Beyond the Backyard

Spring Morning at Orlando Wetlands Park

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Snowy Egret Courtship

On the morning that Deb and I saw Rich’s awesome turtle, we also saw a bunch of fun birds.  Springtime is the best time of year for Central Florida nature photography.  Some of our winter visitors are still hanging around, the migrants start to move through, and the local birds get all spiffy-looking for courtship and breeding.  So I was excited to get out and see what we could find on a nice spring morning at Orlando Wetlands Park. There are so many Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Orlando Wetlands Park right now!  Deb and I were greeted with their happy, cheerful whistling calls.  The whistling ducks are my favorite ducks.  The large flocks were on the wrong side of the light, but we found a small group of them in a shaded spot.  As we watched, one reached up to nibble on some flowers.  It was really cute. The wading birds are all ready for springtime in their bright pretty breeding colors.  We saw Great Egrets with green lores, a Tricolored Heron with a nice white plume, Snowy Egrets with lacy plumes and red lores, and this Glossy Ibis with his blue face.  I like how the vegetation at Orlando […]

Beyond the Backyard

Viera Wetlands and Scrub Jays with my Dad

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Blue-winged Teal (Drake)

Regular readers of my blog will know that my dad and I love to go out on photo expeditions together.  With my crazy work schedule, we haven’t been out much lately.  All winter I’ve been promising him a trip to Viera Wetlands.  Well, we finally went!  The wetlands were a little quiet, but we had some good photo ops.  Then on the way back, we stopped off to see Scrub Jays.  It was a great morning and so nice to be back out behind a camera!! The Great Blue Heron nesting season is starting wind down at Viera Wetlands.  Junior, the first baby, stood tall and proud on his nest.  I’m not sure the piggy-back rides that I saw on my last visit amounted to much. Only one pair appeared to still be nest-building.  The rest of the birds had fairly big babies.  I think stick-stealing season is over for the year. We noticed a little Green Heron sitting at the edge of the water.  They are rarely this visible, preferring to stay under cover when possible.  We hopped out of the car to take a few shots of this very cooperative subject. The ducks weren’t as plentiful at Viera […]

Beyond the Backyard

More Orange Fuzzballs at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Two weekends ago, my friend Michael Libbe asked if I wanted to shoot together at the Circle B Bar Reserve. Little did I realize that I’d later be accused of dragging him on a long hike carrying his heavy equipment!  :-p  I perhaps should have warned him that I’m on a Sandhill Crane colt craze this year.  The little orange fuzzballs are totally worth a hike!  We found both families at Circle B on that Saturday morning. We started out on the Heron Hideout trail, where the first Sandhill Crane family tends to hang out.  The babies have gotten so big!  They are almost reaching that leggy stage when their baby cuteness is gone and their “teenage” feathers start coming in.  With their long legs and increased stamina, the babies didn’t stay in one place for very long. Michael and I followed them for a bit as they walked along the trail, stopping often to pull a nice insect from the ground.  The babies are feeding themselves now, but they will always accept a handout from Mom or Dad. With a forecast of clouds and fog, I hadn’t intended to photograph the sunrise that morning.  But as I walked along […]

Beyond the Backyard

Bottoms Up!

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The most frustrating part about photographing ducks is that they give you far too many “butt-shot” opportunities.  Of course, if I was a duck and I had to dive for food, I guess I’d spend a lot of time with my head underwater as well!  I spent some time watching this Blue-Winged Teal diving, and I tried to capture her feet as she rummaged for her breakfast. I thought a shot with flailing feet would be funny.  This is as close as I got…

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Mirror, Mirror, in the Lake…Who’s the Most Handsome Drake?

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Wednesday was a frigid morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve. The forecast had predicted a low of 29 at 7am, but my car’s thermometer was more optimistic, measuring 34. There was very little wind, and I was quite comfortable all bundled up in my old college coat. I made my way out to the Wading Bird Way trail in anticipation of a gorgeous sunrise. I was met by fog, so dense that it sat like a cloud over the marsh. Clearly there weren’t going to be any great sunrise shots this morning. However, the skies were a beautiful pink… I was excited to see a few American White Pelicans fly off towards Lake Hancock just before sunrise. It was just two small groups of about five birds each. I couldn’t tell if they had slept off Wading Bird Way or not. I saw a large flock of white birds off in the distance, but they weren’t pelicans. They were Wood Storks! They started to fly towards me just like the pelicans did last year. I had fun trying to capture them in the early morning light against the bright pink sky. The sunrise was surreal – a big orange […]

Beyond the Backyard

Silly Bird, Turn Your Head This Way!!

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After spending a cloudy morning cooped up in the house yesterday, the sun came out and I decided to head to Merritt Island to experiment with afternoon light at the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. It was less windy than the previous day, and the birds were closer to the trail. The afternoon light was incredible! I had to work hard to get good head angles, though — the silly birds kept looking away! There were at least fifty Roseate Spoonbills along the trail. Most of them were on the wrong side of the road, and badly backlit. A few flew over my head, but my flight shots were bird-butt. Then I came across this beautiful bird in full breeding colors, almost right next to the trail! He spooned back and forth for me in the wonderful afternoon light. I liked how the mangrove was in the background, and how the whites of the spoonie contrast with the shadows. I tried and tried to catch him tossing a fish into his mouth, but I didn’t get the shot. Maybe next time! My friend Donna had said that the afternoon light was best for trying to photograph the Northern Pintails, a duck that […]

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Birds Posing on Palms at Viera Wetlands

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It’s been a while since I went birding anywhere except the Circle B Bar Reserve, so I decided to head over to Viera Wetlands yesterday morning.  I’ve been following the birding news on Birdbrains and I knew that the wetlands aren’t particularly active at the moment, and that was true.  But I did end up with some nice shots, mostly of birds posing on the dead palm trunks that are scattered throughout the wetlands.  How nice of Nature to cooperate with photographers in providing such nice perches! I arrived at the wetlands right around sunrise.  The clouds obscured the sun for a good twenty minutes or so after the “sunrise”, so I put my wide-angle lens on and did some bracketed shots for HDR.  I’ve never been to Viera for a good (i.e. non-cloudy) sunrise, and I will certainly try again.  But I kinda liked the moodiness of this HDR image. The first bird that I saw was an adult Black-Crowned Night Heron.  Then I saw another one.  The light level was low, so I dialed in over a stop of exposure compensation.  The first heron flew away when I picked up The Beast, but the second obligingly posed on […]

Beyond the Backyard

Flight Shots at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Yesterday (Sunday) was a great morning for flight shots at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The sunrise was pretty, then the birds were flying from the lake on Wading Bird Way across the trail towards Lake Hancock.  I saw Blue-Winged Teals, Green-Winged Teals, Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, and Mottled Ducks. The American Coots are by far the most common bird out on the lakes right now.  I always enjoy laughing at them as they do their “walk on water” routine.  Then one took off in flight!  I don’t seem to see them in flight very often. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had pictures of Gadwalls in flight.  They were my first of the season. The yellow flowers are in full bloom at the Circle B Bar Reserve, and the marshes are quite pretty.  After they fade, I’ll be ready for a good frost.  Then we’ll be able to better see the bitterns and rails!

Beyond the Backyard

Expect the Unexpected at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I went to the Circle B Bar Reserve yesterday (Friday) in hopes of a gorgeous sunrise with sun beams bursting through the clouds and reflecting over Lake Hancock.  I came home with images of a fireball and baby Limpkins!  Such is a morning at CBBR.  You never know what you’ll find out there. I arrived about half an hour before sunrise, and I headed down to Lake Hancock.  As I approached the lake, I realized that it was too foggy for a good sunrise.  I got out to the dock and waited, and a few minutes after the expected sunrise, an orange fireball appeared the sky.  I tried some HDR bracketed shots, but I didn’t like the resulting HDR images – they didn’t do the scene justice.  Besides, even at a high frame rate, the sun moved quickly enough in the frame that Photomatix didn’t align the images very well.  But I did luck out and see my first flock of Blue-Winged Teals for this fall, and they flew right in front of the sun.  Like I wrote about yesterday, I managed to get the flock and sun in the same frame for two consecutive frames.  I played with Photoshop […]

Beyond the Backyard

Into the Rising Sun

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Work interfered with photography on this off-Friday, but I did manage to get to Circle B for a few hours this morning. I won’t have my full blog post ready till tomorrow, so here’s a teaser image of a flock of Blue-Winged Teals at sunrise over Lake Hancock. They are my first Blue-Winged Teals of the fall. Migration is so exciting, and a fireball sunrise is an added bonus! :) I managed to get two images with the birds in the sun. This was the first, and I cut off the left side of the sun. In the next image (not posted), the birds have passed the sun. I may experiment with Photoshop and see if I can combine the images. I like how the birds are flying into the sun in this shot, but I also would prefer to see the whole sun.

Beyond the Backyard

Spring is in the Air at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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  It’s amazing how different a place can look after two weeks.  The weather kept me from Circle B last weekend, and I think it’s driven a lot of the birds away too.  The ponds that used to be covered in American Coots and American Wigeons were virtually empty.  Not an American White Pelican did we see.  I counted a lone Wood Stork.  Only the Sandhill Cranes roosted as usual, but they had to move to higher ground.  All the recent rains have refilled the dry pond beds – Circle B looks like a marsh again!   Robins greeted us high in trees above the parking lot as we arrived.  I heard lots of American Goldfinches as well.  As we turned onto Heron Hideout, the American Kestrel was on a dead palm on the west side of the trail.  Blue-Winged Teals have already moved into the new ponds.  I love photographing on Heron Hideout at dawn.  The water is usually still and the sun angle is perfect for awesome reflections.  I know Blue-Winged Teals are common, but they are so pretty. There is a dead tree at the "Four Corners" intersection that houses a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and his family.  I’ve […]

Beyond the Backyard

Hoodies at the Circle B Bar Reserve!

