Florida cow country: Joe Overstreet Road goes right through several cattle pastures. I imagine they look the same as they did a hundred years ago.
Snail Kite launch. We usually see one at the landing and it may be the same bird each time.
Killdeer in flight. I normally find these on the ground. This is the first time I’ve managed a flight photo of one.
Bird on a wire 4 – American Kestrel. I rarely catch sight of these and was excited to spot several on this trip.
Sandhill Cranes on final approach. There were more Sandhill Cranes (~50+) in the pastures along Joe Overstreet that morning than I’ve ever seen in one place before. I’m guessing the extras were winter migrants in from Wisconsin. Several of the cranes were banded.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Not a great photo, but this is a life bird (first sighting) for me – so I’ll include it. There were two and they stayed quite far away from us.
Osceola County / Joe Overstreet Road is a wonderful place! In addition to the eagles and these birds, we also spotted Purple Gallinules, Ospreys, Eastern Meadowlarks, Loggerhead Shrikes, Palm Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, Savanah Sparrows, our normal wading birds and others. We looked for Bobwhites and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area), but didn’t find any.
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!
At least it is at Viera Wetlands – a wonderful place to witness bird courtship and nesting behaviors.
This Great Blue Heron was lazy. He was raiding an abandoned nest close to his and scavenging sticks to bring back to his mate. A situation like this can be a great setup for photographers. Watch for a cycle or two and you’ll get a good idea of what’s going to happen next. It’ll allow you to anticipate and get good action / flight shots.
Nesting Great blue Herons
I was back at Viera Wetlands to check on the Sandhill Crane nest that I told you about a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, that nest has disappeared. The water in that spot is much higher and the birds abandoned it when it flooded.
Sandhill Cranes seem to be a very successful species, but I wonder about their nesting habits. Building in low-lying, marshy areas seems risky. How often do they lose eggs or chicks to flooding or predators like alligators, raccoons, etc?
We did spot two other Crane nests, although we almost drove right by the one below. We heard a bird calling as it flew by and stopped to watch it land. That was when we noticed its mate and nest. A few moments later the mate rose, revealing two eggs it had been tending. It stepped away and after a quick inspection to make sure all was well, the other one carefully took its place. I hope this nest and the second one we saw will survive.
Nesting Sandhill Cranes
I didn’t think our sunrise stop along the St. Johns river was that good, but I enjoyed making this photo of fishermen leaving the boat ramp before dawn.
Let’s get an early start
The light was dim. I made a second exposure at a higher ISO to keep the shutter speed fast and the boat sharp. Then I merged the two frames in Photoshop.
Here are some photos from a trip to Viera Wetlands last week. There’s a lot to see there!
Dawn in the harbor – A sunrise stop at the Cocoa Riverfront Park on the way to Viera
Sandhill Crane and egg in nest – it’s fairly close to the berm. I think I’ll go back in a week or so and see if it’s hatched.
Deer – I’ve seen them several times hanging out at the east end of the park
Web – The spiders were busy and some of their work was catching the early morning sunlight
American Robin – Winter visitors / migrants are showing up in force
Eastern Phoebe. Ash-throated Flycatcher(?) I didn’t recognize this bird when I made the photo. and I’m still not totally sure what it is. A Great crested Flycatcher was seen at Viera Wetlands in January, but this one seems too small for that. An Ash-throated Flycatcher was seen there in previous years. Many thanks to Wally Jones for the ID help!
So I had a very nice visit to a wonderful place – if you’ve never been, now is a good time to go!
A couple of weeks ago, I was on my morning walk with a friend when we spotted an adult Sandhill Crane and two colts. As we drew near, the adult started leading the colts around a corner and away from danger (us). We kept walking and when they came back in sight, there was only one young one with the parent.
Sandhill Crane Family 2
The adult obviously knew that one baby was missing. It turned around and headed back toward us to find the second one – which had wandered in the opposite direction and was lost in the bushes on our right.
