Beyond the Backyard

Betcha Can’t Go Just Once!

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On December 31 I made yet another trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, this time with Dyeyo. He had never been on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. We carefully planned to go on a day when it would be sunny with little wind. Then we got there and it was a little windy, and there were not as many birds as my last visits. Go figure. Our goal was for Dyeyo to see the Horned Grebe and a Reddish Egret (Big Red doesn’t make it inland to Circle B Bar Reserve, so Dyeyo hadn’t ever seen the Drunken Sailor Dance!) Dyeyo got to see both his birds. :) The Horned Grebe has been hanging out by the culverts at the bathrooms for the past few weeks. Dyeyo and I set up by the culverts, watching and waiting. It didn’t take long for the grebe to appear–and then disappear back into the culverts! We must have sat there for about half an hour to get glimpses of this silly little bird as he darted out and then went back in again. I guess it was less windy inside the pipes. Then as soon as we left, the bird came out and posed […]

Beyond the Backyard

Lions and Bitterns and Rails, Oh My! Circle B Bar Reserve Never Disappoints

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A group of photographers met at the Circle B Bar Reserve for sunrise this morning. We had a blast. Circle B really is a photographer’s playground at this time of year! Dyeyo and I parked at the parking lot at the Circle B entrance, then took the Windmill Whisper trail out to Wading Bird Way. The southern half of Wading Bird Way is my second favorite sunrise spot in the reserve (Lake Hancock is my favorite). I took several bracketed shots as the sun began to peek over the horizon, and this one with the flocks of birds flying over the marsh was my favorite. There were not as many American White Pelicans out on the water as the last time Dyeyo and I went for sunrise. The small group of birds that were there today were in no hurry to fly off at sunrise. So I turned my attention to the birds that were showing off: the Ring-Billed Gulls and the American Coots. I liked the pale pink water in the two shots above, produced by the reflection of the pre-sunrise sky. We don’t normally take many pictures of the common American Coots…but if they are showing off, and […]

Beyond the Backyard

Another Great Sunrise at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Dyeyo and I tried something a little different this morning.  We arrived at the Circle B Bar Reserve about fifteen minutes before sunrise, and we parked in the lot right at the entrance to the reserve.  Then we hiked out to Wading Bird Way on the Windmill Whisper trail.  We got to the crossroads right at sunrise. I enjoy doing HDR at sunrise because of all the varying tones.  The skies are light, with bright patches around the sunrise.  The ground is dark, especially the immediate foreground.  I use Photoshop to combine +/-2 stop exposures into a single image, then I use Curves to adjust the light tones.  Usually I end up adding a bit of light in the mid-tone region to make the images “pop” (to me they feel a bit 3-D). I really enjoy photographing the sunrise over Lake Hancock, where the water seems to make the sunrise color more brilliant.  I wanted to get the same effect looking out over the marsh.  The marsh is covered in fog most mornings now, and it was beautiful. Dyeyo and I have noted a smaller population of American White Pelicans roosting on Wading Bird Way in the mid-mornings in the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Bitterns Saying Hello at Circle B Bar Reserve

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I headed to the Circle B Bar Reserve on my off-Friday determined to remember to check the eagle’s nest next to the Nature Center.  I always seem to forget to walk over and check it on my way out! As I arrived at the nest, I saw one Bald Eagle sitting on it.  Another eagle was perched in a nearby tree.  I got a few shots before the bird on the nest flew off to join the bird on the tree.  I had been hoping that the nest-sitting indicated that the bird was on eggs, but he wouldn’t have flown away if that were the case.  I ran into Herman as I watched the nest, and he showed me a better vantage point for the morning light.  Herman said that this pair of eagles has not been very successful in raising young over the last few years, and this is the latest that they have ever started a clutch.  (But eagle nesting can go into March.)  Herman also pointed out that this bird is sitting high on the nest.  If he were on eggs, he’d be lower in the nest, with just his head visible.  Good to know! I had […]

Beyond the Backyard

Frosty Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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It was probably not a good morning to be a bird at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The temperature was around 28 when I arrived at 7:30 in the morning.  The ground was covered in frost.  Skies normally covered in American White Pelicans were empty.  But it was pretty in an eerie way, and by mid-morning, the frost was gone and the birds were back. I enjoyed experimenting with HDR shots this morning.  It was very foggy, and at times you could not even see the horizon for the fog.  I knew that I either needed to pull out the split neutral density filter for some pictures, or use HDR.  HDR was more fun. :) The frost was thick on the vegetation on both sides of the trail.  It was sad and pretty all at the same time.  Gone are the gorgeous yellow flowers that covered the marshes a month ago!  Many of the pools along Heron Hideout have dried up because of our lack of rain.  The black mud stands out against the rest of the colors of the marsh. Very few birds were in the water when I arrived.  Maybe the birdbrains are a little smarter than I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Beautiful Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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It was a gorgeous morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  We arrived at 7:00, just before sunrise, and the birds put on an amazing wake-up show.  The hundreds of Wood Storks and Sand Hill Cranes that roost in the marsh overnight all woke up and flew away, nicely illuminated by the rising sun.  They shared the skies with hundreds of American White Pelicans, flying towards their roosting site on Wading Bird Way.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t taken my second camera body — I was changing lenses constantly as I went from birdie close-ups with the 400mm to wider-angle landscape panoramas with the 70-200. The first bird we saw was a juvenile Wood Stork, who flew over the foggy marsh with some nesting material in tow.  He landed in a tree, where his stick seemed to get caught in the branches of the tree.  He finally yanked his branch free and flew off.  I wish the sun had been up a bit higher in order to get a sharper picture.  This was right before the sunrise, and the marsh was very foggy. Dozens of Sandhill Cranes that roosted in the marsh overnight took to the skies, honking like […]

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 […]