Today my dad and I led the final spring photo walk at the Circle B Bar Reserve. We had a very foggy morning, and due to the closing of the Marsh Rabbit Run trail, we took the group on the Alligator Alley trail. Between the fog and the reduced number of birds along Alligator Alley, I was worried that this would not be a very successful walk. However, it turned out to be one of our most productive!
We had a terrific group of people, from binocular birders to point-and-shooters to DSLR beginners. Thanks to everybody who came and participated. I hope you had as good of a time as we did.
We headed down the Shady Oak trail down to Lake Hancock, where the Alligator Alley trail begins. (Ironically, the trail named after alligators remains open as the gator nesting season begins.) We had barely stepped on the trail, and my dad mentioned that we should watch for Black-Crowned Night Herons. Two steps later, somebody pointed out a Black-Crowned Night Heron sitting down at the water’s edge! How lucky was that? I didn’t get a picture, but it was fun to share that somewhat elusive bird.
I stayed back with a couple of participants to explain shooting in AV mode with exposure compensation. A Marsh Rabbit posed for us, quite calmly eating while the rest of the group passed by. Brave rabbit!
When we reached the dock, there were tons of alligators out on the lake, some fairly large. A Blue Heron posed for us in the light, giving us an opportunity to “shoot into our shadows” and take advantage of awesome front light.
At first we didn’t see many birds…some cardinals, a few warblers, the usual herons and egrets along the lake trail. A raccoon was posed nicely in the top of a tree, proving us with a nice photo op. I got there after he hid behind some leaves, so I only got the “peeking out” shot. My dad got the “full pose!”
As we walked around “The Bend” and the trail looped away from the lake, we saw a Barred Owl in a tree over the trail. But the real treat was a few hundred yards later, when we spotted the juvenile Barred Owl on his nest! I’d photographed the nest a few weeks ago, before the babies hatched. Wow, the babies grow fast! There was a lot of vegetation between the trail and the nest, but there were little “windows” of visibility. I wished I had the Beast with me, but my 400mm did ok. Look at the fluffy down on the little guy! My favorite shot was the “wings spread” pose…
Our group stayed with the baby owl for a long time, giving everybody an opportunity to observe and photograph the bird. A nice photographer with a 500mm lens and tripod let our group members look through his lens, giving them the “close-up” view. Thanks! :)
When we finally moved on, we continued to see Great Blue Herons left and right. This one posed nicely on an open branch, with good frontal lighting. We also saw Limpkins, Glossy and White Ibises, even a pair of Bald Eagles off in the distance.
Some of the group had to leave around 10:30, but the rest of us continued enjoying the walk. Somebody spotted an American Bittern walking out in the open. It was fun to be able to share this bird with our group, even off the Marsh Rabbit Run trail.
We found the best treat of the morning on Heron Hideout as we headed back to the parking lot. A new family of Sandhill Cranes was hanging out on the side of the trail, within an arm’s distance. Everybody had the opportunity to get frame-filling photos (and those of us with fancy cameras had to back up because the birds were actually too close to focus!) There were two tiny Sandhill Crane colts, probably between a week and two weeks old. I wonder if they are the babies that hatched from the nest that I was watching before they closed the Marsh Rabbit Run trail??
One of our group had asked earlier in the walk, “How many pictures can you take of the same bird?” Well, we tested that limit as we lined up and photographed these little cuties. I’ll confess to several hundred photos. How often do get this opportunity?
The little birds seemed to get tired easily, and they would just plop down in the grass to rest. They were adorable.
They are still downy and fuzzy. They won’t get their flight feathers for a while yet. This one was trying to show off the little winglets that he does have!
The Sandhill Cranes eventually moved off the trail, where they continued to attract attention from passersby. In the meantime, my attention moved to the White Ibis flying overhead. It was a cloudy day, so I turned up the exposure compensation and tried to photograph the undersides of these pretty birds. They are especially attractive right now with their bright red breeding-color beaks.
Off in the distance, our lone Wood Stork of the day flew in. Most of the Wood Storks have moved off to their favorite rookery to nest.
Again and again we tried to leave, but the birds kept posing and begging us to stay. A small group of White-Crowned Sparrows hopped around in the brush, coming out periodically to pose. This is a juvenile bird. You can tell because his head has a brown cap instead of a black one. He’s starting to get his black feathers…
…and so ended our final Photo Walk for Spring 2011. One of our participants, who regularly walks the trails at Circle B, said it was the best morning he’d had at the preserve. We really did luck out with the baby Barred Owl and the Sandhill Crane colts!
I promised a few people that I would post some recommended books on photography and exposure. I wrote a long post on that subject for our first photo walk. You can find that here. Also keep watching this blog, especially when I post things in the Photography Tips category. Feel free to email me if you have more questions! :)
Species List: American Bittern, American Coot, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, Barred Owl, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Black Vulture, 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), Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Lesser Yellowlegs, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Northern Cardinal, Osprey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Savannah Sparrow, Tricolored Heron, White-Crowned Sparrow, White Ibis