Mighty Hunter: Happy Sunday!

Green Heron. Anhinga Boardwalk, Everglades NP

Green Heron. Anhinga Boardwalk, Everglades NP

As I posted before, Roy Halpin and I spent 30 minutes or more, observing and photographing this Green Heron hunting tiny fish (and a few caterpillars) only a few feet from the Anhinga Boardwalk at Royal Palm Visitor Center, Everglades National Park. We were well above the bird’s eyelevel, on the boardwalk above it, and it appeared to be totally unaware of us. With that much time, I was able to frame the bird in just about every imaginable way…including this tight portrait of one very intent bird. The Florida winter light and the long zoom capture such a lot of detail in this image: from the intricate and highly various structure and subtle iridescent colors of the feathers, to the hard textures of the folded leg and the extended beak, to the light refracted in the lens of the eye. So much to see! So much to appreciate. And that is without the tension, the drama, captured in the pose.

It is Sunday, and several more spiritual thoughts inspired by this image and this experience are competing for my attention. None of them are revolutionary :). I, personally, need a creator, working in love, and with great inventiveness, to explain this vision of bird…beyond the aesthetics of the design, which are simply too wonderful not to exclaim, there is the unique and supremely intense and focused life of the hunting bird…the pattern of its being and how it lives. I see no room for chance in any aspect of Green Heron. I see intent. I see intelligence. I see love. I am compelled to give thanks. I am compelled to worship. As someone said, if I had not already met God in the living presence of his Son, I would be forced to invent a God to explain the Green Heron. While I fully accept that there are others who see the universe and life differently than I do, I can not claim to understand it. To me, loving creation is so self-evident that it sweeps all my objections aside…and I do have objections, especially to many of the things that are done in the name of religion and of God…but they are irrelevant in the face of the Creator I encounter in Jesus and in the Green Heron…my objections do not diminish, can not diminish, what is so evidently real and so evidently present.

The heart is a mighty hunter. I believe that in the end, we have to be able to love creation…if for no other reason than that creation so clearly loves us. That is the message of Christmas. In Christ, in the baby born, God enables us to fully love. How can we not bow down before the mighty hunting heart of the Creator God? Such magnificent intent. Such wonderful love. Such a gift. Happy Sunday, and Merry Christmas.





Alligator Cuteness

Baby Alligators. Shark Valley. Everglades NP

I suppose it is part of our nature to find babies cute…and not only the babies of our own species. This appears to be a nursery pile of very young Alligators. There were more than 30 in a short stretch of channel along West Road in the Shark Valley of Everglades National Park…too many to be single clutch. There were also two adolescent gators, perhaps 3 years old (though there is no safe way to judge the age of an alligator), too young, I would think, to have babies of their own, apparently on-guard…and I assume a couple of larger females in the immediate area in case of attack, though I did not see them. The Alligator is not vulnerable to predication…except at this age, when even an ambitious Great Blue Heron might do for and unprotected hatchling. This is also the age when they are taken for the pet trade, though I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind buying an animal that they know will grow to 2 feet long at one year, and will totally out-grow any cuteness and reach 6 feet long in six.

Sony HX400V at 1200mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/1250th @ ISO 2000 @ f6.3. the high shutter speed was necessary, as I had to hand hold this above my head, using the flip out LCD, to get over the foreground grasses and brush. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Everglades Limpkin

Limpkin. Shark Valley, Everglades NP

I have to admit, I was not expecting to see a Limpkin at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. I associate Limpkin with a few Apple Snail rich areas up around Orlando and Titusville in Florida, but I guess they must range the state wherever there are Apple Snails to be found. (The Limpkin exists on a diet of only Apple Snails.) I know the Everglades has a population of Snail Kites…the other Apple Snail specialists…so I should have expected Limpkins. But I didn’t. What a surprise this bird was, only a few yards up West Road from the Visitor Center. :)

Sony HX400V at 760mm equivalent. Shutter preferred. 1/640th @ f5.6 @ ISO 2000. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Handsome Couple!

Ospery on the nest. Falmingo Campground. Everglades NP

I posted a shot of the male in this pair bringing in nest materials a few days ago…this is a more conventional portrait of the couple on their nest at the Flamingo Campground, in Everglades National Park. Osprey are so common in the US, especially in Florida, that they cause little to no comment…but in other parts of the world, especially the UK, they are so rare that birders can tell you on any given day how many pair there are, and where each one is nesting. This pair clearly have been nesting here for many years…or took the nest over from another established pair. If they get it much bigger, Eagles will move in and take it from them.

Sony HX400V at 1200mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/640th @ ISO 80 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Everglades American Bittern

American Bittern. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP

American Bittern. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP

It was rainy, dark, and cold (for Florida) when I made my first visit to the famous Anhinga Trail boardwalk at Everglades National Park, and I only had 90 minutes before I had to leave for an appointment. I had spent the early morning on an even colder and wetter airboat ride an hour north of the Royal Palm Visitor Center, but I was not about to let my first day in the Everglades go by without hitting the most famous spot. Well worth it! Besides the expected Alligators, Anhingas, Herons, Storks, and Vultures, this American Bittern made a short appearance at the edge of the water before I even got to the boardwalk. And it was my only Bittern for the whole trip, though I returned to the Anhinga boardwalk twice after.

I am, as I have written on my Point and Shoot Nature Photographer blog (see Fear not the darkness…), totally amazed at the quality the most recent Point and Shoot super-zooms manage at higher ISOs. These shots area at ISO 2500. Not bad!

Sony HX400V at 990mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/1600th @ f6.3.

Red-shouldered Hawk Poses

Red-shouldered Hawk Portrait

I decided on my last day in the Everglades (for this trip) that I would rent a bike and bike out West Road at Shark Valley as far as time allowed. I had no more than left the parking lot when I passed this Red-shouldered Hawk sitting on the “No-In-Line-Skates” sign just about at eye-level. I though, “he will be off as soon as I stop the bike” but when I stopped, about 30 feet in front of him, he sat there for long enough for me to get the camera out and  for a sequence of shots at two different focal lengths. That is what I call cooperative. And, other than rehabilitation birds, you simply do not get opportunities like this!

Sony HX400V at 1200mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/640th @ ISO 100 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Mangrove Skipper

Mangrove Skipper: Key West Botanical Garden

Mangrove Skipper: Key West Botanical Garden

We had already pretty well done the Everglades for this trip, so yesterday we took a Sunday drive down the Keys. My first visit there, and I was certainly impressed by the scenery. Birds…not so much. It was a slow day for birds. Mid-December is evidently not high season on the Keys. Still, we looked, without success, for Key Deer, and we spent a pleasant few hours chasing passerines, dragonflies, and butterflies at the Key West Botanical Garden. This is my life Mangrove Skipper…a great bug at any time and on any day, thank you very much!

Sony HX400V at 1150mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 800 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Special Delivery. Happy Sunday!

Osprey on the nest. Falmingo Campground, Everglades NP

Roy Halpin and I met another friend, Robert Hunt, yesterday for a brief exploration of the south end of Everglades National Park. The Falmingo area suffered greatly in Hurricane Andrew is has not been fully restored even yet. It was one of those days when it would have been easy to be disappointed, because not much seemed to be happening…the trails were muddy, and the mosquitoes thick…and we did not find any crocodiles at the Marina…but when we got back to the hotel and went through our images, it became apparent that we had indeed had a good day! We had several excellent photo-ops, including a healthy adult Eastern Diamonback Rattlesnake, a Red-shouldered Hawk on the ground hunting lizards, and this nest of Osprey. The nest was right in the middle of the Falmingo Campground, surrounded by campers in tents, so the birds were pretty calm. While we were there they were being photographed from 6 different angles :). They were still building the nest, or at least repairing it for the season, and the male flew out frequently and returned with sticks and twigs. It was fascinating to watch…and delightful to photograph. Along with about 30 shots of three different species of butterflies, some flight shots of American White Pelican, some scenic landscapes of the mangroves along the bay, the Rattlesnake, the hawk in the grass, etc…this nest made for actually quite a good day!

Roy and I were talking about it…how if you seize the highpoints of any day, and celebrate them…even an apparently disappointing day becomes something to rejoice in. And that is a great attitude to take into life…to make into a lifestyle and a worldview. And, on the spiritual side, it is certainly the only way to live. We need to seize the highpoints…those times when we feel both connected to the creator of all, and blessed by creative love…and fully celebrate and fully enjoy them. If we do, our lives, in hindsight, will be full of blessing…just as full as our day in Falmingo! And that is a good thing. Happy Sunday!



Alligator Clutch

Pile of newly hatched Alligators. Shark Valley, Everglades NP

No no no! Not that kind of “clutch”. We are not talking fashion here. This is a pile of newly hatched Alligators. Called a “clutch”. Roy Halpin and I befriended a family from Germany who were walking the west road at Shark Valley. They were not photographers and they were moving much faster than we were, so when they looped back, they alerted us to this waiting for us up the road. We kept a sharp eye out. It was much further than we expected and we had already picked our turn around spot when we finally found it. :) Worth the wait.

Sony HX400V at 170mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/640th @ ISO 200 @ f4.5. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Green Heron

Green Heron, Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP

The Green Heron is another amazing bird, a bit more subtle. and certainly way more common, than the Purple Gallinule of a few days ago, but just as brilliant in its own way. I love the blends and shades of green and brown and yellow…and I certainly photograph every one I get a chance to. This bird was super cooperative…busy hunting small creatures from the water below it, and pretty much unaware of us standing 15 feet above it on the boardwalk at Anhinga Trail…or unconcerned if it was aware. We watched it take prey several times it finally flew off to look for better fishing.

Sony HX400V at 540mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/800th @ ISO 800 @ f5.6. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.