2016—Ship Ahoy

On Thursday we took the Skimmer out of Fulton, TX with Cap’n Tommy for a four hour whooping crane excursion.  We saw a handful of whooping cranes but they were so far away they looked like wads of paper on the grass, even with my 300mm lens with the 1.7 X Teleconverter, making it essentially a 500mm lens.  So my bird photos weren’t up to snuff.  I didn’t have a wide angle lens with me, only the 300mm so my photo options were limited once we got into the harbor.  I managed to take just a few shots of some of the oyster and shrimp boats docked there.  My favorite shots were of the “Lucky Lady” and Capt. Eddie’s boat.

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2016—Royal Terns

It has been quite windy in Port Aransas since my arrival.  One morning when the tide was very low, the off shore breeze was so strong that there were no waves and the Gulf waters lapped calmly at the shoreline.  There have been few shore birds on the beach.  When we walked Friday morning, the wind had changed direction and was blowing strongly from the north.  Again, there were few birds, only a few royal terns facing into the wind.

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2016—Coming In For A Landing

I’m in Port Aransas, TX, visiting my dear friends Susan and Chris.  I’ve visited them here  on the Gulf of Mexico eight out of the last nine years.  Susan and I walked on the beach Tuesday morning and I managed to get in some panning practice.  There weren’t many birds out that morning but we kept pace with a small flock of willets as they flew down the beach, stopping to forage in the surf, then lifting off again.  They’re coming in for a landing in the surf in this shot.  f

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2016—Elegant Egret

In the Victorian era, the long, elegant white feathers that grace the backs of great egrets in breeding season were eagerly sought for the millinery trade.  Egrets and many other birds were hunted close to extinction for the  whims of fashion.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act that was passed in 1918 in the US along with similar legislation that was enacted in Great Britain. protected most birds and prevented the decimation of egrets and many other birds.  For more than 100 years, it has been illegal in this country to possess a feather, or other bird parts, nests, and eggs of any bird with the exception of a very few, non native wild birds (pigeons, house sparrows, and starlings are not covered by this law).  The rookery at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm offers a unique opportunity to view the elegant great egrets in full breeding plumage.

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2016—Egret Heart

I just spent three days in St. Augustine, Florida at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm photographing the natural rookery that has evolved over  decades since the “Farm” was established in the late 1800’s.  The alligator swamp under the oak trees has proven to be a safe haven for native herons, egrets, spoonbills, ibis, and wood storks because the presence of the alligators prevents climbing predators from attacking the nests.  I was there on a three day workshop with Moose Peterson and three other photographers.  It was still quite early in the season but there were scores of birds, especially great egrets and roseate spoonbills, and they were developing their breeding plumage and starting their mating rituals.  We had a fabulous opportunity with the birds on their roosts and nests just a few feet away from the walkway.

The great egrets in particular dominated the scene.  Their rituals are elegant and  predictable.  When the male returns to the nest and presents his mate with a stick to add to the nest, both birds  arch and stretch their necks and click their beaks.  At the apex of the performance,  their heads, necks, and beaks form a heart shape, with each bird comprising half of the heart.  I made it my mission to capture that behavior.  Predictable as it was, I still missed it every time.  Moose tried to get me ready for it by saying, “bird flying to nest” but as I turned, the charming ritual display took place and I was still adjusting focus or I was not looking in the right place, or I was  momentarily distracted.  On the last afternoon, Moose pointed to a pair that gave me a perfect view, the light was great, and he suggested I try for my heart.  After an hour of only partial success, Moose suggested I move to another location where the birds were more active.  We had only a precious few minutes left at the Alligator Farm and he wanted me to take advantage of this opportunity to get some other photographs.  Then finally, with only a few minutes before we had to pack up our equipment, I managed to capture the ritual, but not without flaws.  I was too close to capture the entire bodies of both birds in the frame.  The irony of being too close after lusting after, and actually purchasing, a 600mm lens is not lost on me.   But, I got my heart after a fashion.  I cropped out the extraneous parts of the birds for a more pleasing composition.  The shortcomings of this shot give me a goal for my upcoming return visit to my friend Connie and the High Island Rookery near Galveston, TX in April.

Here then, is the first chapter in my quest for an egret heart.

