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Ducks are Back at Lake Morton

Last Sunday I went to Lakeland to see if the winter ducks were back at Lake Morton.  Yep!  The lake had some Ring-necked Ducks, some Ruddy Ducks, and even a few Lesser Scaup.  Add in a few American White Pelicans and a fun new camera, and I had a great morning! :)

American White Pelican at Sunrise

American White Pelican at Sunrise

I arrived at Lake Morton about twenty minutes before sunrise, hoping for dramatic colors and pretty reflections in the pre-dawn moments.  But the weather didn’t cooperate.  (That seems to be a growing trend!)   It was cloudy and foggy and gross.  I barely took 10 shots for the next hour and a half.  So I was surprised when I got home and saw that I did capture some sunrise behind a pelican.  The pelicans spent the rest of the morning preening on a brick wall.

Lesser Scaup Take-Off

Lesser Scaup Take-Off (Click to see larger on 500px)

As the sun finally peeked out, I found one of the few Lesser Scaups.  He was out in the  middle of the lake, in the middle of some Ruddy Ducks.  While I was focused on him, he obliged me with a nice take-off.  I stitched his take-off together in Photoshop.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

The Wood Ducks are at Lake Morton year-round.  They are used to people, so they are not as timid as normal Wood Ducks.  This one hugged the vegetation for a good part of the morning, then finally swam out into the open water for a few seconds.  Nice bird.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck Wing-Flap (Female)

The stars of the morning were the Ring-necked Ducks.  They were out in fairly good numbers, and they the most cooperative in swimming near the shore.  I lay down on the stinky grass to photograph them at eye level.  When a group of them swam by bathing, I knew I was in for some good luck.  Bathing ducks almost always finish their baths with a nice wing-flap.  The female Ring-necked Duck wing-flap is above, and the male is below.

Ring-necked Duck Wing-Flap

Ring-necked Duck Wing-Flap (Male)

The Ring-necked Duck male is one of the prettiest ducks I photograph.  You can really see his ring around his neck as he flaps his wings in the glistening sunlight.  This was by far my favorite shot of the morning.  It’ll be fun to return to Lake Morton to see if the Buffleheads return this year.  I’ve yet to see a male Bufflehead!

Fun with Friends at Viera Wetlands

Saturday was a great morning to be outside at Viera Wetlands.  A bunch of photography buddies and I ended up in a line of tripods for several hours, our lenses pointed at one bird: the very cooperative Belted Kingfisher who would periodically fly in and perch on a nice close tree.  As Michael observed, it takes a special strange kind of person to get up super early on a weekend, drive over an hour, and spend the morning in a sewage treatment plant.  But the birds are so awesome there!!

I arrived just before sunrise and promptly set up my tripod.  The sky was orange and the sun was coming up behind a palm tree, where a Great Blue Heron was staking his claim to a future nest site.  It was a wonderful composition, but the silly bird refused to turn around and show me his head!  So I got a sunrise bird butt.  I did manage to inadvertantly steal the shot from Michael, who had set up his tripod half an hour before in the wrong spot.  I don’t think I’ll ever hear the end of it… :)

Stolen Sunrise

Stolen Sunrise – Viera Wetlands Bird Butt

After the sun was up, we turned our tripods and pointed them in the opposite direction, where an incredibly cooperative Belted Kingfisher has been charming photographers in recent weeks.  The bird flies in regularly to a nearby tree.  It takes some patience to stand and wait for the bird, but when he flies in, it’s so worth it!!  Belted Kingfishers are usually very skittish and won’t let you get too close to them.  This one seemed to delight in showing off his fish to the cameras.  Then a mockingbird flew in and tried to compete for the perch.  Can you guess who won?

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Nearby, a Pied-billed Grebe swam in the clear water.  I knelt down low and got some shots almost at the water level, which turned my average snapshot into a pretty image.  The grebe amazed me with his long dives below the water as he searched for his breakfast.  Often he’d stay down for 30 seconds or more.  It was fun to try to anticipate where he’d emerge.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

I was testing out my new 7D Mark II camera at Viera Wetlands, and I was ecstatic to have the APS-C 1.6x crop factor back in a body with amazing autofocus.  When two Wilson’s Snipes flew in front of us, I almost didn’t even try to photograph them because they were moving too quickly and too far away.  But what better way to test out the new autofocus?  I aimed and fired off a few shots, and wow, they were in focus!  The image below is a crop of two tiny birds who were very far away. :)

Wilson's Snipe in Flight

Wilson’s Snipe in Flight

A little Green Heron flew in to the grebe’s pond right in front of me.  Back I went down the bank to kneel by the water’s edge.  The Green Heron stood with one foot in the air as he contemplated his next move.  He blends in very well to his surroundings.

Green Heron

Green Heron

It was not a good day to be a fish at Viera Wetlands.  On my way out, I passed this Anhinga with his breakfast impaled on his beak.  He was beating the fish against the tree in order to facilitate the final gulp.  Again I was in awe of the 7D Mark II’s autofocus as I hand-held my Beast and snapped away.

Anhinga with Fish

Anhinga with Fish

Overall it was a great morning, and fun to spend time with photography friends!  It’s great how the birds are coming back to Florida.  I look forward to more expeditions over Thanksgiving Break.  My first stop: taking my dad to see the Belted Kingfisher at Viera Wetlands!! :)

eBirdFind my birding list from today on eBird.

My Mom’s Hummingbird

My parents are so lucky.  They have hummingbirds almost year-round in their backyard.  I know, I know, my mom thinks I’m lucky because I get Painted Buntings in my backyard.  I guess it’s true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  Anyway, I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph my mom’s hummingbird last weekend.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

This is a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  A few weeks ago, she had a regular male visitor instead.  They tend to take turns.  My parents have a ton of flowering plants in their big backyard, which turns it into Nectar Paradise for Florida’s tiniest bird.

Sometimes the trick to photographing hummingbirds is to find their perching spot.  They are known for their fast flight and their nectaring habits, but they may spend less than a few seconds at your flowering bush with each short meal.  But they will find a perch and sit on it for long moments in between meals.  They like high perches, where they can keep an eye out on their territory while they rest.  My mom’s hummingbird has a perch in the “Treasure Tree” in the backyard.  Despite the winds that afternoon, the little bird stayed on her perch for a long time, not even minding when I went and got my camera.  Click, click!

Strike a Pose

Strike a Pose

Maybe she likes photographers.  As soon as I started shooting, she struck a pose!

Sleeping Hibiscus

Sleeping Hibiscus

These are Sleeping Hibiscus flowers, also known as Turk’s Cap.  They are fast-growing bushes that bloom throughout the year.  Hummingbirds love the small, red flowers that are full of nectar.  My mom’s hummingbird kept returning to these bushes to nectar, but she never stayed long enough for me to get a photo.  So I took a photo of the place where the hummingbird should have been…

I’m looking forward to a return visit with this cooperative little beauty!