Beyond the Backyard

Lots of Good Color at the Gatorland Rookery

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Cattle Egret Showing Off His Colors

Some friends convinced me to visit Gatorland in early April, and I’m really glad I went!  I was a little burned out on rookery photography after the past few years, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting the crowds on the boardwalk.  But the birds were more than worth it.  We had excellent opportunities with Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and especially the Cattle Egrets. The Great Egrets are in all stages of breeding.  I saw some several-week-old chicks, some recently-hatched nests, some mating, nest-building, and of course, lots of bright green lores and lacy plumes!  I love the feathers on these birds in their breeding colors.  It’s fun to try to get good preening shots, which aren’t as easy as they sound.  You want the bird’s head parallel to the image plane.  If only they would take direction from photographers! :) This nest of Great Egret chicks was a lot of fun to photograph.  The chicks weren’t more than a few days old.  The little guys were hungry, and they wanted their mom to know all about it!  Much head-bobbing ensued as they tried to get Mom to regurgitate a nice fish for them.  (Rookery feeding habits are a little […]

Beyond the Backyard

Gorgeous Birds at Gatorland

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My last Gatorland post focused on the Snowy Egret that I saw hatch, but I saw lots of other birds last Saturday morning also.  It was a cloudy morning, with a good chance of rain, so I didn’t want to drive for hours and then take a long walk with my Beast.  So I opted for Gatorland, which is closer to home and has rain shelter if required.  I was surprised to find that lots of other photographers had the same idea as me!  The rookery was packed.  There were several photo workshops going on, lots of long lenses, and after 10:00, tons of tourists.  But the clouds diffused the sun, letting us shoot much longer than usual.  Activity at the rookery has picked up considerably in the past two weeks.  When I was there with Debbie, the Great Egrets were the primary nesters.  Now the Snowies and Tricolored and especially the Cattle Egrets have moved in. My goal for the morning was a Cattle Egret in full breeding colors.  I got it!  (Now I want one in sunlight.  Photographers are so picky!) I was surprised to find Gray Catbirds everywhere.  They hopped onto the fenceposts of the boardwalk, not […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunset at the Polk Rookery

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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 […]

Alligator Farm

Cloudy Morning at the Alligator Farm

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After a sunrise with the Least Terns, Michael and I headed up to the Alligator Farm for another few hours of photographing.  For once I was happy that it was cloudy.  It kept the temperature cooler and let me take shots that are usually very backlit in the mornings. The rookery is definitely starting to wind down.  A lot of the birds have fledged, although there are still plenty of chicks and branch-hopping juveniles.  I’ve been watching a couple of Roseate Spoonbill nests over the spring, and a lot of those juveniles weren’t around today.  I guess they’ve moved on to bigger and better places.  I’ve been trying for a juvenile Spoonie headshot all season, but usually the fledglings are buried in a tree (smart birds – there’s shade in there!)  Today a fledgling was posing for us with just a little bit of sun peeking up behind him.  I used slightly stronger flash than usual.  I was ok with the result, but it’s not the picture that I envisioned… Michael and I must have spent half our time at the rookery watching this one nest of Tricolored Herons.  There was one tiny chick, so ugly that he was adorable.  […]

Beyond the Backyard

Spoon-Feeding at the Polk Rookery

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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!”  […]

Alligator Farm

Incredible Morning at the Alligator Farm Rookery

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I drove up to St. Augustine to spend my off-Friday at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm‘s bird rookery.  It’s right at peak season and the rookery, and the activity is awesome!  Some Great Egrets are still building nests, others have tiny babies, and still more have fledglings who know how to leave the nest but still haven’t figured out how to feed themselves.  Likewise, the Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons have all stages of nesting/babies/fledglings.  The Cattle Egrets are busy building nests and incubating.  Best of all, there was a set of three Roseate Spoonbill fledglings that amused me greatly with their begging for breakfast.  It’s a long drive to go to St. Augustine, but this rookery is so totally worth it!! I love the Cattle Egrets in their breeding colors, with their bright orange beaks and purple accents.  They are such fun to watch as they go through their courtship activities.  They stick together, sitting on the nest side-by-side.  There were lots of profile juxtaposition opportunities this morning, but I decided that I liked this single bird best: Cattle Egrets were constantly in the air as they searched for nesting material to bring back to their nests.  While I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Spring Morning at Viera Wetlands

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Dyeyo and I couldn’t take it anymore.  People on the Birdbrains mailing list have been going on and on this week about all the birds at Viera Wetlands.  So we drove out there this morning to see all the birds.  It was a beautiful sunny, slightly breezy morning, and it was awesome to be outside with the birds.  Except we didn’t find as many birds as had been reported!  Oh well.  I still got some good pictures. :) First there was the Green Heron posing on a dead palm tree in the first cell as we entered the wetlands.  I love all the dead trees at Viera – it makes for awesome portraits! We drove around the outside of the cells first, just to get a feel for what birds were around.  I was hoping to see some Least Bitterns, but we didn’t see much at all as we drove around.  The Common Moorhens are taking over the ponds again.  The American Coots are almost gone, and so are all the other ducks.  So I guess the moorhens figure that it’s time to reclaim their territory and get to laying eggs! We came across the Viera Sandhill Crane family on […]

