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We are known as PaWingers or just The Wingers by our Geocaching friends. When we found our first cache we had to come up with a name to log the find. We came up with this name simply because of residing in Pa. and because one of our many passions is cruising this beautiful country on our Honda Goldwing. Aside from geocaching we are passionate about most anything outdoors including hiking, kayaking, snowmobiling and biking. We are blessed beyond words with a wonderful son and daughter in law. We're also blessed with some terriffic family and friends. We consider ourselves very fortunate due to the fact that after being married over 40 years we still enjoy these things together.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photographing the elusive Woody

As the spring migration got into full swing this year we spent countless hours and traveled many miles searching out as many varieties of ducks as possible.  We couldn't pass a swamp, lake or river without glassing it thoroughly in hopes of spotting a different species of duck.  Unless a person has actually done this they could never imagine how many different species there are with each being so different from another.  Most people will instantly see an image of a Mallard in their mind when someone mentions duck.  No question about it being a very common and beautiful duck but it's just the tip of the iceberg.

This Blog entry will be dedicated to the duck that tested our dedication and patience as we tried to capture good images in their natural habitat.  This elusive quacker is the Wood Duck.  I suppose I shouldn't refer to the Wood Duck as a quacker because it really doesn't quack.  The male makes a rising whistle, "jeeeee" while the female makes a drawn out "oo-eek" or "cr-e-ek" when alarmed.  Trust me when I say that they become alarmed easily.

Our journey to capture decent images of Wood Ducks was quite challenging to say the least.  Wood Ducks are said to be one of the most colorful ducks in the world if not the most colorful.  When they are found they are more often than not found in swamps, marshes and backwoods ponds.  Because of this fact we spent hours upon hours in swamps and marshes.  Sounds like a good time doesn't it?  When we did locate some Woody's we would then spend huge amounts of time sitting in a pop up blind hoping to blend in with the surroundings and get some close shots.  Let's just say we began to feel like swamp people.  We were on a first name basis with ticks and skeeters and hopefully strengthened our immune systems during these times in the swamps.

So what did we learn as we sat quietly in our blind?  We learned that Wood Ducks are very smart and quite camera shy.  We learned that tick and skeeters are very personable.  We learned that people are very leary of swamp people.  We also learned that bank beavers tunnel into the bank creating booby traps for an unsuspecting photographer. We also learned that the strange sound of something brushing the side of your blind could be a black bear.  Last but not least we learned that a muskrat can scare the crap out of you when he wanders into your blind.

So enough about that, lets talk more about Wood Ducks.  Wood Ducks pair up early in January and are the only duck that will produce two broods in a single season.  They are one of the few ducks that have claws used for gripping and climbing.  They often nest in hollows of trees but also duck boxes.  When the eggs are hatched and the chicks are ready to leave the nest they pretty much "plop" to the ground.  Believe it or not these chicks can survive a "plop" of nearly 300 feet without getting injured.  When full grown they can fly up to 30 mph.  Wood Ducks are dabbling ducks but will dip their heads into the water for a little aquatic snack.

So I hope you learned some things about Wood Ducks.  As I said early on, these are one of the most colorful ducks in the world.  I hope after seeing these pictures you will agree!  Even the females have some neat markings and color but the males are absolutely breathtaking.

Sometimes rain drops can look cool!

Front View of Mr Woody!
They are always watching!

Male and female Woody

Trying to impress the ladies

He's got something to say!

Hopefully these pictures explained our attration to these colorful ducks.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It makes a beary tasty salad.

Spring can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.  To some people it means the opening of trout season, while to others it means spring gobbler is right around the corner.  Spring to us has many meanings and breathes new life into our souls.  It marks the start of more pedaling and paddling as well as a whole host of other nice weather activities.  It's a time for the dull hillsides to become a palette of pastel greens and the flowers to burst into vibrant colors.  It's a time for the forest to come alive.

Oh yeah, I forgot one other important aspect of spring and that would be Skunk Cabbage.  You heard me right, skunk cabbage, natures salad or bear weed.  So why do we get all excited about skunk cabbage?   Geez, doesn't everyone get excited about skunk cabbage?  Okay, maybe not!

Every spring we anxiously wait for certain patches of skunk cabbage to fill the forest floor.  Why you ask!  Well, over the years we have come to know certain skunk cabbage patches that are real popular with black bears. Year after year we see them there filling up on this delectable vegetation.  Okay before you have visions of us out there gathering this greenery for our next salad or coleslaw, get that out of your mind because this stuff literally smells like a skunk.  There are very few animals that eat skunk cabbage.  Turkeys nibble on it at times but bears love it.  Not only do they think it's mighty tasty but for them it acts as a laxative and gets their systems back on track after hibernation.  It is especially important to them if the autumn prior produced a sparse crop of acorns.  That was especially the case this spring.

