Easter sunrise, a lifer, and a bobcat…it was a very good morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve!!
On Easter Sunday I was out on the Wading Bird Way trail approximately 45 minutes before sunrise. I watched the pale glow of the sun as it appeared over the horizon, and finally burst up over the clouds. I enjoyed playing with my new off-camera flash cord, which I used to illuminate the flowers and the rocks in the foreground. It’s always fun to experiment with new techniques, and I’m not (yet) very proficient with creative flash. The morning was supposed to be very cloudy, but the clouds were not so thick that they ruined the sunrise. There was no one else out on the trail, and I had my own little sunrise service!
As I stood enjoying the sunrise, I heard the familiar sound of Black Skimmers. I was surprised, because I’d never seen Black Skimmers at the Circle B Bar Reserve before. But as I looked up, yep, there was a small flock of skimmers skimming! Their flight pattern when they skim is unmistakable, even in low light. The nice thing about having two camera bodies is that I could switch between landscape shots and skimmer shots just by picking up a different camera. Due to the low light, I couldn’t use a very fast shutter speed, but at least I got a couple of recognizable images of these fun birds.
Thanks to Cole Fredericks, our local bird-watching expert, I found this White-Faced Ibis, who was feeding in a group of Glossy Ibises and Roseate Spoonbills. Of course whenever I find a new bird, he has to be backlit! I was happy to be able to use my flash again. The White-Eyed Ibis is a very rare bird in Florida, but we’ve consistently had one at the Circle B Bar Reserve for at least the past three springs. He’s not banded, so there’s no way to know if he’s the same bird. If you look at the White-Faced Ibis information available through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, you see that this bird’s normal range is west of the Mississippi. They summer in the southwestern US, winter in Mexico, and there’s a year-round population in Argentina and southern Brazil. So I was very excited to finally see one in Florida! A common mistake is to identify a Glossy Ibis as a White-Faced Ibis, but the White-Faced Ibis has distinctive red and white patterns around his eye.
After I got over the excitement of the White-Faced Ibis, I turned to the Sandhill Crane family. Sadly, one of the adorable little colts that I photographed the past weekend did not survive the week. It’s hard for these young birds – there are lots of predators around, including hawks, eagles, and the many alligators that call Circle B home. Sometimes one of the babies is weaker and just can’t survive. I watched the little family as the adults continued to feed their remaining baby, who happily ate any little tidbit passed his way. Baby stood and gawked at Mom as she pulled a fresh egg from the ground and worked it into her mouth.
There was a lot of activity out on Wading Bird Way that morning. Birds flew back and forth constantly. They weren’t the only ones crossing the trail – the alligators were up and about too! I’m glad I was far away when this guy showed himself.
A small group of white birds gathered at the far end of the Wading Bird Way water, where in years past the white pelicans roosted. This year it was a flock of Caspian Terns, mixed with more Black Skimmers. I often see single Caspian Terns at Circle B, but I’ve never seen a group like this. They made easy flight shots as the terns flew towards me.
I turned and walked up the Marsh Rabbit Run trail. There I found a small flock of Indigo Buntings, a Painted Bunting, American Goldfinches, and a Blue Grosbeak! The grosbeak was mostly brown, but starting to molt into his breeding colors. At first I thought he was an Indigo Bunting, but when I reviewed my images, I recognized his thicker beak and the rusty stripes on his wings. This is only my second Blue Grosbeak. My first was at Callaway Gardens when he was molting into his basic plumage. Hopefully soon I’ll get a nice shot of one in full alternate plumage!
I made my way down the Alligator Alley trail, where I wanted to check on a couple of nests. I came across turtles and had to take a picture for Rich. I made a series of images that I stitched together into a panorama in Photoshop. That’s a lot of turtles in a row!
The turtles weren’t the only ones hanging out in the algae-covered waters. A family of raccoons has been charming Circle B visitors for the past few weeks, and it was my turn to see one. This guy was fun to watch as he scooped stuff from the water, then ate it with his hands. He was cute! He reminded me of my cats. Occasionally he’d stick his head out in the sun for me.
The juvenile eagles at the Circle B Bar Reserve are learning to fend for themselves. One started to pester a Red-Shouldered Hawk that was sitting at the top of a tree. The eagle wanted the hawk to leave, but the hawk yelled back and told the eagle to leave him alone. The eagle did. Later I saw him chasing an Osprey, who had just pulled his breakfast fish out of Lake Hancock. I’m not sure who ended up with the fish!
I stopped at the Barred Owl nest, but I didn’t see any activity. A Red-Bellied Woodpecker that I had noticed excavating a cavity on my previous visit was still excavating on this trip. I guess it takes a while to make a hole bigger than you are, using just your beak! I also found a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest high in a tree. Mom appeared to be on eggs. It’ll be fun to go back and watch food being brought in to the young hawks in a few weeks!
As I meandered along the Alligator Alley trail by the lakeside, suddenly a bobcat hopped out on the trail in front of me! He was carrying his breakfast. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He was so fast that I didn’t get a picture of him, but I walked along with a huge grin on my face, just for seeing him. Some days you just get lucky. I took my time as I moved along, never expecting him to come back out on the trail. But he did! This is the third time I’ve seen a bobcat at the Circle B Bar Reserve, and he looked kinda small and a little scrawny. He sat and ate his breakfast while I fired a few frames, got a little closer, fired a few more frames, got a little closer, etc. He was so busy eating that he didn’t care for me. My favorite shot of him was when he licked his chops – he reminded me of my cats at home when they finish their cat food! What a fun way to end my visit!