My Local Everglades National Park

There’s been a lot of talk about #mypark … indicating what national park is your favorite.  Sometimes people choose the park that they find most beautiful … or perhaps the one that they can relate to the most … or even the one geographically closest to them.  It’s a very individual perception and designation.  For me, I would have to say that Katmai NP is “my park”, though I certainly don’t live anywhere near it, though I do absolutely adore the wildlife and landscape of Katmai.  For me, another NP, which is actually closest to me, is Everglades NP.  It’s a place of diverse beauty and landscape … and depending on the season and other environmental factors, its presentation is very different.  Like all of the national parks though, its a fragile habitat and environment, and we need to protect them and the wildlife living in them.  In the case of the Everglades, it’s also critical to our water supply in Florida.  Enough said ….

Usually in the summer, our visits to the Everglades are fairly sparse.  It’s hot, humid, and buggy during the summer.  Sometimes those conditions extend into the other seasons as well.  We did make a few visits in the beginning of winter and found it pleasant … well except for those mosquitoes.

One can find white pelicans there, as this duo shown feeding on the surface of the water near Flamingo.  Brown pelicans can also be found year-round, but these white pelicans are more winter residents.dsc_2003 American avocets are a favorite of mine, especially when they’re in their winter plumage, as this adult female is.  Love their grace as they swim or walk around the shallow water foraging for food.dsc_2760 You can almost always count on the American kettle to make an appearance when visiting, though sometimes they’re more cooperative than others.dsc_3535 Such graceful beauty in flight as they patrol the area for a meal.dsc_2580 Another common resident year-round is the red-shouldered hawk.  They’re quite smart predators too, as we watched this one tagging alongside the riding lawnmower man, taking advantage of the grasses being stirred up, making insects much more accessible.dsc_3324 A variety of hawks, as well as turkey and black vultures, are a sure thing, especially when warm and windy, as they seek out thermals to circle in flight.  dsc_2841 In the Flamingo area of Everglades NP, there are always many osprey found and in the winter, they are generally pairing up through courtship behaviors and nest building.  The adults are always easily identifiable due to their yellow eyes, versus the orange eyes of juveniles.  The female adult also generally adorns a “necklace” across their upper chest.dsc_4173 It’s a blast to watch and photograph them as they fly around … leaving and returning to the nest … as they bring in food and nesting material, as well as defend their nest.  We watched one day as a vulture tried to land in the nest.  Well, that didn’t go over too well, as the occupant of the nest and its mate (from a destination in the distance unknown) went into aggressive modes to defend their nest.dsc_2091 It’s fun to watch as the female gets excited when she sees the male coming in with some dinner.  (Note: the dark mottled “necklace” feathers indicates this one is a female).dsc_2213 What this female didn’t count on was her mate being very defensive with the fresh fish he brought in.  It reminded me of a dog being teased with a toy, as he jumped around and around, keeping an easy pick of the fish away from its mate.  Eventually, it flew off with the fish, which he devoured a bit, then returned with it … finally surrendering it to its mate.dsc_2306 I don’t think that she liked that initial “hoarding” of the food and she screamed at him when he left with it.  LOL
dsc_2120 After she got her share of the meal, I guess that he was forgiven, since they worked on the next generation of osprey.  😉dsc_2481On this particular day, we encountered a bit of a rain shower.  I just loved the way that this male osprey perched itself near the nest, dropped its wing and bowed its head, in an attempt to speed off drying its wings.
dsc_3206 An appropriate end of the day … and the blog … is the appearance of a rainbow, as seen right over the nest of the osprey couple.  I think rainbows are a lucky sign of what’s to come.  Wishing them the best in their nesting endeavors.  🙂_dsc1881Next Up:  More from Everglades NP

© 2017  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

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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

More From the Matanzas Tern Colony

In mid-June, I had an itch to return back to the least tern nests of St. Augustine Beach.  So my childhood friend, Kim, and I drove up to Jacksonville to also visit my daughter for the night.  In the morning, we left for the colony.  When we arrived, it was at first much like earlier … lots of least terns bringing in, and flying around with, fish intended for the females.

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As per last week, sometimes the female still didn’t take the male up on his offer.

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“Wait … you forgot to take the fish!”!  LOL

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It wasn’t just the least terns that were calling the beach home, the Wilson’s plover also had nests and young ones in the roped off nesting areas as well.

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I did finally get to see a few of the least tern chicks as well, though they were mainly covered up or huddled next to one of the parents.

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Again, it was a bit scary when both of the parents would fly off and leave the young chick exposed.

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While some of the baby birds were out in the open, sometimes the parents strategically placed their young one in the grasses, which provided for a bit of protection for the little ones.

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During breaks in all of the action, some least tern preening was always on tap.

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When all else failed, there was a never-ending supply of males flying around with fish.  When the females would turn them down, sometimes they would just land nearby and devour it themselves.

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It’s my hope that the young ones survived their early days, when they were very vulnerable to predators and mother nature in general.

Wanted to squeeze in another trip to see them, but I had to get on the road with Tom for his cycling competitions.

Want more burrowing owls?  Well, stay tuned.   🙂

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Sunrise & Terns

I have always wanted to photograph the least terns as they nest and raise their young on the beaches in Florida.  My good friend Jess knew this so she promised to keep me in the loop when the time was right to do just that.  At the end of May, I was visiting our home in Gainesville and got up super early to meet her over in St. Augustine for not only the least terns, but early enough to try out a sunrise as well.

