After a slow start, it’s rainy season in Florida. Usually we can expect storms every afternoon thanks to the sea breeze collision from the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and the storms last for about a half an hour. In the last few weeks however, we’ve had some storms last the better part of a day and dump inches upon inches of rain. With swelling retention ponds and drainage ditches full of water making them look more like creeks, wading birds are loving it. Herons and Egrets that have been limited to larger bodies of water are now able to spread out a little and find food all around them. Birds like this Great Blue Heron photographed at John Chestnut Sr. Park are now easily seen in my neighborhood retention pond enjoying lunch.
Happy Independence Day! On this great day of national pride, it seemed like the perfect time to share an image of a Bald Eagle. Now synonymous with the United States, the Bald Eagle became the unofficial symbol of our country in 1782 when the Great Seal of the United States was adopted with a Bald Eagle prominently featured. Not everyone was a fan, with Benjamin Franklin rallying hard for the turkey to be our national bird as he believed it was “more respectable”. Thankfully, supporters of the Bald Eagle won in the end and when George Washington was made our country’s first president in 1789, the Bald Eagle was made the official National Bird.
One of the things I’m looking forward to in Arizona and Utah this weekend is the opportunity to see all kinds of different flora and fauna.For me, air travel has made it easy to lose perspective about how large the United States is and how diverse the climates are. In just the 8 hour drive from my old home north of Atlanta to my new one in the Tampa Bay area, an entire new tropical world opened up with exotic plants, animals and birds. As I travel through some of the nations most beautiful national parks over the next few days, I hope to see a few new birds and would love to see some of the wildlife indigenous to the area.
As I try to study up on what birds and animals I may see, I was reminded about my surprise and fascination with the new plants and birds I saw in California a few years ago. My husband and I kept seeing beautiful blue birds, but they weren’t the Blue Jays we have on the East coast. After much research, I discovered it was a Stellar’s Jay, pictured here at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, CA.
While it may seem ridiculous to most people that I would feed squirrels on purpose, it does keep them off of my bird feeders and they are quite the entertaining bunch to watch. We also have Blue Jays and Cardinals that frequent the squirrel feeder and it ends up being the hub of all activity in the back yard. Yesterday I noticed a new visitor to the feeder, helping himself to a peanut or two. A male Red-bellied Woodpecker not only stopped by, but came back several times to visit and thoroughly inspected our wooden fence for any bugs that might be yummy. This female Red-bellied Woodpecker was photographed at Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, FL.
Reddish Egrets are considered medium to large herons at just under three feet tall. Common along the Gulf Coast, I had never seen a Reddish Egret until moving to Florida a few years ago. With blue-gray bodies and and reddish heads and necks, it’s easy to see where they get their name. Often found stalking fish in shallow saltwater, Reddish Egrets are truly entertaining to watch as they spin and flap their wings in effect “herding” the fish into the just the right spot before striking. This Reddish Egret was photographed at Caladesi Island taking a break from fishing to enjoy the view.
Hawks are amazing birds. Perched high in the tree tops always watching for for thier next meal, I usually am delighted to see a hawk. Lately there has been a pair of Red-shouldered hawks in my neighborhood, making appearances a few times a day. I usually only see one at a time, but know the other is near thanks to it’s shrill call.
Remember when I said that I am usually delighted to see hawks? Do you also recall that I have an entire neighborhood of squirrels that I feed in my backyard? Per the “circle of life” it seems that my furry squirrel buddies are quite the desirable meal for a hawk. As far as I know there aren’t any squirrels missing, but they don’t exactly check in regularly. This Red-shouldered Hawk was photographed at the Homossassa Springs Wildlife State Park, not stalking any squirrels.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, Ospreys are one of my favorite birds. Now that I think about it, my fascination started when my family would spend as much as we possibly could on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our trip from Virginia Beach included a drive over the Wright Memorial Bridge, named after the famous Orville and Wilbur Wright who first took flight in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks. Along that drive, Osprey nests were easy to spot on the power poles and eventually the platforms provided for them along side the bridge. For me, seeing an Osprey today is just as exciting as it was when I was a kid and when I drive along the local bridges and causeways in the Tampa Bay area, I’ve always got an eye out to spot one.
Willets are one of the taller shorebirds you may see feeding at the edge of the surf. Here in Florida they are prevalent in the winter and are often seen alongside Sanderlings and various Plovers. While most Willets breed further north in the summer, you can generally still find a few of these shorebirds year round in our area. This Willet was photographed at Caladesi Island State Park, a natural barrier island teaming with shorebirds. The virtually untouched beach at Caladesi Island provides a quiet haven for many wintering shorebirds and fantastic opportunities for bird watching.
These two American Flamingos looked to me as if they were trying to find some peace and quiet amongst all of the hustle and bustle around them at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Living amongst Wood Storks, Brown Pelicans, Sandhill Cranes and White Ibises, the Flamingos at the park certainly stand out in the crowd. As one of the loudest inhabitants of the bird habitat, they are even more vocal in the spring when it is mating season and are often seen giving beautiful displays of their colorful feathers to attract a mate.
