Readers’ wildlife photos

June 28, 2022 • 8:00 am

Bring out your dead photos! We need more!

Today’s photos come from reader Paul Matthews. Give him some naches!  Paul’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are a few bird photos of mine, submitted with some trepidation given the professional quality of some other readers’ contributions! There is a theme: predators and warblers, with one species that is the “odd bird out”. All of these photos were taken during the last few months in my home area of Ottawa, Canada.

Owls appeal to just about everybody and there can’t be many birds that are more sought-after than the Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa). After I had gone out at least three times this winter to try to see one that had been found in the far-flung outskirts of the area (and after I’d wandered around in the freezing cold in vain with several other searchers), a great grey turned up later in an undeveloped area within walking distance of my house. It stayed a surprisingly long time but this photo was taken when I first got a glimpse of it. It was remarkably well hidden for such a big owl and it took me ages to spot it. The ruckus the crows were making told me that an owl had to be there.

The spot mentioned above proved incredibly good for owls this spring, and this soon brought a lot of people out to see them. Besides the great grey, several Long-eared Owls were present (Asio otus). These are usually scarce, elusive, and quick to flush. While some other owls tolerate humans remarkably well, long-ears typically don’t, so I was amazed that this bird stayed put despite all the attention it received. I will take advantage of this forum to ask anyone who sees an owl (or any other wildlife for that matter) to please try to avoid disturbance as much as possible. Many of us were concerned that the long-ears were not getting their beauty sleep because of the noisy lack of respect shown by many observers.

In sharp contrast to the long-eared owl, the Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is very “chill” and the main risk when you find one is not that it will fly away but that it won’t wake up (assuming you don’t go out of your way to disturb it). This one deigned to half open its eyes for me. It was in the same spot as the owls I mentioned above.

The Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) is a more southerly bird that historically has been at or beyond the northern limit of its normal range here in Ottawa. But we seem to be seeing more and more of them, like some other southern birds. Global warming? This photo was not taken at the owl location mentioned above but rather at a very popular birding site a bit further away. As this photo demonstrates, screech owls can be tough to spot.

In the same location as where the screech owl photo was taken, I came across this Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperi) that had had a successful hunt. Several years ago I witnessed an amazing confrontation between a Cooper’s Hawk and two Screech Owls at this same location. When I came on the scene, I noticed that the hawk had clearly targeted a fledgling baby owl as it was gazing intently at it. The hawk then flew over and grabbed the owlet but Mama and Papa owl were there and attacked the hawk, which dropped the owlet to the ground. Incredibly the baby seemed ok so I decided not to intervene. What a traumatic experience, though. Fortunately this Cooper’s Hawk had not caught an owlet—its prey appears to be a starling.

Among birders, warblers must surely rival owls in popularity because of the bright colours they often sport, their variety (25 regular species in Ottawa, more further south), and the possibility of rarities (many are long-distance migrants that can go off-course). One of the prettiest is the inaptly named Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia), a bird that actually breeds in northern forests. They can be found in the Ottawa area in summer but are more frequently seen on migration in spring and fall, as this one was.

Another pretty warbler is the Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), a small ball of energy that can often be located by its buzzy song. This one stayed put out of the foliage long enough for me to get a photo.

Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronate) are so abundant on migration here that one can forget how attractive the spring males are. They may well be more numerous than all other migrant warblers combined.

The Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is the scarcest of our regular 25 species. It seems to have been on the verge of extirpation here for decades. But just when I think it’s gone from the area because it’s disappeared from a traditional spot, some will pop up somewhere else. It’s a bird of transitional habitats: fields slowly regenerating into woodland. Maybe they’re disappearing from certain spots because these places are now too far along in the transition but I’m not sure. To my non-warbler eye the places look pretty much the same as they were before when the warblers were there.

Golden-winged Warblers are famous in the bird world because of their tendency to hybridize with their close relative the Blue-winged Warbler. This is one of the reasons that golden-wings are threatened. Curiously, the two species don’t look much alike. I don’t have a photo of Blue-winged Warbler, which is rare here (not one of the regular 25) but I did find this hybrid, known as a Brewster’s Warbler. It appears to be a backcross, i.e., 75% golden-winged and 25% blue-winged.

We recently had an excellent photo of a MacGillivray’s Warbler in a Readers Wildlife Photos feature. This is its very similar eastern counterpart: the Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia), a devil of a skulker (stays in dense low vegetation). This one was surprisingly cooperative … for a mourning warbler.

This last photo is for our host. Not a mallard but perhaps the next best thing? Wood Duck (Aix sponsa).

