Backlit Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

Cattle Egret, St. Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery, St A, Florida

For most of the year, the Cattle Egret is the stumpy, chunky, shambling, recently immigrated, relative of our native Great and Snowy Egrets…not much to look at, and still on probation as a US citizen as far as birders are concerned. But for a few short weeks in spring, during nesting season, I think the Cattle Egret is the most beautiful of our resident egrets. The orangey-brown crown features and stripe down the back, as well as the bright orange bill, set of the white plumage to a turn.

This male was guarding the nest while his mate when out to feed. St. Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery. Nikon P900 at 880mm equivalent field of view. Processed in Lightroom.

Flight! Happy Sunday.

Great Egret, St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery, St A, Florida

“If your eye is generous, your whole being is full of light!” Jesus

I was back at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery yesterday morning early to have one last crack at flight shots. The birds are so close, and there is a lot of coming and going so there are not many moments when there isn’t at least one bird in the air. Great place to practice…or just to appreciate the beauty of flight. These are mostly big birds. Great Egrets and Wood Storks predominate…and both are great flyers. Graceful, elegant, with beautiful plumage. When you catch one, as I have here, with the light behind it, it is as beautiful a sight as I hope to see in this world.

The persistence of flight dreams in our kind, and our general fascination with flight, when taken with our images of angels, might lead us to think that there are wings in our future. I actually find no indication of that at all in the Bible, and it is certainly not in the Gospels, but that does not stop us from dreaming. Flight, we seem to think, would be the final freedom.  Personally I would like to be able to love as well, and as naturally, and as beautifully as a bird flies. I think that would be the final freedom! When I look with my generous eye, I do not see you or myself with wings, beautiful as that might be…I see you (and myself) as a unconditionally loving person. That is the generous view. Leave the wings for the birds. I will admire flight, and give it its due as beauty, but give me love any day!

Happy Sunday.

Landing. Great Egret

Great Egret, St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery

Great Egret, St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery

Coming in for a landing, calling all the way. Great Egret, St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery, on St Augustine Florida. A Great Egret is one of the most graceful of the big birds in flight…not so much in landing. 🙂

Nikon P900 in my custom Birds in Flight mode. Shutter preferred. 1/1250th @ ISO 125 @ f5.6. Processed in Lightroom and assembled in Coolage.

Feed me! Great Egret chicks.

Great Egret chicks in the nest. St. Augustine Alligator Farm, St Augustine FL

The Florida Birding and Photo Fest is a week later this year than last, and you can really see it in the age of the Great Egret nestlings. Last year there were many nests of newly hatched Egrets. This year, some of the nestlings are ready to fledge. This is another of the “laugh-right-out-loud” images that yesterday’s Day Poem was based on. When I first pulled it up for processing, I did indeed laugh out loud. 🙂

Nikon P900 at 1100mm equivalent field of view. 1/800th @ ISO 100 @ f5.6. Processed in Lightroom.

This is the Day Poem I mentioned.

Sometimes when processing my pictures
after a long day of shooting,
an image will pop up on my tablet
that makes me laugh out loud.
It is delight, pure and simple.
It may be a bird in an odd pose
or a chipmunk looking clownish…
it may be the way the clouds paint
the landscape with shadow, or
an unguarded expression caught
unaware on a familiar face…some
chance juxtaposition of unlikely
elements within the frame…some
fraction of a second frozen and held
up for our attention, our admiration,
our amusement and delight. That
is the real power of photography… to
wake our wonder, our compassion, our
soul, by a gentle tugging on the eye.
Those laugh-out-loud-images are
what keep me out and about daily
with a camera in my hand.

Roseate Spoonbill. Angel unaware

Roseate Spoonbill, St Augustine Alligator Farm, St Augustine Florida

In April, May, and into June, the wild bird rookery at the St Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park in St Augustine, Florida ranks among the top attractions nationwide for wildlife photographers. Hundreds of pairs of nesting birds, Wood Storks; Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets; Tricolored and Little Blue Herons; and increasing numbers of Roseate Spoonbills, translate to constant action. Birds on the nest, birds building nests, birds feeding young, birds displaying and posing, birds constantly in the air, going off to feed or bringing in nesting materials. And, of course, hundreds of big and small bull Alligators in the waters below the nesting trees. It is, to put it mildly, spectacular. I have the privilege of teaching Point and Shoot Nature Photography workshops at the Florida Birding and Photo Fest each year in April, so I get to visit the Farm at the height of the season. And I often get to introduce new people to the farm. That is really fun!

