To help celebrate, I thought I’d share some photos I’ve made of Florida Mothers and their babies. These are all wild animals / birds and they’re from several places over several years, so I’ll include where and when in the captions.
Momma gator guarding her nest and 4 (blurry) babies. Along La Chua Trail, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, FL, December 2006
Momma Sandhill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands, March 2017
Spoonbill Mom returns, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, May 2010
Great Horned Owl Mom and chick in the nest, Circle B Bar, March 2018
Momma Limpkin and baby, Circle B Bar Reserve, October 2013
Great Egret Mom and chicks, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, April 2011
It’s amazing how devoted Moms are, and it’s fascinating to watch them raise their babies.
You can click on these images to see larger versions on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go spend time with your Mom!
It’s also a popular place – there’s a lot to see and a lot of people looking. Kevin M. and I went over last Saturday and here are some highlights from our visit.
Great Horned Owl parent and chick
There’s been a Great Horned Owl nest along the entrance road for several years. It’s marked off with tape and signs and there’s usually a crowd observing so you can’t miss it. The image above is a composite. They didn’t both look toward me at the same time, so I combined two exposures in Photoshop. The chick seems pretty large. I’m guessing it must be several weeks old. They grow fast – go over soon if you want to see it before it fledges.
This hawk startled several birds (and me) when it launched towards a coot on the surface of the canal by Marsh Rabbit Run. It missed and then stayed in this tree for a bit before moving on. I almost didn’t make the photo, since at first glance, it looked like a Red-shoulder Hawk to me. But luckily someone nearby said “That’s a nice Cooper’s”, which is a new life bird for me. It’s young so the colors aren’t typical for an adult, but the eyes give it away.
I also tried one of the features in the new firmware for the Olympus E-M1 MII camera: Pro Capture (hi) mode with the PL 100 – 400 lens. I wanted to catch the bird as it launched off the branch. It didn’t quite work because hi speed Pro Capture freezes focus after the first shot. It took off at an angle toward the camera and the bird isn’t sharp in the frame. Oh well, another thing to add to my ‘try again’ list.
Pig and People
This wild pig was foraging along the Heron Hideout path. It’s pretty small, seemed very calm and used to all the curious people, and minded its own business. But I’d still be cautious around it.
Gray Catbird – infrared, monochrome
I forgot the spare battery for my main camera back in the car and of course it died on our hike just after the hawk photo. But I also had my IR camera with me with plenty of battery left. So I switched my long lens over to it and kept shooting. We spotted this Gray Catbird in the bushes, and I like the way the bird stands out from the vegetation in IR converted to B&W.
Cedar Waxwing @ Circle B (Photo by Kevin McKinney, used with permission)
We found a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the branches above the path – but my photos of them are in infrared too. Unlike me, Kevin was prepared and he was kind enough to let me use one of his from the day for this post.
Since it’s a long drive, we got lazy and slept in – so no sunrise images. I did make some infrared landscapes there and I’m planning to use them in a future post, so check back for that. Maybe I’ll include the IR Waxwings too.
We usually walk down Alligator Alley but it’s closed. The gators are apparently active in that area although we didn’t spot any. We did spot Painted Buntings, Indigo Buntings, a Barred Owl, Blue Wing Teals, Double Crested Cormorants, Anhingas, American Coots and chicks, a Purple Gallinule, the usual Herons and Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Warblers, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, turtles, and more. Like I said – a lot to see!
Surprisingly, it’s been 2 1/2 years since I’ve been to the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida. Surprising because although it is a longer drive for me, it’s such a wonderful place. Every time I go, I realize again that it’s well worth the time.
Anyway, four of us from the Photography Interest Group woke up very early (me at 4:25 am!) and headed over. Sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some mornings are, but the calm winds made for nice reflections.
Calm morning – Looking west before sunrise
When we had enough light, we all shifted to birding mode and explored. The temperature was just right for walking around. We saw many warblers in the trees and bushes – I think most were Yellow-rumped, but I’m not so good with IDs on smaller birds.
U lookin’ at me? Yellow-rumped Warbler
And the canals were full of wading birds looking for breakfast.
In spots the surface of the water was completely covered with duckweed, but incredibly the birds still managed to grab small minnows.
Snowy Egret and minnow
I saw another egret pounce and come up with a stick, but as I watched it dropped the stick and kept and swallowed the minnow that was also in its beak – amazing skills!
On the way out we parked for a few minutes to meet some famous new arrivals.
Great Horned Owl nest and chicks
It wasn’t hard to find this nest – the tree was roped off, and a volunteer was doing a good job protecting the site and keeping all the photographers in order and back away from the birds! It was nice to see these two little ones, and it was nice that all the people were polite and respected the bird’s space.
