The Water Falcon

Hello Friends!Tonight’s feature image is titled “The Water Falcon ” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

The early morning sun breaks over Gauley Mountain to wake up the three rivers area. As my big blue truck rolls by I noticed something odd perched on a piece of driftwood out in the middle of the Kanawha River. I had to rub my eyes and blink a few times. We had always joked and called that partially submerged log “The Gauley River Monster” because of it’s resemblance to the famous Scottish cryptid. But this morning it actually seemed to move it’s head. I pulled into the parking lot of the Glen Ferris Inn and in typical redneck fashion wheeled into a 180 back up the road. I keep a small set of binoculars in the console. I knew that there was no way possible that the log had grown a living head overnight and just needed to see what it was. It’s neck was long like a goose but it’s beak was pointed like a heron. Except that it seemed to have a hook on the end like a bird of prey. The legs were short like a duck and it even had webbed toes. Skin around the face seemed to have bumps and scales like a buzzard. I found myself asking God if he had parts left over from other birds when he built this one. Then it spread out it’s wings began to dry them in the sun. This day I only had my cellphone as a camera and the digital zoom just didn’t bring the bird in with enough clarity to make me happy. But it did access Google and I found a match. It’s a cormorant! I have been around lakes and rivers my whole life but had never seen this odd dinosaur looking critter before.

The bird is considered to be pest by modern day fisherman. However, in Asia they use the cormorant as an aquatic falcon. The bird is given a collar to prevent large fish from being swallowed and then it’s released into the water to dive down. It’s been found that a cormorant can dive as deep as one hundred and fifty feet! The birds return to the raft and wait for the fishermen to remove the stuck fish. They don’t seem to be harmed by this and it actually looks like they bond with the owner.

The ones here are pretty standoffish though. Even my 400 mm lens can barely bring them in for a photo.

A local cormorant standing on the “Gauley River Monster” which is fully submerged in this photo.

I have stopping in these spots on a fairly regular basis and trying to catch them doing something other than standard out on that log. Then finally one morning I caught the feature image. The cormorant took off from its perch and flew in circles slapping the water with his wings. I’m not sure if it was trying to flush out prey or just playing and enjoying being a bird but it was a spectacular show. I have watched a few days and this seems to be something that they do often.

I also thought that because of its reputation as a pest in North America that it was a non native species but they are found all over the world.

The literature on these birds is quite extensive, especially in the cultural references. I could write pages and pages just covering all the little threads on Wikipedia alone but as life would have it time is the limiting factor in everything. And it’s time to metaphorically turn my big blue truck back onto the highway and look for the next subject to photograph.

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Chasing Eagles Part 2

I just wanted give you a quick update on my quest for the eagles of the Kanawha River. This image was taken a couple of weeks ago near the Glen Ferris Inn in West Virginia. The bird was spotted over Kanawha Falls. I was out with my camera on the way home from my day job. I decided that I had time for a few quick shots of falls and kayaks when flash of white caught my attention. The largest lens I had with me was my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30. Knowing that the local eagles are dark in color and only the head is white I was fairly certain that it wasn’t an eagle but this was still a big bird and it was moving fast. Fighting to keep my hands from trembling with excitement I engaged the burst mode. This bird is really fast! I kinda felt like an old west gun fighter as I tried desperately to keep him in frame and in focus. (This is not a time for manual mode) The whole encounter was only about 30 seconds as this bird’s aerobatic maneuvers kept me shifting focus out of pure reflex! First he skimmed the water towards the falls only pulling up at the last second. I lost sight of him as he banked in front of the trees and disappeared behind the inn. I started to scan the falls with my camera hoping that he would come back for a second run over the falls. That didn’t happen. Instead he pops up from behind the inn directly overhead of me. I raised my camera one more time bending over backwards and trying to focus. I almost fell over backwards. I spun around while zooming in and out and praying for that little beep from the camera body to let me know that I have a lock on the focus. Finally I get the beep and green square in the viewfinder just as the raptor performs a figure 8 maneuver that would leave any jet fighter in pieces on the ground. As the bird dives and skims parallel to the falls this time I managed to get one usable image. This was an osprey! Only about half the size of the eagle but still a very special bird. I now have a second goal to catch a high quality image the osprey.

On a side note, the existence of bald eagle has been challenged. As proof that both birds are in fact inhabiting the area I’m sharing this photo of a juvenile bald eagle. The image is too grainy to sell as art but it’s the best I could get without a longer lens. It’s only a matter of time before I can either stalk in close enough for a clear image or afford an equipment upgrade. Both eagle and the osprey were taken with the same camera.

Soar

The shadow sweeps silently across the landscape and the forest freezes. The songbirds have stopped singing and the squirrels hug the trees tightly as they try their best to look like a piece of bark. Only the humans seem oblivious to the predator soaring in the sky above. He is a master of the sky. He flies higher and faster than anything living in the area. The wind speaks his name. It’s an ancestral call that he cannot resist. He dives from his perch in the tallest tree and skims the Treetops as he answers. His heart throbs with excitement as he reaches his speed and meets the wind. As he pulls upward into the flow his wings beat the air into submission with a wild thunder. Gravity fails to bind him as he achieves the apex and locks his wings. It’s time to soar. As he dances with the breeze something stirs deep within his core being. It is the quickening in his spirit. He is at one with the phoenix, aileron and the roc. He is king of the sky.