Lynn and I visited the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery this morning. Breeding season is in full swing and there are nests, eggs, and chicks of all varieties. This Native Swamp & Rookery blog post has the latest census for the rookery as of May 12th.
Here are three photos I made there this morning:
Little Blue Heron watching people
You can see many more photos that I’ve made in St. Augustine in this set on Flickr. By the way, I took a “new” camera and made some photos with it for a future blog post. It should be interesting if they turn out.
Hello again, readers! I apologize for a somewhat lengthy post, but today I wanted to catch you up on photo related happenings over the last couple of weeks – so there are several topics worth mentioning.
Circle B Bar Reserve
A week ago (Saturday, 22 Jan), I returned to the Circle B Bar over in Lakeland Florida with the Photography Interest Group. The first time I wrote about this place, I said: “I’ve only been to the Circle B once, and need to go several more times to get an idea of how consistent the photo ops there are.” Well, the second visit lived up to the first, starting with a quite pretty dawn:
Dawn at the Circle B Bar Reserve
One of the highlights of this trip was seeing a Barred Owl and getting a relatively good photo of it. The owl was high in a tree and ended up attracting quite a crowd before it got tired of us and flew off. The lighting was a bit tough – I’m glad I had my flash and Better Beamer ready.
Barred Owl watches photographers
We also sighted Ospreys, Red Shouldered Hawks, a Red Bellied Woodpecker, Whistling Ducks, and many other birds. Unfortunately, the beautiful yellow sunflowers that were all over the place last time are no longer there. They are seasonal and to see them you’ll have to return around mid to late November next year. All in all, a very nice trip and the Circle B definitely lived up to its reputation once again. You can look at more of my photos from the Circle B in this set on Flickr.
Black Point Wildlife Drive
Yesterday, I visited Black Point again. I’m not sure why, but this place seems to be really great for photos with reflections. Quite often the water is extremely calm and you can see scenes like these:
Clear day, calm water
Spoonbill and reflection
There was a lot of activity at Black Point. We spotted an otter, Hooded Mergansers, Belted Kingfishers, Hawks, and many other species. We also paused for a while to watch a pair of Ospreys fishing. They were too far away for good photos, and never came closer even though we had fish jumping out of the water right in front of us! You can look at more of my photos from Black Point in this set on Flickr.
Scrub Ridge Trail
A couple of weeks ago on Flickr, I saw some very nice photos of Florida Scrub Jays, made by “moonfloweryoli“. I commented on them and she mentioned a trail in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where she saw them. This led us to an add a second expedition to yesterday’s Black Point visit. We wanted to try to observe this unique species that only lives here in Florida. To make a long story short, we tried hard, but we never saw any. We’ll have to go back and try again. Kevin K. did make this image to document our search:
“Wilbur” and “Donuts” looking for the hard to find Florida Scrub Jay (image courtesy of Kevin Krause); Your humble author is the one on the left.
Alligator Farm and Gatorland blogs
A quick update for those of you looking for info on the St. Augustine Alligator Farm or Gatorland. I reported back in November that Gatorland was canceling its photographer early entry program. The Gatorland Blog hasn’t been updated since then, so it’s a bit hard to find out what’s going on at that park.
Meanwhile, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm announced they would continue their photographer early entry program. They’ve been running a mailing list on Yahoo where you could find information, and last week they announced that they’ll be discontinuing this and starting a blog of their own. It’s now up and running, check it out.
Sigma 150 – 500
Finally, here’s an equipment update. I’ve been doing much of my bird photography since early last year with a Sigma 150 – 500 OS lens. I’ve been very happy with it and one of my few complaints was that the Optical Stabilization was a bit noisy. Lately, it’s developed a “chatter” where it sounds like the OS motor is vibrating back and forth. While it does this, you can see the image vibrating through the viewfinder. I called Sigma and they said to send it back. So I’ll be without it for a while. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
I’ve found that one of the pleasures of bird photography and bird watching in general is the repeated observation of locations over the course of a nesting season. When you return to a place regularly, you can watch the behavior of the parents over time as well as the young birds as they develop.
I’m fortunate to live relatively close to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery and I was able to visit four times recently. This was the first year that Roseate Spoonbills have nested there and the farthest north that they’ve been recorded nesting. In this post, I’ll show you a sequence of photographs made over about six weeks of the two easily seen Spoonbill nests at the Rookery. Nest 1 is on the right side of the boardwalk closest to the entrance. Nest 2 is the one you can see from the far end of the boardwalk close to the large tree.
