Susan Seubert Photographer: Learning by Observing

Four American Robin Chicks in their nest outside our kitchen window

Four American Robin Chicks in their nest outside our kitchen window

For the first time, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to watch a robin build a nest, incubate eggs and have a successful hatch just outside of our kitchen window.  The American Robin is one of the most common birds found in urban settings and will often nest near, or on, homes throughout North America.  I’ve learned a lot about the behavior of Turdus migratorius by observing, and photographing, them almost daily since the babies hatched around the beginning of this month.

American Robin, nesting in a camellia bush in Portland, Oregon with 4 chicks

American Robin, nesting in a camellia bush in Portland, Oregon feeding her chicks blueberries

I read that the the incubation ranges from 12 to 14 days, which was spot on for this mother of 4.  Now we are eagerly waiting for the babies to fledge, as it appears that they are very crowded in their nest and their wing feathers look like they are well developed.

With so many chicks in one tiny nest, I wondered how the nest stays so clean.  It turns out that in addition to feeding the babies worms and berries, the robin also “changes the babies’ diapers” by removing the waste directly from the bottoms of the chicks.  This may not be the most appetizing topic, but I was amazed at how efficient the bird is at keeping house.  Below are some photos from the last week.  I built a “blind” in the kitchen in order to keep our peering eyes mostly hidden so as not to disturb the nestlings.  There was plenty of glare which the blind reduced, but it was still challenging photographing through dirty glass.  All of these pictures were made with the Canon 7D Mark II which has a beautiful sensor and a fabulous frame rate, which is what allowed me to capture such a fast and intimate moment.  The RAW files were processed using Adobe Lightroom.

The Kitchen Window Blind: Baby Robins in their nest in a Camellia bush

The Kitchen Window Blind: Robin chicks in their nest in a Camellia bush

It has been an illuminating experience to watch how quickly these cute little birds grow and I will certainly miss them when they leave the nest.

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

A mother American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of her chicks

An American Robin removing the excrement from the bottom of one of the chicks

 

Update on June 13, 2015

This morning, three out of the four nestlings fledged!  There is still one in the nest and it looks very ready to leave.  It’s preening and standing up to stretch its legs.  What a wonderful experience this has been.

Update on June 13, 2015

The last robin fledged this evening.  Sniff.

The last to fledge

The last to fledge

 

Travel Photographer Susan Seubert at Khao Sok National Park in Thailand

While on assignment last year in Thailand, one of the places I was sent to photograph was the Elephant Hills Resort located in the Khao Sok National Park.  This resort has two locations: 1) a luxury tented camp located adjacent to the Khao Sok National Park and 2) a line of floating luxury tents that are situated on water in the Cheow Larn reservoir called The Rainforest Camp.  This body of water was created when the Ratchaprapha dam was built in 1982 on the Khlong Saeng River.  Khao Sok National Park boasts the largest area of virgin forest in Southern Thailand.  Elephant Hills on land offers kayaking, jungle trekking and helping to care for the captive Asian elephants.  These elephants were used for logging and after those operations stopped, the elephants became part of a sustainable tourism program in Thailand.  At Elephant Hills you don’t ride the animals, but feed and bathe them while the mahout gives you guidance and education about these amazing animals.  I had the pleasure of covering both properties.  The shoots were fast and furious, a day at each location, with the usual challenges.  However, it was beautiful to kayak on the Sok River, feed the elephants and listen to the sounds of the jungle from my tent at night.

At the Rainforest Camp, I was fortunate enough to not only experience some fine kayaking and long tail boat rides, the guide took me on a jungle trek.  Within ten minutes on the trail, we were lucky enough to encounter three different types of primates: Macaques, Gibbons and Langurs.  They were very agitated and making lots of noise.

Here is an audio recording of what we heard:  khao_sok_monkeys.  I encourage you to have a listen.

Initially, the guides thought that the monkey ruckus was because of a territory dispute given that they were all in a jack-fruit tree.  We soon discovered that the monkeys were upset because there was a clouded leopard sitting in the tree directly above us, likely deciding which type of monkey it might like to have for lunch.  I looked up just in time to see it leap across the branches above my head, crawl down the back of the tree, head first, and silently creep off into the jungle.  (read: missed the shot!)  Everyone in our group was shocked as these wild cats are not expected to occur in this area.  As we continued hiking through dense ficus we ended up at a limestone cave which was filled, much to my dismay, with bat eating snakes.  I wasn’t told that we’d be heading to a cave, much less one filled with hungry snakes, so I hadn’t brought a torch.  When the guide noticed me climbing up one of the slippery rock formations to try to get a better shot of the cavernous space, he yelled up to me, “mind where you put your hands.  There are loads of snakes!” and directed his torch to one curled up on the top of a very tall stalagmite.  I froze in utter fear, then slid down the steep, muddy outcropping to safety.  We poked around the cave and found a few snakes in the wall crevices.  One had a very full belly, an indication of a successful hunt.  We finished off the day with a long tail boat ride back to camp where we immediately hit the mammal identification books to confirm our leopard sighting.  It was a marvelous experience and an assignment I’ll never forget.

Another day at the office! Taking a longtail boat back to the camp for breakfast after a dawn shoot.

Another day at the office! Taking a long-tail boat back to the camp for breakfast after a dawn shoot.

Feeding the elephants at the Elephant Experience.

Feeding the elephants at the Elephant Experience at Elephant Hills Resort

The mahout helps the elephant give me a kiss!

The mahout helps the elephant give me a kiss!

You can see more images from Elephant Hills in Thailand on my stock photography site here.

Thank you for visiting!

Back Yard Barred Owl -or- Why We Live in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is an amazing place to live for so many reasons:  the food scene, the forward-thinking development, the great public transportation  but for me, our home is the reason we have firmly planted roots here in the Pacific Northwest.  Our house backs into the Marquam Green Space which is tangential to Forest Park, the largest in-city park in the United States.  If you can figure the maps, it’s possible to walk out our back door and join up with the Pacific Crest Trail.   The other great part is that literally steps, (with a little bush-whacking), from our back yard is the newly developed 4-T TrailTrail, Tram, Trolly, Train.  If you are a resident or visitor, this is one great urban hike and a fantastic way to tour the city for under 5 bucks.  Last year we began the process of becoming certified for Backyard Habitat, a joint program between the Audubon Society and the Columbia Land trust.  This program acts as a guide in transforming your property to a haven for urban flora and fauna.  Since our property butts up against the Marquam Green Space, it made sense to get on board.  We’ve removed the bulk of invasive plants and re-planted our back yard with native plant species.  Now the battle with bindweed, holly and ivy begins!  The great part is that we’ve already noticed an increase in the wildlife that visits us, including this Barred Owl who spent a good deal of time on a branch about 5 feet from my office window.  You can hear us whispering to the owl as it sits nearby…

Here is how difficult it was to photograph the owl 🙂

Wildlife photographer, in action!

In addition to the Barred Owls, we have regular avian visitors.  Tonight, while sitting outside having dinner, I noted the following species: Black-Headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee, Rufous Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Black Capped Chickadee, Steller’s Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Band-tailed Pigeon, House Finch, Red Shafted Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, and to top it off, a mother/son pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.  Below is our regular summer set-up for dinner.  Bon appétit!

summer backyard dining

a steller’s jay joins us for supper

The video was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS USM L series lens and edited in iMovie.  The stills were shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 24-105 IS USM L series lens and edited in Adobe’s Lightroom software.

Multimedia by Susan Seubert from National Geographic Expeditions, Among the Great Whales

Saturday night, or possibly Sunday morning, my 737 delivered me safely home to Portland after I spent 16 days in Bahia de Magdalena and the Gulf of California, otherwise known as the Sea of Cortez.  It was a thrilling adventure aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird where I was the National Geographic Photography Expert on board the ship.  I met many, many lovely people who had come from all corners of the earth to enjoy the extraordinary drama of this place.  In Bahia de Magdalena, one of three nurseries for Gray Whales along the Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula, we encountered these behemoths.  It is difficult to put into words the feeling when a month old baby whale sticks its head out of the water, looks directly at you, and invites a scratch on the chin.  The whales chose us as their companions and judging from the size of these cetaceans, we knew we had to follow their lead.  The expedition took us to many islands in the Gulf of California where amazing rock formations and incredible diversity of plant and animal life welcomed us.  The water changed color constantly depending on where we were in the Gulf. The shallow coves were inviting for kayaking, snorkeling and bbq’s under the star littered sky.  Our brief stop in San Jose del Cabo was a nice visit to terra firma and an opportunity to bird watch in the estuary.  Otherwise, shopping and sightseeing were an added treat to a trip dominated by the wild blue yonder.  We encountered not only Humpback whales and their calves frolicking in the ocean, but also numerous dolphins, and magnificent Blue Whales, the largest animals ever known to have existed.  Here is a very brief multimedia piece that I hope offers a tiny sliver of this incredible expedition with National Geographic and Lindblad.  Enjoy!