Some of my best images have been of this small heron, its a Little Blue. This was taken during the last few minutes of sun light as the sun dipped down. Photographers here in Florida call these last moments of perfect light, the Golden Hour.
Some of my best images have been of this small heron, its a Little Blue. This was taken during the last few minutes of sun light as the sun dipped down. Photographers here in Florida call these last moments of perfect light, the Golden Hour.
I saw a new "lifer" yesterday which was very pleasing. I have a gallery of Doves and Pigeons of the world which you can see (here) . So far I have photograph 15 species and I have been able to add to it having seen and photographed a White winged Dove, yet another attractive species of Pigeon. It is a quest to photograph as many different species of pigeons and doves as possible. It was on the feeder at Green Cay in Palm Beach County. We went back up there yesterday to visit Wacodehatchee Wetlands (and of course Green Cay). Both venues give amazing opportunities for close up views of birds and alligators.
However, the White winged Dove was not the highlight of the day. We stood watching Red Cardinals, (what an amazing species this is), when suddenly a small group of Blue Grey Gnatcatchers arrived to feed around an ornamental palm. I watched the group chasing and hovering, probably hawking the small midges which attracted to the sweet fruit. Suddenly I saw it, a tiny Ruby Throated Hummingbird! Without a doubt this was the birding highlight of the trip, by a mile. It made my heart race with excitement. I watched it buzzing around and remain stationary as it hovered in front of me. I just couldn't get the camera to lock on but then it disappeared out of view and it never appeared again! I think it was a female because all I could see was light grey and not green or a dark back which is what I would have expected from a male.
This is an interesting bird, it's a juvenile Purple Gallinule, probably one of the most colourful bird I have ever seen. This youngster is just showing the hint of purple on the wings, quite a beautiful bird even when not in full colour. It was feeding on insects amongst the water hyacinth and lilly pads.
This alligator was lying in the shade next to a canal. It kept "gaping" it's mouth wide open. I would suspect that this is a way of keeping cool. Reptiles are cold blooded, they need to regulate their heat in different ways than birds and mammals. By opening the mouth, air will blow against the only area of the animal that isn't protected by thick leathery skin.
The Double crested Cormorants are nesting at the moment, interestingly, obviously winter breeders here. I came very close to getting a magic photo of a pair mating. Sometimes the light is so difficult to deal with and its almost impossible to achieve what you are after.
As you can see, there are fully grown chicks in some of the nests. This youngster never stopped screaming for food even though at times the adult was napping. Quite how the youngsters can tolerate the heat is a mystery to me?
Apart from the Hummingbird, probably the best sighting of the day was a Black crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax. It was tucked away quietly on a branch close to a walk way. Jenny spotted it and then pointed it out to me. Even though it was close to the path it was hard to photograph because of branches and intense light bursting through the gaps. I havent been able to get close to this species before so it was nice to see it so close. We actually get this species in Europe and from time to time they are seen in the UK. Interestingly, they breed on every continent as well as the US. Look at that single plume on the head.
Heres the view that Jenny had and she snapped the picture with her ipad. I have to take my hat off to her for being able to see it...... to friends and family, are you impressed that I have at last got lovely jenny looking for birds for me?
Yesterday in the Everglades turned in to a bit of a problem. The weather is almost difficult to describe, it is invariably in the high 80's both day and night and incredibly humid. Building and vehicles are air conditioned and as soon as you emerge from the air-con your glasses steam up. It goes without saying that the first thing to suffer is my camera equipment and its been a battle to try to keep my lens free of mist and moisture. It was a 40 minute trip in to the damp everglades yesterday and my expensive 500 mm prime lens did not clear until I stepped back on to the dock from Geoffs "janoe"....that is, his specially designed boat, a cross between a canoe and a john-boat. We had arrived at dawn at Holliday Park, you may have seen this venue on TV's "Gator Boys". Its a good place to park up and launch a boat in to the Everglades. It was quite a trip in to the wilderness, as an Englishman its not often that you are in the true wilds like this. The silence is immense, this may appear to be a contradiction but you have to experience true silence to appreciate what I mean. We pushed slowly along the watercourse with just an electric outboard for power. The water is fringed by thick strong lilies and reeds and the water is mysteriously black and deep. Who knows what lurks beneath, alligators for sure as well as large fish. The silence was only interrupted by bird noise, Red Wing Blackbird and the odd bird of prey. Herons are few and far between at the moment, this must because of the season. I hardly managed a photo because of the damp as explained but it was never the less another great experience.
