As I mentioned earlier this week, I had a very successful trip photographing shorebirds at Caladesi Island last weekend. While it looked beautiful out with lots of sun and hardly any clouds, what you can’t see in the photos is how very windy it was. I don’t know how fast the wind was blowing, but it was strong and steady enough to really kick up some waves and make the Gulf look like the high seas! The good news was that I was fortunate enough to have both the sun and the wind to my back as I walked to the far northern end of the island.
Not wanting to ruffle their feathers, most every bird I encountered was facing me as I walked, and the lighting was great. Since most of the birds were most comfortable walking into the wind while they fed along the shore, I was able to quietly sit in one spot for quite a while and have several birds walk right by me, unconcerned with my presence. This was especially helpful in trying to photograph skittish Sanderlings, like the one featured here. Although my camera (and everything else) was covered in salt spray by the end of the day, the strong wind seemed to help me get some great shots, so I was thrilled with how the day turned out.
As I mentioned in my last post, I planned to visit the beach over the weekend. Our plans changed some and I ended up visiting Caladesi Island with my family instead. Because Caladesi is only reached by boat and it takes a little planing to get there, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring my camera and go in search of my favorite pair of American Oystercatchers. I was rewarded with hundreds of photos of beautiful shorebirds including not one, but two pairs of Oystercatchers, so it was a fantastic day!
After downloading my photos when I returned home to try to initially identify and sort them all by type for processing later, I was surprised to see that this bird had been banded several times. I am not sure what organization was responsible for the banding, but knew that there must be something special about this little bird to have received so much attention. After a little research I found that this is a Piping Plover. The species is listed as Endangered in Canada and the inland United States, and Threatened along the US coast. Piping Plovers need barren dry sand near dunes to nest and are easily displaced unintentionally by people and other animals. As a protected completely natural area, Caladesi Island is the perfect place for Piping Plovers to nest undisturbed.
My husband, daughter and their favorite fishing buddies will be getting the boat out this weekend to go fishing for the first weekend in months. They are hoping that the water has finally warmed up enough for the fish that have been so elusive all winter to have returned, ready to be caught for dinner. This means I have a day all to myself, and I’m ready for the beach! I haven’t had the opportunity to get to the beach since the weather has warmed up in the last few weeks, and Saturday is looking like the perfect day for it. I’m debating whether or not to take the camera…if I don’t, it will most certainly be the most beautiful day in the history of beach days, but if I do, I might not get to that book I’ve been really anxious to start. We’ll see how the mood strikes me tomorrow, and I may or may not have photos to share next week! This photo was taken at Caladesi Island State Park, one of my all-time favorite beaches.
I absolutely love aquariums! I am always eager to learn more about the world around me, and especially the wildlife in it. My love of aquariums started when I was young. Between a family vacation to Baltimore that included a trip to the National Aquarium and a newly opened aquarium where I grew up all before the age of 12, I was hooked. It’s amazing to see how many different fish really are in the sea, not to mention the coral, plant life and other various critters that are too numerous to count.
Although I’d rather not run into an jellies while swimming, I am completely mesmerized by them at an aquarium. I really could watch them float around for hours, and am fascinated by all of the various colors and details the different varieties feature. This photo will most certainly look familiar to anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in Monterey, CA. They have one of the largest live jelly collections in the country, and feature an enormous tank filled with these stunning Pacific Sea Nettles.
Last weekend I was fortunate to have some wonderful friends come visit for the weekend. As with all good friends, we picked up right where we left off, not remembering how long it had been since we’d seen each other last. In our travels for the weekend we managed to cover a lot of real estate in the Tampa Bay area, trying to go the scenic route as often as possible so they would get a feel for the place we call home. Since our friends live on Florida’s east coast, they are already accustomed to living close to the beach and having palm trees in abundance so I wasn’t sure that we’d see anything all that different than they are used to. That’s when we drove through the always-charming little town of Safety Harbor, and they were instantly envious.
With a prime location on Tampa Bay that includes a marina and pier plus all of the shops and unique eateries along Main Street, it really is a friendly town and is always a hit with anyone who visits. The pier offers a fantastic view the Tampa skyline in addition to opportunities to see lots of area wildlife including an occasional manatee or two. This sunrise photo was taken from the Safety Harbor Pier located at the Municipal Marina last fall.
This weekend we are expecting highs in the low 80′s and plentiful sunshine. Whether it’s taking in a spring training baseball game, an afternoon stroll at a local park or a trip to the beach, it’s a great time to be outside in the Tampa Bay area. With the gulf temperatures still nice and cool, there are some great breezes off the water making it perfect weather for boating of all kinds. Many people will be out this weekend in their kayaks getting some great excercise while enjoying the water like only they can. With little water needed to float and virtually no impact to the sensitive sea grass beds in along our shores, kayaking opens a whole new world that few others can reach. A favorite destination for many kayakers are Caladesi and Honeymoon Island State Parks. The mangrove lined coves along the sound side of the islands are only accessible via kayak and are teaming with wildlife, making them a must see.
I happen to be traveling a bit this week and am seeing the signs of spring the Southeast. The cheery faces of daffodils and snow-white blooms of ornamental Bradford pear trees are a welcome sight, as are the brilliant lavender blooms of my favorite redbud trees. In the last couple of days I’ve spied many birds that seem to be delighted to be home from their winter migration, happily singing as they flit from place to place. Spring officially starts in the next few days, and Mother Nature will soon be in full splendor with flowers blooming just about everywhere. Hot pinks and deep reds always seem to catch my eye when it comes to flowers, and I find myself planting them year after year. These vibrant colors contrast nicely against the lush greens that are so abundant in Florida and seem to attract butterflies like the one featured here. This Eastern Black Swallowtail was caught enjoying the sweet nectar of this bright Penta flower at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida last year.
Over the weekend my family attempted to tidy the yard up to get ready for spring. Each year in February and March while the rest of the country is seeing new leaves bud on the trees that have been dormant all winter, our live oaks in the Tampa Bay area shed their leaves only to almost immediately get new ones. The oaks are commonly called “live oaks” because they are only without leaves for a couple of weeks. Because each tree seems to be on it’s own schedule, some are dropping leaves while others are releasing pollen and budding new leaves. As beautiful as the weather is right now, it’s a mess outside between the leaves and a fine yellow-green dust that covers everything.
With the cycle nearing an end, my family spent yesterday cleaning up the outdoor furniture, neatening up the flower beds, pruning the palms, and planting a few new flowers. While we spent the afternoon busy at work, there was a Red-bellied Woodpecker near by busy at work himself. He found a tree in my neighbor’s yard that must have had some tasty treats because he hammered away for several hours and kept us company all afternoon. Although I just recently shared a photo of another Red-bellied Woodpecker, I had them on the brain today and wanted to share another! This male was photographed at Honeymoon Island State park a few weeks ago.
On a trip to explore the coast of California last year, my husband and I took our time driving south along the Pacific Coast Highway taking in the scenery. While I expected Big Sur to be beautiful, I was just as taken with the beautiful rocky shoreline between San Francisco and Monterey. Pescadero especially was beautiful, with Bean Hollow State Beach as a stand out thanks to its “pebble beach“. Another beautiful spot in Pescadero is at the Pigeon Point Light Station. When we turned towards the light station from the highway, the parking area was full, so we drove a little further along the coastal road looking for a place to turn around. While we meandered along the winding road, a huge mass of Ice Plants appeared that seemed to go right up to the Pacific Ocean itself. I decided to get out and snap a few photos, and then turned to see this beautiful view of the light station. As it turns out, this view from our remote stop in the road was much better than anything I could have had from the parking lot at the light station itself. Every now and then a detour is a good thing!
Update: This photo was featured on May 2, 2011, as the Photo of the Day by the online photography magazine, Light and Composition Magazine. See the photo online and vote for it as a contestant for the Photo of the Month for May 2011.
Around the first of the year I decided to make a concerted effort to pay more attention to “back yard birds” in my area. I used to only think of birds of prey, shorebirds and other waders when I wanted to take photos of birds, so this is a new venture. Attempting to photograph small perching birds proved to be much harder than I had anticipated. They are small, fast, and very fidgety for starters, and don’t stay in one place very long. I have really enjoyed learning about new bird species, this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher being one. It’s distinctive white eye-ring first drew my attention, and then I enjoyed watching it fleet around searching for insects until it relocated to another area.
Bald Eagles are creatures of habit, using the same nest year after year. This pair of Bald Eagles has been nesting at Honeymoon Island State Park for the last several years and in late December became parents again. Bald Eagles typically have 2 eggs each year and incubate them for approximatley 35 days. The new chicks stay on the nest for 10 – 12 weeks, although they are usually fully grown after 9 weeks. This photo was taken when the eaglets were roughly 6 weeks old, with what looks like a voracious appetite. One of the parents was dutifully feeding the chicks pieces of fish while the other was out hunting. After a few minutes, the other parent returned with more food, and the chicks continued their feast for quite some time.
This female Red-bellied Woodpecker posed for a few moments before ducking her head inside what I think is her nest to check on things at home. Named for the red patch on their bellies that is often hard to see, Red-bellied Woodpeckers are more easily recognized for their zebra-like black and white stripes on their backs and wings. Females like the one photographed here have a gray crown while their male counter parts have a red crown that extends from their beaks down the nape of their neck. A common woodpecker of Florida, you often hear them hammering away at something before you see them.
Spring has official ‘sprung’ in the Tampa Bay area. After a cooler than average winter, the temperatures have warmed up into the upper 70′s with abundant sunshine. There is virtually no humidity and thanks to some nice afternoon breezes, the air is filled with the sweet perfume of the blooming citrus trees. While I love to see the delicate flowers on the tangelo tree in my back yard each spring, it’s not quite as impressive as the instant burst of color of many other flowering trees that stay dormant over the winter a little further to the north. Living in the Southeastern US for the majority of my life, there was a familiar pattern to spring. First the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths would emerge, sometimes before the last snow or freeze of the winter. Next up was the brilliant yellow of forsythia bushes and the bright pinks of redbud trees which seemed to bloom overnight. From here, the ornamental pear trees and cherry trees would bloom, followed by azaleas and dogwoods, filling the landscape with a sea of color.
I often thought of spring as a “reward” for the dreary days of winter, and always tried to soak it in before the hot, humid days of summer rolled in. Living in a tropical climate in Florida means that there isn’t the same ‘great awakening’ in the spring, and I truly miss the spring flowers. On a trip to California a few years ago in late March, I was delighted to find several plants and trees in-bloom, reminding me of the spring days I enjoyed living in the Southeast. This photo is of a redbud tree taken in downtown Sonoma, California.