Nature clicks #252 - Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing  

I’m still in process to clean the photo library. Remember, last December (long time ago, isn’t it? ;-)  ) I reported about some unusual bird traffic in our “backyard studio”. The Cedar Waxwings were also part of the gang that took advantage of the heated bird bath. We have never seen them here before during the winter. Thank you for stopping here and enjoy your weekend!


Nature clicks #251 - Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans 1  

I did not want to end this year without having another visit in my favorite wildlife area here in eastern Iowa, the Green Island Wetlands. I have not been there since July and it was good to be back. It is the most quiet time of the year now after the duck hunting season is over. Due to the mild temperatures lately there was only a thin layer of ice and even spots with open water. With some patience you may see a few Bald Eagles and some hawks flying over. I could tell that I’m out of practice shooting birds in flight. It is probably a little like playing golf, if you don’t practice all the time your results suck, and my pictures of two hawks and an eagle were definitely just good for the trash can today…

Trumpeter Swans 2


The best surprise was the encounter of a “school” of 27 Trumpeter Swans. They were in company with 16 Canada Geese. These numbers are a great example of successful wildlife restoration. I remember when I wrote here in the blog about the first pair of swans that raised successfully a cygnet a few years ago. They all seemed to enjoy the sun today and I watched them for an hour and a half at the same spot.

Trumpeter Swans 3


Beside resting on the ice the swans moved slowly around and you could hear how they cracked the thin layer of ice in order to keep the water open and feed on aquatic plants.

As soon as the sun disappeared behind the hills all Trumpeter Swans got out of the water, lined up in a queue, and finally took off towards the Mississippi River. The river is not frozen over at all, although the temperature dropped quite a bit last night for the first time in weeks.

I strictly exposed for the highlights and rather let the shadows go instead of having the white feathers blown out completely or in part. I do not like the look of wildlife pictures where the shadows are overly restored like in an HDR image. A little bit is ok but too much looks unnatural to me. Unfortunately it is a trend these days to make photos look like paintings… Well, I’m glad trends come and go… ;-)


Nature clicks #250 - European Starling

European Starling 1  

Surprise number three during this week’s backyard observations was the presence of several European Starlings. I counted up to ten starlings. We see a starling occasionally during the summer but never had them as a visitor during the winter months. They seem also to flock together with the American Robins in order to have bigger survival chances. The behavior of the birds shows that there is more than one hawk in the area. If a hawk or Bald Eagle is detected, the birds fly panicky into the higher trees or just freeze motionless, for example the woodpeckers, at their current position. Starlings have a bad reputation in my home country Germany as “cherry thieves”. There are just so many over there. I never realized actually how pretty they are until I started photographing them here in eastern Iowa.

European Starling 2


Nature clicks #249 - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  

The second big surprise this week was the presence of a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I have no doubt about that it is the same that was raised this summer here in our woods by its parents. A look into all of our bird guides (iBird 7.2 PRO app; Smithsonian Handbooks - Birds of North America, Eastern Region; National Geographic - Complete Birds of North America) reveals that this woodpecker spends the winter usually south of central Missouri. What’s going on? Don’t they know the rules? ;-) We will see what happens if the temperature may drop much deeper sometime later this winter…


Nature clicks #248 - Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird 1  

One of the first things I did after my return from Germany was to attach the long lens to the camera and mount the whole rig onto the tripod. I noticed a lot of bird activities in the “backyard-studio” and some of them are so unusual for this time of the year that I like to share my encounters with you.

To my surprise we had up to six Eastern Bluebirds visiting the bird bath on the balcony this week. I have never seen so many bluebirds here at the same time and our records show that we never saw a bluebird in December before. They are in company with a flock of American Robins and several other species, which I will talk about here in the blog soon. The reason we see them is probably the mild weather without any snow on the ground.

I do not like to photograph the birds sitting on the edge of the bird bath. I have placed several perches nearby but the Eastern Bluebirds don’t do me the favor and use them. They rather fly straight to the water source. Well, still better than no birds… ;-) I hope you enjoy!

Eastern Bluebird 2


Nature clicks # 247 - Woodland Vole

Woodland Vole  

This photo, of what I believe is a Woodland Vole, can create mixed feelings in our house. We knew already since the late summer that the critter is back in our yard after a couple years of absence. The recent development of a system of underground runways just below the grass surface, and even some mounds, is a good indicator. The damage in the yard can be tremendous and Joan is already afraid that none of the flower bulbs in the ground will survive. The diet of a Woodland Vole is diverse and according to several sources it includes roots, bulbs, tubers, nuts, seeds, and even animal material.

I saw the vole for the first time November 17th, a day before this photo was made eating under one of our bird feeders. I kept watching the spot and finally was able to make this one image. I “nuked” the shot with the flash since the natural light was not sufficient anymore in the early evening. It is not really flattering, although it is a sharp image, but I wished I had reduced the output of the flash light a little more. Too much work in post processing... Well, next time… I’m glad I can add this critter to my Iowa wildlife gallery.


Yard visitors

Cedar Waxwing  

Last Sunday we had again a flock of Cedar Waxwings around here. They were joined by a large number of American Robins. Both species seem to enjoy the heated bird baths for sipping some water between their meals in the red cedars around here. I wasn’t home for the last couple days and don’t know yet if the cold weather has forced them out of the area. We don't have snow on the ground yet but a few snow flurries made clear that winter isn't far away...

American Robin

Nature clicks #246 - Northern Flicker

Female Northern Flicker  

This morning I spent some time behind the camera with the long lens attached and watched the birds in the “front yard studio”. We are happy to see a pair of Northern Flickers again around here. They were mostly digging in the ground for food with their beaks. It came a little bit as a surprise when suddenly the female landed right in front of me on a dead branch. I made three clicks and liked the one you see here, with her head turned back, the best.

The other good news is that beside the woodpeckers that are here all year long (Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpecker) a young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker showed up. I saw an adult sapsucker in April 2014 for the first time here on the bluffs and today’s encounter makes me believe that they had a successful breeding season. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is usually not here during the winter and I wonder if I may see the bird again in the next few days.

Lots of other birds but this has to wait for another post…


Nature clicks #245 - Hermit Thrush, first sighting!

Hermit Thrush  

I like to interrupt my series about Colorado for the report of a first sighting that I had in our woods here on the bluffs above the Little Maquoketa River. I aimed at some American Robins and Cedar Waxwings that came to our bird bath in the front yard this afternoon when I saw this bird foraging on the ground between the leaves. First I thought it was a Fox Sparrow, which we have seen here before, but after reviewing my photos on screen I found out that it was indeed a Hermit Thrush. The bird is obviously on its way to the southern states were it will spend the winter.

The Hermit Thrush wasn’t the only migrating bird that came through here today. Fifteen minutes earlier a Yellow-rumped Warbler landed on a branch right in front of me but I didn’t nail the shot. We live here now since almost ten years and it is amazing to me that we can still add another species to the list of birds we have seen here.