Then today I returned to another part of the glades. A spot that I enjoy on "Alligator Ally", thats the main road across the Everglades between Ft Lauderdale and Naples. Here the light is incredibly clear and bright and the photo opportunities can remind you of the aviary at the local zoo. Its not silent here because the Grackles cackle constantly, cicadas sing and the Mockingbirds never give up trying to impress.
This morning was no exception and my close encounters included, Black Vulture as well as all of the above. I had a "nightmare" on the way, there are roadworks on the road out there. I took a wrong turning and finished up on the Miami road, a big "cock-up" in the rush hour. Eventually after a detour and a lot of cursing I got back on the right road but it added 40 minutes to a 25 minute journey. It made it more rewarding when I eventually reached my destination. I almost immediately encountered an Alligator who was pushing slowly through the dark water, his presence confirming the mysteries. His head and a portion of his back were all that was showing. I spent a couple of hours watching and photographing and then just as I was about to leave I caught sight of a dozen or more small birds in some low bushes. These turned out to be a flock of migrating warblers my first warblers in a week of looking.
Up until this trip I hadn't had the chance to photograph a Willet but again this morning just after sunrise a pair were on the beach just in front of my sister's apartment. They are a dull looking bird as I have already said but not without their charm not least their very confiding behaviour. To get these photos today I had to go a little hard core. I stripped down to my underwear and waded in to the surf so that i had the sun coming over my shoulder. This gave me good light that flooded on to the bird. First one was joined by it's partner, I guess that this was the same birds that I had seen last Thursday but I will never know for sure. While I in the warm surf with the camera on a tripod, a Pelican and an Osprey were fishing just behind me but I would have been looking in to the sun if I were to try to photograph them.
Later on in the day I I took my POV underwater camera to film the Tarpon again and this time with better light I did better and also filmed some very interesting other fish. I will hope to post that movie via You tube tomorrow. At 5 my nephew Geoff and I are on the way out to the Everglades to cruise around in the "Janoe". Hopefully I will have some good photos to post of this adventure, in the meantime with "11 local approaching", I must get my head well and truly down or I will be fit for nothing in the morning.
Thi is a Tri-coloured Heron, one of the most attractive of Florida's heron species. This one was feeding by creeping along the edge of the water and now and then, grabbing a tiny fish. Tri-coloured herons are smallish herons, quite common and seen regularly. I tried to photograph Dragonflies in flight today, with the bright clear light that you get here in South Florida, with a bit of patience this is a bit easier than at home in the UK. The Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) is a very pretty Dragonfly, they also seem very common especially at this time of year.
A Green Iguana or Common Iguana (Iguana iguana) , a feral species of lizard that is a common sight here. They are commonly seen up to 3 feet long. They are variable in colour and are not always green. They are part of the scene here, alongside roads and in parks, however the further west you go the more obvious they are. They are very intollerant of cold conditions and when there was a cold spell here a few winters ago, they were literally falling from the trees. People thought that this would see the end of this feral species but lots survived, probably deep in their underground burrows and as soon as it warmed up again..... there they were.
