Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 5 September 2016

Photographing from a 'wildlife blind'

Photographing wildlife is fun, but can be quite challenging. It helps to use a blind, of course, but you have to know where the wildlife is likely to be, understand the 'target species' behaviour and then set up a blind and let them acclimatize to it so they can carry on their normal activities. It can take a lot of time, with limited success.

Another option, which I have had the pleasure to have available, is to visit the summer trailer of some friends of mine, Bill and Judy, on the waterfront of Mitchell's Bay. They have a lovely covered deck, just a few metres from the water's edge. These first two images were taken with a wide angle lens, from the deck. The water's edge is literally about 3 metres from the deck, which is raised just high enough to look over the marshy vegetation and see into some of the open areas.
The view looks north, so the sun is mostly behind us, making photography better for longer periods of the day. That is Walpole Island First Nation in the background. This next photo is looking the same direction, but shifted slightly to the right. Note the large log in the centre right, and the smaller log beyond it. These logs arrived during higher water levels, and definitely attract wildlife.

Because these trailers are here all the time, and the human activity is minimal, the wildlife have gotten used to the setting. So this is effectively a permanent wildlife blind, and because the semi-open wetland is attractive to wildlife, it provides numerous photo ops. A huge bonus of this location is that there is no Phragmites! It used to be present but several years ago there was an effort to get rid of it, and fortunately it was quite successful.

In the first photo above, there is a Great Egret in the stand of Pickerelweed at the centre left. Being taken with a 17mm wide angle lens, it doesn't appear very large. But a decent telephoto makes all the difference.

Great Egrets fly by helps that there is a good egret nesting colony on Walpole, and they venture a bit looking for food.
 The log is a popular place for egrets..... well as Great Blue Herons, Spotted Sandpipers.....
Spotted Sandpiper
 ....and Mallards, among others.
Mallards are wild here...not the semi-domesticated types. Nonetheless, some are quite willing to come in close to feed in the aquatic vegetation right at the edge of the water.

The farther log is smaller, but also is used.
Green Herons fly by with regularity, and occasionally drop in.

Great Blue Herons are frequently seen, flying by or hunting in the emergent marshy vegetation.

Caspian Terns are frequent as well, especially late in the summer.

Osprey show up on occasion.

The semi-open marsh is perfect for nesting birds. At least one family of Pied-billed Grebes is in the area.
Adult Pied-billed Grebe
Full-grown youngster

One of the highlights in the last few weeks has been the ongoing activities of a family of Common Gallinules. This is at least the second year in a row where they have nested close by. This year they were in the patch of cattail in the lower right of the first image above. The nest is no more than 15-18 metres from the deck we photograph from. Unfortunately it is not visible from the deck, but one often heard the coos and clucks of the adults, and the adults would occasionally be out in the open.
This was likely a second nesting of the season, since the young probably hatched somewhere between August 7-11. (Normally the first nesting begins in early June.) The first few days after hatching the young stay in the nest, but after about a week, they venture out with the parents. This next image was taken on Aug 18, where the young had been out briefly with the adults, but this adult was poking around at the edge of the cattails when all of a sudden it let out a startled cackle. Note the slightly churned up water at the extreme centre left of the image. Something swirled around....possibly a Snapping Turtle....causing a lot of cackling and wing-flapping as the gallinule escaped the danger.
The adults and young did come out again, venturing through the sludge mat. There were four chicks....fluffy balls of dark, fluffy down and their trade mark partially bald red head.
Here, one of the adults feeds a tiny tidbit of something to one of its chicks.

But there are risks to such vulnerable members of wildlife. A day or so later there were only three chicks. We don't know what got one of the could have been a turtle, or it could have been a Northern Water Snake, one or more of which was known to hang out in the general area.
This snake is a large one, and it appears to be a female based on its size and relative girth. Water snakes give birth to live young, and for several weeks prior, spend as much time as possible basking. This lets the sun's warmth increase the snake's physiology to ensure the young develop in time to be born so they can adjust to life on their own before the time comes for hibernation. It is interesting to note that shortly before we realized one gallinule chick was missing, we heard some agitated clucks from the vicinity of the nest.

At any rate, the gallinule family was down to three chicks, but they carried on in the area as before, travelling along the edges of the marsh, and sometimes crossing open areas to access the large stand of Pickerelweed.
On occasion they would be in the cattail area almost right below our 'blind'. This next one is less than two metres from the edge. A chick is just out of the photo.
At last visit, the number of gallinule chicks was down to two. As mentioned earlier, this wetland area and in fact much of the Lake St. Clair shoreline is a favourite travel corridor for all sorts of avian wildlife. This includes Northern Harriers, which are seen regularly.

On one occasion, Bill reported seeing a harrier drop down into the stand of Pickerelweed where the gallinule family had been, only to see it emerge with a dark ball of fluff clutched in its talons.

While one feels a sense of loss after watching these gallinule chicks grow in their new world only to disappear one by one, at the same time many folks anxiously look forward to the raptor migration, which is now underway. We would be chagrined if the numbers and diversity of raptors dwindled, but in order for that not to happen, raptors need to feed on a lot of young wildlife! Such is the balance of nature....

This shoreline of Mitchell's Bay is great for sunsets, too. The North Shore Nature trail is just a short distance from the 'wildlife blind', and a great spot to view wildlife and sunsets as well.
Sun dog


  1. Replies
    1. Absolutely! I just wish I had more time to spend there!

  2. Very nice Northern Water Snake! These are one of my Favorites.

    1. Thanks, Ken.....these critters don't get a lot of love!