Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Since the virus disruption my globetrotting adventures were limited to forays to local areas.  This led to discovering the variety of birds at Biggins Park in Newport News, Virginia. Spent about 4 months during spring and early summer of 2020 there and was surprised by bald eagles visiting regularly to drink water (above) and the small colony of Great Blue Herons (GBH’s) nesting there.  Not to mention other regulars such as mockingbirds, robins, cardinals, ospreys, etc.

Biggins Park is a community park for all to enjoy such as families fishing/ picnicking or just doing sports in the open field.  But what are about 20 cats doing here?  If there would have been dogs instead, they would have been taken away.  Their stench is noticeable particularly along the fishing pier, the area where they are mostly fed. There is a couple that like clockwork, show every morning with a 5 gallon bucket of food pellets. I addressed this with the Newport News Park and their response was that they have a spaying and neutering program and as the cats die the issue will disappear. How long will this take and do they know that all were sterilized? What about new fecund feral cats moving into the park?  It appears that there is not a final solution. And the cat lovers; why don’t they adopt and give them a home?  It will be kinder for the felines, and environmentally enhance the safety of birdlife and the quality of life for the park visitors.

 One day in late February I observed a GBH regularly flying to a pine tree to the left of the fishing pier and discovered that there was a nest in construction (above).  This started my almost daily visit to document the whole nesting/ fledging/raising/ abandonment of the nest by the young ones.  This lake is ideal for nesting since the parents have close access to a supply of food (below image).

After hatching a parent took a glance and said “what I have here?--two little ones and raised its wings in celebration.  From this point on there was a difference in development speed and I named the dominant Bully and the smaller Lesser.  Bully was aggressive and got fed first and was always pecking at Lesser; the battle of the siblings.

Raising the chicks required numerous air deliveries and in the beginning was by both parents initially regurgitating food into the beaks of the hungry ones and usually Bully was first and Lesser just got the leftovers. As they grew larger the food deliveries changed to whole fish and at the nest, the adult will tear off pieces of morsels but later on the fish was left in the nest and it was up to the chicks to feed themselves.

I suspected that Lesser was not going to survive and would been thrown off the nest but it kept the fight and eventually survived leaving the nest last. Second image below is Bully that was initially about half the size of Lesser and was always calling to be fed when it saw the adult approaching the nest.

Images below are for size comparison of the siblings. Note in Bully the primary and secondary feather shafts developing and in the next image, 3 days later how the feathers shafts have shortened.  Also notice that marginal feathers are barely visible and in the first image are more developed in the second. These birds grow so fast that a point I could not differentiate them from adults.

Images below are for size comparison of the siblings. Note in Bully the primary and secondary feather shafts developing and in the next image, 3 days later how the feathers shafts have shortened.  Also notice that marginal feathers are barely visible and in the first image are more developed in the second. These birds grow so fast that a point I could not differentiate them from adults.

By the beginning of June Bully have left the nest but Lesser stayed and I thought that it was abandoned by the adults but I was wrong.  They visited irregularly mostly in the afternoon but brought no food for Lesser. By June 22 the nest was abandoned and I saw one of the young fishing in the lake…most of the time it struck for a fish it missed but eventually hit target.  Practice makes perfect.  

Since the best time to photograph the nest was in the late afternoon, I sat with the photo gear next to me under the death branches of a tree and was always conscious of the danger. Fortunately the branches fell when I was not there. Red markings show with an X my photo gear and I sat and the circle the location of the nest.  There is no color consistency among the images but this is mostly due to the change of lighting conditions during the day.  This is a small sampler of the 6476 images that I took during the time I monitored the nest.

Concurrently I also spent time with the fox dens in Fort Monroe but that is another story.


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Antarctica 2020

For about 10 years I planned to go to Antarctica with my friends and there was always an itinerary conflict or someone cancelled resulting in a trip failure.  The delay had consequences since recently trips to this continent are strictly regulated and you only allow to land twice a day for an about 1.5 hours; in the past there were no such limitations among others. This year one of the previous travelers decided to go regardless and I initially declined but got a good tour package and went.  I flew into Punta Arenas in Argentina a place I visited in 1999.  As all over the world the tourist boom had more than double the size of the city and the port was full of large cruise boats ready to depart for the southern continent…see image below

Departed on the cruise on the day of arrival in Punta Arenas and was lucky to have good weather during most of the navigation to include the stormy Drake Passage; no problems with seasickness of or rough seas. Below are images of the strait of Darwin in route to Antarctica and first views of the icy continent. 

Lots  of maritime traffic in Antarctic mostly of tour ships and few military ones.  First below is the Aurora Mortimer famous for its COV-19 controversies.  The ship was back in route to port when I photographed and when returning back in the next tour infection emerged that led to an international fiasco--refer to this  link for more details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Mortimer_(ship).  Next is the rear view image of a Russian Ice Breaker leased by Argentina to supply their Antarctic bases (notice the smoke coming from the stacks while all other ships show no emission).  The camo patterned ship that does not match the environment is the Magellan Explorer. And finally is my cruise ship that navigated without incident followed by a view of the Quark prowl entering one of the many straits.

There were two landings per day that required donning winter gear provided by the ship and transfer to the Zodiacs that delivered the passengers to the shoreline; sometimes easy to a sandy beach or difficult to a rocky shore with wave action.  Upon landing you were given free time to roam around in a limited zone. 

The penguins will approach you without hesitation, look and peck at your shoes.  Humans were not permitted to approach the wildlife but they were unhesitant to approach you.  Gentoo penguin colonies were the most abundant with feeding chicks.  The following 4 images show them in action but notice in the 4th one a white bird; it is a Snowy Sheathbill and it is there because it steals the food that the Gentoo is feeding to the chick. At the moment the parent penguin regurgitates, it flies in and steals the morsels from the chick.  And the 5th image is that of the chinstrap penguin that was not that numerous

I did not see many different species of flying birds but among seen in descending order are the giant petrel, the blue eyed cormorant and the skuas, both very common.

Saw a few mammals with the crab eating seal, a new species for my list. In reality it mostly feeds in krill but then in the food chain is the mostly predated by the leopard seals.  As krill is been harvested in large quantities for making as Omega/fish oil pills, it is been depleted affecting not only these seals but also the penguins, meaning that they have to stay at sea and traveling longer distances.  Sometimes the penguins return with no food to feed the chicks reducing the size of their populations.  Also seen were humpback whales and occasional orcas but these were far away.

Antarctic landscapes are magnificent and could bore you to death so I am just posting a few.  Notice the deep blues of the ice. In the second image below notice the pink and green colors in the snow due algae growth; I was not aware of this.  Antarctic is a treeless continent but no of all vegetation.

This trip was in February 2020; about the same time the pandemic hit the world so I was lucky to have gone being the last trip for that year. And 2021 does not look to promising. Another delay for posting was that my 10 years old computer died and took me a while to get one put together due to the scarcity of parts and particularly Video Cards.  Stay tuned