Beyond the Backyard

Springtime Stop at Lake Morton

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It’s been too long since I’ve been to Lake Morton. It’s the best time of year to go, too, with all the springtime babies and birds in breeding plumage. Last Saturday was a cloudy, overcast day but I cranked up the exposure compensation and thoroughly enjoyed my walk. :)

Most of the winter ducks have left Florida, but a few Ruddy Ducks and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks were still present at Lake Morton in early April. I love the blue beaks that form part of the male Ruddy Duck’s breeding plumage.

Ruddy Duck Wing Flap
Ruddy Duck Wing Flap

With the less-than-ideal lighting conditions, I opted to leave my Beast at home and use just the intermediate telephoto. The birds at Lake Morton are tame enough to allow fairly close approaches, and it felt good to leave some of the weight behind!

Did I mention cute baby ducklings? This crew was resting in the grass next to their exhausted Mallard mom.

Baby Ducklings
Baby Ducklings

The Mute Swans nest in March and April. The birds are very protective of their nests and babies, so it’s best to give them a wide berth. Several nests were empty as the City of Lakeland moves the birds to cages as soon as the cygnets are born. This mom was still on eggs. She looked like she was ready to get up and move around a little.

Mute Swan on Nest
Mute Swan on Nest

A few American White Pelicans are still hanging around at Lake Morton. They head to the northern US to breed. There’s a large colony in northern Minnesota that has yielded several tagged birds that wintered in Lakeland in years past. I love to watch them glide on the water…

American White Pelican
American White Pelican

…and sometimes they take a nap on the brick walls at the lake’s edge, making it easy to get close-ups of their beautiful faces and feathers.

American White Pelican
American White Pelican

This Limpkin had just caught an Apple Snail when I happened upon him. I immediately dropped to my knees to photograph him at eye level. He repeatedly stabbed the snail with his long beak, using it to pry the snail out of the shell. In the photo below, he looks like he’s posing with his prize.

Limpkin with Apple Snail
Limpkin with Apple Snail

Lake Morton is an excellent place to photograph Wood Ducks, as the usually skittish species is fairly accustomed to all the people that walk around the lake. It’s such a special place. As I walked around, I found photographers, toddlers feeding the birds, young adults out for a run, seniors out for a stroll, and a family taking early Easter portraits with a professional photographer. These ducks weren’t worried about all the passersby. They focused on preening each other, and I bet we’ll see some cute baby ducklings from them later on in the season.

Wood Duck Pair
Wood Duck Pair

A little while later, in one of the few moments of sunshine that morning, I came across another drake Wood Duck at the water’s edge. I laid down on my stomach and edged forward as he preened himself in the sunlight. His feathers sparkled. What a gorgeous bird!

Wood Duck (Drake)
Wood Duck (Drake)

The ducks weren’t the only birds forming breeding pairs. I came across this pair of American Coots preening each other. They were quite gentle as they nuzzled. It was sweet.

American Coot Pair
American Coot Pair

Muscovy Ducks are another familiar sight at Lake Morton. They have the most interesting faces. This male watched me from a distance.

Muscovy Duck
Muscovy Duck

The Muscovy babies are so cute! A female duck had a brood of about 5-7 ducklings. As soon as she saw me, she headed for the water, and I thought it was great that she protected her babies. Then they swam right up to me, climbed out of the water, and waddled right up to me. I can tell people feed them. I wish they weren’t quite so accustomed to people…it’s not good for them. In years past, a sweet bird affectionately dubbed Father Goose has watched over little families of Muscovies. I didn’t see him on this particular morning.

Baby Muscovy Duck
Baby Muscovy Duck

The White Ibis were starting to lose their breeding plumage, but I found a couple of individuals with bright red-orange heads still. This female walked right in front of me and even gave me a nice head angle. Then she went off to hunt for bugs in the grass.

White Ibis (Breeding Plumage)
White Ibis (Breeding Plumage)

The swans definitely enjoy their baths. Throughout the morning, I stopped to grin at the beautiful birds as they splashed in the blue water. You can see how the City trims their flight feathers to keep the birds from leaving the lake.

Mute Swan Bath
Mute Swan Bath

My last bird of the morning is a “common” bird with very striking breeding plumage. This Double-crested Cormorant sat on a brick wall, looking at me and showing off his double-crested tufts of feathers that he sports only during the breeding season. His eyes are a bright blue. His mouth also turns an electric shade of blue. I sat there watching him for several minutes, but he didn’t feel like showing off his mouth for me.

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant

So despite the icky weather, it was a very enjoyable morning at Lake Morton. My favorite photo opportunities were with two families that will get their own blog posts soon. Come back to read more!

Backyard photography

Springtime Backyard Bird Photography

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Last weekend I spent a couple of happy hours in my backyard, photographing the springtime birds. Our Painted Buntings are getting ready to leave, and they are especially active at the feeders right now. I counted up to 4 males and at least 10 greenies in the yard at the same time. The two Gray Catbirds continue to chase each other around the yard, as do several pairs of Northern Cardinals, each of whom thinks it owns the yard. Our American Goldfinches numbers are dwindling as the weather gets warmer. In the evenings, the Tree Sparrows fly overhead, a small flock that reminds me a little of the murmuration I got to photograph a few years ago.

Painted Bunting (Male)
Painted Bunting (Male)

I placed my “pretty perch” near a feeder, sat back in a comfortable chair, and watched and waited. It didn’t take long for the birds to cooperate. :)

Northern Cardinal (Male)
Northern Cardinal (Male)

I took a few branches from the flowering Coral Honeysuckle and placed them on my branch. Mr. Cardinal thought that was an excellent idea. He reached down to bite at the flowers and extract the nectar from within.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

After observing the American Goldfinches for several years, I knew that they would perch on the tallest branch near their feeder. So I stuck a honeysuckle branch on the top of my shepherd’s hook. The next time a goldfinch flew in, he hopped obligingly on my branch. :)

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird

The pair of Gray Catbirds has been quite vocal this spring. They perch in opposite sides of the yard at dusk and call back and forth: Meow! Meow! It’s fun to watch our gray cat Squirt’s head go back and forth as he listens to their calls.

Painted Bunting (Greenie)
Painted Bunting (Greenie)

I started to notice the flocks of swallows a few weeks ago. They start after sunset, flying in circles, calling to each other and plucking insects from mid-air (at least somebody likes all the midge flies in our neighborhood!). Photographing these fast fliers is a challenge, especially as the light fades.

Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow

The birds aren’t the only springtime visitors in the backyard. Several bunny families live in the neighborhood and spend their afternoons hanging out under the bushes. They always remind me of my mom. So this last picture is for her… :)

Backyard bunny
Backyard bunny

Beyond the Backyard

Another Lake Apopka Sunset

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A couple of weekends ago, the sunset forecast was pretty good for Central Florida, so I twisted Rich’s arm into visiting Magnolia Park on our way to the grocery store. He pointed out that we pass the grocery store on the way to Magnolia Park, haha, but he came along for the ride anyway. ;-)

Sunset at Magnolia Park
Sunset at Magnolia Park

There was a cold front coming through that evening, and the clouds in the distance were the leading edge. A church group sang in Spanish about the glory of God as we watched the sun dip under the horizon. The song was accentuated by the faraway calls of Limpkins and Peacocks.

As usual, I bracketed multiple shots at varying exposures and combined them using HDR. I loved how the fiery glow of the sun reflected off the lake in the afterglow image.

Sunset at Magnolia Park
Sunset Afterglow at Magnolia Park

A nice way to end the day… (and much more peaceful than the grocery store!)