Year in Review

Year in Review: Favorite Photographic Moments of 2013

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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

Week Five: Burrowing Owls Fly Off!

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Burrowing Owl in Flight

This is my last post on my Burrowing Owl nest-watching this spring.  I was so lucky to get to monitor the growth of a family of five (reduced to four) Burrowing Owls.  On my last visit, they waved goodbye and flew off… The oldest two babies were pretty proficient fliers. They flew off pretty early in the morning, and I think they were hunting for their own food. Mom and Dad certainly didn’t bring them anything that I saw. The smaller two babies were less confident with their new-found wings. There was a bush near the burrow that clearly was the flight training ground. The little guys flew up and down and practiced balance and sticking their landings! (Sounds like gymnastics!) Mom brought in a big frog for one of the little guys. He had to work hard to get it down! He stood there like a baby shorebird, with the frog in his throat, panting and gaping while he worked up the energy for the fatal gulp. This owlet was learning to hunt. I laughed when I saw him grabbing at the dead frog that was left on a nearby wire fence. The frog had been there for at least […]

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Week Four: Burrowing Owls Stretching their Wings

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Burrowing Owlets at Burrow

My Week Four visit to my Burrowing Owl nest was short and sweet. I got there around 8:30 in the morning, and the owls were sleepy and not very active. They were adorable as they posed at their burrow, but they didn’t do much. Their actions made me suspect that they were already flight-worthy, though… Sadly I found that we were down to four owlets at the burrow.  There were originally five.  I don’t know what happened the the fifth baby.  There are plenty of predators around the nest: raptors, coyotes, and feral cats.  That’s one of the sad parts of nest-watching: sometimes you just never know what happened to “your” babies! The remaining four babies remained attentive to the skies as they monitored every bird that flew overhead.  They would frequently stretch their wings, which is what made me think they’d already started flying.  Either they would do a owl-ballerina pose and stretch their wing and a foot behind them, or they would bend over into takeoff position and stretch their wings over their heads. Burrowing Owls are a protected species in Florida, and they are protected across the country by migration logs.  Their biggest problem is that their […]

Beyond the Backyard

Week Three: Silly Burrowing Owl Videos

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Burrowing Owl Yawn after Rain

In my last post about the Burrowing Owls I wrote that my still shots do not best represent the antics of the owlets.  The stills capture expressions pretty well, but to really explain how it is that I can sit watching these birds for hours on end, I need video.  Luckily my DSLR has video, when I remember to use it! Now do you understand how I can nest-watch for so long?  The owlets are so cute when they bob their heads! The weather cooperated with me on this particular week.  The sun sets immediately behind this nest, making it a great morning shoot, but a terrible afternoon place.  Except when it rains for weeks on end and the cloudcover allows me to photograph the nest after work!  So while Rich played hockey, I went to check on my owls.  :) The little guys looked pretty scruffy after rain showers. I’ve done some experimentation with time lapse photography lately, and I thought the owls would make fun subjects.  Some of the best time lapse videos I’ve seen are of people moving around in cool places.  Well, why not owls moving around at their burrow?  They usually come in and out […]

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Week Two: Breakfast Time for the Baby Burrowing Owls

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Baby Burrowing Owl with Grasshopper

This post continues my story of the baby Burrowing Owls that I observed this spring.  I hope you’re not getting tired of cute little owlets! On my previous visits to the burrow, I was a little surprised not to see food being brought in for the owlets.  Surely they were not feeding themselves yet, as they never left the vicinity of the burrow.  Mom and Dad must have fed them before or after I was there.  But on this particular morning, I got lots of feeding shots! The parents brought in several tasty morsels for the babies… I wondered if some of the bugs were too big for the babies, but apparently they didn’t think so! This little guy cracked me up as he posed with the big fat grasshopper that his mom gave him. I read on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that these owls are pretty smart.  They place animal dung around their burrows to attract dung beetles.  Then they kill the beetles to feed their babies. Apparently eating makes owlets sleepy. They gave me lots of yawns after breakfast! These little guys are so animated. It’s hard to show in still images. At one point they […]

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Week Two: Burrowing Owlets Are Six Days Older

