The warm winter and cold spring, both with a shortfall of rain, took their toll on the early bloomers in our yard, the crocuses and daffodils. Bulbs, I’m told, need a cold winter to blossom properly in the spring. I saw many healthy daffodils elsewhere in the neighborhood, leaving me to wonder whether our yard was even warmer in the winter and colder in the spring, due to the influence of the pond. It certainly felt colder this spring, with cold breezes off the pond.

Thankfully, the tulips, did pretty well, although they didn’t last as long as usual. We have only a few. One, in a far corner of the yard, planted way back in 1999, held up longer than the rest, no doubt because it received both morning and afternoon sun. I kept an eye on it.

One afternoon, I looked out to see its blossoms glowing with late, glancing light. They were so bright that the camera couldn’t capture the petal tips, which were brighter than the rest. In the parlance of photographers, they are “blown highlights, “appearing colorless in the photo. Thus, the photo is technically flawed, but it is bright and cheerful nonetheless, an anodyne to the unseasonably cold weather.

Soft, luminous light, producing long, delicate, tonal gradations in a photograph, often appears in late afternoons this time of year. Yet the glancing light on the tulips was harsh and unforgiving, like early morning light, producing the same abrupt transitions and strong contrasts. This has been a cold, dry spring. The soft light I describe comes with the warmer days usual this time of year, when there is a slight haze in the atmosphere to filter the light.

Correction. The wrong date appeared on the email alert for this post. March 2 is a bit too early for tulips around here. The photo was actually taken on April 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm.

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It’s hard to believe these serene Mute Swans, only hours earlier, were engaged in an horrific turf battle. After several month’s absence, they had come back to find a pair of younger swans settled on the pond, unexpectedly ice-free that winter. For their grim but inspiring story, and twenty-four rare fight photos, see Fighting Swans (originally published as Swan Fight).

The four photos here cover a mere fifteen seconds of the swans’ victory lap past our waterfront. The first photo was featured in that earlier post, but I felt it deserved more prominent treatment.

See related posts: Swan of Tuonela*, Misty Swans*.

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The scene struck me as atmospheric, unworldly. I had been wanting to post this photo, taken a month ago, but just hadn’t got around to it. This is not a nimbus moon, as I mistakenly thought. The latter has a halo or corona caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. This is simply a moon veiled by clouds and haze that are diffusing its light, and casting an eery glow over the pond.

The electric lights are those of a rental community on the eastern shore, a little more than half mile away. The photo was taken on March 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm, before the start of Daylight Savings Time.

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After a hard day sitting on the ground eating seeds that fell from the bird feeder, our Mourning Dove is finally taking a break. That quick flight to the top of the tree was tiring, too. Despite all it exertions, our dove graciously agreed to have its picture taken.

Doves are disrespected as nuisance birds. In reality, they have a delicately ornamented plumage that is quite beautiful, especially in flight. Our dove’s feathers are a bit worn in places, but they will be replaced in the next moult.

Glancing out the window, I saw this dove bathed in a soft and luminous light. It was hardly the perfect example of its kind, but the light drew me to it. I had to shoot through a double-paned window. The resulting slight haze on the image was removed, luckily, by the photo editor. It was either that or no photo. If I had opened the window to shoot, the subject would have flown off.

Incidentally, the dove is not just loafing. It had earlier filled its crop with seeds dropped by other birds at our feeder, and was now taking time to digest them. Seeds make up almost all of its diet.

This photo was taken on April 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm.

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A small flock of Common Mergansers, some 13-15 individuals, stayed with us on the pond for most of the winter, leaving just a few weeks ago, presumably for its nesting area further north (I actually saw it go). It was replaced by another, of similar size. Then another. There may even have been a fourth — it was hard to keep track. Once or twice, there was overlap, one flock arriving before the other left.

These graceful, diving ducks were presumably attracted to the pond by the warm winter weather, the absence of pond ice, and the ample supply of small fish they feed on. Despite the recent, massive die-off
of these fish (Bluegills, a type of Sunfish), there are apparently still enough to sustain the ducks.

(Which leads me to wonder, could the fish be victims — not of pollution, or oxygen depletion, as some of us had suggested — but of their own success, the die-off being due to over-population?)

Common Mergansers will dive down and grab a slippery fish under water with a serrated bill. They often hunt non-stop, even while moving along, diving quickly and re-emerging seconds later some ten or twenty feet further on. While in this hunting mode, they exhibit obvious nervous energy, darting here and there quickly, and often moving across the water at great speed.

Interestingly, the latest flock to arrive does not seem to employ this traditional, serial-diving method. Instead, they use a “snorkeling” technique, plowing along with their heads partially submerged, looking down into the water for prey. This obviously saves them energy, but the drawback is equally obvious: their range of vision may be limited in turbid water.

On April 7, 2012, several males came close to my shore and gave me a private demonstration. They moved very fast, however, coming and going before I could get off more than a few shots. The top and bottom photos show them with their heads in the water as they swim along — what I’ve dubbed “snorkeling.” So far, I’ve not seen the females engage in this behavior.

This is a subject crying out for more information. Is this a unique behavior, or can it be seen among other Common Merganser flocks, or even among other duck species?

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We have the usual mob of American Robins this spring, thankfully. There seem to be enough grubs and worms to go around.

This robin uncharacteristically perched itself halfway up the trunk of an old maple to look in on me. Yes, that’s what it was doing, I have no doubt. One only has to watch birds and animals for a time to realize they are just as curious as we are. A survival trait, no doubt.

I opened the window to take this photograph, but the robin stayed put, directly opposite me, maybe a hundred feet away. Quite used to these humans, robins are. It was April 8 at 9:20 am.

In my last post, I noted the scarcity of squirrels and chipmunks so far this spring, suggesting it may be due to the presence of the Bald Eagles. Bird life seems little affected, however. The Gold Finches, sparrows, chickadees and juncos are all at the thistle feeder, in their usual number. Myriad other birds are flying about. Four species of ducks ply the pond. When an eagle appears, though, the gulls take to the air as one, and the Canada Geese honk a chorus of complaint.

The Great Blue Herons have arrived in force. Only one Double-crested Cormorant has shown up so far, but it’s early days for them.

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