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 26, 2022 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and John Avise has some nice photos of bird bills (click photos to enlarge). John’s IDs and notes are indented.

Other Bill Shapes

Two weeks ago I showcased birds with curved bills (either recurved upward or decurved downward), and last week I showcased birds with straight bills.  You might think that those two posts would have exhausted the possibilities, but that would be far from correct.  In truth, birds’ bills or beaks are among the most evolutionarily plastic (labile) of avian features, having been selected for a wide variety of feeding adaptations.  For example, conical bills are characteristic of many seed-eating birds; hooked beaks are characteristic of many flesh-eating birds; and a crossed-bill configuration is used by Crossbills to extract seeds from pinecones.

This week’s post highlights examples of some of these additional shapes that birds’ bills (their eating utensils) can assume.  Except for the Grosbeak that was photographed in Michigan, all of these pictures were taken in Southern California (although the Spoonbill, Flamingo, Toucanet, and Shoebill are
non-native species that I photographed at the San Diego Zoo).

The bill of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) with an attached pouch:

The “depressed” (flattened) bill of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis):

The “compressed” (knife-like) bill of the Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger):

The “spatulate” (spoon-like) bill of the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata):

The hooked beak of the Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis):

The hooked bill of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus):

The “crossed” bill of the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra):

The “conical” (cone-shaped) bill of the California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis):

The larger conical bill of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus, female):

The “terete” (circular in cross-section) bill of the Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin):

The odd bill of the African Spoonbill (Platalea alba):

The bent bill of the Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber):

The shoe-like bill of the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex):

The fruit-eating bill of the Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus):

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 24, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison. They’re birds, with one mammal thrown in for fun. Click the pictures to enlarge them.

BTW, I have enough photos for less than a week, so once again this feature is circling the drain.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, May 6-11, 2022

Malheur NWR, in the high sagebrush desert of southeastern Oregon, is, alas, recently best known for having its headquarters taken over in 2016 by anti-government extremists.  Much more significantly, it’s a migratory stopover on the Pacific Flyway and a rich breeding ground for resident wildlife.  Even in the current severe drought, snowmelt from 9,700-foot Steens Mountain provides water to the Donner und Blitzen River at the head of the refuge.  During our May visit, an unseasonable storm was the biggest challenge for the birds (and the birdwatchers).

Steens Mountain:

Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) in the snow:

Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) female in the snow:

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea), several hundred miles north of the species’ normal breeding range in the California Central Valley.  Maybe it got confused in the storm.

Sagebrush Sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) singing on a rainy and snowy morning:

American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) huddling together for warmth… or is it love??

Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) nesting in a cave.  Look closely to see mom, dad, and a fluffy youngster:

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) on her nest:

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla):

MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei):

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger):

Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus):

Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis):

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia):

American Badger (Taxidea taxus):

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 21, 2022 • 8:00 am

Get them photos in!

Today’s set of bird photos comes from Vanderbilt math/law professor Paul Edelman.  His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Doing my part to keep this feature going.  Once the big migration is over it is time to watch the birds that deign to spend the summers with us.  There are some warblers that are around, but for me the more interesting ones are bigger birds.  Here are some of the ones we can see all summer.  As usual the pictures were taken with a Nikon D500 camera and a Nikkor 500mm f5.6 lens.

In the wooded areas around Nashville we regularly see Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) and both the Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) and Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea). Hiding in the canopy is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).  On the forest floor is the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina).

Indigo bunting:

Summer Tanager:

Scarlet Tanager:

Yellow-billed Cuckoo:

The wood thrush call is quite distinctive and beautiful. First a photo and then a video from Cornell:

Out in the open fields I found two new birds for me.  This Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens) we found east of Knoxville in the Seven Islands State Birding Park (a fabulous place to bird!).  My other new bird is the Dickcissel (Spiza americana) which we found in the fields by the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi on our trip to St. Louis.

Yellow-breasted chat:


Readers’ wildlife photos

June 19, 2022 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and that means “John Avise Bird Photo Day.” Today’s set features bills. The IDs and captions are John’s, and are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Straight Bills

Last Sunday I showcased birds with recurved (curved upward) or decurved (curved downward) bills.  This week’s post shows several bird species that in effect have compromised between these two extremes such that they have perfectly straight bills. No doubt you can guess the utility of these straight bills by considering these birds’ respective lifestyles.

All photos were taken in Southern California.

Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus:

Anhinga, Anhinga anhinga:

Anhinga headshot:

Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor:

Long-billed Dowitchers, Limnodromus scolopaceus:

Willet, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus:

Black Oystercatcher, Haematopus bachmani:

Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularia:

Great Egret, Ardea alba:

Great Egret headshot:

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias:

another Great Blue Heron:

Great Egret fishing with Great Blue Heron:

Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis:

Western Grebe headshot:

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 18, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have some lovely seaside photos taken by reader Taryn Overton; they could be called “Fifteen ways of looking at a beach.” Her captions are indented and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I’ve lived in South Florida for a few years.  This set of photos is from the same beach in Naples, Florida across seasons during 2021.  All were taken near sunset and highlight the vastly different beach experience one can have on any given evening.

The white birds in the surf in multiple photos are Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula). I see them most often toward sunset wading in the shallow waters spearing fish.  Their feet are bright yellow, and as such they’re said to ‘dance on golden slippers.’

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 16, 2022 • 8:45 am

Get those photos in, please!  Several readers obliged, and I’m grateful.

Today’s batch comes from Gary Radice, whose captions and descriptions are indented. Click the photos to enlarge them.

I just returned from a trip to the Tetons and Yellowstone. I was outside the Park in  West Yellowstone when the devastating floods hit and was never in danger.
In the days before the flooding my wife and I saw quite a bit of wildlife but rarely close enough for pictures. Except these:
In Yellowstone, we watched a single trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) preening in the middle of the Firehole River, close enough to photograph with my small telephoto lens.

And near the Obsidian Cliffs we saw a pair of sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) with two little chicks. I was pretty far away and I couldn’t get a shot of the whole family, but I did get this one. I think the sandhill crane is my absolutely favorite bird. I could watch them for hours.

And in the Tetons, we went to visit Mormon Row to photograph the barns, common site for photographs. There was a magpie sitting on a post that I hoped would make it a little more interesting. I was using my iPhone for this one. Just as I took the shot the bird flew off. “Darn,” I thought. “The bird will be just a blur.” Later I opened the picture on my laptop.

This one is worth seeing enlarged. [JAC: the bird is there!]

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 14, 2022 • 8:00 am

We have a very few large sets of photos left, so I’m conserving them by putting up just a few today. Get those photos in! Reader’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Two photos from Diana MacPherson:

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Holding in Hands

First Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) of Spring 2022:

And from Bobby Math:

As someone who’s both familiar with the Cambridge area and who appreciates wildlife photos, I thought you’d appreciate these two photos I took of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) standing at the edge of the Charles River at night. In, you’ll see the shining dome of MIT (yes yes, second fiddle in Cambridge!) as well as some other accompanying buildings on the Cambridge shoreline that you may or may not be familiar with. One of the photos offers a wide-angle view, while the other – taken shortly after, is a bit more zoomed in on the heron.

And from Lenora Good in Kennewick, Washington.

Just a block from my apartment complex. We get them in our ‘lake’ too.”

It’s Paradise! There are other pictures of wildlife (including more mallards) on her website, “Coffee Break Escapes with Auntie Leora“.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 12, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today is Sunday, which means we get to see a themed batch of bird photos from John Avise. John’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Recurved and Decurved Bills

Birds’ bills come in many shapes, two of the most interesting of which are recurved (curved upward) and decurved (curved downward).  Diverse bird groups, ranging from wrens and thrashers to shorebirds, include at least some species with curved bills.  In such taxa, both the bill
length and the degree of curvature can vary greatly from species to species, ranging from short and nearly straight to long and almost semicircular.

This batch of photos offers several North American species with a variety of recurved or decurved bills.  When watching birds, it’s also fun to study how the various species utilize these remarkable eating utensils.   For example, the American Avocets feed by swishing their recurved bills back-and-forth through the detritus of shallow waters to snare worms and other goodies.

All of these photos were taken either in Florida or California.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana):

American Avocet head shot:

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus):

Avocet and Stilt in the same picture.  Appropriately, both of these species are in the taxonommic family Recurvirostridae:

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa):

Clapper Rail head shot:

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus):

Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus):

California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum):

California Thrasher head shot:

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna):

Wood Stork (Mycteria americana):


Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus):

White Ibis adult (Eudocimus albus):

White Ibis juvenile:

White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi):

Whimbrel (Numerius phaeopus):

Long-billed Curlew (Numerius americana):

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa, in front) and Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus, in back):

A panoply of eagles

June 11, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Ben Sojo’s videos seem to concentrate on the horrors of predation.  Here he shows us ten species of eagles in the act of getting their meals.  I can’t say that I don’t feel sorry for the prey, but there’s always going to be a top predator.  Don’t watch this if you don’t like watching raptors do their thing.

In a few of these videos part of the prey is blurred out, and I can’t figure out why.

It isn’t Attenborough, but this is what you get today: