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

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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

Where Are the Alligators?

Starting off the month of May, I headed up to St. Augustine, Florida, specifically to visit and photograph the Alligator Farm.  It was my first time to visit their natural rookery, though I had been to Gatorland in Orlando numerous times in the past.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was also participating in a 4-day workshop there – focusing on the technical aspects of photography, specially metering, composition, flash, and post processing.

It was really nice being part of the class too, since we got an extra hour of shooting in the early AM, even before the “photographer pass” holders.  Good thing too, because it got more crowded as the day went on, as well as quite a bit hotter.

One of the first birds I encountered, as we were perfecting our metering skills, was this great white egret flying ever so gracefully overhead.

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Being that this was pretty much the height of the breeding season, most if not all of the birds were “dressed” to the nines.

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Look at those colors, that beak, that plumage, and that magnificent red eye!

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The big instigator of the group was always hands down the antics and vocalizations of the snowy egret…. glub, glub, walla, walla.  LOL  Speaking of a display of plumage … how does it get much better!

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Many of the birds, like this beautiful wood stork, were busy building or reinforcing their nests.  Just love the way this guy posed against that deep blue sky.

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Of course, one of the most colorful showy birds in attendance, were the roseate spoonbills.  With their plumage in full bloom, they offered us varying displays of their beauty, grace, and uniqueness.

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The reflections weren’t so bad either.  😉

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Yes, take a bow, for you sure were the focus of all the camera lenses out there.  Whether flying overhead, perched up on the trees, sitting on their nests, tending to their young, and especially when bathing in the waters, they were the star.

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It was like eye candy to the nature photographer and I was excited to see what else we would find along the way.  Oh yeah, the metering thing, I think that I just might have learned a thing or two.  All good!

 

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Next up … More from the Alligator Farm  🙂

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography