Beyond the Backyard

Gorgeous Birds at Gatorland

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My last Gatorland post focused on the Snowy Egret that I saw hatch, but I saw lots of other birds last Saturday morning also.  It was a cloudy morning, with a good chance of rain, so I didn’t want to drive for hours and then take a long walk with my Beast.  So I opted for Gatorland, which is closer to home and has rain shelter if required.  I was surprised to find that lots of other photographers had the same idea as me!  The rookery was packed.  There were several photo workshops going on, lots of long lenses, and after 10:00, tons of tourists.  But the clouds diffused the sun, letting us shoot much longer than usual.  Activity at the rookery has picked up considerably in the past two weeks.  When I was there with Debbie, the Great Egrets were the primary nesters.  Now the Snowies and Tricolored and especially the Cattle Egrets have moved in. My goal for the morning was a Cattle Egret in full breeding colors.  I got it!  (Now I want one in sunlight.  Photographers are so picky!) I was surprised to find Gray Catbirds everywhere.  They hopped onto the fenceposts of the boardwalk, not […]

Beyond the Backyard

Slow Season this Year at the Gatorland Rookery

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I spent a morning at the Gatorland rookery the weekend before last.  My friend Debbie Tubridy was in town, and we decided to check out the rookery, expecting it to be teeming with birds.  But it wasn’t!  The morning-light side of the rookery didn’t have nearly as much activity as in previous years.  I was very surprised as I walked out onto the boardwalk and saw open expanses of Brazilian Pepper without any birds.  The Great Egrets are nesting, but we saw very few Tricolored Herons or Snowy Egrets.  It was disappointing.  I wonder if the weather is a factor, if the birds aren’t nesting as early because we keep getting cold snaps.  It didn’t seem to bother the Great Egrets, but maybe the Snowies and Tricoloreds have more sense than to nest when it’s still dipping into the high 30s?  Maybe? There were a couple of Great Egret nests with young chicks very close to the boardwalk.  These were very popular with the photographers with intermediate telephoto lenses, as well as with tourists with point-and-shoots.  The family pictured above has slightly older chicks.  There was still plenty of nesting and courtship going on with other Great Egret pairs.  Several […]

Alligator Farm

A Morning at the Farm

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After visiting with the Least Terns a week ago, Michael and I stopped by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to check out the rookery.  I can’t believe this is my first visit to a rookery this spring!  Last spring I practically lived in them. It’s prime nesting season at the rookery now.  The Great Egret chicks are pretty big.  Tiny Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets are beginning to hatch.  There are more Roseate Spoonbill nests than ever before.  Everywhere you look, there are birds! It’s fun to see how your photography changes over the years.  The first time I went to the rookery, I took hundreds of images, trying to capture every species I could find.  Several years later, I now spend a lot more time with each nest.  I look for opportunities to isolate my subjects and catch them in unique or interesting poses.  I also take way fewer pictures, hehe. I was of course required to take some pictures of the huge Galapagos tortoises for Rich.  He keeps giving me a hard time that there aren’t more turtles on this blog!

Alligator Farm

"Really Cool and Far Out"

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(Rich picked the title.  I hope you agree with him.) This is a Fractalized image of two Tricolored Heron babies taken last weekend at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.  The nest was at waist-level and so close to the boardwalk that I had to add an extension tube to the Beast to be able to focus.  I love how these little babies look like they are having such bad hair days, and I knew the Fractalius filter would make their hairdos even wackier. 

Beyond the Backyard

Quiet Morning at MINWR

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All week long, I’ve been seeing these amazing sunrises in the east.  The colors have been extraordinary.  Each morning, I’ve wanted to drive to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and photograph the sunrise over the water.  But instead I had to go to work.  :-p  Funny how work gets in the way of birding and photography! So on my off-Friday, I drove over to MINWR in the pre-dawn hours.  I made sure I was there half an hour before sunrise, when the colors are the best.  I knew of a place on Gator Creek where I’d have a nice reflection in the water.  I had my 40D body all ready with my wide(r)-angle lens.  But the sunrise didn’t cooperate.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the spectacular sunrise that I’d been drooling over.  There were too many dense clouds.  So I was a little disappointed, but then as the sun rose higher in the sky, it peeked out from behind the clouds and gave me something to photograph after all: Note that this picture was an HDR combination of three shots, taken at +/-2 EV.  I used Photomatix Pro to combine the shots.  I’m liking Photomatix more and more, as […]