Over this past weekend we decided to check out one of these patches of skunk cabbage and sure enough the black bears were there.  There was a good size Momma bear, and at least one cub and possibly two.  We grabbed the camera and tripod and headed over the bank and across the flat in an effort to get as close as possible.  As we watched the bears continually munched on the cabbage.  On a couple occasions the large female lifted her head and made eye contact with us but then continued to eat.  This went on for quite some time until apparently she felt we posed a threat and in an instant she and the two cubs ran out of sight up the mountain.  We managed a few pictures but hopefully next time we will get closer.  A good point to ponder is just how close do you want to get to a Momma bear and her cub!  You need to question if getting closer is worth the risk because Momma bears are extremely protective of their cubs.


Well, it's pretty obvious we've been spotted!  This could get real interesting if she charges.

A wail, a hoot and a yodel

You'll be hard pressed to find a nicer route for a Sunday drive than River Road along the Clarion River.  We often find ourselves crossing Arroyo bridge and heading toward Irwin Run to begin our trek alongside this scenic river.  No matter what your favorite mode of transportation might be this is definitely a route for all.  We  have enjoyed it while in the comfort of the Jeep, while paddling downriver in our kayaks and while cruising on our mountain bikes.  Pretty much from Irwin Run to Cooksburg, it's non-stop beauty and tranquility.

On a recent drive we were keeping a watchful eye on the water for Mergansers or whatever else might be gliding along in the easy current.  Just below Belltown we noticed something on the far side of the river.  At first we thought it was a Common Merganser as it was definitely a diver.  As we scoped it out with the binoculars it became instantly clear this was a Loon which is rather odd for the Clarion.  In fact this is the first time we ever spotted a Loon on this river. 

We quickly found a place to pull over, grabbed the photography gear and headed for the water.  For the next hour we played cat and mouse with this crazy bird.  Anyone that has any knowledge of a Loon will know that they are amazing underwater swimmers.  In their search for food they spend a great deal of time diving and swimming underwater.  In fact they have been known to dive 200 feet underwater.  One thing I can assure you is that it's a real guessing game where they will surface.  So let me try to describe how this little game played out for over an hour.  The Loon is swimming along and we scramble for position.  We quickly set up the tripod and as speedy as possible compose the picture.  At about this same instant the Loon decides to dive.  At this point we try to guess which direction he went and where he will pop up next.  I'd say most of the times the Loon outsmarted us.  At one point I noticed if I watched the water very closely I could detect a very slight disturbance on the surface and know which way he was heading.  That gave us a direction but it amazed us how far he could go before he surfaced.

So pretty much we ran up and down the river for an hour chasing this crazy Loon.  To many this may sound like a waste of time but not to us.  Anything we can learn about the habits and characteristics of a critter is always a bonus.   This Loon was careful to always stay on the far side of the river making it very difficult for good images but we did manage a couple that were decent.

The Loon certainly resembles a duck but in reality isn't really a duck. They are real strong swimmers and the location of their legs really works to their advantage in water.  On the other hand this characteristic makes them very clumsy on land as they are not good walkers at all.  They are decent fliers though and are capable of very long flights.  One thing that will forever be etched in our minds is their call which can be a hoot, a wail or a yodel.  If you ever heard it you certainly know what we mean.  While they aren't extremely colorful they sure do have some awesome markings which include a black and white pattern on their back and an awesome looking necklace gracing their necks.

So if you are ever sitting by a quiet lake and here and eerie sound coming across the water there's a good chance it's coming from a Loon.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Dabbling Mallard

While on our ongoing quest to photograph the many species of ducks that either reside here or stop here during the annual migration we tend to ignore the common Mallard.  Without question the Mallard is a beautiful quacker with interesting coloring and markings.  The vibrant green head and familiar white ring make them a duck that is easily recognized and identifiable by most everyone.  They are thought of as a dabbling duck and not really a diving duck.  They tend to dabble to get their food.

There is a variety of Mallards that we have spotted and do find quite intriguing but as of yet they have escaped the wrath of my DSLR.  This particular Mallard sports a beautiful purple head but the rest of the coloration looks like any other Mallard.  For whatever reason the purple headed Mallard seems to know he is unique and is a lot more camera shy then the typical Mallard.  At this point we haven't taken any Blog worthy images  of the purple headed Mallard but that day will come.

Okay, so the Mallard is a pretty common quacker and we rarely find them centered in our viewfinder.  The keyword here is "rarely".  That doesn't mean that we never capture images of the lowly Mallard.  Now and then the colorful Mallard will catch our eye and we fire off a few frames and simply store them in our huge archives of nature images.  Mallards and Geese seem to be everywhere and are so common and easy to photograph that we typically won't give them a second glance.  In fact we find geese so loud and obnoxious that we don't take their pictures just to spite them.  I know, that's a bit childish but we've stepped in enough goose droppings to last a lifetime and we've had their loud honking expose our presence more often than we care to talk about.  This particular Mallard caught our eye as we scanned a backwoods wetland in search of Wood Ducks.  For some reason I found the light interesting and he had just been dabbling for food which left some awesome water droplets on his plumage.  So now nobody can say that we have ignored the common Mallard!