There’s a First For Everyone

Earlier this spring, we took a trip out west … Tom drove cross country from Florida to Washington state … I flew to Salt Lake City and Tom picked me up along his journey.  We were meeting up in Yellowstone NP with some friends, but not before heading over to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.FullSizeRenderWe had never visited there before, many times driving right past the exit on our way in or out of SLC.  This year was the year to visit and though we got off to a late start, we were certainly glad that we finally got there.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and is accessed via your vehicle on a 12-mile drive alongside the wetlands within its 74,000 acre boundaries.  Being from Florida, I just LOVE areas that can be accessed by vehicle and when we arrived the weather couldn’t have been nicer.  This was our first time that we photographed the yellow-headed blackbird, which seems larger than our red-winged blackbirds, but behaves quite like them.  They were flying everywhere and seeing that bright yellow head, I immediately thought I was seeing an oriole of some type.  However, it wasn’t and I’m sure I’ve seen them before, just never investigated more about them.  They’re beautiful.  :-)DSC_1400When we had stopped in at the Visitor Center, we educated ourselves as to what we might see along the way.  I was quite excited to hear that we would be seeing grebes … mainly western and Clark’s.

It wasn’t long before we saw our first Clark’s grebe.  Having only been around our pied grebes before (again, at least from what I can remember), I was surprised at how much bigger they looked.  They sure were beautiful too, especially with breeding season in full swing.  DSC_0870Sometimes we would see lone grebes, but before long, we noticed many pairs swimming about.  They look very familiar to the western grebes and in the beginning I had a hard time telling them apart.  Years ago, reportedly they listed them as a species within the western grebe, but then since they nested nearby without inter-breeding, they got their own species.  Overall, their black heads and white around their eyes, made them identifiable to me.  I’ll show the difference in a few images.DSC_0853I just love the way they swam around in unison, with their head positioned in unison as well.  DSC_0963Another difference between them and the western grebes is the color of their bill.  As you can see, this grebe has more of a yellow-orange bill.DSC_1757The refuge also had many other birds including these avocets, possessing their stunning breeding colors.DSC_1050The primary grebes that we saw were the western grebes.  As I mentioned earlier, they possess more black coloration around the eye as well as a greener-yellow bill.  DSC_1488Love that face with that spunky hair.  LOLDSC_1490They are the largest of the North American grebes.  I so wished that we would find some with babies on their backs.  DSC_1592Before long, we could see a storm out of the horizon brewing … it was an awesome sight.  Ultimately, we had windrain … then hail.  FullSizeRenderAs quick as it all started, it made a quick exit.  Thankfully!

I was quite surprised when I captured a great blue heron fly past us … with a red-winged blackbird providing him an escort out of its territorial area.  Love it when little birds boss around much larger ones.  :-)DSC_1022OK, I know that by this point in the day, the light was extremely harsh, but I want to share these images anyway.  This grebe got himself a fish, or so we thought.  Then he swam it over to its mate.DSC_1716She graciously accepted it of course.  It was a tender moment shared and I was quite excited.DSC_1726Down the hatch it went and they celebrated.  DSC_1743White pelicans were also out in force at particular section of the road.  It was fun to see them and I almost felt like I was back at home seeing them.  Well, also due to the immense numbers of mosquitoes out there!  OMG, I thought earlier how happy I was that this was a drive, but in reality, it was HORRIBLE for shooting from the car, at least from my side.  Every time I opened the window I was blasted by the most wicked mosquitoes I have ever seen and I’ve from south Florida (aka mosquito city)!  DSC_1824It was actually better to get out of the car because the winds were strong and kept them from landing on, and biting, you.  Pesky little critters.  The periodic outside walking was great too for capturing the birds without spooking them.  This lovely pair came really close as I sat still by the side of the dirt road.DSC_1834At one point there were 5 western grebes swimming about.  Two sets of paired grebes and then 1 lone grebe, who was intent on spoiling the party for the pairs.  It would approach a pair, then get chased off!DSC_1840At one point after the loner was defended against, the male came back to its mate with the sweetest face.  Though I didn’t get a shot of it, they swam off and danced on the waters surface … like 2 dolphins dancing on the water.  I almost broke into tears, it was so beautiful.  As much as I watned them to, they didn’t repeat their dance of love for me.DSC_1874As you can see by the number of images I took of them, I was fascinated by their look, behavior, and beauty.DSC_1881I kept seeing motion in the water.  Sometimes it was carp which had found their way into the wetlands … very strange to see.  Other times it was muskrat swimming around, gathering up leafy green branches for their home and nest.  I was thrilled to watch them as they went about with their renovations.DSC_1666I had to laugh as the grebes would swim in pairs, but then dive under independently, emerging from the water, looking around for its mate.DSC_1970They were calling out to each other, a sort of “Marco … Polo” game ensuing.  LOL.  DSC_1965Often it would take several calls before they found their way.  I tried helping them out saying “she’s over there” and pointing, but I don’t think it helped.  :-)DSC_1994We were also treated to eared grebes, but they tended to be more shy of the camera lens.  They were fascinating for me to see.  Though I live in Florida and therefore photograph birds often because of that, I’m definitely not a birder by nature.  So it was fun to spend a day trying to learn more about these birds of Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.  The eared grebes are the most abundant grebe in the world (I did not know that!)  Also, amazing to me is that it is flightless for 9-10 months of the year.  Amazing!  Though I live in Florida and therefore photograph birds often because of that, I’m definitely not a birder by nature.  So it was fun to spend a day trying to learn more about these birds of Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.DSC_1281I love terns and there are so many varieties of them with very distinct differences between the different species.  This beautiful forster’s tern made its appearance for us on our way out.DSC_2090It is the only tern that is almost exclusively found in North America, so that makes it pretty cool to me.  Never knew that either.  DSC_2091We had a great time, mosquitoes and all, at the refuge.  We will be sure to visit again soon. If you’ve never been there, you might want to do the same.  :-)

Next up:  Just a few owls … not burrowing, not eastern screech … hmm, what can they be?

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Revisiting Friends … Burrowing Owls, that is

The burrowing owl is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered & Threatened Species Rule.  They are “highly vulnerable” to becoming a threatened species by loss of habitat and thus in Florida, it’s illegal to harass or harm them, their nests, or their eggs.  I’ve been told that over the past few years, the public, including some photographers, reportedly have taken perhaps a bit too much liberty with them, which resulted in these signs being displayed at most of the burrows, which happen to be in heavily used county parks.  While I applaud the attempt to educate those who might not know better, I think that these signs (which are quite small) might actually encourage people to get close … in order to read these tiny notices. In addition, they tend to flap around in the wind, which also disturbs the owls.   Is it just me or what?DSC_5728So that being said … let’s all enjoy them from afar and know that when an owl bobs its head up and down at you or lets out an alert call when you’re present, you’re obviously disturbing them and need to give them their space.  Again, whether observing or photographing the owls, the goal should be to get them acting naturally.  Enough said.  :-)

Speaking of acting naturally, please note that this owl hasn’t been fed by humans, but rather has retrieved its prey from its hunting (usually at night or before dawn or after dusk) earlier.  They kill and cache it, like other predators do, and as you can see, this frog is covered in sand._DSC9194This owl is quite the hunter too.  It tries to offer the frog to its mate, who shows no sign of interest in taking it._DSC9201So the owl begins to consume it himself._DSC9172_DSC9192Once partially torn into and consumed, the owl tries again to offer it to its mate, but again she’s not interested._DSC9198What’s an owl to do?_DSC9212Is she just playing hard to get?_DSC9205Well, let’s try a lizard … maybe that will do it.  But no, she didn’t want that either!_DSC9218Eventually, after several visits to the burrow, this years baby owls start to appear.  Usually when I first see them, they still are in that “hair plug” stage, but these guys seem to be a few weeks out of that stage.DSC_5699Even at a young age, they learn to watch the skies overhead.DSC_5725At first, I just saw one young owl, which made me flash back to that hawk Tom & I had seen a few weeks ago.  But then a second appeared.DSC_5730There’s always one that’s more curious and brave than the other.  LOLDSC_5734Eventually, they both begin to feel comfortable with my presence and the animation begins.  :-)DSC_5769I just adore the young owlets and their fluffy belly feathers and those downy looking “petticoats” are priceless.DSC_5821The sun highlights their eyes, which are so big and focused on their surroundings.  DSC_5944DSC_6012At one point, 3 owlets appeared, which makes it more fun due to the interaction between them.  This owlet decided to strike a submissive pose when playing with the others.  So darned cute!DSC_6134More overhead scanning … a never-ending activity … for those owls and owlets that want to increase their odds of survival.DSC_6154More playing … a favorite part of their day I’m sure … as well as for the observers.DSC_6316Well, go to go today, but not before I say goodbye to these 3 cuties.  As you can tell, they all have their personalities, appearances, and unique traits.  However, they are all precious.  I wish them well.  As Arnold says … “I’ll be back”.  DSC_5973

Next up:  Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

Naturally Florida

Spring season signals the time has come for birds to congregate, court, mate, nest, and raise their young.  The osprey are no different.  For me, spring also signals that a return trip to Blue Cypress Lake is in order.  This year I met up with some friends, bright and early, to try to capture the essence of this gorgeous place, as well as the wonderful osprey.

IMG_0901-1We got out on the water just in time for the sun to begin to emerge on the horizon.  This year, the wind was quite strong and thus the water choppy at times.  Didn’t make much of a difference though at sunrise.  Yes, it’s going to be a fabulous day!_DSC9017Our first juvenile osprey was spotted … as it waited patiently for its parents to return.  The young osprey are easy to differentiate from the adults by that orange eye, versus the yellow eyes of its parents._DSC5416There was a plethora of activity going on that morning.  Some of the osprey were sitting on nests … some were reinforcing their nests … some were out fishing … some were out learning to fly … some were defending their “air space”.  This fabulous osprey was multi-tasking bring ing back both nesting materials and dinner to its nest.  LOL_DSC5624Of course, there were more than osprey hanging out in the lake.  Always fascinating to watch, photograph, and listen to, were the black-bellied whistling-ducks.  When they take flight overhead, you quickly realize where they got that name from._DSC5879_DSC5903To give you a perspective of the nests, which number in the hundreds, and the beauty in which they exist, take a look at this image.  Gorgeous cycpress trees, filled with spanish moss, are the settings for the nests.  Talk about a room with a view …🙂._DSC6073There were so many osprey flying around that I had a bit of difficulty figuring out which osprey to follow.  I know, it’s a good problem to have._DSC5995_DSC6083Talons on predator birds have long captured my fascination.  When an osprey launches into the air and those talons get exposed, it’s a moment that I anticipate hugely, as I try to perfect that exact moment._DSC6168As you can tell, many of the nests are nice and low, which offer the photographer a great view at the occupants of the nests.  Notice those orange eyes … juvenile or adult?  Juvenile of course.  I absolutely love their feather markings too.  Much darker and distinct._DSC6265On this particularly windy day, the birds were fairly predictable in their flight pattern, as birds will always take off and land into the wind._DSC6325Taking advantage of the wind, they flew around quite a bit, almost taunting the others to take chase._DSC6367Many times, we witnessed attacks inflight, though often they were just having fun._DSC6369_DSC6375This juvenile osprey had been flying around the lake a bit and was coming for a landing.  I love this “orchestra conductor” pose, as they extend out their wings and obtain full feather benefit in helping them to slow down as they approach their landing._DSC6383Once again, those gorgeous talons extend as they pick their favorite branch to land on._DSC6438Not sure how many osprey were out there flying around, but safe to say it was far more than I could photograph.  Some flew high, some flew low, all were gorgeous inflight and exhillerating to watch._DSC6495This young one returns to the nest._DSC6548Following right behind it was the parent landed right behind it.  Notice the yellow eyes._DSC6565As beautiful as the adult osprey are, it’s the juveniles that get my pulse racing.  _DSC6581Again, it’s not just osprey … we saw anhingas, woodpeckers, sandhill cranes, ibis, wood storks, herons, etc.  Here’s another visitor … the red-shoulder hawk, which posed nicely on top of the tree for us._DSC6590While looking for other birds, we happened to find this beautiful black-crowned night heron.  Love that red eye!_DSC6607OK, any image that has both talons and all of this feather details and fluff is considered to be super special in my book._DSC6699The only thing that it was missing was that gorgeous orange eye.  Yes, we sure were treated to an amazing air show.  :-)_DSC6757Yes, this is the true natural Florida … as it was … as it wish that it could be everywhere again.  At least, I know, that there are still places that I can go in Florida to get simple moments like this.  :-)_DSC9026Hope that everyone enjoyed.

Next up:  More burrowing owls

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Lending Nature A Hand

One late afternoon, one of my neighbors called Tom & I and asked us to come over.  They told us that they found a baby bird of some type and didn’t know what to do with it or how to care for it.  So we ventured over and I couldn’t believe what they showed us…..

There it was … the cutest little baby owl – an eastern screech owl to be exact.  I was so excited and remembered how 2 years ago, we had a pair of owls raise 3 babies in our backyard.  Though I had continued to see them over the last 2 years, they didn’t nest in our yard this year or last.  This little guy made my heart melt and I immediately called my friend Amy, who is a falconer and had just got an eastern screech owl of her own for advice.  Tom immediately looked around for where the nest might have been and noticed a tree cavity not far from where it was found.  He gently returned the young owlet and we kept watch on it to see if the parents would return.  (Note: the image below is not my image).FullSizeRender-1Before long, there they were … mom and dad.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw them too.  They were the same owls (no doubt about it) that raised their young with us.  I was ecstatic to say the least._DSC9055Over the few weeks or so, I visited often, from another neighbors yard who had a better view of the cavity.  Using a long lens, and often teleconverters too, I photographed both the parents and the baby.  At first, the young owlet seemed to be lost (size-wise) in the cavity._DSC9071Mom is a beautiful gray morph and she was sleeping in the cavity when Tom first reunited the owlet with her.  I guess that it must have climbed on the adult and fell out of the nest.
_DSC9108Dad is the red morph and he was almost always nearby._DSC9120The young owlet would often peek out of the cavity.
_DSC9095Mom, and Dad also, was quite accepting of my presence and I always gave them no reason to be alarmed.  Part of me wondered if they knew that we played a role in helping out their baby.  Though I’m sure they would have taken care of it otherwise, it would have been vulnerable to the many cats in the neighborhood._DSC9289Before long, the baby grew up and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before it would leave the nest.  _DSC9280It was so cool to find them everyday standing guard over their baby.  Such dedicated parents.  _DSC9254This was the last shot that I took of the owlet before it fledged.  I was so happy that it survived and hoped that it would survive being out of its nest as well.  How cool was all of that?  I’m so glad that my neighbors found it and knew to call us to assist in coming up with a plan of action to help it.  Glad to help.  Happy ending too.  :-)
_DSC9327Update:  The last of these images was taken in mid-May.  The cavity nest that the owls were using to raise their young was destroyed in a summer storm, though the young owl had already abandoned it.  We weren’t sure what happened with the owls.  However, the other night, Tom saw one of the owls fly by him.  When he called me to come see it, two more joined the first.  Though it was dark, we can only assume that it was this family.  So good to know that they were well and that the “baby” was out hunting with them.  :-)

Next up:  Osprey overload  :-)

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Spring Transformations

Florida has many natural rookeries and they get quite active in the spring for the breeding season.  Generally speaking, I spend several months visiting them on a regular basis and it’s amazing to watch their colors emerge, their courtship dances, their cooperative nest building, and raising of their young.

