Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reflecting Naturally

As if it were some sort of addictive drug, I just had to get back out into the natural world again and experience nature, before I went completely mad. It is now May, and life is in full spring swing here in the keystone state. It is that transitional phase, where spring is right on the tail of summer, and where nature, and picturesque moments are seemingly everywhere. Thank God for digital cameras.

As tradition for the past couple weeks has had it, I tagged along with Wendy to State College, and lulled around the hotel behind Perkin's with her mother to blow time, until darkness forced us in doors to watch Nancy Grace and American Idol on the television in the hotel lobby. Today was no different really, as the weather was beautiful, and yet again Wendy's mom got a lesson from me in nature snooping 101, and I opted to take the digital camera with me in case any good shots presented themselves.

Pretty cool pic, me thinks.

This above shot was the first that presented itself to my artistic eye. To the casual observer, it's just a tree on it's side, plunged into the water. To Michael, the nature enthusiast and artist, it was an opportune shot for some great habitat to possibly use in future artwork! The log is undoubtedly used by the small, long-legged and spear-billed "Green Heron" that we've spooked alongside the stream. (Sorry, no pics of that!) So perhaps, just perhaps that's what I will impose onto the sketch, to create a great piece of artwork!

As for the Green Heron (do an image search on google if you want to see what one looks like) - he has been seen stalking the streamside in search of crustaceans and the smallish "sucker" fish that inhabit the stream. (At first I thought the stream was devoid of fish, but I was wrong!) Dark in color, he hides in the shadows and will literally "spear" the fish from out of nowhere with his sharp dagger-like bill.

Logs and heron's aside, I also took some pictures of the plant life.


fence post flowers


fence post flowers

As I stood admiring the various plants and scenes in front of me, I could hear the throaty chatter of flying mallards overhead.

duck in flight

As per usual, there were mallards (both drake and hen) abound. Even though the stream is rather small, mallards are "puddle ducks" with extremely accurate landing and taking off abilities, and are agile enough to land in a mud puddle only a few feet across if required!

I watched a couple males descend down through the small meadow, and dissapear as they dropped from the air downstream from us into the grassy stream.

hotel stream

By this time of year, most of the hens have been bred, though there seem to be a few that haven't. One hen I noted had a trail of ducklings streaming behind her on one section of stream (sorry - no pics of that either!).

Another hen however, I did manage to get a picture of. I found her Monday, secluded in dense foliage only a hop away from the sloping stream bank. She was surrounded by lush green vegitation. This particular hen was so confident in her camoflauge coloration, that she refused to move even when I was only feet away from her!


Absolutely beautiful. I really like this picture, and am very thankful to have been able to share that particular moment with you!

Though typically skittish, these two drake mallards let me approach rather close as well! They were downstream from the hen about 50 yards, and seemed to have grown rather comfortable with our existence on the property.

Notice the feather on the one drake.  He's starting to molt.


Within a short period of time, these drakes will be in what is called "eclipse plumage". Old feathers will be shed over time, and the wing feathers will fall out in such a short time lapse that the drakes will be flightless for awhile! Luckily, people tend to leave these birds alone. The people of State College are evidently too busy to notice them in this gem of a pasture tucked in the middle of civilzation.

fence and meadow

During this molting time, the new feathers will be drab at first, giving the males the camoflauged appearance similar to that of the female. This is natures way of helping them keep out of view while in this crucial flightless time. Eventually however, the drab colored tips of these feathers will wear down, and reveal the more visually pleasing plumage of your typical mallard. All the while the wing feathers will grow back, and flight will be regained in time for late summer.

After watching the Mallards, we noticed someone sneaking upstream:


No folks, it's not a beaver. It's a close relative, the muskrat! Muskrats are smaller than beavers, but still rather large for rodents, with long black "flat" leathery tails used as rudders.

Great swimmers, I found it extremely challenging to get ANY pictures of this little guy. We watch him often, as he swims around to various dens, without a care in the world.


At this point, I decided to run up ahead of him to get another shot!


Definitely not the best pictures in the world, but hey, I was an overly-enthusiastic ameteur!

I thought it was pretty cool that I got pics of him, regardless of how crappy they may be!

So there you have it, a bit of nature 101 for you all. I hope you enjoy these nature entries, because I sure do enjoy bringing them to you!

More to come, another day.