It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is going to be 2014! As I reflect on my photography over the past year, I find myself very blessed with amazing opportunities, photographing beautiful wildlife and meeting incredible people. Today’s post highlights my favorite photographic moments of 2013.
Sandhill Crane Colts
The year started out slow – I had mono, and it lasted three months! But bird nesting season helped me get back on my feet. One nest in particular comes to mind, a Sandhill Crane nest in Melbourne, Florida. I had the wonderful luck to observe a Sandhill Crane colt on the day after he hatched, and I returned twice that week to photograph him as he made his first steps into the world. It was truly an incredible experience. Watching these tiny birds on the nest with Mom is so special. The experience was all the better for the fun friends who were there with me, as we exchanged silly banter, vied for the best vantage points, and cheered every time the baby stuck his head out from under Mom’s wing!
As Debbie might say, I became a craniac this year (ok, every year!). I also had some fun opportunities with the Sandhill Crane colts at the Circle B Bar Reserve. These incredibly tame birds come right up the trails, and if you sit still, they practically crawl into your lap. My dad had a great experience a few years ago, where he followed this family for week after week, from hatching until the baby started to fly. As the birds got bigger, they had my dad chasing all over the reserve until he found them. This year was my opportunity to get those incredible moments with the baby birds. And to make Michael hike all over Circle B with his heavy tripod and lens. Both were fun. :)
A friend gave me a tip on a Great Horned Owl nest near my house (thanks Cecil!). I arrived just as the babies were about to fledge, and got some great shots. For several years I had tried to find the nest at Circle B, and I never quite managed to get those birds. So I finally got baby owls, at a much closer nest! I hope the birds are back in 2014. Since it’s so close, I’m hoping to get up there quite often, to be able to show the day-by-day growth of the owlets.
Then there was the Burrowing Owl nest. I had such fun hanging out with these cute little birds. I watched the nest site for weeks, looking for signs that the birds were nesting. One morning, I drove up and there were five little heads sticking up in the grasses! After spending their first two weeks or so underground, the little birds were getting their first views of sunlight and the giant world around them. They were fuzzy and cute with that newborn down. I watched them for over a month until they learned to fly and left me with an “empty nest!”
Mute Swan Cygnets
I had amazing luck with my Mute Swans at Lake Morton this year. My friend Carla got to see her first swan’s nest. Then thanks to Kim, I knew each morning that cygnets hatched. I spent several unforgettable days with these gentle birds. One Sunday in particular comes to mind, when we watched three tiny cygnets on a beautifully photogenic nest. One of the cygnets had just hatched, and we watched him dry off and stretch his wings as he cuddled with Mom. Baby Wobbly learned to stagger out and nap on the nest. I got my prize-winning shot of a cygnet peering through Mom’s feathers that morning. Then on later trips, I finally got to see cygnets riding on Mom’s back! The following two images are some of my all-time favorites.
Maine: Puffins and Stars!
Then, of course, was our big trip to Maine. It was our first major photography expedition outside Florida, and I got to go to Machias Seal Island to photograph Atlantic Puffins on their breeding grounds! It was just amazing to be so close to these “clowns of the sea.” I think all the photographers in my blind spent the first few minutes just in awe of the scene around us, before taking our first photos!
Maine was incredible, not just for the puffins, but for the landscape photography opportunities. My new 5D Mark III camera was the perfect toy as I photographed the beautiful cliffs. I also got to do my first star photography, experimenting with star trails as we lay back on the little beach near our cottage. It was the first time that Rich and I had seen the Milky Way. We were in awe!
Black Skimmer Chicks
Back in Florida, we were just in time for the Black Skimmer nesting season. These poor birds had their nests washed away with a tropical storm, but they re-nested quite successfully, raising many beautiful young birds. I was fortunate to visit a few days after they hatched, and I returned several times as they grew up and learned to fly. Watching a baby start to skim was such fun!
Lake Jessup Wildflowers
Bird photography starts to wind down during the hot summer months, but landscape opportunities exist year-round. I finally made it out to Lake Jessup for the yellow sunflowers, and I was just amazed at the seemingly endless fields of flowers. I was so excited to be there that I shot a great image with a rainbow in it, and didn’t even see the rainbow till I got home!
One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to work less overtime, and get away for weekend trips. We did a pretty good job with those weekend getaways! We finally made it to Butterfly World. We did several trips to Fort De Soto, and the best was during tern migration, when the low tides were covered in birds in a feeding frenzy. Add a gorgeous sunset and that’s the textbook definition of a relaxing evening! :)
We went to Callaway Gardens in late November to try our luck at fall colors. Though the cold weather came late and made the foliage color unpredictable, we lucked out and were there during the peak color weekend. As always, we had a great time roaming the gorgeous gardens. I’m hoping to get back there next April for azalea season. My 5D Mark III can’t wait!
Pretty in Pink
Back in Florida, the Roseate Spoonbills put on a great show at Viera Wetlands while the Click Ponds were being drained. They roosted in the shallow waters for several weeks. It was an incredible sight, over 200 spoonies in gorgeous morning light!
Christmas Bird Count
In December I got to participate in the Lakeland Christmas Bird Count, and my camera helped to document several new rare species: American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, White-Faced Ibis, Franklin’s Gull, and Nelson’s Sparrow. I learned a lot about birding that day! It was also a wonderful opportunity to visit Birding Paradise (restricted-access Lake Hancock outfall wetlands). Thanks to Cole for a great day!
Snowy Owl! In Florida!
My last great birding adventure is so recent I haven’t even had a chance to blog about it yet. You’ll get more details in an upcoming post, but for tonight, here’s a clue. My last great bird of 2013, and a totally terrific day spent with my #1 birding pal, my dad!
I’m so incredibly lucky. It’s been such a great year! I have a feeling 2014 is going to be even better. So Happy New Year!!