Beyond the Backyard

Easter Sunrise at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Easter sunrise, a lifer, and a bobcat…it was a very good morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve!! On Easter Sunday I was out on the Wading Bird Way trail approximately 45 minutes before sunrise.  I watched the pale glow of the sun as it appeared over the horizon, and finally burst up over the clouds.  I enjoyed playing with my new off-camera flash cord, which I used to illuminate the flowers and the rocks in the foreground.  It’s always fun to experiment with new techniques, and I’m not (yet) very proficient with creative flash.  The morning was supposed to be very cloudy, but the clouds were not so thick that they ruined the sunrise.  There was no one else out on the trail, and I had my own little sunrise service! As I stood enjoying the sunrise, I heard the familiar sound of Black Skimmers.  I was surprised, because I’d never seen Black Skimmers at the Circle B Bar Reserve before.  But as I looked up, yep, there was a small flock of skimmers skimming!  Their flight pattern when they skim is unmistakable, even in low light.  The nice thing about having two camera bodies is that I could […]

Beyond the Backyard

Frogs for Breakfast at Viera Wetlands

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Yesterday I wrote about my morning at the Click Ponds. Then I drove over to the Viera Wetlands, where the ducks are starting to come back. There were plenty of coots (10054 if you listen to Kathy!!), with a few Shoveler, Hooded Mergansers, and a Bufflehead mixed in. I should have started out at the wetlands. By the time I got there, the eagle had had his breakfast, and the Caracara had flown away. I joined some friends, teasing them about photographing the coots. Then a Great Blue Heron flew in with a frog! Mine wasn’t the only 500mm lens that was quickly focused on him. He kept leaning over to wash it off in the water before he tipped his head back for the final gulp. Caspian Terns were perched on palms throughout the wetlands. I usually see them in flight at Circle B Bar Reserve, so it was fun to see them a little closer. I was happy to see the Bufflehead, who has been hanging around the wetlands for the last week or so. I saw my first Bufflehead at Circle B a few weeks ago. The one came a lot closer – if only the light […]

Beyond the Backyard

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

Early Migrants at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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You know that the hot summer is coming to a close at the Circle B Bar Reserve when you start seeing the first Pied-Billed Grebes on the Wading Bird Way trail.  Although grebes are year-round residents in Polk, I don’t seem to see them until the very end of summer.  The same goes for the Caspian Terns.  So it was exciting to see both yesterday at the reserve.  The winter migrants are coming!! The Common Moorhens aren’t migrants, but they are fun to photograph.  There was a family that I watched for about 15 minutes.  There were two juveniles and two parents, but one parent was a little way away.  When the juveniles started to carry on, the parent came swimming toward them, fussing.  I liked how the adult’s reflection showed so nicely in the water, and I tried to hit the shutter when the bird’s mouth was open in mid-fuss.  I had two successful attempts, and this was my favorite: The juveniles continued to fuss, splashing around and carrying on.  As one ran towards me on top of the water, I managed to hit the shutter button and almost achieve good focus on his head!  It was close enough… […]

Beyond the Backyard

Photographers Flock Back to Circle B Bar Reserve

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The temperatures were a bit cooler at the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning, and the photographers and the migrant birds alike have begun to return to the reserve.  Dyeyo and I hiked the Marsh Rabbit Run trail, Wading Bird Way trail, and Alligator Alley trail this morning in search of migrant warblers.  Unfortunately, the cloudy morning was not conducive to good birding or photography.  We did find a Prairie Warbler, a bunch of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, and some Caspian Terns, who are year-round but always fun to see.  Altogether we had a nice walk and saw more species than I expected. The water levels are up!  The above picture was taken with my iPhone after I said, “gee, I wish I’d brought my wide-angle lens.”  (The Beast stayed home today, and I travelled light with just my intermediate telephoto.)  Then I realized that I had a wide-angle lens in my pocket.  Gotta love my phone! :) The water levels are high throughout the reserve.  Water is flowing through all the culverts on both Heron Hideout and Wading Bird Way.  It’s really good to see.  All this rain is giving us good results…maybe now we’ll have some water to offer the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Frogs and Snakes for Breakfast at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I spent my off-Friday morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  I arrived at 6:30, about 20 minutes before sunrise.  I hiked down to Lake Hancock and was on the dock for the sunrise.  It was pretty cloudy this morning, so the sun was a little late peeking out from behind the clouds.  It was pretty though.  I spent some time photographing birds flying over the lake, then hiked the Alligator Alley trail.  Then I went up Marsh Rabbit Run and up Wading Bird Way before retracing my steps back to Heron Hideout.  It was cloudy and breezy and just a great morning to be outside! I tried some HDR with my sunrise shots, but I didn’t like any of the results.  The HDR created unnatural edges around the edges of the sun and clouds.  Usually I leave my over-the-shoulder camera set to bracket exposures +/-2 EV stops when I have my wide angle lens on.  I’ve found that sometimes 2 stops isn’t enough for good HDR images with images with lots of glow, so today I tried 7 images, metered at 2/3 stops.  Even that didn’t give me good HDR results today, though. :-p So here’s a Great Blue […]