While I wasn’t sure what kind of sunrise we were going to get, being that the skies were threatening and rain was most definitely in the forecast, we figured that we would try anyway.  At first, the skies didn’t want to cooperate with the sunrise colors, but before long it got pretty good.

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I just love the sand dunes on the beaches in NE Florida … reminds me of my days at UF and the many weekends spent at the beaches of St. Augustine as well.

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Such a beautiful beach, complete with a bit of a rocky shoreline in certain places.  I could have stayed here longer, but that wasn’t why we were up there.  Our quest was to see the terns, so off we went.

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As excited as we were to photograph the least terns, they were quite excited seeing us as well.  OK, not quite the same thing, but we quickly settled down into our shooting spot and the birds soon calmed down knowing that we were not a threat to them nor their nests.

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There was a lot of fish offering to the female going on … and to the male’s dismay, not much taking of the fish.  There wouldn’t be much “hanky panky” going on this morning.  Perhaps we were a bit early still.

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Many of the least tern pairs were sitting on eggs … we could tell because they were fidgeting around when protecting them from the elements – heat especially, but also from the various predators whom might want to take their eggs.

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Once in a while, even though tending to the guarding of the eggs, they would get spooked and momentarily fly away.  I would always get so nervous when they did.

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Perhaps one of the most fascinating behavioral displays that I witnessed was their reaction to the resident ghost crabs in the area.  While many of the least terns were fighting amongst each other (over nest sites, a stray male offering a fish to the wrong female, some other mated pair getting too close, or a photographer moving too close or quickly), they sure knew how to unite for the cause when encountered with a potential threat to the entire colony.  Enter the ghost crab….

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Wings immediately go up in defense by the terns, as they call out incessantly to each other and I imagine scream at the crab as it makes its way.  Support comes in as they tag team against the crab, who in turn tries to defend itself as well.

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They take turns … on the ground and in the air.  LOL

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I was surprised at just how close that they get to the crab, who possesses some pinchers that I’m sure could inflict some pain.

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Every once in a while, one of the terns would get startled by the crab and would try to quickly retreat by flying away.  It’s quite entertaining to watch.

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But eventually the crab would retreat or make its way through the mine field of terns – all ready to defend their turf.  Funny because the terns are just part-time residents of the beaches, while the crab is residential to the area.  🙂

In the meanwhile, more fish are flown in to the available females, and more rejections follow.

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I visited the colony twice … once on this day and again a few weeks later.  More images will follow in the next blog post, so stay tuned!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Birds, New Learnings, New Friends

At the Alligator Farm, we spent 4 days shooting primarily the birds of the rookery as they went about all of the activities surrounding the breeding season.  I’m talking full days too – from 7:00AM until sometimes 8:00PM.  Of course, being that this was a photography workshop, we got to go inside the classrooms for educational components as well.  Yep, right in the heat of the day thankfully!

Each day, I tried to build upon the skills and tidbits that I had picked up from the previous days.  Let’s see how I’m doing …. 😉

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The great white egrets were a thrill to photograph, especially since many of them had their babies.  I was a bit taken back by some of the baby birds and the treatment of their nest mates, I’ve got to admit it.  I know that it’s natures way and it’s all about survival of the fittest, but it’s still a bit sad for me to watch.

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Not all of the birds had already nested, complete with eggs or babies.  Some were still strutting their stuff, dancing away, advertising for a willing mate.  LOL.  I found that I could watch them forever in their rhythmic dance, so purposeful and precise, though I found myself really wanting this poor guy to get taken up on his offer.

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This guy too!

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As I mentioned, many of the mated pairs already were sitting on eggs, as this heron was kind enough to display for us (as long as we were quick), before they returned to sitting on them again.

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The cattle egret were also nesting, though I don’t recall seeing any of their babies yet.  Perhaps I just missed them because there were just so many birds!

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The wood storks are quite huge, yet still very graceful as they navigated the skies, trees, and other birds, while going about their daily activities.

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It was never-ending work too.

Then there was this image, where perhaps a dozen roseate spoonbills were all lined up at the top of the trees, some of which were doing courtship maneuvers of their own.  I found them so beautiful against that blue sky.

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Many of the photographers and visitors were dodging bird poop … quite comical actually, though I was lucky enough to not be one of those christened.  Maybe if I had it wouldn’t have been so amusing.  🙂  It wasn’t just the humans though … many of the birds were targets as well.  Yes, it was tight quarters in the rookery.  Guess this one will be taking a bath soon.

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These treetop extension shots, showing off the undercarriage of the spoonbills wings, were probably some of my favorite shots.  So very graceful and quite beautiful … like pink ballerinas.

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Of course, this rookery isn’t called “Bird Farm”, but rather the Alligator Farm, so the gators were the real stars to most visitors.  They performed as well, as the males would get excited every now and then and let out their bellow sound, sink a bit into the water, and make the water surrounding them vibrate and dance.  It’s quite fascinating to see and hear!

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As the day was nearing its end, the sun would set and cast the most wonderful golden light.

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Before we said our goodbyes, that light turned a fiery orange-red and by chance, this guy graced us with his dance yet one more time.

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It was a fascinating workshop (Shoot the Light FL Bird Tech Series) with great instructors who were more than willing to assist you in your learning and shooting.  Thanks so much to Chas Glatzer for the instruction and inspiration, and to Michael and Dave for their clarification and assistance in the field.  Thanks also to my classmates, many of which are my new friends as well.  I had a blast!  🙂

Next Up:  “Hooooo” wants to spend time with some more owls?

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography