The return of the Giants!

If not giants, then at least the megafauna of Estabrook. I’m talking white-tail deer, the largest mammal at 88-198 lb, and Canada geese, the largest avian at 5.7–14.3 lb, which is slightly bigger than the bald eagle at 6.6-13.9 lb. Amazingly enough, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has reported on a scuffle between a goose and an eagle in case you ever wondered how that would turn out.

Anyway, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the deer since disturbing their nap back in December. No, I don’t believe they left, but they sure were lying low. This morning, they were still lying down, but not so low any more that I couldn’t find them for the first time in 2021. There were four of them, possibly the four we used to see cavorting on the soccer fields last summer, but only three would fit in this picture.

They all mostly kept a close eye on me…

except for this one, who had other concerns, and it’s nice to know that I’m as scary as ever.

Glad to see that they all look none the worse for the wear after our nice deep winter.

Next, the geese, who also went missing sometime in December, are back. I’ve seen a flight or two over the past week, but this is the first time they opted to land in our part of the river, that I know of, and some of them had a lot to say.

Here’s another pair apparently discussing where to build their nest. I think one of them wanted a spot with a view. I did not know geese could land in or on a tree.

They were still discussing it when I left, and maybe they are still discussing it now.

I did spot an eagle again, and I even thought I got a picture of it, but by the time my camera woke up and realized “we’re doing this now”, the eagle had already drifted out of frame, and I was left with just another shot of ducks. Oh well.

Speaking of ducks, I also got to witness this fascinating behavior a few times from a male red-breasted merganser. I thought for sure I’d be hearing an accompanying call, but I guess it’s not very loud, and I couldn’t here it over the sound of the river.

Finally, here s shot of some goldeneyes and a mallard that really shine in the nice morning sun.

And scene…

Not a whole lot to report today. I was enjoying the beautiful weather in the park both yesterday afternoon and this morning but took a total of only 15 pictures instead of my usual daily average of over 100. It seems as though all the actors are waiting for the scene change so they can start Act II. Some will be getting a costume change (goldfinch), a few are warming up their vocal cords (cardinals, chickadees, juncos, and even a blue jay or two), and we’re all anxiously awaiting a huge influx of new characters (wood ducks, orioles, warblers, etc.).

Meanwhile, I did spot another bald eagle this morning, drifting north along the river this time, and as I kept my eye on the tree tops where it went out of sight, ducks started filling the sky like hornets from a disturbed nest.

I am surprised by the recent boldness displayed by the female cardinals. This one was out in the bright morning sun and even chirping a bit. When I started taking pictures in March last spring, one of the most elusive birds I sought was a female northern cardinal. Maybe by late March, they no longer have any incentive to show off their finery.

Lastly, I spotted our cute little veery/hermit thrush below the falls again on Tuesday, but it didn’t make the cut after I spotted the pair of beaver later that morning.

The regular crowd shuffles in…

It was a surprisingly quiet morning in the park today. With the weather so nice, I figured everybody and their brother would be out, but that was not the case, and even the beaver were laying low. That’s just as well. Wouldn’t want to get bored of seeing them, right?

Instead, we’re left with the regulars as we wait for the new spring arrivals. Here’s a fun little scene that captures a slew of females relaxing on the river ice for a moment, including common mergansers, common goldeneyes, and even a bufflehead. It is the first time I’ve seen either a goldeneye or a bufflehead out of the water, which reminds me of an old ZZ-Top song.

Here’s a dark-eyed junco and a Cooper’s hawk. I was surprised that the junco stayed still as long as it did, and perhaps it felt that the sticks in the foreground gave it enough cover. The Cooper’s hawk has usually been willing to pose if I show some respect.

Here’s a grey squirrel, who I managed to trap with that eye-contact trick like an atom in a laser beam, and who’s now wondering if I am ever going to be done and set it free.

Finally, here’s a black-capped chickadee performing some serious gymnastics on a birch tree, and it stuck the landing, as usual.

And then there were two…

The one beaver we saw on Sunday must have reported back to the burrow that the deep freeze has indeed broken because today there were two of them, seeming to nuzzle and snooze together on the river ice in the bright morning sun.

Sorry for all the pictures. I can’t decide which is the cutest.

And the beaver are not the only ones who appear to have noticed a change in the weather. Here are a pair of chickadees who thought it was warm enough to wrestle in the snow!

Here’s a pretty little nuthatch who was paying far more attention to its other three companions flitting around in the tree than to me.

Here’s a pair of common mergansers also enjoying a snooze on the ice in the sun, although I did catch her keeping tabs on what I was doing across the river.

By popular demand, here’s your art-shot of some fancy river ice that can’t seem to decide whether it is freezing or thawing.

Finally, here a shot of the whole river “valley” with the two beaver just to the left of dead center. Still plenty of ice left, but I stayed off of it today, mostly.

What a spectacular morning, eh?

The Beaver are Back, Baby!

And they are hungry! As our long deep freeze finally eases up, the beaver, who we haven’t seen even a single wood chip from since December, finally ventured out last night, and they left freshly cut and debarked logs on the ice in at least four locations along the lower river. Since I walked on the ice for much of the river yesterday, I can confidently assert that these were not there then.

Check out the crazy ducks. For the first time, I’m not focusing on them, and they perform like rock stars!

Anyway, all the sites were on the other side of the river, and I wanted to get a closer look, to see if there were tracks, so I hiked across the ice, even after telling myself when I set out this morning I’d better stay off the ice today after how warm it was yesterday afternoon and last night. I got about 90% of the way across on the first attempt, and the ice started to feel a little punky, so I turned around and tried again further upstream where someone has helpfully strung a rope from side to side.

On the other side, I believe I can now confirmed who left that mystery track in the snow we saw yesterday. The lack of foot prints either beside or behind was what perplexed me. Now I’m confident that beaver cover their own tracks in the snow with that fancy tail they drag behind.

I also confirmed that the ice is indeed not safe. Ha! Sometimes science requires getting your feet wet, right? Luckily, that’s all it was, and the nice gaiters Carl got me worked surprisingly well to keep most of the water out. It pays to be quick, though.

Better yet, I spotted an actual beaver up on the ice a bit down stream, and I’ll spare you the details of how I managed to totally flub that shot.

Instead, since I was already on the other side for the first time in years, I decided to see what there was to see and hike up to Port Washington road to cross back over safely on the bridge. As I came back down the other side, it finally dawned on me that maybe the beaver I saw, who was hungry enough to come out to feed in broad daylight, might still be that hungry. Then I made a beeline back down to the lower river.

And sure enough, there it was back up on the ice on the west side. I needed all the zoom I have, and I tried every setting my camera had to capture a down brown animal against bright white snow under a bright white sky. These will have to do for now.

I can only think of one time before that I’ve ever seen beaver live, and that was in the water last summer, so I had no idea how they behave on land. If you’ve ever seen a video of a sloth, that would give you some idea about how this one behaved, and I was grateful for all the time it allowed me.

It turns out, you will probably not be stunned to learn, that beaver were not the only hungry ones out and about today. The seeps are finally thawed and flowing again, and this robin was right down into one looking for something good to eat.

Here’s another herring gull trying to gulp down a little fish, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it swiped it from this unhappy looking female common merganser again.

Finally, since some of you seem to be so into arty still-life shots now, here are a couple more.

Fabulous February!

It was a day so nice, I had to go out in it twice, and boy, what a difference 20 degrees makes! This morning, I wore two pairs of gloves, and this afternoon, I wore none.

With last night being probably our last deep freeze, I figured it was today or never to walk up river on the ice. What a treat that was.

Not a whole lot to report critter-wise. A few mergansers, a few mallards, a slew of goldeneyes, and just one female bufflehead on the river. Here are a couple of a shots in which I attempt yet again to capture the size of the crowd. It is a sight to behold.

The usual song birds were about, and here are just a few of the robins who were out in force.

One curious sight on the river is this track in the snow. There were other no tracks near it.

In the woods, there were plenty of woodpeckers going about their business, and these two downies put on quite a show.

Our little buddy, the veery or hermit thrush was a bit south of where I usually find it, and perhaps it was think that I, standing on the river ice, was west of where it usually finds me.

And, last, but by no means least, this magnificent creature, I think the Coopers hawk we’ve seen several times before, was waiting for me along side the Oak Leaf Trial. It even allowed me to walk past it, with my eyes averted of course, so that I could shoot with the morning sun at my back as it stretched a leg.

Odds and Ends…

It’s been a quiet couple of days in the park, and do you know what that means, boys and girls? That means it’s arty picture day, where I try to supplement the meager content I have with pictures of super interesting snow and ice formations. Yay!

First up is this fascinating bit if snow that artfully curled up instead of simply sloughing off a tree trunk during the beautiful sunshine yesterday afternoon. Ooooh!

Here’s another one of some amazing bumps and whirls that have formed in the snow and ice on the river. Aaaah!

In hindsight, I should have used the camera setting I discovered for the first image on this one, but I’m showing them out of order, and I hadn’t stumbled across it in desperation yet.

Happily, those are all the arty images worth sharing, so now we can get to the meager animal pictures. As you may recall, yesterday afternoon was still, sunny, and wonderfully warmer than recent days, and this pair of red-breasted mergansers seem to be just basking in it with a little mid-river nap.

This female northern cardinal showed off just how versatile her head feathers are while hiding in the bushes. Yup, that’s the same bird.

The flock of goldeneyes seemingly continues to grow, and this time they were spooked by someone on the other side of the river, not me, so I could see it coming and try for a clearer shot of the mass scramble. I’d be surprised if there weren’t three dozen birds by now, but they are crazy tricky to count because they are continually diving to forage on the river bottom.

Our little friend, the hermit thrush or veery was back on the sumac between the falls and the beer garden. I tried to kneel down to get some blue in the background, but I was too slow and he or she had had enough of me.

Finally, I did manage to capture one image with a slice of that amazing blue sky from yesterday, and here it is.

A bit of normalcy returns…

I am always surprised to rediscover how more comfortable single digits above zero are than single digits below zero. Add a smidgen of sun and a patch of blue sky or two and it was a very nice morning in the park. To mark the occasion, we had a visitor we haven’t seen in weeks and at least one new arrival.

First up, on the lower river, I spotted a pair of red-breasted mergansers for the first time in a while. The common mergansers were still their, but we’ve seen plenty of them lately.

Further north, the flock of goldeneyes continues to grow, and they continue to be as shy as ever. Here’s the best shot I could get through the bushes and the steam fog, then a shot of them taking notice of me as soon as I got clear of the bushes, and finally a shot of them taking off. Sorry kids!

Just beyond that spectacle, where the ice begins to cover the entire river, a group of mallards have settled in with three little interlopers: a male and now two female buffleheads. I got one or two nice shots of him alone when the sun shone and the fog cleared, but we’ve seen plenty of those already. Whenever the three were together, though, they managed to do so only in the fog and shade. Sneaky little devils. Maybe we’ll get lucky and their numbers will start to swell like the goldeneyes.

At the falls, the steam fog has formed some nice hoar ice on the branches over the river. The slightest breeze caused it to fall like snow.

Finally, above the falls, there were just a pair of mallards and one male goldeneye. As I watched, the mallards decided to check out the buffet below the falls, and here’s the male climbing down the ice.

Plenty of woodpeckers, song birds, and even a couple of squirrels today, but no raptors, and nobody particularly photogenic, so we’ll have to wait until next time.

The cold remains, but some color returns…

After getting skunked for the last few days, I’ve finally got something to show you, and given the nature of this project, perhaps I should clarify that by “skunked” I mean coming up empty, not being sprayed by a skunk, which I would definitely endure in exchange for a good picture, but that would be a different story. I saw no skunks in the park today.

Instead, I enjoyed the rare treat of this truly magnificent creature tolerating my presence at a surprisingly close range while it was waiting for another crack at a squirrel who was busy warning everyone within earshot, and I am not to surprised to read that squirrels listen to other birds to assess the danger.

I spotted what I hoped might be a raptor from seemingly a mile away, and I had to check with binoculars to make sure it wasn’t just some snow on a tree. As I made my way towards it, at one point it made a try for a squirrel, but came up empty, and I was thrilled when it settle back down in the vicinity for me to continue my pursuit. In the end, I even crossed some of the frozen river, all the while trying to make it look like I wasn’t ever walking straight towards it, as my friend Drew suggested. I ended up about 20 feet away and right next to a tree to which I could hold my camera to eliminate jiggling. After I figured I must have gotten one good shot (out of 50+!) I continued north and was able to confirm from behind that it is indeed a red-tailed hawk, not some cheap knock-off, and it might even be the one we saw back in January feasting on a different squirrel.

Anyway, the river continues to freeze over, but a slew of intrepid goldeneyes, common mergansers, and even some mallards are sticking around in the few remaining wet spots. There was not a single water fowl on the upper river today, however, and that was long after the one bald eagle I saw had already flown past.

Instead, a certain chickadee almost seemed unwilling to admit it had made a mistake by landing on a branch too closed to me. As I carefully took out my camera, it pretended not to notice that I was only 6 feet away and quite casually went about its business. Sweet.

After glimpsing an eagle and photographing a hawk, I had a hope that I might get lucky at the pond, and I did, but not in the way I expected. Instead, these two colorful characters provided these close-ups that almost looked staged, right?

And these little cuties could not seem to be less concerned about me. I half expected either one of them to check my head next. I’ve thought there must be bugs in there for years now.

Starting to get frisky…

The amazing streak of cold weather continues, and I didn’t see a single mammal this morning, but for the birds who are prepared for it, not only does it not seem to slow them down, they’re actually starting to get frisky!

I had barely gotten into the park when this pair of nuthatches caught my ear. Well, his song caught my ear, but when I looked up, I spotted her first. I read that you can distinguish him from her by her greyer cap compared to his blacker cap. Plus, he was doing all the singing, and she was just soaking it in along with the bright morning sun.

Within the same earshot, this male northern cardinal was staking out his territory.

On the lower river, there wasn’t much new. The goldeneye flotilla was in the same spot as yesterday, but not quite as big, and some of them appeared to be trying to take a nap, although you can see that the male was keep his goldeneye on me.

Above the falls, there were a few mallards, one male goldeneye, and the pair of buffleheads, but no eagles today. The one fascinating event I got to witness was the goldeneye, who had been diving with the buffleheads, suddenly making a beeline for the mallards, and the half-pint male bufflehead popping to the surface right behind him and in hot pursuit! I guess, as they say with dogs, it’s the size of the fight in the bird as much or more than the size of the bird in the fight.

Here’s the male goldeneye a moment later explaining to a couple of male mallards that he actually wanted to swim over towards them ’cause that other spot is pretty much grazed out now.

Here’s the male bufflehead escorting his date the heck out of that dump!

There was nothing new at the pond this morning, but there was a lot of activity in the trees lining the Oak Leaf Trail. Here are a pair of either downy or hairy woodpeckers checking each other out, bill to bill, but my one lousy shot doesn’t reveal the cues that would enable me to tell them apart. There was also some energetic movement before this scene, but you’ll just have to imagine that, or watch this nice video someone else posted on youtube.

Anyway, this male downy was kind enough to sit for a proper portrait.

Finally, this goldfinch wasn’t doing anything new or interesting, but just looked too nice against the nice blue sky to pass up.