2023—Catch of the Day

The Least Bittern is the smallest heron. It stands motionless, hiding in the reeds and lily pads of Lake Kissimmee, almost impossible to detect. When we spotted this small bird, dwarfed by the surrounding lily pads and reeds, it was no surprise that they’re so hard to see. It took me a moment to find it among the reeds after Captain Mark called it out and stopped the airboat. It stood motionless, then slowly stretched its neck toward the water, and with absolute killer precision, a tiny minnow became the catch of the day.

2023—Snail Kite Hunting

We’re back at Lake Kissimmee in Florida to hunt for Snail Kites, particularly those Snail Kites that are hunting for Apple Snails. These Snail Kites are listed as endangered. Their food, native Apple Snails, is being challenged by an invasive Apple Snail from South America. We were told that in recent years, the Snail Kites’ beaks have begun to evolve to enable them to eat the much larger invasive species. But, ironically, the invasive Apple Snail is endangering the aquatic ecosystem where the Snail Kite lives. For now, however, the numbers of Snail Kites are reportedly increasing. Our airboat captain, Mark, is intimately familiar with the lake and its inhabitants, including the Snail Kites that live there. Yesterday was our first day on the Lake and the Snail Kites have learned that when the Mark’s airboat passes through certain areas of the shallows, it stirs up the sediment and helps them find the native Apple Snails. We benefited from this discovery and saw at least seven individual Snail Kites, both male and female on our first day here. We watched them hover in search of snails, then plunge feet first into the shallow edges of the swampy part of the lake and grab a snail in their talons. It was fascinating to watch them fly off with the snail in one talon, then transfer the snail to their beaks to enable them to land on the dried twigs of a swaying dead or leafless bush growing in a tussock (a floating island) where they proceeded to extricate the snail from its shell with their uniquely curved bill, consume it, and drop the shell to the tussock floor beneath them. This banded male hovered near our airboat watching intently for a snail that the boat might have uncovered.

2023—Feathered Mini-Me

At the feet of this adult Great Blue Heron, a chick is its little Mini-Me with the two-toned beak, gray, white, and buff pin feathers, and especially that round, yellow, fixed-stare eyeball. If it weren’t for the eyeball, the chick would be perfectly camouflaged. It was Valentine’s Day and there must have been a bit pre-Valentine’s Day revelry at the rookery as there were already quite a few nests with chicks. This little one looked very young, tiny, and vulnerable but the adult kept watch overhead. I did get a little nervous as I watched the adult bend its long legs and crouch down to sit on the little chick. But it all worked out.

2023—Warbler at Corkscrew Swamp

I wasn’t expecting to see Warblers at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida but they were there. We saw quite a few varieties in fact, including Black and White Warblers, Palm Warblers, and most often, this one, a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The tangle of vines is illustrative of the area. The dense growth of twigs and vines makes it quite a challenge to get a clean shot of a small bird like this one, especially when they’re hopping from twig to branch to vine. I was glad it stopped for a few seconds at a “Y” in its path.

2023—Pick, Flip, and Gulp

Yesterday around noon, I looked out and noticed a half dozen birds perched in the leafless Red Oak over the back wall. I didn’t immediately recognize them as regulars to my garden so I picked up my binoculars and identified them as Cedar Waxwings. They came in, a few at a time and within minutes, the tree was full of them, at least 30, probably more, and they were motionless facing my direction. By the time another couple of dozen had arrived and landed in the other leafless Red Oak, I had my camera with Z400mm f/4.5 in hand and was poised in the doorway waiting. As if on cue, all fifty birds descended on one Japanese Privet in a feeding frenzy that was over within a minute. They were gone for a couple of hours and then I noticed a single Waxwing perched in one of the leafless oaks. Suddenly, a half dozen were crowded on the urn fountain bathing. Then the second feeding frenzy began. By this time, I had my Z800mm with the Z1.4X on a tripod and had moved outside slowly. Watching the feeding frenzy a second time was great fun. They’d pick a berry, flip it up, and gulp it down in a three step process repeated over and over. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched Snowy Egrets in Florida grab a fish, flip it up, and gulp it down. Pick, Flip, and Gulp! It’s how the birds do it!

