Thursday, November 17, 2011

Raptors in the Valley

Every trip to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas produces wonderful memories and many specialty bird species but being a bit of a raptor fanatic I was especially excited by the great variety of raptors I spotted last Saturday AM before boarding a plane and flying home on my brief visit to the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival.

Osprey feeding on fish in field near Lagun Atascosa NWR, TX 11-12-11

In all, I saw 15 species of raptors including "honorary raptors" Turkey & Black Vultures. The Osprey above was feeding on a fish carcass when a Turkey Vulture winged in below looking for scraps. The Osprey wasn't about to give up and after a wicked stare down returned to eating its prize.

Turkey Vulture looking for scraps 11-12-11 near Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX

The day started both dim and a bit dismal, so digiscoping was rough at first. At distance and without any direct lighting the birds above & below lack much detail and appear a bit soft.

female American Kestrel finishes off a mouse carcass near Harlingen, TX 11-12-11

As here in Florida, the wintering American Kestrels (smallest member of the falcon family in the US) had arrived in the lower valley in force. The female above fed on a mouse carcass on the dismal AM of the 12th. Note the difference a blue sky and a bit of direct lighting can make though on the male below.

male American Kestrel, digiscoped near Weslaco, TX 11-11-11

This adult male American Kestrel was digiscoped using the exact same equipment (Leica V-Lux 30 camera handheld behind an APO Televid 65 mm spotting scope) on the preceding AM, 11-11-11 and shows what a wonderful addition blue skies and direct lighting can be!

adult Red-tailed Hawk digiscoped with Leica APO Televid spotting scope & Leica V-Lux 30

Some of the Red-tailed Hawks like the adult above, resembled Eastern race birds (Buteo jamaicensis borealis) with lighter breast markings.

immature Red-tailed Hawk digiscoped near Weslaco, TX 11-11-11

Others like the heavily marked immature above were more typical of Western Red-taileds (B.j. calarus) though. This is one of the things that make birding here so fantastic, in migration and for breeding this area sits at the interface where East meets West so you have large numbers of representative species and races, and generally trip lists average higher than many other areas in the country.

adult Red-shouldered Hawk digiscoped near Harlingen, TX 11-12-11

The adult Red-shouldered Hawk above I would have expected to have been a member of the "Texas" subspecies (Buteo lineatus texanus) here between Harlingen & Brownsville, but it looks a whole lot like the femalem"Alleni" race (B.l. alleni), I see near my home in Florida with the lighter brownish-gray head and face. I'll have to ask raptor expert and valley resident, Bill Clark, about plumage variation and distribution of texanus v. alleni!

adult Harris' Hawk, digiscoped near Laguna Vista, TX 11-12-11

The sun finally shown near mid morning and vieiwng & subsequent picture quality rose with it. The Harlan's Hawk, adult above was one of many seen out in the south Texas coastal prairie habitat that is so good for so many specialty raptors found in the region.

adult pair of Harris' Hawks digiscoped near Laguna Vista, TX 11-12-11

The pair of adults above offers a nice example of the reversed sexual size dimorphism shown by this and most other species of raptors. The larger female at right is showing a full crop (the distended bulge on her breast). Both are banded which is almost certainly some of Bill Clark's handiwork. He's doing a lot of research on these birds in this area.

adult White-tailed Hawk in poor light 11-12-11 digiscoped near Laguna Vista, TX

Another of the specialty raptors found in this habitat is the White-tailed Hawk, I think I saw 8 individuals this AM. This bird was in poor light earlier in the AM when intermittent sprinkles and dark gray clouds were present. Like many buteos and other raptors it seems that White-tailed Hawk males are slightly lighter in plumage than females. It's subtle but this is likely a female with the darker slaty-gray head and darker chin.

adult male White-tailed Hawk, digiscoped at distance 11-12-11 AM

The bird above is an adult male - note the more "pearl-gray" head (distinctly lighter than the mantle/back color), and clean white throat. His mate was nearby with a very dark "hood".

