Eagles

 Posted by at 5:16 am  No Responses »
Jan 052016
 

e-scout-medalMy interest in the American Bald Eagle began early. When I joined boy scout Troop 88 in Maryville, Tennessee with the rank of Tenderfoot, I knew that the ultimate was to become an Eagle Scout. This goal was held out before us over the years of advancing to higher ranks of scouting. I was not especially fond of studying and working on all those merit badges, but I did it because of the goal. Whenever I met an Eagle Scout in uniform I would glance at the imposing badge with the red, white, and blue ribbon and the silver eagle hanging below it. I wanted one of those and eventually did get one.

Select DSCN0223The Bald Eagle is, of course, our national bird and a symbol for others besides boy scouts. I am happy that Benjamin Franklin did not have his way about selecting the turkey as our national bird, even though I do like turkeys also. The Bald Eagle is just an amazing, strong, soaring, intelligent, skilled, majestic bird. I never tire of watching them, and when I can I enjoy trying to photograph them.

E7K_3493 selectMost of my photographs have been from a considerable distance. I do have telephoto lenses, but those get you only so close. I am amused when people observe my long lenses and think that they can magically bring any distant object "up close." They can't. You still have to work hard, be patient, and be lucky to get close shots. I keep trying.

I was lucky the other day in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland. From a distant road I saw two eagles apparently having a fight over something. It turns out there was food on the ground and they were fighting over it. By the time I got there one eagle had chased the other on off and was eating. There were already three photographer cars there I joined them. The eagle was intent on its meal and did not fly away. I shot from the roof of my car, first stills and then video. I got four short videos, each about a minute in length. The following is unedited and the sounds you hear in the background are camera shutters clicking as fast as they could. Enlarge to full screen for the best view . . ..

https://youtu.be/dBn5_BjS17Y
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Sep 182013
 

I once was pastor of a church in Silver Spring, Maryland. My office window looked out over a large parking lot behind the church. Over the years I worked in that office, I saw many things from that window.

Parking Lot & TruckCouples would arrive in separate cars, park one car in a far corner, look around nervously, then depart together in one car–returning after hours or sometimes days.

Teenagers would come at night to drink and party, leaving trash and urine behind. I often called the county police, but usually to no avail. The kids had police scanners and a mass exodus took place as soon as the police were heard to be on the way.

I once heard a ruckus right below my window and found a man forcibly holding a woman down. A pistol was lying near them on the ground. The man said he was a plainclothes policeman and would I please come and help him. I thought that he could just as well been the criminal of the two. With no way to verify and not being inclined to join a fight, I helped by calling the police.

There was an orthodox Jewish synagogue adjoining this parking lot. Now orthodox Jews are supposed to walk to synagogue, and most did. I would see many of them walking in all kinds of weather. But I also observed some less strict ones who drove and parked in our lot, then walked the rest of the way. One Saturday, I observed one of them hiding behind his car as a group of others passed. He watched until the coast was clear and then emerged.

There were many other interesting sights, but the the following has always been my favorite.

One clear, summer day I noticed a pickup truck parked in the back of the lot. That was nothing unusual, except that there was a man standing behind or around it and now and again there was something bright rising up out of the truck. I kept trying to figure out what it was and had no clue. It went on for a long time and I decided to investigate.

The man with the pickup was from Baltimore. The bright objects I had seen from the distance were homing pigeons being released. The man had brought them in a large cage in the back of the truck. He explained that pigeon racing was his hobby and he was training his pigeons for an upcoming event.

As we talked, he took out and released a new pigeon.  The bird climbed upward in ascending circles and was visible for a long time. The man explained that it was hoping for others to be released and waiting for them to fly up and join it.  But finally the bird headed off in the direction of Baltimore.

The man explained that the nature of pigeons is to gather as a flock and fly together. But he said that if they do that, they will fly at the speed of the slowest pigeon. One bird in the flock might be flying at its best speed, but all the others will not. So he forces them to fly alone, despite their wish to do otherwise. Only by training this way will each bird have a chance to achieve its speed potential.

I thought how flocking together and taking it easy is a human trait as well. Unless you want to be exceptional.

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The Goat

 Posted by at 6:00 pm  No Responses »
Jul 082013
 

The goat sat wisely on his tree stump. It was his place to observe the world and to think. There on his stump he felt royal and in possession of his surroundings. Other animals knew this. Other animals knew better than to try to take his place on the stump.

Goat on stumpHe observed a car pass by on the winding road out front. He saw a head jerk around and brake lights come on. “They’ll be back,” he thought. “They’ll turn around and come back for a better look.”

The goat was used to this, and he enjoyed the attention. He gazed back at them as they pointed and clicked their cameras. There atop his stump he was perfectly poised. From the tips of his horns to the whiskers of his chin he expressed the confidence and satisfaction of his years. His steel-grey eyes never blinked. The ears adjusted only slightly.