Sandhill Crane Family 3
The adult found the missing colt and led it back out to reunite the family.
Sandhill Crane Family 4
And they went on their way. The adult looks like it’s going to give the wayward colt a stern talking to!
Watching something like this makes me think about how strong parenting instincts are in animals. We tried not to threaten these birds, but the adult crane was going to get the baby back even if it meant facing off against two large people.
Much like people should face off against a government that takes human children away from their families.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
What’s Momma doing? Sand Hill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands. The chick’s concentration is fascinating.
And Great Blew Heron families (Pun intended – Windy day? Blew? Blue? ):
Breezy Blue and baby – Mom guards the nest and chicks
And caught a brief glimpse of a family of River Otters before they disappeared into the reeds:
River Otter family – 3 or 4 of them ran across the road and into the water
I have one more photo to show you. Since I started using the Olympus E-M1 II camera, I’ve been on a quest to apply its ‘pro-capture’ mode to photograph a Red-winged Blackbird in flight. Their shoulders are pretty and you can’t see them very well when they’re perched. This is my best attempt so far. I like it, but I’m going to keep trying. I’d like to catch one in a little better light and it’d be nice to have the bird facing more toward the camera. While we’re wishing, a catch light in the eyes would be wonderful too!
Red-winged Blackbird in flight –
We also looked for a different sunrise spot and stopped by a pasture on the way to Viera. Unfortunately, nature didn’t cooperate – I ended with a few uninspiring photos. You can look at one (if you must) on Flickr at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some spring time photos!
Kevin M. and I knowingly and by chance violated many photography thumb rules yesterday morning. My first example:
Sunrise over the pasture
As landscape photos go, it breaks rules: It’s not all in focus; I didn’t use a low ISO to minimize noise; I used a long lens (so I could keep power lines out of the frame), not a wide-angle ; And I didn’t use a tripod. But I like how it turned out. I’m pleased by the composition and colors. It also has a bit of mystery with the fog, and the cows that are a bit hidden. Florida does look like this.
Next up are some bird photos. In Florida, July is one of the hottest months. Most photographers know this and many choose to stay inside – because the birds know this too and many of them also seem to disappear when it’s this hot. So what did we do? We went out looking for birds.
When we were photographing sunrise, we heard Bobwhites calling and spotted this one on the fence by the pasture. It was very patient and waited with us for better light. But I still had to violate one of my thumb rules and shoot at ISO 3200 to get a decent photo. By the way, let me just say again that technology today is wonderful. This image was at a focal length of 600mm, with a shutter speed of 1/50 second, hand-held!
The Burrowing Owl was a little way down on the same fence line. By this time the light was somewhat better and I could shoot at ISO 1600 and 1/100 sec. Still pretty impressive stabilization and sensor performance.
We did spot some other not so common birds including Brown-headed Nuthatches, Common Ground Doves, and Eastern Meadowlarks.
On the way back, we went by a farm where one of Florida’s Whooping Cranes hangs out. I’ve been there several times looking for it without success. Until this time:
Whooping Crane and two Sandhill Cranes
This is more of a record shot than a great photo. The light is harsh and the birds are beyond the range limit for this lens so it’s cropped in. And the July heat was making waves too, harming the image quality. But I still like it. Thumb rules? Who needs stinking’ thumb rules!
Until the 1930s, Whooping Cranes occurred naturally in Florida (see this article on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation site). There have been efforts to re-introduce them by leading them with ultra-light planes on migration routes (see this site). In January 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced they’d “stop supporting the use of ultralight aircraft to help young whooping cranes migrate from Wisconsin to Florida each fall”. Studies show that interacting with humans has a negative effect on the birds. I’m pretty sure this particular Whooping Crane is a survivor of the program. It’s banded yellow over green on its left leg, but a short google search didn’t turn up any info.
