Beyond the Backyard

Shorebirds Returning to Florida’s Beaches

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Sanderling

Although it’s still really hot outside, fall migration is underway, and the shorebirds are returning to Florida’s beaches.  Most of our shorebirds fly to places like Alaska and northern Canada to breed.  They leave in May looking all spiffy in their breeding plumage, fly to their breeding grounds, raise their kids, and return to Florida in late August.  Hard to believe, huh? Rich and I spent some time at the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend.  That’s always a good place to look for shorebirds in afternoon light.  I took my groundpod and crawled around in the mud to get eye-to-eye with the birds.  Yes, Rich assured me that I was crazy.  But I had a good time! These little Sanderlings are bright white in their winter plumage.  They are tricky to photograph because they never stand still!  They are always running about, sticking their little beaks into the mud as they search for food.  They got used to me lying on the beach, though, and this one came running right up to me. I saw five or six Black-bellied Plovers at the East Beach turnaround, all in various stages of molting.  Some were already […]

Beyond the Backyard

They’re Ba-ack!

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While I haven’t been out to see them myself, reports from Birdbrains indicate that the shorebirds are starting to arrive back in Florida for the winter. Yes, winter. It’s July! These birds are incredible. They get all spiffy-looking in their breeding colors in May, fly to the Arctic, have their babies, and arrive back in late July with those spiffy feathers well-worn from their long trip. Amazing, huh? We’re happy to welcome them back to the Sunshine State. Hopefully later this weekend I’ll have an opportunity to get back out to photograph some of them! :) This Least Sandpiper was molting into his breeding colors when I photographed him back in April. He will have lost the pretty brown tones by now. PS – If you had trouble playing the Squirt video in my last post, try again. I wish that the various browsers would standardize a way to stream video!! I’ve now tested it in IE, Firefox, and Safari.

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

A Morning of Firsts at the Click Ponds

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I saw several birds for the first time this morning at the Click Ponds: two Wilson’s Phalaropes, Black Terns, Stilt Sandpipers, and a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  It was a fun morning to be out! I arrived at the Click Ponds (across from Viera Wetlands) just after sunrise.  The Click Ponds have all but dried up and now have “gone green.”  It’s so strange to see grass growing where the water is supposed to be.  The migrating shorebirds don’t mind it this way, though. There were at least fifty Sandhill Cranes roosting at the ponds when I arrived.  (According to Michael Libbe, I just missed the four Roseate Spoonbills and the Egyptian Goose. Oh well!)  Donna Faylo joined us and we all stood watching the cranes as they danced in the gorgeous morning light.  Most the cranes were adults, but there were a couple of juveniles mixed in. In small family groups, the cranes began to take off and fly away for their daily routine.  Most of them flew away from us.  We talked to the cranes and encouraged them to fly towards us. The light was gorgeous!  I used my zoom lens and dialed in an extra stop for compensation.  Finally […]

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

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After hearing  time after time about how great the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is, Dyeyo decided that he wanted to go with me and see it.  It was a pretty foggy morning, but the sun burned off the fog just as we arrived at the refuge around 8:30.  The Birdbrains have been saying that the Peacocks Pocket drive has been fairly active, so we headed there first.  We found Black-Necked Stilts and a small variety of shorebirds.  Then we went over to the Scrub Jay trail and found a Scrub Jay!  Finally we ended up at the Visitor’s Center, where they have a little boardwalk.  We found a pair of White-Eyed Vireos building a nest, and we stood and watched and photographed for probably over half an hour. Dyeyo and I are used to walking the trails at the Circle B Bar Reserve, so it was strange for us to drive Peacock’s Pocket.  The car works as a bird blind, but the birds at Merritt Island are also more skittish than our birds at Circle B. Our first bird of the day was this White Ibis, who probably had no idea that he was casting such a great reflection […]

Beyond the Backyard

What’s Going On Up There?

