicks takes a moment to stretch.
Our chicks posing nicely for a pic.
The chicks are still hungry and need to remind mom they’d like to be fed.
Mom comes through with one more crayfish before I had to head out.

Heading back to the boat launch, I pass dad who is lazily paddling along, seemingly enjoying the peace and quiet on this end of the pond.

I was surprised the fog hadn’t shown up on the pond, there’s usually a period where the pond gets foggy as the fog lifts from the valley. Driving back towards home, I discovered why – the fog was still sitting heavy on the river.

Back at the house, the goldfinches have discovered the thistle I left for them.

A small charm of goldfinches are enjoying the thistle as it goes to seed.

Loon Chicks Now Nine Weeks Old

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hello at the League of NH Craftsmen Fair. Nice to know there are actually people out there looking at my blog. My next show will be the Fall Crafts at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, NY September 8, 9 & 10.

The weather and my travels have kept me from checking in on the loons since July 24 when I found the Eastons fighting with a pair of intruders challenging them for the pond. Sunday morning dawned without rain and only a light breeze. I headed back to check on the Eastons.

There was a loon wailing when I put the boat in. I had to paddle down most of the pond before I found the first loons. Mom was feeding one chick. This is the pond where dad is banded, letting me tell who is who. I checked the pond with the binoculars, no sign of any more loons. I settled in to watch.
Our osprey showed up to hunt for breakfast. He? circled low over head for several minutes before diving and coming up empty. While I was watching the osprey, dad and the second chick snuck up on me and joined mom.
Shortly afterwards, the adults gave sharp calls and the chicks flattened out on the water as an intruder arrived. The three adults circled briefly before things escalated quickly to a wing rowing chase. One loon repeated displayed the penguin dance. I lost track of the third loon. Our pair formed up and swam south.

Sometime later, they headed back north and rounded a corner out of sight. A loon flying south appeared and circled to gain height to clear the hills as it departed. Mom took off and followed a few moments later.

Dad gathered the chicks and headed back south, foraging along the way. One chick was almost exclusively feeding itself while the second was putting dad to work.
Adolescent loons will crowd their parents and nibble on them to let them know their hungry. Which seems to be almost all the time they’re not sleeping.
This chick is trying to explain to dad the the horrors of not having been fed for the better part of a minute and urging dad to action.
Dad didn’t get the hint, our chick grabbed a few feathers and pinched him. Dad finally caught on and dove.
Dad came up empty, the chick returned to explain his plight. Dad’s luck improved and he was able to deliver several fish and crayfish to the chick.
Our osprey reappeared and circled the overhead for a few moments before settling in a tree to watch for breakfast opportunities.
Our chick took a break from the buffet to stretch.
You can see the flight feathers growing in on the underside the chick’s wings.
Dad popped up right next to the boat with a tasty crayfish.
Our chick made quick work of the crayfish.
Still hungry, the chick grabbed a bunch of dad’s feathers to signal he’s ready for the next course.

Our osprey made another dive that missed and circled a few times before heading off to the north.
Our chick took a moment to preen and then went up for a stretch. He spun something like 560 degrees while stretching. I have no idea why, but he looked like he was having fun.
He’s up and starting his stretch and spin.
Spinning to the right…..
180 degrees……
Coming around to 270 degrees…..
And around again…
One last shake and time to get back to breakfast.
Dad took a moment to stretch.
Our chicks faced off momentarily, it appeared they were working out the pecking order.
Just a little pushing and shoving to figure out who’s the boss.
The chick that looked to have come out on top of the skirmish finished with a stretch.

It was time for me to head out and I started paddling towards the boat launch.

I caught up with the osprey making yet another try for breakfast.
Success!

A friend on the Middleton’s pond tells me they’ve had intruders regularly over the past few weeks. I’m watching the weather and will get out to check on them and the Westons as soon as I can.

Puffins, et al, on Machias Seal Island

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s 90th Annual Fair starts this Saturday in Sunapee, NH. I’ll be in booth 718 with lots of wildlife images. All the details about the fair here.