This is a Magnificent Frigatebird, a sea bird, but of course, not a gull. They are kleptoparrasitic, that is they make their living by attacking and harrassing gulls and terns until they regurgitate or drop their food. Males have a red pouch which they inflate when they are displaying to their females at the nest. Females and immatures have white heads. At 9 this morning we pushed out of the marina at Haulover in Bascayne way. I was on a trip boat that takes fishermen a couple of miles off shore to spend the morning in pursuit of dinner. I was just onboard for the ride and take photographs of the Frigates and hopefully Dolphins if they showed up which they didnt by the way. I found these frigates the hardest bird I have ever photographed, the combinations of black against the bright skyline was just so hard to deal with so there was a lot of wastage of photos today but I ended up with some nice ones. At times out at sea today it was very quiet, neither myself or the fishermen were as busy as we would have liked. I took most of my pictures when we were on the way out to the fishing grounds and also on the way back. It wasnt long after we got out of the inlet and in to open water before the first Frigate showed up, he was quickly joined by a few more, 5 in total. They are very acrobatic and agile in flight. It was a nice relaxing morning.
I have seen Kildeer on every visit to Florida, obviously a successful bird. I know that they breed here in South Florida because I have seen newly hatched chicks on previous visits. However, I would suspect that the birds that I saw today, a small group of 7, were on migration. You dont always see them on the shore, sometimes, like today they are seen many miles from the sea. I don't know why but they seem to have a preference for isolated parking lots, but they do seem to favour that kind of environment. perhaps its because the short grass and tarmac means that they can see predators before they are ambushed. Today's small group were on the ground in the flooded car park of the Sawgrass Recreation Park. One or two were very approachable although I was very careful not to stress or disturb them.
They are very similar around the face to the closely related Little Ringed Plover of Northern Europe with their very distinctive and attractive eye ring, however they are larger, taller and have much longer legs.
I had a fabulous afternoon at Okaheelee Nature Park, Palm Beach County today. We had gone because we hoped to see and photograph the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds that have been known to visit the feeders at the nature centre. In the winter, a small colony of Painted Finches are regular visitors here as well and I photographed them on my last Florida trip in March and April 2012. Both of those species have yet to arrive so unfortunately i had to content my self with some othe very impressive residents. The Brown Thrasher is a species that I have never ever seen before so you can imagine my excitement when, as we sat there watching the comings and goings right by the Visitors Centre a largish speckled brown bird crept forward to the seed spilt from the feeder above. This was a very smart bird, a close relative of the Northern Mockingbird apparently. It was easy to see the family connection. I have now, in the three days here, photographed three "lifers', that is, 3 species that I have never seen before. Thi is a very satisfying result.
Blue Grey Gnatcatchers are a tiny little bird that are not as easy to see as you would hope even though you can hear them constantly (if they are around that is). It seems that they are very territorial because I watched them chasing each other aggressively. Eventually patience was rewarded and one posed in front of me as it looked to feed. They are "tit" like and creep around the branches acrobatically.
The common dove species, a very attractive small bird, considerably smaller than the Collared Dove.
The Mockingbirds appear to be territorial, it was interesting to watch them feeding this morning on the short grassy areas. As they fed they would flash their white wing epaulettes obviously the way that they communicate with others of their species.
This is probably the same Green Heron (Butorides virescens) that I have photographed in previous years, that sounds incredible I know but the fishermen in the marina tell me that they have seen this bird every day for the last few years. As you can see, it likes to perch on the mooring ropes of the trip boats and then enjoys free offerings of left over bait, he's living the high life! He's a pretty impressive bird and regardless of whether he is an old aquiantance or not, I really enjoyed photographing him this afternoon. Butorides virescens is the Green Heron here in the USA, in Asia and specifically in Sri Lanka Striated Heron (Butorides striata) replaces the Green Heron. I photographed this species both in Sri Lanka (see here) and also on the Ross River in Queensland.
Apart from the Heron I had several other great photographic treats today, I had my first Osprey who succesfully caught a Mullet in front of us, great to watch. Here's a selection of today's pictures.
And now an adult Brown Pelican
On the beach at first light this morning a small flock of Mitred Parakeet (Psittacara mitrata) were on the wires by the high rise appartments. This is a species that is getting more and more common here. I first saw them on my trip two years ago and I have seen them both today and yesterday so they appear to be doing well. They are natives of Peru but this population is feral.
I saw a Belted Kingfisher on the same wires, obviously a migrating bird and also a Grey Kingbird, also known as Pitirre (Tyrannus dominicensis). I took a record shot because its the first time I have had the opportunity to photograph this species. They are a tropical species that breeds here in South Florida as well as the Caribbean and South America.