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2016—Oops! THIS Is Water Dance

In my haste to prepare some future posts because of travel, I apparently neglected to complete anything beyond the title of my post earlier today, Water Dance.  Perhaps I was well into a bottle of old vine Zinfandel and thought I’d completed my task.  I don’t remember.  Water Dance refers to the fascinating foraging behavior of some herons, the reddish egret and the tricolored heron for two.  Watching them pursue their prey while dancing through the shallow water can be mesmerizing.  I watched this tricolored heron zigzagging  in the shallows of the lagoon where we kayaked on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, following small fish.  This bird could change direction quickly, then plunge in its beak and capture its prey.  I took these shots before we got into our kayaks early in the morning just as the sun was coming up.

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Midway through our Costa Rican Death March we stopped to rest and eat something.  Three of our group continued across the river to explore more of the park.  Richard and I opted to stay put for a while.  While we rested, I saw a yellow headed caracara fly by and got up to see where it landed.  As I walked past the trail, barely visible from the edge of the river, two people with a guide, were staring up into a tree.  Thinking the caracara had landed there, I walked over, only to be treated to another first,  an anteater perched high up in a tree.  This anteater, known as a lesser anteater or a northern Tamandua was relaxed and seemed not at all concerned by my presence near him.

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As I have mentioned, we saw lots of frogs during our walk to the frog ponds on our last evening at Luna Lodge.  The masked tree frogs were  the loudest frogs we heard that night.  They floated on ponds and  made explosive croaking sounds to attract females.   When they croaked, their throats inflated and they looked like they were blowing huge bubble gum bubbles.

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2016—Colorful Backdrop

While the Eastern US is suffering from unseasonal cold and stormy weather, the West Coast is basking under balmy skies. While I was out running errands Monday afternoon, the thermometer in my car registered 77°, at least 15° above normal.  I’ve been traveling so much in recent weeks that I haven’t noticed that Spring seems to have arrived more than a month early here.  The fruit trees are in bloom and my garden’s earliest bloomer, the purple hardenbergia vine which is slowly recovering from being whacked down to nothing last year when I had my fence replaced, is in glorious full bloom although it remains a clump and has not yet climbed back onto the fence.  I went out with my macro lens to take some late afternoon shots of it and noticed a tiny spider waiting for dinner to arrive in its web.  This spider, legs and all, barely measures 1/4 inch.  The hardenbergia makes a colorful backdrop for the spider and its web.spring spider-6673

2016—Woody WoodPecker?

We saw several species of woodpecker in Costa Rica.  One afternoon, we were fascinated to observe and photograph a pair of Pale-Billed Woodpeckers, who, according to our guide, are usually difficult to see because of their skulking habits.  Their hammering resounded and at times overtook the constant din of the cicadas.  It was difficult to get both birds in the same frame because they stayed just far enough apart.  I captured a few shots after I moved my camera rig back a few steps so I could see both at once in the viewfinder. I especially liked the one here because it shows both of them, eyes narrowed to avoid getting debris in them, and wood chips flying around their heads.

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2016—Primary Colors

Red-legged honey creepers are tiny birds with feathers featuring primary colors, especially when photographed with flash to emphasize those colors.  The males have bright red legs, bright blue feathers with black accents, and bright yellow feathers under their wings.   The females have reddish legs and are green, which is a secondary color comprised of primaries blue and yellow.  Our guide, Gary, knew the honeycreepers would be attracted to water so he sprayed water on the bromeliads growing on the trees on the grounds of the lodge and, sure enough, the honey creepers welcomed the opportunity to jump into the little ponds created where the stiff leaves connected to the bases of the plants.

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2016—The Costa Rican Death March

This year, we had a new adventure that we didn’t experience last year when we visited Costa Rica.  We walked into and through parts of Corcovado National Park which covers a vast area of rain forest near Luna Lodge where we stayed. As we walked through the dense rain forest in the heavy, humid air we could hear the Pacific Ocean’s waves breaking on the shore but we couldn’t see the water through the dense growth.  The hike we took was an abbreviated version of what two women we met at the lodge had taken earlier in the week. They referred to their hike as the Bataan Death March.  That should have given me a clue about what we were getting into.  Their hike was a total of 17 miles and took two days; ours was a day trip of a “mere” 9 miles but I barely made it out alive.

