Acceptable for February

herring gull Larus argentatus in flight with drooping leg
Today got as warm as 24°c, so I took the opportunity to return to Jordan Lake to see what could be seen. The spot where we were seeing the eagles last week was almost empty, save for a few gulls and cormorants, and I only fired off a handful of frames trying for something interesting as they flew over. This herring gull (Larus argentatus) cruised purposefully overhead, and it was only after unloading the card that I realized one leg was consistently drooping, possible indication of an injury. Vaguely visible here, there was also a pink mass visible at the corner of its mouth, though whether this was related to the injury or evidence of food, I couldn’t say – it’s not yet nesting season so little reason to be carrying food back anyplace.

I’ll take a moment to relate that yesterday, I went to another location to check something out, which I’ve been meaning to do for a few weeks now. This resulted in good and bad news. The good news was, not only did I confirm that it was an eagle’s nest that I saw, I could see it was occupied. On top of that, it sits right among what appears to be an osprey nest or two, and four confirmed great blue heron nests! It’s the first rookery that I’ve seen, save for Florida. The bad news is, it’s on all wildlife conservation land with no access, and all of the nests were quite distant – 400 meters, give or take a hundred, surrounded by swampland. Even with the 600mm lens, I’d get very little detail. It’s a shame, but I’m trying to put it out of my head.

So back to Jordan. It was a distinctly windy day, making it difficult to keep my hat in place, and the lake level was a half-meter higher, though I didn’t think we’d gotten that much rain in the past week, so I’m guessing they cut the flow from the spillway down significantly for some reason. This necessitated wading in a couple of places, and while the air was warm enough for shorts, the water was not inviting to the sandals, or more specifically my feet within them – ‘frigid,’ is the word I’m looking for. Aside from all that, as a couple of flights of double-crested cormorants (Nannopterum auritum) cruised past, I did a few frames, because I was seeing nothing else.

three double-crested cormorants Nannopterum auritum in flight
For such large birds – the size of small geese – cormorants do fly in some tight, but not too structured, formations, exchanging positions regularly.

double-crested cormorants Nannopterum auritum overlapping one another in the frame
And then, of course, there’s the rare “X-Wing” subspecies, the inspiration for Ralph McQuarrie, and if I have to tell you who that is I’m gonna slap you the next time I see you.

But that was about it for that location, which had yielded three eagles only a week earlier, so I gave up on that and switched to the other regular haunt. But on the way, I passed a flooded roadside ditch ringing with the calls of chorus frogs – up until I got right alongside it. This is typical: they’re loud but not stupid enough to call attention directly to their locations – yet one was sitting in plain sight in the middle of the puddle. As I leaned in, I could see the ripples indicating others, at the edges of the ditch, were ducking under for cover, but this one stayed put.

upland chorus frog Pseudacris feriarum in roadside ditch
This is an upland chorus frog (Pseudacris feriarum,) generally the first amphibian to herald the arrival of late winter, because they’re always heard before we could even charitably say spring has arrived – this might be the earliest photo I’ve obtained of one, but I recall hearing them at least a week ago. As long as the day gets reasonably warm, they’re sounding off, even though we can expect more near-freezing nights, at least, before spring truly arrives. I should have dug the smutphone out and obtained some audio recording as I approached, though I’ve done it before.

Back near the boat launches, I checked out over the lake, then along the shores, and found this guy in a dead tree quite some distance off.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus in dead tree
This is the same dead tree seen here, though from significantly farther off of course, and it refused to face me or even give me a decent profile. I intended to get closer, but at this point I was much closer to the region where the woodpeckers frequented, including the nest site from last year, so I checked that out first. Short story even shorter: nothing to be seen today, except for this guy, again too far away for decent photos while also not posing very cooperatively.

male yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius on tree
I thought it looked a little odd in the viewfinder (this is a significant crop,) and I was right – this actually represents the first photos that I’ve obtained of a yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius,) possibly the first I’ve seen, though admittedly, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing even today. I feel obligated to tell you this is no relation to a yellow-bellied slider, which is a turtle – just clearing that up. As you can surmise from this image (which has had lightness and contrast tweaked,) autofocus was having a hard time staying put on this little guy – the red throat pegs this as a male – not at all helped by his wandering around the back side of the trunk from me. Still, now that I know they’re in the area, I can keep an eye out for more. Maybe I’ll pull the same barrel of inordinate luck as last year and track a brood in the nest following a casual comment in a post. Ya never know…

Returning to where I spotted the eagle, this time close enough for decent portraits, I found the eagle had left. I could blame this on wasting time looking for woodpeckers but the dead tree sits right over a busy beach and small boat launch on the lake, and chances are great that it would have spooked off from this activity long before I got close anyway. Or at least I tell myself that. However, in the parking lot before that attempted approach, I watched this guy cruise low overhead and give me a few decent bank angles with the sun:

2nd year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus in bank overhead
Another bald eagle, this one a 2nd year juvenile, and while it didn’t stick around long, I consider this image worth the trip, and good enough for February. We’ll just have to see how my luck holds out for the year.

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