Beyond the Backyard

Fun with the Scrub Jays

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Jess with a Scrub Jay on her Head!

After shooting at Viera Wetlands last weekend, my friend Michael took me to a new place, a Florida Scrub Jay trail.  I don’t have a whole lot of experience photographing Scrub Jays.  They are a threatened species, and their habitat is in decline.  I’ve photographed them at the Scrub Jay Trail at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and my dad and I tried for them once at Lyonia Preserve, but we got there too late in the day and the jays didn’t come out for us.   So I was excited at the prospect of seeing some Scrub Jays.  Besides, Michael told me that these birds are so tame that they often hop onto your head! The sky was dark with rainclouds, and we weren’t at all optimistic that we’d see any birds.  We figured they’d have more sense than we did, and stay under cover while it was raining!  So I was pleasantly surprised when we saw our first jay after less than five minutes of walking.  Florida Scrub Jays are extremely inquisitive birds.  As soon as they noticed us, they wanted to come check us out.   They came so close that I got full-frame shots with just […]

Beyond the Backyard

The Splash of Shamu

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Rich’s folks visited this weekend, and we took them to Sea World.  While I normally photograph wild animals, often inspired by my favorite cats and turtles, I’ve always had a fascination for dolphins and whales.  My dad and I went to Sea World often when I was growing up, and I used to love the shows with the leaping whales.  Now the trainers aren’t allowed in the water with Shamu, and the One Ocean show is a splash-fest!  The trainers run around in front of the giant tank, getting the whales to swim on their sides and splash the audience with their fins and tails.  No wonder the entire first level of stadium seating is labeled the “Splash Zone!” I had fun with my 5D Mark III and 70-200mm lens.  It was the perfect focal length for a walk-around lens at the park.  I remember the last time I visited with my dad, when I had a film point-and-shoot camera and no photography experience.  When I got my prints developed, I was ecstatic to have captured a few blurry images with the dolphins in the air.  Now I had a professional camera and great lens, and I got lots of […]

Beyond the Backyard

Fields of Yellow Flowers Under the Rainbow

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Somewhere Under the Rainbow

After several years of drooling over my friends’ images, I finally made it out to Lake Jesup for the wildflowers this year.  Wow!!!  I found fields of yellow flowers under the rainbow!  It was just amazing! For those not familiar with the area, Lake Jesup is a large lake northeast of Orlando, close to Sanford.  In late September and early October, the fields around the lake erupt into bright yellow color as the swamp sunflowers bloom.  When you drive past the area on highway 417, you see the masses of color.  Often there’s at least one car pulled over to enjoy the sights.  The bloom lasts only a few weeks, and boy is it spectacular! I’m very grateful to bloggers Ed Rosack and Jeff Stamer for their tips on visiting the wildflowers.  They explain where to park and hike in order to walk right out into the flowery fields.  They were absolutely right about wearing long pants and waterproof shoes for hiking in these low, wet areas.  I took their advice and took my tripod, knowing that the flowers would be taller than I am.  I still had trouble framing the wide-angle shots…it’s too bad that I can’t easily tuck […]

Beyond the Backyard

Hummingbirds at Butterfly World

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Broad-tailed Hummingbird

I visited Butterfly World in late May when my hubby Rich and I visited South Florida for a few days to photograph the Burrowing Owls.  I’d been wanting to visit Butterfly World ever since seeing Jamie Felton’s incredible image of a butterfly landing on a hummingbird’s head.  The place certainly didn’t disappoint.  There were hundreds of butterflies swirling all around us.  We got there on a Sunday morning just as it opened, which was good, since it was Memorial Day weekend and it was quickly packed!  I’d definitely recommend a trip there, but do try to avoid holiday weekends! Although Butterfly World is named quite appropriately for its many butterflies, my real goal was the hummingbirds that also reside in the free-flight aviaries.  Many of these hummingbirds are not native to the East Coast of the United States.  Although the four-hour drive to Butterfly World felt long, it was short compared to the drive to Arizona or Mexico or Central America to the hummingbirds’ native habitat! A very friendly Butterfly World staff member answered all my questions about the hummingbirds, and helped me to find their favorite perches.  That’s one very helpful thing to know about photographing hummingbirds: they return […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunset in Jupiter, Florida

