Beyond the BackyardCircle B Bar Reserve

Frogs and Snakes for Breakfast at the Circle B Bar Reserve

I spent my off-Friday morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  I arrived at 6:30, about 20 minutes before sunrise.  I hiked down to Lake Hancock and was on the dock for the sunrise.  It was pretty cloudy this morning, so the sun was a little late peeking out from behind the clouds.  It was pretty though.  I spent some time photographing birds flying over the lake, then hiked the Alligator Alley trail.  Then I went up Marsh Rabbit Run and up Wading Bird Way before retracing my steps back to Heron Hideout.  It was cloudy and breezy and just a great morning to be outside!

Sunrise over Lake Hancock

Sunrise over Lake Hancock

I tried some HDR with my sunrise shots, but I didn’t like any of the results.  The HDR created unnatural edges around the edges of the sun and clouds.  Usually I leave my over-the-shoulder camera set to bracket exposures +/-2 EV stops when I have my wide angle lens on.  I’ve found that sometimes 2 stops isn’t enough for good HDR images with images with lots of glow, so today I tried 7 images, metered at 2/3 stops.  Even that didn’t give me good HDR results today, though. :-p

So here’s a Great Blue Heron flying in the sunrise…no HDR!

Great Blue Heron at Sunrise

Great Blue Heron at Sunrise

As I stood on the dock photographing, I heard the call of two eagles.  I looked up and saw these two juvenile Bald Eagles in a tree overhead.  The top one is kind of scruffy, as if he just molted into his white adult plumage.  The bottom one is starting to get hints of white feathers.  I wonder if they are some of the babies that were born in the sand hill nest in previous years??

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

I was hoping to sneak up under these guys and photograph them from up close, but they saw me coming and took off.  That’s when I noticed an Anhinga in pretty breeding colors (see the blue rings around the eyes)…

Anhinga

Anhinga

I made my way up the Alligator Alley trail.  The leaves have started to cover the trees again, and sadly, no Painted Buntings greeted me today.  A bunch of Yellow-Rumped Warblers hopped out to say hello, though!  I made it around to “The Bend,” where the trail curves away from the lake and back towards the marsh.  There a Little Blue Heron grabbed a frog and popped it into his mouth.  I guess for him that’s a good breakfast!

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

I heard the Belted Kingfisher before I saw him.  He was flying up and down the Banana Creek canal.  At one point, he hopped up onto a nearby tree and posed for a minute.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen him up close at Circle B.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

A nice man passed and asked if I knew where the Barred Owl nest is.  Nope!  But I do now. :)  (And thanks to Al, who apparently spotted the nest first.)  The nest is on the far side of a well-woodpecker-pecked tree.  At first we just saw the tail of the owl sticking out on the right side of the tree.  But as I stood and watched, the owl stuck his head up and I got a few frames.  The owl called to his mate several times.  His call sounds like he’s asking “who-who cooks for you!?”  I wonder how long it will be until we have little babies on this nest.  No wonder I could not find the owls in their usual trees by the dock this morning!

Barred Owl Nest

Barred Owl Nest

I’ve been reading on Birdbrains that the Northern Parulas have started to sing, so I was excited when I realized that I was hearing one sing.  I first heard it near The Bend, but I didn’t actually spot a parula until I got to the oak trees right before Heron Hideout.  I got a few pictures, but nothing worth posting.

I crossed the Heron Hideout trail and headed up Marsh Rabbit Run, disappointed not to see the King Rail at his usual spot.  These rare birds pose so regularly at Circle B, you start to depend on them!

An Osprey was hovering over the water waiting for a fish.  I took advantage of the fact that he wasn’t moving much and got some nice shots.  I wanted to get him with a fish, but the silly bird never actually dove while I watched.

Osprey

Osprey

There are dead trees all along the Marsh Rabbit Run trail, and they make for great bird posing spots.  Today a Black-Bellied Whistling Duck was posed really close to the trail, and he didn’t mind as I walked up and positioned the tripod and The Beast for a head shot.  Then he obligingly opened his mouth and did a whistle for me!  Sometimes these birds work so well with photographers…it’s nice!

