Beyond the Backyard

What Took Me So Long? Lake Mirror Is Great!

Posted on
Mandarin Duck (Male)

I often visit Lake Morton in Lakeland, but I had never ridden over to nearby Lake Mirror.  Several photographer friends keep asking me if I have photographed the Mandarin Ducks there.   The City of Lakeland introduced the mandarins and a couple of Shelducks, which are both exotic species (not native to Florida).  I finally stopped at Lake Mirror this weekend.  It was great!  I can’t believe it took me so long to finally visit. Lake Mirror is smaller than Lake Morton, fully surrounded by downtown Lakeland.  The city has a nice little sidewalk and park around the lake.  I was surprised to see a flock of Black Skimmers in the middle of the lake when I first arrived.  That familiar call is unmistakeable after spending so many hours at the Black Skimmer nesting colony!  The skimmers flew back and forth between the lake edge and the landing in the middle of the lake.  It was fun to find them so far inland. Though not as birdy as Lake Morton, there were plenty of winter migrants on Lake Mirror.  I found coots and Ring-necked Ducks.  The first ducks that I noticed were actually the Shelducks.  They are a very pretty […]

Beyond the Backyard

Juvenile Shorebirds from Last Summer

Posted on
Mommy! Make me a Sandwich!

I found some images from last summer that I had never processed.  In August I spent several mornings at Indian Rocks Beach photographing the nesting Black Skimmers, but the skimmers weren’t the only birds who posed for me.  The juvenile shorebirds also put on a show for the camera.  I especially liked the juvenile terns, who had reached the point that they were almost-self sufficient, but they didn’t know it yet.  They begged and begged for food! The birds above are Sandwich Terns.  The juvenile on the right was begging nonstop for food.  The mom on the left just didn’t seem to care!  The juvie threw his head back and forth and cried out constantly.  Juvies often continue this behavior, even after they have learned to fly and catch their own food.  Sometimes it’s just easier to have Mom bring you food than to find it for yourself! This Royal Tern parent was about as sympathetic to her desperate offspring as the Sandwich Tern.  It’s such fun to watch the juvies dance as they demand attention.  Once you spend any amount of time near a baby bird, with its constant nagging fuss, you recognize the same type of call in […]

Year in Review

Year in Review: Favorite Photographic Moments of 2013

Posted on

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Teenage Skimmers Learning to Skim!

Posted on
Juvenile Skimmer in Action!

This weekend I returned to the Black Skimmer colony at Indian Rocks Beach. It’s been five weeks now since the babies hatched, and three weeks since I photographed them as adorable two-week-olds.  I figured they were flying and learning to skim by now, so I headed over in the morning when the sun best illuminates the waves and the ocean.  I was greeted by a colony of teenagers – almost the size of Mom and Dad, not quite colored like them yet, but definitely on their way to adulthood! The colony is no longer confined to the roped-off area on the beach.  Adult and juvenile skimmers mill freely about the beach.  There are signs warning people to be careful about stepping on the juvenile birds.  But don’t worry, Mom and Dad are still making sure that nobody bothers their young ones.  I saw several adult skimmers dive-bombing people that got too close. I sat down in the sand with my Beast and 5D Mark III and did flight shots for most of the morning.  Even with the 5D’s great autofocus system, photographing birds diving in the surf can be challenging.  I ended up putting it on single-point autofocus and panning […]

Beyond the Backyard

More From Indian Rocks Beach

Posted on
Skimmer Skirmish

I hope you’re not tired of reading about the Black Skimmers yet, because today’s post brings you more from Indian Rocks Beach! One of my goals for this summer was to capture the interaction between skimmers in mid-air during the nesting season.  I like to call these interactions “skimmer skirmishes,” when two adults take to the skies to fly at each other to resolve what I’m guessing is a territorial dispute. I see these skirmishes most often when there are small chicks in the colony.  Photographing the skimmer skirmishes is harder than it sounds, since the background to the colony during the sweet afternoon light is a bright pink condo building.  Not the best background!  So you have to wait for a pair of birds to fly high enough that you can frame them against the sky.  This summer I managed to get several decent shots, and the image above is my favorite. This skimmer flight shot was taken around 4:30pm, when the light was still very harsh.  I took the image into Nik Color Efex Pro and experimented with it a bit, to see if I could reduce the harshness of the shadows.  I think it was the Paper […]

Beyond the Backyard

Two-Week Old Black Skimmers

Posted on
Cute Black Skimmer Chick

Several weeks ago, I returned to the Black Skimmer colony at Indian Rocks Beach to photograph the two-week old Black Skimmers. The little guys had grown up quite a bit since I photographed them as newborns.  Some would say that the two-week old Black Skimmers are less cute than when they were tiny babies, but I thought they had a lot of fun personality.  They no longer sit patiently under Mom’s wing – the world is theirs to explore, and they don’t understand the meaning of the rope around their little stretch of beach! My dad came with me that afternoon, and we arrived at the colony at about 4:30 PM.  Boy was the light harsh!  The sunlight against the bright white sand was blinding.  We found that the birds had extended their area way beyond the roped-off section.  Juvenile skimmers were running around in front of the ropes, blending into the seaweed and running after any adult with a fish.  We settled down to watch and laugh. The above photo with Mom and chick illustrates how much the babies have grown.  Nature’s camouflage is fun to watch as these little guys blend into the holes they are now big […]

Beyond the Backyard

Learning to Fly

Posted on

I returned to the Black Skimmer colony two weeks ago to check on the babies.  It had been two weeks since I was there to photograph the day-old chicks, and I knew the babies had grown a lot.  I was hoping to catch them in that big-kid-but-not-yet-teenager stage, and I succeeded!  I’ll have more pictures soon, but in the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to share a little sequence of a baby stretching his wings and learning to fly. This little guy was my favorite of the day.  He was a little younger than his siblings, and he still had quite a bit of white fuzz to him.  He spent the afternoon sitting in his little hole, begging his mom to shield him from the sun.  It was a very hot afternoon!  Then as the sun started to set, he got up and did the cutest little hop-skip-jump.  I know his wings aren’t fully formed yet, but he’s already practicing for the big day! I’d been observing other chicks doing their hop-skip-jump routines all afternoon, but they always seemed to do it with their backs to the camera.  You can imagine the grin on my face as my favorite […]