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Dyeyo and I were at the Circle B Bar Reserve at dawn this morning. It was a bit chilly at first, but it felt so great to be outside! The fog obscured the sunrise a bit, which turned out to be good, since I got this picture as a result: We hiked the Heron Hideout trail, then took Marsh Rabbit Run out to Wading Bird Way. There were tons of people there, most carrying fancy cameras with white lenses. It’s always fun to catch up on the latest nature happenings, and luckily, the birds at Circle B don’t seem to mind the crowds! I was also excited to see that the rains last week have left some water in the dried-up ponds on Heron Hideout. I think we’re supposed to get more rain next week, which will be a really good thing for the reserve and birds (and for the photographers…) Somebody whispered to us that there were Hooded Mergansers on the southern portion of Heron Hideout. We’ve never seen Hoodies at Circle B before, so we were excited to see this pair of females diving along parallel to the trail, not too far out. The water was still enough […]

Beyond the Backyard

Another Great Sunrise at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Dyeyo and I tried something a little different this morning.  We arrived at the Circle B Bar Reserve about fifteen minutes before sunrise, and we parked in the lot right at the entrance to the reserve.  Then we hiked out to Wading Bird Way on the Windmill Whisper trail.  We got to the crossroads right at sunrise. I enjoy doing HDR at sunrise because of all the varying tones.  The skies are light, with bright patches around the sunrise.  The ground is dark, especially the immediate foreground.  I use Photoshop to combine +/-2 stop exposures into a single image, then I use Curves to adjust the light tones.  Usually I end up adding a bit of light in the mid-tone region to make the images “pop” (to me they feel a bit 3-D). I really enjoy photographing the sunrise over Lake Hancock, where the water seems to make the sunrise color more brilliant.  I wanted to get the same effect looking out over the marsh.  The marsh is covered in fog most mornings now, and it was beautiful. Dyeyo and I have noted a smaller population of American White Pelicans roosting on Wading Bird Way in the mid-mornings in the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Circle B Bar Reserve: the Photographer’s Playground!

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My dad and I had a great time this morning doing a “photo hike” at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  We’d like to say thanks to the dozen or so brave people who came out early at 8:00 and braved the winds to see the birds.  We enjoyed the time, and we hope that everybody else did too.  Our group ranged in age from about 8 (hi Savannah!) to retirement age (people who rubbed in that they can bird all day, every day — lucky!)  We had some people with DSLRs, some with point-and-shoots, and one with just her eyes.  The Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks put on a good show for us, flying in circles over our heads again and again.  The American White Pelicans were not as numerous as in the past few weeks, but they still cover the skies.  Wood Storks covered the trees, making them look like “Birdie Christmas Trees”.  I think the favorite shot of the day may have gone to the baby alligator sunning himself not too far off the trail! Our hike took us out Heron Hideout, past the “Four Corners” for panorama shots of the Wood Storks in the trees across the marsh, and […]

Beyond the Backyard

Frosty Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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It was probably not a good morning to be a bird at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The temperature was around 28 when I arrived at 7:30 in the morning.  The ground was covered in frost.  Skies normally covered in American White Pelicans were empty.  But it was pretty in an eerie way, and by mid-morning, the frost was gone and the birds were back. I enjoyed experimenting with HDR shots this morning.  It was very foggy, and at times you could not even see the horizon for the fog.  I knew that I either needed to pull out the split neutral density filter for some pictures, or use HDR.  HDR was more fun. :) The frost was thick on the vegetation on both sides of the trail.  It was sad and pretty all at the same time.  Gone are the gorgeous yellow flowers that covered the marshes a month ago!  Many of the pools along Heron Hideout have dried up because of our lack of rain.  The black mud stands out against the rest of the colors of the marsh. Very few birds were in the water when I arrived.  Maybe the birdbrains are a little smarter than I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Diving Hoodies at Viera Wetlands

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Dyeyo and I drove over to Viera Wetlands in search of the Ross’s Goose that has been reported there on the BirdBrainz list serve.   We didn’t see the goose, but we did see a group of happy, diving Hooded Mergansers.  It was the first time either of us had seen a female Hoodie (we don’t typically see mergansers at the Circle B Bar Reserve where we normally bird.) We got to Viera and decided to drive around the perimeter once to locate the birds.  Except we saw so many birds that the “first lap” took more than half our morning! The first bird we spotted was a Wilson’s Snipe.  He was fishing in some short reeds and obligingly came out periodically to allow us to photograph him.  This was my first opportunity for full-frame snipe photos.  Usually the snipes are far away and I’m just happy to see them at all. We paused to take a duck inventory of the many American Coots, Pied-Billed Grebes, and Ring-Necked Ducks that covered the wetlands.  A Belted Kingfisher came screeching across the landscape and landed on a dead palm tree right in front of us.  With my new 500mm lens, he was practically […]