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

Slow Season this Year at the Gatorland Rookery

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I spent a morning at the Gatorland rookery the weekend before last.  My friend Debbie Tubridy was in town, and we decided to check out the rookery, expecting it to be teeming with birds.  But it wasn’t!  The morning-light side of the rookery didn’t have nearly as much activity as in previous years.  I was very surprised as I walked out onto the boardwalk and saw open expanses of Brazilian Pepper without any birds.  The Great Egrets are nesting, but we saw very few Tricolored Herons or Snowy Egrets.  It was disappointing.  I wonder if the weather is a factor, if the birds aren’t nesting as early because we keep getting cold snaps.  It didn’t seem to bother the Great Egrets, but maybe the Snowies and Tricoloreds have more sense than to nest when it’s still dipping into the high 30s?  Maybe? There were a couple of Great Egret nests with young chicks very close to the boardwalk.  These were very popular with the photographers with intermediate telephoto lenses, as well as with tourists with point-and-shoots.  The family pictured above has slightly older chicks.  There was still plenty of nesting and courtship going on with other Great Egret pairs.  Several […]

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 […]

Beyond the Backyard

Foggy Mornings at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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On Saturday morning, the sunrise found me out on the Wading Bird Way trail at the Circle B Bar Reserve. I was flabbergasted when my dad also arrived for the sunrise. He’s not a sunrise photographer! As the sun peeked out over the horizon, fog was settling in over the marsh. It was really thick and very pretty. My dad commented that as he approached me on the trail, all he could make out was a dark blur. The blur laid down, got up, moved, crouched down, got up, and laid down again. “Yep, that could only be my daughter!” It’s great when your dad is one of your favorite shooting buddies! :) I enjoyed experimenting with my wide-angle lens for this sunrise. A nice raft of coots added interest, as did some flowers in the foreground (hence the lying down, to get the flowers in the shot). The rocks at the base of the culvert completed the image. I experimented with different shutter speeds, as well as some HDR. This was my favorite. The fog can make for some beautiful bird images, too. They may not be as sharp or clear as sunny shots, but the fog adds so […]

Beyond the Backyard

Gatorland Rookery Great Egrets Put on a Show

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I got out with my camera this morning for the first time since early December! It felt so good. I headed to the Gatorland Rookery in hopes of capturing some Great Egret nesting activity. The birds didn’t disappoint! This morning was my first time taking the Beast to the Gatorland Rookery, and wow! It’s a whole new experience with a 500mm lens. With my 400mm lens I was pretty much constrained to photographing the birds that were right next to the boardwalk.  With my Beast and teleconverters I was able to shoot the farther-away birds, who were easier to isolate with pleasing backgrounds. I’m going to have to try a late Saturday afternoon trip one of these days, to spend some time with the nests that are backlit in the mornings. I saw lots of Wood Storks and Anhingas on the afternoon side of the pond. But on the morning side, today there were mostly Great Egrets. They are in their breeding colors now, with those beautiful green lores and bright red eyes. There are a couple of Great Egret nests with chicks, and at least one nest with teenagers (those tall gangly babies that haven’t learned coordination yet!) This […]

Beyond the Backyard

Father’s Day at the Polk Rookery

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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

More from Circle B Bar Reserve

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As I drove to work with the rising sun in my eyes this morning, all I could think was that I’d rather be at the Circle B Bar Reserve! :) It’s unusual when I have such a good morning that I have to extend my description to multiple blog posts. This one is looking like it’ll be a three-parter… This Great Blue Heron was so pretty in the pre-dawn light. Look at the pale blueish-purple water. He was intent on watching for fish in the water below. The population of Black-Crowned Night Herons at CBBR seems to be growing. I noticed several hanging about in the early morning, both adults and juveniles. Several gave me flight shot opportunities. I think the adult birds with their wings stretched like this are so pretty. I still can’t believe how many Roseate Spoonbills were around the Wading Bird Way trail at sunrise. Lucky for me, they wanted to stretch those pretty pink wings and fly! Most stayed far enough away that I was glad to have my Beast. A few came close enough that I had way too much lens. Note to self: next time don’t be lazy and leave the intermediate telephoto […]

Beyond the Backyard

More from the North Beach Shores at Fort De Soto…

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I had such a good morning at Fort De Soto a few weekends ago, and it’s taken me that long to finish going through my images!  I had four lifers that day: Common Loon, Red Knot, Lark Sparrow, and my first non-captive Great Horned Owls, with baby!  Combine that opportunity with the awesome light at North Beach, and you get a happy photographer with a full memory card. :) The tidal pools by the concession stand were quite productive that morning.  I was hoping for Snowy or Piping Plovers, but they didn’t want to give me any more lifers for the day.  Instead this Great Egret gave me nice flight opportunities… This Snowy Egret posed in his breeding plumage.  He didn’t fluff up his plumes for me, but look at that bright yellow lore! The Long-Billed Curlew and White Ibises were at the pool too.  Then a Marbled Godwit wandered up.  It’s great when you sit down low in the sand and the birds just parade past your lens. :) The next to come by was this Wilson’s Plover.  He’s fast!  He scurried by, then found a snack in the sand. A bunch of Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls, and a […]

Beyond the Backyard

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 […]

Backyard photography

Strike a Pose

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With the new standard time hours plus my crazy work schedule, our evening walks happen in the dark, if at all. So it was great this weekend to get out in the “golden hour” of sunset and walk around the neighborhood. Besides the Lesser Scaups from yesterday, we saw our Belted Kingfisher is back. This Great Egret also posed at the pond by the entrance to Pebble Ridge. In order to get a good sun angle on him, I would have had to wade neck-deep into the water…our HOA probably frowns upon that! So I found the best angle I could and waited for the bird to strike for his dinner. Minnows, mmm…

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

Hummers and Cuckoos at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Yes, that’s right, we saw a hummingbird at the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning!  I didn’t get a picture—those guys move fast!  I couldn’t see it for long enough to tell what kind of hummer, either, although I assume it was a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  But it was most definitely a hummer!  Dyeyo and I saw him on the Alligator Alley trail just past the dock.  He flew across the trail in front of us and then up into a cypress tree. He wasn’t the only unusual bird we saw today.  Dyeyo got a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo shot!  And just like last year, I saw the bird in flight for a fleeting instant, but got no picture.  Now I have two nemesis birds for this vacation!  But it’s great to know that the cuckoo is back.  He flew over our heads as we watched the Pileated nest. So what did I photograph this morning?  Well, there was this very fast Northern Parula that kept hopping from one branch to another in a cypress tree near the dock.  It was pure luck that allowed me to snap the shutter just as he looked at the camera in the one frame that was […]

Alligator Farm

Birds and Babies Everywhere at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

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I drove up to St. Augustine this morning to visit the St. Augustine Alligator farm rookery.  There are babies everywhere!  I didn’t spend much time on flight shots today, instead concentrating on making good images of babies.  It’s hard to do that, with all the sticks and branches and nesting material everywhere.  Next time I should try an extension tube to limit the depth of focus. I have a great time watching the baby birds learning how to be birds.  For the first few weeks, their entire world is their nest, and the highlight of the day is when Mom brings food.  The parents have such patience as they sit on the nest, enduring the constant screeching from their offspring.  The chicks are pretty good at letting their parents know when they are hungry… There is one Great Egret nest in the big oak tree, right at eye level with a not-too-cluttered background.  The babies had just woken up when I noticed them, then Dad flew in with breakfast.  Oh boy!  They wiggled just as hard as they could with excitement.  I had a bunch of nice shots from this sequence, but this one is my favorite (and doesn’t it […]