After the car drove away, the goat turned his head from the road. His hearing was good, and if another car came he would know before it came into sight. He would also know if it was a familiar car, one that was used to seeing the goat on his stump. Those cars might notice, but they had no need to turn around. Others would come along that did.

The goat imagined the pictures they made of him from those cars. He knew that the colors of his fine coat matched those of the wood he sat on, as if intended. His health was apparent in the shine of his eyes, his polished horns, his damp nose.

Somewhere nearby was the mother of his recent offsprings. He thought of how she gazed at him adoringly and craved his attention. A dusty chicken was pecking small gravels around the base of his stump. The best a chicken can hope for, he supposed. The horse nearby swatted flys with its coarse tail.

There are worse things to be than a goat on a stump in Pennsylvania.

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May 262013
 

I've been watching cormorants lately. They are fascinating birds. They gather in great numbers below the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam on the Susquehana River in Maryland near the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay.

Did I say "in great numbers?" Just survey a portion of the gathering (click to enlarge). The cormorants are the black birds and the most numerous. Harder to see are the ones fishing in the rushing water. Unlike ducks, the feathers or cormorants are not buoyant, so they sink down in the water instead of riding up on top of it. The reason their feathers don't float is so they can dive down for food, which most ducks can't do. Cormorants can dive down very deep after food, although fishing is so good below Conowingo that they likely get plenty to eat not far beneath the surface.

Since the feathers of cormorants get wet and heavy, the birds have a struggle to get airborne during a water takeoff. Their wings have to work really hard and also their webbed feet need to help out as well. It takes a good distance and creates a lot of fuss. A feeding cormorant may have to perform these takeoffs numerous times before catching a fish. They fly up close to the dam and land, then float downsteam watching for their next meal. If they don't find it by a certain point downstream, they takeoff and land upstream again. 

There are 40 some varieties of cormorants. These are the most common in our area — the double-crested cormorant, so named because the male sports a second crest during the mating season. As shown here, the birds have a fearsome weapon for snagging fish. Not only are their beaks long and needle sharp, the top part has a wicked hook in the shape of, well, a fish hook. Imagine being a fish and having that thing come toward you at lightening speed. And this only moments after you got churned through the massive turbines of Conowingo dam.

When a cormorant dives down and gets a small fish, it will swallow it under water. But when it catches a large fish, it must bring it to the surface and perform an amazing maneuver. It has to release the fish from its beak, flip it so the head is pointing down and the tail pointing up, and catch it just right for swallowing. As my picture shows, they can swallow very large fish, and all without the aid of any hands, fingers, claws, or feet. Because this flipping and swallowing operation has to be so precise, it is also an opportunity for a fish not inclined to be swallowed to wiggle and get away.

A further aspect of cormorant activity at Conowingo is the turbulence and speed of the river. The best fishing is when the turbines are running and the river swolen and rushing. In the short video that follows, you will see them seeking and catching their food in water no human swimmer would attempt. You will see many of them sunning and watching from dry rocks while others churn past them. We assume that most of the watchers have already had success and are settled to dry off and digest their meals. This video represents a 55-second slice to time on the river. I have counted in it 17 bald eagles, 7 great blue herons, and at least 4 of the comorants visibly catching fish.

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A Ridiculous Tree

 Posted by at 9:43 am  No Responses »
Jan 112012
 

You may have noticed that there are tall tree-like things appearing all over the landscape these days. They are not trees although they sometimes stand among trees. They are towers that hold the electronics to transmit our various signals for telephones, cellphones, television, radio, and who knows what else. They are shiny metal and easy to identify. And one of them can grow up almost overnight in a place there never had been one before. Sometimes they grow up from the ground and also they can sprout from the tops of buildings. They are not attractive. Continue reading »

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When Bears Fight

 Posted by at 7:36 am  No Responses »
Mar 062011
 

When bears fight, they usually keep on until there is a winner and a loser. If you are a human being watching, it is sometimes hard to tell who is ahead. Bear fighting is similar to wrestling, and most of us don't understand the point system. The bears do. The loser knows he is loosing, and the winner knows he is winning. And when the winner wins, he declares it in a very strange way. He turns his back to the loser bear and calmly walks away from the field of battle. To us, this can look like he was the defeated bear and is admitting it by retreating. Actually it is a show of strength and quiet confidence.

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Snow Geese

 Posted by at 12:55 pm  1 Response »
Nov 302010
 

Again this year, I drove over to the Delaware Bay and Eastern Shore of Maryland to watch the annual migration of snow geese. In a good year, which this year was, the sight is awesome, overwhelming, amazing, or whatever adjective you may come up with. I have stood beside a lake at dawn and seen tens of thousands of snow geese rise up as one body. Every individual goose seems to be honking at once, as if in ecstasy. The morning sun reflects brilliantly as they whirl and swirl.

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