Life goes on…

Tricolored Herons, St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery.

You certainly get a unique view into the intimate lives of the birds that nest at the St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery. Spend a spring morning or an afternoon there and you will see every aspect of the breeding and nesting behavior, from inception to the fledging of new chicks. These Tricolored Herons are clearly at the inception stage…and very intent on the act at that. My friend Pual, fellow photographer and wildlife enthusiast, when he saw this photo, complained that he had been just a few yards down the boardwalk. “Why didn’t you call me?” The whole thing, of course, was over in seconds. I barely had time and the presence of mind to lift the camera. :)

Nikon P900 at 448mm equivalent field of view. 1/250th @ ISO 100 @ f5. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Display! Happy Sunday.

Great Egret in full breeding display, St Augustine Alligator Farm, St Augustine FL

Many of the Great Egrets at the wild bird rookery at the St Augustine Alligator Farm already have chicks in the nest, some at least 3 weeks old, but there are also still male Egrets in full breeding display…apparently attempting to attract a mate. They might have come late to the party, or they might be young birds in their first mating cycle and still learning the ropes, or they my have been unsuccessful on the first round and are making a brave show in hopes of still finding a female willing…or they may just be stimulated by all the Snowy Egrets just coming into display around them. Whatever the reason, I am always amazed by the grace and beauty of the Great Egret in display. The delicacy of the breeding plumage, only deployed once a year, the arch of the neck, the single minded concentration implied by the pointing bill, the energy of the dance the male preforms…it is truly eye-catching, breath catching, wonder inducing…and I am not even a female Egret!

Nikon P900 at 380mm equivalent field of view. Program with -1/3 EV exposure compensation. Because the dance is so energetic, you have to zoom back  you to keep the bird in the frame even at its most extreme gyrations, so this is slightly cropped from the full frame. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

And for the Sunday thought…well all I can say is that anyone who believes this display, and the feathers and the body that support it, evolved by chance mutations and survival of the fittest has a lot more “blind faith” than is required for me to believe that what I see here is the work of a loving creator. Just saying. I can not believe that such beauty evolved…any more than I can believe that it is an accident that both female egrets and human beings can, apparently, appreciate it. It is a matter of wonder…and gratitude. Happy Sunday!

No Nut for You!

Grey Squirrel, Washington Oaks State Garden Park, Palm Coast, FL

I came upon this Grey Squirrel with an acorn, while photographing mostly dragonflies, at Washington Oaks Garden State Park in Palm Coast Florida. Washington Oaks is always good for flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, lizards, and some birds…as well as just the scenic beauty of the place. It is a great place for a morning of casual photography. I was there scouting for a field trip I have scheduled for tomorrow morning…which now looks unlikely to happen as rain is moving in. Glad I took the day to go down and check it out. I am never disappointed in Washington Oaks, and I certainly would have missed this squirrel!

Nikon P900 at 1500mm equivalent field of view. 1/125 @ ISO 560 @ f6.3. Program with -1/3EV exposure compensation. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Look at me Little Blue!

Little Blue Heron, St Augustine Alligator Farm, St Augustine FL

So far, at the St Augustine Alligator Farm wild bird rookery, the Little Blue Herons are outnumbered by Tricolored Herons (somewhat similar bird) about 20 to 1. And of course the Tricoloreds (as befits their name) are a flashier bird, with stunning breeding plumage. It is easy to overlook the Little Blues. This specimen however, is not about to be overlooked! He has the most intense coloration of any Little Blue I have ever seen, and enough attitude (both probably attributable to breeding season hormones) so that he was certain to catch any photographer’s eye…and hopefully the eye of any prospective mate. :) I certainly hope he meets his equal and they raise a race of really intense Little Blues!

Nikon P900 at 1600mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 220 @ f6.3. Program with -1/3 EV Exposure Compensation. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Great Egret in its Element

Great Egret, St Augustine Alligator Farm, St Augustine FL

One of the major delights of St Augustine is the wild bird rookery at the St Augustine Alligator Farm. The presence of such a number of alligators under the nest trees inspires confidence in the birds, and they nest in great numbers. Wood Storks, Great and Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Cattle Egrets, Tricolor and Little Blue Herons, White Ibis, and the occasional Green Heron. You can stand on the boardwalk right under the trees, often no more than 15 feet from the birds on the nest. Tricolored Herons, in particular, will land on the rail of the boardwalk within 3 feet of photographers. And these birds are not begging. They are not tame at all. They are just going about the busy business of nesting and raising young and totally ignoring the humans in their rookery. It is totally amazing.