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Five Burrowing Owlets

I returned to my Burrowing Owl nest six days after first seeing Burrowing Owlets.  It’s amazing how fast they grow! On my first visit, I thought I saw five babies.  But they didn’t stay above ground for very long, so I only photographed three.  On this second visit, I was able to confirm that there were five owlets.  They were so cute as they peeked out of burrow through the tall grasses! The two oldest Burrowing Owlets were the most adventurous.  They sat outside the burrow for the longest time.  The younger ones were fast to dive back into the burrow when they heard funny noises or when they saw birds flying overhead.  Then their older siblings would call them back out. Mom and Dad sat on fenceposts near the burrow for most of the time that I was there.  Once Mom flew down to check on her little ones.  She made a nice picture standing in the green grass. I love watching these very animated birds.  But on this particular morning, they were not very active.  I got a great sequence of the babies standing outside their burrow, yawning their heads off.  I combined the images into an animated […]

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Week One: First Glimpses of the Burrowing Owl Family

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Three of the Five Burrowing Owl Babies

This spring I had the awesome opportunity to regularly observe a Burrowing Owl family.  For the next few blog posts, I’ll share images of the babies as they ventured out of the burrow and learned how to fly! For weeks I went by to check on the birds, finding nothing but Mom or Dad sitting on a fencepost.  Burrowing Owls can be so expressive, but I must admit that they were not exciting photographic subjects, sitting on fenceposts and sleeping.  But one morning I drove up and found five little fuzzballs sitting outside the burrow!  Burrowing Owls are typically about two weeks old when they first venture outside for the first time. I thought I spotted five babies as I drove up, but they dove for the burrow when they heard the car.  Only the oldest three stayed up to say hello to me.  I was careful to stay in my car and use my Beast lens and 2x teleconverter to minimize stressing the birds.  They got used to me quickly and posed adorably for the camera! I think a photographer must have told these babies how to stand together in cute poses.  They are such fun to watch!  There […]

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More Burrowing Owls from Brian Piccolo Park

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Leading an Orchestra?

It’s time for round two on Burrowing Owls from Brian Piccolo Park! My last adventure was an evening shoot at a great nest with six babies.  I went back to the same burrow the next morning.  The owlets were nowhere near as active.  I set up my Beast on my tripod and lowered it as much as possible to get some portraits.  Getting low threw the entire area of grass and trees out of focus and gave me a pretty green background. The owlets were doing a lot of wing stretches.  They seemed to all be flying, at least small hops to the posts of their roped-off nest area.  The guy above reminds me of a ballerina pointing his toe as he stretches his wing. OK, I have to share what goes through my head when I see the image above.  You know the movie Legally Blonde?  The scene where Elle does the bend and snap?  Well, the owls are doing the “bend and stretch!”  I was pleased to be low to the ground to get a birds-eye view of this silly-looking movement. I guess the owlet above finished all his wing-ercising.  He flew to the top of the post […]

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Flight Lessons for the Burrowing Owls at Brian Piccolo Park

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I Flew! So Feed Me Already!

I had two photo ops with the Burrowing Owls at Brian Piccolo Park on my recent trip to South Florida. One was an afternoon shoot, and the other was the next morning. You might ask why I drive over four hours to see a couple of owls. Well, maybe this will answer the question… There are some really photographable nests at Brian Piccolo Park! The park ropes off the nests to protect the birds from the many people who pass by every day. This means that the birds are used to people, and they don’t mind the silly photographers who sit for hours watching their every move. This year my favorite nest had six babies. That’s a lot of little guys to fit down in the hole in the ground! When I first arrived, only the oldest was outside the burrow. Gradually the rest of his brothers and sisters joined him. My friend Debbie lives close to Brian Piccolo, and she kept me informed of when the babies hatched.  I didn’t get down there as quickly as I had hoped.  I’d love to see the tiny babies when they first come out of the burrow, when they are about two […]

