Backyard photography

Yard Birding: Fun in my Own Backyard!

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Female Cardinal in Breeding Plumage

Sometimes it’s great to go off to exciting places to take pictures of nature.  Sometimes it’s nice just to stay home and photograph the nature in your own backyard!  You never know what you are missing until you spend a few hours curled up in a blind or hidden in some bushes.  I know that our wintering Painted Buntings and American Goldfinches will soon be departing, so I spent a fun afternoon doing some yard birding. Yard birding takes some patience. I have a blind that I sometimes use to hide from the birds, but on this particular afternoon, it was very windy and I knew that the birds would be disturbed by the flapping of the blind. So I found a good hiding spot in the bushes. As long as there is a visual barrier between me and my subjects, they seem to be fairly tolerant of my presence. I had barely settled in when a Palm Warbler came hopping across the yard. One way to identify Palm Warblers from a distance is to notice that they flap their tails up and down quite often. Glad that I had just cut the grass, I aimed my Beast at him, […]

Beyond the Backyard

Return to the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I braved the foggy weather this morning to go to Circle B for the first time in two months.  It felt so good to get out there again!  Most of the ducks have left, but the resident birds are starting to nest.  I love this time of year.  The weather wasn’t great for photography—the fog didn’t clear until around 10:00—but I had a great time with the Beast anyway.  I didn’t have time to go through all my pictures, so here’s my favorite from the morning, and I will post more later this week. This is a Savannah sparrow, one of the most common sparrows in Florida in winter.  He was hopping around at the beginning of the Marsh Rabbit trail.  He didn’t seem very concerned about me as I knelt down and aimed The Beast in his direction. Other highlights from the morning included The Sandhill Crane nest on Marsh Rabbit Run!  I think the nest has another two weeks of incubation before we can expect cute little colts.  I would love to see them still on the nest after hatching.  Or better yet, coming out of the egg! The Barred Owl is on his nest again in the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Foggy but Interesting Morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Wow it was foggy this morning!  It was all clear as I left Orlando, but the fog started when I hit I-4, and the Polk Parkway was crazy with fog.  So I wasn’t anticipating seeing too much this morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  I’m glad I was wrong!  We saw tons of birds. The Red-Winged Blackbirds must be beginning to nest.  The males are displaying and calling from the treetops, providing wonderful photo ops.  It seemed like we had a blackbird on every other little tree along Heron Hideout this morning. To kill time until the fog lifted, we walked around the Eagle Roost Trail out to Wading Bird Way to look for the Sandhill Crane family that has been reported there.  It was so foggy!  We couldn’t see the Bald Eagle’s nest.  We could hear Eastern Meadowlarks, but we couldn’t see them.  When we made it out to Wading Bird Way, we could see faint shadows of birds on the trail, but we had to get pretty close before we could identify them. There were tons of little Savannah Sparrows out this morning, both on the Eagle Roost trail and along Wading Bird Way.  I got down […]

Beyond the Backyard

Frogs and Snakes for Breakfast at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I spent my off-Friday morning at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  I arrived at 6:30, about 20 minutes before sunrise.  I hiked down to Lake Hancock and was on the dock for the sunrise.  It was pretty cloudy this morning, so the sun was a little late peeking out from behind the clouds.  It was pretty though.  I spent some time photographing birds flying over the lake, then hiked the Alligator Alley trail.  Then I went up Marsh Rabbit Run and up Wading Bird Way before retracing my steps back to Heron Hideout.  It was cloudy and breezy and just a great morning to be outside! I tried some HDR with my sunrise shots, but I didn’t like any of the results.  The HDR created unnatural edges around the edges of the sun and clouds.  Usually I leave my over-the-shoulder camera set to bracket exposures +/-2 EV stops when I have my wide angle lens on.  I’ve found that sometimes 2 stops isn’t enough for good HDR images with images with lots of glow, so today I tried 7 images, metered at 2/3 stops.  Even that didn’t give me good HDR results today, though. :-p So here’s a Great Blue […]

Beyond the Backyard

February Photo Walk at Circle B Bar Reserve

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This morning my dad and I led another Photo Walk at the Circle B Bar Reserve. Circle B asked us to lead people around the preserve, showing them the best trails and places to find birds. Today we had about ten or so people meet us at 8:00 (remember, photographers have to be up early to catch the early birds getting their worms!) We walked the Heron Hideout and Marsh Rabbit Run trails, picking up a couple of extra people in our group as we went along. Then a few of the group continued with us along Wading Bird Way out to the Eagle Roost, where we observed the nest and caught a glimpse of the several-week-old eaglet. It was a pretty good morning and we saw some fun birds! I actually got the preserve right around sunrise, and I walked up Heron Hideout before meeting up with the group. A small flock of White-Crowned Sparrows posed most obligingly for me in the bushes along the trail. There were three or four juveniles. I didn’t see the adults today. Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrows have brown stripes on their heads instead of the bright black stripes of the adult. However, these little […]

