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Spring is in the Air

The groundhog may have predicted another 6 weeks of winter, but everything points to an early spring here in Central Florida. Record high temperatures may be the easiest way to measure it, but Nature has its own way of telling us that my favorite time of year is here. Dead brown vegetation is suddenly covered in vibrant green. The Brown Thrashers and Common Ground Doves have returned to my yard. The American Goldfinches are turning yellow. And yesterday at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, the Red-winged Blackbirds have again taken to sitting high in the treetops, announcing their claim to their nesting territory. May the nest-building begin!

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

The blackbirds are not the only birds interested in nesting.  I saw several pairs of Anhingas already on eggs.  I love the bright blue eye ring of these birds’ breeding plumage.  I watched as another Anhinga flew gracelessly to a nearby tree, broke off a branch, and brought it back to the nest.  Much croaking ensued.

Nesting Anhinga

Nesting Anhinga

There were fewer ducks along the drive.  Ducks are one of the first birds to leave their Florida winter grounds and head back up north.  My Hooded Mergansers near the house have already left.  A few Ring-necked Ducks were still around.  One was showing off his beautiful glistening feathers in the canal at the Lust Road entrance.

 

Ring-necked Duck (Male)

Ring-necked Duck (Male)

Later I found a couple of female Ring-necks along Welland Road.  They were busy diving for food, so they were hard to photograph because they didn’t stay up for long.  Then I had to laugh.  Two of them surfaced close to each other, and I think they surprised each other.  “What are you doing there?” they seemed to ask.  Then, as if each bird was asserting her right to surface wherever she wanted, both of them gave me wing-flaps in quick succession.  Nice!

Ring-necked Duck (Female)

Ring-necked Duck (Female)

Other photographers like to make fun of me for photographing common birds, like this American Coot.  But he was so pretty that I couldn’t help myself.  The water around him glowed green with reflections of nearby plants.  A couple of nearby coots called to him repeatedly, with that nagging, whiny call that echos throughout the wetlands.  Every time they called, my bird answered with his own cry.  It wasn’t until I got home and saw my photos that I realized he also stuck his tongue out at his friends!

American Coot

American Coot

The wildlife drive is is covered in small warblers, mostly these Yellow-rumped Warblers.  They are starting to molt into their spiffy breeding colors.  They hopped all over the exposed branches, grabbing at insects.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Then to my surprise, a small bird hopped out in front of me and he wasn’t a Yellow-rump!  Hello, Mr. Swamp Sparrow!

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

My last image is another common bird that I love to photograph in spring.  The Double-crested Cormorant develops a beautiful electric blue eye, and if you’re lucky enough to see him open his mouth, you see that his mouth turns a matching blue color.  He also develops black “crests” on the sides of his head.  Our Florida cormorants have black crests.  In other parts of the country, the crests are a striking white color.  This bird sat posing for me, showing off his spring spiffiness.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Did I mention that spring time is my favorite time of year?  Let the best time for bird photography begin!

Addicted to my Painted Buntings

Another weekend morning, another chance to hang out with my Painted Buntings.  It’s addictive.  This time I placed the feeder to try for flight shots.  I’m still perfecting the technique, but it was so much fun!

Painted Bunting Squabble

Painted Bunting Squabble

I’ll leave it to the reader to imagine the look on my face when I spotted this image on the back of my camera! :)

The birds used a perch near the feeder as a staging area.  Both the greenies and the males seemed to realize they were photogenic..

Painted Bunting Greenie

Painted Bunting Greenie

Painted Bunting (Male)

Painted Bunting (Male)

But the most fun shots were the flight shots.  You prefocus on the feeder and wait for the bird to start flying in.  Luckily the birds don’t mind when I clip their wings…

Incoming Greenie

Incoming Greenie

Painted Bunting in Flight

Painted Bunting in Flight

The greenies also liked a perch of wild grass.  It was covered in seeds, a yummy prospect for a Painted Bunting.

Painted Bunting on Grass

Painted Bunting on Grass

The Painted Buntings were not the only customers at my feeders that morning.  The little Palm Warblers flew in and out, happily calling chip-chip.  One stopped on my perch to show off.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

I had to laugh when the Gray Catbird flew in.  You see, I have a camera pointed at the bird feeders, so that my mom can enjoy my birds as well as her own.  We’re used to peeking at the view from the camera.  Here’s the other view – when the feeder becomes a perch!

Gray Catbird on Camera

Gray Catbird on Camera

An Afternoon in the Bird Blind

My buntings were so cooperative on my last morning adventure that I returned to the backyard that afternoon.  In general, the birds tend to be more active in the mornings than in the afternoons, but it was still a fun couple of hours.

My first visitor was a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  He perched on my neighbor’s palm tree and extracted bugs from the bark.  We don’t often see woodpeckers in the neighborhood but they are slowly becoming more common as the trees age.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It took a while for the Painted Buntings to make their first appearance.  I wonder where they go when they leave my backyard.  They have a distinctive flight pattern as they return, then you can hear their call notes as they communicate with each other.  Before they hop out to the feeder, they often survey the territory from a safe perch…

Painted Bunting Greenie

Painted Bunting Greenie

I’m getting better at learning how to place perches in their favorite spots in order to get better photos!

Painted Bunting Greenie

Painted Bunting Greenie

My dad’s favorite bird is the bright red cardinal. So this one’s for him!

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

The cats like it when I hang out in the backyard.  It means I can supervise them out on the screened porch.  It’s always fun to look over and see them enjoying the great outdoors. :)

Whiskey

Whiskey – Black and White and Cute All Over!