Machias Seal Island in the Bay of Fundy hosts large colonies of Atlantic puffins, razorbills and common murres, along with smaller numbers of common and arctic terns every summer. When I first heard about the island, I heard there were 2,000-4,000 puffins that nested there. Later I heard estimates of 4,000-6,000 and 6,000 to 8,000 puffins. The flock of murres was either slightly larger, or slightly smaller than the flock of puffins. This visit, I heard there were 8,000 pairs of puffins. So, I remain confused about how many birds there actually are. But, on a 15 acre (at high tide) island, there are plenty.

You have to visit the island with a tour. There are tour operators in Cutler, Maine and on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. The Maine operator sells his season out in minutes when he starts sales in January. This year, I ventured to Grand Manan with a friend to visit the island.

Puffins, razorbills and murres all live at sea and come ashore only to raise their young. We’re getting late in the season. Most of the razorbills and murres have fledged their chicks and returned to the sea. It was hard to tell how many puffins were still around. We had a hot day and many of them seemed to be in the water around the island. And, when they arrived on the island, they were usually hauling food for the pufflings. They’d land and quickly hop down into their burrow to feed the puffling.

There was a flock of terns at the landing and more scattered throughout the island. There were fledgling in various stages around.
Here’s a fledgling arctic tern in flight.
There were puffins going about their business and visible on the rocks from the blinds.
Some of their business includes calling.
The mode of transportation around the rocks includes a lot of hopping from rock to rock.
Longer trips require flying. Puffins are very quick making in flight shots a challenge.
The puffins are used to people coming and going from the blinds and once you’re closed in, they go about their business, often very close to the blind.
The adults head out to sea to fish for the pufflings. They’ll return with with several small herring, hake, sand eels or squid.
This one looks to have caught a squid.
The have small ‘teeth’ on the top inside of their bills that allow them to hold several fish as they catch them.
Here’s one just coming back out of his? burrow.
On the way back in from the island, our captain took us by North Rock where seals haul out to bask at low tide. There were a couple dozen harbor seals on the rocks with a few gray seals in the water.
Happiness is a seaweed covered rock and some sunshine.
This one looks very relaxed.

Probably won’t have time for any updates until after the League Fair. I’ll be out to check on the loons as soon as I can.

Battle for the Easton’s Pond

Sunday morning, the sky looked like there was a chance of some sunshine. I headed out to visit the Eastons. There was a light fog with hints of blue sky above when I arrived at the pond. And, it was a very pleasant 55° when I launched. The fog rapidly lifted for a beautiful morning. Our loon family was all together and the parents were both feeding the chicks.

Crayfish were on the menu.

One chick had his fill and was settling in for a nap when both parents arrived bearing crayfish. He ignored them and went to sleep. His sibling got both crayfish.

The chick that was still awake got a very good feeding. Eventually, he too settled in for a nap. The parents headed out, presumably for their own breakfast.

One parent went north, one went south. It wasn’t long before the one to the south sounded an alert. The one to the north went steaming down the pond at a good clip.

There were two intruding loons on the pond. All four loons started on the circle dance – they swim around each other sizing up the opposition.

They try to convince the opposition that they’re just too big and tough to mess with.

The confrontation quickly escalated to wing rowing – the loons propel themselves along the surface of the water with their wingtips. Frequently with an opponent in hot pursuit. Chases while wing rowing can go on for many minutes, covering lots of territory.

After a chase, if no one concedes and leaves, they’ll regroup and start again.

If the circling and staring doesn’t work, they may try displaying by stretching their wings. They’ll come up higher out of the water than they usually do to make themselves look bigger.

The intruders weren’t scared away and the chase was on!

They’ll change direction by dipping a wingtip into the water, this loon is turning left.

Making another circuit and gaining a few feet on the pursuer.

The one being chased ran out of pond and had to turn 180° to keep going.

Coming around again. Shortly after this round, one of the loons flew off. Followed soon after by a second loon. And, to my surprise, the loon I thought was the home team female left too.

