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.

Here, a male great egret has selected a stick to present to his mate for the nest.  Moments after I took this shot, this egret flew to the nest and offered the stick to his mate as  a part of their mating ritual.St. Augustine Day 3-1859

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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