Lake Apopka

Lake Apopka is one of the largest lakes in Florida. It was once surrounded by farms where the crops grew very well in the rich muck along the lake’s flood plain. While the farms were active, the farmers dumped untold quantities of pesticides and fertilizer on their crops. These chemicals eventually made there way into Lake Apopka and effectively killed the lake. At one time Lake Apopka was so polluted that it wasn’t safe to swim in or eat anything from the lake. That caused the fish to die off and eventually the birds that made their homes around the lake suffered as well.

Over the last 20+ years the state has been buying up the farms and converting them back into natural flood plain. They scraped off the topsoil from the farms and hauled it away to reduce the amount of poisons that continued to leach into the lake. Over the years the lake has begun to return to good health, although it does have a bit farther to go. As a result of this effort, Lake Apopka now has an ecosystem that is beginning to thrive. Fish are able to live and breathe in the lake again and the birds and other predators are beginning to come back. Lake Apopka was once one of the premier birding and bass fishing locations in Central Florida, and in a few more years, it may very well return to that status.

With the wildlife population returning, there are some opportunities for birders and photographers to find and photograph birds that we don’t normally see. Such was the case late last year when a pair of Groove-billed Anis were located in the Lake Apopka North Shore Recreation Area. Anis are not normally found in Florida, although we do get a handful sighted around the state during the winter. So with some excitement to find and photograph this rare visitor, Donna, Jess and I struck out for the 2.5 mile hike to find the elusive Anis.

The day started out cloudy, foggy and dreary and the prospects of any good photos was pretty low. But we started out on the hike hoping the fog would lift and we would not only find the Anis but get some decent photographs. We might have found the Anis sooner if the usually accurate Google Donna hadn’t insisted that we make a right turn at the fork in the road. For the record, yours truly knew where the Anis had been seen previously, but deferred to Google Donna’s own internal GPS. After we got back on track, we came across a birder who had been standing in the same spot for the 10 minutes it took us to move down the trail towards him. When we approached he told us he had seen an Ani and was waiting for it to pop back out of the brush. 10 minutes later the Ani fulfilled our mission and gave us some great looks. Click the images to view larger.

Groove-billed Ani - Lake Apopka

Groove-billed Ani – Lake Apopka

Groove-billed Ani - Lake Apopka

Groove-billed Ani – Lake Apopka

Success!! We spent the next 90 minutes taking images of this one bird in every possible composition that we could come up with. Unfortunately they were all dulled by the clouds and filled with sticks from the brush that he preferred to perch in, so I won’t bore you with more of the same images. Still we had fun watching him as he watched us. We even heard him calling, and though 2 Anis had been reported in the area, we only saw the one. By the end of the next week, he was gone and hasn’t been sighted yet. Good timing on our part. [UPDATE: The Ani was found again just yesterday.]

After about 90 minutes with the Ani I looked up the road and spotted a bobcat walking along the road. Every time I go out to Lake Apopka North Shore Recreation Area I see a bobcat. It’s not that they are all that numerous, but I just happen upon them at the right time. The bobcat was a good 500 yards or more away from us, so I pointed him out to Donna and Jess and we began to walk quickly to get a closer opportunity for photos. He must have heard us coming as he stopped, turned around and sat down and watched us. How great it would be if he would wait while we closed the distance on him so that we could get some decent images. But that was not to be. At about 250 yards he bounded into the brush. Bad bobcat!!

We walked slowly and quietly up to where he disappeared and kept going. There was no chance he was coming back out again. Or was there? When we got about 300 yards beyond where he disappeared, I turned around and he was back out again, walking away from us … again! Bad bobcat! This time he was walking directly towards a pair of birders that had not seen him yet. When they finally spotted him and stopped, I stopped and took my only image of the bobcat. It’s a horrible image as I over exposed the image (sure…NOW the sun comes out!) and was too far away to gain proper focus. I had to really crop the image for this photo, but it’s the only one I have. After 1 click he was back in the brush again, never to be seen again.

Bobcat - Lake Apopka

Bobcat – Lake Apopka

It was a long walk back to the cars after missing the bobcat. In fact, it seem to take 3 times as long getting back to the cars than it did to find the Ani, even with Google Donna leading us astray.

I’m looking forward to when the trails around Lake Apopka are opened for vehicle traffic and you will be able to see more of the thousands of acres than you can on foot. Lake Apopka is coming back and the recreation areas surrounding it will one day be a major destination for birding and wildlife enthusiasts.

