Beyond the Backyard

Nesting Time at Viera Wetlands

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On the morning after Christmas I headed out to the Viera Wetlands for some sunrise photography with the Great Blue Herons. It’s funny to think that nesting season is already underway as we enter our coldest months in Florida. But not only did I find herons bringing in nesting material, but the first nest had already hatched. Two tiny babies filled the wetlands with their nagging calls.

Nesting Great Blue Heron
Nesting Great Blue Heron

This year there are fewer palm trees suitable for nesting. Many of the nests that I photographed last year are just stumps now.

The birds were not especially active on this particular morning. Mom sat low on her babies on Nest #1. A second mom was incubating on Nest #2. A third bird was showing off in hopes of attracting a mate, but didn’t seem to have her own nest yet. A juvenile made me laugh as she showed off her feathers and hopped on a nest without seeming to know what to do next.

Great Blue Heron Preening (enhanced with Topaz Glow)
Great Blue Heron Preening (enhanced with Topaz Glow)

This heron landed directly in front of me and started preening. I love their lacy feathers at this time of year. My original shot didn’t exactly match what was in my imagination, so I enhanced it a bit with Topaz Glow filters.

As I stood watching the herons, an Anhinga sat sunning on a nearby stump. I was surprised not to see any Anhingas in full breeding colors, which can be very striking.

Anhinga Sunning
Anhinga Sunning

I wandered around the wetlands looking for other subjects, surprised not to see as many ducks, gulls, and terns as in years past. It wasn’t a particularly birdy morning. This Glossy Ibis flew in front of me and showed off the shimmer in his wings. He says that every morning spent out in Nature is a good morning! :)

Glossy Ibis in Flight
Glossy Ibis in Flight
Beyond the Backyard

Ducks and a Fish out of Water at LAWD

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In late November I took a quick trip to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive one gray, icky morning. The winter birds are back and it was fun to see the Irma-enlarged expanses of water covered in ducks.

Lake Apopka is a well-known place to find Fulvous Whistling-ducks. When the wildlife drive was first put in, I’d see the ducks in the air or hear them, but they didn’t hang out close to the road. What a difference now. There were dozens of Fulvous at very close distances. Most of them were face-down in the water looking for food. This one took pity on me and let me snap his picture before he continued foraging.

Fulvous Whistling-duck
Fulvous Whistling-duck

Another wintering duck that doesn’t always come in close is the Ruddy Duck. This particular duck is leucistic, meaning that his feathers lack pigmentation. He looked a little funny as he hung out with a raft of coots.

Leucistic Ruddy Duck
Leucistic Ruddy Duck

In late November the marshes are covered in bright yellow flowers called burr marigolds. They certainly brighten the landscape on a gray morning! I took this image into Topaz Glow and played with some artistic effects.

Burr Marigolds (enhanced in Topaz Glow)
Burr Marigolds (enhanced in Topaz Glow)

As I drove through by “Grebe Corner,” I was surprised to see a Least Bittern hop between some reeds. Then I spotted this American Bittern playing peek-a-boo with me through the branches.

American Bittern
American Bittern

It’s hard to visit the Central Florida marshes in wintertime without seeing a Northern Harrier. Getting a good photograph of one is harder than just spotting one, as the birds often seem to coast along the wind far away from your lens. This bird did me a favor and came in a little closer.

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier

Belted Kingfishers are very easy to spot on the wildlife drive. They make a lot of noise as they fly, then they perch out on the top of a branch while they scan the water below for fish. This male was amazingly unskittish and posed very close to my car.

Belted Kingfisher (male)
Belted Kingfisher (male)

There was a huge group of ducks along Interceptor Road. As far as you could see, there were ducks scattered along the water – mostly coots, but also shovelers, ring-necks, ruddies, and a few surprises – like this female Canvasback! I was shooting straight into the sun but how often do you get to photograph a Canvasback in Central Florida?

Canvasback (female)
Canvasback (female)

My last shot of the day was quite possibly my best. I spotted a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron standing on the trail at a distance, and as I got closer, I saw that he was tossing a fish in his beak. I got out of my car, crouched down, and took photos as I gradually edged closer. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the fun shot – the fish positioned in mid-air just outside the bird’s beak. Rich said it looks as if the fish is swimming right into the bird’s mouth!

Fish out of Water!  Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron
Fish out of Water! Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron
Backyard photography

First of Fall Painted Bunting 2018

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It’s that time of year again!  We looked out the window this afternoon and saw a male Painted Bunting feasting at our millet feeder.  A few minutes later, he was splashing around in the birdbath.

Painted Bunting Bathtime
Painted Bunting Bathtime (Photo from 2017)

These colorful birds are one of my backyard favorites.  This year I spotted my first bunting before my first Palm Warbler (I’ve heard warblers, just not seen them yet.)

Maybe this year I’ll get more photos like this, but without clipping wings! ;-)

Painted Bunting in Flight
Painted Bunting in Flight (Photo from spring 2018)