Beyond the BackyardCircle B Bar Reserve

Bittern-ly Chilly Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

Bitterns were the highlight this morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve. I arrived at sunrise, and the cloudcover was much greater than the weatherman’s “Mostly Sunny” forecast. The sun shone on the landscape for about fifteen minutes, then it went behind clouds for most of the “golden light hour.” I didn’t hike as much as usual, opting instead to stalk specific birds, especially the Sora on Heron Hideout and the American Bitterns on Marsh Rabbit Run. I enjoyed meeting Jim and Kathy Urbach and Michael Libbe — it’s fun to put Flickr usernames with faces when you meet people at Circle B! Jim has a 500mm lens like mine and we had a blast photographing a particularly cooperative bittern.

I arrived around 7:15, just minutes before the sunrise. Usually I try to get there a little earlier, but it is a 1 hour drive from Orlando! :-p My jaw dropped in surprise on the Heron Hideout trail, where a huge flock of blackbirds had congregated right on the trail. They were all females and/or juveniles (striped brown birds, not the male black birds with red spots on their wings). Just as I saw them, a jogger ran down the trail and spooked them. I fired off a couple of frames, capturing one decent “blast-off” shot. There were so many birds!

Red-Winged Blackbird blast-off

Red-Winged Blackbird blast-off

Once startled by the jogger, the red-wings moved off into the marsh, congregating for a few minutes in what our family likes to call the “Treasure Tree.” (We often spot fun birds in it, like American Pipets, a Purple Martin, and a bunch that I’m forgetting at the moment. Always check that tree!) I love photographing this tree at sunrise, and this morning I took bracketed exposures for an HDR image.

Red-Winged Blackbirds in Treasure Tree (HDR)

Red-Winged Blackbirds in Treasure Tree (HDR)

The Sandhill Cranes were doing their early morning take-off as I arrived. They come to the marsh to sleep at night, and you can see them congregating if you go to Circle B at sunset. Then they all leave right around sunrise, typically flying out over Heron Hideout. This morning’s gorgeous sunrise colors provided a great backdrop for them.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

I walked past the “Four Corners” intersection of the Marsh Rabbit Run and Heron Hideout trails, keeping an eye out for the Wilson’s Snipes that have been hanging out there pretty regularly. I forgot all about the snipes when I saw an Anhinga catch a huge fish and carry it to Bubba’s culvert to eat. The fish was easily three times as big as the Anhinga’s head! He beat it against the rocks for a few minutes (that’s the “beat it into submission” step of How an Anhinga Eats a Fish) . Then he threw back his head and swallowed it in one big gulp. Bill (one of our photo walk participants from a few weeks ago) and I watched in amazement.

Anhinga with fish

Anhinga with fish

A bit farther down on the trail, Norm called to us “It’s a zorro!” I thought it was really cool that he remembered my nickname for the Common Yellowthroat male (who has a black mask). Dyeyo would have loved the way the bird posed for us. And I loved my new Beast lens that enabled me to get frame-filling shots of the tiny bird. (Minor background distraction removals in Photoshop.)

Common Yellowthroat, a.k.a. Zorro!

Common Yellowthroat, a.k.a. Zorro!

I found the Sora that Herman and co. have been watching on Heron Hideout. He poses at the base of this bush quite predictably. The sun obligingly began to come out as a group of us watched the Sora. My favorite picture was this one, where the Sora was stretching his wings. They are such pretty birds. it’s a shame they don’t come out in the open a little more often.

Sora

Sora

We stood on Heron Hideout for probably over an hour, watching the Sora and other birds that came and went. Various small birds hopped in and out of the dead vegetation right in front of us, oblivious to the “click! click! click!” of our cameras. I haven’t seen a Marsh Wren in a couple of months, so this one was cool:

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

A little farther out in the water, a group of Mottled Ducks swam back and forth. Every so often they would open their wings and flap them back and forth. I had to add some fill light in Photoshop for this picture. I love how it shows the bright blue patch on his wing.

Mottled Duck

Mottled Duck

At least five Roseate Spoonbills were feeding off on the water. They were in that range that used to be too far away with my 400mm lens, but now with the Beast, they were quite photographable! We encouraged them to fly towards us. “Silly photographers,” they said, “you guys want us to fly towards you, give you a 10-second warning, and even fly at a certain sun angle and hit specific waypoints right over your heads!” The birds did not fly on cue, but they did eventually tire of “spooning” in the distance. I barely had a chance to aim and shoot when they did fly, so I had to add the fill light in Photoshop. Spoonbills are such fun subjects for practicing flight photography. Look at those pink wings!

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

A Pied-Billed Grebe fished right in front of the path, swimming right towards me as if to say “I’m not going to be outdone by those silly pink birds.” I liked the reflection in the grebe shot, and the texture in his feathers…

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

I was excited to see this Great Egret fly overhead. If you look closely, you can see hints of green in his lore, indicating that he is starting to change into his breeding colors. While we people are shivering with cold, these birds are already thinking about next year’s babies!

Great Egret

Great Egret

The weather alternated between cloudy and sunny throughout the morning. It seemed to affect the birds, who didn’t wake up as early as usual. Some birders posted huge numbers of species on Birdbrains from today, so I guess it was one of those days where you had to be in the right place at the right time. From Heron Hideout, it seemed as if there were far fewer American White Pelicans and Wood Storks than usual.

Cloudy Marsh (HDR)

Cloudy Marsh (HDR)

How can you stand on Heron Hideout (or anywhere in Circle B, for that matter) for long without taking a picture of an American Coot? This one was peacefully eating his breakfast in great light, and I just had to stop… :)

American Coot

American Coot

Wood storks were easier to photograph in flight when the sun did come out. I liked the pastel blue and purple tones of the sky in this shot.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

I finally headed down Marsh Rabbit Run, where I stopped with everybody else to admire the American Bittern who has been posing right off the path for the last couple of weeks. Then Jim Urbach spotted a better one farther down the path, standing right out in the open. He showed me a good vantage point by moving our cameras nice and high and shooting down on the bird.

American Bittern

American Bittern

Another group of us stood watching the bittern for a while. We encouraged him to reach down and pick up a frog, which he never did. But he did eventually hop upon onto a nicely sunlit log and strut across it, to the delight of the photographer paparrazi. I was especially excited to get some shots of his back, which has such pretty brown spotted colors that are a fun contrast to the stripes on his neck. This bird blends in so well with the vegetation that I often walk right by him, even if I know he is there! I removed some distracting background elements in both bittern shots:

American Bittern

American Bittern


American Bittern

American Bittern

My species count today was not as high as usual because I had concentrated on a few birds instead of walking more of the trails. It was a great morning, though! :)

Species list: American Bittern, American Coot, American Robin, American White Pelican, American Wigeon, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Black Vulture, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-Winged Teal, Common Moorhen, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Marsh Wren, Mottled Duck, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Osprey, Palm Warbler, Pied-Billed Grebe, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-Winged Blackbird, Ring-Billed Gull, Ring-Necked Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, Sandhill Crane, Snowy Egret, Sora, Swamp Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Tricolored Heron, Turkey Vulture, White Ibis, Wood Stork