2023—Whimsical Lights

The Aurora Borealis is whimsical, pulsating constantly as it waxes and wanes in the night sky near the Arctic Circle. One moment the lights are invisible, obscured by overcast skies or just too weak to be seen with the naked eye. Then, they might suddenly explode across the sky into twists, ripples, or streams of luminous greens, yellows, reds, and even purple. The displays can last several minutes or change in a heart beat, dancing high in the heavens or flitting low near the horizon in elaborate patterns and streaks. On this night by Chena Lake near North Pole, Alaska (really! Santa is there, too!) last week, clouds began to move in as the whimsical lights danced low across the sky before disappearing behind a curtain of clouds.

2023—Curtsy of the Wood Stork

The American Wood Stork is currently listed as threatened on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, but just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to remove the Southeast U.S. distinct population of these birds from the list because it has been determined that they have recovered and are no longer considered threatened. I have seen Wood Storks in Florida a couple of times over the years but our visit to the Brandon Rookery near Tampa, Florida a few weeks ago was the first time I’d seen so many and of those that I saw, many were exhibiting courtship behavior. I have read that one of the characteristics of a Wood Stork in breeding season is that its toes turn pink. It looks as if the toes of this Stork are turning pink. However, I am not sure if the “curtsy” shown in this image is courtship display or just a wing stretch but I love the look of it. The late afternoon dappled sun on its bare head and neck give it an interesting look. It is an elaborate and enchanting display regardless of its purpose.

2023—Aurora Borealis

There was a full moon the other night that lit up the snow covered ground in front of the spruce forest as the Aurora Borealis danced over head at Chena Lake outside of Fairbanks. Fainter bands of green appear beneath the broader band. The Aurora Borealis occurs when solar winds and magnetic fields interact with elements in the Earth’s atmosphere, creating the colorful phenomenon. The color depends on which atoms are struck and how high up they are. Green is created when the winds collide with Oxygen atoms at altitudes of up to 150 miles. Red results when the collision occurs over 150 miles. If the collision is with Nitrogen atoms, blue and violet can appear. What amazes me is that the stars remain visible through the colors, still twinkling brightly.

2023—The Light Show

As I watched the Northern Lights dance across the sky near Fairbanks, Alaska a couple of nights ago, I was grateful that it was 58 degrees warmer than when I last stood at this spot about fifteen months ago with the temperature hovering at negative 39 degrees. Of course the other night’s 19 degrees was not particularly warm, but when you’re watching a magical light show that ebbs and flows across the heavens in a colorful display of awesome beauty, you don’t think about the temperature outside, just the wondrous phenomenon before your eyes. We were treated to several hours of displays that constantly changed, dimming momentarily then reappearing brightly in colorful waves. The Northern Lights, what splendor to behold.

2023—Breeding Plumage

A Great Egret sports full breeding plumage, the plumes on its back extending beyond its tail and its lores have turned bright green at Audubon’s Venice Rookery in Florida in February. Great Egrets were building nests there along with lots of other species, including Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, and Anhingas. These birds look so elegant, with the curve of their necks and their plumes wafting in the breeze


After dashing back and forth through the surf in search of a tasty morsel, this little Sanderling took a moment to shake off the water drops, becoming a floof in so doing. Its ruffled feathers brought to my mind a charming Audubon Society article that describes the shape-shifting nature of birds, including the ability to floof. It ends with these words: “We can cage them for a time, but in the end, it’s always better to see them fly.” Or, in this case, to see them floof.


Sanderlings are determined little shorebirds. They move constantly and erratically, searching for their next meal and stopping only when they sense something to eat is nearby. They change directions in a nanosecond. They showed off their determination in their search for food by plunging their heads into the surf as it roiled around them, shoving their beaks into the sand beneath the water to find food. It was rare that they emerged from the water without some sort of tiny seafood delicacy in their beaks.