immature White-tailed Hawk digiscoped early AM 11-12-11 near Los Fresnoa, TX

Immature White-taileds are wholly different with almost completely dark bodies except for the white oval on the breast. This youngster was one pole away from the pair above and was still begging for food! Kids today anyway... :)

White-tailed Kite, adult digiscoped near Harlingen, TX 11-11-11

I saw many White-tailed Kites on the 12th as well but didn't try to photograph these birds as I'd gotten great images of these in the days before closer to town. The images above and below were from the gloriously sunny morning of the 11th. These were formally called "Black-shouldered Kite" which is certainly appropriate.

White-tailed Kite, adult digiscoped near Harlingen, TX 11-11-11

The white tail is easily visible when the birds fly, but generally they are covered by the folded wings when perched. On the image above the wings are drooped enough to expose the pure white tail. I love how the red eyes are set in dark, smoky black feathering to reduce the glare from the highly reflective white body - just like football players use under their eyes.

adult Crested Caracara digiscoped through Leica Televid spotting scope

Crested Caracara are also commonly found in the coastal prairie habitat and I saw at least 6-7 individuals Saturday AM. Adults (as above) show darker black wings, bellies, backs & caps and brighter "soft parts" on the legs and base of the bill. Note the also the dark horizontal barring at the lower portion of the white back and breast.

immature & adult Crested Caracara in flight Rio Grande Valley -2008

Immature birds show browner back, wings, and belly; duller "soft parts", and show brown vertical streaks on the lower breast. Plus, immatures show a dusky undertail, the adult is neat white with a distinct black terminal band. The image above was from an earlier visit to the valley in 2008 but shows an adult (upper left) and immature (lower right) Crested Caracara in flight together. Perhaps you can note the differences in coloration. Note also the distinctive 4 points of white on both birds just inside the end of each extremity - just inside each wing tip, the face, throat, breast and upper back, and then the base of the tail. Caracara's are a unique bird that are technically classified as a falcon even though they lack most typical family characteristics.

adult male Aplomado Falcon digiscoped at great distance >250 yards 11-12-11

The crowned jewel of this area though has to be the lovely & elegant Aplomado Falcon after searching long & hard I was finally able to stumble across a distant pair teed up on a nesting platform in the last minutes before heading for the airport and my flight home. The male is in view & the female was just out of sight to the left here. The distance made this barely even worthy of description as a records shot - that is one to document I at least saw the bird. I was still pleased as punch to see this bird at all and have seen them much better in the past. I ran into 3 others looking for this bird puzzling over a distant adult Peregrine Falcon when I spotted this bird. It was there first time seeing this amazing critter, which is being reintroduced to this area at present. They are still a rare treat and their markings are stunning. This male was unbanded so it was not a bird released in this area, but as to whether it's progeny of introduced birds or a wandering individual who found his way here from Mexico one can only guess.

adult male Aplomado Falcon, digiscoped @ Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX 2004

This is an image of the first Aplomado Falcon I saw well near this same area in Laguna Atascosa NWR during the amazing Rio Grande Bird Festival back in 2004. It was fun to relive the excitement I felt at this moment with these three folks with binoculars I'd run into on this dirt road... Birding is so cool!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the troubles with Red-shouldereds...

I digiscoped all of the images of the Red-shouldered Hawks in this post, within one mile of my house in the state of Florida, USA between November 2010 and May 2011. Looking at these you can conclude that, "the guy must live in pretty good Red-shouldered Hawk habitat." Probably true, but particularly when you look at the three images in the collage above, you also likely noted how very different these birds can look! To some degree this great range of plumage variation can be merely dismissed by understanding the distribution of the varying races or subspecies of Red-shouldered Hawk that can occur in Florida.

