How To Save A Kite

I have never had the opportunity to rescue a bird in distress before. But this weekend, I was able to witness and photograph the rescue of a Swallow-tailed Kite.

Every year in late July through early August, Swallow-tailed Kites congregate in Central Florida before migrating south to South America for the winter. They roost in various places throughout the area while the young kites build up strength and they all fatten up for the long journey south. When the wind conditions are just right, they soar high in the sky and ride the thermals south expending as little energy as possible. As readers of this blog know, Swallow-tailed Kites are one of my favorite birds to watch and photograph. They are so elegant and graceful as they glide effortlessly and adjust their flight path with just a small twitch of their tail. They are also a very difficult bird to photograph since their topsides are black and their undersides are white. They also tend to remain high in the sky unless you see them coming out of their roosts in the morning. They are as challenging to photograph as they are beautiful.

On this particular day, I got an invitation to go out to a secluded spot where hundreds of kites roost each night. Estimates range from several hundred to over 1000 kites will roost at this particular spot each summer before heading south. My story begins after navigating the rivers and lakes by boat to arrive at this roost. Here the kites will take off from their roost, grab a drink in the river, and then ride high up into the thermals and travel to their feeding grounds. You can see some of the images of this behavior I have taken in the past in a previous blog post.

On this particular trip, we were blessed to have 3 Audubon volunteers on board. One of them, Reinier Munguia is a licensed avian rehabilitator with the Audubon Birds of Prey Center in Maitland, Florida. He brought some friends of his for the outing. Husband and wife team Mike and Heather are Audubon volunteers who brought along their daughter Olivia. Reinier also brought his friend Kayla who just happens to consider the Swallow-tailed Kite her favorite bird. When we arrived at the roost, hundreds of kites were resting in the trees waiting for the rising sun to heat the earth and create the thermals they would use to journey to their feeding grounds. Kayla had only ever seen 1 or 2 kites at a time and infrequently at that. She was very happy when she saw hundreds of them roosting in the treetops. Click the images to view larger.

Swallow-tailed Kites roost

Swallow-tailed Kites roost

About 30 minutes after our arrival, a flock of birds took off from the roost and took to the sky. One of the birds was obviously laboring as she trailed a large clump of Spanish moss behind her. Despite her efforts to remain aloft, she slowly drifted towards the water and eventually crashed into the water and went under. She popped back up seconds later but was clearly in trouble. With the now wet moss entangled on her talons and her feathers soaked, she would not be able to lift off from the water without help. She would soon drown or become breakfast for one of the many gators.

In trouble!

In trouble!

Splash down

Splash down

Going under

Going under

Up again and floating

Up again and floating

Immediately, Reinier sprang into action and directed Lance, our captain, to slowly approach the bird so she could be rescued. Reinier has rescued countless birds over the years and knows how to handle raptors without injuring himself or the bird. Reinier and Mike went to the bow of the boat and lifted the distressed kite from the water.

Will you help me?

Will you help me?

Hopelessly entangled in the moss

Hopelessly entangled in the moss

Her talons were hopelessly entangled in the moss, so Reinier and Mike handed the bird to Kayla who gently held the kite against her chest as Reinier and Mike carefully removed the moss from her talons.

Carefully untangling the moss

Carefully untangling the moss

Did I mention that Kayla’s favorite bird is the Swallow-tailed Kite? The look on her face as she was able to hold one and help it in it’s time of need was priceless. It certainly made her early wake up call worthwhile!

Kayla's new best friend

Kayla’s new best friend

By the way, those talons are sharp!!!



And that beak is equally sharp as one of Reinier’s fingers found out.



After the moss was removed, the feathers had to be dried. While the kites do dip in the water for a drink and they do get wet, the do not get their wings in the water. The wing tips may touch the water, but the majority of the flight feathers stay dry. Wet feathers weigh the birds down and make flying more difficult.

Drying off the feathers

Drying off the feathers

After the kite was toweled off, Kayla handed the kite to Heather for the release. Mike, Heather and Olivia posed for a moment for a quick photo before releasing the kite.

Mike, Olivia, Heather and their new best friend

Mike, Olivia, Heather and their new best friend

She flapped her wings a few times to gain altitude and began circling the river with the rest of her kettle.

Go girl, go!

Go girl, go!

