The setting sun cast a warm glow on this Royal Tern fishing near the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier at St. Petersburg, Florida. We also saw Brown Pelicans as well as lots of people fishing there, too.
We watched the Sanderlings braving the roiling surf and plunging head first into the waves in search of tiny delicacies. This little guy is covered with droplets as it emerges and heads away from the edge of the water—a wet Sanderling crossing the wet sand.
One of the first birds we encountered on our first morning at Fort De Soto’s North Beach in Florida was a Reddish Egret, characteristically crouched and racing through the shallow water in pursuit of prey. When it stopped to survey the situation, its long elegant reddish cinnamon feathers swirled along its long neck. This is a dark morph Reddish Egret. White morphs are not uncommon but are significantly lower in numbers than the dark morph. White morphs can be difficult to distinguish from Snowy Egrets in size and coloring (except for the yellow feet) and from immature Little Blue Herons. The pink and black beak of this bird indicates that it is a breeding adult.
The Brandon Rookery, surrounded by car and motorcycle dealerships outside Tampa, was a hidden gem. Despite its location in the midst of an urban industrial area, Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Anhinga, and White Ibis filled the trees and shrubs on the two small islands in the middle of a small lake. Most were starting their mating rituals and we watched pairs as they carried sticks and constructed nests. This White Ibis posed in front of a perfect background as it seemed to watch the surrounding activity.
A Semipalmated Plover heads my way as I lay on the beach at Fort De Soto taking photographs. Semipalmated means partially web-footed and that web is slightly visible on its feet.
Once I tried “beach panning” in 2016 for the first time, I was hooked. I call it “beach panning” but I’m not sure if there is a technical term for laying flat on the sand with a telephoto lens and camera on a panning plate. There is something absolutely magical about seeing shore birds at eye level with the background dissolving into a blur. Getting down onto the sand is relatively easy. Getting back up, while avoiding getting sand on your camera, not so easy. But it is so worth it. On our last morning in Florida, we returned to the beach at Fort De Soto. My two favorite shore birds were in evidence, Sanderlings and a lone Willet. Watching this Willet walk boldly into the surf was fascinating. It recoiled just a bit as a wave rolled toward it, then it boldly continued walking in the surf, even stopping to preen its feathers while the waves surrounded it.
John J. Audubon described the Black and White Warbler, which he referred to as the Black and White Creeper, as follows: “It climbs and creeps along the trunks, the branches, and even the twigs of the trees, without intermission, and so seldom perches, that I do not remember ever having seen it in such a position.” It’s been almost 200 years since he wrote this in his Birds of America, and we watched this Black and White Warbler do exactly what he described, creeping up and down tree trunks. We were privileged, I guess, to see one actually perch briefly in Corkscrew Swamp near Naples, Florida.
The Brown Pelicans were busy fishing when we arrived at the Fishing Pier late afternoon. We watched as they circled the pier and dove headfirst into the water. With the sun and the wind at our backs, we had the perfect scenario to capture flight shots.
Watching Snowy Egrets hunt in the shallow waters of North Beach at Fort De Soto at the edge of Tampa Bay was not only fascinating but impressive. They could see tiny fish swimming by and that seemed to trigger a stalking crouch. Then they would follow their prey crouched and ready to pounce a few steps later. It was rare that they came up with nothing in their beaks. This tiny fish wriggled in the Egret’s beak for a couple of seconds before being flipped into the air, caught again, and swallowed in one gulp.
When a Willet strolls down the beach, it walks with attitude. It was mesmerizing watching this large shorebird stroll directly toward me, staring down the lens barrel as I lay flat on the sand at Fort De Soto by the edge of Tampa Bay.
Laying flat on the beach at Fort De Soto, camera and long lens focused on the tiny Sanderling, was a fun challenge. This tiny, energetic shore bird seemed never to stand still and its erratic path continually changed making it difficult to predict where it would end up in the frame. But, I couldn’t have been happier to photograph this small bird in its element, doing what it does, chasing the surf in search of tiny crustaceans. The frothy waves surrounded its legs and it somehow knew where to plunge in to extract its next morsel.
And just like that, the sun set on my week in Florida to photograph shorebirds. The week went by way too quickly. We visited the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, Terra Ceia, Florida late on our last afternoon. We ended our first day there getting flight shots of Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans and ended our last day there getting flight shots of Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans. The sunset was an added bonus.
The Venice Audubon Rookery Park in Sarasota County, Florida is a small oasis for birds in the midst of urban development. A rookery island in the middle of a manmade lake is the main feature of this tiny park where Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Anhingas, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Green Herons, Tricolored Herons, and Black-crowned Night-Herons roost, nest, and raise their young. It is nesting season and we watched dozens of birds from many of those species displaying, courting, building nests, and well, just hanging out. This Snowy Egret was perched atop a clump of twigs while the morning breeze rustled its long breeding plumage, giving it a punk rock look. Perhaps it’s a Punk Rookery.
This Semipalmated Plover looks a little anxious but I don’t know if it’s anticipating anything. I, on the other hand, am anticipating something. I’m in Florida and anticipating doing some “beach panning” down here over the coming week. This image is from my last “beach panning” outing, at Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts this past August. Beach panning is one of my favorite ways to photograph birds, laying flat on the sand and capturing them at bird’s eye level.
A couple of Bison create a pathway through pristine snow in Hayden Valley. The snow was up to the chins of these massive animals as they lumbered through the snow foraging for food.
The snow was deep in some spots and the Coyote sunk into the snow up to its chin a few times as it headed to Alum Creek off the Yellowstone River apparently tracking the River Otters we’d seen there earlier. It must take intense concentration to maneuver through this snow-covered environment and keep on track. Of course a good sense of smell helps, too.
Old Faithful erupted with steam spewing from its core. In the beginning it was spurts of steamy clouds, followed by a huge column of steam that spewed high into the sky. After more than six minutes, the eruption dynamics changed and the column of steam became more of a belch of steam that was about half the size of the original geyser but to me it seemed to have more character and definition. Like illusions in clouds, I’ll leave it up to your imagination to see what lurks in the geyser plume.
The wind picked up while we were on the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone causing ripples to cover the surface of the brightly colored Opal Pool. The springs and pools in the Midway Geyer Basin are brighter and more vivid in the summer months but in winter, the colors still pop. With a normal temperature of 132°F, Opal Pool doesn’t freeze over and its colorful bacterial mats decorate its edges. White snow surrounding the pool creates an other worldly scene that is breathtaking to see.
It’s probably obvious to followers of this blog that the Pine Marten turned out to be my favorite subject at Yellowstone National Park a couple of weeks ago. Last winter was the first winter I’d photographed one in Yellowstone but 2015 in Haines, Alaska, I saw one for the first time and even made attempts at photographing it. My friends Richard, Eric, and I had gone to Haines to photograph Bald Eagles and we made a side-trip to the Kroschel Wildlife Center near Haines. However, the big difference between that experience and my recent experience in Yellowstone was that it was a captive Pine Marten and the Pine Martens in Yellowstone are wild. And, even at that, my skills were not up to the challenge of photographing one of these energetic, fast moving weasels eight years ago. Here, the Yellowstone Pine Marten stands still briefly to watch its surroundings before scurrying off. This Pine Marten’s the real deal.
Every winter when I visit Yellowstone National Park, I am awed by the park’s thermal features which include numerous geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, and hot springs. Along with Old Faithful, one geyser I am always thrilled to see is Clepsydra Geyser that is visible from the walkway near the Fountain Paint Pot area. It is a reliable, nearly constant performer and its eruptions are visible throughout the Lower Geyser Basin. The name Clepsydra is Greek for water clock and it got is name because at one time, it erupted every three minutes. However, the U.S. National Park Service says that ever since an earthquake in 1959, its eruptions are almost continuous so the three minute wait for an eruption is gone.