Lions and Bitterns and Rails, Oh My! Circle B Bar Reserve Never Disappoints

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A group of photographers met at the Circle B Bar Reserve for sunrise this morning. We had a blast. Circle B really is a photographer’s playground at this time of year!

Dyeyo and I parked at the parking lot at the Circle B entrance, then took the Windmill Whisper trail out to Wading Bird Way. The southern half of Wading Bird Way is my second favorite sunrise spot in the reserve (Lake Hancock is my favorite). I took several bracketed shots as the sun began to peek over the horizon, and this one with the flocks of birds flying over the marsh was my favorite.

Sunrise over the Marsh (HDR)

Sunrise over the Marsh (HDR)

There were not as many American White Pelicans out on the water as the last time Dyeyo and I went for sunrise. The small group of birds that were there today were in no hurry to fly off at sunrise. So I turned my attention to the birds that were showing off: the Ring-Billed Gulls and the American Coots.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

American Coot

American Coot

I liked the pale pink water in the two shots above, produced by the reflection of the pre-sunrise sky.

We don’t normally take many pictures of the common American Coots…but if they are showing off, and the other birds are not, then what’s a photographer supposed to do? The coots cracked us up as a big group of them decided to cross the Wading Bird Way trail right in front of us. Normally you don’t see coots on land. So they crossed from left to right, and then went back right to left. Then they started to cross a third time, but they got flustered in mid-trail, so half ended up running left and half running right! Crazy birds…why did the coots cross the road?

American Coot Crossing

American Coot Crossing

After the sun came up, we turned our backs to the light and started shooting the birds flying across the marsh. At first there were not many. Then the pelicans started taking off in small groups, flying toward us on their way to Lake Hancock. Then a group of at least ten or so Roseate Spoonbills took off and flew over us too — finally! I’ve heard stories from other photographer friends about spoonie fly-overs like that, but never seen one myself. It was beautiful to watch them.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

The Limpkins were active all morning, finding their apple snails and then fighting over them. One Limpkin can’t find a snail without attracting the attention of other Limpkins, who all approach the lucky bird with an eye to steal his breakfast. This can be a great opportunity for flight shots as the bird with the snail takes his prey off to eat.

Limpkin with Apple Snail

Limpkin with Apple Snail

As Jim and I snapped away at this Limpkin flying in the distance with our 500mm lenses, Dyeyo laughed at us, then pointed out the Limpkin standing not 10 feet away from us, enjoying his own snail. Yep, I sure did get used to the extra focal length of the Beast quickly…!!

The American Coots continued to show off, doing their little run-across-water-and-fly routines over and over again. For once, they were running parallel to the trail instead of away from me. So I took advantage of the opportunity to practice quick-focusing with the Beast. This was my best attempt. I would have liked to have had the bird angled toward me instead of away from me, but he didn’t exactly coordinate his flight plan with me ahead of time! :-p

American Coot take-off

American Coot take-off

Dyeyo and I walked to the southern end of Wading Bird Way, where we found a cooperative group of Northern Shovelers posing close to the trail. We positioned ourselves to “shoot into our shadows” to get the best frontal light angle. As we watched, the birds preened, then scooped their bills into the water and stretched their wings.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

A Boat-Tailed Grackle sat on a post and fussed his head off. “Take my picture! Take my picture!” His feathers were so pretty in the morning light that I couldn’t resist. Besides, I’m still getting used to my newfound focal length…this bird was not exactly right next to me, and he fills the frame!! :-D

Boat-Tailed Grackle

Boat-Tailed Grackle

We headed down the Marsh Rabbit Run trail, feeling like the light was all backwards (since we’re used to hiking it in the opposite direction). That’s the bad part about starting on Wading Bird Way: you walk into the sun to get to Heron Hideout. So we walked quickly and looked backward often!

Another photographer noticed a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk feasting on his latest victim in the dead bushes at the Wading Bird Way / Marsh Rabbit Run intersection. The bird tried to pick up his prey and fly, but the prey was too big for him. Finally he ended up just walking away from it. I think this is the same hawk that I saw in the same vicinity last Sunday evening. I suspect this is one of his usual hangouts. I’m not posting the picture inline with the text for the benefit of the squeamish (hi Mum-mum), but click on the link above to see a shot.

Dyeyo and I checked for the King Rail at the Heron Hideout / Marsh Rabbit Run intersection, but he was in hiding. So we went up to the bush on Heron Hideout where a Sora has been seen regularly for the past few weeks. He was there, in the exact same spot where I photographed him last weekend. (Isn’t it great when birds are predictable?) The Birdie Paparrazi gathered around, begging the bird to venture out beyond the busy background of the bush into the surrounding water. He did! He gave us many “bird butt” opportunity shots before turning and giving us a nice pose. We joked that we should do a Circle B Bird Butt calendar.

Sora

Sora

The Sora finally left his bush and hid in another patch of foliage. So we went back to look for the Wilson’s Snipe that hangs out on Heron Hideout and the King Rail. I think I was one of the few to snap a quick rail shot as he showed himself for a quick second. Then he buried himself back in the foliage. But the Birdie Paparrazi wouldn’t be let down so easily. We stood stalking that bird for at least half an hour, and by the time we were done, we were convinced that we had seen multiple King Rails and maybe a Virginia Rail.

King Rail

King Rail

The nearby American Bittern, still hanging out on the north side of Marsh Rabbit Run not far from the King Rail, provided welcome distraction to the rail-stalkers. If you wonder why you see photographers lying on the trail stretched out with their big lenses, it’s because the background blurs better if you get eye-to-eye with the bird. It’s a dirty business…but it’s so much fun! :)

A couple of Sand Hill Cranes landed on the north side of Marsh Rabbit Run. I got a few still shots of them honking with their mouths open, but a video is worth 1,000 stills…

I begged the Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks to fly for me as we watched for rails and bitterns. A couple of them obliged, allowing me to get this landing shot. I love watching the birds’ feet and posture as they move in to land. It always reminds me of an airplane pilot…”the landing gear are in place…”

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Bill had been watching a Bald Eagle in the distance. Not long after he headed to Heron Hideout to get closer to it, the contrary bird flew right over our heads, carrying some nesting material.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Dyeyo and I finally said goodbye to the rest of the group and headed back down Marsh Rabbit Run. A family of racoons has been hanging out under the oak trees on the south side of the trail. We spotted two of the juveniles rolling around in the grass like kittens. It’s times like these when I enjoy the video features of my 7D.

A little further down, we surprised another American Bittern posing out in the open. The bird seemed to have just eaten as I saw him, and he kept his eyes half-closed as he continued to stalk his lunch. Bitterns are such fun to watch move. At times they move extremely slowly, and at others they are swift and deliberate. They blend in so well with their surroundings.

Back out on Wading Bird Way, we saw the group of American White Pelicans feeding fairly close to the trail. It was fun to watch them scoop up fish and toss them back into their big mouths. I was happy to see that I caught a few “fish stories” when I got home…

American White Pelican with Fish

American White Pelican with Fish

Note in the last few seconds of the video, you can see a green sign on the back of one of the pelicans, with the letters “46” on it. Other birds in my pictures had bits of green on their backs as well. I’m not sure what the green is all about.

So all in all it was a terrific morning to be outside and photographing at the Circle B Bar Reserve. It’s really great to meet some new friends there, too. I can’t wait to shoot with you guys again! :)

Fun Quotes from the morning:

“I don’t know how Herman gets all those great shots. Does he pay the birds to pose for him?”

— Kim

After hearing about the otters posing with eels… “Yeah, I saw a lion this morning walking on the trails. Nobody was with me to see him, and it was really dark, so I didn’t get the shot. But he had a Sora on his back!”

— Kathy

“Maybe we should shoot the bird, then position him against a nice background.”
“Yeah, you’re clearly more of a photographer than a birder!”

–Dyeyo and Kathy

Species List : American Bittern, American Coot, American Goldfinch (heard), American Robin, American White Pelican, American Wigeon, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, Barred Owl, Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Black Vulture, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-Winged Teal, Boat-Tailed Grackle, Caspian Tern, Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen, Common Yellowthroat, Cooper’s Hawk, Double-Crested Cormorant, Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, Gadwall, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Green-Winged Teal, House Wren, Killdeer, King Rail, Laughing Gull, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, Mourning Dove, Northern Shoveler, Osprey, Palm Warbler, Pied-Billed Grebe, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, 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, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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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