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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Sep 11, 2012

Best bird of the weekend?

Field of oats
Have you ever had one of those days, when everything you've been hoping and striving for just clicks?  But here I am getting ahead of myself again, so let me back up a bit.  I spotted a Pied-billed Grebe in the pond near my work at the beginning of the week.  I haven't seen one of these delightful birds for well over three years.

When he gave every indication of staying for a while I went every morning before work to try and capture his image.  But he was either always in very poor light or way on the other side of the pond, well out of reach of my lens.  Saturday morning I headed to the pond somewhat later in the day, when the light was much better, but the little guy was gone when I arrived.

I was very disappointed to say the least.   I needed some consolation and so I hopped on the bus heading to my favorite ponds on the south side. These are man made, but are surrounded by farmers fields with mini marshes, or as others call them, prairie potholes, where many birds can be sighted.  I have not seen Herons and Hawks for quite some time.  They would make up nicely for what I missed out on, and the south-side ponds are a good place to go to catch sight of either bird species.

Flicker chasing Kestrel
Kestrel in flight
The very first birds I saw was a Northern Flicker chasing a Kestrel.  They shot up off the ground unexpectedly behind a camper in the parking lot before I even reached the field to get to the pond.   While I recognized the Flicker instantly, I thought the other bird was a Merlin, although he was much too small, despite being shaped like a  falcon.   These birds were moving very fast, perched momentarily in some trees, and were gone again before I could get any closer with my camera.  So it wasn't until I got home, that I realized I had photos of my very first American Kestrel, a bird I have been hoping to see for quite some time now. 

Great Blue Heron
Since I didn't spot either bird again, I continued on to the smaller of the two ponds.  I crossed the open field and headed into the forested side of the pond, where I was immediately greeted by another bird in flight.  This one huge and flying at eye level.  By the time I realized I was looking at my hoped for Heron, he had flown past me.  I watched it as it headed over to the larger of the two ponds and naturally followed, hoping it would land there.  When I reached the larger pond however, I was greeted by some Canada Geese and ducks, but no Heron.

Great Blue Heron in flight
So I decided to go back to the smaller pond.  This time I approached it from the parking lot side, skirting the field of oats that is right next to the smaller pond.  Here I saw a hunting  Red-tailed Hawk off in the distance.  As I watched it circle the sky, I toyed with the idea of crossing the oat field to see if I could spot any other wading birds but decided against it.

Grebe on the pond
When I turned to face the smaller pond, there was one lone, very small grebe floating on the water.   I approached the pond slowly thinking it was an Eared Grebe, because it appeared to be red-brown to me as  it dove under the water.  Now I moved a little faster, having guessed where he might come back up, in order  to get closer and into position when he did resurface.   I wanted a good photo, no matter the species.

Cautious Pied-billed Grebe
I ended up on my belly in the grass propped up on my elbows, screened by some pond-side vegetation while I waited.  As fortune would have it, this was a very nervous, but beautiful little Pied-billed.  He saw me and he was careful, and I didn't move an inch except to operate the shutter.  He called out nervously a couple of times and I held my breath, this was a deciding moment.  I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I was, when he didn't leave the immediate area.  In fact he was actually coming closer.

Sweet little Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe coming closer
Here he was, right in front of me, in perfect position for descent photos, just as I'd hoped.  He continued to be cautious for some time, but finally relaxed enough that he dove beneath the water to reappear a little further along the edge of the pond.  I took the opportunity to move myself to keep him in sight, allow me to observe and capture more photos.

Set to dive

I stayed and watched him until he dived a final time, after which he reemerged on the other side of the pond.  I had myself several hundred photos of this sweet little Grebe and a smile on my face for the rest of the day. 
Little Grebe further along the edge of the pond

It was a positively awesome experience. There is more to this wonderful adventure, however I will have to save the rest for another post.  I still can't decide which of the birds I saw was my favorite of the weekend.  Nevertheless the little Pied-billed Grebe will always be special to me.


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