At far left above we see the "Florida" Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus extimus). It is the palest race and is seen at the left on the image above. It is resident in the lower 1/3rd of the Florida peninsula from near Lake Okechobee south. The darkest eastern subspecies, the "nominate" (B. l. lineatus) is at far right above. They breed from Maine and very southern Ontario south to northern South Carolina and Oklahoma respectively. These birds migrate south in the winter though and at least some of the birds reach the Northern edge of the "Florida" Red-shouldered's range. As you can see I saw at least one of these birds in my neighborhood between Fort Myers & Sarasota this winter.

The light extreme of the extimus race (above) is easily separable from the dark nominate form (lineatus) below. Note the darker head and richer orange on the breast markings of the nominate vs. the extreme pale head and seemingly bleached out breast markings of the south Florida bird. I liken these two to a full-on redhead vs. a strawberry blonde, respectively.

Unfortunately, the simplicity of separation isn't quite so straight forward as there is another recognized subspecies (B. l. alleni) that sits right between these two in both plumage characters and range. Alleni is believed to resident from the southern half of South Carolina south throughout much of Florida and west across all of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana and then reaching the extreme northern gulf coast of Texas (being replaced by the resident Texas race B. l. texanus). Confused?!? - you should be as it's not that easy.

The popular & primary (scientific) literature describe these three Eastern subspecies pretty much as I have. To over simplify, '...lineatus the darkest, ...extimus the lightest, ...alleni in between...' Unfortunately, it seems all of the tomes, specialty guides, and papers all fail to mention an obvious "fly in the ointment" here. From personal observation and few discussions with other raptor junkies it seems that plumages of males and females within each race show consistent and predictable differences in coloration (dimorphism). As seen in the shot above, males (left with smaller feet) are always lighter headed and paler through the breast than females (right, larger). This seems to be consistent on pairs I've seen and I believe this is probably the rule rather than the exception.

With all of this variation in race and given the apparently consistent sexual dimorphism shown, it seems near impossible to assign a sub-specific name to all of the birds I see, but it doesn't stop me from guessing. The bird above is clearly a local breeder. It is on the same pole as the bird at top center (and I believe it is the same individual), but the bottom image was taken just last week and the top last winter. Given the size of the legs and toes, I believe this is a smaller male. Given that it is intermediate in plumage (not extremely light as male extimus), I'd guess it is a member of the intermediate alleni race. Of course, this can't be proven yet. Stay tuned if you're inquisitive though, as I will be offering more on this subject soon!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

more with the Leica V-Lux 20

handheld digiscoped imagetaken with new Leica V-Lux 20 at 75 mm equivalent

Following up on the comments from the last blog post discussing the performance of the NEW Leica V-Lux 20 compact superzoom digital point & shoot camera. Clearly as a stand alone camera it functions swimmingly. but above and below I will show some more performance proofs from the V-Lux 20 as a digiscoping camera. In the last post I showed a number of images with the camera zoom near minimum, hand held behind the Leica 20-50x wide-angle zoom eyepiece and APO Televid spotting scope. The question was asked at what point of zoom and to what degree do the images degrade. At minimal zoom (as shown in the image in my past post of the Purple Martin pair), you get a solid defined vignetted edge on each corner with camera zoom at a 35 mm lens equivalent.
With camera zoom near 75 mm equivalent (above in this Great Crested Flycatcher image) the field begins to collapse. It presumably continues to collapse as more zoom is added, but unfortunately I only had the camera to test for one full day and was trying to get nice wildlife shots rather than doing standardized tests.
Eastern Wood-Pewee digiscoped w/ Leica V-Lux 20 through APO Televid scope

The Eastern Wood-Pewee above was again taken with the new V-Lux 20 handheld behind the Leica APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope. The camera was zoomed to a 44 mm lens equivalent and the scope zoom was at lowest power (25x wide angle). This image is completely unaltered and shown as uploaded from the camera. You can see that with this combination of camera & eyepiece zoom there is no visible vignetting at all! While I've always been a huge fan of using adapters to stabilize a digiscoped image it is nice that this camera is a pocket-sized (compact) superzoom with 12x optical zoom (300 mm equivalent) that can be easily handheld on this scope / eyepiece combination with incredible results. It is just another tool in the arsenal for those who want something that is more versatile as a stand alone and still able to be coupled with the scope to reach magnifications well over 1,000 mm equivalents.

