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Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Squirrel Olympics
Mood:  caffeinated
Topic: In The Wild

It has long been our practice to maintain some bird feeders in our backyard - well, except for the year the bear kept knocking them over and destroying the poles.  That year we replaced the poles six times before we finally gave up and let the feeders go empty for a few weeks.  The bear eventually moved on and it seemed safe to resume stocking the feeders with seed again.  

We had an interesting little eco-system going on out back.  We would put seed in the feeders.  The birds would come and feed, but invariably drop quite a bit on the ground in the process.  The droppings provided a regulated supply for the squirrels and chipmunks.  I say regulated, because each feeder is protected by a squirrel guard and is sufficiently distant from trees and fences, etc. so that even the most athletic squirrels cannot get to the source.  For we found that unregulated, the squirrels would clean them out so fast that birds rarely got any.  But regulated everybody got to share on a daily basis.

With squirrels coming around daily, we had great entertainment for our Bichon Frise, Jeremiah, who, when he was healthy, would run for them as fast as he could.  He would get so excited that all we had to do was whisper, "squirrel" and no matter where he was in the house, he would come running.  We always wondered what would happen if he caught one.  As it turned out, we never found out.  He came close to licking their tails a couple of times, but most of the time they got a few feet up a tree before Jeremiah even got close.  

So as something to remind us of this daily ritual, we bought a new birdfeeder.  This one does not have the classic cone-shaped squirrel guard.  Instead, it comes with a wire cage around it that is activated by weight.  If an animal of sufficient weight sits on the ledge to eat, the food gets blocked.  So light birds - no problem.  Heavy squirrels - in theory no food.

I say in theory, because a couple of days after I put up the new feeder, one particularly athletic squirrel discovered its existence and came over to check it out.   


For the camera / photo enthusiasts among you, the shot specifics were:

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Lens: Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon Extender 1.4X at 280 mm  (dist. = 11.3 m)

Exposure: 1/250 (handheld), at f/4, and ISO 500

Settings: Manual, Spot Metering

Lighting: None other than natural daylight in the late afternoon

What this particular squirrel then did was easily climb up the pole and lean over to the feeder and easily take a few bites (since his weight was supported by the pole, not the feeder).  Once he then decided that the food was to his liking, he went all the way to the top.   

From here, he looked the whole feeder over trying to see the best way to get at the food.  He then tried several techniques; I really admired his ingenuity and athleticism.  First he went down head first and hung from the feeder top by his back feet.  This worked quite well, except for the fact the metal top was quite slippery even for a squirrel and he kept losing his grip and having to readjust. 

So then he went lower.  This of course meant that all of his weight was now on the outer cage and suddenly it dropped an inch and a half and access to the food was blocked.  Here is the priceless reaction of the squirrel.  To me it looks like he is saying to himself, "What the ...(heck)?"   

The entertainment part of the show then kicked into full swing.  First he jumped back over to the pole and noticed he could now eat, but he did not really want to lean all the way over to get it - like most of us, he preferred a more comfortable and easier way. 

So, then it was back up to the top and hanging upside down.  Of course he could eat in this position, but as he slipped down and put his weight on the outer cage, it closed the food door.  Now he was mad.  He started pulling at the decorative leaves that blocked the food, but made little progress.

Then he started running sideways, which caused the feeder to spin.  While he never got anything to eat in this position, the spinning did knock some seed out on the ground that he got to eat later.  The next thing truly amazed me.  He figured out that it was his weight that caused the food to be blocked and he started jumping up and down.  As his weight temporarily lifted off the cage, it went up on the springs.  He would quickly grab a seed or two and pull back before it clanged back down and blocked the hole again. 

He got pretty tired doing this, but noticed the motion was knocking seed out onto the ground.  So after a few minutes of the vigorous activity, he then went to the ground to finish his afternoon snack more peacefully. 

Great entertainment while it lasted. 