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Merritt Island NWR

I stopped by Merritt Island NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) this weekend for the first time in well over a year. Activity has been sparse at the refuge over the last year, so I didn’t renew my pass and spent my days shooting at other areas. But I’m glad that I spent the morning there as there was just enough activity to make the visit interesting. It’s nice to have a such a high quality refuge so close to home.

Any trip to Merritt Island NWR has to include a stop at Parrish Park for sunrise. I have photographed some great sunrises from under the Max Brewer bridge and this morning was no different. Click the images to view larger.

Sunrise - Merritt Island NWR

Sunrise – Merritt Island NWR

I setup my iPhone to do a time-lapse of the sunrise. I also had my GoPro setup to do a time-lapse. Both videos came out pretty good, but I think the iPhone video came out a little nicer than the GoPro did.

Sunrise Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

While at Parrish Park, I joined a bunch of other birders and photographers who were out looking for the Long-tailed Duck. We found him, but he was a long way away and on the wrong side of the bridge for photos. Well, at least for any decent photos.

Long-tailed Duck - Merritt Island NWR

Long-tailed Duck – Merritt Island NWR

A Coopers Hawk swooped in under the bridge and posed for a few photos. Certainly not the kind of environment that I would really want, but it was nice to get a couple of images in.

Cooper's Hawk - Merritt Island NWR

Cooper’s Hawk – Merritt Island NWR

The next stop was a trip through the BlackPoint Wildlife Drive in the refuge itself. The first opportunity was a pair of American Avocets that were somewhat cooperative.

American Avocets - Merritt Island NWR

American Avocets – Merritt Island NWR

While shooting the avocets, a Tricolored Heron came in. He was so close I could only get a head shot.

Tri-colored Heron - Merritt Island NWR

Tri-colored Heron – Merritt Island NWR

A hundred yards later we came upon a small flock of Forster’s Terns diving into a very small puddle and catching some fish that were trapped in the pond. They had a very high success rate with each dive. I guess it was like shooting fish in a barrel. This tern’s catch is still flopping around in his beak.

Forster's Tern - Merritt Island NWR

Forster’s Tern – Merritt Island NWR

Along the back side of the wildlife drive a flock of Dunlin came through. I ran out of fingers and toes to count them.

Dunlin Flock - Merritt Island NWR

Dunlin Flock – Merritt Island NWR

There were plenty of ducks on the back side of the wildlife drive, but the light is better for photography back there in the afternoon. So we motored along until we got to the Cruikshank trail. There we found a small group of American Widgeons that were quite cooperative.

American Widgeon - Merritt Island NWR

American Widgeon – Merritt Island NWR

After completing the wildlife drive, we headed back to Parrish Park hoping to find the Long-tailed Duck in better light. By then the winds had picked up and the water was quite choppy. We didn’t find the duck, but we did see some Common Loons and a pair of Horned Grebes that were close by. Getting a good photo of these two was quite challenging as they were diving for their lunch, then bobbing up and down on the choppy waves when they surfaced again. It was tough to find them in-between the waves, but a little patience paid off. I love their red eyes.

Horned Grebe - Merritt Island NWR

Horned Grebe – Merritt Island NWR

When the card in my camera was full, it was time to pack it in and head back home for some lunch. It was a fun morning and I think I’ll be back over to Merritt Island NWR again in the next couple of weeks.

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Lake Hancock

Lake Hancock is a large lake in Polk County that is surrounded by thousands of acres of protected land. The Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands is a Southwest Florida Water Management District (commonly called SWIFTMUD) property that is generally not open to the public. A few times a year, the Polk Audubon society conducts tours of the wetlands for a limited number of people. These tours are strictly regulated, but provide an opportunity to see thousands of birds. The birds don’t see many humans since the property is restricted, so they are very skittish. Still, there are ample opportunities for photography, but mainly flight photography.

The morning started with a beautiful sunrise, but over the course of the morning, the skies turned increasingly cloudy. Finally it began to rain well in advance of when the local weather forecasters predicted. This put an early end to my outing, but not before I got a few images. Click the images to view larger.

Lake Hancock Sunrise

Lake Hancock Sunrise (iPhone photo)

There were plenty of flight opportunities including this flyby of a Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork – Lake Hancock

The reeds were full of Fulvous Whistling Ducks, but they weren’t the least bit cooperative. You couldn’t get within 100 yards of them and they would take flight. Still I managed to get a few flight shots for my first ever images of this species.

Fulvous Whistling Ducks

Fulvous Whistling Ducks – Lake Hancock

There were also dozens of Hooded Mergansers in the waters. They are almost as skittish as the whistling ducks. I was able to get a shot of a pair of “hoodies” as they swam by.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers – Lake Hancock

Another pair gave me just enough time to fire off a couple of shots as they flew past.

Hooded Mergansers - Lake Hancock

Hooded Mergansers – Lake Hancock

I was also lucky to grab a quick shot of a flock of Green-winged Teal that had popped up out of the reeds.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – Lake Hancock

A pair of Eastern Meadowlarks took a moment to check me out as I was walking down the trail.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark – Lake Hancock

In years past we were enthralled by the hundreds, if not thousands, of American White Pelicans that roosted at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. However, they haven’t been seen as much at Circle B as they had in the past. Looks like they now roost at the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands as we saw thousands of them this morning.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican – Lake Hancock

The highlight of the morning for me was a particular female Snail Kite. I saw 3 different Snail Kites during the morning, but this particular one was quite cooperative.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

A bit later after I captured the image above, she made another pass along the waterway where I was walking. I was fortunate enough to catch a few frames of her as she glided along, then suddenly banked and swooped down on an unsuspecting snail.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Snail Kite

Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Although the sun didn’t cooperate and the rain cut short the morning by an hour or so, I still had a great time. I clearly need more practice on my bird in flight photography and the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands is a great place to practice.

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Looking Back at 2014

2014 was a good year for me on a lot of different levels. During the year I had a great trip to Arizona to visit family and do some photography. I also had an exciting encounter on a local lake here in Central Florida. And while I resolved my health issues this year, my lovely wife still can’t figure out why I get up well before dawn to drive an hour to take photos in the middle of a sewage…er, water treatment facility. Here are a few of my favorite highlights from the year. Click the images to view larger.

The trip to Arizona in March was two-fold. First I wanted to visit my family which made the trip worthwhile even if I didn’t do anything else during the trip.

Arizona 2014

The Family. Can you tell how bright the sun is there?

Since I was already out there, I took advantage of the beautiful Spring weather to do some photography. I reached out to a local who has a pair of photo blinds on his property and had a fantastic time photographing the birds that visited. While I enjoy hiking and looking for photo opportunities in their natural environment, there is nothing like the rush of having the birds and mammals come to you in a well designed blind. The challenge in a blind isn’t finding a subject. It’s deciding on which subject to shoot!! My goal for bird images on this trip was the greater roadrunner and I wasn’t disappointed.

Greater Roadrunner 2014

Beep! Beep!

Of course what Spring would be complete without a trip to Fort de Soto for migration. This year I was able to photograph my first black scoter and some very cooperative red-breasted mergansers.

Female Black Scoter 2014

Female Black Scoter

Female Red-breasted Merganser 2014

Female Red-breasted Merganser

In addition to the great shorebirds and ducks at Fort de Soto, there were quite a few song birds available on the days I was over there.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Fort de Soto 2014

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Scarlet Tanager - Fort de Soto 2014

Scarlet Tanager

I was fortunate to visit the fox den that I photographed last year. The foxes weren’t as cooperative this year, but they did provide a few opportunities.

Red Fox Kits - Fox Den 2014

Red Fox Kits

Our annual beach vacation at Indian Rocks Beach provided an opportunity for a family portrait.

Family Portrait 2014

Family Portrait

The black skimmer colony provided some great opportunities as well. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of shooting these cute little chicks.

Black Skimmer Family 2014

Black Skimmer Family

Perhaps the most exciting outing I had in 2014 was the day that we rescued a swallow-tailed kite from certain drowning. You can read about the entire rescue here, but this particular image was my favorite out of all the ones I took that day.

Kayla's new best friend 2014

Kayla’s new best friend

In November we were able to get the family together to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. It was a fun weekend and I was so happy that my sister, her husband and both of my nephews were able to come down and celebrate this milestone.