Eastern Wood-Pewee digiscoped Magee Marsh, OH 5/14/10

Again with 14.5 megapixel resolution at my disposal, I was able to easily crop the image to a portrait mode with the bird and snag filling most of the frame with negligible loss of quality.
male Cape May Warbler digiscoped through Leica APO Televid 82 w/ V-Lux 20

Yet another example of a high-quality handheld digiscoped image is shown above. This adult male Cape May Warbler image was once again taken simply holding the new Leica V-Lux 20 behind the APO Televid eyepiece.
- Program mode, ISO 200, 1/250th sec, f/3.7, +1 step EV, auto image stabilization, 42 mm lens equivalent & 25x on scope zoom eyepiece

As a final example of the camera's prowess as a digiscoping tool, here is a digiscoped video (videscoped) taken by holding the V-Lux 20 camera behind the scope eyepiece once again. This video shows an adult male Baltimore Oriole feeding. In this instance the wind reduction feature was activated and the video was recorded at the highest level of quality at 1280x720 pixels @ 60 fps (frames per second)!

Needless to say I'm VERY impressed after being able to "play" with this little gem of a camera for only one full day. Unfortunately, I had to send it back though, so will have to wait before showing more tests & results. Never fear though, there will certainly be some!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NEW Leica V-Lux 20 Breaks all the rules!!!

brand NEW Leica V-Lux 20 compact superzoom point & shoot camera

I was working the "Biggest Week in American Birding" in Ohio last week and the local sales rep loaned me his sample of the new Leica V-Lux 20 to test. I fully expected that I would be able to use the 12x zoom (300 mm equivalent) effectively to capture images of closer birds seen along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh in Oak Harbor, OH. This was a certainty and the camera performed "spot on" in this regard. At 14.5 megapixels with high def movie mode and built in GPS, I was looking forward to playing with this and as you can see from the image of below I was not disappointed!

male Northern Parula image taken with the new Leica V-Lux 20 camera 5/14/10

The colorful male Northern Parula shown above was taken by simply holding this tiny pocket-sized camera up, zooming and snapping the image! Obviously the bird cooperated by being close and at eye-level, but that is why so many birders visit this gem of a site during spring migration; for "in-your-face" views of these vibrant migrant birds. (taken at max zoom - 300 mm, program mode, ISO 200, 1/250th sec, f/4.9, +1 ev, with optical image stabilization and built in flash activated for fill).

Purple Martin pair @ Oak Harbor, OH 5/13/10

Those who know me, know that I am a digiscoping freak so despite the fact that "superzoom" cameras don't lend themselves to digiscoping, I'm sure you know I had to try this new "compact superzoom" behind our new wide-angle scope eyepiece to see how it worked for myself! The above is the exact image completely unaltered that I took through the scope when I first tried this on the evening of 5/13/10.

Amazingly, the Leica V-Lux 20 broke all the digiscoping rules and actually worked f0r digiscoping on its first test above. I was completely stoked! This was handheld behind the Leica APO Televid spotting scope with the wide-angle zoom eyepiece set a bit over 25x and the camera zoom set at a 35 mm equivalent.

Purple Martin pair digiscoped with NEW Leica V-Lux 20 camera

With 14.5 megapixel at my disposal, I was easily able to crop up and eliminate the dark circular frame to capture both the male & female birds (above) and then cropping further even the female alone as below!

female Purple Martin cropped from digiscoped image above

On the way back to the car (near 7 PM), I found my next photo opportunity and tested my luck again. A male Baltimore Oriole was singing unabashedly in an oak tree at the edge of the parking lot. I quickly set up my scope, pulled the V-Lux out of my shirt pocket and held it behind the scope eyepiece. This time I had the scope zoom at minimum 25x, and there was no vignetting around the frame! The image below is again completely unaltered. This is as it turned out by simply holding the new V-Lux 20 to the wide-angle eyepiece and shooting the image! Note there is just the tiniest hint of black vignetting at the lower right corner but otherwise nothing.

adult male Baltimore Oriole digiscoped with Leica V-Lux 20 evening 5/13/10
Image properties:
ISO 200
shutter speed: 1/80th sec
+0.7 step EV
35 mm equivalent

Baltimore Oriole digiscoped image slightly altered.