The entire event, from the time the kite hit the water until she was released was just 15 minutes. But it was one of the most exciting 15 minutes I can remember in a while.

Safe and free!

Safe and free!

Although I only played the part of photographer during the rescue, it was quite rewarding to be a part of saving this bird from certain doom. Far too often photographers are blamed for harming the birds as part of their photography. Here is a case where a group of photographers and Audubon volunteers worked together for a positive outcome on the birds. I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of this.

I think I’ll have to incorporate this story into my wildlife presentation for the Roads Scholar program next winter.

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American Oystercatcher

The American Oystercatcher is one of my favorite shorebirds to photograph. They are not as easy to find as other shorebirds, and their unique black and white body with a striking red bill always seems to catch my interest. So it was during our vacation on the Gulf beaches in May that I came across a pair of American Oystercatchers enjoying a relaxing day on the beach.

American Oystercatchers are very shy and do not do well with crowds. You have better luck finding them on a quiet day on the beach. Not only do they not like crowds, but they generally don’t like photographers either. It isn’t easy to get close to them for some great images. But the patient photographer is usually able to setup and wait for these shy birds to come closer. Click the images to view larger.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

Besides a nice profile image, I usually like to get an image of them feeding. They use their long bills to pry open small shellfish and extract the meat from inside. But they will also dig up and eat what I’ve always referred to as sand fleas. Sand fleas made for great fishing bait when I was a young child, but they became harder and harder to find in the sand as I got older. But this oystercatcher doesn’t seem to have any problem finding them on this day.

American Oystercatcher with breakfast

American Oystercatcher with breakfast

I have always wanted to photograph oystercatchers in their courtship and mating behavior. I almost had my chance this day, but I recognized too late what was happening. The male was constantly calling to the female, and having not seen their courtship behavior before, I didn’t recognize what was happening until it was too late. When the male finally decided to make his move, I was way out of position. Perhaps I was fortunate that the female was unwilling and therefore I might get a second chance.

#Epicfail (for me and the male oystercatcher)

#Epicfail (for me and the male oystercatcher)

After his failed attempt, the male sat in a tire track depression and looked pretty glum.

Woe is me!  American Oystercatcher

Woe is me!

Eventually the pair flew off and I thought my chances were shot for the day. It has been my experience that once a pair flies off, you likely won’t find them again that day. So I headed up the beach to see what else might be around that would be interesting to photograph. I was surprised and quite happy to find the pair had just gone up the beach a ways and were quietly resting as I came upon them. When I saw one of them begin to dig a nest scrape, my hopes for “the shot” were restored.

Building a nest scrape - American Oystercatcher

Building a nest scrape

I got back into position, and having learned from my last mistake, made sure I had plenty of distance in case the pair began their courtship ritual again. I waited in the sand about an hour and my patience was rewarded. They started the courtship ritual again and this time I was ready. Sort of.

A second attempt - American Oystercatcher

A second attempt

I still had too much lens and I clipped the wings of the male as he attempted to mount the female. Again, the female wasn’t ready, so all hope was not lost. The pair settled down again and decided to rest in the midday sun.

Nap time - American Oystercatcher

Nap time

Alas, I ran out of patience (and was hungry too) and gave up on them after another 45 minutes. They probably got to it right after I left, but I’ll just have to wait for an opportunity next year to see if I (and the male) can get lucky.

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Swallow-tailed Kites

Swallow-tailed kites are perhaps one of the most graceful and elegant birds that visit Florida each year. This post on a pair of encounters I had with them last summer is long overdue. I am just now getting around to processing images from last summer and in some respects, that is a good thing. When I first reviewed these images last summer after I took them, I wasn’t impressed with many of them. In fact, I only remember being impressed by 1 out of hundreds I took. Now that I am reviewing them nearly a year later I am finding several keepers and a few gems in the batch. I love to watch swallow-tailed kites as they glide effortlessly through the sky and I think my initial reaction to my images just didn’t compare with the experience I had on those two mornings. Now that the excitement of being out on the lake with them has faded, the images stir my emotions again and I realize that some of them capture the essence of the encounter quite nicely.

