Backyard Landscaping Project

When Faith and I bought our home 23 years ago and moved in, we had the typical cheap looking landscape that the home builder installs. It was nice, but there wasn’t much to it. Over the first few years we lived here we added some trees, gardens, installed a sprinkler system, replaced the grass and installed some yard ornaments to make the yard our own. We really enjoyed working in the yard on the weekends and keeping the yard in good condition.

Fast forward 20 years and that all has changed. A few years ago our lawn mower gave up the ghost and I decided that I didn’t really like cutting the grass, so we got a service to do that for us. As I got more involved in photography, the last place I wanted to spend my weekends was in the yard. As Faith and I got older, the summer heat reduced our desire to work in the yard and the yard suffered as a result. Basically, life happened, and as a result, we didn’t tend to the yard very much. Sure the grass got cut every week, but that was about it. The plants were overgrown and there was no continuity to the landscape. As one recent visitor exclaimed when he went into the backyard, “Wow! It’s a jungle back here!”. Click the images to view larger.

Hannah checks out the "jungle"

Hannah checks out the “jungle”

A couple of years ago I told Faith that I thought we should invest in a project to rework the backyard landscape. She said “I’ll help you do it!”. Hmmm…that’s not exactly what I had in mind. When I suggested investing in a project, I pictured professionals doing the work for us. I had absolutely no interest in taking a machete to the jungle, uprooting all the plants, laying brick pavers, installing a fountain, replacing the grass and plants. That sounded too much like work to me. Plus I had no idea how to design a landscape.

Overgrown

Overgrown

We had hoped to get the landscape project done a couple of winters ago, but as it always seems to happen, life got in the way. The same was true of our bathroom remodeling project. We finally got it done…years after we decided to do it.

More Jungle

More jungle

In mid-August, we signed a contract with A&R Landscaping to come in and complete the project for us. Our list of wants were very basic: Remove everything except the trees, install a patio, add a fountain, make the yard butterfly and bird friendly (but of course!) and put something big and bushy between us and the trampoline in the yard behind us. Andy (the A in A&R Landscaping) said “No problem!”.

What a mess!

What a mess!

A few weeks later, a crew of 3 workers showed up armed with machetes, shovels, wheelbarrows and an empty trailer. 2 days later, the old yard was gone, the trailer was full and we had a nice patch of dirt with a few trees. It was amazing to see how big our yard really was now that the overgrown jungle was hauled off. It was tough for Faith to see some of her favorite plants dug up and tossed away like yesterday’s trash, but the end result was completely worth the heartbreak.

Only trees and dirt left

Only trees and dirt left

The project took a total of 8 days to complete. When it was done, it was like moving into a new house. Andy’s design is absolutely beautiful and more than we ever imagined it would be.

No more jungle!  This is the same viewpoint that the first image with Hannah shows.

No more jungle! This is the same viewpoint that the first image with Hannah shows.

There is lots of color, lines to draw your attention to key features, beautiful pathways, a meditation garden and wide open spaces. Faith even had Andy put in 2 olive trees to remind her of her favorite destinations; Italy and Israel.

Wide open spaces!

Wide open spaces!

The olive trees are self-pollinating, so she should get some olives in a couple of years.

Our new water feature

Our new water feature

We both just love the new water feature!

The stone pathway

The stone pathway

Our golden retriever, Hannah, loves the new backyard. She goes out several times a day and just wanders the yard taking it all in. Before we hacked away the jungle, she would occasionally get trapped in some of the overgrown vines and had to be extricated from the jungle. She has more room to roam now.

Hannah returns from the meditation garden

Hannah returns from the meditation garden

Now we’re in the process of furnishing the yard. We’ve added a bench in a seating area designed for enjoying the entire backyard. We have some Adirondack chairs on order for the paver patio, and a fire pit arrives later this week to complement the patio area. We’re looking for a bench for Faith’s meditation garden, and after we find that, we should be all set. Now we’re just waiting on some cooler (and drier) weather so we can spend more time out there. We’re also asking ourselves “what took us so long?”.

The paver patio with the water feature as the central element

The paver patio with the water feature as the central element

If you’re thinking of a landscaping project, give Andy at A&R Landscaping a call. You couldn’t ask for a better partner for your project.

Posted in Random Musings | 4 Comments

Finished!

Finally our bathroom remodel is FINISHED!!

First, a big shout out to Superior Craftsman who did the work for us. They were wonderful to work with, considerate and attentive to our needs and followed through on all their promises. Their subs and employees were first rate and did a fantastic job. From start to finish, they made us comfortable through the process. If you are having a kitchen or bath redone, check them out and be sure to mention that we recommended them.

The project took a little longer than we had hoped, but what construction project doesn’t take longer than we want? We had the old bathroom stripped down to the bare walls and completely rebuilt. The only things we kept were the granite countertop, sinks and mirror that had been installed in the last year. Everything else was torn out and replaced or rebuilt. A couple of weeks ago I gave a project update in my blog that you can read about here.

So what does it look like? Well, first, here are a couple of “before” photos.

Original Bathroom

Original Bathroom

Original Bathroom

Original Bathroom

And here is what it looks like today.

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

The door in the background will lead to our expanded screen porch when it is finished later this year. The bathroom is also much brighter with more natural light and area lighting.

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

Faith loves her new roman tub. But then she loves anything “Italian”.

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

Faith loves this mirror she picked out late last year. It goes nicely with the new vanity, tile and paint.

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

We still have to pick out some additional accents and some artwork for the walls and the blinds for the window and door are not in yet.

New Bathroom

New Bathroom

We are also looking for a piece to go below the medicine cabinet to accent that wall and give us a bit more storage space.

Overall we are very pleased with the new bathroom. This is exactly what I envisioned a few years ago when we first started talking about redoing the bathroom. We had grown tired of the original contractor grade tile, fixtures and accents, and after 24 years, it was time for a major makeover.

Posted in Random Musings | 3 Comments

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums are one of Faith’s favorite flowers. Each Fall she fills the house with yellow, red and purple chrysanthemums that remind her of when she lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. As the cooler weather would set in, the chrysanthemums would start to bloom and become available in the local nurseries. Although our cooler weather doesn’t begin as soon as it does up North, Faith still likes to bring a touch of Fall to our home.

Last October I stopped by the neighborhood Publix for a few grocery items and I saw a beautiful display of chrysanthemums for sale. I’m not usually looking for flowers to add to the house, but this particular grouping really caught my eye. I looked the display over and decided that these were too beautiful to pass up. Faith was in Italy at the time, so I thought these chrysanthemums would be a nice surprise for her when she got home.

But I have to admit I also had ulterior motives. Click the images to view larger.

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

See, flower photography is not my specialty. Most of the flower images I take end up in the deleted images folder on the computer. While the flowers may be beautiful, I just haven’t figured out how to capture that beauty in a way that pleases me. Maybe I’m too picky, but I don’t like plain flower images. I’m looking for something unique and different that says “Wow!” The flowers say “Wow!”, but my images say “Eh!”

But I really, REALLY liked the colors and patterns in this particular chrysanthemum. The plant was full of blooms and I had my choice of so many angles to choose from.

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

So I thought I would give these chrysanthemums a chance to shine in a way I haven’t been successful at in the past. I had recently purchased a Canon 5D III camera body which has the ability to take multiple images and merge them together, so I thought I might try some of these features and see what I can come up with.

I setup a studio on our back porch where I had plenty of sunlight, but all of it was indirect light. Bright sunlight on the blooms would not have worked very well. I took a variety of shots at different focal distances, apertures and even had a little post processing fun.

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

Next I tried the in-camera multiple exposure feature to see what I could do with that.

Multiple Exposure Chrysanthemum Blur

Multiple Exposure Chrysanthemum Blur

Finally, I took a multiple exposure image and tried some different settings in Nik Software’s Color EFex Pro.

Multiple Exposure Chrysanthemum Blur

Multiple Exposure Chrysanthemum Blur

I’m not going to hang up my wildlife photography and focus on flowers anytime soon, but I did have fun experimenting with different options and images. I’ll do more in time and eventually I may figure out what I like and how to capture a decent image. We have plenty of sunrises, sunsets and bird photos hanging all over our home. One day I hope to capture an image of a flower that makes me say “Wow!” and makes Faith say “print it, frame it, hang it!”.

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Bathroom Remodel

The end of this month marks 23 years that Faith and I have lived in our home. And after 23 years of being disappointed in the “contractor quality” work that went into our master bathroom, we decided to remodel it. There is only so much of contractor grade tile in your shower that you can take. Plus the cabinets were outdated, the tub was made of the cheapest plastic available in the early 90’s, and the old-style shower stall was hideous to look at.

The fact that Faith complained about the bathroom nearly every day had no impact on our decision. And I’m the King of England!

To be honest, we’ve talked about doing this project for a couple of years. We thought we had found a contractor to do the work for us, but when we didn’t hear from him for 6 weeks and he didn’t return our calls and emails during that time, we had to look again. A friend of mine from high school posted on Facebook the progress of her bathroom remodel, so I reached out to her for a recommendation. She pointed us to Superior Craftsman in Longwood, FL so we gave them a call. The work isn’t done yet, but so far we are very pleased. The employees have been great to work with, they are very courteous and genuinely care about doing the best job possible. I’ll write more about our experiences with them when the job is complete.

For today I thought I would show images of the bathroom before work began and where we are now. I’ll do an updated post with the finished job in a couple of weeks.

The master bath is narrow and long. It isn’t exceptionally big, but it is big enough for our needs. The walls couldn’t be moved without giving up space elsewhere, so we tore everything out to the bare walls and started over. The only things we are keeping is the granite countertop and the huge mirror we purchased last year.

Original Bathroom

Original Bathroom

You can see from these photos how the fixtures and cabinets are outdated. And that shower!! Yuck!!! We’ve also eliminated that useless half wall between the tub and toilet. This will help to bring more natural light into the room.

Original Bathroom

Original Bathroom

Demolition only took a day, but we were excited just to see the old stuff end up in the dumpster in the driveway.