In the above image I've taken the liberty to add ~10 seconds of photoshop magic, cropping slightly to eliminate the dark corner and some of the "blown out" sky , and adding a bit of "shadow/highlights", but nothing more for the finished look above. At any rate, it is clear I need to get a V-Lux 20 of my own and begin experimenting some more both behind the spotting scope and as a stand alone unit! On 5/14 & 15 I took some more and better images and videos using the same camera scope combination which I will highlight next!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Carribbean visitors

dark morph Red-footed Booby digiscoped with Leica APO Televid scope & D-Lux 4

Made a trek with my son to the Miami area to enjoy the two celebrity birds visiting from the Carribbean! Above is the Red-footed Booby that has been in the area for the past couple of months.

La Sagra's Flycatcher at Bill Baggs Park in Key Biscayne, FL

Just as popular, has been the La Sagra's Flycatcher that has thrilled many observers at Bill Bagg's State Park in Key Biscayne, Florida. We enjoyed fantastic views this AM as the bird fed very actively and called repeatedly. Another birder photographing complained that digiscoping was too ineffective compared to his DSLR setup, but I rattled off nearly 20 frames in less than 1/2 hour and enjoyed 5 to 10x the magnification. I was not unhappy with these images obviously! All were shot with the Leica D-Lux 4 point & shoot camera, through a Leica APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope.

rare La Sagra's Flycatcher, digiscoped on Key Biscayne, FL 3/14/10

Both the La Sagra's Flycatcher and the Red-footed Booby are species commonly found throughout the Carribbean and rarely seen in the US only in Florida. There has been one of each of these species, hanging in the greater Miami area for a couple months now!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

North shore wildlife!

Rockport harbor - Leica D-ux 4 camera - 2/7/10

When most people think of New England their thoughts turn to quaint shore communities with lighthouses, sheltered harbors, and some of the best chowder and lobster rolls in the nation. These observations are undoubtedly accurate, but my focus (pun intended) has always been more on the natural areas and the unique wildlife it supports! What can I say, I'm wired a bit differently than most and despite the scenic marvel offered by the lovely sheltered Rockport harbor, while other tourists snapped pics of the buildings I was drawn to even the most common wildlife occurring here. For example, I turned to photographing the Herring Gull sitting on the post in front of the red building above....

adult Herring Gull digiscoped through Leica APO Televid spotting scope w/ D-Lux 4
...and even though they are abundant throughout the US and beyond, I still couldn't help but appreciate the behaviors of the Rock Pigeons here behaving "properly" as their name implies!

Rock Pigeon digiscoped with Leica APO Televid 82 spotting scope & D-Lux 4 camera
Winter isn't the typical time when most plan their New England trips, but I was thrilled to go up and attend the 2nd annual Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend organized by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and Mass Audubon. This area offers some fantastic bird & wildlife opportunities in winter to include hordes of sea ducks, loons, alcids, and marine mammals, among others.

rocky shoreline off Cape Ann, MA - 2/5/10, Leica D-Lux 4 camera
The rocky coastline as seen directly across the road from the scenic venue where the event was held, made for a spectacular location to show binoculars and spotting scopes. As there was much wildlife supported here.