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Receding Tide

It’s been a crazy long week, so I’ll pull out some images from our trip to the beach in May.  I sure wish I was there tonight! When Rich and I went to South Florida to visit the Burrowing Owls, we stopped at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center for Rich to get his turtle fix.  That evening, I wanted to walk on the beach and photograph the sunset.  The problem was, we were on the wrong coast!  But I’d heard of this little park nearby with fun rocks, and the sky was full of wispy clouds that I knew would glow in the dying rays of the sun.  So we set out on a walk.  I used my tripod and ND filter so that I could slow the shutter speed.  The first image below was actually handheld, though, captured while the waves receded.  I loved the shells in the foreground, especially as the waves streamed over them. This was the trip that convinced me that I needed a 5D Mark III before my trip to Maine.  My wide-angle lens just wasn’t wide enough on a crop body. I loved watching the light as the sun went down.  The clouds lit up […]

Beyond the Backyard

A Visit to the Swallow-Tailed Kites on Powerline Road

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Swallow-Tailed Kite. Powerline Road, Hernando County.

Every year in the summertime, the people on Birdbrains start talking about the kettles of Swallow-Tailed Kites on Powerline Road in Hernando County.   Last year I really wanted to go and see them, but I didn’t.  This year Dyeyo and I decided to drive out there to see what there was to see. We found kites!  Not in the 75+ numbers as described on Birdbrains, but we easily saw 15-20.  They roosted in some distant trees, then flew over the grasslands, generally staying pretty far from the road.  Occasionally we’d luck out and one would fly towards us. Powerline Road is also known for Eastern Bluebirds, American Kestrels, Burrowing Owls, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Red-Headed Woodpeckers.  We saw all these kinds of birds as we drove up and down. I love the song of the Eastern Bluebirds, so I made a video when one started singing on a powerline. It’s too bad it was so windy that day – you hear more wind than song! The excitement about birding at Powerline Road illustrates clearly two distinct types of birders. The first group is what I’ll call the “birdy birders.”  They are most interested in species counts, rare sightings, and bird […]

Beyond the Backyard

My First Time Lapse

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Rich and I just got back from a much-needed get-away over Memorial Day weekend.  The change of pace was great!  I estimate that I’m about 15 posts behind in my blog, so you won’t see details of our trip for a week or two.  But here’s a teaser… One of the places we visited was a beach where I used to go often as a child.  My grandparents lived nearby and I recall lots of happy hours walking this beach with my grandfather.  Yes, even as a kid, I got up early to see the sunrise! :)  Rich and I got to the beach at sunset, and even though we were on the “wrong coast” for sunset images, I liked how the light played with the rocks and illuminated the many clouds over the Atlantic.  It was high tide and very windy; the waves were choppy and frequent.  I played with my neutral density filter (a nice Xmas present from hubby!) and slow shutter speeds, which smoothed out those rough waves and made some nice images.  Then I decided to try my first time lapse project.  I set up the camera for 1-second exposures, secured it well on the tripod, […]

Beyond the Backyard

Great Horned Owls are Fledging

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I’ve had the privilege of watching several owl nests in the past few weeks, as I first indicating in my recent post about My First Trip to the Oakland Great Horned Owl Nest.  I missed the really cute stage when the birds were tiny babies, and Mom tucked them under her tummy as she sat on their nest.  Now the owlets are starting to fledge.  My dad came with me to the nest recently, and he made the comment that these owls aren’t Harry Potter’s owls…but wingardium leviosa, they are certainly starting to fly! I’ve been making at least weekly trips to the nest.  The owls have gotten more independent with each trip.  When I first found them, they were sitting on their nest.  A week later, they were still sitting close to the nest, but they had moved up to a hollow in a slightly higher branch. The next day, they had edged out onto a branch, more than several feet away from the nest.  They are such fun to observe.  They just sit there, perfectly still and silent.  But  their heads turns to watch every move that is made below them.  Their parents are often asleep in a nearby tree. […]