Beyond the Backyard

In Search of Babies at Circle B Bar Reserve

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Dyeyo and I went to the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning on a quest to find baby birds.  The adorable Sandhill Crane colt that met us on the Heron Hideout trail was just the first.  We figured that the Barred Owlet had already fledged, so we headed out to Wading Bird Way in search of the Limpkin babies and Mottled Duck babies that someone mentioned to us.  We didn’t find either, but we did find the other Sandhill Crane family. :) The days are getting longer and the sun is rising earlier.  Dyeyo and I planned to meet at 7:30, but I ran a few minutes late.  By the time we got out to the Heron Hideout trail around 7:45, the Sandhill Crane family had already made its way up onto the trail, and they only let us take a few pictures before moving off into the marsh again.  The early bird gets the worm!  Next weekend I’ll be an early bird. Sunrise next weekend is at 7am! The colt is bigger this week.  He’s hunting for his own food more, although he’ll happily accept that tasty morsel from Mom or Dad.  I noticed that he’s allowed to wander […]

Beyond the Backyard

Let’s Go Build a Nest! (Polk Rookery)

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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

Fledglings are Starting to Leave Gatorland’s Bird Rookery

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The nesting season at Gatorland’s Rookery is starting to come to a close.  While there are still nests under incubation, and some nests have tiny babies, the majority of the babies have fledged, and they spend their time hopping around in the tops of the tallest trees they can find. The rookery was strangely quiet this morning as the sun rose.  I guess the fledglings are starting to figure out how to feed themselves, and they don’t have to fuss for food as much. The majority of the Wood Storks have left the rookery, and you can see them teaching their babies to fish in the south pond by the Papyrus Islands.  This was one of the few storks who hung out in the rookery this morning: A bunch of the adult birds have started to molt.  You can see the feathers in their faces are getting thinner, and in the case of this Cattle Egret, it looks like her face is really dirty. This Great Egret juvenile fussed his little head off every time his parent came by.  I think the parent was trying to encourage the bird to branch-hop, as the parent kept hopping farther away, trying to […]

Beyond the Backyard

Cloudy, Breezy Days are Great for Bird-Watching at Gatorland’s Bird Rookery

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This morning was cloudy, breezy, and great for getting outside! The birds at Gatorland’s Bird Rookery took longer to wake up, probably because the sun wasn’t shining as brightly as usual. The rookery was eerily quiet when I first got there, and then the babies started fussing as soon as the sun started to break through the clouds. As I arrived at the rookery, I saw the fledgling Swallow-tailed Kites in the pine trees near the entrance to the Swamp Walk. They were more intent on preening than posing. The cloudy skies and diffused light made for some great birdie portrait lighting. This Tricolored Heron fledgling ventured out onto this branch and then watched as other fledglings flew over him. The trees were covered in fledging Cattle Egrets. If you looked down into the branches, though, there are still plenty of nests under incubation. This baby peeked out at me through a “window” in the leaves. Nearby, this juvenile Cattle Egret was posing for me. Actually, he thought he was waiting patiently for his mother to return with breakfast (and he got excited anytime a grown Cattle Egret flew overhead!) – but he also posed nicely while he waited! The […]

Alligator Farm

Baby Roseate Spoonbills at the Alligator Farm

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The St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s bird rookery had a record-breaking four Roseate Spoonbill nests this spring.  Two sets of chicks hatched a few weeks ago, but they are not visible from the boardwalk.   The other two nests hatched last weekend, and the little guys are so cute! Dyeyo and I watched and waited for the babies to wake up, and we were rewarded for our patience by getting to watch Mama feed the babies.  The nest is easy to see (in the mulberry bush by the spotting scope), but there are lots of branches in the way of a good photograph.  I liked this pose with the baby’s beak next to the mother’s. There’s another nest on the opposite side of the boardwalk.  The babies in that nest are smaller, and they don’t pop up as much.  I was happy to get this shot: A lot of the baby birds are fledglings now, wandering from their nests and posing at the tops of trees.  There were Tricolored Heron fledglings everywhere.  Dyeyo says the baby birds are more interesting, but the fledglings sure pose prettier! We saw a Snowy Egret nest with eggs, so the hatching isn’t quite over.  This […]

Alligator Farm

Baby Birds at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Bird Rookery

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I read about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in a photography magazine. It’s an alligator farm, but wild marsh birds regularly make their nests in the “alligator swamp” each spring. The alligators keep their natural predators away while they raise their young. So Rich and I drove up to St. Augustine to take some pictures…and found we weren’t the only ones who made the trip! There were some other birds at the zoo as well, much more colorful, but not as cute. Rich was overjoyed to see all the turtles that were at the Alligator Farm.  Maybe the drive was worth it. :) It is an alligator farm, so maybe I should include one picture of an alligator.