Purple Sandpipers make their living on Northern rocky shores!
The rocks themselves attracted amazing birds like the Purple Sandpipers above and below. A flock of 30+ fed among the algae and barnacles that clung to the sides of the lowest rocks when the tide dropped. It seemed like a cold way to make a living for a guy visiting from Florida, but these birds are perfectly adapted for the task. The birds did well on the slippery rocks and were able to avoid the crashing surf effectively. I wouldn't have fared nearly as well and was happy to to shoot from a safe distance and increase the magnification on the scope rather than creep out onto their precarious perches. I was not eager to feel the water temperature to say the least! ;p

Purple Sandpiper digiscoped Cape Ann, MA 2/5/10
More distant rocks also provided a favorite haunt for Great Cormorants, the largest species in this family found in the New World. The birds below seemed very animated and I couldn't help snapping images of them despite the distance and harsh side lighting.

large Great Cormorants roosted & consorted on ice-covered rocks off shore - MA 2/7/10

Common Loons fed near shore & were joined by lesser numbers of Red-throated Loons, Horned Grebes & Red-necked Grebes.

winter Common Loon, digiscoped off Cape Ann, MA 2/7/10
Common Loons (above) have sturdier builds than the more dainty Red-throated Loon (below). Note the Red-throated's lighter brownish-gray coloration, slimmer build, and thinner bill which is sometimes described as appearing upturned due to the angle of the lower mandible. These more subtle differences are necessary to note if you want to separate these species in winter. They are easily distinguished by markings in summer though.

Red-throated Loons were occasionally seen near shore.

Winter ducks were another big highlight here. Buffleheads and Red-breasted Mergansers like the male seen preening below were commonly seen very close to shore.

male Red-breated Merganser digiscoped through Leica APO Televid 82 mm scope

This is also a fantastic area to find and study many of the species of "Sea ducks" which include Long-tailed Duck (formerly Oldsquaw), and the three species of Scoters: Black, Surf, & White-winged. We saw all of these species right through the window of the venue! Below are some pictures of some others I caught up with during my quick trip here.

The male Harlequin Duck digiscoped above was feeding along the famed granite jetty just North of the Rockport Harbor. This was a late evening shot captured through the Leica APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope with the D-Lux 4 camera. This was the only male that I saw in my 3 days here. In summer these stunning ducks move into clear fast moving streams near the arctic coasts to nest.

Common Eiders digiscoped near Gloucester, MA 2/7/10
Another wonderful treat was watching the behaviors of the large rafts of Common Eiders, the largest sea duck species found in North America!

Common Eider digiscoped with Leica APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope & D-Lux 4

Female and young male Common Eiders are mostly brown. The adult females found along the Atlantic are typically reddish-brown with dark coloring on the breast as well. Young males tend to lack the red tones and show light to white breasts. I would guess the bird above is a first year male molting and its breast is just starting to appear lighter.

adult male Common Eider, digiscoped Gloucester, MA 2/7/10
Adult males were easily seen and identified though. Their distinctive black and white bodies reflected light from great distances. You can note the black cap and yellow-green bill on the bird above.

digiscoped with Leica C-Lux 4 camera through Lica APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope
Closer inspection reveals that the dark crown is actually split with a thin white stripe and that the area behind the white cheek is washed with a subtle avocado green that is more notable when the face is in shadow (as seen below).

adult male Common Eider digiscoped near Rockport, MA 2/7/10

Males would often rise out of the water flapping letting their light breasts reflect light. I assume this behavior may be territorial as females don't seem to do this often. In some lighting the breast seems to reflect a faint rosy bloom. Studies in some white bird species like the arctic Snowy Owl suggest more reflective males are more successful breeders. Also, tern species like Sandwich, Arctic, Roseate Tern and others show a pinkish "blush" on their breasts when breeding as well. Clearly there is a lot we do not understand about the complex displays of birds, and ultraviolet wavelengths we do not see well are likely involved.

both adult & young male Common Eiders regularly display as above.