Beyond the Backyard

Newborn Sandhill Crane Baby at Nest

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I’ve been very fortunate over the past week as I had the opportunity to observe a newborn Sandhill Crane baby at his nest.  This nest is in Melbourne, about an hour and a half drive for me.  My friends who live there notified me when the baby was born (thanks Bill and Mike!).  Only a corrupted Compact Flash card and bad weather kept me from running over to Melbourne that very night.  I went at first light on the next day, the little baby’s first full day in the world.  I was amazed at how close the nest is, and how special it was to share the time with the birds.   So special that I took a vacation day the next day in order to return!  Then I went back on my off-Friday.  So today’s blog post is a special story of this little Sandhill Crane baby’s first week. Day Two of the Sandhill Crane Baby’s Life The first light of the morning hit the nest as Mom stood up and unceremoniously dumped Baby onto the grasses of the nest.  He shook himself off and stood up on those wobbly legs.  My friends were all relieved, as they had […]

Beyond the Backyard

My First Trip to the Oakland Great Horned Owl Nest

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I was so excited when a friend shared the location of a Great Horned Owl nest – it’s practically in my backyard!  I love to watch nests and see babies grow up, but most nests are far away.  This one is close enough that I can check on it after work.  (I’ve been asked not to disclose the exact location to protect these little cuties.) The owlets are already pretty big.  They were born in early February, so they a little over a month old.  One is a few days older than his little brother.  When I arrived at the nest this evening, the light levels were already getting low, and I had only taken my intermediate telephoto lens with me.  Later this weekend I’ll head back with the Beast and hopefully get a little more light on the nest.  Finally – it’s my turn to photograph some Great Horned Owl babies!  I’ve been watching my friends get amazing pictures while I was still feeling too sick to get out.  Now I get my turn with a nest that’s super-convenient.  I can’t wait for next spring, when I’ll be able to visit regularly and photograph courtship and early baby pictures. […]

Beyond the Backyard

A Different Kind of Garden

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Launchpad 39A

My in-laws are visiting this weekend, so Hubby and I took them to Kennedy Space Center yesterday. I got to photograph a different kind of garden – a rocket garden! The space center is now doing special tours of the launchpad and the Vehicle Assembly building (I guess because they are no longer in use for the space shuttle program). We did the launchpad tour, which allowed us to go into the Restricted Area and get very close to the launchpad. The launchpad was cool. They told us about how the astronauts used to come out here about three hours before launch, get strapped in, and then they were left alone. The safe distance for spectators is 3 miles away. They showed us the emergency ejection system, which was a series of 7 baskets that the astronauts could ride down to the ground. Apparently that’s easier said than done in a 65-pound space suit. They mostly tested the ejection system with sandbags, and one brave Marine! Then we drove around and got to see the Flame Trench up and close. This “Flame Trench” is where the shuttle’s flames went during lift-off. A large water tower adjacent to the launchpad supplied […]

Beyond the Backyard

In Search of a Long-Tailed Duck at Lake Davis

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I’ve been reading about the Long-Tailed Duck on Birdbrains, so Rich and I decided to drive over to Lake Davis to see if we could find it.  Lake Davis is a small lake in the middle of a downtown Orlando neighborhood.  It’s very close to Greenwood Cemetery, but I resisted the temptation to bore Rich with eagle-nest watching.  We did find lots of Ring-Necked Ducks at Lake Davis, but no Long-Tailed Duck.  Oh well.  I was happily surprised to see some Mute Swans there, and Rich found some turtles.  So he was happy that he tagged along. 

Beyond the Backyard

We Found Woody!

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Dyeyo and I have been going to Circle B together for over a year now, and for that whole time Dyeyo has been on a quest to see Red-Headed Woodpeckers.  But day after day goes by and Dyeyo still hasn’t seen his “Woody.” So for Father’s Day, I asked Herman to recommend a place where I could take Dyeyo to find a Red-Headed Woodpecker.  Herman recommended a place called Chinsegut (an old Eskimo name, pronounced Chin-SEE-gut.  Try saying it three times fast!).  The name means “the place where things of true value that have been lost may be found again.”  Well, maybe the woodpeckers weren’t lost exactly, but we sure found them! The nature center at Chinsegut is open only on Fridays and Saturdays.  We found it to be a really cool little place.  The best part was outside the center, where there’s a butterfly garden with a ton of bird feeders.   There were a ton of birds, most of them with their young fledglings:  Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Eastern Towhees, House Finches, Blue Jays, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and of course, the Red-Headed Woodpeckers.  At one point, I said that I had heard a hummingbird.  Imagine Dyeyo’s […]