Swallow-tailed kites only spend about 6 months a year in the US. They arrive from South America in February and setup their nesting areas, breed and raise their young. By late July the youngsters are strong enough to make the trek back to South America and the birds begin to migrate back south. Although swallow-tailed kites are solitary nesters they don’t migrate individually. Instead they tend to congregate and migrate in large flocks. There are several places in Florida where the kites will roost for a couple of weeks while they gather together to begin their long journey south. It is at these roosts that the beauty and elegance of these high-flying acrobats can bring about some amazing images.

Typically swallow-tailed kites are seen high in the sky where it is very difficult to take a good image of one. Enjoy the images by clicking them for a larger view.

Typical Swallow-tailed Kite shot.  High in the sky with harsh light.

Typical Swallow-tailed Kite shot. High in the sky with harsh light.

But at the migration roosts, hundreds of birds can be seen perched in the trees as they wait for the air to warm up. The warmer air provides the thermals they use to soar and glide with minimal effort. It is these same thermals that will take them south and allow the birds to traverse the distance with as little effort as possible.

Swallow-tailed kites roosting.

Swallow-tailed kites roosting.

For a bird that prides itself in frustrating avian photographers, these migration roosts provide for great opportunities if the light is right. In this image, I found a single kite perched lower in a tree than the others. He was quite happy to pose for us as we photographed him.

Cooperative swallow-tailed kite

Cooperative swallow-tailed kite

But the best part of the migration roost is what the kites do when the air is warm enough to soar. They take advantage of the sheltered water to bathe and drink. Swallow-tailed kites do not land on the ground to get a drink of water and they do not splash around at the shoreline to wash their feathers. Instead they do both on the wing. It is these dramatic flights of the kites skimming the water to drink and bathe that makes the migration roost special.

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Having the kites fly right by you as they drink and bathe make for some great flight shot opportunities too.

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed kite

I’m looking forward to getting back out there again this summer!

Posted in Florida Wildlife, Photography | 3 Comments

A Visit To The Fox Den

I was invited back this year to the local fox den that I visited and wrote about last spring. This year I was able to make 4 trips to see the family. Last year I counted 6 kits and 2 adults. This year I saw 5 kits, 2 adults and at least 1 teenager that may have been from last year’s litter. The foxes weren’t as cooperative as they were last year. I think I picked the perfect day last year as this year all 4 of my visits added up didn’t equal what I captured in 1 visit last year. Click the images to view larger.

My visit visit resulted in no foxes whatsoever. No sightings, no photos … nothing. Such is the life of the wildlife photographer. You never know what you’re going to find, but if you don’t go and try, you’ll certainly come back with nothing.

The foxes have several dens in the area, so you never know which one they will be in. When I saw my first kit this year, I was focused on the wrong den. I had to quickly reorient myself in order to get some images.

Red Fox Kit - Fox Den

Red Fox Kit

Being in a blind, you can’t really get up and move around without the foxes noticing you. You have to stay very quiet and relatively still or the kits will scamper back into the den and may or may not come back out. So I sat and waited until the rest of the family began to emerge. Do you know how difficult it is to get 3 little foxes to all look the same direction at the same time?

Red Fox Kits - Fox Den

Red Fox Kits

After a while, a pair of the kits started to get a little frisky. That’s gotta smart!

Play Time - Fox Den

Play Time

They both discovered the wonder of their sibling’s tail at the same time.

Who Has Who? - Fox Den

Who Has Who?

That afternoon, I went back and got there just before they woke up from their afternoon nap. They were still in the same den, but the afternoon light was much better for photography. They were still trying to determine the winner of the morning’s skirmishes.

Playtime Continues - Fox Den

Playtime Continues

This is the best shot I got of most of the kits. There is always one that won’t cooperate for the photographer.

Red Fox Kits - Fox Den

Red Fox Kits

Here’s a short video of the kits after they woke up from their afternoon nap. I think there may have been a few fleas in the den.

Red Fox Kits from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

I had 1 more opportunity to visit the foxes after this afternoon visit, but I only saw 1 kit that visit. It seemed that they had some additional dens farther away where they were spending more time this year. I hope I get the opportunity to visit them again next year. They are a joy to watch and photograph.