For the past 3 winters the Cape Ann area has hosted a local avian celebrity, an adult male King Eider! This bird is a bit smaller than the Common and shares a similar black & white body patterning. However, an adult male King Eider's face and head are a fabulous pale, powder blue and the bill is bright orange with a bulbous base. While I got no images worth sharing, I was fortunate enough to see this bird each day I was there including very close images from the deck of the Seven Seas Whale Watch boat out of Gloucester. This trip was the final birding event of the festival, and seeing this bird up close was a clear highlight for many of those aboard!

winter-plumaged Black Guillemot, Cape Ann, MA 2/6/10

The Alcids is the family of birds to include the puffins and their allies to include less universally recognized species like the Black Guillemot (seen above), Murres, Dovekie, Rozorbill, and even the extinct Great Auk. They are weak-flying birds that can dive to great depths. They are often black and white in plumage and superficially resemble penguins. They most likely fill the same ecological niche that Penguins do in the Southern Hemisphere. Each day from shore you could find small groups of Black Guillemots and Razorbills.
Harbor seals were also easily seen lounging on rocks & beaches and feeding (you guessed it) in the boat harbors in the area. The image above was taken aboard the Sunday whale watch trip by holding the D-Lux 4 camera behind my 7x42 Ultravid binoculars. This photographic technique has been dubbed "digibinning". Not surprisingly, this is not as precise as digiscoping where you have the scope on a tripod and the camera secured to the scope eyepiece, but in a pinch it does offer a great way to extend the reach of your small point & shoot camera by 7 to 10x!

The "spy-hopping" seal above was digiscoped from shore using my typical rig (Televid spotting scope & D-Lux 4 attached via mated digital adapter). We watched each other for a while. At one point I saw this anaimal eat some sort of crab. I took a video of the event and will have to view it large scale to see if I can make out any more details. There were also a few Gray Seals around but again I didn't get any images of these larger pinnipeds. They have large "horse-like" faces and heads with blocky features.

VERY distant adult Snowy Owl, digiscoped on Plum Island 2/5/10
One of my favorite birds to see is the Snowy Owl. This rare denizen of the high arctic and cigar box tops, is the main reason I started watching birds in the first place (but that's another tale for another day). Just before leaving on my flight North I searched for Boston area bird information and noted that these birds were being seen regularly on Plum Island. Armed with this information, I made a beeline here immediately after securing my rental car at Logan international airport. It was near 3 PM when I finally arrived and I swung through to get some more detailed information from the helpful staff at Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats facility located right at the entrance to the island's causeway. I read through the recent sightings log and the woman at the front information counter mentioned she had seen a very distant & very light Snowy from parking area 3 on the refuge earlier that day. The image above is this same bird and as promised it was indeed VERY distant. Bear in mind the image above is magnified 60x, so this bird was likely 1/2 mile away!
Have you spotted him yet?... It's not easy to see if you don't have a proper "search image" in your brain. Look just above and right of center in the image until you note the curiously reflective ovate blob peering through the short stumps/posts in the circular formation known as a staddle (used to store salt grass when haying). As hard as he is to see and as bad a view/image as this was (even with great optics), I'm happy to note that I apparently still have a knack for spotting these birds. I spotted the white oval above as I was still driving toward parking area 3! I spent 2 full winters searching for and trapping & banding these magnificent birds in upstate NY, but again this is another story. :)
yet anotherVERY distant adult Snowy Owl at Plum Island!
Continuing on I located another adult Snowy Owl a mile or more further south near the "Hellcat" observation tower. This one would have been easier to get close to as there was a path along a dyke that went very close to this one, but this portion of the refuge was restricted so I had to settle for 2 very distant views of these magnificent birds. A much better alternative to no views at all. Do you see this one?... just left of center now, below the right edge of the large tilted ice sheet!
the sun sets on Plum Island - Leica D-Lux 4 camera
Despite temperatures cooler than the ones I enjoy here in Florida, I had a fantastic time at this marvelous young event only in its second year. It was treat to see these hearty northern species and to meet many new people with similar interests, I'll be back to enjoy this again, surely. Some of you may want to mark your calendars for the third annual event in 2011 as well!