Beyond the Backyard

Snow Geese at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge

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Dyeyo and I continued our bird-watching safari.  After we saw the Snow Bunting in Palm Coast, we went to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Rufuge, where several Snow Geese have been reported there over the last week or so.  They were there!  They usually don’t come to Florida.  There was a mix of white morph adults and juveniles, and one juvenile blue morph. Dyeyo and I really liked Lake Woodruff.  It reminded us of the Circle B Bar Reserve.  We were there around mid-day, which is not prime bird activity time (or bird photography time!)  But there were hundreds of birds.  We’ve  never seen such large flocks of Glossy Ibis.  White Ibis, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Little Blue Herons, and Killdeer were all over the place. The first thing we saw when we walked into the refuge was a turtle.  (Happy Rich!)  He sat there sunning himself, with all four of his feet sticking out.  The turtle kind of rocked back and forth on his shell.  We saw several turtles over the course of the day. There were Killdeer all over the place at Lake Woodruff.  There were a couple of birds on the ground right in front of us as […]

Beyond the Backyard

Snow Bunting! at Palm Coast Waterfront Park

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Dyeyo and I planned a bird-watching “safari” trip for today.  Our first stop was the Palm Coast Waterfront Park where a tiny Snow Bunting has been hanging out for the last couple of weeks.  This bird nests in the Arctic and migrates to the New England latitudes.  Only about twenty have been documented as far south as Florida.   This little guy has an injured tail and cannot fly long distances.  Over the past few weeks, he has been on the ground just off the sidewalk.  He eats grass.  When he gets scared (like when large boats pass by on the nearby Intercoastal waterway), he hunkers down, practically flattening himself.  He blends in so well with the grass that it’s easy to walk right by him.  As we stood there photographing him, several couples walked by us, wondering why in the world we were photographing grass! We stood there for about an hour photographing the bunting.  It was in the shadow of a tree for most of the time.  He finally came into the edge of the shadow, and the sun lit his face. While we waited for the bunting to move into the light, we got to watch the […]

Beyond the Backyard

In Search of Hooded Mergansers…

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A recent Birdbrain post indicated that there were about 20 Hooded Mergansers in a small pond outside a Perkins restaurant at the intersection of Conroy-Windermere Road and Apopka Vineland Road in Orlando. So Rich and I stopped there this morning after we dropped his folks off at the airport. There were no Hoodies this morning but I had a fun 15 minutes photographing the other birds that were there. The morning was clear and sunny, a sharp contrast to the weather forecast and the approaching cold front. A flock of Ring-Billed Gulls was sunning at the edge of the pond. My best shot was this flight shot: I really liked the detail in the feathers in the shot above, which I fine-tuned a tiny bit with Photoshop Elements Shadows and Highlights. I also cloned out the telephone pole that was in the left side of the frame. Here’s another shot of the gulls, this one a juxtaposition: It was mid-morning, and most of the birds were pretty sleepy. This White Duck was no exception: Next to the duck were a pair of Chinese Geese (I think I identified them correctly). They are not usually found in the Americas, so I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Birding at Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area

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Dyeyo and I felt like going to a new birding spot this morning, and we’d heard good things about the Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area in Lake County, so we drove up there to check it out. It made us realize just how spoiled we are by our Circle B Bar Reserve, which is close to home and offers us such close access to all kinds of birds.  Emeralda is more wild, and the marsh grasses have already grown up so much that we really couldn’t see many birds.  Far off, we could make out a wild rookery, but we would have had to walk for miles to get there.  We should go back in the wintertime when more birds are around. We were greeted by a Carolina Wren and a Great-Crested Flycatcher.  We kept hearing the calls of little birds.  Finally we saw two Tufted Titmice, who came out to pose for us: Although we didn’t see many birds, there were tons of butterflies out.  Most didn’t sit still long enough for us to photograph, but this one did. We drove the wildlife drive through the marsh, and as we really started to get into the marshlands, we saw these […]