Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Nuptial Plumes

The Great White Egret was nearly hunted to extinction because of the lacy "aigrettes" it grows during breeding season, shown here as long tubular feathers draped gracefully over this bird's back at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina.

Also known as "nuptial plumes," they were a fashion fad that drove a frenzy of plume hunting in the late 19th century. Plume hunters laid waste to entire rookeries of nesting birds leaving hatchlings and eggs to the elements and predators. Today the majestic white birds are ubiquitous where I live in the South Carolina Low Country. They are common sights because of early 20th century conservation efforts by many people and groups including President Theodore Roosevelt, former plume hunters turned game wardens guarding protected rookeries, The Audubon Society, even Tabasco Sauce heir Edward McIlhenny. I thank them and all the forward thinking conservationists of that time that preserved this bird for the future.

Something to think about the next time you see an Egret or squirt Tabasco Sauce on your omelette!

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Heron Hygiene

This Green Heron at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina appears to have a substantial build up of powder down "powder" on it's beak and face.

The white-ish stuff comes from special feathers on the bird's chest that, rather than molting, grow continuously and disintegrate into a talcum-like powder. The powder is used as a way to absorb fish slime and other schmutz that get's all over the Heron as it catches fish and other prey. You can see tufts of down stuck in this bird's beak. It uses it's beak and toes to distribute and remove (after it has absorbed whatever goo needed cleaning up) the powder.

I have also noticed Heron's dip and briefly swish their beaks in the water right after they swallow a fish. I'm guessing they do this to de-slime their beaks. Like most predators, Herons are fastidious about hygiene.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

Business End of a Heron

The daily use and abuse a Great Blue Heron's beak takes is clearly visible on this bird at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina.

Made of keratin just like human nails and hair, bird beaks too are susceptible to chips and scratches. In a weird parallel universe there are salons where birds go to get their beaks polished and painted.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Eyeballed by Egret

So, I'm sitting on a guard railing next to a marsh at Huntington Beach State Park, minding my own business, chimping some test shots I just took, I hear this commotion in front of me, I look up, and BAM! Here's this Great Egret giving me the stink eye.

He's like, "Hoomon, who said you could sit there?!" He stared at me for a moment. Then he preened a few feathers and flew off.

I just love that creamy white plumage! Especially the way the late afternoon sun back lit it in this shot. You can see how full, lacy, and clean all the feathers are. Just a magnificent bird.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Blow Dry and Fluff

Here's a female Anhinga drying off in the breeze after diving for fish at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. Unlike the other fishing birds I saw, this breed swam under water to spear fish with that really sharp beak. To stay submerged, her feathers became completely soaked making her negatively buoyant. Then she would spend considerable time air-drying her plumage only to jump back in and go fishing again!

I watched her as she dove repeatedly for minnows along the edge of a fresh water marsh. She stayed down for 20-30 seconds at a time, moving several meters while submerged. I followed her trail of bubbles to anticipate where she might come up for air. When she did come up, only her neck and head came out of the water giving her a snake-like appearance. "Anhinga" is a Brazilian word that translates to "Snake Bird," among other things.

Here she is looking snakey.

Unlike the beaks on the much larger Herons and Egrets (see previous posts), Anhinga's are finer and sharper, indicative of the smaller fish they spear underwater. They are so fine at the tip, they are translucent. If a an Anhinga were to open it's mouth, the upper and lower halves of the beak would be almost needle-like at the tip. Apparently, they do spear smaller fish with their beaks slightly open and larger fish with them closed.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Great Blue Heron

From this front view, a Great Blue Heron at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, doesn't look so blue.

He looks more brown and tan, like the rocks along the shore of this marsh. Perfect camouflage. He matches his background as viewed from the point of view of the fish he is hunting; his legs have the same tonal and color gradient as the rocks; rusty brown leg feathers match the seed heads of the grass; light tan with darker shades of gray make his body look like a rock; even the slender, pointed feathers gracefully hanging from his body break up his silhouette by mimicking blades of marsh grass. As Dexter Morgan once said, "Camouflage is nature's craftiest trick."

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

Carapace Camo

A male fiddler crab in the pluff mud at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. He's only about the size of a quarter. What caught my eye was the mirror image pattern on the back of his shell (the carapace). What evolutionary process "designed" that pattern and color, especially those leafy looking bits on the left and right? They are so obvious and prominent, they can't just be some accident of evolution. They have to serve a purpose.

My theory? They mimic the look of the the buzzillion bristle worms (see inset) found in the same mud flats the crab inhabits. On top of the carapace, they aren't going to be highly visible to other crabs, so they probably don't serve any reproductive purpose. Anyway, it's all about the size of that claw when it comes to fiddler crab romance. They only other purpose those little patterns might serve would be camouflage and possibly defense. Bristle worms are nasty little little critters. Their bristles can break off and get stuck in human skin and possibly the tongues and mouth bits of crab eaters like birds and fish, causing pain and inflammation. It wouldn't be the only example of an animal that borrowed the look of another poisonous or unpleasant tasting creature as a defense.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, April 24, 2015


A Great Egret at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, about to enjoy a large lunch. The fish, obviously having a bad day, is a Menhaden. It is one of the most important fish species in US Atlantic fisheries. There are active conservation bodies from Maine to Florida ensuring Menhaden populations are healthy and not over fished. Why? Because Menhaden are the forage base for striped bass, bluefish, cod, sea trout, bonito, tuna, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, king mackerel, summer flounder and numerous other predator species to the point that renowned 19th-century ichthyologist G. Brown Goode stated that people eating Atlantic saltwater fish consume "nothing but menhaden." Menhaden are used to bait crab and lobster pots, "reduced" (boiled, dried and ground) to make fertilizer, turned into feed for chicken, pigs and cattle and made into fish oil supplements. They are a significant factor in nearly any human diet.

