The eagle and the bird who hates him

The eagle and the bird who hates him – Photograph by Laura Lecce

It’s tough to be so loved and admired, to be an American icon and a symbol of great strength. Lucky for this eagle, his ego will be a little smaller because of a little bird (well little sitting next to this eagle) who absolutely despises him! As I was in absolute awe that I got lucky enough to get up close and photograph this stunning bird, the bird next to him was determined to shoo him away. At one point the little bird was hanging off his tail feathers trying to yank them out with his beak and flapping around the poor eagle’s head and making a hell of a racket. I guess having a large and cunning predator so close to home must be a bit distressing. It was also spring time in Yellowstone National Park, which probably meant chicks in a nest that need protecting. Lucky for the little bird that the eagle didn’t seem on the hunt for lunch. Also lucky for me and my camera that the eagle didn’t seem at all surprised or phased to have this annoying bird bothering him, and just sat his ground looking as regal as ever. What a fantastic experience!

For other pics and posts from Yellowstone National Park – please click here.

The yellow eyebrows of a blue grouse

Blue Grouse – Photograph by Laura Lecce

This is a gloriously proud male grouse who had decided I was infringing upon his territory. To let me know this he performed his intimidation dance – tail feathers sprawled, neck feathers on end to uncover that red wrinkly skin, and an angry frown with his bright yellow eyebrows. Little did he know, that instead of scaring me away, his dance was what got him noticed in the first place. After taking his photo, I let him think he won and scared me off with his territorial display. Such a gorgeous and unusual bird!

You are what you eat

Pink Flamingo – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Flamingoes are one example of how ‘what you eat’ can be reflected in your appearance. We associate flamingoes with the color pink or orange when in fact they are born a dull greyish color. The lakes and wetlands they live in are breeding grounds for algae, shrimp and mollusks – tasty munchies that these beautiful birds spend their days consuming. Each of these tasty treats are loaded with beta-carotene, an organic chemical which is a reddish-orange color and is famously known for making carrots orange. Beta-carotene gives shrimp their orange color when cooked, and shrimp-eating salmon their pink flesh. This chemical is an important one which gets converted into vitamin A in our bodies and contributes to healthy skin, teeth, bones and good vision. Interestingly, farmed salmon and zoo flamingoes which are not necessarily fed a ‘wild’ diet are made pink by the addition of canthaxanthin to their food, yet another naturally occurring carotenoid which is well known to give Chanterelle mushrooms their yellow/orange coloration.

Starling in a Snowstorm

Starling in a Snowstorm – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Storms are hard on everyone, but none more so than the poor birds which have very little shelter from the wind and cold. I saw a photo today of a very defeated cockatoo in Australia sitting amongst fallen branches, wet and with most of his feathers blown off by cyclone Debbie. Thankfully he was rescued by the photographer and I hope he will make a speedy recovery. The bird in these photos was weathering out a snowstorm in New York two weeks ago (hopefully our last one of the winter) and was grateful that I provided some breadcrumbs. Actually in truth I am not sure that the bird was grateful because grumpy is its permanent facial expression. I cannot blame him as I’d be grumpy too if I was locked outside in a snowstorm with no socks to keep my feet warm.

Grateful but naturally grumpy – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Showmanship is everything

The proudest peacock – Photograph by Laura Lecce

I had never really imagined what it would be like to meet a peacock, perhaps because I never thought I would ever actually meet one. However this beautiful male was strutting his stuff in a park in Malaysia and putting on the performance of a lifetime for anyone who was interested in watching. They are a fairly large bird, perhaps the size of a turkey, but with over 200 tail feathers extended they are about 6 feet (2 meters) wide. In the world of birds there is certainly a lot of pressure placed on males to outperform competing males with brighter colors, more feathers, and complex mating dances. Female peahens will prefer a male with  larger sized and greater number of eye spots, as this will likely result in larger and fitter peachicks. One stunning male will have a harem of rather plain looking females and will play no role in raising the young. This is probably for the best as it helps the well camouflaged females raise their young by safely blending in with the scenery.

