Black-billed Magpie in flight over Antelope Island State Park

Black-billed Magpie in flightBlack-billed Magpie in flight – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR at 380mm, natural light, not baited

In all my visits to Antelope Island State Park I don’t think there has been a single time when I haven’t seen or heard Black-billed Magpies. There are times I don’t see the other year round residents of the island including the Bison and Pronghorn but I can always count on seeing magpies.

Black-billed Magpies have rather noisy calls and some people find that annoying but I don’t mind their calls at all. They are elegant looking birds with their strongly marked black and white plumage, their long tails and the flashes of iridescence in certain light. In this image I was able to capture that iridescence in almost all of the magpie’s dark plumage as it flew away from it’s nest with mud on it’s bill.


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A Willet and Redstem Filaree

A Willet and Redstem FilareeA Willet and Redstem Filaree – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Two days ago I was able to photograph a pair of Willets on Antelope Island calling from some rocks and foraging in the grasses and blooming Redstem Filaree. It was wonderful to have them in my viewfinder again after mentioning last week that our Willets have returned to Utah but that I wasn’t able to take images of them because they were too far away.

These Willets will mate, incubate and rear their young in the semiarid grasslands on Antelope Island where Pronghorn, Mule Deer and Bison roam. Willet chicks begin foraging on their own within hours of hatching. I have seen tiny but well camouflaged Willet chicks on the island but they are usually well hidden in the grasses and then later in the season the juveniles are more visible as they grow taller and move to the shoreline of the island.

I suspect I will soon be sharing more images of Willets with you from Utah and hopefully from southern Montana too.


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Surf-side Sentinel

Surf-side SentinelSurf-side Sentinel – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1500, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Great Blue Herons are wading birds that I photographed quite often at Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach while I lived in Florida. I have so many images of them in my archives that I haven’t opened to process so this morning I found this one to share. The Great Blue Heron was resting on the wrack line with the Gulf of Mexico’s waves in the background and the sea breeze had lifted it occipital plume. For some reason I just thought of the heron as a surf-side sentinel watching everything around it.

The image brings back memories of the sugar sand beneath my feet, the warmth of the sun on my skin and the smell of the sea. For me my passion for bird photography isn’t always about the images I create but is also about being there, soaking up my surroundings, savoring the sights, sounds and smells.


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Clark’s Grebes and their young

Adult and juvenile Clark's GrebeAdult and juvenile Clark’s Grebe

Earlier this week I saw several Clark’s Grebes while on the auto tour route of Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah along with numerous Western Grebes. The photos I am presenting this morning are not from this year but do represent what I will be seeing later on in the season. Clark’s and Western Grebe were considered the same species for quite some time but they are now considered separate species.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a wonderful location to see nesting Clark’s Grebes as well as a great place to see them rearing their young. There are many locations where the water in the impoundments is close to the auto tour route which can allow close up opportunities for observation and photography.

The photo above shows the moment after the adult Clark’s Grebe passed a small fish to the juvenile. The adult was going out of breeding plumage by this time and the immature grebe’s eyes were starting to turn the cherry red that I enjoy seeing so much.

Juvenile Clark's Grebe and preyJuvenile Clark’s Grebe and prey

Not long after the adult passed the prey to the juvenile Clark’s Grebe it paddled away from the adult and shook it’s prey several times, dropped it into the water and picked it back up before ingesting it.

Clark's Grebe back broodingClark’s Grebe back brooding

Clark’s Grebes leave the nest soon after the last chick has hatched and from that point on will back brood their chicks until the chicks are two to four weeks of age. This image shows one of the Clark’s Grebe chicks resting on one of the adults while the other parent was searching for food nearby.

Before the chicks are hatched this year the adults will be courting, displaying and dancing on the water as they rush and I hope to spend time trying to photograph all of those behaviors to share with you.


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Our Willets have returned

Willet foraging in the Gulf of Mexico on Egmont Key National Wildlife RefugeWillet foraging in the Gulf of Mexico on Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 300mm, natural light

Yesterday for the first time this season I saw and heard Willets on Antelope Island State Park. Their pill-will-willet calls will soon resonate all along the causeway, the shore of the island and higher into the Sagebrush and grasses.

When the Willets wintered in Florida I would see them foraging in the Gulf of Mexico, tidal lagoons and Spartina marshes. The Willet above was photographed on Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge which is a spoil island a ferry ride away from Fort De Soto County Park. In 2009 there was a pair of eastern Willets that successfully nested and raised young at Fort De Soto and I believe that was the first time it had been recorded in that location. I saw the young Willets once but they were hidden within the marsh.

Willet on the rocks of Antelope Island State ParkWillet on the rocks of Antelope Island State Park – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Willets here in Utah breed and nest in the grasslands near ponds or water or close to sagebrush. In the spring the Willets perch high on the sagebrush or rocks and call. And call. And call. I photographed this Willet on the dark rocks near the turn off to Frary Peak Trail a few years ago and although the bird is small in the frame I have always enjoyed this image because it shows the habitat where I find Willets in Utah and I also like the raised wings.

The Willets I saw yesterday were too far away to be photographed but I know I will have them in my viewfinder soon.


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