Beyond the Backyard

What Took Me So Long? Lake Mirror Is Great!

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Mandarin Duck (Male)

I often visit Lake Morton in Lakeland, but I had never ridden over to nearby Lake Mirror.  Several photographer friends keep asking me if I have photographed the Mandarin Ducks there.   The City of Lakeland introduced the mandarins and a couple of Shelducks, which are both exotic species (not native to Florida).  I finally stopped at Lake Mirror this weekend.  It was great!  I can’t believe it took me so long to finally visit. Lake Mirror is smaller than Lake Morton, fully surrounded by downtown Lakeland.  The city has a nice little sidewalk and park around the lake.  I was surprised to see a flock of Black Skimmers in the middle of the lake when I first arrived.  That familiar call is unmistakeable after spending so many hours at the Black Skimmer nesting colony!  The skimmers flew back and forth between the lake edge and the landing in the middle of the lake.  It was fun to find them so far inland. Though not as birdy as Lake Morton, there were plenty of winter migrants on Lake Mirror.  I found coots and Ring-necked Ducks.  The first ducks that I noticed were actually the Shelducks.  They are a very pretty […]

Beyond the Backyard

Springtime Walk at Lake Morton

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American White Pelican Head Shot

Last weekend I visited Lake Morton in hopes of photographing swan courtship.  My friend Kim recently posted an amazing image of two “love birds” whose necks came together to form a heart on the lake.  It’s a touching reminder that it’s my favorite time of the year: baby bird season!  I can’t wait for the cygnets to grace the shores of the lake with their sweetness and their antics.  Alas, the swans did not cooperate for me on my visit.  But I did see so many other fun things to photograph that I can’t be disappointed.  Nature shares with me what it wants to share, and if I could always anticipate what I’ll see, there would hardly be any fun in it! So my morning started off with sunrise and American White Pelicans.  Small groups of pelicans were clustered on the brick walls lining the lake.  I quickly realized that they would fly off soon after sunrise, and that I had a few fleeting minutes to photograph them while the sun cast gorgeous orange light on the lake behind them.  So I did what you’re not supposed to do: I shot into the sunrise and added lots of exposure compensation […]

Beyond the Backyard

Some Birds, the Moon, and Sensor Dust!

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White Ibis on Top of the World!

Yesterday at the Circle B Bar Reserve, Michael and I came across a group of White Ibis in my “treasure tree” along the Heron Hideout trail.  I’ve had many lifers in that tree, but I almost passed it without a second glance when I saw just a few common White Ibises at the treetop.  Then I noticed the moon.  Then I realized I could frame a bird portrait with the moon in the background.  Then the birds started flapping and I started clicking!! I remembered to dial in a small aperture (f/45.0) so that both the bird and the moon would be in focus.  My usual birding apertures, in the f/5.6 to f/8.0 range, would have rendered the moon as a slight white blur.   I loved how the White Ibis’ wing stretches over the moon – it’s like he was victoriously celebrating being on top of the world! Anhinga are often found all over the reserve, spreading their wings to dry them after a nice swim.  This one was perched at the very top of the treasure tree.  This was the first composition I noticed with the moon in the background.  I got home and showed the picture to […]

Beyond the Backyard

More From Indian Rocks Beach

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Skimmer Skirmish

I hope you’re not tired of reading about the Black Skimmers yet, because today’s post brings you more from Indian Rocks Beach! One of my goals for this summer was to capture the interaction between skimmers in mid-air during the nesting season.  I like to call these interactions “skimmer skirmishes,” when two adults take to the skies to fly at each other to resolve what I’m guessing is a territorial dispute. I see these skirmishes most often when there are small chicks in the colony.  Photographing the skimmer skirmishes is harder than it sounds, since the background to the colony during the sweet afternoon light is a bright pink condo building.  Not the best background!  So you have to wait for a pair of birds to fly high enough that you can frame them against the sky.  This summer I managed to get several decent shots, and the image above is my favorite. This skimmer flight shot was taken around 4:30pm, when the light was still very harsh.  I took the image into Nik Color Efex Pro and experimented with it a bit, to see if I could reduce the harshness of the shadows.  I think it was the Paper […]

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

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 […]

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

Shades of Red

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The White Ibises at Fort De Soto last weekend were sporting some very brilliant breeding colors.  A group of them fed for me in the little pool near the concession stand on the North Beach.  When bright white birds with great red beaks stand there patiently pulling crab after crab out of the water, it makes this photographer very happy… :)

Beyond the Backyard

The Two Turtles – Circle B Bar Reserve

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To continue the “Lord of the Rings” titles, this post is about “The Two Turtles” (and some birds, hehe).  Rich was a very happy camper when I got home from the Circle B Bar Reserve with several pictures of turtles.  He said I had to post at least one – after all, this site is called catandturtle, even if we did name it before the bird obsession began!  So here’s the best turtle picture of the morning.  If you are interested in turtles or alligators, now is a great time to hike the Alligator Alley trail at Circle B. I finished processing images from Friday morning. Boy was the light bad!  Why is it that lately the cold fronts come through on weekends, and the only sunshine days seem to be on weekdays?  :-p My favorite ducks at Circle B are the Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks.  They crack me up as they fly back and forth between tree branches, calling their happy little song to each other as they frolic.  I noticed this “three stooges” pose on one of the dead trees on Marsh Rabbit Run and shot it even though I knew the background would be gross.  The birds could […]

Beyond the Backyard

Even an Icky Day is Good at Circle B Bar Reserve

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I almost decided not to go to the Circle B Bar Reserve this morning. The forecast predicted a mostly cloudy morning, and the cloud cover over our house at 6am was thick. But I didn’t want to miss my last vacation opportunity to go to Circle B, so I went anyway. My dad likes to say that Circle B never disappoints, and today was no exception. I heard my first American Goldfinches of the season, and got a Redhead flight shot! This morning started out gray and the sun was behind the clouds, so I parked at the Nature Center and walked over to the new eagle’s nest. I was curious how well I’d see it with The Beast. With The Beast and the 1.4x teleconverter, I got the shot below. When I added the 2x teleconverter as well, I was full-frame on the nest. Hopefully the nest will be productive this year! The eagles were both at the nest for a little while, arranging branches down in the middle. Then one flew away while the other sat up on the branches over the nest. So they are not on eggs yet. Lately I’ve been enjoying flight shots on the […]

Beyond the Backyard

Winter Birds are Returning to the Circle B Bar Reserve

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Yesterday (Saturday) was the October photo hike at the Circle B Bar Reserve. My dad and I led three enthusiastic birders around the trails at the reserve. Last year our walks were big and we had a wide variety of birding/photography skill levels. This year our walks have been very small, and today’s group of experienced birders was a treat. We hiked the Heron Hideout trail, Marsh Rabbit Run trail, Wading Bird Way trail, and finally looped back on the Eagle Roost trail. It was a beautiful cool morning. We saw a House Wren, Common Yellowthroat, several Cardinals, and a bunch of Palm Warblers as we started up Heron Hideout. Then we spotted the Bald Eagles, who continue to carry nesting material across the marsh as they rebuild their nest by the Nature Center. We had several opportunities with the eagles throughout the morning. This was my favorite eagle shot: Most of my good pictures this morning were taken on the Wading Bird Way trail. I was excited to get out there and see small groups of American Coots in the water. Coots are very common birds, and most people tease me about getting excited about their arrival in the […]

Backyard photography

Our Newest Neighbor

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Goldy and Squirt (and Whiskey!) have been in indoor kitty bird-watching paradise for the last week or so. This juvenile White Ibis has taken up residence in our backyard. He spends hours wandering back and forth across the yard, looking for bugs and things in the rosebeds, and searching for dropped seed under the feeders. (The doves are his new best friends. They drop food for him on a regular basis!) Occasionally we’ll see an adult fly over, but the juvie appears to be pretty much on his own. It’s fun that ours is a safe yard for him as he ventures out into the world.

Beyond the Backyard

Nesting Season Winds Down at Polk Rookery

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Today Herman took Dyeyo and me for one last boat ride in the Polk Rookery.  The nesting season has all but ended.  Most of the birds have left, leaving the islands very empty looking.  A few adults and fledglings were still perched at the top of the Brazilian Pepper, allowing for easier subject isolation.  It was supposed to be a very cloudy morning, but the sun surprised us with a few hours of good light.  All in all, it was a very pleasant morning. :) These two guys cracked me up.  The juvenile Double-Crested Cormorant was begging for food, fussing like crazy.  He flapped his wings and threw his head around, and the longer the other bird ignored him, the fussier he got.  I guess he didn’t care that the other bird was an Anhinga!  The juvenile Anhinga flew away disgruntled, leaving the cormorant with an empty stomach.  I guess the cormorant was hungry enough—or lazy enough—to take food from anybody.  I wonder if Mom was nearby thinking, “Go get your own food, silly boy!” The Black-Crowned Night Herons put on a good show for Dyeyo, who did take a few pictures of them today.  (The joke is that Dyeyo […]