Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One From the Wakulla, Five From the Refuge

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
~John Masefield

Ah, Florida....where the wind comes sweeping down the plain... Paddling days are back to being few and far between. I did get out on the Wakulla River since I returned from St. Augustine, but I only came home with one image I liked, so I did not post that trip. The ducks that have been shown here before, the ones that live at that large house on the right just upstream of the boat ramp, were out and about in the water.



Otherwise it was largely uneventful on the river. I did not see any manatees or any gators, and very few birds.

Yesterday was a beautiful if gusty day and so I headed out to the wildlife refuge to see what I could see. There were a lot of people there for a Monday!

And lots of birds; many egrets and several great blue herons. I passed this one on my way toward the lighthouse.



I walked along the trail by water. Several people were at the jetty at the end, two of them casting nets into the water. (I later encountered another guy doing the same thing closer to the boat ramp area--he said he was going after mullet.) I decided to process this one as a black-and-white image.



This little sandpiper was walking along the edge of the water near the jetty.



I decided to walk the Cedar Point trail, which runs between the boat ramp channel and open wetlands. I have often seen large wading birds near the trail on the wetlands side, but not on this day. When I got to the end, I sat on the bench for a while and just enjoyed the view of the water. I glanced over at the jetty area, which is directly across the channel from the bench, and saw this girl playing on the rocks.



I finished the walk around that center pond and then drove slowly out. Another great blue heron (or the same one?) was standing very still in the grass near the road.



We have lots of rain (and more wind) in the forecast for the remainder of the week so it doesn't look like I will get back out in the kayak any time soon. I have some tentative plans to get back to Cedar Key soon and hopefully will get in some paddling there. Stand by.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bird Rookery in St. Augustine --Part II

The richness I achieve comes from nature,
the source of my inspiration.
~Claude Monet

And here we are in Part II of the bird rookery photos!

First back to the egrets and their nest-building, which involved a lot of flying back and forth to find twigs and then bringing those twigs to their mates, waiting patiently in the nest.



There were various degrees of over-achievers. This one, who found a really big stick for the nest,



and then there was one that found an even bigger stick. Unfortunately, it dropped it in the water. When the stick hit the water, a gator swam over to investigate, leaving the egret perched in a tree, waiting for a second chance at it. Which it got.



Making progress....



And then it dropped it. And left it in the water. Good call.

Then there were the less ambitious. I'm not sure if you can even make out the tiny bit of material in this one's beak. I call this one Honey, I'm Home.



Once the nests were built, it was time to work on filling them.


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The not-yet-paired continued to work at attracting a significant other.



On both days that I was at the zoo, there were roseate spoonbills hunkered down in trees just beyond the water and behind the trees that the storks and egrets were occupying. Too far and too leaf-covered to photograph. And then on Sunday one of them came down to the water.



More snowy egrets showed up on Sunday.



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The odd thing about this rookery is that while you are standing on this wooden boardwalk marveling at the birds, many, many gators are swimming around about four feet below where you stand. I couldn't help but wonder, if only fleetingly, how often they perform maintenance on the underwater sections of the boardwalk and check the integrity of the railings. The gators are quiet and there are so many of them that after a while at the place you sort of get used to them and it's easy to forget what they are. Before I left, I turned to take a photo of some people on the boardwalk, with the gators gathered beneath them.



On my way back to the car I finally took the time to look at a few of the other exhibits. You can't go anywhere without seeing the gators, so of course I got a few photos of them.



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I'm not sure exactly what these are, but they are huge.



They have a lot of exotic birds, including parrots, African crested cranes, gigantic vultures, and this fella.



And that's it for the photos from this trip. Back to paddling now. I'm still waiting for our regular birds to return to the river.