Posted by Warren

     Ayer Photography of Vermont                                    


Posted by ayerphoto at 10:51 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 April 2013 11:43 AM EDT
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Saturday, 27 April 2013
Brazen Bunnies
Mood:  cheeky
Topic: In The Wild

It has been almost a year since our neighbor's husky, Copper, passed away, and now about two weeks since our Bichon Frise, Jeremiah, passed away.  They were great friends and in their health viewed themselves as the guardians of the neighborhood, each in their own way.  Jeremiah, in particular, was always on the lookout for new animals in the neighborhood, be it a squirrel, chipmunk, toad, dog, cat, skunk, or rabbit.  Even as his health declined, rabbits were a great delight, and he was always eager to give chase for as long as he could.  We used to say, the rabbits gave him purpose and kept him going.  Even if he was too weak to run anymore, he would closely examine each and every bush and tree, where he had previously spotted one, and not leave until he was satisfied they were not hiding nearby. 

With both Copper and Jeremiah retired from guard duty, the bunnies are becoming more brazen by the day.  Most mornings now we will see them openly munching on clover in our neighbor's front lawn; and then later lounging in the afternoon shade.  They even ignore us like we are not even there (at least as long as we are more than 15 or so feet away).  I think they are anxiously awaiting our other neighbor's crop of strawberries and broccoli that they feasted on so well last summer. 

They even posed for a couple of portraits.   

The first night I tried taking this shot I played it safe, went hand-held and shot as I went, since I was not sure at what point he would just bolt and be gone.  I got a few acceptable shots, so the next evening I went with a tripod and added a 1.4x extender to lengthen my telephoto.  He let me get within about 5 meters, which let me capture some incredible detail right down to his eyelashes.   

For the camera / photo enthusiasts, the shot specifics were:

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Lens: Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon Extender 1.4X at 280 mm  (dist. = 5.5 m)

Exposure: 1/320 (tripod), at f/4.5, and ISO 500

Settings: Manual, Spot Metering

Lighting: None other than natural daylight

The brazen bunny gave me a number of different poses naturally, which was good, because he did not respond well to direction (I think it was the language barrier).  And my neighbors did not call the police while I crouched in their bushes with a long telephoto lens.  It enabled me to get this nice over the shoulder profile (note the beautiful blue sky reflected in his eye).   

I have set a goal this year of getting back to having fun with my photography and remembering why I fell in love with it in the first place.  These shots are a step in the right direction.  

If you are growing strawberries and broccoli this summer, beware the coming attack of the brazen bunnies!  The rest of us will sit back and laugh at their silly antics.   

Posted by Warren      

Ayer Photography of Vermont                            

Posted by ayerphoto at 4:13 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 April 2013 10:51 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Colchester Bear Alert!
Mood:  surprised
Topic: In The Wild

As has become my summer routine, I walk our dog every morning and often when it is not raining, he wants to run into our backyard when we return to "check for squirrels" and other critters (which he thinks are his playmates).  This morning as he ran out into the fenced in area, I realized that there was something wrong with two of our bird feeders just outside the fence.

On closer examination I found one had been bent over flat at ground level - not an easy feat - I am not sure I could do it.  And the other was also bent partially over at ground level and then the feeder itself had been snapped off breaking the little plastic holder that screwed into the base and held it onto the pole - that I definitely do not think I could do without tools of some kind.

A similar incident happened last year.  It turned out to have been due to a small black bear that was foraging along the banks of the ravine behind our house.  At that time he not only destroyed our bird feeders, but he also attacked the feeders at two of our neighbors.  One of them even saw the bear, as it had ripped a gate off his back deck to get to a trash can he kept on his deck full of bird seed (to make it easier to fill his feeders).  And he apparently did a similar thing to the next neighbor, who had also stored bird seed in a container on the deck.

I called the police station to see if there had been any nearby sightings.  (Interestingly, the police station is almost exactly opposite us on the other side of the ravine and through the woods a little bit).  They told me that only a few days ago, a black bear had been spotted over on Bay Road which is not too far from us (actually we are connected by a bike path of all things).  So, it would appear we have a new hungry bear on the prowl at night.

Now, I am curious to see if I put out more seed and if I stay up, would I be able to capture a picture of our furry friend (Black Bear Fact Sheet) ?  Hmmm!