Dad headed back up the pond to find the chicks. They’d been hiding deep in the brush near where they’d had breakfast. They promptly came out to join dad. Adolescent chicks will nibble at the parent’s neck and face when they want to be fed. Our chicks have learned how to nibble.
The chicks are persistent, they’ll pester the parents until the parents swim off. Usually the parents take the hint and go find some food for them. I think this is the reason that the parents leave for the season before the chicks, they just want a break.

After a time, what I think was mom arrived back on the pond.

Followed closely by one of the intruders. Dad stayed with the chicks while mom dealt with the intruder. There was a brief skirmish including wing rowing and the intruder left again.

This morning, I went back up to the pond to see how the home team was making out.
Crayfish were again on the menu. Once again, both parents were foraging to feed both chicks.

I’m not sure if our chick is yawning or burping. Either way, that’s a scary view if you’re a fish.

Our chicks are diving in deep water now. I watched this one make several dives that I counted out to be about 25 seconds. After surfacing, he gave a good stretch. You can see his flight feathers growing in along the bottom of his wings.

After feeding the chicks, dad headed up the pond out of sight. Shortly, I could hear yodeling. Soon, a pair of loons showed up – a wing rowing chase. They covered a lot of ground, but didn’t get close enough for photos. Some time after that, a loon flew overhead coming from that end of the pond. A second loon swam down the pond and rejoined mom who was tending the chicks.

The home team held the pond this time. But the fight probably isn’t over. One or both of the intruders are likely to return for several days or even a couple of weeks. Loons pay attention to how well a territory produces chicks. This pond has successfully raised two chicks a season for at least the last three years running. It would be a good territory to take over if the intruder can.

I’m on the road starting Thursday, I probably won’t have time to visit to see how the battle goes. I’ll get back up there to check as soon as I get back.

PS, we’re not supposed to interfere with nature. Don’t tell anyone I’m rooting for the home team.

Loon Chicks at Five Weeks

The rain let up enough for me to get out to check on all three loon families this week. And, I only got caught in a shower once.

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair is coming right up, August 5th through the 12th. I’ll be down there with lots of wildlife and other photos. Stop by booth 726 and say hello. All the details for the fair are here.

I visited the Middletons last night. They’re the ones that lost their chick. On the last visit, they showed signs they might be courting again. That was before the heavy rains and flooding. We were spared the worst of the flooding, but did get significant rain. A friend on the pond has kept me updated. She says the loons have had one or two intruders on the pond regularly. When I visited, the hummock where they’ve nested the last several years has been washed away, with no sign of another nesting spot. There was an intruder on the pond, with some circling and posturing but no outright fights.

This morning, the forecast was for rain and thundershowers. When I got up, there were stars visible. I headed out to check on the Westons. One of the adults and two chicks were foraging not far from the boat launch. The other adult soon came down the pond to join them. They were in shadows, I headed up the pond to see who else might be about. The rain held off until I got to the other end of the pond. I had a soggy retreat.

On Wednesday morning, the forecast was mixed and there were a couple stars between clouds when I got up. I took a chance and headed east to visit the Eastons.

Mom was foraging on her own. She paused to have a look at me on her way by.
As I continued down the pond, I found our heron posing nicely again.
He as wading and looking over his domain.
The area he was foraging in has several piles of rocks just below the surface, separated by a few feet of deeper water. As he moved between a couple of rock piles, he appeared to swim for a short distance. I’ve never seen a heron do this and couldn’t decide if he was actually swimming or just wading through water that didn’t vary in depth.
Eventually I found dad and the chicks. They were resting peacefully. For a little while. Then the chicks woke up and wanted breakfast.
Mom caught up with the family and helped deliver breakfast.
Breakfast started with a few fish. Loons swallow fish head first to deal with the spines in the fish’s fins. Our chicks have gotten good at flipping them around to line them up.
The parents soon switched over to delivering crayfish. The chicks flip them around to swallow tail first.
Dad inbound with another crayfish. This is the pair where dad is banded, letting me tell the parents apart.
The handoff….
And the flip to turn it around….
Mom with a crayfish this time.
And a little fish to cleanse the pallet.
And a final crayfish before I had to head out.

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