The photo opportunities were just so good from the beach late this afternoon and early evening. Sandwhich and Royal Terns were fishing by the Dania Pier and amongst them, a few Brown Pelicans. The small "bait-fish" were abundant in the surf and the birds were not the only ones trying to catch them. It was a beautiful experince just sat there on the white sand, looking out on to the ocean with the the sun setting behind me and the birds working the surf. It was warm and comfortable even in shorts and a T-shirt. On my previous trips to South Florida I have worn nothing but shorts and flip-flps for the entire trip, it doesnt get much better than that. When I got back home and looked at my pictures I couldnt believe my luck, freezing this Pelican in flight, just an instant before its beak broke the water, was quite a success. Can't wait to try for more tomorrow. I had a quick look in the bushes in the local park for warblers and other small birds but it was deadly quiet which was a disappointment but perhaps mornings may be better. So far I havent seen either Vultures or Osprey which is quite different than normal, it appears that these species are more migratory than I had previously realised.
So here I am in South Florida, and what a great start. Its my first Autumn trip and I cant believe the difference in either the climate....... hot and humid..... and the bird life on the beach. I had a very short mid morning walk on the beach, right in front of my sisters house and there on there right in front of me was my first target bird of the trip. Unbelievably coincidental. A Willet (Tringa semipalmata)! I will post later and tell you about the whole experience, but to keep you interested here is one of the first photos of the trip.
This is more a journal of my journey with no wildlife until tomorrow!
I recently read through the online journals of my trip to Sri Lanka last November. (2012) It occurred to me that this is going to be nice for my grandchildren to know what their grandad and who knows, great grandad was up to and it may also be nice in my old age to look back and read about my own exploits. Imagine how tremendously interesting it would be to read the diaries of my own grandfather and of his time in the Great War. As we make our way up the motorway through the misty rain, a portent of the English winter to come perhaps, I have been snoozing and dreaming of the birds and wildlife that I am excited about re-acquainting myself with on the beaches, wetlands and parks of South Florida. Huddersfield is our next stop and a quick visit to my son and his family and of course one of those grand children.
We'll spend the night in a Manchester hotel before flying to Philadelphia in the morning.
The second leg is under way now, the train from Huddersfield to Manchester and things are going reasonably well. Its now cold, miserable and dreary, all the more exciting to know that by this time tomorrow we will be in Florida. All around me, people are on their mobile phones, a disease that needs to be addressed before the rest of us go mad! There's a bit of excitement as a fellow traveller tries to convince the ticket inspector that he didn't mean not to have a ticket!
The Grey Heron is our largest predatory bird. They are not always that easy to get a close up photograph of but with a bit of care and a good slice of luck, it can be done. What is for sure though is that they are a very smart bird and if they were rare then they would certainly cause quite a stir. They are carnivorous and will take a wide range of prey which includes fish, amphibians and reptiles. Infact they will take just about anything alive as long as they can swallow it whole including mammals and ducklings. Whenever non-birding people see a Grey Heron they will always stop and stare, such is their magnificence. Their favourite prey is probably fish and eels and they will stand stock still by the waters edge for long periods waiting before they pounce. You can imagine how much damage the beak could cause, they catch their prey by shooting the long neck forward at lighting speed, grasping the prey in the beak rather than spearing it on the point. You can see the plumes on the back of this adult bird, historically these plumes have been their downfall. It was fashionable in the milinary trade to decorate hats with the plumes of Herons, both of this species and others in the USA which led to the formation of the RSPB here in the UK and the Audubon Society in the US. Both organisations campaigned in the early days of their formation to protect herons and egrets from the plume trade. Herons are probably more common in he UK than they have ever been. They were eaten in both Tudour and Elizabethan England and they would have been shot to protect fisheries right in to the 20th Century. Again the formation of the RSPB would have been the start of their protection. The bird below is very close to the heronry in Powderham Park which is Devon's largest heronry