The tri-colored heron undergoes quite the transformation with regards to their breeding plumage.
_DSC4346Talk about having a bit of spunk ….  :-)_DSC4766Their young are quite silly looking too … but so ugly, they’re cute.DSC_0425Probably the most prolific of all of the birds breeding in the rookery are the wood storks.  Funny, but not that long ago they were considered to be somewhat threatened as a species, however, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage now._DSC4796_DSC4369As the babies grow older, they get larger quite fast as well._DSC4615_DSC4635Such white fluff balls, they are also so adorable, with their big beaks.  Only when they’re fully grown will they get their trademark wood-like neck and hairless head and dark beak. I have always been fascinated by wood storks.DSC_0063Cattle egret, any other season, are often referred to as “white birds”, but during breeding season, their turn so beautiful … and colorful too._DSC4502Some young birds get fed scraps of food into their nest or fed directly from their parents piece by piece.  Others, like the anhinga, feed their young partially digested food.  As often as I have seen this, it never ceases to amaze me._DSC4527Great blue heron chicks grow into little “mini-me”s.  Love their crazy looking hair.  LOL_DSC4834These sibling are quite animated with each other and also quite aggressive with the parent that comes back to feed them._DSC4788Though I never got to see the chicks from the little blue herons hatch, it was exciting to see them mating, nest building, and tending to their eggs._DSC4696Swamphen are an invasive species, but nonetheless have been increasing in numbers in recent years.  This year I was able to see them raise a few chicks.DSC_0206DSC_0368Black-necked stilts are amazingly beautiful birds.  In breeding plumage they get very red eyes and legs as well.  Courtship and mating are fascinating to observe._DSC4720_DSC4739After mating, the male will drape his wing over the female and they cross bills.  Is that not amazing?  Such rituals … so sweet._DSC4745They together build a nest in the water and when the eggs are laid, they take turns sitting on them, turning them frequently.DSC_0563Yes, the rookery is always a fun and interesting place to spend time.  You never know that you’re going to get.  Though sometimes nature can be tough, when it’s going well, it sure is beautiful to observe and of course, photograph.  :-)DSC_0610

Next up:  Some old friends return … eastern screech owls  :-)

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

All Eyes on the Burrowing Owls

For many years now, I’ve been heading out to hang out with the burrowing owls and of course, take a few images along the way.  :-)  In all honesty though, often I would just go and sit nearby them and observe them being owls … and laugh at their silly antics and expressions.  In 2016, it was no different.  Well, except for one thing.  When I arrived, I expected to see perhaps a few very young owlets.  However I was greeted by this ….

_DSC1267So the owl on the right was as full grown as the one on the left, though still had some of those “juvenile or sub-adult” feathers.  What?  This couldn’t possibly be a 2016 baby … it was too big already.  Then I remembered a very small owlet last year who possessed these lighter brown eyes.  It was the last born of his siblings and hence was quite tiny compared to the others.  Could this still be him (or her)?  Am I witnessing a “failure to launch” owlet?  The 2 parents at that burrow were definitely the same ones from last year.  One with yellow eyes, the other with brown eyes._DSC1264I was so intrigued by this finding, that I could barely pick up the camera to capture images!_DSC1289Its size was about the same as the parents, but its behavior was still playful.  As hard as I tried to get them to explain what was going on … they just stared._DSC1314_DSC1394Other owls were paired up in their burrows, as they kept a watchful eye out for overhead predators.  _DSC1474Over the first few weeks that I visited, I would find new burrows springing up that hadn’t been there in years past._DSC3186Obviously, by the look of things, “groundbreaking” and “renovating” was still quite actively going on._DSC3192This poor owl looks like it has had enough already of the flying sand being tossed about them._DSC3204_DSC3235As i mentioned earlier, these owls spend a lot of time scouting out the skies above.  They are totally fascinated by flying insects, resident parrots, flying planes, helicopters, blimps, and even balloons hold their attention for quite some time.  So cute to watch as they track the action.  Of course, they spend most of their time on the lookout for predators.  Not too far away is a family of red-tailed hawks and of course, red-shouldered hawks are always a threat.  One particular morning, Tom & I were at one of the burrows and a hawk flew right into the tree closest to the burrow we were at.  I was fearful that we would watch carnage, though once the hawks are anywhere near, those owls get into their burrows faster than you can imagine!  _DSC3139These adorable burrowing owls are predators themselves though and no frog, lizard, caterpillar or other delicacy is safe from being served up on their buffet line._DSC4927While these owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, they often recover their cache and dine during the daytime.  As you can see, this unfortunate frog is quite covered in sand after being retrieved from nearby._DSC4929It’s amazing to watch the dexterity the owls possess in handling their catch._DSC4934Sometimes they tore into them right away, other times they seemed to just toy with them a bit.  Especially now, during breeding season, they are an important part of the daily routine.  This one seems quite pleased with its catch, don’t you think?_DSC4942After posing so nicely for the camera, he took it over to the female at the burrow and offered it up to her.  In this case, she gladly accepted.  _DSC4945She then paraded around quite a bit with it, finally stashing it into the burrow for later consumption._DSC4950_DSC5001I always love it when they fly into the nearby trees for a shady break from the hot sandy burrows.  _DSC5020Getting back to my possible “Failure to launch” owl, a few weeks after my first visit, I noticed that it was no longer at its original burrow.  Oh no, I hoped that nothing had happened to it.  I waited patiently for it to emerge, but to no avail.  Then as I scanned the landscape from a low perspective, I caught a glimpse of yet another freshly dug burrow, not far away.  I went over to investigate and sure enough, there it was, with another owl.  Did it finally launch?  I mean … 3 was definitely a crowd, as they say.  I noticed that it also had tufts of feathers missing on front of its neck and a would under its eye.  Maybe the parents had to make it leave or maybe it had a close call with a predator.  Unfortunately, I will never know.  However, I was happy to see it._DSC5118Such a darn cutie with those unusual browner eyes.  This year, I noticed just a few of them with brown eyes, while last year there were several.  One even had one yellow eye and a brown eye!  Now that I mention it, I haven’t seen that one this year, but I do know that other owls have taken over that particular burrow._DSC5173I just love it when they look up a bit from the burrow and the light catches their eyes perfectly and really lights them up.  So, do you wonder why this one is looking so bright eyed and wide-eyed?_DSC5234Incoming burrowing owl! … OK, maybe not the reason for that hypnotic stare.  This owl was hysterical though in the way that its behavior was so erratic and quick.  It literally ran out from the burrow about 30 feet or so, surveyed the area left and right, turned abruptly around, and jumped!  Then it proceeded to land and run frantically the rest of the way back to the burrow.  _DSC5274Such silly owls they are … always displaying silly antics and even more silly expressions … which leave me in stitches on more than one occasion … each visit that is.  :-)_DSC5222

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the burrowing owls so far.  Rest assured, there will be more coming up in a few weeks.

Next up:  More images and stories from the rookeries.  Stay tuned.

© 2016  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Sandhill Crane Colts & More

Sandhill cranes, their young colts, and the sanctuary wetlands were a favorite subject for me to photograph earlier this year.  While there were many different species of birds transitioning through the area, my all-time favorite had to be the sandhill cranes.

Each time, I would arrive before sunrise and watch the first emerging into the wetlands … both colts in tow, sticking close to both of their parents._DSC2288-2Most days it continued to be a struggle for the young colts to get through the mucky muddy waters, but gosh darned, didn’t they just look so cute all wet and mucky?  LOL
_DSC2452-2I have always gravitated towards textures, especially in an animals fur, so these colts made it fun to photograph them._DSC2514-2Another feature of these birds that always fascinates me is the enormity of those feet that they possess!  Often they get them tangled up in the roots and grasses along the landscape and they would topple over.  No worries, they always would bounce back up and continue on.