Beyond the Backyard

Snow Geese at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge

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Dyeyo and I continued our bird-watching safari.  After we saw the Snow Bunting in Palm Coast, we went to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Rufuge, where several Snow Geese have been reported there over the last week or so.  They were there!  They usually don’t come to Florida.  There was a mix of white morph adults and juveniles, and one juvenile blue morph. Dyeyo and I really liked Lake Woodruff.  It reminded us of the Circle B Bar Reserve.  We were there around mid-day, which is not prime bird activity time (or bird photography time!)  But there were hundreds of birds.  We’ve  never seen such large flocks of Glossy Ibis.  White Ibis, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Little Blue Herons, and Killdeer were all over the place. The first thing we saw when we walked into the refuge was a turtle.  (Happy Rich!)  He sat there sunning himself, with all four of his feet sticking out.  The turtle kind of rocked back and forth on his shell.  We saw several turtles over the course of the day. There were Killdeer all over the place at Lake Woodruff.  There were a couple of birds on the ground right in front of us as […]

Beyond the Backyard

A New Place to Explore: Viera Wetlands

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I’ve heard birders mention Viera Wetlands so often that I had to get over there to see it for myself. It reminds me of Circle B Bar Reserve in that it is a local wetlands area with great birds — and unlike Circle B, which is so dry right now, this wetlands had plenty of water and there were plenty of birds as a result! I saw my first-ever Hooded Merganser and Common Snipe, which were both cool. The wetlands were covered in American Coots and Blue-Winged Teals. I also got some pictures of a flock of Green-Winged Teals and Killdeer in flight. Then there was the usual wetlands assortment of herons, egrets, and ducks. The clouds rolled in about mid-morning, but we had a great time, and I’m looking forward to going back. We lucked out — one of the first birds we saw was the Hooded Merganser. I yelped and hopped out, then by the time we got our cameras, we didn’t see him. Dyeyo tried to tell me that I’d just seen coots…and then he popped out of some vegetation and did a little flap! So we got to see his hood. He was in Cell 4. […]

Beyond the Backyard

Lots of Birds at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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There were Eastern Phoebes everywhere at the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning. Plus a whole lot of other birds… After Al and several other people saw a Cuckoo during this past week, we headed out to see if we could find it too. Al also reports that the river otters are back along the Alligator Alley trail. So we headed out the Marsh Rabbit Run trail, circled back around the Eagle Roost, then hiked Alligator Alley, trying to cover as much ground as possible. Unfortunately we didn’t see either cuckoo or the otters, but we did see some surprises… This Sedge Wren greeted us on the Heron Hideout trail at sunrise. We’d never seen a Sedge Wren before. I was shooting handhold, and my picture isn’t super sharp, but it definitely documents our first sighting. :) We may have just missed seeing the bobcat eating a rabbit on Heron Hideout! As we walked along the Marsh Rabbit Run, we came across a tree with not one, but three Pileated Woodpeckers. Plus a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Dyeyo would only have been happier if a Red-Headed Woodpecker had joined them. Luckily for us the tree was […]

Beyond the Backyard

Lots of Little Birds at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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A month ago I was ecstatic to see a warbler at the Circle B Bar Reserve. Today I nonchalantly dismissed one as “just another Palm Warbler.” How quickly do the birding times change!! This morning’s hike took us up Heron Hideout and out Marsh Rabbit Run. We spent most the time chasing the little guys. Dyeyo was determined to get a good Common Yellowthroat shot, and the House Wrens teased us, showing themselves for a second and then diving into the weeds. This Savannah Sparrow made a quick appearance on Marsh Rabbit Run. I think he’s a Savannah Sparrow…he’s the first I’ve seen this season. They are usually out on the edge of Wading Bird Way. It’s not as common to see them along Marsh Rabbit Run. The sun obligingly illuminated this guy for me: With so many Palm Warblers around, it is easy to overlook other yellow-colored warblers. I didn’t realize that I’d seen this Prairie Warbler until I got home and saw my pictures. As we walked over one of the culverts on Heron Hideout, we saw the usual Tricolored Heron and Snowy Egret, plus this Glossy Ibis. I think this was the closest I’ve ever gotten to […]

Beyond the Backyard

Our first visit to the Circle B Bar Reserve

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After hearing about the Circle B Bar Reserve from people in the Sierra Club, Dyeyo, Rich, and I decided that we needed to check it out.  Boy were we surprised!  People were not kidding when they said it is a wonderful place for birds.  It’s a protected reserve in Polk County, and there are paths through the marshes.  The birds are used to people and the activity on the hiking paths does not affect them.  Lots of migrating birds pass through here, and it is a great place to observe birds. We parked our cars and walked to Heron Hideout, one of the main paths.  The marshes on either side of the paths were just covered in hundreds of birds, including herons, white ibises, and some ducks that I didn’t recognize. This heron was posed nicely with the water. There were tons of white ibises around, and tons of wood storks. There were two purple gallinules near the heron, an adult an a juvenile.  I was surprised to see them balanced so easily on the branches, with their feet wrapped all the way around. The sun was rising and very bright.  It was hard to get a proper exposure of […]