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There were plenty of birds in the skies this afternoon at the Circle B Bar Reserve! I got there around 3:30 and hiked Heron Hideout, Marsh Rabbit Run, and Wading Bird Way.  The American White Pelicans are back and roosting on the water at Wading Bird Way!  Yay! When I first arrived, the skies above the parking lot were filled with Turkey Vultures.  There had to have been at least fifty swooping in the wind.  They were actually quite pretty as the sun caught their wings and made them glisten.  This was my favorite picture, because of the wings, although I wish the bird had turned his head towards me at the same time. The bushes on the edges of the paths have died back, due to the recent cold weather.  It makes it easier to spot the little birds hopping around in the brush.  The Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers stand out nicely with their gray feathers against the brown bushes.  They are so small, fast, and friendly — I’ve actually had to attach an extension tube because the birds got so close that they were within my minimum focusing distance on my 400mm lens.  I enjoyed watching this guy fluttering around, […]

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at Fort De Soto

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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

More Winter Birds Have Arrived at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I spent my off-Friday morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve. I heard my first American Goldfinch of the season! I never saw it, but the call is unmistakable. Heron Hideout is definitely a great place to be at sunrise these days. The water levels in the marsh are extremely low, so the birds congregate on the right side of the trail, right in the great morning light. This morning there were at least one hundred birds, including five or six Roseate Spoonbills, and my first-of-season Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs. :) I had to dial in negative exposure compensation for the bright birds and the heavy sunlight reflections. The result was a dark portrait with a nicely illuminated bird. I also used a bit of fill flash. A lone Wood Stork stood in the midst of the action. It can be hard to get good reflection shots. First you have to have the right lighting conditions for the reflection to be bright, and the water has to be still for the reflection to be mirror-like. That’s hard to do when the pond is being skimmed by hundreds of birds! So I was excited when I saw that I’d gotten […]

Beyond the Backyard

Little Birds Galore at Circle B Bar Reserve

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The trees at the Circle B Bar Reserve were full of little birds today. The warblers are so cute.  This yellow rumped warbler wasn’t sure about the crazy photographer underneath him. There were tons of warblers today (palm, pine, yellow-rumped, and common yellowthroats), but we didn’t see or hear a single blue-gray gnatcatcher.  That was a big change.  The gnatcatchers have been very numerous in the preserve this winter. We laughed when we watched this common moorhen walking across the path on Marsh Rabbit Run.  Look at his green feet! There are usually least sandpipers on the waterfront on Wading Bird Way.  Finally one posed for me in nice light with a contrasting background. We saw several soras today.  They migrate through Polk County, so you only see them for a couple of weeks each year. This little blue heron was stalking fish in the marshy dollarweed.  When I first saw him, I thought he would better be named a gray heron, but when the light him him, his blue beak was apparent.  Too bad the dollarweed background reminds me too much of the weeds in our front yard! We saw several juvenile white ibises this morning.  I don’t think […]

Beyond the Backyard

Cold Birdwatching at Circle B Bar Reserve

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Dyeyo, Rich, and I were very cold birdwatchers at the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning.  My wool hat from Pittsburgh came in handy! I saw my first limpkins on Wading Bird Way today.  Look at that long spear of a beak! The limpkins were fishing for their breakfasts as we watched.  This guy had his head down for a while, and he came up with his prey wrapped around his beak. The trees that used to be covered in double-crested cormorants are almost always empty now.  I guess the cold weather agreed with them about as well as it agrees with me!  This spoonbill looked lonely all by himself. There were tons of laughing gulls on Wading Bird Way.  This one caught a big fish, then all his buddies ran after him and tried to steal it.  Go catch your own fish, silly birds! We saw these little least sandpipers running along the water’s edge on Wading Bird Way.  At first they were near a limpkin, and Dyeyo thought they might be baby limpkins (wouldn’t that have been nice!)  It’s rather deceiving, the way they posed next to the limpkin’s favorite apple snails…but no, they are sandpipers. It was […]