Stand by.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bird Rookery in St. Augustine --Part I

Beauty is not caused.
It is.
~Emily Dickinson

I finally (finally) got to the rookery at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine (Florida). It was worth the wait. Within the first thirty minutes of standing on the boardwalk watching the egrets (and wood storks) fly from the nests they were building with their mates, and then fly back with sticks and twigs to add to those nests, I had over 200 photos in the camera. I pared those down, then culled out some more, made some tough choices, and ended up with about 40 to show you. That's way too many for one post, so I am going to put half up today and half up later (when I finish processing them...it takes a while...). While this was not a paddling trip, I am posting in this blog because the subject matter fits!

There's not a lot of story to go with these. The place is sheer heaven for an egret fan like myself. I was there on a Saturday and went back on Sunday, but it wasn't as crowded as I had anticipated. I suspect it might get more so when the baby birds appear in the nests (and you can bet I will be front and center photographing them!).

I have always thought that (as often happens in nature) only the males got the flashy long feathers and bright green nares (area in front of the eye) during breeding season. Evidently I was mistaken! There were a few egrets that did not have the long feathers on their backs, but perhaps they were just a bit young or something. In almost every case, both egrets in a nesting pair had the breeding plumage and coloring.



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They were very busy building their nests! One bird would stay with the nest while the other would fly off over a wooded area near the rookery and find twigs or branches, which they would carry back. Almost without fail, their return with the stick or twig would be met with great uproar, which looked a lot like disapproval from where I stood. ("You call this nest material? Who built your last nest?")



But sometimes it was more of a cooperative process.




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And after a long day of construction, it was time to rest.



There were some unpaired egrets, either content to be so,



or else eager to attract a mate. Lots of showing off of plumage, and posturing.





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I only saw one snowy egret on Saturday. It looked like it was having a decidedly bad hair day, due to the wind doing more than ruffling its feathers:



I rarely get to photograph egrets in flight from a standing position, but I got several photos as they returned with nesting material.



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The egrets share the rookery with wood storks (more of them will appear in Part II).



The remainder of the photos from this batch are random ones taken as I watched the birds.



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I'll be back with the next batch when I get them processed! Stand by.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's a Paddling Frenzy!

Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment.
~Ellis Peters

Two paddling trips in three days? Now that's more like it! This time I met Mike at the boat ramp at the Wacissa. It was an even better day than Tuesday--no wind at all until the very end of the paddle. We encountered several other paddlers on the river.

I was absolutely thrilled when we spotted a great blue heron a couple of miles downstream. When we could first approach it, it was in the reeds at the side of the river.



We watched it fly from there to a nearby tree, where it perched in the bare branches for a while. We paddled over to that area and parked nearby, both of us photographing it.



After a short time, I think it became a tad uncomfortable with us just sitting there below it, and so it decided to leave.



Lift off...



Departing the tree...



Getting coordinated...



And off he goes.



We extricated ourselves from the tussocks and continued upstream (this was after we had turned around). An egret was fishing in the reeds and so we paddled over that way. It left before I could get the camera focused on it, but I kept it in the viewfinder until it landed. The last post had an egret taking off...this one has one landing.



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I caught up to Mike, who looks here like he might have spotted a gator along the shoreline.



(Speaking of gators, the one usually on the swim raft at Blue Spring was not there when we were.)

A juvenile little blue heron was perched on a tree branch. I wasn't going to take the picture, but it just sat there posing as we approached (clearly a Wacissa bird!) so I couldn't resist.



We got back to the boat ramp and loaded the boats. I was about to leave for home when I saw Jim coming in with some boats loaded on his trailer, so I stayed to talk to him. He had Bjorn, the Amazing Diving Dog, with him. Jim takes a stick up the ladder to the diving board, followed by Bjorn. When the stick is thrown, Bjorn goes sailing off after it.



You can see the diving board on the right. Here's a closer view of a very happy dog--



And down he goes. You can see where the stick landed....he didn't quite get that distance on this particular dive...



Another great day on the river. I hope spring is here to stay.

Stand by.