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Migration at Fort de Soto Part 2

In my last post I wrote about the migratory songbirds that had stopped by Fort de Soto one afternoon in April. After a while, Jess and I decided to move on to the shorebirds and see what we could find on the beach. I had hoped to find some Royal Terns and photograph their courtship rituals, but there wasn’t any royalty on the beach that afternoon. But we did find some Laughing Gulls, Least Terns, Black Skimmers, Willets, Dowitchers, a Marbled Godwit and an American Oystercatcher. So since the royals were off on another beach, we made the best with what was available. And the locals didn’t disappoint.

First we had some fun photographing Laughing Gulls as they were taking their evening bath. Some consider gulls to be junk birds because there are so many of them and you generally trip over them whenever you are at the beach. And I will admit that more than one gull has wandered into my composition and prevented me from getting a nice clean shot of another subject. But still, gulls can be a lot of fun to photograph too.

Anytime a bird is bathing, they will always give some sort of wing flap during or immediately after the bath. Gulls are no exception, so I waited patiently for this gull to give me a nice wing flap. I really liked the water droplets coming off the feathers as he extended his wings. Click the images to view larger, especially the first one so you can see the water droplets.

Laughing Gull Wing Flap - Fort de Soto

Laughing Gull Wing Flap

Not to be outdone, a Black Skimmer gave me a wing flap as well and created a nice angelic look. Skimmers can be very difficult to photograph bathing since they have 44 inch wingspan. I usually find myself too close to the bird and cut off a portion of the wings when they are extended. But not this day!

Black Skimmer Wing Flap - Fort de Soto

Black Skimmer Wing Flap

Before long, we heard the sounds of a pair of Laughing Gulls doing their courtship ritual. In this photo, the male is on the left and the female is inspecting his dental work. Actually, the female is expecting the male to cough up a fish which will prove to the female that the male will be a good provider for the chicks. If the male produces a sizable offering to the female, she will let him mate with her.

Dental Inspection - Fort de Soto

Dental Inspection

Obviously the offering was sufficient.

Yahoo!  Fort de Soto


The species survival is assured.

Piggyback Ride - Fort de Soto

Piggyback Ride

This Willet nearly gave me a perfect wing flap. If only he had turned a bit more to his left.

Willet Wing Flap - Fort de Soto

Willet Wing Flap

My favorite sequence of the afternoon was with a pair of Least Terns going through their courtship rituals. The female waits on the beach while the male brings her a fish to show his ability to provide for the young. Generally if the female accepts the offering, the birds will mate. However on this day, there was only foreplay. Still I was stoked to get this shot of the male bringing in a fish for his lady.

Least Tern Fish Exchange - Fort de Soto

Least Tern Fish Exchange

The setting sun cast some nice warm light on this Marbled Godwit.

Marbled Godwit - Fort de Soto

Marbled Godwit

One of my favorite birds is the American Oystercatcher. How kind of this one to fly in and spend a few minutes in the lagoon right at sunset.

American Oystercatcher - Fort de Soto

American Oystercatcher

It is said that your worst day of photography is better than your best day at work. I agree with that philosophy and at over 1000 images taken in this one afternoon, I will be enjoying this day for quite some time to come.

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Migration at Fort de Soto

Fort de Soto on the southern tip of Pinellas County and St. Petersburg is one of my all-time favorite places to spend time with my camera. Springtime at Fort de Soto is even more exciting than any other time of year that you might visit. Not only are the usual shorebirds on the beaches, but April and May bring thousands of migratory birds from Central and South America to the park. If weather conditions are just right, the park is one of the first land masses the birds encounter after their long overnight journey across the Gulf of Mexico.

This past April, I took a day off work and headed over there for an afternoon of photography. Fort de Soto is not around the block for me. It’s a 130 mile 2.5 hour one-way trip, so the decision to go over there isn’t taken lightly. Weather, traffic, time of day, tides and recent bird sightings are all taken into account before making the drive over there. On this particular day, almost everything worked in my favor. The only disappointment was that I wanted to photograph Royal Terns and their courtship, but there wasn’t a single Royal Tern on the beaches to be found. But regardless I still came home with a card full of shots I’m happy with. Besides the photo opportunities, it was nice to spend the afternoon with Rich and Jess, Kevan Sunderland and Don Hamilton.