Obviously, Egrets like them too. I had never watched an Egret "work" up close like this before. I can now say Egrets are ruthlessly efficient assassins. Standing motionless with it's back to the sun, the fish below did not see the ominous neck, head, and stiletto beak looming above them. Even the bird's neck and head being narrower left to right than front to back, decreased it's front profile, making it even more difficult to see from under water. Built into that bird brain, an instinctive, or at least well practiced, ability to compensate for the refractive offset caused by the fish being under water and the bird's eyes being in the air. In a flash a fish would be stabbed or grabbed and pulled from the water. Then a few beak maneuvers and it would be swallowed head first and still very much alive. I could see them wriggling and wiggling in that long throat all the way down into the bird's body. Eeewwwwwwwwwwwww!

Every time the Egret swallowed a fish, it would dip it's bill into the water and seemed to be grabbing a little drink to wash it down with. But it was a salt marsh, so maybe it was getting a little seasoning for the fish instead!

Update - 06-17-2015 - Having watched other egrets and a Great Blue Heron do the dip and swish after swallowing a catch, I think they are de-sliming their beaks. A slimy beak is a slippery beak that could allow a fish to escape. A clean beak is a deadly efficient weapon.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dark-eyed Junco, Gray-headed Race

Common in the Colorado high country, they seem to prefer feeding on the ground in small groups. Even when food is available in a feeder, I see them on the ground picking up the fallen seeds rather than getting an easy meal directly from the source.

Their name is "Dark-eyed," but when hit by bright sunlight, their irises are really red.

Tom Bradley  ©  2014

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Yur in my space, man."

Gulls seem to have a sense of personal space when they are hanging out on the beach. These four are so evenly spaced, it's like they have a minimum distance requirement. Their spindly legs are kinda humorous too.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Snake in the pine needles

In the 50-some years I had been spending summers at my cabin in the Colorado Rockies, I had never seen a snake or reptile of any kind. Doesn't mean they weren't there, I just never saw them... until last September. In fact, I wouldn't have seen this one were it not for the Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel doing some sort of war dance in front of it.

I had never seen a Ground Squirrel move the way that one did; kinda wiggling, kinda patting/stamping his feet. He was totally focused on the snake which was all stretched out, getting up to operating temperature in the morning sun.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

More Male Broad-tails

I never tire of looking at those iridescent throat feathers.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015


Whiskers. Lots of them.

That is all.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chipmunk Noir

Chipster on high alert for possible threat from above. I saw a hawk swoop in on one of these guys, but the hawk came away empty...um, taloned. For a small rodent he casts a very long shadow.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bad Squirrel

Continuing to bring out the dark side of fuzzy woodland creatures. Pine squirrels love to get up in a branch above your head and unleash a torrent of rodential vituperation. They just can't have primates in their space. Sometimes they just go off for no apparent reason. Like some people I know. The little buggers even look pissed off.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bad Bird

A Mountain Chickadee looking kinda scary.

 I accidentally underexposed this photograph. I pushed the darkness further in post until this image emerged. This is not how I usually see these cute and very friendly birds.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Sunday, March 29, 2015

There's an Elk in Here Somewhere

It was early August when this bull elk showed up sans antler velvet at Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

He was still rubbing and working the last little bits off, thrashing the hell out of the willows. I had never seen an elk in the process of shedding his velvet, especially this close (thank you, Canon 70-200mm zoom).

Kinda gross. Kinda bloody. I'll bet it itches something fierce.

Rockin' the bright green Colorado Parks and Wildlife ear piercings too. Girl elk dig that look.

Tom Bradley ©  2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What's the hold up?

A male red breasted nuthatch waits while a chipmunk monopolizes the feeder.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meet the Corvids!

Steller's Jays to be precise. They are in the same family (corvidae) as crows, ravens, magpies, and other types of jays. Wikipedia says Corvids are considered the most intelligent birds and among the most intelligent of all animals; European magpies have demonstrated self awareness in mirrors and crows have shown tool making ability. All I know is they are a blast to have around and watch. They like peanuts which I throw to them. One of the blue beauties is usually onto it within seconds of it hitting the ground. But here's what's cool: If I quickly throw another peanut the bird who just snatched one will fly over to it, drop the peanut in it's beak, compare the two, and keep the largest!

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The New Normal

This bull elk wanted to cross Highway 7 in Rocky Mountain National Park. Instead, he found himself hemmed in by a crush of cars and people wanting to experience such a majestic creature up close. Trapped in a parking lot, he eventually gave up on crossing the road and wandered back into the relative calm of the Lily Lake area.

The elk seemed resigned to his situation; he didn't force the issue or try to bolt across the road. The people were respectful and careful not to do anything that might spook him.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015