I always check my photographs from previous years and then note what I have been doing on the coresponding dates previously. I could see that I had been photographing Sanderling around this date in other years. This is a species that I am very taken with. A beautiful little bird with very confiding habbits. They are one of the few birds that allow a close approach which makes them good subjects for photography. I see them on my regular visits to Florida, in fact they are very common on the beaches of South Florida and I never fail to see them when I am there. You will encounter them on every stroll along the beach, even if it is crowded with sun worshippers. But back in the UK they are not that easy to find. So at a loose end today, I went to see if I could find one or two. It was quite a walk along the shore line but after a couple of hours I discovered a small group by Groyne 10 at Dawlish Warren. They were feeding on the edge of the surf line like they normally do. Just as the tide goes out they like to feed in the very shallow water. It was hard to see what they were eating but they were finding something very regularly. To get a good photo required something extreme which involved kneeling in the shallow receeding water with the camera on the tripod as low and near the water level as I could get. The way I work is to take as many shots as I can in the hope and expectation of something a little bit different. I keep a constant eye on the exposure, under or over exposing, depending on the light direction and the background. What I am left with is usually hundreds of pictures and just one or two will be good. It's not very scientific but it works for me!! Today I set my camera at around f9 so that I could get all of the little bird in focus and because it was quite bright even though overcast, I was still getting around 1/1000 second with a high ISO of 1000. My Pentax K5 camera is particularly good with high ISO settings and I rarely have too much trouble with over noisy pictures. Regardless of that, in my opinion its better to have a bit of noise if you can get a fastt shutter speed which is just so important to stop blur from the movements of birds.
I have a gallery of Devon birds, so far I have photographed 176 species in Devon. There are a few notable absentees, common birds that I have yet to photograph for inclusion. One of the was the Bar Tailed Godwit a bird that is very commonly seen on the River Exe here in Devon. I just haven't been in the right place at the right time. I think I must have seen them on hundreds of ocassions but missed them thinking that they are Black-Tailed Godwits. So today when I saw a lone Godwit right on the beach at the Warren, I knew almost imediately that it was a Bar-Tailed. Firstly it was noticeably but slightly different than the Black-Tailed that I see all the time. My impressions were that it had longer beak which was slightly upturned, there was a subtle difference in plumage as well. At first I wasn't sure but I can't remember seeing Black tailed Godwits singly before and I also can't remember seeing them that far up the river and on the beach. They always seem to be in the mud either on Exminster Marsh or in the Estuary much further up river where it is very sludgy. I could quite clearly see that it had a barred tail... the clincher.... and then when it took off I could see that it didn't have the bold white marking on the wings that Black tailed Godwits have on their wings. Success and bird number 177 for the gallery. Have a look at the Devon BIrds Gallery here.
This is what birders would call a "record shot" of a White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis), a rare bird in the UK. I travelled to Davidstow Airport in North Cornwall today in the hope of seeing the bird that has been there for the last few days amongst the small scattered flocks of migrating Dunlin, a bird that they are closely related. When we arrived we immediately found it, a birder had it in his scope and we were able to get it in the scopes with relative ease. It was disturbed by a particularly selfish dog walker and then it was at least 2 hours before we located it again. It was hard to get any kind of decent photo but we watched it for ages as it fed in the short grass, probing for worms and leather jackets. Of all the small sandpipers this is one of only two species that has wings that extend past the tail when at rest, the other being Bairds Sandpiper. Along side the Dunlin, this was a slightly smaller bird with a shorter bill. Here's another shot of the bird feeding.
The White-rumped Sandpiper breeds in the Alaskan tundra and is a long distant migrant, wintering in South Amarica. The one in Cornwall is way off course and who knows where it will end up. There are many millions of birds on migration at this time of year and just a tiny, tiny minority of birds finish up off course. While we were looking for the very rare sandpiper we saw and photographed several Curlew Sandpiper. This would normally be a bird that would attract a fair degree of attention i it's own right but human nature is an odd thing and I found it odd that people looking for the white Rumped were disappointed when they realised that they were "on" the wrong bird.