Of course, their ability to just fall asleep anywhere and in any position was quite remarkable.  By the way, this image also gives a great illustration of those feet!!_DSC2610-2Mom and dad would continue to forage for food, not just for themselves, but also for their young.  Everyday they seemed to get better at accepting the food and improved the number of “dropsies”, as they continued to thrive._DSC2626-2Now at the wetlands, there were more than just sandhill cranes who frequented or called the sanctuary home.  Always flying around and quite vocal were the red-winged blackbirds.  This guy was quite skilled in grabbing dragonflies on the go._DSC2792-2The white pelicans would gather in the waters as well.  Sometimes just a few … sometimes hundreds.  Always fascinating to watch them depart, fly overhead, or come in for a landing._DSC2856-2Perhaps though the most entertaining of all, and quite vocal as well, were the snowy egrets.  Such boisterous birds, they always seemed ready and willing to start a confrontation with whatever happened to be nearby or looking at it.  LOL.  Never a dull moment!  Such beautiful and graceful birds too._DSC3482-2_DSC3511-2The black-necked stilts congregated here in pretty good numbers as well, though they never seemed to want to nest there.  Such beautiful and dainty looking birds, I’m always fascinated by them._DSC3529-2But of course, the real draw for me to this area was the sandhill cranes.  Such amazing and patient parents these cranes are too.  It’s like the endless buffet line of tasty morsels all being served up by the parents, who did their best to evenly distribute the “wealth” of food._DSC3016-2Whenever the colts seemed satiated, they would tend to find each other and interact.  I can only imagine what the conversation is about._DSC1537-2In the midst of it all, one of them happens to notice that mom has laid down on the grass and off they run to join her.  Of course, that means climbing into her wings for a nap.  This little colt looks like its figuring out where the other colt went and if there was any space left for him._DSC1580-2Finding a great spot to bury itself in, it begins its attempt._DSC1590-2Success achieved by both of the colts and off to a nice warm and dry siesta they go.  Funny how by just looking at this crane, you have no idea that there’s a baby or two settled into and underneath its wings._DSC1616-2Being colts they are obviously curios about what’s going on around them, so they both take a peek to investigate.  As you can see, as they’ve grown, there’s not a whole lot of room under there anymore._DSC1807-2They settle in again, that is until mom decided siesta is over and she abruptly stands up.  It’s quite fascinating to watch as they two colts come tumbling down._DSC1827-2As they do they clumsily fall all over each other … and try not to get stepped on by moms long legs.  I think that I heard one of them say “get off of me, bro” … j/k of course.  :-)_DSC1828-2More feeding ensues and this little colts set a huge worm!  Funny too how once they get a good hold of it, they slurp it down like spaghetti.  :-)_DSC1952-2Much like photographing the burrowing owls, these colts have their own repertoire of silly antics and poses.  I have to laugh at this one and secretly get upset at its flexibility.  I think it’s doing some type of “colt yoga”.  LOL_DSC2985-2Yes the two colts have learned to get along and take turns with the delicacies being served up._DSC2120-2They do however lose a bit of interest as mom does her version of an ostrich … boy, she really digs deep for those worms._DSC2147-2One of the most beautiful sights (other than when they perform “the dance”) is when the adults begin to preen themselves._DSC2196-2More interactions continue for these colts, as the younger one (almost always the instigator) issues a call to action!_DSC2661-2Soon its older sibling comes to its side and is greeted by the younger one grabbing onto its beak.  Over time, they really learned to love and watch over each other.  So very endearing to observe._DSC2692-2Can you guess which one was a day older?  It’s amazing to me to see the difference that just one day older makes._DSC2725-2The last day that I visited with them, they sure had grown up and were roaming large areas of landscape and were difficult to find.  As you can see, they still were developing their wings but were well on their way._DSC3567-2What used to be colts that you could barely see in the grasses were now getting bigger and stronger and starting to do a lot of foraging on their own._DSC3560-2Of course, they were still quite close.  Not sure what ever happened to them, but I was quite thankful for spending the time that I did together with them.  They were precious.  Can’t wait until next year!_DSC3550-2Hope that everyone enjoyed the sandhill cranes as much as I did.

Next Up:  Who wants some burrowing owls?

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Life In The Rookeries

Sure south Florida gets heat and humidity most of the year, except for the occasional cold front during the winter months.  We have winter crowds that are sometimes maddening.  However, we DO have some amazing bird activity going on in the winter/spring season.

Our local rookeries of the wetlands offer the visitor a chance to be educated on courtship behaviors, mating rituals, nest building, and how birds feed and take care of their young.  I love to visit the rookeries often and watch as they progress with each of these stages.  Most times, it’s quite fascinating … though sometimes it’s a bit cruel.  Such is nature.

One of the birds which calls this place home is the great blue heron.  One of the largest birds you find in the nests located in the trees on islands surrounded by water.  They will generally raise 2-3 young, which seem to grow up quickly.  More on that later.
_DSC3902A frequent visitor, quite beautiful especially during the breeding season is the glossy ibis.  As opposed to the regular ibis, this one offers blackish feathers which in the sunlight shine with iridescence and colors._DSC3585We also have pied grebes, which are much smaller than the grebes out west.  During the breeding season, they can be quite striking, though they are always adorable._DSC3671The stealth-like least bittern can be found by the keen observer.  It’s amazing how well they can camouflage themselves in the reeds they live in.  Once in a while, one can be spotted flying in or out of the reeds or making their way from one grouping of reeds to another.  It’s always a special sighting when you’re lucky to see one._DSC3973Courtship displays abound and no bird does it more spectacularly than the great egret.  It’s breeding season plumage is fabulous, as is its dance of attraction.  Hard to see how any female can resist._DSC4321Always the sweethearts of the rookeries are the wood storks.  Easy to see how they get their name, these prehistoric looking storks always seem to be smiling and can be heard when mating from almost anywhere nearby.  They clank their beaks frantically and it sounds like some major damage is being done.  LOL.  These two were dubbed by me to be the lovebirds of Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  :-)_DSC3707Speaking of prehistoric-looking, how about these younger great blue heron siblings?  I just love their “do”… OK, tell me that they don’t look related somehow to Don King?  At least in reference to their hairdo of course.  LOL_DSC3854As I said before, they grow quite fast.  Often left alone while the parents go out for food … EVERBODY knows when the parents return for these two go frantically after them, grabbing their beaks and being quite obnoxious._DSC3881The common morhen, an often overlooked bird, gets at least some attention when their young are born.  I mean, look at those bald-headed, fuzzball little cuties!_DSC3945An invasive species to Florida, though one that is really taking over quickly, is the swamp hen.  Looking like a duller version of a purple gallinule, they still do have cute little ones.  Not everyone is happy with their presence here.  As many other invasives have done, they interfere with the natural food supply and ecosystem._DSC4047Here one of the parents is seen as it retrieves food for its mate and young.  _DSC4132Probably one of the funkiest young ones are the anhinga babies._DSC4194It’s hard to believe that the woodstorks were once threatened birds, but of recent years, they have made an amazing recovery.  Their young are also adorable, with their identifiable long beaks and relatively bald heads.  They grow up amazingly fast as well._DSC4177OK ladies, any takers for this very handsome great egret?  This dance goes on for hours and hours.  Almost makes you feel sorry for the poor guy._DSC4266So let’s hear it for the rookery birds of south Florida.  They sure put on quite the show._DSC3956Next up:  More sandhill cranes as they grow up a bit  :-)

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

It’s All About the Sandhill Cranes

Back to being a CRANIAC!

