She did it!

Yes, Mother Goose did it, at least I’m going to believe she did.  Mother Goose was gone from the osprey nest platform, but there were some brand new goslings in the pond at the base of the tower at Grass Lake.  Somehow four little fluffy ducklings, looking recently hatched, may the ones that survived the plunge down to the pond and are now happily swimming around with their parents.Canada Goose family-

Canada Goose family-

Canada Goose family-

Father Goose watches protectively as a rather hungry hen munches on grass and the goslings explore dirt and possibly eat some bugs.

Canada Goose family-

Canada Goose family-

See you later…

belligerent geese

The Canada Geese are particularly noisy right now, as they establish mated partners and set up their breeding sites.  A few intense squabbles broke out as I watched the mated pairs interact on the bass ponds at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The "before" photo -- i.e., prior to the interaction that comes next.  The larger male (I think) in the back of this twosome was on high alert as another pair of geese flew into the pond.

The “before” photo — i.e., prior to the interaction that comes next. The larger male (I think) in the back of this twosome was on high alert as another pair of geese flew into the pond.

canada geese -

Male honking to declare this pond his. The raised mud pile the geese are standing on is actually surrounded by water. Perhaps it was a muskrat house at one point. But this might be the nest site they’ve chosen, and now they have to defend their territory.

canada geese -

You can tell the male (?) is getting increasingly belligerent. This is his territory; can’t the other birds tell?

canada geese -

The resident* (I assume) pair flew over to the pond to drive the interlopers away, honking continuously.  Note the threat posture with the out-stretched neck.

canada geese -

Hmmm… the interlopers don’t seem to be paying attention, so the geese swim right up to them and honk loudly in their ears.  Female (?) is making just a half-hearted threatening neck stretch here.

canada geese -

Now on the attack, but the “honk-threat-lunge” only scares off one bird of the other pair and he (?) only moves a few feet.

canada geese -

Final escalation — flying right at the presumed male of the other pair, and yes, he finally got the message and flew off. Notice the presumed two females sitting quietly on the sidelines while this male-male battle takes place. Typical….

canada geese -

Well, the other geese sitting around enjoying a quiet morning, got fed up with this belligerent behavior and took off.

Note:  this post is not a comment on the behavior of any political candidates.

frosty morning light

I wasn’t the only one feeling the nip in the air this morning as I walked around the Bass ponds at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  Mallard ducks had their heads tucked under their wings and were still sleeping pressed tightly into the bank of the ponds when I got there.

mallards and Canada Geese at Bass Ponds, MNNWR-

They look like stones along the bank of the pond, but those really are little balls of Mallard ducks.

mallards and Canada Geese at Bass Ponds, MNNWR-

Brrr… I thought it was cold, but I’m used to Hawaiian sunshine, not the frigid MN variety.  Obviously, these ducks thought it was too early or too cold to be up and about.

mallards and Canada Geese at Bass Ponds, MNNWR-

Even the Canada Geese were sticking tightly to the shore on the sunlit side of the pond.

mallards and Canada Geese at Bass Ponds, MNNWR

More birds began flying in to join their comrades.

mallards and Canada Geese at Bass Ponds, MNNWR

Let the honking and quacking begin…

Moving on…

A brief tangent to explain what I’ve been doing lately with The Arcanum photography group (and why the Backyard Biology blog has been taking somewhat of a back seat in my “work”).  I graduated from the Foundation levels (in early May) and have moved into a Landscape Mastery cohort now with 19 other apprentices and a new Master, Ron Clifford.   Now I’m learning about the subtle changes one can make to a photo, using various software products to process or develop that image to its full potential.  I started with a couple of photos I had trouble with in the Foundation level, and have moved on to work with some new pieces I shot this week.

Some before and after shots will illustrate this process best.

morning sunbeam-

Longtime blog readers may recognize this photo from June 2014 — a beautiful orange sunbeam streaming through the oaks where we were camped at Glacial Lakes State Park. There was so little light before 6 a.m., it was difficult to see anything but the sunbeam.

morning sunbeam

Using tools in the Lightroom program, I “painted” light into the photo to bring out some of the highlights that were obscured by fog and darkness in the original. By selectively brightening particular aspects, the goal is to make the scene more 3-dimensional and less flat and direct light in the image to where you want the viewer’s eye to follow.

swans n the mist on the Mississippi River at Monticello, MN

This photo of Trumpeter Swans on the Mississippi River at Monticello, MN was taken this winter. It was a cloudy, dreary day, with just a bit of sun that was able to peak through clouds. The fog rising from the river almost completely obscured the dozens of swans there that morning.

swans in the mist - Monticello, MN

Cropping the photo to the nearest groups of swans, I directed a sunbeam of light onto one group, while obscuring the rest in fog, to give this a little more interesting look. Again, this was using just the tools in the Lightroom program

sucker creek reflection-

This is a creek I have photographed many times before — where the swans and mallards like to hang out in the winter. Not a single bird was swimming in the creek a few days ago, and the water was exceptionally still and clear to give this amazing reflection of sky and trees on the opposite bank. The beautiful red tree in the photo is unfortunately a dead evergreen, but it really provides a nice contrast to the rich, green color of the others. This was a 2-image HDR photo that I processed in Photoshop, adding filters to bring out the deep blue of the sky and the rich greens of the vegetation.