And one of the delights of the Alligator Farm is the number of birds in flight on any given day, as they move about feeding and gathering nesting materials. There is almost always some bird in the air. And, again, they are close…often passing overhead withing feet, and sometimes flying between photographers and tourists on the boardwalk. Catching them in flight makes a challenge that few photographers can resist. There are lots of birds so you have lots of opportunity. The light is great…as only Florida spring light can be. And modern cameras have features that make Birds in Flight…well, not easy…but easier than in the past. Even the superzoom Point and Shoot cameras that I favor have Sports Modes that make BIF shots relatively easy. You still get more misses than hits, but you almost always bring home a few satisfying BIFs.

This Great Egret was taken in Sports Mode on the Nikon P900 at 260mm equivalent field of view. 1/640 @ ISO 100 @ f4.5. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.

Great Egret Chicks are Beautifully Ugly!

Great Egret Chicks, St Augustine Alligator Farm, St Augustine FL

Yes, well, the title says it all: beautifully ugly! Only a mother could love…etc. And it is not like they are “nice” either. They are aggressive, single-mindedly competitive, noisy, and not particularly clean. :) These are at the age when maybe even a mother does not love them! She is like: “Get out of my nest already!” Still, who can resist a pic or two when the nest is right in front of you. This was taken from the new Photo Pass only blind in the shade of the trees on the far side of the Rookery at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park. Such an amazing place for bird photography. It is even worth braving the crush to tourists and other photographers :)

Nikon P900 at 2000mm equivalent field of view. ISO 100 @ 1/800th @ f6.5. -.7 EV exposure compensation. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 2 tablet.


Green Basilisk Lizard

Green Basilisk Lizard, Isla Popo, Panama

One of the places the folks at Tranquilo Bay take their guests, at least those who are interested, is to the home of one of the indigenous people of the islands, where, for some reason, many different color morphs of Poison Dart frog coexist. When we visited we were greeted at the dock by the 7 year old son of the owner, who acted as our unofficial frog guide while we were there. Our second greeter, however, was this large Green Basilisk Lizard on a log at the base of a plant in the family garden. Amazing creature. Pure prehistoric!

Nikon P900 at 2000mm equivalent. 1/125th @ ISO 450 @ f6.5. Processed in Lightroom.

Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucan, Punte Peña, Panama

I missed a decent shot of a Toucan in Honduras so one of my goals for Panama was to get one! In Panama I had the advantage of a longer reach (2000mm equivalent on the Nikon P900), and Toucans at lower elevations…but even so it was day 3 before I found one perched within range. Then I had to crop slightly for scale. “Had to” is too strong. I decided to crop to increase the size of the bird in the frame. All in all I am happy with the results. With better weather I am sure I would have seen a lot more Toucans, but this one will do! Thank you Panama. Thank you Tranquilo Bay Lodge. We found this bird along a rushing river in pasture land on the mainland across from Tranquilo Bay. This is an odd perch…most of the time the Toucans stayed high in the trees. This one perched about 15 feet off the ground for long enough for me to catch it. :)

Nikon P900 at 2000mm equivalent field of view. 1/125 @ ISO 400 @ f6.5. Processed in Topaz Denoise and Lightroom.

Shining Honeycreeper

Shining Honeycreeper, Tranquilo Bay Lodge, Panama

I have over 1000 images from my 6 days at Tranquilo Bay Lodge and the surrounding area in Panama…and those are only the keepers! This is a Shining Honeycreeper taken from the deck at the main Lodge building on my second day there…in a moment of lighter rain. You can see how wet the bird is. The rain was not typical of the season. April should be the beginning of the dry season, but the rains had ended early this year, and the Lodge, which exists totally on collected rain water, was in need of some rain to fill the tanks. (And I was glad I could help…I told them to just let me know the next time the tanks got low, and I would come down so it could rain for a week :) The Shining Honeycreeper is one of three Honeycreepers that frequent the rain-forest around the Lodge: Shining, Green, and Red-legged. The Shining and Red-legged look very much alike, except for the legs, and the Green is not green at all (at least not the male) but a lovely turquoise with a black mask. All of the females are some shade of green, from olive for the Red-legged to leaf on the Green. They are all relatives of the Tanagers.

Nikon P900 at 1500mm equivalent field of view (cropped slightly for scale). 1/30 @ ISO 900 @ f6.3 (which makes this shot totally unlikely! Handheld at 1/30th? Not possible! The Nikon P900 not only survived the tropics, it exceeded all expectations!) Processed in Topaz Denoise and Lightroom.

White-faced Capuchin

White-faced Capuchin, Tranquilo Bay Lodge, Panama

On the run this am, on my way home from Panama, but just to compete (kind of) the Tranquilo Bay experience, two White-faced Capuchin monkeys from the Traquilo Bay tower. :)

Nikon P900. Processed in Topaz Denoise and Lightroom.