Off to another pair of sandhill cranes which I have observed earlier this year.  This is a pair of repeat nesters in a local preserve in south Florida.  During February I observed them as they appeared to be tending to a nest in the wetlands.  I could only hope that I was correct in my guess, since if there was a nest, it was fairly well hidden in the marshy landscape._DSC4875-2Sure enough … I visited one early morning, unaware of any new arrivals, and was pleasantly surprised to see the proud parents tending to a newly hatched sandhill crane colt.  I was quite excited._DSC8354-2This adorable little colt was actually about 3 days old when I first found it and almost immediately it begins to follow its mom and dad all over the wetlands, staying close by for protection, and of course, for a readily available source of food …provided by the parents._DSC8574-2When mom and dad are busy foraging for tasty morsels, they often hide the young colt in the brush near them.  Instinctively the young colt knows that it must remain there until called for._DSC8621-2Once it knows that the coast is clear and the parents are summoning it, the colt emerges from the grasses and heads up the embankment towards them (and me)._DSC8636-2It’s so fun to observe them as they “high step” through its version of the jungle on there way.  Sometimes, their proportionately large feet get tangled up in the grasses and vegetation and over they go.  To the casual observer, it’s quite entertaining.  To them, they just learn to go with the flow._DSC8639-2When they’re not making their way through the brush, they have to navigate through the thick, sticky muck, which makes it hard to get around.  Often, in their struggle, their still developing wings come into play to help them in their balancing._DSC8879-2This young one reminds me of when I’m in super strong winds and have to lean into the wind to make progress.  On this day though, it was probably more like .. whoops, I almost fell over.  LOL_DSC8919-2This little colt had a younger sibling that I wasn’t even aware of until the parents finally coaxed it into making the treacherous journey from the nest to where they were feeding, under one of the parents watchful eye of course.  The older colt, 1 day older and wiser in its navigation, watches as its younger sibling gets really muddy from the muck-filled waters._DSC9214-2Once on a bit harder surface of muck, the colts sink less, while the parents sink a bit being heavier.  No problems for them though and the walk is fruitful with lots of bugs and small aquatic life being plucked out of the muck._DSC0064-2Fat juicy worms seemed to be the favorite of this colt.  Sometimes refusing harder shelled insects, they would run when the parent offered up this worm delicacy._DSC0215-2They would patiently wait for the mom or dad to mash it up a bit and get it to the proper placement in their beak before offering it up to the young._DSC9820-2Often, the colt would grab it, but then drop it.  They are still learning how to eat and manipulate their food after all.  Such patience by the parents was observed as they would offer the prize over and over, until consumed._DSC9838-2Now with two of them competing for food, there always seemed to be some sibling rivalry going on.  One would expect that the older colt would pick on the younger one, since it had the size advantage.  No harm was ever done to its sibling though._DSC9955-2Just loved it when this young one turned and gave us its own version of the “vogue” look.  LOL_DSC0023-2Being low to the landscape, they often were a bit dirty with muck and cling-ons from the grasses.  I think that made them look even cuter!_DSC0034-2What was quite interesting to me was how often the little colt was actually the aggressor.  I guess it learned quickly how to stick up for itself.  _DSC9573-2While out there photographing the sandhill cranes, there were of course other birds living within the sanctuary.  Such was the case of this great blue heron, who was quite the fisherman too.  Oh, not just fish on this ones diet either … snakes, frogs, turtles … you name it.

