Monday, March 12, 2012

A Short Rest for North Bound Sand Hill Cranes

March 10, 2012 I was driving, near the Little Calumet River in Gary, Indiana when I notice a group of Sand Hill Cranes on a landing approach into a marsh south of the river.

Sand Hill Cranes Landing in Marsh
I pulled over and followed the river bank a short ways and found a large group of Sand Hill Cranes resting in a wetland along the banks of the Little Calumet River.
100's of  Sand Hill Cranes 
The Sand Hill Cranes are on their spring migration.
Sand Hill Cranes resting in Little Calumet River Marsh
My presents disturbed some of them, so I left them in peace.
Sand Hill Cranes taking flight
(Left Click any Photo to See Slide Show) 

Migratory Waterfowl Resting At Ranger's Marsh

March 6, 2012 finds me at the marsh again for a little fresh air and exercise. The deer trails lead me across the tall grass prairie, the dead grass and phragmities runners make it a tough walk. Every step is a potential trip and near fall. Conditions are ripe for a wildfire.

This marsh has been restored after being used for agriculture. Drainage ditches section the marsh at about half mile intervals. I set up at the second section of the marsh. Here the marsh is a shallow mud flat, that dries during the summer. A flock of Canada Geese fly over, looking for a place to land.  

Migratory Canada Geese
Canada Geese about to land

The shallow mud flat provides food and a resting place for the migratory waterfowl during their spring and fall migration. At this time the waterfowl that are using the marsh are Mallard and Shoveler Ducks, Canada Geese and Merganser.

Cupping Mallard Duck
Behind me in the first section of the marsh, I can hear feeding chuckles and quacks of  Mallard Ducks.  Being careful not to trip and fall on my face, I creep as quietly as possible to get as close as I can to the sitting ducks. Slowly I creep through the tall dry grass, pausing often and picking my next step.   

Mallard Ducks Landing
Not knowing how many ducks are in front of me or when they will spook, I have no choice but to shoot through the grass and hope for a decent photo or two.

Mallard Ducks Through the Grass

At about twenty feet from the waters edge I'm spotted. The first group flushes and takes to the wind.

Hen Mallard Duck

And then another group take to flight.

Mallard Ducks

Now I'm in awe of the number of ducks I've stumbled upon in this little corner of marsh.

Mallard Ducks, Full Moon and Phragmites Grass

Two Drake and a Hen Mallard 

Mallards in the Wind

Mallards Behind the Phragmites

Once they got some air beneath them, the ducks formed a loose flock.

Ducks Grouping into a Flock

The flock is composed of Mallard and Shoveler Ducks.

Had no idea I would jump so many ducks at this time.

Mallard Pair and Full Moon

This was a good walk and it ended with wonderful Full Moon in the east and a dazzling Sunset in the west.

Sunset at Ranger's Marsh

( Left Click any photo to go to the Slide Show)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Snap Shots, January-February 2012

Stepping a couple months back for this post, here are a few of the snapshot made during the months of January and February 2012. Northwest Indiana had a mild winter, below average snow fall and above average temps. All in all a most pleasant winter.

Last summer I found an area with a large growth of Illinois Bundle weed (here is a photo of this plant in flower). I revisited the area and found the Bundle weed seed pods. The seed pods twist themselves about the flowerhead in a tight bundle. In the photo below you can see how the pods split open to release the seeds. I collected a few seeds and will try to grow them in my flower garden this spring.

Illinois Bundle Weed Seed Pods

The only birds seen in the field during this hike were a small flock of Chipping Sparrows. Flying from bush to bush, and close to the ground, looking for seeds and insects in the leaf litter.

Chipping Sparrow

The neighborhood in which I live is shared with a family of Cooper Hawks. They hunt and nest in Oaks and Maple trees. Skilled hunters, they fly through the trees taking any small animal that lets its guard down. 

Cooper Hawk

Many a time I have a Forest Gump moment, while standing in the yard, I'll see a feather drifting in the still air.  Sure enough a Cooper Hawk will be perched in a tree above, plucking it's lunch. 

Cooper Hawk with lunch

This is a photo of a Red-Tailed Hawk, high in a dead Cottonwood tree, overlooking Ranger's Marsh.

Red-Tailed Hawk

How mild was the winter of 2011-12.  I left the collard greens and cabbage in the ground last fall. We would go out and pick a hand full of greens when needed. Well, they grew all winter, these photos were taken February 27, 2012. I'll let them go to seed and maybe they'll be our greens for Easter dinner. 

Collard Greens in February 

Well, the winter was mild enough for this Blue Bot Fly to pay us a visit in February.

And the Maple trees are flowering in February.

(Left Click any Photo See the Slide Show)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Late Winter Walk-Ranger's Marsh

March 4th, 2012, I went for a short hike at Ranger's Marsh. A brisk west wind was blowing,  temp at about 32 F, overcast skies and snow flurries. Maybe an hour before sunset, the low sun and overcast clouds produced back lighting that was low light and low contrast. Difficult conditions for the best photographer but I'm not a photographer, I'm a naturalist. I'll take what ever snapshot that nature gives me.

In an area of tall grass that was cris-crossed with animal trails. I found the skeletal remains of a large canine. Large dog or coyote, I could not tell. The photo shows the skull, lower jaw and lower leg.
Canine Skull and lower jaw

In the waters of this beaver pond, the first of the emergent aquatic plants can be seen.
Aquatic plants reaching for the surface of a beaver pond

Local Giant Canada Geese swimming thru the skim ice of the marsh. Many pair of geese use the marsh to nest and raise their young. These birds are locals and remain in the area thru out the year.
Giant Canada Geese

After a few minutes of following a deer trail along the edge of the marsh, I was able sneak into shooting range of a small herd of deer. This deer is in the shallow marsh waters, feeding on the new plant growth. Three or four more deer are in the tall phagramites grass in the background. There are also ducks and geese in front of the deer.  Can you see them?
White-tail Deer feeding on aquatic plants

Below the deer and to the left are two migratory Mallard Ducks , but are there more ducks.
White-tail Deer and Mallard Ducks

The deer gets a little to close to a pair of  Canada Geese that were in the cattails. The geese take flight and in turn scare the deer. The white hair that cover the underside of the deer's tail and rump is used as a warning flag when the deer perceives danger. It also helps them locate each other in heavy brush. 
Deer and Geese spook each other

Now everybody is spooked.  The marsh explodes with flushing waterfowl. I had no idea there were this many birds in this small corner of the marsh. Black Ducks, Mallards and Shovelers all take to the sky in unison, while the deer bucks for cover.
Black Ducks, Mallards and Shovelers flushing

On the return leg of the walk, I find an antler shed by a buck. I wonder if this antler belonged to the deer I was watching earlier. This antler is from a nice eight point buck,

Buck White-tail Deer Antler

A true sign of Spring, budding Pussy Willows. When I was a kid, I would bring home arm fulls of these twigs, place them in jars of water and watch them flower, sprout leaves and root.
Budding Pussy Willow

As the sun sets in the west, time has come to call it quits. I got a little exercise, saw a little wildlife, and capture a few snap shots. It's been a good day, hope you enjoyed it too.
Sunset at Ranger's Marsh