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Sunshine After Rain

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It rained all week last week.  We need the rain, but we need it a little bit at a time.  Not three inches a day for five days in a row!  On Friday afternoon, I was so sick of staying inside.  We had a break in the showers, so I headed out to see if I could find a nice sunset vista.  When I left the house, I saw a rainbow in the distance and thought I’d be able to include it in the composition.  Alas, after I got out of the neighborhood and away from all the houses, the rainbow was gone.  But the sun did break through the clouds to throw its rays of light onto the land… My neighbor Peter loves to grow cacti in his yard.  He picks them up from all over the place, including dumpsters, and sticks them into the ground.  A few months later he has a healthy blooming cactus plant!  I’d better keep him away from this location, where the cacti grow freely in the open grassy areas.  I saw this plant swaying in the wind with its pretty yellow flowers.  I’ve dressed it up a little using Topaz and Fractalius filters. […]

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Glimpses of a Disappearing Florida

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I’m dismayed by the recent development in our area. Where pine trees once covered the land, yet another development is going in. Where Sandhill Cranes once flew over John’s Lake, signs now stand advertising multi-million dollar lakefront homes. Scenic drives are cluttered by cookie-cutter stucco houses. The Orlando area is expanding, and as it expands it is eating native Florida. As the habitat disappears, so do our birds. I’ve been so excited to occasionally find Eastern Bluebirds on the backroads, but where will they live once the pine trees are all gone? I hadn’t truly appreciated all the undeveloped areas near our house, until they started to be cleared. So I’ve been driving around after work, trying to find “birdy” spots close to home, and I’ve been happy to discover that I can still find native Florida, if I know where to look! Last night I found my first Common Nighthawk, or at least I think that’s his ID. He was sitting on the top of a sprinkler riser. I had to stack my 1x and 2x teleconverters to get this image. Look at his big eye and tiny beak (yes, that’s a beak on the right side of his […]

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Great Horned Owls are Fledging

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I’ve had the privilege of watching several owl nests in the past few weeks, as I first indicating in my recent post about My First Trip to the Oakland Great Horned Owl Nest.  I missed the really cute stage when the birds were tiny babies, and Mom tucked them under her tummy as she sat on their nest.  Now the owlets are starting to fledge.  My dad came with me to the nest recently, and he made the comment that these owls aren’t Harry Potter’s owls…but wingardium leviosa, they are certainly starting to fly! I’ve been making at least weekly trips to the nest.  The owls have gotten more independent with each trip.  When I first found them, they were sitting on their nest.  A week later, they were still sitting close to the nest, but they had moved up to a hollow in a slightly higher branch. The next day, they had edged out onto a branch, more than several feet away from the nest.  They are such fun to observe.  They just sit there, perfectly still and silent.  But  their heads turns to watch every move that is made below them.  Their parents are often asleep in a nearby tree. […]

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Burrowing Owls at Brian Piccolo Park

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I made it to Brian Piccolo Park this year after all!  When Rich and I went to West Palm Beach to visit the turtles, we planned to also visit Butterfly World.  I’ve been wanting to visit the free-flight hummingbirds there ever since I saw Jamie’s incredible photo of the butterfly landing on a hummer’s head.  Unfortunately, the rain started to pour just as we reached the exit for Butterfly World.  So instead I told Rich to keep driving south, and we ended up at Brian Piccolo.  There are still some active Burrowing Owls there.  The park protects the nests by putting up a roped area around the burrow.  That also makes the burrows very easy to find!  I spent a very happy couple of hours watching these fun birds before it was time to head back to Juno for our turtle walk. These fun little owls make their nests in burrows in the ground.  They are much smaller birds than most owls, about the size of an American Robin.  When we first arrived, it was still mid-day and the afternoon heat was fairly bad.  All the little owls were in their burrows, and I could just see their heads as […]

Beyond the Backyard

Eyes on You

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I was very excited to have an unexpected opportunity to photograph a Burrowing Owl family last weekend.  It was a rainy morning, thanks to Tropical Storm Beryl.   I found the adult owls sitting on fenceposts, and several chicks were sitting on the burrow beneath.  How fun!  They are so small and cute!   I’ve never seen these guys before. The two chicks were so funny as they sat outside their burrow.  I caught one of them yawning, and another giving me the best head tilt.  I wished they would come out a little more so that I could isolate them from the background.  I guess that’s why people like Brian Piccolo and Cape Coral so well.  I didn’t make it down there this year, but I plan on going next year! :)