I arrived about 2:00pm in the afternoon and decided that it would be better to look for migrant songbirds in the trees while the sun was high and then look for shorebirds as the sun moved closer to the horizon. It was an excellent decision. The trees at the East Beach picnic area were filled with male Scarlet Tanagers. These are beautiful birds sporting a bright red color. Throughout the year, the only red songbird that we traditionally see are Northern Cardinals, so finding tanagers is a nice treat. Click the images to view larger.

Scarlet Tanager - Fort de Soto

Scarlet Tanager

There were also Hooded Warblers hopping around in the grass as well. These songbirds are so hungry and desperate to fuel up and continue their journey north that they don’t sit still very long. I was fortunate to find a couple of tanagers with their bellies full, but the warblers were on a mission to find every last insect in the grass and devour it.

Hooded Warbler - Fort de Soto

Hooded Warbler

After a period of time I took a walk through the East Beach woods looking for thrushes. Thrushes are notoriously difficult to find and photograph as they like to skulk around near the ground and stay in the shadows hidden in the underbrush. I flushed this Gray-cheeked Thrush as I walked the trail and he obliged me with a couple of seconds on a branch so that I could get an ID shot. After two quick clicks, he was gone, never to be seen again.

Gray-cheeked Thursh - Fort de Soto

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Next, Jess and I headed over to the ranger’s house where the mulberry trees were full of migrant songbirds feasting on the ripe fruit. The male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were one of best finds in this area.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Fort de Soto

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

We also had another Hooded Warbler pose nicely for us.

Hooded Warbler - Fort de Soto

Hooded Warbler

Another exciting find of the afternoon was this Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole - Fort de Soto

Baltimore Oriole

We were able to get some good looks at a Black and White Warbler as it relieved a tree of any insects and spiders on its branches.

Black and White Warbler - Fort de Soto

Black and White Warbler

It seems that every year I see a Tennessee Warbler in the trivets, but I still haven’t got a really good shot of one. This one has obviously been spending some time in the mulberry tree.

Tennessee Warbler - Fort de Soto

Tennessee Warbler

This female Orchard Oriole is sporting a cool mulberry look as well.

Orchard Oriole - Fort de Soto

Orchard Oriole

We did see some Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks as well, but I didn’t get any decent images of those. But the real find of the day was a male Bay-breasted Warbler. There were a few photographers that were lined up waiting for him to make and appearance and I was fortunate when he popped out of the trivets closest to where I was standing. He was moving pretty rapidly through the bushes, so I was happy to get a couple of half-decent shots of him.

Bay-breasted Warbler - Fort de Soto

Bay-breasted Warbler

By this point it was getting to be time to give the shorebirds an opportunity to show off for us, so Jess and I headed back to the car to move on to North Beach. Along the way we came across this small rabbit that was quietly enjoying a snack in the grass. This is the first time I’ve seen a rabbit in the park.

Rabbit - Fort de Soto


In my next post, I’ll highlight some of the opportunities that the shorebirds gave us on the beaches of Fort de Soto.

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Goodbye Trusty Steed

Today I had to say goodbye to my 2003 Saturn Vue.

2004 Saturn Vue

2004 Saturn Vue

My Saturn treated me well until the transmission gave up the ghost a couple of weekends ago. At only 93,500 miles, I thought I might be able to get another 3+ years out of the car. But the repair cost exceeded the actual value of the car, so today it was donated to the Saint Vincent de Paul society. Hopefully they will find a buyer who will repair the transmission and the car will see many more years of useful life.

It is bittersweet to bid goodbye to such a dependable vehicle, but a new photo mobile is now in the garage awaiting its first photo outing. Say hello to my shiny new red 2014 Honda CR-V.

2014 Honda CR-V

2014 Honda CR-V

I wasn’t sure that I wanted another SUV, especially since we already have a 2004 Honda CR-V already in the garage. But the deciding factor was that I wanted a roomy cargo area with a big tailgate opening. I just couldn’t imagine dealing with a smaller trunk opening on a sedan while trying to get my camera equipment in and out of my camera bags. So the CR-V won out in the end.

So if you’re looking for me this weekend in my traditional green Saturn Vue, you won’t find me. Instead I hope to see you as I ride up in my new ride.

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Our Beach Vacation

We just returned from our annual beach vacation at Indian Rocks Beach this past weekend. The weather was gorgeous and we had a nice relaxing time. Even Hannah enjoyed the vacation. Click the images to view larger.

Our Sweet Hannah

Our Sweet Hannah

At 14 years old, Hannah suffers from arthritis and hip dysplasia. She’s not as mobile as she once was, and her condition requires that we exercise her frequently. No more stays in the pokey for Hannah. She gets to go with us whenever possible.

Last year we found a place that accepts dogs and made our first stay at Tommy’s On The Beach. We really enjoyed it and returned again this year.

Tommy's On The Beach

Tommy’s On The Beach

Tommy’s has a great large yard that is perfect for relaxing or for a certain family member to wander around, stretch her legs and lounge in the cool breeze.

Tommy's On The Beach

Tommy’s On The Beach

Of course we spent much of our time looking the other direction. We even took some time to pose for our annual portrait. As you can see, shaving is optional at Tommy’s.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Faith’s dad lives in Clearwater, so he always stops by for a visit while we are there.

Faith and her dad

Faith and her dad

I think her dad is quite proud of his son in-law.

Faith's dad and the grand prize winning Audubon magazine

Faith’s dad and the grand prize winning Audubon magazine

Tommy’s tries to give their customers a taste of the “real Florida”. By that they mean that their units are typical old Florida. They are decorated in what you would have found on Indian Rocks Beach in the 1950′s and 1960′s. This would be way before the condos took over the beach and destroyed the quaint, relaxed lifestyle that Florida was known for. We stay downstairs in the Blue Bamboo room so Hannah doesn’t have to deal with stairs. I’m not sure why they call it the blue bamboo room. Maybe some of the furniture has a bamboo look to it, but I wasn’t paying any attention. I spent most of the time outside.

The Blue Bamboo Room

The Blue Bamboo Room

You might be wondering if I took any wildlife or nature photos. Of course I did, but I’ll save those for my next post. In the interim, I’ll leave you with a 30 second time lapse of a sunset I took with my GoPro. Most of the sunsets were quite boring while we were there, but I did like the clouds and their movements in this video. Enjoy!

Beach Sunset from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

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Lake Blue Cypress

Last month Jess, Debbie, Tom and I met at Lake Blue Cypress at sunrise to photograph the nesting ospreys on the lake. There are dozens of osprey nests on the lake and many of the nests are easily photographed from a pontoon boat. So we chartered a boat and a guide from Middleton’s Fish Camp and headed out for a morning of photography and lots of fun.

Lake Blue Cypress not only has the nesting osprey’s to entertain photographers, it also has some beautiful sunrises for those that like to do a little landscape work. Click the images to view larger.

Lake Blue Cypress Sunrise

Lake Blue Cypress Sunrise

Clouds are great for sunrises, but not so great for photographing the ospreys. A sunny day or a cloudy bright day is much preferred. Still, one must take advantage of the opportunities on any given day.

Lake Blue Cypress Sunrise

Lake Blue Cypress Sunrise

Since the sun was not initially cooperating, we had some fun with our guide as we motored out to the osprey nests. Not everyone appreciates having their photo taken at 7:00am in the morning.

I don't think Debbie is happy with me.

I don’t think Debbie is happy with me.

But it didn’t take us long to start having some fun.

Tom & Debbie

Tom & Debbie.

At least one of us was focused on the job at hand, though. You may remember Jess and her mud-caked knees from a recent post.

Jess focused on the action, not on the actors

Jess focused on the action, not on the actors

Eventually we got back to the task at hand … photographing the ospreys.

Adult osprey the nest - Lake Blue Cypress

Adult osprey in the nest

There are lots of flight shot opportunities at Lake Blue Cypress for those that are prepared.

Adult osprey in flight - Lake Blue Cypress

Adult osprey in fligh

One of the images we always hope for is a flight shot with nesting material. This osprey didn’t disappoint and flew around from tree to tree calling the entire time. I’m not sure if he was lost or if he just wanted to show off the size of his prize.

Next Building Materials - Lake Blue Cypress

Nest Building Materials

Speaking of prizes, I always hope to get a prize winning shot of an osprey carrying a giant largemouth bass. Unfortunately today I had to settle for a poor photo of an osprey carrying a tilapia. But hey! I take what I can get.

