Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Egrets -- A Non-Paddling Post

Walking through puddles is my favorite metaphor for life.
~Jessi Lane Adams

I know it's been too long between posts when people start asking if I have fallen victim to a camera-shy gator or some such. I haven't been paddling for a long time because I have finally surrendered to the weather; while it is cooler on the river than anywhere else, the process of getting to the river is a draining, dehydrating process. So I have declared defeat for now.

But it's time to shake the blog awake and dip into unposted photos that have been clamoring for attention. I've decided to dedicate this non-paddling post to the egrets.

I took this one a while ago on the Wacissa. This snowy egret stood out like a beacon against the shadowy and disordered backdrop. It looks almost like a painting (with a somewhat cluttered background).

Meanwhile, this snowy egret in the sun was simplicity itself.

I often get flight photos when birds leave as I approach. Sometimes I see them coming as they are on their way downstream and can take them on the wing.

Same bird, a few moments later:

I don't recall when I took this photo of a snowy fishing for food, but it appears to be late in the day when the sun was low.

I love it when egrets look straight at me. They have such impressive profiles, but when they stand at look right at you, their heads look so small on their large bodies!

In contrast to the greens in the above photo, I liked the more muted tones of this image of an egret in flight. This was taken at the wildlife refuge last fall.

And those are the white birds!

I hope that the weather will break soon so that I can resume my regular paddling trips. I miss being on the water. Stand by.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hanging with the Alligators on the Wakulla

Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is
everywhere and the circumference nowhere.
~Blaise Pascal

I haven't been to the Wakulla for quite a while so it was time to return. I have always liked this river; I wish I lived closer to it.

This was a hot day (summer is still in full swing here in Florida!) and the gators were out and about. This one kept pace with me as I paddled upstream.

This fat gator was enjoying the sun on a log.

And then there was this one, peering at me through the leaves. Big tough guy...with a dainty little damselfly sitting on his head.

One major difference between this river and the Wacissa, as I have mentioned before, is that when you go to the Wacissa, it is a given that you will see a variety of birds. It's not a certainty at all on the Wakulla. I paddled nearly 2 miles upstream before I saw the first one, a cute little grebe.

But the Wakulla has something the Wacissa doesn't: manatees. The current was very strong on this day, which made it a challenge to watch them without either drifting on top of them or away from them. This youngster was staying close to its mother.

I was surprised to see a tricolored heron, a bird I rarely see on this river. And a very unskittish one. I parked in the surface vegetation to halt the flow of the current against the boat and watched it for a while. It was hopping from spot to spot in search of food.

And then posed nicely for me. (I smile as I write that since, in fact, as I was taking the picture, someone passed me in a fishing boat and hollered out "He's posing nicely for you!")

I turned around before getting to the top bridge; a bit too much current to keep paddling against. After turning I was moved at a good clip back downstream. I saw a great blue heron long before I got to it, giving me time to find a place to pull over and stop to get some photos. This was an unusually striking bird.

While I was sitting watching it, it dipped its head in the water and then fluffed itself up.


I continued my drift downstream.

Cormorants are so common on our waterways that, as with adult little blue herons, I rarely photograph them. But they actually are cute birds. This one had been bathing noisily before I got to it, at which time it was drying in the sun.

And doing a little preening.

As any bird photographer will attest to, one of the most difficult birds to photograph is the belted kingfisher. Sure, they will land in easy reach of almost any lens....but they never sit still for more than about one second, and then they are off, swooping away, making a laughing, chipping sound. I had several of them swirling around me on this trip, but I didn't bother raising the camera. Until, that is, this one landed on a light post on a dock close to the ramp. I never expected it to linger, but I couldn't resist trying for a photo.

It flew from there to a tree a little farther downstream. I kept the camera up and turned on. Too bad its beak is obscured by the branch...

And that had me back at the ramp. It was a good day! I'll get out again soon. Stand by.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

And Back To Paddling...

Tomorrow is open, right now it seems to be more
Than enough to just be here today.
~John Denver

As predicted, the weather was good for paddling so I returned to the Wacissa. Only a couple of cars in the parking lot, and I had the river nearly to myself for the three hours I was out. Doesn't get more peaceful than that!

The first photo I got today was a group image, taken shortly after leaving the boat ramp. Turtles, female wood ducks, and a limpkin at the top (which is not, despite appearances, standing on the wood duck's head).