The heat and humidity took its toll.  I thought I was in good shape because I walk regularly at a four mile an hour pace, but not under such hot and humid conditions. While I managed to walk to the halfway point fairly easily, the return trek, even after more than an hour of rest,  felt like a death march of sorts of me.  I struggled, feeling sluggish and exhausted, and stopped every few minutes to drink water and pour it over my head.  I finally relinquished all of my camera gear to my fellow hikers so I had less of a burden to carry.   I got really concerned when the fingers on both hands began to tingle and I was forced to stop often to rest.  Once, my dear companions even fanned me with banana leaves plucked from the rain forest.  If I hadn’t felt so terrible, I would have taken a photo to commemorate what must have looked ridiculous.  We finally emerged from the rain forest and while we waited for our ride back to the lodge, a local vendor whacked the tops off coconuts, stuck in straws, and gave us what to me was a life saving elixir.  Nothing has ever tasted so good to me as that fresh, cool, coconut milk.  I recovered quickly and by dinner time, I was back to normal.

Despite my ordeal, I managed to capture a few memorable photographs that day.  One of the highlights happened early that morning just a couple of miles into the park, before I succumbed to heat exhaustion or whatever got me.  Gary pointed out a rare and unusual bird, the Great Curassow, hunting in the undergrowth.  This turkey sized bird is relatively uncommon so seeing one on our walk was a real treat.  Many of the creatures we saw and photographed that day were obscured by the dense undergrowth making decent photographs difficult.  But, this large male curassow was  visible with only a few leaves and branches between our lenses and it.

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2016—Non-feathery Boa

We were in Costa Rica mainly to photograph birds.  But there are lots of other exotic creatures on the Osa Peninsula that don’t have feathers,  including lots of reptiles.  I wasn’t surprised to see the iguanas or Jesus Christ lizards but I have to say I was a bit taken aback when Gary told us there was a boa constrictor just a few feet away in the garden near the Luna Lodge deck.  The lodge’s mascot, Osa, a shepherd mix, was nearly asphyxiated by a boa constrictor a few months prior to our arrival.  Osa encountered the beast under the deck and was quickly encircled by it.  Fortunately, Gary was nearby and was strong enough to to pry the snake from around Osa’s belly.  But, the encounter seems not to have deterred Osa.  She seems intent on continuing to explore under the deck. The day before we were told of the boa constrictor in the garden, I heard about  Osa’s encounter with the snake because she was under the deck  barking at something.  When we heard about the boa the next day, I had to wonder if Osa had seen it first under the deck.

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2016—Blending In

We paddled after this tiny American Pygmy Kingfisher on the lagoon in Costa Rica as it moved from observation post to observation post on the edge of the water.  It dove in a couple of times and emerged fish-less to take up its post on another branch or twig further along.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I looked at the surroundings in the second shot, the kingfisher’s colors mimic the yellows, oranges, and whites of the flowers.  I suspect this was just serendipity because this bird dives into the water to get its food and I don’t think camouflage is required for hunting but the bird certainly blends into this background.

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2016—Red Eyes

On our last evening in Costa Rica, we finally got to photograph the iconic symbol of that lush green paradise, the tiny green tree frog with the huge red eyes (Agalychnis callidryas).  This small creature is irresistible to me and that is the only frog I really wanted to see on our nighttime outing although we saw and photographed several different frog species.  We were able to get up close and personal using our macro lenses and speed lights.  These are two of my favorite shots of the little green creature with those appealing (to me, anyway) red eyes and what appears to be a smiling mouth (I know, I know, anthropomorphism, but it does look like it’s smiling!)

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The other day, someone said to me that they always knew I was home when they saw hummers posted on my blog.   I’m home (briefly) and, to prove it, here are some shots of my own backyard hummers.  Thursday morning, when I was ready to leave for the gym, I noticed the fountain was low on water.  As I filled it with the hose, the female Anna’s hummer flitted around me, then settled on the spray from the nozzle for a few seconds, as if to tell me she had waited far too long for me to fill it.  The center bubble the hummers and all the birds love so much is not bubbling like it should so I need to work on that.  When I filled the other fountain, its bubble shot up a few inches.  When I went inside and picked up my things to leave, I noticed the hummer bathing in the high bubble on the other fountain. I grabbed my camera and, from the back door, took a few shots.  The focus isn’t great but it fascinates me how much all the birds love the bubble spewing from the fountains.  In the first shot, the hummer appears to be sitting atop the bubble.  As you can probably guess, I scrapped my plans to go to the gym and instead sat outside in the warm morning sun and enjoyed my hummers.

These are all shots of the female Anna’s Hummingbird.  They are all hand held using the Nikon Df, 300mm lens, and 1.4X teleconverter, and cropped a little.