July 31, 2020

The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic touched us as it had with everyone. Plans to travel to Atlantic Canada, during the summer, with our new camping trailer had to be cancelled. As a result we stayed very close to home during June and July. Even the Ontarion provincial parks were closed to camping until June. Despite these inconveniences we stayed healthy and I did have some wonderful photographic experiences.

The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)is a striking-looking species. My first time seeing one was in rural Ottawa during the winter of 2005-2006. I had only seen them rarely since then. Ottawa is at the extreme north of this species' North American distribution.

In 2018 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed it as "Endangered" in Canada. In Ontario, where the numbers are slightly higher than in other parts of the country it is only listed as a species of "Special Concern".

I had the good fortune to photograph a pair as they excavated a nest hole and prepared to raise a family. Just before the young were getting ready to leave the nest I stopped visiting the site to avaoid putting undue pressure on the family


Sometimes you don't need to have a lot of equipment, or travel far, to see nature. I was able to also document a family of American Robins from egg to nearly fledging using my cell phone. The mother had laid her 'robin blue' eggs in the hanging flower basket at my cousin's house just up the street.


Other birds were raising their young over the summer as well. Two families of normally secretive marsh birds (Virginia and Sora Rails) nested in a small marsh area at the Richmond sewage lagoons. This particular lagoon was mainly dry and both species lived in a small island of vegatation. They, and their young, could be easily seen as theyr foraged for food along the fringes of their safe haven.

As usual birds are a favourite subject but I also had the opportunity to photograph muskrat, turtles, snakes, frogs, bees and dragonflies.


You can view more of my summer 2020 images by clicking here.

May 31, 2020

During March, April and May the photographic opportunities around Ottawa were many. Snow reamined on teh ground in March so some winter species, Like SNow Buntings were still around.

The bird spring migration was in full swing by May but some winter resident birds and animals were already having young leave the nest or den. I was able to photograph, Eastern Screech and Barred Owl fledglings as well as fledgling Ravens. Cute Red Squirrel babies and Red Fox Kits were also some of my subjects.


A number of warbler and duck species were still on the move to their breeding locations. Other birds had settled here and were starting preparations for raising their families. Canada Geese often arrive and begin nesting while snow is still covering the ground. Their yellow, fuzzy goslings begine exploring their world shortly after hatching.


I spent some time trying to get better images of birds in flight. These are always a challenge but I have seen improvements in my success rate.


You can view more of my March, April and May 2020 images by clicking here.

Feb 28, 2020

During January I did not have many photographic outings except to visit the Northern Hawk Owl again. I did however take a day trip to western Québec where I managed to photograph a Northern Shrike. Northern shrikes are predatory songbirds that hunt small birds and rodents. They often cache their prey by impaling them on thorns or barb wire. This behaviour gave rise to their other name "butcher bird".


In February we had the good fortune to be invited to visit friends who have a winter home in Naples Florida. It was the first time that we were able to spend time along Florida's Gulf of Mexico. As with much of Florida, wildlife is very tolerant of humans as they are seen daily. This afforded me plenty of opportunities to capture images of many species, particularly birds.

I was very pleased to create images of a number of species for the first time including: Loggerhead Shrike, American Skimmer, Royal and Sandwich Terns and the Florida Soft-shelled Turtle. While on e day trip to Everglades National Park I also got to see large numbers of American White Pelicans and some playful Bottle-nosed Dolphins. These birds stay in Gulf waters all winter before migrating back to their breeding locations in the northern United States and several western Canadian provinces and territories.



You can view more of my January and February 2020 images by clicking here.

Dec 31, 2019

Due to other responsibilites, my photographic outings were not very numerous in November and December. Despite the low number I was very happy to have opportunities to create some wonderful images particularly in December.


The first opportunity came during a day trip to Algonquin Provincial Park in early December. Overall it was a very quiet day subject wise that was until the last hour there when I found a family of moose feeding. The cow and here twin calves (one female and one male) were browsing out in the open along highway 60. It was my very first time phtographing moose in a winter scene. The snow covered ground and foliage certainly provided a very different backdrop for my subjects

My most favourite photography subject of the two months was a Northern Hawk Owl. Northern Hawk Owls are boreal birds of prey that are seldom found as far south as eastern and southern Ontario. They may only travel this far south every 6-10 years when the abundance of their prey drops in the north and they must seek out food elsewhere.


As its common name implies the Northern Hawk Owl resembles a hawk more than an owl in both appearance and behaviour. Unlike many owl species Northern Hawk Owls hunt primarily in daylight hours capturing rodents such as voles and small birds. The species rarely comes into contact with humans so individuals often show little or no fear of people. Such was the case with this particular bird. On almost every occassion that I visited the owl it actively hunted for food, flew around and preened. It also often cached its prey for later consumption. Some owl species and other predators often do this to keep a supply of food nearby. This meant that the owl could return to its cache, to obtain food, when storms prevented it from actively hunting.


You can view more of my November and December 2019 images by clicking here.

Oct 31, 2019

During the summer and early autumn I stayed close to home except for a quick visit to New Brunswick in July to visit family.


A first for me was to attend show jumping at the Ottawa International Horse Show at Wesley Clover Park. I have always loved watching show jumping but had never seen it in person. You certainly get a whole different perspective seeing the riders and horse up close while listening to the thunder of the horses' hooves

I also made a short, three day trip to Algonquin Provincial Park in mid September. The park was unusually quiet as far as mot birds and large mammals were concerned but I did manage to find a number of small birds of prey one day which were facinating to watch.


From August into October I explored some of my favourite places around Ottawa looking for migratory birds and enjoying the scenery as fall colours started to appear.


You can view more of my July to October 2019 images by clicking here.

