There were plenty of birds in the skies this afternoon at the Circle B Bar Reserve!
I got there around 3:30 and hiked Heron Hideout, Marsh Rabbit Run, and Wading Bird Way. The American White Pelicans are back and roosting on the water at Wading Bird Way! Yay!
When I first arrived, the skies above the parking lot were filled with Turkey Vultures. There had to have been at least fifty swooping in the wind. They were actually quite pretty as the sun caught their wings and made them glisten. This was my favorite picture, because of the wings, although I wish the bird had turned his head towards me at the same time.
The bushes on the edges of the paths have died back, due to the recent cold weather. It makes it easier to spot the little birds hopping around in the brush. The Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers stand out nicely with their gray feathers against the brown bushes. They are so small, fast, and friendly — I’ve actually had to attach an extension tube because the birds got so close that they were within my minimum focusing distance on my 400mm lens. I enjoyed watching this guy fluttering around, and then I realized I’d caught him with his dinner in his mouth. It’s a big piece of something for his tiny beak!
I walked out onto the Heron Hideout trail, keeping my eyes peeled for the Killdeer that we have often seen in the dried-out marshes on either side of the path. I didn’t see the Killdeer, but a bird flying low over the marsh caught my eye. I watched him fly into a tree, where I was able to see that he was an American Kestrel. I think this is the first time I’ve seen a kestrel at the Circle B Bar Reserve. He had a bit of prey that he ate while perched in the tree, giving me time to put my teleconverter on and use Live View to refine my focus. He was awfully far away for a really good picture…
Farther up the Heron Hideout trail, a Roseate Spoonbill was spooning in one of the few remaining pools. Circle B needs a good tropical wave to linger for a few days to raise the water levels in the marsh. For the spoonbill, I had to set negative exposure compensation so as to properly exposure the bird’s white highlights. This is a juvenile bird, as evidenced by the pale pink plumage. When I passed this pond again on my way out, the spoonbill was still spooning, and he had a friend. :)
Then some people pointed out the Bald Eagle that had just landed nearby (at the Heron Hideout/parking lot path intersection). I backtracked so that I could get closer. The bird didn’t seem to care that he had a fan club gathered underneath him. I pointed my camera in the direction of my shadow in order to get the best front light. Again I had to set negative exposure compensation to not blow the white patches on his head.
As I watched this eagle, I saw another fly towards the nest near the Nature Center. He had some nesting material in tow.
Retracing my steps on Heron Hideout, the Spoonie was still in his pond, along with some Glossy Ibis and a juvenile Little Blue Heron. I noticed some little guys poking around in the mud at the water’s edge. They were Least Sandpipers. They were closer to the path than I’ve seen so far this year. It was hard to angle myself to get a good picture without a conspicuous shadow from the mid-day sun.
The Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks were roosting close to the path on Marsh Rabbit Run. The light wasn’t great, but their calls were so sweet that I had to take a short video. My mom loves to listen to their calls.
I didn’t take many pictures on Marsh Rabbit Run, as the sun was very bright and backlit the birds on the west side of the trail. The east side wasn’t very active. I watched for the American Bittern but didn’t see him. I saw a Northern Harrier flying over the same pond where I saw him last week.
When I made it out to Wading Bird Way, I saw American White Pelicans en masse. For months I’ve had people asking me when the pelicans would be back…well, the wait is up! It’s such fun to just stand and watch them. There are so many of them! A couple of small groups flew overhead as I watched.
I ended up adjusting my pelican pictures in Photoshop Elements, using Highlights and Shadows to lighten up the bottom of the back wing, and restore minor details to the white stomachs. The birds were so pretty in the warm sunset light. I had to laugh when I got home and saw this picture of two pelicans together. One has a wide-open bill and the other is looking up as if to say “what did you just say?”
Another birder pointed out a pair of Northern Pintails. I’ve never seen them before, so that was pretty cool.
I spotted a Wilson’s Snipe flying overhead (another Circle B first for me.) Nearby, a Pied-Billed Grebe had a fish, which he proceeded to slowly swallow…
The setting sun illuminated the trees and landscape very nicely. I love the sheer numbers of birds covering the landscape of Circle B in the winter time. I took a series of pictures to stitch together into a panorama using Photoshop Elements. A nifty tip when taking panorama pictures is to turn the camera vertical. You take more pictures to cover the same horizontal extent, but you end up with more detail in the final image after you crop away the uneven edges.
I heard the calls of eagles and turned to see them swooping in the skies. It was a juvenile and an adult, fighting. The adult finally won and the juvenile flew off, pouting. I wonder if this is last year’s juvenile eagle being told to stay away from this year’s nest. Herman posted that the sand hill nest is on eggs.
The sun set and I couldn’t resist snapping one more shot of an eagle guarding his territory in the fading light. I underexposed by a full stop in order to deepen the oranges of the sunset.
On my way out I saw dozens of Sandhill Cranes and Wood Storks roosting off Marsh Rabbit Run. Hopefully it won’t rain early tomorrow morning so that we can take Dyeyo’s kids on their nature hike. We’ll see you in the morning, birdies…
Species list: Anhinga, American Coot, American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher (heard), Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Black Vulture, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-Winged Teal, Boat-Tailed Grackle, Common Moorhen, Cooper’s Hawk, Double-Crested Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, House Wren, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, Northern Harrier, Northern Pintail, Osprey, Palm Warbler, Pied-Billed Grebe, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-Winged Blackbird, Ring-Necked Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, Sandhill Crane, Snowy Egret, Tree Swallow, Tricolored Heron, Turkey Vulture, White Ibis, Wilson’s Snipe, Wood Stork