Beyond the Backyard

Skies Filled with Birds at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I found the birds! Last Monday I was disappointed to visit the Circle B Bar Reserve and find practically no birds in the skies. Today was quite the opposite! The morning was cool and bright — a nice change from yesterday’s cloudy gloom! I walked out on Heron Hideout and immediately saw my first flock of American Robins for the season. (I thought I heard them a few weeks ago, but I never saw them to confirm.) I also heard American Goldfinches all over the marsh today, and saw a couple pass over me in flight. They are my favorite wintertime bird. :) I hiked Heron Hideout, Marsh Rabbit Run, and portions of Wading Bird Way this morning. At the intersection of Heron Hideout and Marsh Rabbit Run, I saw this Black-Bellied Whistling Duck. It intrigued me because it was very close to the path, which is a bit unusual. He called to other ducks who were farther out into the marsh. Each time he called, he got many many whistles in response. It was fun to watch. The Wood Storks were flying overhead all morning. They roost in the trees behind Marsh Rabbit Run overnight, then fly out to […]

Beyond the Backyard

A New Place to Explore: Viera Wetlands

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I’ve heard birders mention Viera Wetlands so often that I had to get over there to see it for myself. It reminds me of Circle B Bar Reserve in that it is a local wetlands area with great birds — and unlike Circle B, which is so dry right now, this wetlands had plenty of water and there were plenty of birds as a result! I saw my first-ever Hooded Merganser and Common Snipe, which were both cool. The wetlands were covered in American Coots and Blue-Winged Teals. I also got some pictures of a flock of Green-Winged Teals and Killdeer in flight. Then there was the usual wetlands assortment of herons, egrets, and ducks. The clouds rolled in about mid-morning, but we had a great time, and I’m looking forward to going back. We lucked out — one of the first birds we saw was the Hooded Merganser. I yelped and hopped out, then by the time we got our cameras, we didn’t see him. Dyeyo tried to tell me that I’d just seen coots…and then he popped out of some vegetation and did a little flap! So we got to see his hood. He was in Cell 4. […]

Beyond the Backyard

Quiet morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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The sky was clear and the winds were northeast and there were not many migrants at the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning. It was a bit cooler, though, and a walk through the marsh at dawn is always pleasant. Thankfully I didn’t see any alligators, either! I started out on Heron Hideout and checked for the little family of Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. Actually there are several families, on both sides of the path. The ducklings from the family on the left have been losing their yellow-and-black cute baby feathers and molting into their juvenile plumage. Today I saw just one juvenile, with a parent, and as I watched they took to the air and flew away. Birds grow up so quickly! In the picture below, the adult has the bright orange beak, and the juvenile has the black beak. There were three Limpkins on Heron Hideout past Marsh Rabbit Run (still closed :(). The Limpkins at Circle B are usually fairly skittish, but I stood there quietly for a while and let them get used to me. Then they let me get closer and photograph them. One of the Limpkins must have thought he was a Sand Hill Crane, […]

Beyond the Backyard

More Migrants at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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We were so excited by the migratory birds that we saw yesterday at the Circle B Bar Reserve that we just had to go back this morning. I was hoping to get better pictures of the migrating warblers, in non-foggy light.  But the marshes were very quiet this morning.  We saw two American Redstarts by the dock on Lake Hancock.  Those were the only warblers we saw all morning. Since the morning was still very cloudy, Dyeyo and I decided to walk the Alligator Alley trail, starting at the lake end.  We were hoping to make it around to the warbler-friendly trees at the intersection of Heron Hideout and Alligator Alley by the time the sunlight would be bright enough for lighting tiny birds. This juvenile Little Blue Heron watched me watching him by Lake Hancock.  I had to use some fill flash.  It’s fun to apply the techniques that I’m learning as I read Arthur Morris’s books on bird photography.  :) I stood for a few minutes watching the fly-bys over the lake.  I saw Osprey, Wood Storks, Laughing Gulls, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and a Black-Crowned Night Heron pass by.  I also saw a bunch of Caspian Terns, […]