Demolition Underway

Demolition Underway

Of course, we are the envy of all our neighbors now. After all, who doesn’t want a dumpster full of construction debris next door, right Robin?

The aesthetically pleasing construction dumpster.

The aesthetically pleasing construction dumpster.

But progress is being made. The frame for the tub is complete. Notice how we’ve moved the fixtures from a wall mount to a deck mount. We will also have a little niche tiled into the wall for storing soaps and shampoos out of the way.

Tub area ready for tile.

Tub area ready for tile.

And the shower stall has been completely rebuilt. It’s a bit bigger than before and there will be a niche on the back of the half wall for soaps and shampoos as well.

Shower area ready for tile.

Shower area ready for tile.

We’ve also moved some electrical outlets around, installed some additional lighting, added a new fan and will be upgrading all the fixtures in the bathroom as well. The tile starts going in tomorrow and the entire project should be done by the end of the month. It’s been a bit inconvenient having only 1 bathroom in the house, but we’ve managed. It has helped that I’ve been out of town 3 of the 5 weeks of construction. Well, helped in the sense of not having too much trouble sharing a single bathroom. But I think Faith might disagree just how much help I’ve been while out of town.

More to come!

Posted in Random Musings | 1 Comment

Carolina Wrens

Our resident Carolina Wrens provided us with 3 broods this year. For the last brood they decided to nest in a hanging basket that we have right outside our screened porch. Faith and I enjoyed sitting on the porch on weekend mornings watching mom and dad build the nest. After about 2 weeks of little activity, the adults started bringing in food. We knew then that we had a successful clutch. Although we couldn’t see them, we knew there were a few chicks in there based on the amount of food coming in. As the chicks grew, mom and dad spent most of their time providing the nutrition these little guys needed to grow.

Carolina Wrens typically lay 4-8 eggs and incubate them 12-14 days. The chicks stay in the nest an additional 2 weeks before they fledge. They grow up very quickly, so opportunities to observe them are short-lived. An interesting fact, a group of wrens have many collective nouns including “chime, “flight”, “flock” and “herd”. So today’s post is about the herd of Carolina Wrens that grew up right outside our door.

The hanging basket was just 3 feet from the screened porch and the light was very poor. The plant receives no direct sunlight, and being that it is a big, beautiful begonia, there was just no way I was going to get a camera angle to take any photos. The adults built the nest on the backside of the basket and it was too close for both a short and long lens. However, the nest was perfectly placed so that I could mount my GoPro camera on a tripod and set it up for remote control with my iPad.

I’ve been frustrated with my attempts to do some decent video with the GoPro in the past due to the fact that it has an extremely wide angle lens. The wide angle lens requires that you get close to your subject for any decent video. The placement of this nest was the perfect opportunity to place the camera close to the nest for great images, but far enough away so as not to disturb the birds.

I positioned the camera with a decent view early one morning and set everything up so as not to disturb the nest. I then sat on the porch and controlled the camera remotely while the adults and chicks went about their daily routine. The GoPro is a great video camera, and it takes good still shots too. However, I can’t control the shutter speed for still shots, so getting sharp still images is nearly impossible with a moving subject. Click the images to view larger.

Carolina Wrens

Carolina Wrens

Notice that the chicks have a bright yellow mouth. That makes it easier for the adults to find the right spot to drop in the food in the dark nest.

Carolina Wrens

Carolina Wrens

This first video shows a typical feeding sequence. All day long the adults would climb the pole that supports the hanging basket and enter the nest with another meal for the chicks. At the end of the video, you can see how the adults keep the nest clean and tidy so as not to spread disease to the chicks. Yuck!

Wrens 2 from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

This next video shows another feeding sequence, but it is also the first time you can see for certain just how many chicks are in the nest. Pay close attention to the beginning of the video. How many chicks do you see in the nest?

Wrens 6 from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

Finally this last video shows a very curious chick that looks like he is ready to fledge and leave the nest. I thought he might while I was filming their activity, but they were all content to stay put while I sat on the porch. One of the lucky chicks got a nice lizard for lunch in this video. I’m pretty sure that my yard no longer hosts any bugs or small lizards.

Wrens 8 from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

I gave up filming at noon that day. After 5 hours of working the camera remotely I was ready for a break (and some lunch). Later that evening I checked on the nest again thinking the chicks would all still be snug in the nest for the night. Unfortunately my plans to do more filming the next morning were dashed when I found the nest empty. Seems the chicks were ready to fledge after all and took off on their new adventure sometime during the afternoon. On the plus side, I was able to participate in a unique experience which I wrote about in this blog post.

It is unlikely that the adults will breed again this year, but hopefully they will be back next year and will choose to build a nest in our yard again. I’m pretty sure that they have nested in the yard before, but the nests are not easy to spot (by design). We were fortunate that the site they selected this time was just beyond where we spend some mornings and evenings, so it was easy to figure out what was happening in the hanging basket and so much fun to watch.

Good luck little Carolina Wrens!

Posted in Florida Wildlife, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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!!!

Sharp!

Sharp!

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

Ouch!

Ouch!

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.

Posted in Florida Wildlife, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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

Yahoo!

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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