This first photo was taken at the end of May and shows one Spoonbill above and to the right of nest 2. At the bottom left you can barely make out one of the very young and small Spoonbills. This is the first photo I managed to make of the chicks. Sorry about the quality. The chicks didn’t come out in the open at all when I was there that time.
Mother Spoonbill keeps an eye on chick, nest 2. May 30th, 2010
Here is the same nest (#2) two weeks later. The chicks have grown a bit, have some beginning feathers, and are more active.
Roseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks in nest 2, June 13th, 2010
And this photo shows how large the chicks had grown yesterday when I visited – quite a difference in only 16 days!
Roseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks near nest 1, July 5th, 2010
Several of the young Spoonbills have fledged and I was able to capture this photo of one of them trying its wings:
Juvenille Spoonbill tests its wings, July 5th, 2010
So you can see how fast these Spoonbills develop. From just hatched and barely moving to flying in about 6 weeks. I’ve enjoyed following their progress this year. What a wonderful opportunity!
The bad news for those of you that haven’t yet visited the Alligator Farm is that you’ve missed most of the nesting season. Make your plans for next year!
Lynn and I paid another visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm this morning to check on things at the Rookery. Things are hopping!
After a somewhat slow start (cold weather?), the Rookery has had a very active and varied nesting season. If you haven’t visited yet, you need to get over there before you completely miss your chance until next year. You can still see many species in the nest with chicks, although there are also many juveniles that have grown very large and are even flying around.
According to Gen Anderson – who is the Bird & Mammal Curator at the Alligator Farm (via the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list), there have been over 250 nests with more than 700 chicks counted in the rookery. That’s a tremendous number of birds in a relatively small area! The following species are resident:
Mama Woodstork preens one of her chicks
Cattle Egret nest with chicks
Tri-Colored Heron nest with chicks
Mother Spoonbill and baby
Great egrets, Snowy egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Green Herons are also in residence.
There are four Spoonbill nests in the rookery and since I’ve never seen Spoonbill nests or chicks, these have been very exciting for me. This is the first year that they’ve nested at the Alligator Farm and the farthest north they’ve been recorded nesting. Two of the nests are well hidden at the back of the property, but the other two are easily viewed. All four contain chicks although it is difficult to see them, since they’re still so small. The chicks in the easily viewed nests will only be there for about another 5 weeks before they fledge.
We’re really blessed in Central Florida with many places that photography and nature enthusiasts can visit. The Photography Interest Group took another trip to Black Point Wildlife Drive yesterday. There was a lot to see.
I used a 750mm effective focal length lens to shoot this sunrise photo. I like the transparent look of the trees in front of the sun.
A 4 shot panorama.
Kevin McKinney (who has the knack for spotting things) let us know there were kingfishers in the area. I saw this one (my first ever) and made a very quick photo hand-held out the window at 750mm (eq). Thank goodness for optical stabilization! It was terribly back-lit, but the best I could do. It flew off as soon as we opened the door, living up to their reputation for being very skittish.
Like the previous time I was there, we saw many spoonbills. This one posed for us for a while. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the fishing line wrapped around its bill. Please, please think twice before you throw anything in the water.
3/22/10 update: Good news! Kevin Krause reports that the fishing line was gone a little later.
A beautiful bird. I hope it can get the fishing line untangled from its upper bill.
And finally, here’s another gator eye photo. In this one you can see both Keith and Ed in the upper right.
You may remember my post from May about Disney’s Animal Kingdom . Disney also has the Animal Kingdom Lodge co-located with the park. It is an African style lodge / hotel with over 700 rooms and several restaurants. Lynn and I enjoyed our visit to Animal Kingdom so much that when we heard about the Lodge, we decided to go to the Boma Restaurant there for brunch on our anniversary in mid June.
Rooms at the Lodge overlook an area modeled after an African savanna, where 30 animal species roam about. There are also several viewing areas where guests can walk a short distance out into the savannas to observe what’s going on. When we were there, we saw Giraffes:
And African Spoonbills:
For this "expedition, I traveled light, took only my Canon G9, and shot hand held. A little more reach would have been welcome. I think you could bring and use a tripod – I didn’t see any signs prohibiting their use. We were there in the heat of the morning – about 11 am. Most of the animals had more sense than us and were out of sight somewhere cool. If you go, take the weather into account, it will certainly affect the animal behavior, as well as your comfort.
The breakfast at the Boma Restaurant was delicious and enjoyable. We also had fun wandering around the grounds afterward.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a unique experience. There is no where else in Central Florida that you can stay in the middle of an African savanna. Is it worth the premium over other hotels in the area? Since we didn’t stay in the Lodge, you will have to decide that on your own.