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A Morning in Backyard Birding Paradise

Sometimes it’s fun to go to new places and chase new birds.  Sometimes it can be nice just to stay close to home and enjoy your local patch.  For me, that’s the backyard.  It’s so relaxing to get up just before sunrise, take a comfortable camp chair outside, let a cat or two out on the porch (I’m told I require constant supervision), and just photograph whatever comes in front of me.

Today’s treat was my Painted Buntings.  Their numbers have grown since the recent cold weather (one advantage of temperatures dipping under freezing!) Five greenies and three males all together, they were hungry and happy to eat the millet that I put out for them.  I do not believe in baiting birds, but I do occasionally put out an attractive branch near an established bird feeder to improve my chances of getting a good photo.  Today the buntings were very cooperative and I had a blast. :)

Painted Bunting (Male)

Painted Bunting (Male)

Painted Bunting Greenie

Painted Bunting Greenie

The Painted Buntings are used to perching in my hummingbird bush and in the wild salvias that grow in my backyard.  Most of the plants got knocked back pretty hard by the cold, so it’s hard to find a “pretty” perch right now.  But at least the birds were not perched on the feeder!

The buntings were not the only show-offs.  This Common Grackle flew into the yard at first light and tried to do the splits in a crape myrtle bush.

Common Grackle Doing the Splits

Common Grackle Doing the Splits

The sun doesn’t hit parts of the yard until 8:30 or so, so lighting can be tricky.  The buntings continued to show off for me.  Two of the males posed regularly in an open spot of my powderpuff bush.  I never get tired of their bright colors!

Painted Bunting (Male)

Painted Bunting (Male)

I enjoyed just being outside and listening.  A flock of 20 or so robins flew overhead.  A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher called hello from a neighbor’s yard.  Overhead I heard the calls of the neighborhood Sandhill Cranes as they took their morning flight.  My first-of-spring Purple Martins chattered high in the skies.  A lone Killdeer mourned the loss of Bambi.  Two eagles circled overhead and called to each other repeatedly.  Mentally I begged them to lock talons.  Instead they chased off the Osprey (and probably stole a fish from him.)

Palm Warblers were everywhere.  Two in particular caught my attention as they fought, tumbling high into the air in a commotion of feathers.  Then a warbler hopped right in front of me and grabbed a mosquito for breakfast.

Palm Warbler Catching Bug

Palm Warbler Catching Bug

It always amazes me how much variety there is in one small “postage-stamp” patch of backyard.  I marvel at all the detail that I never noticed before I started birding.  Now I can spend hours just sitting and observing.  It never gets old.

Painted Bunting Greenie

Painted Bunting Greenie

Yes, more buntings.  You don’t get tired of them, do you?  I don’t think I ever will!  This greenie hopped onto a top branch of my viburnum hedge.  I wonder if he noticed all the aphids on the bottom of the leaf.  Behind him is my neighbor’s house, with shingle boxes ready for a re-roof construction project.  Luckily the crew didn’t work on Sunday and destroy the peace and quiet of the morning.

My little warbler continued to show off.  He must have watched “White Christmas” one time too many over the holidays.  He hopped over to a pile of feathers, grabbed one, and started doing his own version of a feather dance.

Palm Warber Feather Dance

Palm Warber Feather Dance

Last April I spent a lot of time in the yard, trying to get a male Painted Bunting to show off for my camera.  The greenies were very willing.  The males were not as cooperative.  So it surprised me today how many males hopped out into the open.  It must be a sign – wonderful springtime photography is right around the corner!

Painted Bunting (Male)

Painted Bunting (Male)

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Good Birds and Good Friends at Lust Road

Yesterday I went to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive on a flycatcher quest.  There have been some great flycatchers reported there recently, most them fairly rare to Central Florida: Ash-throated Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Western Kingbird.  I intended to park at Lust Road and then walk up to the Crazy U.  But I ended up spending my whole morning at the gate, hanging out with good birds and good friends. :)

The Ash-throated Flycatcher is a tease.  He likes to hang out at Lust Road, mostly in the trees on the far side of the canal.  Periodically he comes in closer, like when he perched on a stick with a piece of tape on it.  (Not the most photogenic perch!) Then the silly bird decides that his next meal is more important than my photograph, and he flies off to catch his next bug.  He’s a fun challenge to photograph.  These were my best shots of him from yesterday…

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

I think Michael was on a quest for a Grasshopper Sparrow yesterday.  The flycatcher settled for a grasshopper instead!