Beyond the Backyard

Productive Morning at the Viera Click Ponds

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After hearing on Birdbrains about the early fall migrants at Viera Wetlands, I had to make a trip over there.  The wetlands itself was very unproductive, with not even the Purple Gallinules showing themselves to me.  No Black-bellied Whistling Ducks greeted me, either.  But over in the Click Ponds, there was a ton of activity.  It was the first time I’d seen American Avocets, and they are really cool.  Black-necked Stilts and their young are all over the dried-up ponds, and the sandpipers and other small birds are definitely starting to make a comeback. From what I’ve read, the Click Ponds are drained once a year as part of the water treatment activities.  They are almost completely dry right now, with green grass even starting to grow in the southern pond.  It’s strange to see.  It works out well for the little Black-Necked Stilts, though, who have a nice safe place to feed. The adult stilts are very protective of their young.  They start fussing when a human approaches, and they sometimes fuss even when you just stop your car near their kids.  In the meantime, the baby stilts wander around unconcerned.  It’s almost comical. There were a few smaller […]

Alligator Farm

Cloudy Morning at the Alligator Farm

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After a sunrise with the Least Terns, Michael and I headed up to the Alligator Farm for another few hours of photographing.  For once I was happy that it was cloudy.  It kept the temperature cooler and let me take shots that are usually very backlit in the mornings. The rookery is definitely starting to wind down.  A lot of the birds have fledged, although there are still plenty of chicks and branch-hopping juveniles.  I’ve been watching a couple of Roseate Spoonbill nests over the spring, and a lot of those juveniles weren’t around today.  I guess they’ve moved on to bigger and better places.  I’ve been trying for a juvenile Spoonie headshot all season, but usually the fledglings are buried in a tree (smart birds – there’s shade in there!)  Today a fledgling was posing for us with just a little bit of sun peeking up behind him.  I used slightly stronger flash than usual.  I was ok with the result, but it’s not the picture that I envisioned… Michael and I must have spent half our time at the rookery watching this one nest of Tricolored Herons.  There was one tiny chick, so ugly that he was adorable.  […]

Beyond the Backyard

Tiny Stilts and Willets at Merritt Island NWR

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This morning I was off to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) in search of baby Black-Necked Stilts.  I’d seen a very photographable nest there last weekend, and I was hoping to see chicks there today.  At first I was disappointed – the nest was deserted. But I drove around some more and found some little stilts.  Aren’t they cute? I found these guys on East Gator Creek.  First I located their parents by listening – the stilts are very loud when they are in protective mode.  After I heard two adults fussing in a particular area, I watched for the chicks.  I found these three in a little pond by the mud flats.  They stood by calmly as their parents tried to chase off all other birds—and given then number of Roseate Spoonbill fly-bys, this was no easy task.  Those poor parents must be hoarse by the end of the day! I was also lucky to find a Willet with her young chick.  I’d never seen a baby Willet before.  These guys were just running along one of the mud flats on East Gator Creek.  They ran so fast that I only had a few seconds to capture some […]

Alligator Farm

Birds and Babies Everywhere at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

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I drove up to St. Augustine this morning to visit the St. Augustine Alligator farm rookery.  There are babies everywhere!  I didn’t spend much time on flight shots today, instead concentrating on making good images of babies.  It’s hard to do that, with all the sticks and branches and nesting material everywhere.  Next time I should try an extension tube to limit the depth of focus. I have a great time watching the baby birds learning how to be birds.  For the first few weeks, their entire world is their nest, and the highlight of the day is when Mom brings food.  The parents have such patience as they sit on the nest, enduring the constant screeching from their offspring.  The chicks are pretty good at letting their parents know when they are hungry… There is one Great Egret nest in the big oak tree, right at eye level with a not-too-cluttered background.  The babies had just woken up when I noticed them, then Dad flew in with breakfast.  Oh boy!  They wiggled just as hard as they could with excitement.  I had a bunch of nice shots from this sequence, but this one is my favorite (and doesn’t it […]

Alligator Farm

Incredible Morning at the Alligator Farm Rookery

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I drove up to St. Augustine to spend my off-Friday at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm‘s bird rookery.  It’s right at peak season and the rookery, and the activity is awesome!  Some Great Egrets are still building nests, others have tiny babies, and still more have fledglings who know how to leave the nest but still haven’t figured out how to feed themselves.  Likewise, the Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons have all stages of nesting/babies/fledglings.  The Cattle Egrets are busy building nests and incubating.  Best of all, there was a set of three Roseate Spoonbill fledglings that amused me greatly with their begging for breakfast.  It’s a long drive to go to St. Augustine, but this rookery is so totally worth it!! I love the Cattle Egrets in their breeding colors, with their bright orange beaks and purple accents.  They are such fun to watch as they go through their courtship activities.  They stick together, sitting on the nest side-by-side.  There were lots of profile juxtaposition opportunities this morning, but I decided that I liked this single bird best: Cattle Egrets were constantly in the air as they searched for nesting material to bring back to their nests.  While I […]

Backyard photography

Pebble Ridge Pond

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Rich likes to tease me about the JSW, the “Jess Standard Walk,” which always includes a walk past the Pebble Ridge pond.  A Tricolored Heron has been hanging out there a lot in the last few weeks.  We also see him by the pond at the back of Spinnaker Cove. Rich caught a glimpse of our neighborhood Sandhill Cranes with their baby yesterday!

Beyond the Backyard

Quiet Morning at Fort De Soto

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I drove over to Fort De Soto on Saturday morning in hopes of finding some early migrant warblers.  There have also been a Reddish Egret in full breeding plumage and a Long-Billed Curlew hanging out at the North Beach lagoon.  I had high hopes of some good photography, but unfortunately, it was a pretty quiet morning. When I first arrived, I was on the lookout for the eagle’s nest that’s on the Tierra Verde peninsula before the entrance to the park.  I knew I’d found it when I saw the line of photographers, most of whom were lined up on the side of the road with their 500mm and 600mm lenses.  I pulled over and joined the crowd.  The nest is beautiful in the morning light.  It’s out in the open, one of the most photographable nests I’ve ever seen.  When I arrived, the adult was sitting near the nest, and one juvenile was in the nest.  The adult flew away, leaving the baby to sit in the nest and munch on his breakfast.  Some of the other photographers stood waiting, hoping that the adult would bring in food.  I watched for a while, then left to go to the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Happy Hallo-wren at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Apparently the “Water, Wings, and Wild Things” event yesterday spooked a lot of the birds at the Circle B Bar Reserve…but the wrens stuck around and celebrated Halloween with us! The marshes were fairly quiet this morning, but there were plenty of little bids for patient photographers… We started off walking to the far end of Heron Hideout, where it turns into the Eagle Roost trail. Dyeyo had good luck there yesterday. We kept an eye out for the baby Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks that have been reported on Flickr, but we didn’t see them. I turned around and saw this Tricolored Heron fishing at one of the culverts. He didn’t mind when I snapped his picture. Hundreds of Anhingas and Double-Crested Cormorants flew overhead as they left their night roosting trees and took over off the marsh. Dyeyo and I had fun practicing our flight photography. This was my best shot: This Eastern Phoebe repeatedly called “Phoebe! Phoebe!” and perched on a nicely lit branch. We walked down Marsh Rabbit Run in search of the baby whistling ducks. About a third of the way down the trail we came across one of the dead trees that serves as a great […]

Beyond the Backyard

Activity Starting to Pick up at the Circle B Bar Reserve

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I keep running into photographers at the Circle B Bar Reserve who complain that nothing is happening. They remember the thousands of pelicans and myriad of other species seen last November through April. There isn’t as much activity now, but there’s still plenty to photograph, especially if you know where to look! The plan this morning was to get to Circle B early enough to walk around to Wading Bird Way before sunrise. I had visions of sunrise pictures over the marsh. But then Dyeyo’s Sand Hill Crane family was out on Heron Hideout, and I dallied a little too long saying hello to the baby (now almost adult). So the sun was rising behind me as I hiked the Eagle Roost. I still got some fun sunrise pictures: Ten minutes later, I was out on Wading Bird Way, and the sun was already getting high in the sky. I set my lens to a high f-stop number to try to make the sun do the “star” effect. It did, and the reflection in the water was gorgeous. Small flocks of birds kept flying over my head, so I practiced my birds-in-flight photography. I was really excited to get the […]