Beyond the Backyard

Springtime Bird Photography at Fort De Soto

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Red-Breasted Merganser

April is my favorite time to visit Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The sandy beaches are beautiful, the spring winds are cool, and my toes get to wiggle in the ocean water as I photograph the birds molting into their breeding plumage.  An April visit always has the possibility of a fallout, where migratory birds are caught by rainstorms as they cross the Gulf of Mexico, so they land at the first opportunity – Fort De Soto!  But even if it’s a slow day for migrants, the North Beach springtime bird photography opportunities are spectacular. My husband thinks I’m nuts, but I love to start a good morning at Fort De Soto with a sunrise, even though that means getting up early enough to drive from Orlando and still arrive 30 minutes before sunrise.  Yep, I’m crazy, but at least I’m not the only one.  It was great seeing Michael, Donna, Susan, and Daniel at the park this morning.  We all had the same problem with the sunrise – lens fog!  My early shots were long exposures with my ND filter, but I didn’t move into position with the palm trees in the foreground until well after sunrise, […]

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

Roseate Spoonbills at Viera Wetlands

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Spoonie with Fish!

There are so many Roseate Spoonbills at Viera Wetlands right now!  The Click Ponds were recently drained, and the low water levels have attracted lots of wading birds, especially Roseate Spoonbills.  It’s an incredible sight to drive up and see several hundred spoonies feeding in a group right in front of you!  The Roseate Spoonbills are some of my favorite birds.  Their pink feathers and long spoonbills are such fun to photograph.  I especially like it when their feathers catch the light of the sun. It may sound strange, but it’s hard to get good shots when there are so many birds!  In addition to the spoonbills, there were dozens of American White Pelicans, White Ibises, and Snowy Egrets feeding in the water.  The spoonies feed in a large group, and their proximity makes it hard to isolate single birds for pleasing images. When I first arrived, it was a little before sunrise, and the sky was pink  and so were the birds.  I took the above shot with my iPhone since I hadn’t anticipated needing my wide-angle lens!  The last time I’ve seen so many spoonies together was last year at the Circle B Bar Reserve when the water […]

Beyond the Backyard

Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducklings at Viera Wetlands

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All Alone- Black-bellied Whistling-Ducklings

Two weeks ago I went out in search of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducklings at Viera Wetlands.  Usually the wetlands are quiet during the summertime, and it’s a great place to stay in your air-conditioned car while you wait for birding action.  But on this visit, I quickly found several families of the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, and their cuteness made me very happy to sit out in the hot sun and photograph them! The little ducklings are striped yellow and black for the first few weeks of their lives.  They look so different than their parents!  This was a very sweet family to watch.  The two parents were very attentive to their little ducklings.  They swam all over together, and the babies never got far from the parents.  The babies spent most of the morning feeding themselves.  Mom and Dad’s job was to chase off any predators. Speaking of dangers, a small alligator sleeping on a log was a constant reminder that the marsh is not an easy place for a tiny duckling.  Predators lurk at every turn.  I was surprised to see how close the little family swam to the alligator.  The alligator just laid there dozing. Not all of the families were […]

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

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 […]

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

Cloudy Morning at Viera Wetlands

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I debated whether to go out to photograph this morning. The forecast was just plain gross – 70% cloudcover, 50% chance of rain by 11:00, and over 90% humidity. Yep, that’s Florida in the summer! But I woke up early and decided that it’s been weeks since I’ve been able to get out, so I might as well go and enjoy it. I headed to Viera Wetlands, where I could stay in the air-conditioned comfort of my car and maybe see Black-Bellied Whistling Duck chicks. Well, it was gross out! The light levels were terrible. But the birds were great. The water levels at Viera were really low, which attracted hundreds of wading birds. The rookery island was pretty productive this year, and lots of fledgling Cattle Egrets covered the trail. My favorites were the several Roseate Spoonbills. Who can resist their pink wings? The wetlands echoed with the happy calls of Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. I drove around hoping to find babies, but I didn’t see any. I’m pretty sure I found an active nest cavity, because two adults kept going in and out of the top of a palm tree. They never left it alone. It was amazing to […]

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 […]