June 30, 2019

Following our trip to the Galápagos Islands in April it was back to photographing the beauty of Ontario. I was fortunate to see migrating waterfowl, spring birds, flowers and wildlife including my first ever Green Sweat Bee. Sweat bees are small, solitary bees that nest in holes in the ground. They feed on the nectar of flowers and are quite attractive with their emerald green colour.


I also photographed a porcupine and groundhogs, two small, mammal species that I don't normally get to create images of.

This spring a pair of Barred owls nested in a nearby forest. I was very careful to not stress them particularly during breeding season.

Another exciting experience happended when I spent over an hour with 2 families of Canada Geese. While many Canada's nest in local parks these birds had all nested and raised their young in a location that was mcuh less grequented by people. I had been photographing the fuzzy goslings from quite a distance when they and their parents slowly approached me as they grazed on grasses. At times the young would stop for a brief nap.


After nearly 45 minutes both families were only a couple of meters away from me. I had been sitting rock still. Suddenly one of the ganders took an alert stance while looking directly at me. Adult Canada Geese will fiercely defend their young if they feel threatened. Not wanting to frighten the goslings I remained still but calmly and quietly started speaking to the gander telling him that his offspring were safe. He obviously did not understand my words but my posture and tone must have worked because both families continued to feed and passed by less than 2 meters (6 feet) from where I was sitting. It was a very rewarding day.

Although I focus mainly on wildlife photography I am always open to try different styles. I was invited to participate in a steel wool photography session with other photographers.

Steel Wool photography allows you to capture nighttime, long exposure fireworks-type images of steel wool as it burns in a metal kitchen whisk while being spun around on a chain or line. Heavy gloves and safety glasses were essential for safety. I would love to try this method again some time


All in all it was an enjoyable spring. You can view a page of my spring 2019 images by clicking here.

Apr 30, 2019

During April we spent two glorious weeks on a vessel cruising around the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. The Galápagos is an archipelago of volcanic islands, along the equator, in the Pacific Ocean about 1000 Km (600 miles) from Ecuador's mainland coast. The Galápagos archipelago is a national park but at least 35,000 people live there primarily in several communities. Most animals on the islands show no fear of humans and because of this, as well as sensitivity of the habitat, nationally trained and approved nature guides supervised our daily excursions on both land and sea. Both our guides were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about their jobs and the islands.

The Galápagos Islands were visited in by Charles Darwin in 1835 and his observations there inspired him to write his theory of evolution. While becoming a biologist during my university training we learned a lot about his work.

We booked our trip with G Adventures, through the CAA Travel Store Ottawa, and sailed on the 16 passenger vessel "Estrella Del Mar'. Our choice of time of year and duration was made for several reasons. The first was because some species, like the Waved Albatross (see below), start arriving on the islands in April to begin their breeding season. Second, water temperatures are warmer during that time making it comfortable for snorkeling. Third, we wanted to visit as many of the islands as possible because many species of plants and animals are unique to certain islands. Lastly, a smaller vessel could access several of the small islands where larger vessels may not.


As mentioned earlier the Galápagos Islands are volcanic and many of islands are rugged, hot and dry. Other locations had lush vegetation. We normally had two land and two snorkeling excursions daily. Each trip began with a Panga boat shuttle ride from our vessel to a snorkeling location or to a shore landing site. Landings were either 'dry' or 'wet'. Dry landings were on rocky, often wet and slippery, shores or on concrete landings pads. The boat crew would use the outboard motor to run the panga up tight to the rocks using while we climbed out. Wet landings involved drifting, stern end, into a beach with the waves and jumping off the sides of the pangas into 1-2 feet of water in the surf. Each landing method offered its own challenges but the experience and skill of the crew always made it safe even if it was sometimes exciting.


Like Namibia, that we visited in 2015, the Galápagos is a wonderful and fascinating place. In particular, the animals were often unique looking and the proximity that we had to them, was something that I have never experienced in many years of wildlife photography. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this magical place, don't hesitate to go.


You can view two pages of my Galápagos images by clicking here.

Feb 28, 2019

The influx of winter bird species continued around Ottawa during January and February. Evening Grosbeaks could reliably be seen and photographed in several locations and other species like Common, and to a lesser number Hoary, Redpolls were also found.

A much rarer species was also seen around Ottawa. There were at least two Gyrfalcons who overwintered in the area. The Gyrfalcon is a magnificent bird of prey and the largest falcon in the world (see below). It normally lives and breeds in the Arctic and tundra regions in the northern hemisphere. The ones that were here this winter frequently hunted ducks along the Ottawa river and then fed on them on the ice. On two separate occasions I watched a mature Bald Eagle steal a Gyrfalcon's prey shortly after it had hunted. Eagles are opportunitic birds and will steal prey when they can. They must have been watching for the Gyrfalcons when they arrived on the ice with their prey.


In February I again returned to Amherst Island on Lake Ontario. The island is often a great place to find birds of prey during the winter. This winter was exceptional due to an incredible population explosion of both Red-Backed and Meadow voles. Almost everywhere you looked and walked you could see voles popping out of their snow and grassed-covered tunnels. On our one day trip to the island we saw at least 18 Snowy Owls, 8-10 Bald Eagles, 40+ Northern Harriers as well as many Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks.

I also visited the Dominican Republic for the first time in February. We were attending a wedding but the resort grounds in Punta Cana contained a large number of wildlife species including at leat 6 bird and one reptile species that were life list additions for me. These included: the threathened Rhinoceros Iguana, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Red-legged Thrush, Antillan Mango hummingbird, White-cheeked Pintail and the national bird of the Dominican the Palmchat.


You can view more of my January and February 2019 images by clicking here.

All photographs are copyright of Stephen J Stephen.

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