Beyond the Backyard

What a Mouthful!

Posted on
What a Mouthful for a Juvenile Brown Pelican

Tonight’s is going to be a short post, as I am putting the final details on my photography presentation that I will give this Friday as guest speaker at the Trout Lake Nature Center.  I’m really looking forward to sharing some fun images with some great people.  While I’ve been approached several times through my website to do a presentation like this, this is the first time that I’ve had the time to invest in preparing it.  I hope it’s as much fun as I think it will be! Today’s image is of a juvenile Brown Pelican that I found on the beach at Indian Rocks this weekend.  Pelicans are some of my dad’s favorite birds to photograph at the beach, and you can almost always find a friendly tame approachable one at Indian Rocks.  This bird had a small piece of wood that he kept tossing up and down.  I knelt down low to get the soft blue ocean behind him, then held down the shutter each time he aimed his open mouth at me.  Look at the details of his pouch!   We speculated that this juvie bird was tossing around the bark to practice handling fish in […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunset at Fort De Soto’s North Beach

Posted on
Sunset on North Beach

Rich and I did an overnight trip to Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend.   I got to do one of my favorite things: photograph sunset at Fort De Soto’s North Beach.  It’s so beautiful there.  I love the white beach and the unspoiled coastline.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it was great.  We came across this writing in the sand: We had our off-Friday before the long weekend, so we headed to the beach on Thursday afternoon in order to avoid the holiday crowds.  I was happy to find the beach deserted except for dozens of Sandwich Terns and Royal Terns.  There were lots of juveniles in the flock, all begging to be fed.  Mom would basically stand there and ignore them.  After they pestered her enough, she’d fly off and encourage them to go fishing with her.  Sometimes it worked.  Often the juvie would stay back on the beach, pouting! The afternoon light on the beach is so sweet.  I waded into the ocean in order to get the right angle for the shot of the terns above. As the sun started to set, I put on my wide-angle lens and looked for sunset […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunset at the Polk Rookery

Posted on

Herman took my dad and me on a boat trip to the Polk Rookery this past weekend.  It was my first time being there in the afternoon, so it was fun to see the nests that are not well illuminated in my normal morning light.  There don’t seem to be as many nests this year as in past years.  There are decent number of Wood Storks, and lots of White Ibis, but not nearly as many Tricolored Herons, Snowy Egrets, or Little Blue Herons as usual.  Some Brown Pelicans have nested there in previous years, which is unusual because this rookery is pretty far inland, but we were unable to confirm new nests this spring.  A couple of Great Blue Herons have fledged already, and my favorites, the Roseate Spoonbills, had several nests.  It’s always fun to spend time floating up and down the islands with Herman! This is primarily a Wood Stork rookery, only accessible by boat.  Islands of Brazilian Pepper provide nesting locations for hundreds of birds, and the water surrounding the islands provides protection from predators.  Herman calls the Wood Storks the “wise old men” of the rookery.  They stand grave and tall at the tops of […]

Beyond the Backyard

Fishing Buddies

Posted on

I had such a good time watching the gulls and the pelicans at Fort De Soto on my last visit. Those gulls are smart – they hang around the pelicans, and when the pelicans grab a big mouthful of fish, the gulls swoop in and steal a bite. I watched them do it over and over. This was my best shot of the behavior. What lazy gulls!

Backyard photography

Catch of the Day

Posted on

I suspect frequent beach photographers are somewhat amazed when they watch me at North Beach. I take my fancy Beast lens and use it to photograph the oh-so-common Brown Pelican. But I love watching these big birds as they splash around after fish. They make me laugh. Like in this shot, where two birds were dive-bombing the same fish. I think they both came up empty!

