Wildlife moms

Ain’t no helicopter parenting in wildlife

The little coot that could

Turning the duck world upside down

Ducks swim, dive, fly, walk. It is amazing how they adapt to the environment. Have you met northern shovelers yet?

Bonus cuteness

Dirty water that cleans the world

Wetlands are the kidneys of the planet. Read why you should take good care of them.

Keeping ecosystems alive
Bird and Nature Photography

Wildlife moms

I visited Ed Levin State Park in Milpitas, California and found different types of waterfowl in the lake: Coots, Pied-billed grebes and Mallards. Then the waders, with night and blue herons. I also saw red-tailed hawks, and was hoping to see a bald eagle that did not join the party.

Wildlife is punch-in-the-face wild. Every living being in the lake is a meal for someone else. The moment I stepped in, a grebe was eating a frog, and I later saw a mom with an pretty big shell fish. It was huge! Could have been my lunch. She patiently break the shell with her bill and distributed the vibrant pink interior to three or four hungry kids.

Mother, father and son relationships are short and independence means getting ready for survival, something we human moms don’t understand very well.

The story of this morning, featuring American Coots (Fulica americana). While I was very focused on a Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) perching on a big willow by the water, I heard a rather impatient squawk coming from an immature coot. That little one was so loud!

I wanted to tell him to be quiet, or he might be eaten by the heron watching from above, which sparked a debate in my mind on wether I should alter the circle of life or not, if the Blue heron decided to eat (I can’t see a baby swallowed, I can’t).

Fortunately, the little one swam under the “protection” of the willow branches and I saw his mama joining him there. I sneaked in and saw the cutest scene. That immature coot was really happy with his mama. And wanted food. It looked like the mom “told” him something like “you are trained to eat now, you can do it yourself”. But that little one just wanted to be fed, like a weaned off baby who wants to have the comfort of his mom’s breast one more time.

The American coot fed her baby patiently until he was satisfied, grabbing algae and letting him grab them from her beak. He got some himself, but wanted all that was coming from his mom’s beak.

After five minutes, they swam again toward the center of the lake. The little one followed and started squawking again. She grabbed some more veggies from the underwater pantry and shared again. This time, they were grabbing it together and eating both at the same time.

Until the mother thought it was enough and took off. No matter how much and how loud that young coot called for her, the mom did not come back. He did not try to follow her, it is like his natural instincts were kicking in. After a while I did not hear him anymore (but I saw him safe and sound).

The process of separation and independence is much longer among humans, and we make this even lengthier. Sometimes I see myself holding my baby forever, and he is already 13!

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Cormorants seen from below

I had promised the ranger I would be back for closing time, so I had only some minutes to take some photos. While we were driving by the dam, I tried to quickly find something exciting on the water to take a good picture at sunset before the cloudy weekend kicked in.

The sun, though, had something else in mind. When I turned left, I saw more than 50 cormorants filling -even fighting for- the branches of big pine trees. I figured they were trying to catch the last sun rays just like me, before drying out for bedtime.

Watching the pretty big birds so high, chasing the last light of the day was spectacular. I am so used to see them in the water like pirates, flying fast above the water, diving and swimming for fish… Maybe you have seen a National geographic video of a cormorant pulling a suckerfish off a shark. These birds are amazing.

Behind Blue Eyes

When you see a cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) you normally see a pretty big dark bird. But up close, they have a bright yellow/orange bill and electric blue eyes with circular eyelids that are truly magnetic. I had not been able to capture those amazing eyes before. Birds move fast. Even when they are sitting, their head moves constantly, and with a long lens you loose focus very easily.

The sun was my ally yesterday. I tried not to get so excited that I would trip, freeze or make any noise that would scare the birds away. Or shooting irrationally and regret all that unsuccessful effort later.

I used the opened car door as a tripod and looked for those places were the sun was hitting the bird’s faces. Since the cormorants were looking at the sun, all I had to do was to look for a bird I could frame nicely from where I was.

Going after that sparkle of sun in the cormorants’ eyes before they moved their head was the most difficult part, but the birds were calm, relaxing with their bedtime routine. Let me know what you think!

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When this old world starts getting you down…

Go to the wetlands. You will find so much life around you that it will be impossible not to be admired again.

I found in photography my way to survive daily work, house and family stress. It is a spa for my mind. Better yet, it forces me to get out and walk, and the noise of birds there is amazingly calming to my boiling brain.

Many mornings I wake up really early, at sunrise, and take my coffee and my camera to see the how the first sunlight triggers activity in nature. You find so many types of ducks and shoreline birds you almost have to become a detective trying to identify them: bills, feathers (pretty misleading because they change depending on age and season), legs, behavior, size.

Birds are very fast and fly in the split of a second, in any direction, making bird photography a challenge. Even better so you won’t get bored easily.

Through social networks you can get in touch with bird fans. Very nice people, all of them. Many will give you support when you don’t know what type of bird you are talking about or when you have doubts about the best gear to use.

My gear

A DSLR (A refurbished Nikon D7100, which is DX, tripod, and zoom lens. All for $1020). Tripod can wait. You can even get a very good camera with starter kit, which includes a 300mm zoom to start your practice, both Nikon and Canon offer this. You can find this kit for $500 in stores and online. And if you ask me, bridge cameras like Coolpix are very very good. Videos is less challenging there. In that case you will need to get closer to the birds. You can do it!

These pictures were taken in a morning in November.

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Turning the duck world upside down

Ducks make me feel good. Many times I go see the sunset and watch the ducks at the Alviso wetlands, in Northern California. They are 20 min away from home and it is very relaxing to watch.

When the sun is going down, they gather in the water and have dinner while preparing for the night, always in a group.

These birds are not only cute, friendly and funny. They have one of the best performing feathers and body: they can swim, dive, fly and walk. Some are among the fastest flyers in the world. It is amazing how they can adapt to different environments.

They are in many places around us but we don’t really know them.

One thing we don’t know is that we should not be feeding them bread as it has no nutritional value for them and can contaminate their environment.

You can find more information here, as well as what food you can actually feed the ducks with. (Let me add corn. I found this in a Spanish version of National Geographic that is missing in the link above).

When ducks are not well fed, the nutritional deficit can lead to a weird shape of their feathers (angel wings) that makes the bird look like a plane even if his wings are not stretched. They look a little crazy. Next time you see a bird like this, remember it is because of a poor nutrition. Feeding a bird with bread is like feeding it with fast food.

Learn more about ducks and visit the wildlife centers that try to protect them, it will help a lot.

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Talk to the tail!

I have been observing mockingbirds quite a lot, and my attraction comes from the famous book. There is no mockingbird in my country of origin, or at least I don’t think I have ever met one.

It strikes me how brave they are. I have seen them face to face with raptors to make clear they will not allow them close to their nest. When I get out of my house to walk the dog in a common green area, they immediately jump near us and make their presence clear, to the point that my dog used to go back home clearly understanding the boundaries set by these birds.

The hummingbird is a small-medium size bird. Bigger than sparrows, of beautiful gray, black and white, clear yellow  eyes and long tail. They can sing and scream a wide array of notes. They can also imitate sounds, like an ambulance, a car alarm or a cat. I have heard the car alarm. For this ability they remind me of sterlings. In England, a soccer game had to stop when a big group of sterlings started imitating the referee’s whistle.

In the image, a mockingbird showing high tail display, something they do to dogs, cats and humans. They raise their tail turning their back to you and look at you to make their presence clear. So get ready.

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The mission

Knowing which birds are seen where and when ensures ecosystems are keeping a balance. By migrating, birds take this balance around the world.

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How I do it

I don’t bait. I don’t get too close to animals -never touch a nest- or interfere in any way to get a good shot. I haven’t used flash so far. Photography is my hobby.

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If you like the mission, help protect the Northern California wetlands through the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge. This link will take you to their donation page. 

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