Each year I do a Year in Review post with my favorite images from the year. Photographic opportunities in 2016 have been fewer than in years past, but that made me treasure every moment with my camera. When I look back over my photos, I’m amazed at the colors, the behaviors, and the wonderful details of nature. I’ve witnessed the first days of a Sandhill Crane colt, the early explorations of a Barred Owl chick, and the tender gestures of avian courtship. Best of all, I’ve enjoyed a colorful variety of visitors in my own backyard.
Uno the Sandhill Crane Colt
I’m a craniac, I can’t help it. The moments spent with Sandhill Crane families always stand out in my memory. The adults are gentle giants, hovering over their newborn chicks and patiently teaching them the basics of survival. Eat a lot, hide from hawks, and stretch those wings!
This year, only one egg hatched at one of my favorite nests. We called the baby “Uno”, and I spent several mornings observing him, along with friends Michael and Debbie. I watched him leave his nest for the first time. He stumbled around after his parents, strengthening his legs and eating voraciously.
The babies are cute, and such fun to photograph. But so are the adults, whose tenderness and devotion to their colts is so sweet. The adult below stood quietly attentive in the shade of a tree, watching over the tiny colt asleep at her feet.
Barred Owlet at Circle B
At our local Circle B Bar Reserve, the Barred Owls nested in a tree close to a major trail, and their small owlets enchanted everyone who visited.
This little owlet had fallen to the ground, and he sought shelter in a palm under his nest tree. I watched as he climbed higher and higher, amazed at his instinct to return to the nest. But he was in the wrong tree! He finally settled for a nap. Meanwhile, his parents kept watch overhead:
I’d never observed Barred Owl courtship behaviors before. As I photograph one adult, the other flew in carrying a snack for his partner. Then they preened each other tenderly.
My favorite season is definitely the springtime, when the birds don their breeding best, attract a mate, and raise a family. It’s also the season when the migrant birds pass through Florida, on their way north to their summer homes. All of my favorite photographs have been taken in the spring.
I spent a morning at Gatorland with the nesting wading birds. I was just in time to catch the elusive breeding colors of the Cattle Egrets, whose faces show brilliant pinks and oranges and purples, but only for a few days. This one spent the morning finding twigs and flying them back to his nest.
This little Ruddy Duck wintered in Lakeland. His beak turns blue and he molts into a coat of brilliant brown and black feathers just before he leaves us for his summer home. I forget how long I laid on the shore of the lake, hand-holding while focusing my big heavy camera on him while he bathed, waiting for his big wing-flap!
I didn’t have to go far to see colorful visitors this winter. My Painted Buntings returned to my yard, and I spent hours in the bird blind photographing them as they flitted between nearby bushes. I never seem to tire of their bright colors.
Sometimes photography is the luck of being in the right place at the right time. I happened to visit my parents on a day when their berry tree was ripe, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings was in the neighborhood. The flock descended upon the tree, along with some American Robins. My mom laughed as my dad and I grabbed our cameras and ran outside. How often do you get to photograph a waxwing sticking his tongue out at a berry?
I was photographing at the Circle B Bar Reserve when I noticed this Tufted Titmouse in his spiffy breeding colors. Then he started fluttering and I attempted to follow him, not realizing at the time that he was diving for a spider for breakfast. Talk about a nice surprise when I viewed the image on my computer that evening!
We’ve had several fun and unusual backyard visitors this year. The most colorful was this male Orchard Oriole, who stayed for a day or two to refuel on nectar before continuing his journey north. We’ve also had a record number of hummingbirds in the yard this year. Hopefully 2017 will bring us even more!
Beach Sunrises and the Tern Colony
In early summer, I combined my favorite sunrise location with a visit to a nesting colony of Least Terns. Unfortunately the beach was later wiped out by Hurricane Matthew. But nature has a way of adapting and I’m sure that our birds will find a new nesting location next year.
The terns didn’t have as many chicks as in years past, but I did capture the image that turned out to be one of my favorite digital art creations of the year. The male tern goes out over the ocean to catch a series of fish, which he presents to his prospective mate. If she accepts him, she’ll eat the fish, and then they mate. My mom always asks how I can photograph “that”, but it’s really a special moment. And a good action shot!
Looking Forward to 2017
As I look forward to 2017, the birds remind me of a few important lessons.
Seek beauty everywhere, even in the “ugliest” birds. I’ve always agreed with Herman – the Wood Storks are some of the wisest-looking and most interesting birds!
Reach for every opportunity. Just like the Osprey goes for a fish!
Expect the unexpected. When I saw this gull pick up what I thought was a piece of seaweed, I didn’t pay much attention. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had a very special image!
So long, 2016. I look forward to more camera time in 2017!