This is a Roseate Spoonbill on its way in to the nesting area, maybe 40 feet overhead. The lighting was ideal, the camera functioned well, and my timing was close enough to catch this angel unawares.

Nikon P900 at 300mm equivalent field of view. Sports mode. 1/800th @ ISO 100 @ f5. Processed and cropped slightly for scale in Lightroom.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, Florida

This is the business end of what I think is a large Gopher Tortoise that was crossing the road on the way into Washington Oaks Gardens State Park in Florida when we visited yesterday. I lead a photo excursion there on Sunday with the Florida Birding and Photo Fest and need to “scout”.

This turtle was fast and fearless. And hungry. It was eating some herb growing in the grass of the median. This shot was taken from inches away.

Sony HX90V at 100mm equivalent field of view. 1/320th @ ISO 80 @ f5. Processed in Lightroom.

Morning shells

Shells, Velano Beach, St. Augustine FL

We are in St. Augustine Florida for the Florida Birding and Photo Fest where I will lead a series of Point and Shoot Nature Photography workshops. This is shells in the dawn light on the beach across from our Airbnb…a lovely house which we share with a few other guests.

Sony HX90V in-camera HDR. Processed in Lightroom.

Chipper comes close

Chipmunk, Wells National Estuarine Research Center at Laudholm Farms, Wells ME

This bold little Chipmunk at the Wells National Estuarine Research Center at Laudholm Farms in Wells Maine apparently thought he could drive me off if he got close enough. He steadily advanced around the base of a tree. Here he is about 8 feet away, and I had to zoom back to get his full body in the frame. I already had my close focusing P610 out, having just photographed an Spring Azure Butterfly. The light was really lovely.

Nikon P610 at 900mm equivalent field of view. 1/250th @ ISO 160 @ f5.6. Processed in Lightroom.

In-town Black-crowned Night Heron. Happy Sunday!

Black-crowned Night Heron, Factory to Pasture Pond, Kennebunk ME

“If your eye is generous, your whole being is full of light!” Jesus

I am pretty sure this Black-crowned Night Heron has nested at Factory to Pasture Pond for at least four years. At the very least, I have seen it (or another BCNH) there, spring and summer, for each of those years. Now Factory to Pasture Pond is my own name for the place, and it makes it sound much grander than it is. It is actually just a little wetland caught between Factory to Pasture Road and two paved parking lots…the remnant, perhaps of a more extensive wetland that was bisected by the road and contained by pavement years ago. I visit it regularly for dragonflies in the summer. There are turtles, and, at least arguably, Black-crowned Night Herons, and a variety of other common nesting birds…but it is surrounded by factory buildings on 3 sides. By August, in a hot dry summer, it can shrink by a third, but it is a year round pond. And it is only a few blocks from Main Street Kennebunk…definitely “in-town”…not exactly urban, since we are talking a village of 5612 here, but pretty close. 5612 humans and at least two Black-crowned Night Herons. 🙂

I am always amazed at how resilient the creation is. We can pave it. We can cover it over with factory buildings and our houses. We can till it and plant all manner of intensive crops. We can ditch and drain wetlands. We can channelize rivers. We can rearrange and manage the landscape to meet our needs and purposes. But creation, what we call nature, always finds a way back in. Roots crack pavement. Water seeps under roads. Silt fills channels and willows and cattails grow. Great Horned Owls nest in cemeteries. Black-crowned Night Herons nest in parks and on golf courses…and in tiny remnant wetlands right in town. The generous eye sees all this reclaiming of the space we think of as our own, as human space, as a good thing. Creation refusing to take no for an answer. Creation reminding us, always, that we a part and parcel of all that lives, and that all that lives is essential to our being…to our being filled with light and life and hope.

So, seeing the Black-crowned Night Heron at Factory to Pasture Pond in down-town Kennebunk delights me. It is what the generous eye delights to see. Happy Sunday!

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Rachel Carson NWR Headquarters trail, Wells ME

We don’t have Red-headed Woodpeckers in Maine (or at least I have never seen one), but every time I see a Red-bellied Woodpecker I have to correct myself, since my first instinct is to call it a Red-headed Woodpecker. It is not that they look alike. I know the difference…but this woodpecker should be called “red-headed”, don’t you think? I have, just recently, actually seen the “red” (more like pink) on the belly in the field, but still! Notice the nice fresh and perfectly round nest hole this Red-bellied Woodpecker is working on. Taken along the headquarters trail at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine.

Nikon P900 at 2000mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 320 @ f6.5. Processed in Lightroom.