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Dance of Summertime

Last weekend I was outside working in the backyard when I noticed a Giant Swallowtail butterfly nectaring in my firebush.  (There was a hummingbird in that firebush a few days before!!)  Butterflies are pretty common in my backyard, so I smiled and kept on working.  Then I noticed that my Giant Swallowtail had a friend.  A second butterfly was flitting desperately trying to attract the attention of the first.  Rich grinned at me as I burst inside to grab my camera.  It’s been way too long since I’ve had time to use it!

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

The neighbors must have thought I had lost my mind.  The bushes I was chopping laid all over the yard in a total mess, and I flopped to the ground to point my camera to the skies.  ;-)

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Pretty soon the butterflies moved from my firebush to one of my Mexican Sunflower bushes.  Boy do the butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds love the nectar of the Mexican Sunflower!  It’s convenient that the plant self-seeds, showing up in the early summer where bushes grew in the previous summer.  This year I transplanted several plants all over the yard, so there’s a ton of nectar everywhere you fly.

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Speaking of flying, the butterflies are pretty good at it!  They would suddenly take to the skies, flitting around like little ballerinas.  It was a challenge to follow them with the camera.  I had to grin when I got the pictures to the computer and saw that I’d captured some hanky-panky, which happened too fast to really see in mid-air…

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Then they came back down and continued nectaring.  I think the girl butterfly was more interested in nectar than romance.  But the boy butterfly wasn’t taking no for an answer.

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

I enjoyed my opportunity to have two such cooperative subjects in the frame.  But the skies started to gray up and the thunder started to rumble in the distance, reminding me of the yardwork that wasn’t going to finish itself.  I managed to get the rest of the bushes trimmed and stacked down at the curb just as the first raindrops fell!

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

 

Sunrise and an Almost-Lifer

It was a beautiful morning.  The breeze was cool before the the heat of the day.  The  sky was wakening and so were the birds.  A perfect morning to be out on the beach.

Dawn on the Beach

Dawn on the Beach

The clouds were faint wisps on the horizon, perfect for a gorgeous sunrise. Which happened a few minutes later…

A New Day

A New Day

Turtle tracks abounded.  Every couple of feet we’d come across the marks in the sand made the previous night as turtles came on shore, laid their eggs, and returned to the ocean.  I used to envision a sunrise photo with turtle tracks as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.  Like most things in nature photography, it’s not as uncommon as you’d think – you just have to know the right place and time to show up!

Turtle Tracks

Turtle Tracks

As we walked along the beach, I paused and looked up into the dunes.  There was a pale white bird sitting quietly in the seagrass.  I almost walked right past him!  I stopped and stared, because I didn’t know exactly what he was.  His beak was like that of a gull, but I’d never seen one so worn.  My first impression was that he was some sort of pelagic bird blown in, and he made me realize that the beach, while beautiful, also sees its share of sickness and death.  I took a few photos of the bird.  Later I tried to identify him, and had to call on several bird friends before coming to an absolute conclusion on his identification.  He was a first-summer Herring Gull.  I hope he was feeling better than he looked, and that by now he’s well on his way to a fresh molt of feathers.  Almost a lifer, but not quite… ;-)

Herring Gull (First Summer)

Herring Gull (First Summer)

Wilson’s Plover Chicks

There were more than just Least Terns this year up at the colony in St. Augustine.  Wilson’s Plovers also find that habitat ideal for nesting.  A Wilson’s Plover pleased many photographers by nesting very close to the ropes that surround the colony.  As we lay in the sand photographing the terns, we mentally willed the plover eggs to hatch.  Unfortunately, birds tend to work on their own schedules and not on mine. :)  But even though I didn’t get to see this plover’s babies, I got to see another family on my last visit to the colony.

Wilson's Plover Nest

Wilson’s Plover Nest

You might glance at the above photo and say, “What nest?”  Like almost all the shorebirds that nest on the beach, the Wilson’s Plovers make a nest scrape by kicking back a little sand and then laying their eggs right there in the sand.  The eggs blend in so well that it’s often easy to walk right past them without noticing.  I think Nature designed it that way. :)  If you look closely, there are three buff-colored eggs with black spots nestled next to the left-most grass clump.  The grass provided some shelter for Mama Plover as she sat on them for her 23-25 day incubation period.

Wilson's Plover on Nest

Wilson’s Plover on Nest

See, there is Mama as she returns to her nest.  She rarely left it during the times that I observed her.  This was taken as she settled back down on her eggs.  Once she settles as the way down, you really can’t see the eggs.

Count the Legs

Count the Legs

Thanks to my friend Michael, I had a pretty good idea of when Mama’s nest would hatch.  But when the time came, my job interfered and prevented me from getting to the beach.  Work has a nasty habit of interfering with photography!  Disappointed that I didn’t get to meet “my” babies, I was ecstatic when I returned a few weeks later and spotted a plover in the back of the colony that seemed to have too many legs.  As tiny as these birds are, they have plenty of room under their wings for a chick or two…and all you can see of the chicks are the feet!  Nature’s camouflage never ceases to amaze me.

Surprise!  Mama introduces me to her two chicks

Surprise! Mama introduces me to her two chicks

A few minutes later, Mama let her little ones loose to run – and run they did!  If you’ve ever watched plovers running on the beach, you may be amazed at how fast they move.  They are the little Energizer Bunnies of the beach world.  Left, right, to the ocean, and back, they run all over the place as they hunt for food.  Well, these tiny chicks may have only been a few days old, but there’s no doubt that the instinct to run and hunt was already well engrained into them.  Focusing on  them was a challenge as they moved all over!

Wilson's Plover Chick

Wilson’s Plover Chick

Finally!  One of the chicks stopped long enough to give me time to focus.  He even gave me a nice head angle. :)  Like the Least Terns, the little Wilson’s Plovers blend in well to their beach environment.  It was a joy to lie in the sand and watch these little monkeys.

Busy Beach Explorer

Busy Beach Explorer

I loved this last image for the “bird in environment” feel.  The beach must seem like such a huge place to the tiny babies!  And yet they meet it fearlessly, already feeding themselves.  Mom stood by on watch, protecting her chicks from the overhead predators like gulls that can swoop down and grab a chick.  But I have no doubt that these little guys will survive.  Their determination was admirable.

Is it next year yet?  I’m already ready to return to the beach! :-)