Dyeyo and I tried something a little different this morning. We arrived at the Circle B Bar Reserve about fifteen minutes before sunrise, and we parked in the lot right at the entrance to the reserve. Then we hiked out to Wading Bird Way on the Windmill Whisper trail. We got to the crossroads right at sunrise.
I enjoy doing HDR at sunrise because of all the varying tones. The skies are light, with bright patches around the sunrise. The ground is dark, especially the immediate foreground. I use Photoshop to combine +/-2 stop exposures into a single image, then I use Curves to adjust the light tones. Usually I end up adding a bit of light in the mid-tone region to make the images “pop” (to me they feel a bit 3-D).
I really enjoy photographing the sunrise over Lake Hancock, where the water seems to make the sunrise color more brilliant. I wanted to get the same effect looking out over the marsh. The marsh is covered in fog most mornings now, and it was beautiful.
Dyeyo and I have noted a smaller population of American White Pelicans roosting on Wading Bird Way in the mid-mornings in the last week or so. We see them flying from that marsh area to Lake Hancock at sunrise. So this morning we were out at Wading Bird Way early enough to see them as they woke up from their roosting location and took off.
Red-Winged Blackbirds mixed in with the pelicans at sunrise to fill the sky with birds. It was spectacular. It made me wonder if it is possible to go to Circle B, take a bunch of pictures, and get a shot without a bird in it somewhere!
It’s amazing how quickly the light changes at sunrise. When we first arrived, all I tried to do were simple shots of the pelicans roosting. It wasn’t light enough to try to get sharp pictures of birds in flight. About ten minutes after sunrise, I took this shot, followed by a similar pose 10 minutes later. Look at the difference in the color of the light!
A group of Ring-Billed Gulls came in to fish on the marsh. They were fun to watch as they flew over the water, then dove for fish. The water was still and the sunrise angle perfect for beautiful reflections. I lucked out and captured a shot where the bird was scooping the fish at the same time as it was parallel to my camera, and the water was still for a great reflection. I’ll admit to a bit of cloning in Photoshop on this picture — I removed some distracting elements on the water surface (like pelican feathers!)
I laughed as I watched another Ring-Billed Gull scoop up a huge fish (well, huge in comparison to the gull!), struggle with it in mid-air, and then finally drop it back in the water. None of my individual shots was great, although I thought it was really cool that the fish had a great reflection in the drop shot. So I combined all the pictures into a little sequence:
I did get a good bird + fish shot with another bird. I like how you can see lots of detail in the fish in this picture.
While I watched the gulls, the pelicans continued their flights out of the marsh. They moved in groups, seeming to coordinate with each other so as to not run into each other. If you want to practice flight photography, Circle B in winter is definitely the place to go!
I spotted two specs in the sky, and thought one was a juvenile Bald Eagle. I found them with The Beast and confirmed my suspicion. The eagle was fighting with an Osprey high in the sky. The Osprey had a fish and the eagle wanted it! I think the Osprey won…
I enjoyed the quick focus of the 500mm when I spotted a Great Blue Heron taking off. I was able to focus and photograph as the bird approached, with the bird filling the frame, illuminated by the sunrise light. I love the detail on every feather!
I saw some ducks taking off, and got my first Northern Shovelers in flight picture. These birds are so funny with their fat beaks. They’ve gotten more and more common on Wading Bird Way, now coming close enough to the path to get pretty good pictures. It was extremely thoughtful of them to pair up male/female for my first flight shot!
The gulls kept flying in and what photographer can resist the detail of beautiful feathers illuminated by the warm sunrise light?
A group of five or six Roseate Spoonbills dozed close to the trail. We spotted them from a distance flapping around with their wings, but once we moved down closer to them, they went to sleep! We spotted a couple more spoonies a bit farther out in the marsh. It was the greatest number of spoonbills that I’ve seen together in quite some time.
Limpkins continue to cover the marsh around Wading Bird Way. The birders are reporting record number of Limpkins this year. They are easy to photograph with apple snails. I’m enjoying the extended reach of The Beast!
A small flock of Green-Winged Teals was feeding near the spoonbills. At first they only gave me “butts up!” shots, but then they emerged from the water and swam towards me. The males’ heads have a green line that really shines when it is illuminated by the sun. You have to be at just the right angle to see it. I was really excited when two males came towards me with their heads at just the right angle..
The Blue-Winged Teals are very skittish, and they fly away at the slightest disturbance. I’ve often tried to catch them, but I usually miss the moment. This morning a bird took off, and I quickly positioned the Beast and framed the shot. I got it! Look at those blue wings!
The American White Pelicans continued to fly overhead. I played with exposures to get good shots of the birds with the trees in the background. I liked the creamy contrast of the distant trees, a nice change from the usual “bird against sky” flight shot.
Dyeyo and I finally left Wading Bird Way and hiked the Eagle Roost trail for the first time in months. We saw the Bald Eagle incubating on the sand hill nest. Her head and tail feathers were barely visible, so I’m not posting the picture.
We looped around to Heron Hideout and saw a Wilson’s Snipe posing near Bubba’s culvert. The Wood Storks were doing their usual fly-overs. So were the Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. I tried to get some “incoming!” landing shots. I liked the pose, but the sun was giving me side light, and I didn’t have the flash on. I should have stopped to put it on!
We hoped to see the Northern Pintails off the south side of Marsh Rabbit Run, where they were yesterday. I didn’t get a good shot yesterday. We found them, although Dyeyo was disappointed that they were farther out in the marsh. I added the 1.4x teleconverter to The Beast and finally understood why the birds are called pintails. Their tails stick straight up like pins when they go down for a snack!
Species List: American Bittern, American Coot, American Goldfinch (heard), American Robin, American White Pelican, American Wigeon, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher (heard), Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Black Vulture, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-Winged Teal, Boat-Tailed Grackle, Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen, Common Yellowthroat, Double-Crested Cormorant, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlark (heard), Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee (heard), Fish Crow, Gadwall, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, House Wren, Killdeer, Laughing Gull, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, Mourning Dove, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Osprey, Palm Warbler, Pied-Billed Grebe, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-Winged Blackbird, Ring-Billed Gull, Ring-Necked Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, Sandhill Crane, Savannah Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Swamp Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Tricolored Heron, Turkey Vulture, Wilson’s Snipe, White Ibis, Wood Stork
Want to learn more about nature photography at Circle B Bar Reserve?
Check out my Circle B Bar Reserve page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
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