When I have been to Davidstow Airfield previously I have seen and photographed Ringed Plover, a very nice little bird and today they were just as noticeable and easy to see as on my previous visits.
I spent a very patient 5 hours this morning waiting for the opportinity to see and hopefully photograph a juvenile Red backed Shrike that was discovered this morning on Dawlish Warren Nature reserve. Seeing it in the distance was one thing but then getting it close enough to photograph was quite a different story. At first it was accross the golf course but in the end it was discovered further down towards the point. Dave Land and I stood for ages trying to get photos of it along with a group of other birders. We were patient as we watched it in the distance.... but now, much nearer, feeding on the brambles in front of us. Eventually Dave and I were left as the birders gave up and drifted home to their cars, probably worried that they hadnt put enough money on their parking tickets. Now without a crowd the bird was much more confiding and it made its way nearer and nearer to us. Eventually it flew to land right in front of me just 10 feet away. I am a lucky person, but the more time you put in to something the luckier you become and my reward was some nice close up pictures.
I very much enjoy photographing birds in flight and just lately I have become fond of sea birds. I enjoy the uncluttered backgrounds and the sea can make for an interesting canvas. This is a Black headed Gull, interestingly, in common with most (if not all gulls), they moult progressively over two or three years depending on species, in to their adult plumage. This is a second calendar year bird, until they are fully adult they have a black tipped tail and a mixture of brown and grey feathers on the wing coverts but to add to the confusion they also lack the black head, which is in fact not black but chocolate brown. I find them quite attractive in this state of plumage. The picture above was taken yesterday but to compare to an adult in full breeding plumage, here is a picture of one taken in July 2011.
You can clearly see the chocolate brown head which does not cover the entire head. They are a very slender, elegant gull. They nest in association with terns, either Common or Sandwich, the terns benefit from protection from the gulls who are slightly larger and perhaps more aggressive, however the gulls probably nest close to the terns for the opportunity to steal food from the terns and also to predate their youngsters when the opportunity presents itself. This is called "kleptoparasitism", a posh word which combines theif and parasite, probably a good description of most gulls! Having recently visited Langstone Harbour where there is a good breeding colony of Common Tern and Black headed Gull I found it interesting to read about them on Peter Drury's website
This is an adult (below) photographed yesterday showing the clean tail and difference in head at this time of the year when the birds are not in breeding plumage.
On the Exe Estuary today I wasn't surprised to see a few Ruddy Turnstone feeding well away from the tide-line. This is a very accommodating bird and if you are still and quiet its not unusual for them to approach quite close when they are feeding. I have said before that this is not my favourite species but this one posed very nicely in between catching some very large harbour ragworm.
I went out to Dartmoor again this morning. I wanted to see if I could catch sight of the young Stonechats that had fledged the nest 11 days ago. At first, as I walked towards the area where the nest had been it was obvious that the adults were more mobile than they had been when the youngsters first fledged the nest. I continued on to the territory and sat down quietly to watch and hopefully photograph. It took a while but I became aware of at least one young bird calling very quietly near to the adult male who was high in a hawthorn. The call was a wren-like low buzz and after a few more minutes I caught sight of one of the youngsters being fed very quickly by the adult male. The male flew away strongly folllowed closely by the youngster. The Willow Warbler (above) was very active in the are and at one point perched very close to me. Later on, I heard the youngsters again, quite a way down the hillside and both the male and female were close by. The male had completely shed his tail when I photographed him last week but already he has grown the start of a new one as you can see below.
We spent the weekend in Portsmouth after an invite to a friends Ruby Wedding Anniversary. Having previously lived in Porstsmouth we enjoyed it immensely. I made a decision to leave my large wildlife lens at home but a I did take the camera and I am glad I did at least have the camera. . I was very disappointed to miss the opportunity to photograph the Common Terns which were numerous in both Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours. Even with a small 90mm lens though, I managed to get a few photos just for the record. The bird above was fishing from the Hayling Ferry Pier which was great to watch, but frustrating knowing that £5,000 worth of lens was sat at home and with it on the camera I would have taken some exceptional photos. Lesson learned of course.