Fly-catching!

Fly-catching!

A pair of Hooded Mergansers greeted us early in the morning on the far side of the canal.  They proceeded to swim away from us.  Silly birds.  Always swim toward the photographer, especially when there is no wind and the reflections are beautiful!

Hooded Merganser Pair

Hooded Merganser Pair

The warblers were busy in the trees most of the morning.  Michael spotted a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but they decided to stay buried in the trees.  I have very few images of kinglets showing off their ruby crowns.  See, there is always a reason to go back, isn’t there?  So since the kinglets didn’t cooperate, I took a few consolation photos of a Yellow-rumped Warbler (a.k.a. Butterbutt  in Michael vernacular!)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Eastern Phoebes were jealous.  They knew I was on a quest for flycatchers, and phoebes are in the flycatcher family, but as they are a common bird I didn’t take many pictures of them.  So I decided to practice some flight shots.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

I never get tired of the little Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  They are so cute and such fun to follow as they hop, skip, and jump their way between branches.  One day I’m going to nail the shot of a gnatcatcher hovering in mid-air while grabbing a bug.  But for today, here’s a perched portrait instead!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The morning was heading towards noon and I started to pack up to leave.  On my way out, I spotted two flycatcher-like birds on the power lines on the south side of Lust Road.  I hopped out of the car again, grabbed the camera (yep, you always seem to put it away too early!), and headed off to check out the bird.  Western Kingbird!  We watched it fly off to a tree on the north side of Lust and perch for a while.  Not a lifer for me, but this was the first time I’d seen a Western Kingbird at the wildlife drive.  A great way to end a fun morning!

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

 

Another Beautiful Morning of LAWD Photography

After you have an incredible day at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, then learn that you missed seeing the Cinnamon Teal, you want to go back.  Luckily for me, last Sunday was another beautiful day, and I enjoyed a return trip to the drive.  Some days you see a ton of things.  Some days you see less.  Maybe LAWD is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get!

I sat at the Lust Gate entrance for a while hoping to see the Ash-throated Flycatcher.  I didn’t.  It was breezy and a lot of the birds were lying low.  Then I spotted a flash of bright red across the canal as a male Painted Bunting flew in.  He perched in the grasses for a while and I thought it was great to get a photo of him in a natural habitat.  Then I noticed he was sitting on a millet plant.  No wonder he looked so happy!

Painted Bunting (Male)

Painted Bunting (Male)

A Killdeer flew in with a flourish.  Kill-deer! Kill-deer! was his call.  I’ve been seeing lots of Killdeer at the wildlife drive since it reopened.  This bird was especially cooperative.  He flew into the nearby canal, stood in good light, and started walking toward me.  All I had to do was wait till he filled my frame.

Killdeer

Killdeer

As I drove off down Lust Road, I heard the call of Sandhill Cranes and had just enough time to hop out of the car to photograph these two as they flew calling over the marsh.  Pretty soon it will be time for them to think about nesting and laying eggs.  My favorite time of the year is just around the corner!

Sandhill Cranes in Flight

Sandhill Cranes in Flight

I spotted the Vermilion Flycatcher at her customary far-off spot.  It was chilly and breezy, though, and I didn’t spend much time watching her.  I did spot this Northern Harrier flying in the distance.  I want a better close-up flight shot of this bird.  There’s always a reason to go back!

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Alas, when I got to the location where the Cinnamon Teal had been sighted the day before, it was full of birders but no teal.  I stood watching for a while, doing my own inventory of the ducks.  Oh well.  There are tons of marshy habitats that just aren’t visible from the road.  Maybe the teal will come closer on another day.

On my previous visit, I had noticed a pair of Pied-billed Grebes starting a nest.  They even did a change of the guard, except when the second bird got on the floating platform, it sank!  Then they added more twigs and leaves. So on my next visit, when I spotted two grebes seeming to fight with each other, I had a suspicion that they were courting.  It looked painful.  Lots of splashing and holding each others’ necks with their beaks.  I can’t wait for Grebe Baby Season this year!!

Pied-billed Grebes

Pied-billed Grebes