It was so fascinating to see this heron catch 3 snakes in a row.  This beautiful snake (which is actually hard for me to say, seeing I’m not a big fan of snakes, but even I have to admit to its beauty) tried its best to not be taken, as it wrapped itself around the bill of the heron and even tried to double back at the heron so that it could bite it._DSC0234-2Another snake, which was already bitten in half at this point, tried desperately to wrap itself around the entire head of the heron in an attempt to not become the herons dinner._DSC0297-2_DSC0304-2Didn’t seem to be effective though, as one by one, they all succumbed to the same fate.  Down the hatch they all went.  Gross, if you ask me.  I imagined that those snake were wiggling around even after being swallowed!_DSC0346-2The next day, I returned to the sandhill cranes and their beautiful colts.  From pre-dawn, they were already out and about … babies staying close to the parents._DSC0463-2Yes, they were still getting muddy and wet as they navigated through the muck, but they sure looked beautiful when they rested on the grasses and weeds._DSC0559-2Still the smaller colt of the two kept the larger one in line.  :-)_DSC0593-2Well, look at what mom (or dad, can’t remember which) is catching for us now … a frog!_DSC0733-2After being mushed quite a bit in the beak of the adult, the frog was finally ready for the offering.  To my surprise, the younger colt took center stage for this treat._DSC0747-2While its sibling looked on, the tiny colt tugged and tore bits of the frog.  Quite the tasty breakfast._DSC0756-2These adorable colts seemed to be always pushing each others buttons and asking for a “fight” or at least a confrontation between them.  Of course, I didn’t want to see anything mean like birds are so notorious for, but it was fun to anticipate their actions and playful interactions._DSC0696-2Over time, they got used to each other and became quite great friends.  I have a tendency to squeal with delight when photographing such cuties and these early days in the lives of these young colts were no exception.  No worries, more images and stories about these cuties to come in a future blog post, so stay tuned.  :-)_DSC0963-2Next up:  How about some natural rookery action?  Courtship, mating, nest tending, and rearing of the young ones featured.

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Glorious Tetons

Except for our very first afternoon in the Tetons, our winter visit to Grand Teton National Park had remarkable weather.  Actually, truth be told, I would have preferred a bit more clouds for the landscape images, but hey, I certainly wasn’t complaining.  To me, there’s nothing like the sight of the almighty Tetons … so rugged and iconic, easily recognized and distinguished from other mountain ranges._DSC4753We visited a favorite sunrise location, but we were several hours too late.  Still, the beauty of the snow, river, trees, mountains, and bluebird sky, along with the fresh cold air, made my heart go pitter-patter._DSC4785Speaking of my heart going pitter-patter, so it did also when we first sighted our friend, the red fox, as it sat down nicely right next to our vehicle and did its best to mesmerize us with its stare.  There’s something so very cool about fox … their stare, their expression, their movement on the landscape._DSC7240I guess all of its staring and our clicking away was boring him, as before long it gave a big yawn, showing off its pearly whites._DSC7295After taking a break next to us for some time, it decided to venture off.  We silently begged it to stay for its “unofficial photo shoot”, but it had places to go and things to see/do.  _DSC7670Or so we thought….

As I was trying to find out where the fox ventured, to my surprise, I caught a glimpse… right in my side mirror.  Sitting right behind us on the snowplowed road, it sat motionless, probably surveying its surroundings for someone else to grace with its presence.

Caution:  Objects in the mirror might be closer than they appear.  :-)_DSC4795Sure enough, up the snow bank it jumped, back to where we found it._DSC7993Gosh, I sure love them.  They seem to personify the sly, intelligent nature that they have been known for.  Seems like they’re always calculating its next move as well as moves by others (wildlife or humans) around it._DSC7308Yes, it lives in a place where I can only dream of living.  This winter playground for outdoor play and adventure, as well as being the home of so much beauty and wildlife, I don’t think that anyone could miss living in its grandeur._DSC4825As if this beautiful location wasn’t enough, it was even better to have met up with such good friends as well to enjoy it with.  Thanks to Jen, Amy, and Scott for sharing the magical Tetons with us.  Needless to say, the day was filled with lots of laughs.  :-)IMG_0621Of course, the nighttime dining in the nearby town of Jackson is always much anticipated for Tom and I.  I always take images for some strange reason of my food when I travel and this appetizer was a highlight … for those of you who LOVE brussel sprouts, these were AMAZING!!!  The same could be said for the wine and local craft beer.IMG_0596Though we love to photograph the larger wildlife, that doesn’t mean that I would pass up on some of the birds.  We came across some gorgeous mallards which were feeding on the aquatic vegetation nearby._DSC7816Every so often, one would take off and of course, I had to take a chance at capturing the action.  On this trip, I left my trusty Nikkon 300mm f/2.8 lens at home.  In its place, I had just acquired the new Nikon 200-500mm lens, so I put it to the test._DSC7834Though it focused in on the flying mallard much slower than my prime lens, I was quite pleased with its sharpness once it locked in.  How incredibly beautiful the colors of the adult male mallard was._DSC7837_DSC7841I loved how it flew low to the snowy landscape and I was able to capture its shadow as well._DSC7848The trumpeter swans made an appearance as well.  Love it when a duet passed nearby to where I was shooting from.  You have to appreciate their beauty and grace._DSC7870So we took one last drive by and glance at the iconic Oxbow Bend, as seen in the winter, before we ventured on our exit from the park.  Took a few moments to absorb it all again.  It will have to last me for several months … probably until the fall explosion of color._DSC4793As we drove on our way back to Salt Lake City for our departure back to south Florida, I couldn’t help but see this amazing sunset image in the distance.  Though I know that there are a few power lines present, and some would find that the wind-powered generators are ugly (though I personally do not), I still was taken by the beauty of the colors and clouds.  It was a fitting sight and image for the finale of our amazing winter trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons.  Can’t wait to get back out there in the spring.  :-)_DSC7893Hope that everyone enjoyed a recount of our memories.

Up next:  More sandhill cranes … parents and colts … so cute!

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com