Beyond the Backyard

Father’s Day at the Polk Rookery

Posted on

Herman invited my dad and me out on his boat to visit the Polk Rookery on Father’s Day.  Activity there is winding down.  Many of the young birds have already fledged.  Recent rains have left the rookery cleaner — and less smelly — than I remember from the end of last season.  There was still enough activity to keep our cameras busy… :) The White Ibis and Cattle Egrets continue to nest at the end of the season.  Also the Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants nest there year-round.  We saw several White Ibis bringing in nesting material, and some sitting patiently on nests.  A pair of tiny White Ibises was sitting under Mom.  The baby ibises are black and look quite different than their parents. At the tops of the Brazilian Pepper stood many juvenile Wood Storks — wise old watchers, as Herman put it.  They stood watch over the rest of the necks, only breaking their solemn poses when breakfast was brought in by a parent. The Great Egrets are the first to nest, and some of the last to fledge.  It’s interesting how the smaller birds, like Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets, start nesting later and fledge sooner, than […]

Beyond the Backyard

A Stop at the Fort De Soto Pier

Posted on

While we were at Fort De Soto last weekend, I told Rich that we needed to stop at the Gulf Pier to look for dolphins, and maybe sea turtles.  Rich went along, but didn’t expect to see much.  When we arrived, we were seeing dolphins every five seconds!  They are hard to photograph, though, because they dive so quickly.  You barely have time to focus on them before they go back under water.  Nor can you pre-focus, since they don’t always come up at the same spots  But I did get some fun shots… There were tons of Brown Pelicans at the Fort De Soto pier.  It was kinda fun to watch them dive for fish.  This one unfortunately has had an encounter with a fisherman.  Look at his pouch! It’s fun to watch the birds at the pier.  They are so fast to grab the fish away from the fisherman.  It’s a great place if you want to get action shots…as long as you’re not a fisherman than wants to keep his fish!

Beyond the Backyard

"Sunrise" Skyway and Fort De Soto Birds

Posted on

The best colors of sunrise are often about half an hour before sunrise, and this morning the colors were totally worth the early wake-up call and two-hour drive to Fort De Soto!  I arrived around 6:45 and made my way to East Beach, where the sun was just starting to show itself on the horizon.  The orange colors in the sky were amazing.  I played with my 24-70 and my 70-200 lenses, trying to figure out which focal length I liked best.  I also bracketed for HDR. The sun angles are changing quickly lately, and right now, you can catch the sun rising over the Sunshine Skyway bridge if you position yourself on the East Beach.  Friends Michael and Dan joined me as the sun peeked out over the bridge.  With no clouds in the sky, the sun was blinding and bright as it rose.  I used Live View so that I could adjust the framing without looking at the sun. It was a great morning to be out with friends.  The temperatures were nice and cool, and I was glad I had grabbed a sweatshirt on my way out!  After the sun was up, we headed to North Beach […]

Beyond the Backyard

Father’s Day at the Polk Rookery

Posted on

Dyeyo and I spent a nice Father’s Day morning with Herman at his rookery in Polk County.  That’s always such a fun place to go.  Herman’s little portable boat is awesome for floating between the islands and observing the birds. We started the morning with a Least Bittern – what a way to start the day!  He was completely out from under cover, posing beautifully—for just a second!  Then as we turned around in the boat, reached for our cameras, and tried to take his picture, he ducked.  This was the best he let me do.  (As he was hidden in the reeds, I had to choose between the “good beak” and the “good body” shots.  I liked the full body shot because you see his big feet.)  We saw at least two more Least Bitterns fly past throughout the morning.  Now I’m wanting to get back to Viera Wetlands to try for a “good pose”! The activity at the rookery has certainly changed since my first visit, when the birds were primarily constructing their nests, and we had a single set of Great Egret chicks.  Now there are only a few birds on eggs, and there are fledglings everywhere.  […]

Beyond the Backyard

Spoon-Feeding at the Polk Rookery

Posted on

Herman took my dad and me out in his boat again this morning.  The Polk Rookery has changed considerably since my last visit in March.  Then the birds were building their nests, and Great Egrets, Wood Storks dominated the Brazilian Pepper.  Today the rookery was filled with fledgling birds of all sorts: Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Black-Crowned Night Herons, White Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Anhingas, Double-Crested Cormorants, and don’t forget the grackles!  There was constant action in every direction.  A photographer’s paradise!  :) My favorites of the morning were the Roseate Spoonbills.  There were at least seven nests, if I remember correctly, with several fledglings per nest.  It was breakfast time and we had such fun watching the head-bobbing as the babies begged for food! The poor parents were accosted by screaming babies each time they flew back to their nests.  I had to laugh when I realized I’d gotten this shot of the frazzled mother: A Spoonie flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree, closely followed by one of her offspring.  He seemed to say to her, “Ha!  Now I can fly!  You can’t get away from me anymore…now feed me already!”  […]

Beyond the Backyard

Of Drunken Sailors and Crab Legs (Fort De Soto)

Posted on

After a long week at work, I was itching for a photography adventure.  So I got up at 4 on Saturday morning and drove to Fort De Soto for sunrise.  But I did have a great morning at North Beach, enjoying especially the antics of the Reddish Egrets.  They are too funny! I arrived just as the sun was peeking over the horizon.  I resisted the temptation to photograph the orange fireball in the eastern sky, and instead I hurried to North Beach.  The tidal pools in front of the concession stand were still and as yet unlit by the rising sun.  A couple of Great Egrets were feeding there, and their reflections in the purply-pink water were quite nice.  Especially when one reached down and grabbed a minnow for me! It wasn’t long before I ran into a Reddish Egret.  I saw several of them over the course of the morning, most of them stalking their breakfast by doing their “drunken sailor dance” (see below).  My favorite shot of the morning was this portrait of the Reddish Egret, in the clear water of the Gulf. Brown Pelicans flew up and down the beach.  I know these are common birds, […]

Beyond the Backyard

Let’s Go Build a Nest! (Polk Rookery)

Posted on

Our friend Herman took Dyeyo and me out on his little boat this morning to a rookery in Polk County.  It was so amazing!  Unlike the Gatorland Rookery and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery, this one is totally wild.  There were hundreds of birds there, most of them sporting their breeding plumages.  We saw Great Egrets, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Black-Crowned Night Herons, White Ibises, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Anhingas, and more. I’ve enjoyed going to other rookeries in previous years, but I’ve never gone early enough to see many Great Egrets still in their mating and nest-building phase.  They have such pretty bright green lores and lacy feather fringes. There are a couple of Great Egret nests with less-than-week-old chicks in them, and more are expected to hatch everyday.  You can find the nests with chicks very easily – just listen!  The baby birds make repetitive (dare I say annoying) calls to their parents all day long… The Wood Storks are busy building their nests, with some incubation already started.  They are fun to watch as they gather the twigs for their nests.  I observed a bird grabbing […]

Beyond the Backyard

Quiet Morning at Fort De Soto

Posted on

I drove over to Fort De Soto on Saturday morning in hopes of finding some early migrant warblers.  There have also been a Reddish Egret in full breeding plumage and a Long-Billed Curlew hanging out at the North Beach lagoon.  I had high hopes of some good photography, but unfortunately, it was a pretty quiet morning. When I first arrived, I was on the lookout for the eagle’s nest that’s on the Tierra Verde peninsula before the entrance to the park.  I knew I’d found it when I saw the line of photographers, most of whom were lined up on the side of the road with their 500mm and 600mm lenses.  I pulled over and joined the crowd.  The nest is beautiful in the morning light.  It’s out in the open, one of the most photographable nests I’ve ever seen.  When I arrived, the adult was sitting near the nest, and one juvenile was in the nest.  The adult flew away, leaving the baby to sit in the nest and munch on his breakfast.  Some of the other photographers stood waiting, hoping that the adult would bring in food.  I watched for a while, then left to go to the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

Posted on

It was a gorgeous morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  We arrived at 7:00, just before sunrise, and the birds put on an amazing wake-up show.  The hundreds of Wood Storks and Sand Hill Cranes that roost in the marsh overnight all woke up and flew away, nicely illuminated by the rising sun.  They shared the skies with hundreds of American White Pelicans, flying towards their roosting site on Wading Bird Way.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t taken my second camera body — I was changing lenses constantly as I went from birdie close-ups with the 400mm to wider-angle landscape panoramas with the 70-200. The first bird we saw was a juvenile Wood Stork, who flew over the foggy marsh with some nesting material in tow.  He landed in a tree, where his stick seemed to get caught in the branches of the tree.  He finally yanked his branch free and flew off.  I wish the sun had been up a bit higher in order to get a sharper picture.  This was right before the sunrise, and the marsh was very foggy. Dozens of Sandhill Cranes that roosted in the marsh overnight took to the skies, honking like […]

Beyond the Backyard

Chased by an Otter at the Circle B Bar Reserve

Posted on

I’ve been called the Birdie Paparazzi. But today I was the one being followed! An otter came bounding up the path after me at least twice. He was cute! This morning I decided to hike Alligator Alley, since it was foggy and I felt like taking sunrise pictures. It’s also been a while since I’ve walked that way and I wanted to see what birds are around these days. The sunrise was gorgeous. I got to the dock just after the sun came over the horizon. I was told that if I’d been there half an hour earlier, I would have seen thousands of birds taking off in the early morning glow. I’ll have to remember that! I spent about an hour on the dock, photographing the birds flying by as the sun came up. The light was very bright and the birds were quite backlit. One of these days I’ll have to head to the lake at sunset. A lone Brown Pelican was out fishing for his breakfast. I caught him diving for fish a couple of times. He was pretty stubborn and always seemed to swim with his head in the shade instead of the sun… But bright […]

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at Fort De Soto

Posted on

Dyeyo and I visited Fort De Soto this morning. After my last trip there in September, I was looking forward to beaches covered in birds. But the North Beach was almost totally empty! We ran into a nice couple from England who have been vacationing at De Soto for the last month. They said that they had never seen the beaches so empty. The occasional bird would fly by as we stood on the North Beach wondering why we’d driven for two hours to photograph an empty beach. The sun was just rising and the light was beautiful. I think this is a Least Tern. I have trouble identifying all the different terns, especially in their varying plumages. I kept missing the Brown Pelican fly-bys, and I was getting a little annoyed, because the light was awesome and it made their feathers sparkle with iridescence. Finally I caught a bird flying in the right direction. Of the three or four pictures I took, this was the only sharp one. At first I was confused as to why the Brown Pelicans have white heads. But then I read that they have white heads in the winter when they are in their […]

Beyond the Backyard

Seeing is Believing: There Really are Otters at the Circle B Bar Reserve!

Posted on

I’ve been going to the Circle B Bar Reserve at least once a week since June, and plenty of times before that, and I’ve never seen a River Otter. Dyeyo’s seen them plenty of times. Well, I finally got to see one today! There were otters running up and down Marsh Rabbit Run all morning. The best photo ops were when they surfaced with fish. Then we heard lots of crunching! We got to Circle B at 6:30 in hopes of a bright sunrise with some nice clouds. But it was really foggy instead. The normal birds were flying overhead as they left the marsh to seek their breakfast: Wood Storks, White Ibises, and the first Brown Pelicans of the season! Then the first rays of sun came through and illuminated the birds roosting in the marsh, making a beautiful contrast to the foggy background. At the intersection between Heron Hideout and Marsh Rabbit Run, an Eastern Phoebe posed high in a tree. All of a sudden, he darted out, grabbed a dragonfly, then returned to his perch to eat it. On a neighboring tree, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker was digging into a small hole. After a minute or so, he […]

Beyond the Backyard

My First Trip to Fort De Soto

Posted on

After hearing about Fort De Soto from birders all over the state, I finally drove over there to check it out. It was everything that people said, and better! I’m not all that familiar with the shorebirds. Before I went today, I couldn’t tell a sandpiper from a plover — and hopefully some of the identities I looked up today will stick for more than a day! I think all the bird varieties that I saw today are fairly common. I was really excited at the quality of my pictures. I was trying hard to get correct exposures in-camera, complete with fill flash (which I started using partway through the morning). I think I did OK, because I didn’t have to adjust exposure much in Lightroom. Disclaimer: Don’t assume my bird IDs are right here – it’s really hard to distinguish between similar shorebirds, especially since some have already molted into their winter plumage, some have not, and some are in transition. I got to the North Beach at sunrise and stayed there for about three hours. I was amazed at the tameness of the birds – they didn’t care a bit about the crazy lady carrying around a big […]