Driving Through Rural Florida

Don’t ever be mislead into thinking that Florida is entirely a “concrete jungle”.  While that may be more of a reality on the Florida’s coastline, especially in the south, there are certainly areas that offer a much more rural feel.  On days that Tom & I both have some free time together, we take drives into such areas.  Why don’t you come along for the journey?  🙂

Along the shores of one of the many lakes in Florida, we came across some horses, albeit not wild, but they still made for a peaceful looking image.  DSC_9042That was until we heard and saw a bunch of action going on.  Seems like a crested caracara joined a party of two crows and was far from welcome there.  They both ganged up on the caracara with some ferocity, which I always find so fascinating.DSC_8992DSC_8993After a chase ensued, the caracara finally got the message and took flight over the landscape.DSC_9005The crested caracara is normally found dining roadside with some of our vultures (black and turkey) … feasting on some recent road kill or some other type of carrion.  They are referred to as “Mexican eagles” since they have so many of them there and are found in areas like Florida, Texas, and perhaps other gulf states.  They are actually in the falcon family.  I have always found them to be quite beautiful and interesting.DSC_8211Speaking of the oddly intriguing … we also find many wood storks along the way.  It’s easy to see how they got their name.  They’ve made quite a comeback too and can be found bullying over the nests of other birds in our Florida rookeries.DSC_8310More elegant are the common great blue herons.  They have got to be the most patient birds when it comes to feeding, as they will stand there motionless for what seems to be an eternity (at least while you’re photographing them) waiting for the precise moment of opportunity to strike.DSC_8290DSC_8255Feelings of pride and patriotism rush over me whenever I spot our U.S. national bird, the bald eagle.DSC_9107DSC_9223DSC_9171Such a symbol of freedom are they.  I remember that when I was growing up, I never saw them, but they are many out there now in numbers.  Such an amazing comeback story of how the Endangered Species Act, as well as environmental protections, work together to ensure that they thrive again.DSC_9542Always searching for hikes to take out in wilderness and this one yielded this juvenile black-crowned night heron, who incidentally, wasn’t bashful at all.DSC_9378Sandhill cranes, always a favorite of mine whever I can find them, are a thrill to see.  These two are a mated pair and exhibit such dedication to each other.DSC_8512When they start unison calling, I just stop in my tracks.  Much like the sound of elk bugling or a bear cub purring, I can’t get myself to myself to even flinch a muscle when I hear it.DSC_8534Only to be outdone is when they begin their dance of love and celebration.DSC_8521This pair was drinking water in the field, exhibiting a behavior that I had never seen before.DSC_8568The whooping crane can sometimes be found hanging out with the sandhill cranes.  It is primarily white feathered, with black tips and a red crown, it’s much larger than its cousins.  I hope that they will rebound like the bald eagles did.  While sandhill cranes are sometimes hunted (why?) over migration states, the whooping crane is protected.  Sadly though, they are sometimes “mistaken” for a sandhill crane.  When you see a whooper, it’s hard to understand how  they could possibly be mistaken as adults.DSC_9526The great egret, sporting its white lacey breeding plumage backlit by the sun, is a fabulous sight to see as well.DSC_9708Of course, the trip-colored heron is a show to watch as it hunts as well.DSC_9759Towards the end of the day, the sandhill cranes begin to return to roost for the night.  In the beginning, they fly a few at a time….DSC_9859… eventually numerous constructions of cranes soar overhead … all generally calling out their impending arrival.DSC_8838Their silhouettes against the setting sun, which has highlighted the atmosphere, is nothing short of wonderful.  When they drop their legs, as they ready to execute their landing, reminds me of paratroopers as they find their way back to earth.DSC_8856Yep, we may not have mountains and varied mammal wildlife in Florida, but we do have much to be thankful for.  🙂
FullSizeRenderNex Up:  Wonder of the wetlands

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Lucky Getaway Weekend

Sometimes it’s nice to get away … to see something or do something different … and that’s how this weekend started.  We decided to venture up to northern Florida and meet up with my daughter and son-in-law.  Of course, I did my research before I left and knew that the sandhill cranes were migrating through in numbers and hoped that they would be keeping company with another less frequent, but much loved, visitor.

So off I went in search of the sandhill cranes and sure enough … there he was … Whooping crane #9-13.  At this time, he was a 21-month old male on migration from WI.  Whooping cranes, Grus Americana, are an icon for endangered species everywhere and one of only 2 cranes that call North America home.  As recently as the1940s, there were only ~15 in existence!  Their decline in numbers were a result of habitat loss and over-hunting.  In 1967, they were placed on the Endangered Species list and through the work of many, including Operation Migration, they are making progress!

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This guy made his 2nd trip down to Florida and was hanging out amongst his cousin sandhill cranes in Alachua County.

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Their diet consists of plants, seeds, grains, small fish, frogs, snakes, and insects.

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Operation Migration assists in the migratory process of the cranes first migration and the banding of them with transmitters to track their whereabouts.  Each crane adorns its own branding of “jewelry” which provide that identification.

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Probably my favorite image I got while visiting up there was this one.  Reminds me of “hanging out with the gang at the water cooler”.  🙂

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It’s quite remarkable how well they get along with the sandhill cranes.

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Most times that I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph whooping cranes, they have been from an incredibly far distance, with the Florida heat radiating in waves from the hot earth.  This sighting was different … so close I could have a conversation with it  (who knows … maybe I did … LOL).

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Whooping cranes are the largest birds in North America and quite a bit bigger than their sandhill crane cousins.  They stand about 5′ tall, with a wingspan of greater than 7′, while the sandhills stand about 4′ tall.

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This was my buddy who I met while photographing the cranes.  He/she carried on quite a conversation of their own with me.  ~ MOOOOOO ~

After doing some chores up in the area, we set off for another favorite location of mine … Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just outside of Gainesville.  Usually we head out, walk the trails, see many species of birds, some snakes, lots of alligators, and maybe get a peek at distant horses or a bison or two.

On this day though, out of seemingly nowhere, we encountered a lone bison who was determined to share the trail with us.  🙂

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Being how it was too late to back out, we decided to respectfully stay put and let him show us which direction he wanted to venture in.  Of course, I was at that point thankful that I was carrying the landscape lens, as this was no situation for a long lens.  In the image below, if Tom were to have tried to retreat, he would have gone into the alligator-infested waters (oh my!).  LOL.

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After being quite indecisive about where the bison wanted to go, it finally decided that it would pass us, but not before we alerted other unsuspecting hikers heading its way.  They were sure glad that we did too.

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Grazing along the way … we finally parted ways.

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At that point, we decided to leave before it decided to come back in our direction.  Tom, aka “eagle eyes” spotted a lovely Wilson’s snipe resting in the wetlands along the trail.  Gosh, they are so beautiful.

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As we approached the sinkhole, we also came across a wonderful tri-colored heron just beginning to come into its colors.  All in all, it was a great getaway weekend and well worth the trip.  It’s not often that you can spend the morning with whooping cranes and in the afternoon share the trail with a bison … in Florida!  🙂

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Note:  For anyone that might be wondering … Whooping crane #9-13 completed his return migration to the north on April 22 (appropriately Earth Day) … another successful migration!  Yay!

Stay tuned for more “time away from home” in Florida.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography