Beyond the Backyard

Springtime Walk at Lake Morton

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American White Pelican Head Shot

Last weekend I visited Lake Morton in hopes of photographing swan courtship.  My friend Kim recently posted an amazing image of two “love birds” whose necks came together to form a heart on the lake.  It’s a touching reminder that it’s my favorite time of the year: baby bird season!  I can’t wait for the cygnets to grace the shores of the lake with their sweetness and their antics.  Alas, the swans did not cooperate for me on my visit.  But I did see so many other fun things to photograph that I can’t be disappointed.  Nature shares with me what it wants to share, and if I could always anticipate what I’ll see, there would hardly be any fun in it! So my morning started off with sunrise and American White Pelicans.  Small groups of pelicans were clustered on the brick walls lining the lake.  I quickly realized that they would fly off soon after sunrise, and that I had a few fleeting minutes to photograph them while the sun cast gorgeous orange light on the lake behind them.  So I did what you’re not supposed to do: I shot into the sunrise and added lots of exposure compensation […]

Beyond the Backyard

Cloudy Morning Walk at Lake Morton

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Female Bufflehead Up Close!

Three days after Christmas, the weather forecasters promised us some sun.  It was a welcome forecast, as it had been cloudy for days.  So I got up early and headed to Lake Morton for sunrise.  I hadn’t been there to visit my swans in quite a while.  But it was another dull gray day.  You couldn’t tell when the sun rose because the clouds were so thick.  Yuck! When I first stepped out of my car, all sorts of ducks came running over to me, convinced that I had brought some bread to share.  I always apologize to them and tell them I’ll bring some next time.  Then I don’t.  It’s a good thing they don’t hold it against me. My juvenile swans were easy to spot as they waddled through the grass.  They are looking more like adult swans, but still have the dark markings of juveniles.  They were still making little noises to each other, too, much like they made on the day they hatched.  It’s so sweet to go back and visit them. Lake Morton is a great place to go photograph Wood Ducks.  Usually Wood Ducks are a very secretive species, but the ones at Lake […]

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

Wow! Honorable Mention in NWF Photo Contest!

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Featherbed

Oh my gosh!  Yesterday I received this e-mail: Your photo of a Mute Swan Cygnet has won an Honorable Mention in our 2013 National Wildlife Photo Contest.  It will appear in a slide show on the National Wildlife Federation’s website in the magazine’s PhotoZone pages in January. It will also be considered for our Photo of the Week and Caption Contest during 2014. Congratulations on being a finalist in our competition! My Honorable Mention shot was my favorite swan cygnet image from Lake Morton this spring.  I remember that magical day of sitting around the nest with Kim and Rob and Linda and Barb.  The babies cuddled up with Mom and were so adorably cooperative.  With my 500mm lens I was able to focus very closely on their tiny little heads, which were framed beautifully with Mom’s soft feathers.  I had a sequence of images that were just amazing, and this was my best.  I’m honored to have received national recognition for it! When Rich saw the title Featherbed, he laughed and said, “why didn’t you call it Down Comforter”?  Well, I guess that title works too! :) It won’t be long before the swans have tiny cygnets around the lake again.  I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Show-Offs at Lake Morton

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Symphony Conductor

This summer at Lake Morton, I amused myself while on swan nest-watch by taking pictures of all the ducks and geese as they bathed in the lake.  Early mornings seem to be best for bathtime.  The birds are such fun to watch as they splash around, flapping their wings back and forth.  Besides, it’s fun to try to capture bath-time moments.  You never know how your shots will turn out when you’re with the show-offs at Lake Morton… This goose started the flapping party during the beautiful golden light that showed off all his pretty white feathers.  You can anticipate the wing-flaps by watching for bathing birds.  The baths almost always end with a good flap or two as the bird dries himself off.  I was surprised at how big this goose seemed to grow as he flapped to his full height and expanse! Then there was this Mute Swan.  He was swimming right in front of me, and I only had the Beast with me that morning!  He started slashing around, and I aimed at his face, hoping for a funny crop.  I got one, all right – he looks to me like he’s trying to conduct a symphony! […]

Beyond the Backyard

Mute Swan Cygnets Returned to Lake Morton

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Our Mute Swan Cygnets Return to Lake Morton

