Beyond the Backyard

Windy and Cold at Fort De Soto

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Somebody needs to tell the groundhog that he really mis-predicted the weather this year.  Instead of his projected early spring, we got freezing cold temperatures well into April!  Still, Fort De Soto is an awesome place for springtime bird photography, even if there’s wind and cold.  I spent a very pleasant evening and morning at the North Beach lagoon and saw all sorts of birds in their gorgeous breeding colors. When I first arrived at Fort De Soto, there were very few birds.  We checked the East Beach turnaround, and there were no shorebirds at all, due to the wind.  There are almost always birds at the North Beach conservation area, but not that afternoon.  Finally I tried the North Beach lagoon, where the wind wasn’t so strong.  There I found exactly two oystercatchers and this Ring-Billed Gull.  Despite the cold, I got a little wet and got my camera low.  I was rewarded when the gull grabbed his dinner and flew toward my camera! It’s hard to go to Fort De Soto and not get some sort of great shot. :) I enjoy trying my lens at landscape photography while I’m at the beach.  I’m learning to place elements in […]

Photography Tips

My New Groundpod

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Lately I’ve been hand-holding the Beast a lot, so that I can lie down and photograph birds at eye level.  This technique has been paying off well with the Sandhill Crane babies (more on that tomorrow!)  To see what I’m talking about, look at the two images below.  The first was taken while I was kneeling on the sand.  Look at the cluttered water behind the bird – I wasn’t low enough.  The second image was taken while I was lying on the sand, supporting the Beast with my left hand while clicking the shutter with my right hand.  See how the background is a beautiful creamy blue?   That’s why I wanted a groundpod. What’s a groundpod?  Well, it’s a tripod that’s made to go on the ground.  Sure, you can splay your tripod legs and get the same effect, but that can be very awkward to move the tripod when you are belly-crawling in the sand at the beach.  Not to mention that it’s annoying to get all that sand in your tripod!  A groundpod is a low flat support that you can attach your gimbal head to.  That way you can lie on the sand and rely […]

Beyond the Backyard

A Walk Around Lake Morton

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Last week Rich and I were in Lakeland to judge the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair.  We had a great time talking to the students about their projects.  Afterward, I twisted Rich’s arm into taking a nice walk around nearby Lake Morton.  I wanted to see if the Mute Swans were nesting yet – and yes, they are!  Two hours and a gorgeous sunset later, I had a cardful of images, and Rich was still patiently waiting to leave…   What a nice hubby! The White Ibises were in spectacular breeding plumage. Their legs, faces, and beaks turn bright red, and the females get a little pouch under their chins in the height of breeding season. I had one such female pose right in front of me with the blue lake water as a background. I love how the background brings out the blue in her eye. The Ring-Billed Gulls were very unafraid of people – they are fed all the time, and they allow photographers to walk right up to them.  Rich didn’t know what to think when I laid down to get face-to-face with one, hehe! I was ecstatic when a pair of Wood Ducks flew down […]

Beyond the Backyard

My First Visit to Lake Morton

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After a quiet morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve on Friday, Dyeyo and I decided to head to Lake Morton. Herman has been telling me about it for ages, and he always knows the good birding places! There were lots of Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks sleeping on the lake. It was my first opportunity to see a male Ruddy. They are pretty. The Ruddys stayed out in the middle of the lake, but the Ring-neckeds came in close. Dyeyo and I both had opportunities to photograph them full-frame. It almost felt too easy, setting up on the side of the lake and photographing all the birds going by. We’ve heard that several hundred American White Pelicans were roosting at the lake. We got there around 10:00 in the morning, and we found three pelicans. They mostly hung out in the middle of the lake, standing on the little platform around the Christmas tree. They made a pretty funny sight, out there with the Double-Crested Cormorants. I want to go back in the early morning to see if more are roosting there in the evenings. They tend to fly off pretty early. There were so many swans! I thought the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Finally!

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Finally! I got to use The Beast for the first time in almost a month! After hearing friends talk about the great birds at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I went there yesterday. Blackpoint Wildlife Drive was busier than I’ve ever seen it (both with birds and photographers :)). The birding wasn’t spectacular, due to the winds, but I did get to see my first Horned Grebe. He was hanging out by the culvert near the bathrooms on Blackpoint. I was amazed at his bright red eye. After I got home and saw his pictures, I saw that he’s missing part of the top of his beak. Poor little guy. A flock of several hundred American White Pelicans was hanging out fairly near the road. It was fun to see them. They certainly haven’t settled at Circle B this year. I had fun trying to photograph them – there were always lots of birdie butts! I tried to wait until they were all facing the same way. I think this one should be called “the eyes have it!” The terns and gulls flew over the pelicans, trying to steal fish whenever possible. They kept flying away from me, though! I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Finally! I Photographed a Painted Bunting at the Circle B Bar Reserve!

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I had a nice walk this morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve. It’s always great to go there to unwind after a long week. This morning I hiked the Alligator Alley trail in search of small birds, then I walked up Marsh Rabbit Run and up Wading Bird Way around to the Eagle Roost trail, where I observed the eagle’s nest. So the big question of the day…is there one baby in that nest or are there two? I didn’t quite get to the lake before sunrise. The sun was already peaking up over the trees as I approached the lake. I stopped and took a bracketed set of panorama exposures. When I got home, I combined the bracketed exposures using HDR, then stitched each image together into a panorama. Sunrise at the Circle B Bar Reserve! I walked slowly along the Alligator Alley trail, stopping often to observe the little birds flitting from tree to tree. I was very happy to quickly come across another Orange-Crowned Warbler. It was just two weeks ago that I saw this bird for the first time, and it’s still exciting to find one! The warblers are starting to get their spring colors. […]

Backyard photography

Hungry Gull

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The rains kept me inside tonight, hoping that our backyard birds had found dry and safe places to weather the storm.  So I’ll post a picture I took this weekend.  A bunch of gulls flew over the backyard, and to practice flight shots with the Beast, I aimed and shot.  I laughed when I realized what I had taken — one of the gulls had his mouth full with a roll!  He’s not going to go hungry…

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

In Search of Hooded Mergansers…

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A recent Birdbrain post indicated that there were about 20 Hooded Mergansers in a small pond outside a Perkins restaurant at the intersection of Conroy-Windermere Road and Apopka Vineland Road in Orlando. So Rich and I stopped there this morning after we dropped his folks off at the airport. There were no Hoodies this morning but I had a fun 15 minutes photographing the other birds that were there. The morning was clear and sunny, a sharp contrast to the weather forecast and the approaching cold front. A flock of Ring-Billed Gulls was sunning at the edge of the pond. My best shot was this flight shot: I really liked the detail in the feathers in the shot above, which I fine-tuned a tiny bit with Photoshop Elements Shadows and Highlights. I also cloned out the telephone pole that was in the left side of the frame. Here’s another shot of the gulls, this one a juxtaposition: It was mid-morning, and most of the birds were pretty sleepy. This White Duck was no exception: Next to the duck were a pair of Chinese Geese (I think I identified them correctly). They are not usually found in the Americas, so I […]

Beyond the Backyard

Chased by an Otter at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I’ve been called the Birdie Paparazzi. But today I was the one being followed! An otter came bounding up the path after me at least twice. He was cute! This morning I decided to hike Alligator Alley, since it was foggy and I felt like taking sunrise pictures. It’s also been a while since I’ve walked that way and I wanted to see what birds are around these days. The sunrise was gorgeous. I got to the dock just after the sun came over the horizon. I was told that if I’d been there half an hour earlier, I would have seen thousands of birds taking off in the early morning glow. I’ll have to remember that! I spent about an hour on the dock, photographing the birds flying by as the sun came up. The light was very bright and the birds were quite backlit. One of these days I’ll have to head to the lake at sunset. A lone Brown Pelican was out fishing for his breakfast. I caught him diving for fish a couple of times. He was pretty stubborn and always seemed to swim with his head in the shade instead of the sun… But bright […]

Beyond the Backyard

Breezy Morning at Oakland Nature Preserve

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We decided to postpone our usual Circle B Bar Reserve trip for a day, since the weather forecast called for a cloudy day with lots of wind. But when I woke up this morning, it was surprisingly sunny, and just a little breezy. So Rich and I headed to Oakland Nature Preserve to see if the feeders were out for Painted Buntings this year. (Nope.) Oakland Nature Preserve used to be one of our favorite birding locations. Then they started constructing a new nature center, which kept some of the birds away. They also stopped putting out the feeders that attracted the Painted Buntings in the winter. So we’ve only been there a handful of times in the last year or two. I was hoping that the activity would have started to pick up again, but it was a pretty quiet morning. We heard American Goldfinches but never saw one. Eastern Phoebes and Gray Catbirds made themselves heard but never let themselves be seen. Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers mocked us from high in the treetops. We did see a small flock of warblers, and I believe we were hearing a couple of Black and White Warblers, although I never saw them. These […]