So rules of thumb are good – especially if you understand them and know when to break them. Breaking the rules led me to a sunrise photo I like and four life-birds yesterday (thanks Kevin!). By the way, you can click on any of these for larger versions on Flickr.
And thanks to all of you for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
Kevin K., Kevin M, and I went to Viera Wetlands last weekend. We’d had heavy rain the week before and the roads were closed to cars, so we walked.
Handsome Blue – Little Blue Heron
You’ll see different things walking versus driving. When you drive, you can cover a larger area and maybe see many more things. But sometimes the faster pace and the isolation inside the vehicle will make you miss something that you might see if you walk. And when you walk, it’s easier to stop and really look at something. Or stop and wait for something to happen. When we first saw the Little Blue Heron, it was in the shade. But we stayed for a few moments and the sun rose enough to put it into some better light. Worth waiting for, and we probably wouldn’t have if we were driving.
We started too late for a sunrise photo, but I did manage to make this infrared image of the moon setting into the marsh.
Marsh Moon – The moon sinks into the clouds over Viera Wetlands. IR, B&W, 3 frame Vertical Panorama
We also stopped for a bit to watch a family of Sandhill Cranes. With all the birders that frequent Viera Wetlands, they’re very used to people and you can get pretty close without disturbing them. They’re interesting birds. Whenever I see two adults foraging, they seem to take turns keeping an eye on things. One will be head down, while the other is up and looking around. When there’s a young one with its parent, it always seems to mimic what the parent is doing.
This one! This one is a good bug to eat! – Sandhill Crane and Colt at Viera Wetlands
Even though the birding action in our area might be slowing down as summer approaches, we still enjoyed ourselves. We spent some quality time out in nature, and made a few photos we like. Another good day for a photo-op in Central Florida.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
The Orlando Airport has a very convenient cell phone lot where you can wait for arriving flights. We often see a family of Sandhill Cranes hanging out there. Another reason to always have your camera with you!
Sandhill Crane profile
The birds are obviously used to having people around them. But if you’re photographing them (or other birds or animals) – please be respectful and don’t harass or stress them.
By the way, I’ve finished a first pass through the Blog Categories and Tags. I think they’re better organized now.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
We’re very fortunate to have Sandhill Cranes in Central Florida. You can see these large wading birds all around the area and you often see them in groups of two to four. Usually the group is a family with two larger birds (the parents) and one or two smaller juveniles.
For a few weeks last year, I regularly saw one family on my way home from work – they were often in a field next to the entrance ramp where I get on the toll road . It was interesting to watch the young bird grow and eventually leave the parents. I’ve also seen them in parking lots and even crossing major roads (on foot!).
According to Wikipedia, The Florida Sandhill Crane subspecies is estimated to have some 5,000 individuals remaining and is protected in our state. Sad fact: Sandhill Cranes are hunted in several western states and Canada. Fun fact: Ten million year old fossils of the Sandhill crane have been found which makes it the oldest known bird species still surviving.
Sandhill Cranes and nest – Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/8, 1/640 sec, Sigma 150-500mm @ 500mm, 60 meters distance
I didn’t realize that Sandhill Cranes nest on the ground. I saw a nest for the first time yesterday at Vierra Wetlands and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. How has this species survived for ten million years using this strategy? Can you imagine how difficult it is to protect a nest from all the predators in the middle of a marsh? I saw large alligators not far from this nest and I’m certain that there are raccoons, snakes and other things that would love to eat eggs or small birds close by.
Alligator on bank at Vierra Wetlands – Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/8, 1/640 sec, Sigma 150-500mm @ 500mm
iBird says that both parents incubate the eggs during the day, but only the female does so at night. It doesn’t say what the male bird does at night, but it must have to help defend the female. I can only conclude that these birds are very fierce defenders. Alligators and other predatory animals must learn to leave them alone – after all, modern alligators have been around for about six to 12 million years!