One more before and after of  the Sucker Lake part of the St. Paul reservoir on a sunny afternoon where the light was so uniform, the scene was very flat and pretty uninteresting.

sucker lake-canada geese-before edit

Sucker Lake — before editing in Lightroom

sucker lake-canada geese-after editing in LR

The scene after editing in Lightroom to make the trees more 3-dimensional, increasing shadows, highlights and depth in a fairly flat scene.

[You can click on any of the edited images for a higher resolution and larger view]

My goal isn’t to introduce something that isn’t there naturally.  I think our eyes see far more range or color and values/tones in a scene than the camera does, and editing software makes it possible to bring back the scene to the level of our visual memory.  I have found there is a kind of divided camp among nature photographers, with some who like to “play” with the scene to create a much more vivid and dramatic imagery that might depart significantly from reality, and others that simply want to portray that same scene in a way that is more realistic, but highlights to draw attention to or focus on the subject(s).  I guess I am in that latter camp.  So, how am I doing?

Get your ducks in a row

The idiomatic meaning of this strange saying is to get one’s affairs in order, to get organized before some big event, like a trip around the world.

Some waterfowl species really take this idiom to heart:  they swim in a row, fly in a row, walk in a row, even stand in a row.

Mallard ducklings in a row behind the hen

Following behind their mama in a line, or they will likely get lost or eaten.

mallard ducks swimming in a row

I’m not sure why it is important to swim in a line when “ducking for cover”, trying to escape from the photographer.

common-merganser-flying

The energetic advantages of flying in a line, drafting off the bird in front, are well studied.

Canada geese-follow-the-leader

The advantages of following the leader on land are less well known.

canada-geese-on-the-mississippi-river

Even while standing around on the ice, these Canada Geese adopt an orderly line-up.

Do you wonder where these strange idioms come from?  After watching some ducks evade my attempts to photograph them, I started to wonder whether this idiom originated from watching birds behave, or from some other source.

Wisegeek.org and word-detective.com had some thoughts on the subject.  The bottom line is that the expression probably originated from sports games, specifically bowling, shooting, and pool.  Early bowling pins were short and squat and were called ducks.  Hand-setting of the pins after each frame was therefore called “getting the ducks (pins) in a row”.  Early carnival games often featured sitting or flying ducks placed on a conveyor belt that had to be perfectly aligned (in a row) for the shooter to topple them with an air gun.  Duck is also a term used in pool for a ball that is sitting right in front of a pocket — i.e., an easy shot.  Thus, to have one’s “ducks in a row” was to set up easy pool shots.  So take your pick for an origin of the term.

The common behavior of waterfowl species to form a line, rather than clump in a ball like a school of fish might do when threatened, seems to have some selective pressure driving it.  I have no idea what that is, but it’s interesting to contemplate why it happens.  Would a bird be safer in the middle of a line?  Do lines provide greater energy efficiency?

white-pelicans-taking-off

On the move

Migrating birds are on the move — as weather fronts (and winds) conducive to long distance flight move the birds northward through the midwestern U.S.  I saw numerous flocks of migrating geese and ducks while driving back roads to various sites along the Mississippi River yesterday.

Some flocks exhibit that highly organized "V" flight pattern behind a leader.

Some flocks exhibit that highly organized “V” flight pattern behind a leader.

Some flocks were less well organized, milling about in the sky, changing direction continuously.

Some flocks were less well organized, milling about in the sky, changing direction continuously.

Highly organized long streams of birds flew rapidly over the agricultural expanse toward the Mississippi River.

Some highly organized, long streams of birds flew rapidly over the agricultural expanse of Dakota County toward the Mississippi River.

Seeing natural phenomena like this makes one wonder:  Why do they fly in a “V”?  Why do they migrate along the river?  Why are so many flocks of birds seen on this particular day?

Why fly in a “V”?  A study of flying endangered Bald Ibis (published recently in the journal Nature) showed that individuals position their wing tips just downstream from the bird ahead of them, and synchronize their flapping to maximize the lift created by the updraft of that preceding bird’s flapping motion — finding a sort of aerodynamic “sweet spot”.

Wing beats are fairly well synchronized in this shot of Canada Geese flying overhead.  Only the bird in the middle of this flock has its wings in the upward position, but I have no idea which bird was leading this group.

Wing beats are fairly well synchronized in this shot of Canada Geese flying overhead. Only the bird in the middle of this flock is unsynchronized with the others, with its wings in the upstroke instead of downstroke position.

Why fly along the river?  Rivers are natural migratory flyways, because they provide not only sustenance for hungry migrants, but are topographical markers that are easy to follow as birds move north or south along a migratory route.  Mixed flocks of migratory waterfowl seek protection in numbers resting on the water, while songbirds and raptors seek food and protection in the forests along the river’s edge.

A large flock of Canada Geese, as well as a dozen different species of ducks rested on this stretch of the Mississippi River, waiting for the next weather front to move them north.

A large flock of Canada Geese, as well as a dozen different species of ducks rested on this stretch of the Mississippi River, waiting for the next weather front to move them north.

Why fly today?  Changing weather patterns are key signals for bird migration.  In the spring, as warm air heats up in a low pressure area in the southeastern U.S., it pushes northward, and birds follow this warm air current as it rises over the cold air below. Where warm and cold fronts meet, precipitation might force birds to halt their migration, until the next warm front moves them in another wave north.

Restless geese on the move again.

Restless geese on the move again.