Osprey and Tilapia - Lake Blue Cypress

Osprey and Tilapia

Naturally since the osprey are nesting, we were hoping to find a nest with some chicks in it. We suspected that several pairs had eggs in the nest, and some nests had very small chicks, but it took us most of the morning to finally find a nest where the chicks were large enough to be seen above the nest.

Osprey Chicks - Lake Blue Cypress

Osprey Chicks

We were fortunate enough to find a second nest with chicks in it at the tail end of our tour. Perhaps my favorite osprey image of the day was this adult feeding a pair of chicks in the nest. I only wish it hadn’t been quite so windy so the boat would have been more stable. I would have probably had a better image in that case. Looks like I’ll have to wait until next year to try again.

Feeding Time - Lake Blue Cypress

Feeding Time

I only made 1 trip to Lake Blue Cypress this year. Perhaps a second trip would have had better weather and more opportunities. But I don’t see how it could have been any more fun. Thanks Tom, Debbie and Jess for a wonderful morning!!

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A Trip To Gatorland

Last month, Donna and Jess convinced me to meet them at Gatorland for a morning shoot in Gatorland’s breeding marsh. While Gatorland is famous for their collection of alligators, they also have a very successful breeding marsh that the birds use each year during nesting season. Most breeding areas for wading birds are in areas that make it difficult to photograph them without a boat. Gatorland has a boardwalk that cuts through the marsh which makes it easy for photographers with big lenses and photographers with point and shoot cameras to get nice closeup images of wading birds in their beautiful breeding colors. The birds are used to having humans wander the boardwalk, so they are quite comfortable with carrying on about their daily routine while you watch from just a few feet away.

Gatorland’s breeding marsh hosts a healthy population of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Woodstorks, Roseate Spoonbills and other birds. The birds have different nesting times, so if you go in February, you are likely to see only the Great Egrets displaying and setting up nesting sites. As you move through the spring, the other birds begin their courtship rituals and building nests. By May, the Cattle Egrets are actively on nests which makes a visit anytime from February through June a good time to see courtship rituals, nesting, hatchings, chicks, chicks being fed, and finally chicks fledging from their nests and taking their first flights. Click the images to view larger.

Snowy Egret - Gatorland

Snowy Egret

Spring is a great time to photograph wading birds. Their hormones go into overdrive and they exhibit some beautiful colors and feather displays. The Snowy Egrets, like the one above, will get a deep red color around their eyes and their normally yellow feet turn a deep red as well. It’s also nice to photograph one while they go through their courtship rituals. The problem with photographing these birds in the rookery is all the sticks and shadows you have to deal with.

Snowy Egret Displaying - Gatorland

Snowy Egret Displaying

Every now and then, one of the Snowy Egrets will get curious and want to come over and see what all the fuss is about.

Curious Snowy Egret - Gatorland

Curious Snowy Egret

The Great Egret is the largest wading bird nesting in the rookery.

Great Egret - Gatorland

Great Egret

These three Great Egret chicks are about to get a meal from dad. They look a little ragged now, but soon they will be as beautiful as the one above.

Waiting For Breakfast - Gatorland

Waiting For Breakfast

As dad begins to cough up breakfast, all three chicks clamp down on his bill in order to get a morsel. Survival of the fittest!

Serving Breakfast - Gatorland

Serving Breakfast

Not only do the sticks and shadows provide obstacles for the photographer to overcome, the birds sometimes don’t put themselves on the right side of the light. But that just means the creative photographer uses the light available to create a nice backlit image.

Great Egret - Gatorland

Great Egret

It’s always nice to get an image of a Great Egret displaying. It isn’t always easy, but when one cooperates it’s a nice win for the photographer.

Great Egret Displaying - Gatorland

Great Egret Displaying

Cattle Egrets are always fun to photograph at the rookery with their colorful faces and spiked hairdo.

Cattle Egret - Gatorland

Cattle Egret

There are more than just white birds at the Gatorland breeding marsh. The Tricolored Herons are also plentiful and quite beautiful to photograph.

Tricolored Heron - Gatorland

Tricolored Heron

As I mentioned before, the nests are very close, so it is a treat to watch mom stand up and turn the eggs.

Turning the Eggs - Gatorland

Turning the Eggs

It had been a few years since I had visited Gatorland. I didn’t get an annual pass this year and this will likely be my only visit, but perhaps next year I’ll spring for a pass and make a few visits.

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