Seven of our Mute Swan Cygnets returned to Lake Morton last week.  Regular readers of my blog may recall my springtime posts about the cute little cygnets, so adorable as they sat in their nests with Mom on the day that they hatched.   I finally got to see a cygnet ride on Mom’s back this spring, and it was such fun to watch! Sadly, these creatures were snatched away from their nests and parents, sometimes on the very day that they hatched.  The City of Lakeland removed the birds to protect the babies from the egg thieves that devastated last year’s chick population.  This year the City built a “top secret care facility” to give the cygnets a better shot at life. The City returned the first seven swans to Lake Morton in mid-September.  It’s amazing how quickly the birds grew in just four months!  The babies could have fit in the palm of my hand, and the juveniles are almost the size of their parents already! It was thrilling to walk up to these birdies and realize that they were some of the same sweet babies that I photographed in the springtime.  They still make the little “peep-peep-peep” sound that […]

Beyond the Backyard

Mute Swan Cygnets – Just Another Ordinary Miracle!

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On Sunday I visited Lake Morton to photograph what is probably the last Mute Swan cygnet of the season. We’ve had a great spring this year, with lots of great nests and adorable cygnets. Unfortunately the babies are taken away by the City of Lakeland almost as soon as they hatch. So we haven’t had many opportunities to see the babies bonding with Mom and Dad out on the lake.  One thing I really wanted to see was the babies riding on Mom’s back as she swims.  My friend Kim got this amazing shot, which inspired me to try for my own.  I got there five minutes after the baby posed on Mom’s back!  Go figure!  After waiting for the cygnet to nap on the nest for about an hour, I finally got my own shots… As I observed these precious creatures in their natural habitat, I just couldn’t get a song from Kim’s blog out of my head… It’s not that unusual When everything is beautiful It’s just another ordinary miracle today* I was so excited to see the baby nestled on Mom’s back. He worked hard to scramble up there, and once up, it was hard to stay on! He kinda slid […]

Beyond the Backyard

Sunset with my Swans

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After our less-than-spectacular sunrise at Blue Cypress Lake a few weeks ago, I headed to Lakeland to see my swans.  You see, the City of Lakeland takes the cygnets away from their nests almost immediately — sometimes on the same day that they hatch.  The City believes that it’s better to raise the babies in a private facility, away from the hustle and bustle of the lake.  I find it hard to believe that it’s good to separate babies from Mom.  It’s been so sad to spend precious moments with the birds on their hatch days, knowing that they were going to be torn away from their parents in a matter of hours. Thanks to friends on the lake, I found out that the City left a few of the babies free for a few days.  So I hightailed it to the lake to photograph them free and happy.  I spent a wonderful evening with Mom and her three-day-old.  Carla, there are the babies from “your” nest from the day we visited the lake together! When I arrived, Mom and Dad and the babies were in the lake near their nest.  It was so much fun to watch them swimming […]

Beyond the Backyard

Cygnets for Mother’s Day

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Dedicated to my mom, who is my best friend and confidante.  Happy Mother’s Day!! As regular readers of my blog know, I’ve been stopping by Lake Morton periodically to monitor the nesting of the resident Mute Swans.  My friend Kim at the lake knows how much I love to photograph the cygnets (baby swans), so she promised to let me know when they started to hatch.  One morning I decided to sleep in (very unusual for a nature photographer in the spring!)  When I rolled out of bed at 8am, I had this email waiting for me… Baby!!   Where you park!  Sunday morn 6:30! Rich said I had a very determined look on my face.  By 8:15, I was pulling out of the driveway! :)  I had no idea that I was in store for one of the most exciting days of photography in my life… When I got to Lake Morton, Kim and her friends Linda and Rob were at a nest tucked into a group of tall grasses.  A newborn cygnet would occasionally peek out at us.  Mom continued to incubate her remaining eggs.  The grassy nest was cool and the cygnet was adorable, but it wasn’t […]