For other bird posts please click here.

Black currawong and her honey bush

Black currawong and her honey bush - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Black currawong and her honey bush – Photograph by Laura Lecce

This intense-looking bird is a black currowong native to Australasia that I photographed while hiking in Tasmania. These birds look quite similar to Australian magpies except that their eye color is yellow instead of red. They have a very special relationship with the richea honey bush and were featured in a David Attenborough narrated documentary called Life in the episode on plants. The honey bush encases its flowers in individual little pods which protect the flowers from cold weather and icy winds that are common in Tasmania. Unfortunately it also prevents successful pollination of the flowers by insects which cannot access them nor remove the protective outer casing. When warmer weather comes along the flowers produce a nectar which attracts the currawongs. They go about their day pulling off each of the little flower pods to access the nectar which also exposes the flowers to pollinating insects and thus the plant can reproduce.

For other posts from Tasmania please click here, or for birds please click here.

Angry Caracara

Angry Caracara
Angry Caracara – Photograph by Laura Lecce

This is an angry looking bird if ever I saw one! It is a caracara, which is a bird of prey belonging to the same family as falcons. Unlike falcons which are fast flying and skilled aerial hunters, these are the slower and lazier cousins which prefer to scavenge for prey that is already injured or dead. I’m pretty sure this is a northern caracara which has a less defined, patchy barring across the chest. The skin on their face ranges from yellow to deep red/pink depending on the age of the bird. This one was photographed in the Washington Slagbaai National Park in Bonaire, and as you can see he was not too happy about the photo.

For other posts on birds please click here.

Hawk eating pigeon for lunch

Hawk eating pigeon for lunch - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Hawk eating pigeon for lunch – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Living in Manhattan, Central Park is my wilderness. I often see squirrels, ducks, geese, raccoons and turtles, but this weekend I was treated to something extra special. This stunning hawk who at first I thought was injured or had been in a fight (due to the bunch of feathers all over the ground around him), had in fact caught a pigeon for lunch and was in the process of shredding it. This red-tailed hawk, along with a few others often hunt in central park, but this is the first time I got to see this magnificent bird at  close range. Female red-tailed hawks grow larger than their male companions, and both are known to be monogamous in their relationship. Eggs and chicks are primarily looked after by the female hawk while her male partner provides them with food. It sounds like she has him well trained.

Great blue heron at sunset

Great blue heron at sunset - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Great blue heron at sunset – Photograph by Laura Lecce

I love the warm golden colors that the setting sun has painted across this landscape. This magnificent great blue heron was photographed in Zion National Park in Utah. I have seen many herons since moving to America, and even though we have herons in Australia I never really noticed them before. I am always amazed that for such a large bird, herons are incredibly shy and skittish. No matter how slow I try to creep up they never let me get very close at all, but I have seen these birds get courageously close to some pretty massive alligators! The photo below is the original before cropping which has a very beautiful arch created by tree branches. A dry looking landscape hiding a trickling stream just behind the tree line, and a dusty red path occasionally dotted with a green firework – sometimes nature creates its very own artworks.

Heron under tree arch - Photograph by Laura Lecce
Heron under tree arch – Photograph by Laura Lecce

The ones with hair

The Ones with Hair - Photograph by Laura Lecce
The Ones with Hair – Photograph by Laura Lecce

Once while sitting on a Western Australian beach, I was very amused by the appearance of a few seagulls which looked like they were wearing a black toupee. It was also funny because they were having as bad a hair day as I was and were looking quite frazzled (WA is well known for becoming increasingly windy in the afternoon). It turns out that the ones with hair are not seagulls, they are a different kind of bird called a crested tern. Obviously both gulls and terns are quite happy to have each other as company. Also, if this photo is at all representative of these populations… seagulls are lazier and prefer to sit down.