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

The Sandhill Crane is still sitting on her nest.  It’s on the north side of Marsh Rabbit Run.  If you were with us the day that we stalked the bittern up onto the dead tree, go to that tree, and look out into the marsh.  You’ll see the crane sitting out in the middle of the grasses.  She’s been on the nest for at least 2 weeks now, and incubation lasts for 28-32 days, so in another 2-3 weeks we should have a little colt running around!  (I also noticed a pair of Sandhill Cranes on Alligator Alley that seemed to have bonded, and another pair down near Wading Bird Way that were chasing off other birds.  Maybe there are more nests in the works?) :)

Somebody spotted a Great Blue Heron as he grabbed a snake.  It was amusing to see the battle between predator and prey.  The snake wrapped itself around the heron’s beak, with the snake’s head at the end of the beak, and the snake’s tail wrapped around the heron’s neck. The heron flapped around trying to free himself, but the snake didn’t let go.  I was amazed at the fight that the snake put up, given that he was clearly injured by the heron’s beak.  After a minute the bird stopped fighting the snake, and just stood there, I guess waiting for the snake to give up.  But the snake was more stubborn than the bird.  The bird eventually did shake him off, but the snake took off in the grass and the bird lost him.  Finally the bird ruffled up his feathers, threw up his head, and went off to find his next victim!

Great Blue Heron with Snake

Great Blue Heron with Snake

About halfway down Marsh Rabbit Run, I heard a familiar sounding song, and saw a Carolina Wren on top of a bush on the far side of the canal.  This is the second Carolina Wren I’ve seen this spring, but the first I’ve heard singing.  Later I saw another, near where Dyeyo and I thought we found a nest last fall.  We’ll have to keep an eye out there!

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

The Wading Bird Way trail is relatively quiet, now that the American White Pelicans and a lot of the ducks have departed.  I spotted a Caspian Tern sitting on the path, so I tried to get closer to take his picture.  Except the bird didn’t like me getting too close, so he’d take off and fly a nice circle over my head, returning to the path a little further down.  That suited me just fine, because I was enjoying the flight opportunities that he kept giving me!

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

On my way back up Marsh Rabbit Run, I (almost literally) ran into a Downy Woodpecker.  He was at my shoulder height at the front of a young tree, pecking away at the not-so-dead branches.  I haven’t seen many Downies at Circle B this winter, and he was the second that I saw this morning.  It’s nice to see them again.  Now this guy just needs to find a more suitable tree for his drumming!

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The clouds were working in my favor by this point in the morning, almost acting like a giant softbox to soften shadows.  I had taken my flash unit off because of the increasing winds, so when I saw this Savannah Sparrow hop into a tree in front of me, I dialed in some exposure compensation to correctly expose his whites.  I really liked the bokeh in the result. :)

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Species List: American Bittern, American Coot, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Black-and-White Warbler, Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-winged Teal, Boat-tailed Grackle, Carolina Wren, Cattle Egret, Common Yellowthroat, Common Moorhen, Double-crested Cormorant, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlark (heard), Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, House Wren, Lesser Yellowlegs, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, Northern Cardinal, Northern Parula, Osprey, Palm Warbler, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Ring-billed Gull, Roseate Spoonbill, Sandhill Crane, Savannah Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Tree Swallow, Tricolored Heron, Turkey Vulture, White Ibis, Yellow-rumped Warbler

2 thoughts on “Frogs and Snakes for Breakfast at the Circle B Bar Reserve

  1. Hi, Jessica! I just discovered you today (I googled paparazzi birders) and love your blog. Tell me a little about exposure compensation for white birds . . . they drive me crazy!

    1. Hi Diane, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only member of the Birdie Paparazzi!!

      Exposure compensation for white birds sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. I usually shoot in aperture priority mode (AV in Canon-ese). When the camera meters a shot with a white bird that fills a significant portion of the frame, it tries to average the pixels out to gray, which is clearly wrong. Help it expose correctly by adjusting the exposure compensation to the right– that is, add light to the picture. Usually it only takes about +1/3 to +2/3 of a stop. In the case of the sparrow in this post, the sky was sooo gray and the bird had bright white patches, so I ended up adding two full stops. I must admit some surprise when I saw the result on my computer screen! :)

      Check your histogram often. If you use a Canon camera, try turning on the “Highlight Enable” feature, which will cause over-exposed areas on your picture to blink when you look at them on your LCD screen. I find this to be really helpful and I use it even more than I use my histogram.

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