Celebrating Dad's 80th Birthday 2014

Celebrating Dad’s 80th Birthday

Frequent readers of my blog will know that visits to the Viera Wetlands in 2014 have been very, very good to me. I can’t wait to see what 2015 will bring at the wetlands.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands 2014

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing - Viera Wetlands 2014

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands 2014

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

All told, I added 36 species to my life list for a total of 345. This year’s additions include:

Mute Swan
Black-necked Swan
Black Swan
Common Shelduck
Great-tailed Grackle
Abert’s Towhee
Curve-billed Thrasher
Verdin
Costa’s Hummingbird
Gambel’s Quail
Lesser Goldfinch
Juniper Titmouse
Greater Roadrunner
Phainopepla
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker
Cinnamon Teal
Lucy’s Warbler
Anna’s Hummingbird
Inca Dove
Hepatic Tanager
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Bridled Titmouse
Mexican Jay
Arizona Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Pyrrhuloxia
Canyon Towhee
Cactus Wren
Bay-breasted Warbler
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Yellow-throated Vireo
Black Phoebe
Common Goldeneye

2015 promises to be a great year as well as Faith and I are headed to Kauai soon to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I don’t know that I’ll add any life birds on this trip as we have been to this island before, but I certainly expect to bring back a photo or two from the trip.

Faith and I wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best in 2015. Thanks for following and reading my blog during the year. Your support and comments are greatly appreciated.

Posted in Florida Wildlife, Photography | 7 Comments

Viera Wetlands

Visits to the Viera Wetlands have been very productive for me over the last couple of years and my visit yesterday was no exception. I didn’t expect much in the way of spectacular sunrises since fog was expected. The fog rolled in about 45 minutes before sunrise which limited opportunities for the first couple of hours that I visited. But I still came away with some images worth sharing. Click the images to view larger.

While we have all heard of a rainbow, have you ever heard of a fog bow? It seems that when the fog is beginning to burn off, you can position yourself with the sun to your back and can usually spot a fog bow forming in the distance. There is no color in a fog bow because the water droplets are much smaller than the water droplets found in a rainbow. The physics are the same as a rainbow, but the smaller water droplet sizes make the colors more difficult to see. If you want to learn more, check out this Wikipedia article here.

Here is a panorama of the fog bow I took with my iPhone.

Fogbow - Viera Wetlands

Fogbow – Viera Wetlands

Upon arriving at the Viera Wetlands this time of year, I usually focus on photographing the nesting great blue herons against the rising sun. However, the presence of fog pretty much killed any sunrise. So when life hands you a lemon of a sunrise, you move on to another subject. And that subject would be a very cooperative peregrine falcon. The fog made for difficult shooting for a while, but it eventually cleared enough that I could get some beautiful images. This falcon was present in the Viera Wetlands last December and always seems to like this particular perch for sunrise.

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

There were several of us lined up photographing the falcon when she took off after her breakfast. I kept an eye on her as she flew around the wetlands and noticed that she was headed back to the same perch. I was fortunate enough to capture 2 frames of her approach back to her favorite perch.

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon - Viera Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon – Viera Wetlands

While watching the falcon and waiting for some excitement, Jess spotted a pair of american bitterns out in the open. These elusive birds are rarely out in the open, preferring to skulk in the reeds and vegetation while they hunt for their next meal. To find one out in the open is a wonderful opportunity. To find two out at the same place suggests it is time to go buy a lottery ticket. Unfortunately we didn’t see the second one until the first one flew off, so there are no photos of the two together.

American Bittern - Viera Wetlands

American Bittern – Viera Wetlands

Although the usual nesting sites for the great blue herons are somewhat quiet this year, there are other nests nearby that are active. While waiting for the peregrine to thrill us with some activity, we took advantage of a pair of herons that were busy building a home for the next generation. This will be a fun nest to photograph in the weeks to come once the eggs are laid and the chicks hatch.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

Of course after any substantial home makeover, the male is rewarded with a loving series of kisses.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

This is my favorite time of year at the Viera Wetlands and I’m looking forward to my next visit.

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Nature and a Super Galaxy at Viera Wetlands

Saturday was a beautiful day at the Viera Wetlands. Wildlife wasn’t overly abundant, but then again I only made two stops and focused on three primary subjects. The wetlands were open early and I was very happy because the sky was looking like it was going to produce a spectacular sunrise. I love getting to the Viera Wetlands well before sunrise this time of year in hopes of making some silhouette images of the nesting great blue herons against the sunrise as I did in my last visit to the Viera Wetlands. With the clouds and sun looking like they would cooperate for a nice background, I was optimistic that the herons would be active on the nest.

I hit a home run on the sunrise, but only hit a single on the herons. Literally. Click the images to view larger.

