The american woodcock has an elaborate courtship ritual.
The male bird starts his ritual after sunset. First he "peents" repeatedly, then he takes off and flies in a wide spiral, his wings twittering. He descends from a height of around seventy to one hundred meters, chirping as he does, in a zig-zag pattern. He then lands silently.
And starts the whole thing again. Continuing for about an hour.
Fascinating to watch.
Impossible to photograph.
It took me three days to get this one image. I've plenty of blurry ones. And forget about flight images.
(Most times I couldn't even find the bird in flight.)
But sometimes you get lucky. And luck favors the prepared.
This bird is a creature of habit. Beginning and ending on the same patch of open ground. So on the third day I setup with my camera focused on that spot (I had pre-focused while it was still light). And right on schedule he appeared. I think he liked me because he kept landing closer and closer. Which made focusing nigh impossible in the dark.
Feeding time for the gulls on our ferry ride back from Cumberland Island. The birds had been following the boat, seemingly looking for a handout. And this fellow was happy to comply.
Umm ... doritos!
The gulls in Georgia were much more genteel then those in New Jersey. These birds were very tentative when approaching the handout. Our native birds swoop in and steal your food if you're not watching. These would come up to within inches of the chip and then veer off. Except for this one bird, which kept coming back for more.
The northern saw-whet owl, at eight inches tip to tail the smallest owl we have in these parts.
And as you can see, one which likes to roost in tight spaces.
It is a species I've not seen in the wild since 2007. Until today that is, when a friend led me to this one. First found on a Christmas bird count, it's been hanging around for at least three months.
Given where the bird was in the park and how tucked into the tangle it is it's a wonder anyone found it at all. Despite my friend pointing it out and me looking right at it I did not see it at first. She had to position me exactly before I could see it. I fired off six shots and then made my exit, not wishing to cause the bird any distress (but if it's been there all this time, with people coming to see it, it can't be too perturbed by us humans).
I glad I got to see it (I've been skunked on several other owl excursions this year) and hope it didn't mind my visit.
Cumberland Island can only be reached by boat (I guess you could swim. Or like a bird, take the ferry, err I mean fly.) There is a ferry that makes two trips a day from St Marys. Or you can take a private boat. It is a pleasant ride, take a cup of coffee and your binos. Enjoy!
"... she probably meant the trail through the live oak forest ..."
Is there one through the dead oak forest?
"... the wood from live oak trees was used to build Old Ironsides ..."
How did they keep them alive?
"... the British claimed all the live oak trees as property of the king ..."
Who got the dead ones?
-- Rangers at the Cumberland Island National Seashore
-- Thoughts of yours truly
Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana
Until recently, I was unfamiliar with the term "live oak". So when the friendly rangers at the Cumberland Island National Seashore used the term, I figured it was a colloquialism.
Rene Noe, a Friendly Ranger
So when I asked Rene, who had been a ranger at Cumberland Island for thirty years, what species they were and she responded, "live oak", it was a bit of a "who's on first" moment. Eventually we got it sorted out. "Live Oak" is a term used to describe any oak that is evergreen, keeping its leaves year round. Southern Live Oak is the common name for the species on the island.
The trees have huge squat trunks and a massive system of branches, some which grow down to the ground for support, spreading widely. Great for climbing! (Of course I did.)
So while I understand the name, trees without leaves appearing dead, while those with leaves appearing live, I think live is a doubly excellent name because these trees are alive with other organisms.
The most notable example is Spanish Moss, an epiphyte, that while not a parasite can have ill effects on the host tree. It blocks the light that would otherwise reach the tree's leaves and can add a substantial weight load, devastating in a hurricane.
But it sure is pretty.
Just Add Water
Ferns, such as this resurrection fern, and mistletoe also find a home on the branches. Adding to both the biomass and beauty of the tree.
The dead parts of the live oak also support life, fungi as shown here, but also insects, squirrels (I had one very upset with me for some reason. Alas it wouldn't pose for a picture.), and woodpeckers (I heard, but did not see, pileated and red-bellied).
An Easy One
Other birds make use of the trees. (I delighted a group of birders from Michigan by ID'd a mocking bird, an apparently rare bird in them there parts.)
There are even plants growing in the ridges in the bark.
And the forest is home for a variety of animals. Including ...
I spent the better part of seven hours exploring and experienced so very little of the island. There are great sandy beaches, empty of people, populated with only birds. Miles and miles to walk in splendid solitude.
The center of the island is a natural area, no road, no cars, no bikes, no homes. I could spend several days wandering there.
There are wetlands to kayak.
Ruins and historical sites to visit.
There is even a bed and breakfast on the island. (Pricy though, cheapest room $395/night. Maybe when I win the lottery ... ). So next visit it'll be the camp ground for me.
Adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor so that you can view each of the 17 grayscale steps from black to white. Special attention should be given to the black end of the scale. The darkest step should be made as dark as possible while you are also able to distinguish it from the next lighter step.