Beyond the Backyard

Cute Babies at Lake Morton

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The weather was cloudy and rainy on Saturday morning, so I didn’t want to venture miles from my car with heavy camera equipment.  I opted for a trip to Lake Morton, where I knew I could find cute babies.  I knew I’d be too early for swan cygnets, which probably won’t hatch till late April or early May.  But with all the ducks at the Lake Morton menagerie, there were bound to be at least a few chicks…and there were! Baby Ducklings My friend Kim posted some really fun shots of baby ducklings on Lake Morton.  She thinks that these cuties were an Easter gift that got dropped off at the lake.  Poor birdies – they don’t deserve to be bought because they are cute, then abandoned because they don’t make good pets.  But at least they ended up at a place where they might survive.  They can join other ducks on the lake, and there’s never a lack of bread and other goodies from lake-walkers!  They were nestled in the grass when I walked up, so I didn’t even notice them at first.  I think I surprised them, and they took to the water.  I quickly backed off, then […]

Beyond the Backyard

Swans Nesting at Lake Morton

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As I wrote yesterday, my friend Carla came with me on a photography expedition last weekend.  We first visited the Circle B Bar Reserve, and then we headed to Lake Morton.  Carla saw her first swan’s nest! The beautiful Mute Swans are nesting all around the lake right now.  We counted at least eight nests.  The City of Lakeland has roped them off this year and posted a sign by each explaining that it is illegal to tamper with the swans or their eggs.  I was so glad to see this after last year’s disturbing egg thefts.  Last year I had the privilege to photograph a cygnet (baby swan) on the nest on the day that it was born.  It was incredible!  I hope this year’s babies fare better. Speaking of babies, we found a small family of Mallards with very young chicks.  They were so cute!  I heard their little calls at about the same time that Carla said, “Jess!  Look at the babies!”  They posed for a minute for us.  I love how the mom and dad seem to be showing off their babies, and the baby on the front right is posing too, but the one on […]

Beyond the Backyard

Perfect Moment

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I was going back through my images from the year to prepare my annual Christmas calendars. I came across this one and thought of my friend Kim from the lake, who will soon become a grandmother. This was such a special day, when I met Kim and got to photograph this day-old cygnet on the nest with Mom. :) I can’t wait for next spring!

Beyond the Backyard

Gray Icky Morning at Lake Morton

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My First Black-Necked Swan

I stopped by Lake Morton this morning on my way to help my dad in his computer lab. It was very gray and nasty outside as Tropical Storm Isaac approached. But I haven’t had much opportunity to photograph lately, so even gray days are fun. Plus I always enjoy my time with the birds at Lake Morton. You can’t go to Lake Morton without seeing swans. I read recently that two Black-Necked Swans had been added to the “menagerie,” and I’ve never seen one of those before, so I was hoping to find one. I did! They were a little smaller than the Mute Swans, and not nearly as cooperative. One sat under the dark shadow of a tree while I was there, and the other wouldn’t stop eating. But at last he hopped into the water and went for a swim — away from the camera. When he turned back at me, though, I was ready! I have tons of pictures of the Mute Swans, but I can’t stop myself from taking more. These birds are so graceful. Even when they are taking a bath! Look at all the water that he’s tossing around!

Beyond the Backyard

Swan Lake

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My hubby isn’t the most, um, obsessed about birding. So I had to laugh when he asked me, “are you going back to the Goosey Pond this weekend?” He was referring to Lake Morton and Father Goose…but I had to disagree on his name for the place. I much prefer “Swan Lake!” :)

Beyond the Backyard

The Story of a Swan

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As I teased on last Friday, I stopped by Lake Morton on my way home from Fort De Soto and found a newborn cygnet.  I went back on Sunday morning to observe the nest and spend some time with the baby.  This little guy has a band of followers (hi Kim! hi Pam!) who spent the weekend watching over the nest.  One of the men dubbed him “Baby Friday,” and somehow the name seems to have stuck… When I first arrived, neither Mom nor baby were on the nest.  Papa was sitting hear the nest, which still contained three unhatched eggs.  We couldn’t find Mom or Baby out on the lake, and we were starting to wonder what had happened to both of them.  The lake is full of predators: the eagle, the herons and wood storks, raccoons, the alligator.   But after a few sad moments, we spotted Baby Friday swimming proudly up behind Mama! Mom and Baby came up onto the shore line to preen.  The purple flowers lining the lake right now made for a pretty backdrop for these beautiful white creatures.  I couldn’t believe how tame they were. Neither could Dina, who arrived to join the paparazzi […]