Heron Silhouette - Viera Wetlands

Heron Silhouette

Seems there was just 1 great blue heron on the nests this morning. That can be both good or bad depending on how you look at it. It’s good in the sense that if only 1 nest is active, you can focus your attention on that one nest and not miss much. However, if there is only 1 nest, the opportunities can be somewhat limited. As they were this morning. Seems that the only heron on the nest couldn’t attract a mate for some morning courtship. He/she would dutifully point for me, but no mate appeared at the nest before the light became too harsh. This really presented a problem for me. In the past I had setup the camera to get as much of the sunrise and the herons in focus as possible. To do that you need a small aperture and a longer shutter speed. But when I’ve been setup for those shots, that’s when the action happens and my shutter speed is too slow. So all my courtship silhouettes are blurry because the birds are moving too fast for the shutter speed. This day I setup the camera to have a fast shutter speed so that I could capture any action that came my way. But none did. Still, the sky provided a beautiful background.

Heron Silhouette - Viera Wetlands

Heron Silhouette

After the light got too harsh to work the great blue herons, it was time to turn my attention to a cooperative belted kingfisher. I wrote about her previously and she is still at the wetlands and still returning to a perch that is close enough to get some great images of this normally camera-shy bird. I finally got a shot very close to what I’m looking for. But even at 1/2000 shutter speed I still have wing blur. Looks like I’ll have to try again with a faster shutter speed in order to get the shot I want. But this one is almost there!

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing - Viera Wetlands

Belted Kingfisher sticks the landing

I also lucked out on a shot when she launches off the perch and dives into the water in search of breakfast. Its certainly no prize winning shot, but I thought it was a cool shot of her initial dive off the perch.

Takeoff  Viera Wetlands

Takeoff

After about 90 minutes with the belted kingfisher I moved down the road a bit in search of a new quarry. I found what I believe to be an early nest for a double-crested cormorant, so I decided to sit on that nest for a while and see what might come up. Before too long, a green heron flew towards me and landed on the other side of the road. As soon as he landed, another green heron popped up not far from the first one and began stalking it. I sensed that a territorial dispute was in the works, so I whipped the camera around, focused and started shooting. I got about 6 frames of the action and came away with 3 decent images that tells the story of the encounter. As you can see, the intruder was chased off quite quickly.

Green Heron Skirmish - Viera Wetlands

Green Heron Skirmish

Green Heron Skirmish - Viera Wetlands

Green Heron Skirmish

Green Heron Skirmish - Viera Wetlands

Green Heron Skirmish

I was happy that I had enough time to get setup for the action as these are opportunities that don’t come by all that often. The victor looked like he might be gloating just a bit as he settled down to begin fishing again.

The Victor! - Viera Wetlands

The Victor!

There was one other bird encounter worth noting that morning. We were able to witness a flyby of a USAF C5 Super Galaxy transport plane on its way into Patrick AFB. This baby is huge and while it was probably cruising by us at 300 MPH, it looked like it was stationary or barely moving in the sky. With a height of 65.1 feet, a length of 247.8 feet and a wingspan of 222.8 feet it can carry a payload of 285,000 pounds.

USAF C5 Super Galaxy - Viera Wetlands

USAF C5 Super Galaxy

I have always been fascinated by aircraft. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to photographing birds.

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A Visit to the Viera Wetlands

Recent opportunities to exercise my camera have been rare, but this past Saturday I was able to get out to the Viera Wetlands for a morning of photography. I love getting to the wetlands before dawn when the great blue herons are nesting. They provide some awesome silhouettes when the clouds and sun are just right. This particular morning was no exception. It seems that the herons are already quite interested in starting the next generation of little herons. Click the images to view larger.

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

As the sun got a little higher, the colors changed and one of the herons graced me with my favorite heron pose. The trees the herons nest in allow for both a silhouette image as shown above and below and a wonderful opportunity just minutes later from the other side of the nest as seen here. It’s no wonder I like the herons at Viera!!

Great Blue Heron - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Heron – Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons - Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Herons – Viera Wetlands

Once the sun got up, it quickly went behind the clouds and I changed my focus to a very cooperative belted kingfisher. There is a particular perch that she likes to visit that is fairly close for some great photos. Kingfishers are notorious for keeping their distance from any cameras, but this female seems not to have read that memo.

Belted Kingfisher - Viera Wetlands

Belted Kingfisher – Viera Wetlands

I took very few shots this morning, but I did enjoy the company of several of my friends who showed up throughout the morning to see what opportunities might be available. If the sun is behind the clouds, it’s great to have a bunch of friends shooting with you to pass the time. At one point there were 10 or more photographers lined up waiting for the kingfisher to return. Photography is a very expensive hobby and there was no less than $100,000 worth of equipment lined up on the berm waiting for one bird to make her appearance. I wish I had thought to sneak off to the side and snap a iPhone shot of all of us. Next time!

