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

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Colts! No Not Horses Either ;-)

Cranes … OK, I know that everyone knows that I love bears and now everyone is aware that I love owls as well … but what about cranes?  Well, they come in as a very close third place for the attention of my viewfinder and the affection of my heart.  Cranes … whether they be sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, Japanese cranes (which incidentally is on a short list for me to photograph one day) … really doesn’t matter, I love them all.  So much so that I have crowned myself as an official “craniac”.  😉

So when my good friends, Jess and Michael alerted me of sandhill crane babies, that’s all I needed to hear.  I was on my way, this year, with my wallet!  (OK, I have been known to leave home without not just my American Express, but my entire wallet!).  I was so anxious to get there that I arrived almost an entire hour prior to the roads being open.  LOL

It didn’t take long before I found the nest, with one of the parents sitting on it, in the wee early hours of the morning.  I got my gear out and waited anxiously for the moment that the baby sandhill cranes, called colts, would pop their heads up from the parents topside back feathers._DSC9095To my surprise, it was a bit uneventful and unexpected as the first of the pair of colts backed out of the feathers without peeking upwards first.  After it backed up a bit, it clumsily fell, then ran back to the protection of the parent._DSC9102At the point it got the attention of the parent, who undoubtedly felt the other colt getting a bit anxious as well, though still covered up._DSC9123The colt scurried itself back into the parents protective wings for comfort.  See, the other parent was still out foraging and this one wouldn’t get up until it was back in sight.  I guess the task of taking care of both of the colts simultaneously and alone was too much of a job to handle.  Before long, one colt delighted us by popping its head up … the parent turned to look._DSC9182Then the second head popped up and they were both vocalizing a bit.  At this point, everyone was either silent and taking rapid images … or intermittently taking images and squealing at the same time.  Can you guess which one I was?  LOL_DSC9223As with most siblings, there’s always a bit of rivalry going on and the two colts began a bit of a friendly confrontation._DSC9260The sight of a young newborn colt emerging from the natural featherbed that the parents offer is a sight that I can barely describe when it comes to the joy I feel when witnessing it.  “Be still, my heart” is all that I can think._DSC9356-EditSoon they were both off of the parent and playing together.  Sandhill crane eggs generally will hatch, via the colts pip tooth, about a day apart.  When hatched, they’re fully feathered and shortly after their drying period, they are able to walk about and even swim.  They do need the parents to feed them initially and sandhill cranes make the best parents._DSC9629-EditMom and dad communicate with them though gestures and a series of sounds and it always impresses me how quickly the colts learn and tow the line._DSC9542This pair of colts was so adorable and I really didn’t perceive too much difference in size.  It took a while for the other parent to return and the colts were getting a bit antsy.DSC_3238One of my favorite poses with these colts is the interactive poses with their parents.  I’m pretty sure that this sandhill crane parent is quite pleased with their newborn colts.  Going nose to nose simply pulls at my heartstrings. DSC_3246I think that this colt is trying to its mom or dad that they’re hungry!  DSC_3253Staying close to the nest sight and next to the parent the two colts have to settle their need for food and activity until the partner crane shows up._DSC9691Their young lives are full of learning and fun, but also full of danger.  I pray that they will be safe as they grow up…. and have lots more colts of their own one day.

In the meanwhile, I have just one question … does anyone else out there love the cranes and colts as much as I do?  If so, annoint yourself as a self-proclaimed “craniac” and join the club! _DSC9737Next up:  From the wetlands of Florida to the mountains of Colorado

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Nature in Florida

January in Florida doesn’t necessarily offer much to make you feel like it’s winter, except for the promise of birds to photograph.  One doesn’t have to travel far to partake in their beauty, especially when you wake up early to catch them in that early morning sweet light._DSC4487If you’re wondering where the birds are hanging out … all that you have to do is follow their path inflight.  This roseate spoonbill, of course, revealed their location._DSC4625To our surprise, we didn’t find just a few, but hundreds of birds foraging in the waters and even all lined up on the boardwalk handrails.  Not just spoonbills either … white pelicans, white herons, ibis, tri-colored heron, great blue herons … one big happy family._DSC4783Of course, the roseate spoonbills hold the most interest for everyone.  I mean, how could they not?  Flamingos, they are not, though you almost always hear someone mistake them as such.  All dressed up in the beginnings of their breeding plumage, with their reflections of varying degrees of pink and white effectively doubling their beauty into the waters below._DSC4604Perhaps it’s just me, but they seem to me to have such fun personalities.  This one seems to actually be smiling.  🙂_DSC4636A walk around the wetlands yields many other sightings, including this European starling, known for its aggressive behavior in bullying other cavity dwelling birds out of their home.  Until this day, I never noticed how their markings were so beautiful._DSC4900It’s always fun to watch the beautiful and skilled green heron hunt for dinner, or in this case, probably lunch.  The stillness of the water almost makes it for a “mirror, mirror, on the wall” moment._DSC4971Also delightful to witness were Mr. & Mrs Hooded Merganser, who went swimming on past us.  _DSC4510Off to another location, we find the brightly colored, unmistakeable, male cardinal, with its red crest and feathers contrasting beautifully with that green foliage in the background._DSC5023Its mate, while not as red or brightly colored, was not far away.  I just loved the way that it was hanging out in the palm fronds, keeping an eye on everything going on._DSC5246Where there are birds and outdoor feeders, of course there are other critters trying to take  advantage of an easy meal.  This brave squirrel was running up and down not wanting to miss anything.  I just hoped that it wouldn’t jump out at me … LOL._DSC5031Then came a visitor who was a bit more assertive in trying to get a hand out of food.  The raccoons have been know to approach humans (yes, a terrible lesson that humans have taught them, much like the squirrels) … I’ve had one in the past tap my bottom as I sat at a picnic table years ago, giving me a big hint of what it wanted.  Of course, I didn’t indulge.  _DSC5061This particular raccoon put on its cutest face while it begged and pleaded for something tasty.  Here it even looks like it was praying for something good.  🙂_DSC5176Before long it found where a secret stash of treat were hidden in the log.  BUSTED!_DSC5130One of the most beautifully colored birds with an array of colors like that from an artists palette is the painted bunting – male, that is._DSC5537Though the female is beautiful in her own right, she lacks the variety of colors.  If one didn’t know better, they would never even think that they were related to the male version.  Reminds me of the how different the red-winged blackbirds are – males versus females._DSC5340Alas though the males again look like when they were created, a child was asked to color it.  So very beautiful.  These birds are winter visitors here in south Florida and will eventually move on with their migratory plans._DSC5579Much less colorful, though also marked quite nicely, is the thrasher … love those specks on its breast._DSC5589Of course, there will be lots more wintering birds and those breeding and nesting opportunities and blog posts, so stay tuned.

Up Next:  More Polar Bears!!

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Wetlands … Orlando-style

Several months ago, I spent a day with a good friend of mine, Jess Yarnell.  We set out to photograph some young sandhill crane colts, but we couldn’t locate them when I arrived at our destination, some 3 hours from my home base.  I know that Jess was disappointed and felt bad about my drive up, but we both vowed to make the best of the day … and we sure did.

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We drove to Orlando Wetlands Park, which is located on the east end of town, near Orlando.  It was my first visit there and as soon as we drove in and started our walking tour through the wetlands, we could hear a chorus of black-bellied whistling ducks in the distance.  We were already laughing … let the day begin!

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There was no shortage of black-bellied whistling ducks present … in the air, on logs, in the wetlands, just about everywhere.  I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever seen so many congregated in the same place before!

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Of course, it wasn’t just the BBWDs that kept us entertained … there were tri-colored herons feeding in the reeds …

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… a couple of handsome looking grebes in their breeding plumage …

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… a great blue heron busy with some feeding of its own …

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… black-necked stilts, blue-winged teals, and even a bald eagle made a low-profile fly-by, which surprised us both.

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A gathering of roseate spoonbills were mostly sleeping when we arrived, but by the later morning, one by one, they began to get active … preening themselves, stretching, walking about, interacting with each other and my personal favorite was them talking a bath in the water.

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Now I had never seen them quite like this before, as they trashed about abruptly and methodically slapped their wings on the surface of the water – over and over.  All the while, they possessed the most silly face, as if to ask us “what are you guys looking at?”.

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Then it was the snowy egrets turn to entertain us.  They were pretty much getting ready for the spring season, which can only mean one thing … showing off for the ladies!  We watched as they displayed their plumage, chased after one another, and danced about in mid-air.  It was such a fun thing to witness.

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After some time, we decided that it was time to retreat from the harsh sun for a bit, but not before we had one last encounter.  This time though, it wasn’t of an avian kind, but rather a turtle kind.  A snapping turtle made an appearance before us, to be specific.  I was amazed at just how big it was …

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… and how prehistoric it appeared … long nails, spiny-looking protrusions, that thick looking neck and strong jawline.

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Yes, it was quite the fun, yet totally unexpected, morning.  Just goes to show that sometimes things don’t always go as planned, but if you kept your mind open to other possibilities, it still can be a lot of FUN!

© Debbie / TNWA Photography