My friend Tom M. wanted to go out photographing last week. And I was ready – I hadn’t clicked the shutter since last year! When he mentioned that he wasn’t very familiar with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I jumped at the chance to show him around.
Our first stop was along the causeway to watch the gulls and Black Skimmers that often gather there.
Black Skimmer – Along the causeway headed into the Refuge
Then we drove through Gator Creek Road and Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Roseate Spoonbill (BPWD)- This bird was foraging near the shore and ignored me as I crouched down and framed my shot. When it heard the shutter clicking, it stopped and stared right at me for a few seconds and then continued feeding.
River Otter (BPWD) – I stopped the car when I spotted two Otters in the water next to the road. They swam by and kept going as we got out to try to make a photo. We followed for a bit – but they were going quicker than our fast walk. One of them surprised me when it crossed the road and of course I was too slow to get a good photo of that. This is the best image I managed.
We also stopped by the Bairs Cove Boat ramp at Haulover Canal to visit the manatees there and then drove by the Great Horned Owl nest (near 402 and SR 3). Our last stop was the visitor center to see if the painted buntings were around ( no, but they had been).
Whether you’re familiar with the area or not, this would be a very good half day route to see the highlights at MINWR. And this is a wonderful time to go – there’s a lot of birds and other wildlife around, and the weather’s great. Maybe I’ll see you over there!
Irked Eagle – This is Frederick, one of the permanent residents. A staff member brought him out for us. In this photo, he’s yelling at a different staff member that walked by. Maybe he was expecting a handout?
Birds of Prey is a wonderful place but leaves me with mixed emotions. On the good side, there are many more Raptors now than there used to be. The estimated population of Bald Eagles in Florida has grown from 88 active nests in 1973 to 1,457 nests now. But on the sad side, there are also many more people and automobiles. This leads to increased encounters between people, their cars, and birds – and sadly, means that many more birds are getting injured today.
Wonderful places like Birds of Prey take in injured raptors, treat them, and (if they’re well enough) release them back into the wild. They’re able to release just over 40% of their raptor patients. But it’s sad that some birds are too injured to be released.
This Great Horned Owl looks a bit sleepy. It must be a night owl.
The injured birds are well cared for. Some are placed in zoos or other facilities that are knowledgable and able to provide for them. Others stay at Birds of Prey. They make exceptional ambassadors and help teach people about these awesome creatures. All three raptors pictured in this post are permanent residents at the center. It’s great that they’re such good photo subjects. But it’s sad that they’ll never make it back into the wild.
There’s another place like this in Apopka, Florida – The Avian Reconditioning Center. I haven’t been there yet, but I’m sure they’re just as dedicated to helping injured birds. And I’m sure there are places like this all over. You’ll be sad if you never visit one. In addition to the photo-op, your entrance fees help pay for care for the injured birds.
As usual, we looked for a sunrise photo first. We found this old house behind the Brevard Community College and the sky cooperated.
Old house and sunrise
It was really hard to decide on the highlight of this trip. Before I left yesterday morning, I Googled MINWR, and saw a report of “a Great Horned Owl on a nest on the left near 402 and SR 3”. Sure enough, we drove right up to it and it was there waiting there for us! The internet is really handy, isn’t it?
Great Horned Owl on nest
The second contender for highlight of the day was a Clapper Rail. I’d seen reports of these too, but I’d never seen one before and didn’t know what to look for. We parked at the first parking area on Black Point Wildlife Drive and were exploring when we met a tourist from Brazil. He pointed out the bird for us, but it was back in the shadows and with the glare from the sun it took me a while to see it even with him pointing right at it! Fortunately, it moved a bit and I was able to get a photo. We eventually saw three in this area and one more at the second parking area.
These Clapper Rails are hard to see…
There were more people / cars on BPWLD yesterday than I’ve ever seen before. A couple of times there were real traffic jams! There were also more birds than I’ve seen there in a long time – maybe ever. We saw Ospreys, Clapper Rails, Pintail Ducks, Coots, Moorhens, White Pelicans, Mottled Ducks, Green Wing Teals, Belted Kingfishers, Anhingas, Cormorants, Green Herons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Reddish Egrets, Little Blue Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Savannah Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, Tricolored Herons, Woodstorks, Roseate Spoonbills, a Great Horned Owl, Painted Buntings, various gulls, Red-winged Blackbirds, and others.
After BPWLD, we drove by the owl again and it was still there. Then we went by the visitor center to check on the Painted Buntings. There were at least two of them at the feeder. After that we had to return home – a couple of us had things to do in the normal world. 🙁