Last week, I shared a photo of a pair of American Oystercatchers taking a stroll down the beach. The stark contrast between the pale green water of the Gulf and the bold colors of these shorebirds was evident, even from a distance. Today I wanted to share another photo of an American Oystercatcher that really showed off the detail of this beautiful bird. Their bright red beaks are usually spotted straight away, but what I really love are their eyes. Set against their jet black heads, their vibrant yellow eyes and bright red eye rings truly stand out.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater-Horizon explosion that caused the largest accidental oil spill in history. There will likely be many retrospectives in the news today recapping the the disaster and it’s affects on the environment. I have no doubt that there will be footage of oiled birds, many of them pelicans, used to help punctuate the severity of the effect that the oil had on wildlife. With that in mind, I wanted to share a photo of a clean, happy, healthy Brown Pelican today.
Brown Pelicans might not be the most beautiful birds and are certainly not the most graceful, but they are unique. As the only dark pelican of seven worldwide species, the Brown Pelican is also one of few birds that incubates their eggs with their feet. They also hold the distinction of the only pelican in the world that dives into the water head-first to catch fish. It turns out that that what I thought was an ordinary shorebird isn’t so ordinary after all.
Days like today remind me to appreciate the beauty of nature and all of the wildlife in it, especially healthy pelicans.
American Oystercatchers are one of my favorite birds. They are so very exotic looking with their long red beaks, it’s hard not to notice them on the beach. I knew of one pair of American Oystercatchers that lives on Caladesi Island State Park, and the day that I went out to shoot it was my goal to get a few new shots of them. Much to my surprise, there was not one, but two pair on the beach that day! One pair was quietly resting on the beach, not really wanting to pose for many photos while a little further north, this pair was walking along the shoreline while feeding.
After my first encounter with these magnificent birds a few years ago, I learned that they mate for life. While many birds mate for life, what always strikes me with American Oystercatchers is that I rarely see one without it’s mate. They are usually very close to each other, very conscious of the other, and seem to be rather devoted to each other. I loved this photo because to looked to me like these two were on a “date” having a nice stroll along the beach, talking about whatever it is American Oystercatchers talk about these days.
In the last year I have been introduced to many new bird species, the Limpkin being one of them. At the far northern end of it’s range in Florida, Limpkins are more commonly found throughout South America and the Caribbean. While Limpkins look like they might be members of the heron family, they are actually in a taxonomic family all on their own, but are distant cousins of the rail family. They feed almost exclusively on apple snails and have specialized beaks just for the task. Limpkins live in swamps and freshwater wetland areas, like this one at Kapok Park in Clearwater, FL.
Although American Coots have a pretty large range throughout North America, I wasn’t familiar with them before moving to Florida. They are a very common wetland bird, and are seen in abundance in the Tampa Bay area in freshwater ponds and lakes. Often seen in our area alongside Common Moorhens, American Coots are distinguished by their white bill and all-black plumage. They are accomplished divers and swimmers, but need a little extra effort to get airborne and can be seen running across the water while flapping their wings before actually taking flight. This photograph was taken at John Chestnut Sr. Park in Palm Harbor, FL, which borders Lake Tarpon, the largest freshwater lake in the county.
I’ve been visiting Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, FL, for years. It’s my favorite spot for sunsets in the Tampa Bay Area, and that’s where my family goes when we are ready for a beach day. On all of these many visits, I was aware of “Osprey Trail” but never ventured down it until a few weeks ago. My, what I have been missing! Named for the 26 active Osprey nests along the trail, I’ve never had the opportunity to see so many Ospreys in such close proximity. I didn’t realize how nice it would be to see them in their natural habitat rather than nesting on telephone poles along area roadways. In their nests, perched on tree limbs, flying overhead – they were everywhere, and they were loud. I don’t know that I’d ever heard an Osprey call before that afternoon. Usually drowned out by the sound of crashing waves, or too far away to hear, the Osprey’s call is a unique chirp that surprised me. The whole afternoon surprised me actually, and I have found yet another reason to love Honeymoon Island!
I had the opportunity to see plenty of Ruddy Turnstones on my birding trip to Caladesi Island last weekend. While the two in this photo were easy to spot, there were others that were nearly impossible to see. Camouflaged to perfectly match the sea grasses that had washed ashore, there were dozens of Ruddy Turnstones hiding in plain sight. They feed on small insects and crustaceans along the shore line and can be seen picking through washed up sea grass and turning over rocks to find them, hence the name “turnstone”. While trying to get a few photos of Western Sandpipers, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and it turned out to be several Ruddy Turnstones digging through the sea grass. Once I realized what to look for, I saw them everywhere!
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.
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.
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.
While Wood Ducks are found throughout a great majority of the southeastern US, I had never seen one in the wild until moving to Florida. Used to seeing Mallards my entire life, I have always considered Wood Ducks to be rather exotic looking, especially the males. This beautiful male was photographed on a downed palm tree at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Although there there are several permanent residents at the park in specially made habitats, all of the Wood Ducks found there are wild. The Homosassa River is a perfect habitat for Wood Ducks, which are generally found in wooded wetland areas. They are one of the few ducks that nest in trees, with abandoned Woodpecker cavities as a favorite place to call home. These cavities can be hard to come by but thankfully, Wood Ducks readily nest in boxes and the park has provided many along the river.
Sun Parakeets are considered a medium parrot and are known for their bright golden-orange color. They are highly social and usually live in flocks of 30 or more. Due to declining populations, Sun Parakeets were elevated to Endangered species in 2008 and are only found in a small area in northeastern South America. These Sun Parakeets are residents of the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, a refuge of sorts for exotic birds that can no longer be cared for by their owners. I watched these two for several minutes as they preened each other and were quite affectionate. This photo was taken last October, but as soon as I saw what I imagine to be ‘true love’ between these Sun Parakeets, I knew it would make a great photo for Valentine’s Day.