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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Herons

Two nice heron encounters on the cameras this week. As I mentioned in a previous post the bodies of water on our property are getting smaller due to a drier than normal summer. I have one camera on the edge of our wetland and one on our closest pond. Each had heron encounters this week. First the video. Nothing fancy.

Great Blue Heron eating frog
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)





But the second camera, the one at the backyard pond produced an amazing predation shot. This is a Great Blue Heron with his lunch. I am not sure if that is a green or bull frog (we have both and those are the only real options here in Central NY for a frog of that size). There were no photos before that one and none after. Did the heron catch the frog and ste forward into the camera? Did it lift its head up and trigger the shutter? As amazing as this photo is, I am left wondering at the specifics of how it was captured...










Original, uncropped:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Think MINK

Mink
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)
With the drier weather we had this summer, I watched my ponds get smaller and smaller. Mink tracks started popping up on the muddy shoreline and I thought I would try to specifically target them with the camera traps. I placed a Cuddeback Capture at the pond in our backyard, facing the eastern edge of the pond. It only took two nights to produce this photo! This is one of my best mink photos ever (see this for my other favorite...). The composition is nice and the exposure is near perfect. I love those "white flash" cameras.

The other camera set I made for mink was with a Cuddeback Attack IR. The advantage was to be the video this camera takes. The disadvantage was the infrared flash. Don't get me wrong, I understand the value of the IR, I just prefer the color images. None of the video is worth sharing (animal moves out of frame almost instantly) but two of the still photos are nice. This set was on the edge of our reconstructed wetland about 1/4 mile from the first photo.

This was the first photo taken on the new set:
Mink
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)
Same mink? I am not sure, but I do not think so. Look back at the first photo an note the small white patch of fur on the chin. Mink often have some white or light coloration on the underside and if this mink had a white chinny-chin-chin, I would think it would show in this photo. However, his head is cocked just enough to make me think it is possible that white could be hidden. Perhaps I am being over cautious.


Mink
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)
Speaking of over cautious, I spent a long time looking at this photo in order to confirm my initial identification of mink. Let's look -->
First, note that this animal is wet. There is water to the right so it probably just emerged from there. The head is mostly hidden but the tail is visible. That fully furred tail rules out reasonable suspects like beaver and muskrats (we don't have nutria here) and leaves mink and river otter as the two most likely candidates given the habitat. But before we go there, I should also rule out less likely animals as well. It is not a woodchuck. Woodchucks can and do swim, but this is not a chuck. The fur is just too plush and chucks show a color difference from the body to tail usually. It is not a cat. There are no other rodents to eliminate. We have a few very dark skunks around, but a wet skunk looks different than this. No, I am comfortable with our short list of mink or otter. For me, there are two clues that make this a mink. First is size. An otter would be much bigger compared to the cattails. This animal DOES look large, especially in the rear half, but I think that is just the normal hunching of the back as it moves. And I have the added benefit from actually seeing the site in person. Second, the tail hair is too long for an otter. Otters are more sleek, especially in the tail. As unsatisfying as this photo may be, this is a mink.

My last mink photo is a a touch out of focus as it is so close to the lens. What a great look at a species that keeps to itself and goes largely unnoticed...
Mink
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Humpback whales in Tadoussac Quebec

Gray seal
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12)
We squeezed in a short holiday to Quebec last week. Our main objective was to do some whale watching in Tadoussac along the Saint Lawrence River. Tadoussac is located about four hours drive Northeast from Quebec City, making it an 11 hour trip fo us. But the reward is a very different habitat both on land and in the water. Although the map says we are still a long way from the ocean, the ocean says otherwise. Whales, seals and porpoises can all be seen from land but a boat trip is required to really see them up close and personal.


John and Laura Van Niel
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12)
Photo credit: Danika Van Niel
We chose a three-hour tour with Otis Expeditions, largely because they would accept online reservations and their boats are the smaller Zodiac-style ones that we prefer. Our tour started at 9:15 am and the weather was calm with no rain. There was some ground fog which made locating whales a bit of a challenge. There are no bags allowed on the boat, so I chose the 70-300mm lens and made do. Our first whale of the day was a humback, but not just any humpback. This was "Siam", the very furst humpback whale documented in the Tadoussac area when she first showed up in 1982. She was with one of her calves fom a previous year. Since that humble beginning 30 years ago, the population of humpbacks here has grown and they are now a common sight. We had three encounters with different pods.


Siam, humpback whale and her calf
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12)
Look at the distinctively shaped dorsal fin that gives the humpback its name. Speaking of names, how did we know this one was Siam? Whales often have a distinctive pattern on thier bodies and for humpies, it is the pattern under the tail that gives them away. Think of those old ink-blot tests where the doctor asks the patient "What do you see here?" Siam got her name due to the cat-face shape she carries (and I never got a photo of her).

A few of my better fluke shots:
Humpback whale
(Taddousac, Quebec Canada 8/12)

Humpback whale
(Taddousac, Quebec Canada 8/12)

Just how close were we? THIS close...

Humpback whale
(Taddousac, Quebec Canada 8/12)

Here is a video Danika took of the whales near our boat:


We had a pair of whales surface immediately in front of our boat, traveling in the same direction as our boat. Here is the first photo I took. Notice that the nostrils or blowholes are dialated as this whale has just exhaled. In fact, the spray is visible in the air.
Surfacing humpback whale
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12)
The second photo in this series shows the dorsal fin.
Surfacing humpback whale
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12
Our last whale encounter was at a much greater distance but the behaviors we observed were amazing. Tirst, check out the way this whale is on its side at the surface and thrashing or rolling about. Keep in mind as you look at this photo that you are looking at one whale here. The head is to the right. This is the stuff of sea monster legends.
Rolling humpback whale
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12)
Can you tell what this is? It is a fin alright, but which one? You are looking at the fluke or tail fin tilted 90 degrees from how it is normally held.

Now compare the photo above with the one below. It is more common to see a pectoral fin raised above the surface. This one was literally waving back and forth.


Overall, it was an amazing adventure. For Danika and her friend, it made the long drive worth it....
(right to left) Danika, Lexi and harbor porpoise
(Tadoussac, Quebec Canada 8/12)