Submitted by Warren

Posted by ayerphoto at 11:45 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 22 June 2010 11:58 AM EDT
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Friday, 11 June 2010
Twins Lost - Fear Fell Victims To Predators
Mood:  sad
Topic: In The Wild

As we begin day 3 hope has faded for the fate of the lost birds and all searching has been suspended.  The normally quiet neighborhood of Williams Crossing was shocked Tuesday to learn that two of its newest, youngest, and most vulnerable residents had disappeared.  Their mother had returned home after going for food to find them missing without a trace.  She and the father mounted an ever widening search, but after several hours concluded they must have been taken by a predator.  Today, their home, only recently occupied and full of new life, sits empty and abandoned.

For us this story began on Sunday, May 23rd, when we pulled up the blind to one of the windows on the south side of our house to reveal a bird's nest just inches away, nestled in the branches of a lilac growing just outside.  At first we wondered had it been there before and we just never noticed?  But the next day, it was confirmed as a new and active nest when its new resident, a beautiful female Cardinal settled in.  At first she would only stay for a while and then flit off about her birdy business, whatever that was.  Within in a couple of days, however, we noticed she was spending more time at home and less foraging.

On one of her trips to the bird feeder around to the back of our house we took a peek inside the nest being careful to disturb nothing.  We were able to catch a glimpse of at least one egg.  We read that Cardinals will often have two to three at a time, but we could only see the edge of one egg from our vantage point inside the house.  We were excited and felt a little privileged to be able to get such a bird's eye view, since the nest was all but invisible from the outside, but only a few leaves blocking the view from inside through the window.

As the days wore on, momma Cardinal spent more and more time on the nest and less and less away.  Then came the terrible storm -- wind, rain, and even hail for a few minutes.  We watched her huddle over her eggs protecting them, keeping them warm and safe from the elements -- even as her lilac canopy was not offering her much protection from the hail.  You wanted to run out and put a roof over the lilac or maybe hold up an umbrella, but it probably would have only served to freak out the already frightened mother.

But she survived and seemed little worse for wear the next morning as the sun began to dry things out.  Now she was spending all her time on the nest and we never saw her leave.

On June 6th we got another hard rain - not as bad as the other night - and this was during the day.  The light allowed us to get a couple pictures of the mother determined to protect her babies, even though they were still just "eggs" to us.

On June 7th the sun came out, dried things up, and more importantly warmed things up.  We remember thinking, today would be a good day for a birth!  And sure enough, we we looked over at the nest about mid-day, the mother was gone - something she had not done in the last several days.  When we peeked down in, there were the newborn twins.  Pink, eyes still closed unable to see, and a faint dark fuzz around them in spots, that I presume was the beginnings of what would become their feathers.

Now we had to stay back as both mother and father were making regular food deliveries to what turned out to be two very hungry twin baby Cardinals.  It was amazing to be able to see this young family interacting with a view neither of us had ever had before - the way the mother kept them warm, encouraged them, and of course fed them - and fed them often.

My brother, Dean, had just chronicled the birth and first flight of a robin at his house in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and we were looking forward to attempting the same with our baby Cardinals. 

Tuesday morning (June 8) we saw the mother feeding her hungry young, but when she went foraging for a mid-day feeding, the twins disappeared.  It was sad to watch first the father return home with food and look all over for the hungry mouths, before beginning his confused search.  Then the mother returned with food and it was heartbreaking to watch her search in vain for her babies, whose eyes had never opened to see the light of day.

Witnesses describe a goose in the front yard, a number of gold finches by the back feeders, three big crows in the area, a gang of squirrels and a couple of chipmunks around the back deck, and a chickadee was seen having landed briefly on the lilac where the nest was hidden, but an inter-species language barrier prevented meaningful interviews.  Unfortunately, no one could identify the specific crows in a lineup, so there were no grounds to hold them.  And so, on day 3 we have no leads as to the twins whereabouts and hope of finding them has been extinguished.

Their home is now abandoned and back on the market.  In keeping with Vermont trends, it is very green, a very low carbon footprint, made of 96% natural materials and a few recycled man-made pieces, and features a lovely lilac aroma in the spring.  But like many homes where a tragedy has occurred, there has been little interest to date.

So, the abandoned Cardinal nest remains empty just outside our window, a silent memorial to two young birds who died too young.

Submitted by Warren

Posted by ayerphoto at 11:12 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 16 June 2010 4:09 PM EDT
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