On my way out I came across a cooperative american bittern. These elusive heron-like birds are rarely out in the open, so when one presents itself in a somewhat unobstructed view, you have to take advantage of it!!

American Bittern - Viera Wetlands

American Bittern – Viera Wetlands

The holidays are a busy time of year and photography opportunities will continue to be sparse for me, but I’m already looking forward to my next outing to the Viera Wetlands!!

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Buried Treasure

Who wouldn’t like to find buried treasure? Think of all the things you could buy, or all the good you could do for others if you dug up some buried treasure in your backyard or at the beach. I recently found some buried treasure, and while I don’t expect it will translate into wealth, it may do good for others and put a smile on some faces.

Of course I’m talking about buried treasure of the photography kind. As my frequent readers know, I am woefully behind in processing images. The backlog currently stands at 9 months. The sad part of that is while the wildlife has taken a summer hiatus, and so has my camera, I haven’t made a serious effort to catch up. Sure, I’ve been busy. We upgraded our bathroom and we upgraded our landscaping, and there are a few more projects on the horizon. Plus I have been busy helping Faith with her fundraiser, and now that she’s in Italy, taking care of Hannah for a few weeks. So I really haven’t added to the backlog, but I haven’t cut it down significantly either.

There is actually a positive side to this, and that is where the buried treasure comes in. Usually when I get home from a shoot, I download my images, toss the obvious rejects, backup everything and then promptly get busy with something important…like lunch, or a nap. Before I know it, 9 months goes by and I haven’t looked at the images again. But the silver lining is that by letting the images sit and fade from my memory, the joy and excitement of finding images I really like is something to look forward to.

So I have come across a folder full of images from the Viera Wetlands last January when the great blue herons were busy nest building and mating. I took a ton of photos that day, and even stopped by a local preserve for some time with the Florida scrub jays. So here’s a few images from that outing I hope you like. Click the images to view larger.

The morning started off with a beautiful sunrise. In December and January, I try to get to Viera early enough to get some nice silhouettes of the great blue herons on their treetop nests.

Viera Sunrise - Buried Treasure

Viera Sunrise

After sunrise, a double-crested cormorant stopped by and spent some time preening near where I was standing.

Double-crested Cormorant - Buried Treasure

Double-crested Cormorant

As the sun began to rise, the great blue herons began getting busy. They were actively building and enhancing their nests, but I was more interested in photographing their courting rituals.

Great Blue Herons - Buried Treasure

Great Blue Herons

Their beaks eventually connected for a sweet kiss.

Great Blue Herons - Buried Treasure

Great Blue Herons

The female must have been receptive as moments later the future of the species was assured.

Starting a family - Buried Treasure

Starting a family

There wasn’t much more going on at the wetlands beyond the great blue herons, so I decided to stop at a local preserve to check in on the always friendly Florida scrub jays. The jays are friendly because of years of people bringing them peanuts to eat. As soon as you begin walking down the trail, they fly in looking for a handout. Scrub jays are a protected species and as such should not be fed peanuts. So even though I didn’t have any handouts for them, they still posed nicely for me. I didn’t stay long, but I did enjoy my visit.

Florida Scrub Jay - Buried Treasure

Florida Scrub Jay

I wonder what buried treasure waits for me in the next folder?

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Sunrise

After a 2 month hiatus, I stepped back behind the camera to do some sunrise photography at Orlando Wetlands Park this morning. Today was the first official day of winter here in Florida. That means that it was the first day that the morning temperature was below 70 degrees! It was a brisk 60 degrees this morning with clear blue skies. Terrible weather for sunrise photography, but oh so nice after having been living in a sauna for the last 5 months! Photography options were limited, and I’ll post more later with some of the wildlife we saw, but it was nice to get outdoors again and spark the creative juices. It was also nice to see several friends out there who obviously had the same idea about enjoying a picture perfect day.

By the way, whoever coined the phrase “picture perfect” to represent a bright blue sky with lots of sunshine obviously knew nothing about photography!

OK…where was I? Oh, yeah! The sunrise. Here’s my favorite from the morning. Click the image to view larger!

Sunrise at Orlando Wetlands Park

Sunrise at Orlando Wetlands Park

I also took my GoPro out with me and did a time-lapse of the sunrise. I still need to work on my GoPro videos to get them the way I want them, but I thought this came out OK.

owp sunrise 20141005 from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

I’m looking forward to more mornings like this!

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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 | 8 Comments