Growing Up In The Florida Wetlands

The spring season is an exciting one in the wetlands of Florida.  The natural rookeries that develop in the trees on the various “islands” of the wetlands, which are actually re-claimed waters, which supports the growth of trees, fish, and for the photographer, a wonderful place to watch the life stages of many of our south Florida birds.  So, sit back, take a stretch to unwind and take in some of the sights of spring.  🙂

Always present and anticipated with excitement are the great egrets.  These babies are absolutely adorable!DSC_4477-EditThough they start out pretty small and gangly, with a face that only a mother could love.DSC_5518You’ve got to love that ‘do that they possess.  Barely opening their eyes and with wobbly heads they try to sit up whenever the parent shifts a bit in the nest.  They get quite frantic as well when they know that food has arrived.DSC_5197Before long, they begin to grow up and look like they’re an established part of the family.  They seem to be quite excited when they’re in the company of both of their proud and loving parents.DSC_4621Life in the rookery has quite crowded quarters too.  Often, little squirmishes erupt and defensive moves result … for each wants to defend their territory, nest, and of course, their young.  Birds can be quite nasty to each other so it’s quite a testy time.DSC_4638Another bird that nested this year in the rookery was the glossy ibis.  They are quite beautiful always, but especially in the spring.DSC_5380The parents take turns sitting on the nest and bringing in food to one another.  As you can see, their nests are lower to the water, therefore it’s often not the cleanest of them all.  Yuck!DSC_5621Nonetheless, they are successful in their mating season and they carry on with the feeding of their first hatched baby, while still incubating the remaining eggs.DSC_5813The most prolific birds of 2017 were the wood storks … they were seemingly the first and they were EVERYWHERE!  They have the cutest young ones too … so oddly looking, but with that fuzzy white head, it’s hard not to love them.DSC_5570The white ibis, which is coincidentally the mascot of  the University of Miami Hurricanes, is another visitor, though I don’t think that I saw many nests this year.  They’re so beautiful in their breeding colors.DSC_6038As juveniles, they are not white, but darker or mottled until they reach maturity.DSC_6021A similar transformation takes place with the little blue heron.  As adults, they possess dark bluish-gray feathers, however as juveniles, they’re white.  As they age, they get mottled and eventually obtain their adult colors.DSC_5293Even while most of the rookery residents are already parents and taking care of their young, some birds, like this tri-colored heron are still looking for mates.DSC_5213With those fancy feather crests, beautiful blue beak, and red eye, they do their best courtship dance to attract the ladies.DSC_5233They are truly gorgeous in the breeding plumage.DSC_5866-EditMating season is not just for the birds either … the alligators seem to be in the mood as well.DSC_5122DSC_5126Alligators aren’t the only reptiles in the rookery environment.  Case in point is the basilisk lizard, also know as a Jesus lizard, notably because of its ability to run on the surface of the water.  It’s really quite fascinating to witness.DSC_4795-EditDSC_4807One of the most beautiful birds in the rookery, in my opinion, is the purple gallinule.  A medium-sized, chicken-like, marsh bird, its iridescent colors and its acrobatic skills are a thrill for all to witness.DSC_5909-EditSome confuse the purple gallinule with a more invasive, non-native bird, the swamphen, but their beaks definitely tell the story … with the gallinule’s beak being blue, red, and yellow … like a piece of candy corn.  LOLDSC_4907The gallinule prefers to feed actively on flowers and navigates the stalks of the vegetation that the flowers bloom from.DSC_5986Possessing those large bright yellow feet, they wrap their long feet or “toes” around the stalks ….DSC_5842… and they follow the stalk down to the bloom, often it leads to the waters surface … and they grab the bloom as a tasty treat.DSC_5058Of course, the always gregarious red-winged blackbird is ever-present as well.  I found this guy in a unique spot … sitting in the middle of a lily pad … singing away.  Loved that reflection on the surface of the water too.  🙂  Yes, the life in the rookery is alive and well.  Birds are thriving and insuring another generation to carry on.  Life is good!DSC_5448Next Up:  Who wants some burrowing owls?

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

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