I spent a quiet off-Friday morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning. It’s always a treat to be on the trails without the weekend crowds. I started off on the Heron Hideout trail to say hello to the little Sandhill Crane, then I turned left onto the Alligator Alley trail and hiked that loop back to the Nature Center. It was a nice breezy morning and it felt awesome to be out!
I arrived at the reserve just after sunrise, determined to catch the Sandhill Crane family as it crossed the Heron Hideout trail in its morning trek across the marsh. Last weekend I almost missed them. So it figures that this morning I had to wait about half an hour for them to meander across the marsh! It was a bit cloudy, and I’m sure that contributed to the slow start for the birds.
As I waited for the Sandhill Cranes, I watched the Osprey nest in the palm tree. One bird was incubating on the nest, and the other bird was perched in a tree close by. As I watched, the bird on the nest stretched her wings and flew off. The other bird took her place on the nest. It makes you wonder how stiff they feel after sitting on a nest all night! Not long after this “changing of the guard,” both birds flew off, leaving the nest unattended for a few minutes. That surprised me a little. I’m sure they weren’t far away. They traded places going and coming several more times. My favorite shot of both of them was in the “golden light” of sunrise, as one bird brought a twig back to the nest. It’s so big, I’m surprised they thought that another twig was necessary…
All the comings and goings provided awesome flight shot opportunities of the Ospreys. This was my favorite:
The Sandhill Crane family certainly took its time to meander across the marsh and up onto the path! I took this little video as they got closer. The baby has grown a lot this week, but he still looks tiny when he’s wading through tall grasses.
The birds finally made their way up onto the path, and my shutter finger went into overdrive. I love the bokeh of The Beast, but with a 100-400 zoom it would have been easier to frame the images. The little guy is moving faster and faster with each passing week, and he likes to go between Mom and Dad to beg for food morsels. The birds walked along the Heron Hideout trail for a while, and I tried to keep far enough ahead of them to focus. So here’s this week’s colt portrait:
The little colt was fun to watch when he got excited (usually when a parent offered him food). He’d run across the trail and flap those little wings. It was adorable. I tried to get far enough away from him with The Beast to get the “running right at me” shot. I grinned when I looked at the pictures on the computer and saw that I got the wing flag and hop together!
The adult cranes moved off the trail to continue their walk across the marsh. But the baby wasn’t ready to go yet. He wanted to stay to be photographed! He turned away from his parents and walked towards me. His dad was off down in the marsh eating, but his mom turned around and seemed to say, “OK, honey, five more minutes!” She poked around in the grass some more while the baby roamed, enjoying his newfound independence. I loved this shot of him roaming in the grasses. Down at birdie eye-level, it makes me realize how weird the world must look to a tiny bird. Those marsh grasses that don’t come up to my knee are twice as tall as he is!
Finally the Sandhill Cranes moved off into the marsh, and I continued my walk down Heron Hideout. A couple of White Ibises flew right over my head. I was happy I’d brought my 70-200 on my old 40D body. I aimed up, dialing in almost 2 stops of exposure compensation as I moved, and got two frames. The pose in this one is pretty cool.
Up past the “Four Corners” intersection, I noticed that there were very few American Coots left in the waters. They are one of my migration indicators. When they arrive in the fall, it means migrants are on their way. When they leave in the spring, it means the marshes are about to feel very empty. :(
A bunch of Double-Crested Cormorants flew back and forth over the trail, tempting me to practice my flight shots. A couple of them had an extra bonus: a fish! It’s hard to handle the exposure for the black bird with a bright fish. Again I dialed in about 2 stops of exposure compensation, then I adjusted it more in Photoshop.
I ran into Andrew, one of our photo walk participants. He confirmed that the baby Barred Owls have fledged from the Alligator Alley nest, but he added that the Red-Shouldered Hawks are now big enough to be seen. I’d been debating whether to do the Alligator Alley Loop or the Wading Bird Way loop. The lure of baby hawks decided me! I had an uneventful walk down to “The Bend”, where the Banana Creek canal opens into Lake Hancock. The hawk’s nest is in a tree above the owl’s nest. It seems a bit strange to me that these raptor species tolerated nesting so close to each other. I spent probably half an hour watching the baby hawks. When I first arrived, all that I could see was the top of a fuzzy head. But they showed more of themselves over time, and I found that there are indeed two little guys in the nest. They look like such fuzzballs when they are little! But they sound like adult hawks already. I’m used to the repetitive squawks of the herons and egrets at the rookeries!
Andrew also told me where to find a Great Blue Heron nest in a clump of trees behind the hawk’s nest. It’s a little late for these birds to begin nesting. I wish them luck, and I hope to photograph baby herons soon!
The breezes from the lake felt awesome as I hiked back to the nature center. The alligators were bellowing and I wasn’t too sorry to move away from them. I came across this little Carolina Wren, who sat on the top of a bush and sung his little heart out for me. Normally these birds hide as soon as they see me (Rich calls my camera a Bird Deterrent Device!) So the unexpected close-up of this bird was a treat. I got some stills and also some video of his beautiful song:
Back by the nature center, I stopped at the little pond to observe the nesting box. Last year a few Carolina Wrens nested there, and I got fun pictures of the babies. This year I was thrilled to see a Great-Crested Flycatcher taking nesting material in there.
Species List: American Coot, Anhinga, Bald Eagle, Black Vulture, Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, Blue Jay, Boat-tailed Grackle, Carolina Wren, Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen, Double-crested Cormorant, Eastern Meadowlark (heard), Glossy Ibis, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Great Egret, Limpkin, Little Blue Heron, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Northern Parula (heard), Osprey, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Tricolored Heron, Tufted Titmouse (heard), White Ibis, Wood Stork