I watched the limpkin for a while--they are not as plentiful on the river these days. It went back into the woods and then peeked out at me.

I drifted downstream and came to a man in a boat who was gathering seaweed (in small amounts, not like a harvester). We talked as I drifted toward him. I happened to glance over to the right and saw that I was passing very close to a green heron, usually a bird I have to actively seek out!

I went my usual distance and turned around. I would have gone farther, but the sky was starting to show signs of becoming overcast, which is never a good thing if you are miles downstream of the ramp (it never turned into rain, though). So I turned around at my recently-typical place and paddled slowly upstream. I came to a great blue heron and was getting ready to take a photo when it decided to leave. I was able to get a few pictures as it flew past me and downstream.


As I was about to leave that spot, I saw a snowy egret approaching. I got this of its landing:

As soon as it touched down, it saw me, hopped a few times, and then decided to go to more private fishing spots.


And those weren't the only birds I frightened off from that vantage point. Number three showed up before I could get a paddle in the water. An osprey was flying in from the right.

It put on the brakes to land in a branch nearly in front of me (though well above my head).

But before it landed, it saw me and bypassed the branch and flew on downriver. I hesitated to leave that spot--who knows what will show up next?

On my way back upstream I passed another grouping, this one a juvenile little blue heron and a young ibis.

I continued upstream. Just past the entrance to Blue Spring, I saw a young night heron sitting on a branch (there are many of these juveniles on the river these days). This one was very busy scratching itself and did not see me as I parked in the vegetation right in front of it. Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Uh oh, it spots me sitting there.

What to do?

Hmm, I missed a spot.

Are you still here?

I finally left it to scratch in peace. Near the boat ramp I came to an adult yellow crowned night heron, so how could I not include it?

I'm looking forward to my next trip. Stand by.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Not Paddling at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge

Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable,
butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine.
~Jeffrey Glassberg

This was a nice day, but a bit windy for paddling so I headed out to the wildlife refuge to see what I could see. Given that I usually see birds there, the typical subjects in this blog, I am posting this trip here, even though it didn't involve any paddling.

And the birds were there! I was amazed at how many egrets were gathered together in close proximity--what a joy for someone who loves them as much as I do!

Close to that group, I spotted a large flock of wood storks, which started walking away as I approached. The breeze was blowing the topknot of that one at the back.

On my way back to my car after taking those, I saw another group of egrets. They looked somewhat ethereal in the water.

I drove to the lighthouse, which is (of course) on the Gulf at the end of the road. There was only one other car there, and nobody walking the trail around the pond. I soon found out why--the biting sand flies were fierce! Fortunately, I carry repellent in my car, so after dousing myself with it, I was able to walk around the pond.

This gull was soaring overhead, looking for lunch in the water.


This is a stopping place for monarch butterflies as they migrate to Mexico. The Monarch Festival, which marks the peak of the local migration, is in October. I am not completely up on my butterfly identification, but perhaps some of these were early (or, perhaps they are not monarchs....). I couldn't resist taking a lot of pictures of them.

This next one has the added feature of two "love bugs" below the butterfly. These bugs arrive in massive numbers twice a year and are the bane of windshields everywhere (and conversely).



What's this guy doing here?

These ibises were walking along the edge of the water, in impressive formation.

When I got halfway around the pond, across from the lighthouse, I took this view of it.

As I was finishing my walk, this osprey flew by overhead.

I got back in the car and headed back toward the entrance. I came to another group of egrets (or the same one, perhaps they had moved). It's very, very rare for me to see even two egrets close together unless it is mating time, much less such a crowd. These three were standing peaceably together.

Near those three, I saw a great blue heron standing next to a snowy egret. A large egret was standing out of the picture to the left.

I moved a few steps to the side to take another picture of the heron and snowy and noticed yet another egret coming in for a landing. The larger egret that had been standing nearby did not like this.

It lunged at the interloper.

And off it went.

Notice how in all those photos, the snowy does not move an inch, it stands like a statue!

I saw a tricolored heron in a small pond nearby, fishing in amongst the reeds. This one seemed well suited for black and white.

It was a great day to be at the refuge!

It seems that the weather might stay agreeable enough for a paddling trip tomorrow...we shall see. Stand by.