Thursday, November 26, 2015

Out before the birds on the local wetlands

Mary Lou and I try to get out each morning about three-quarters to a half hour before sunrise, when the skies are clear and the air is often cool and still.

With the approach of winter, the period of twilight lengthens as the southward path of the rising sun rolls along just beneath the eastern horizon. On the first day of summer the Sun rises more directly and the sky takes less time to lighten up. This phenomenon is much more apparent nearer the Equator, where the "Dawn comes up like thunder," quickly turning from dark to light.

On November 6 our walk was cut short by the threat of rain. Just before sunrise, the eastern horizon appeard to be on fire ("Red in the morning, sailors take warning"):

Sunrise HDR 20151106

On the way in it is usually too dark for photography, but on another morning I tried anyway as a Tricolored Heron flew past before sunrise...

Tricolored Heron 20151109 did an Osprey:

Osprey 20151109

Later in the day, a Loggerhead Shrike stood guard atop a Pond Cypress...

Loggerhead Shrike on cypress 20151109

...and an American Kestrel perched on a leaf shoot from a Royal Palm :

American Kestrel on Royal Palm shoot 2-20151109

At what remained of the once-thriving heron rookery, the only occupants were a female Yellow-crowned Night-Heron...

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron dirty crown 3-20151108

...and a Black-crowned Night-Heron:

Black-crowned Night-Heron 20151108

Visitors from the north, two Eastern Phoebes shared the top of another cypress:

Eastern Phoebes 20151108

A Gulf Fritillary extracted nectar from a Lantana flower:

Gulf Fritillary 20151104

The fruits of Lantana attract buntings. A male and female Painted Bunting suddenly flew to a nearby perch:

Painted Bunting pair 1-20151102

I love to observe and photograph this species away from artificial feeders. The males are usually shy and retiring, so this was a lucky series of shots:

Painted Bunting pair 2-20151102

Painted Bunting 2-20151102

A female Painted Bunting perched on a tall grass stem:

Painted Bunting 3-201051105

An Ovenbird flew in but did not provide me with a clear view:

Ovenbird 3-20151103

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird foraged in a Ligustrum bush. I could not see it in the viewfinder but clicked the shutter blindly several times. It happened to appear in one photo:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 20151105

Black-throated Green Warblers foraged in the Live Oaks:

Black-throated Green Warbler 20151103

Black-throated Green Warbler 5-20151103

They are very active, flitting among the branches in search of caterpillars:

Black-throated Green Warbler in flight 20151103

These flowers were tiny, less than 1/2 inch wide. I got this shot with my Canon PowerShot SX700 HS in macro mode, hand held. Image stabilization is amazing. It is just a "weed" (Largeflower Mexican Clover -- Richardia grandiflora), but close up it looks like a magnificent bouquet.

Tiny pink flowers 20151109

On November 9 the clouds moved in a bit later in the morning:

Cumulus cloud HDR 20151109

We kept a wary eye on the storm as we walked back towards home:

Clouds to east HDR 20151109

At the gate, the Ixora blossoms attracted butterflies:

Monaco Cove entry HDR 20151106

Among them, a tiny Tropical Checkered-skipper with a wingspan of less than an inch:

Tropical Checkered-Skipper 20151006

Fog lifting on opposite shore:

Fog lifting over opposite shore HDR 20151113

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display


Thursday, November 19, 2015

They're not just "bird" walks

To an outsider, our daily walks out into the wounded wetlands near our home must appear rather routine and uninteresting. What more can be seen after the first few times walking into that mosquito-infested place?

A Great Blue Heron is visible through the lakeside reeds:

Great Blue Heron 20151027

Buttermilk clouds crowd the sky:

Buttermilk Sky HDR 20151027

The lake overflows into the prairie:

Wet prairie HDR 20151027

In truth, depending upon the season, we see a predictable group of birds. Many are probably the same individuals who watch us in turn. Yet we greet each day with anticipation-- not simply to see a new bird or beast or bug, but to feel the joy of being outside and open to new discoveries. We greet the changes of season which bring with them new bird species, but day to day can also bring surprises. It's not just about birds or the occasional wild mammal we encounter. For example, over the past eleven years I have seen a particular butterfly species only three times out in our patch.

A Giant Swallowtail suddenly reappeared on the first day of November. Wings never stopped beating, it visited the Lantana flowers so briefly that I could barely keep it in the viewfinder of my camera. It stayed in one place for no longer than a second or two, wings constantly aflutter as it swiftly thrust its proboscis into the calyx of each flower. I chased it for about 10 minutes before it decided to spend a bit more time on a particular plant that was rich with blossoms:

Giant Swallowtail original  20151101

Giant Swallowtail 2-20151101

Common subjects provide sudden unexpected flashes of beauty, such as the gilded flight feathers of this Northern Flicker...

Northern Flicker female in flight 20152027

...a Blue Jay enjoying a bounty of acorns...

Blue Jay heaven 20151026

...a Gray Squirrel sharing the feast...

Gray Squirrel 2-20151025

...the uneasy thrill of discovering that a Bobcat is watching me silently from only 30 yards...

Bobcat HDR 01-20151020

...the placid beauty of a White-winged Dove bathed in shade...

White-winged Dove 2-20151017

...the unusual arrival of a Philadelphia Vireo, the first I have ever seen on this patch (October 18, 2015):

Philadelphia Vireo 01-20151018

Remarkably, I have seen and photographed a Bell's Vireo during three fall seasons, in October of 2009 and 2012, and again this October, 2015. Breeding in Central USA, it normally migrates to Mexico via west Texas and rarely wanders into Florida, where it has been reported in Florida an average of only once every fall. It lingered here over a two week period in late October--

October 15, 2015:

Bell's Vireo SOOC crop 04-20151015

October 31, 2015 (check out those bright blue legs!):

Bell's Vireo 5-20151031

Bell's Vireo 3-20151031

No, it is not only about birds. A fish sends ripples over the lake in the still of morning, breaking up the sky's reflection:

Ripples HDR  20151031

A Long-tailed Skipper rests on a leaf:

Long-tailed Skipper 20151027

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Water levels are high and the storks are gone

Water levels strongly influence the number and species of wading birds that we see on the lake in our local wetlands. Florida's breeding birds have evolved life cycles that adapt to seasonal changes in the availability of food, which in turn is tied to water levels in the historic Everglades.

An anvil head looms over the Everglades, August 17, 2015:

Anvil shadow2 HDR 20150817

Our local wetlands are not directly connected to the adjacent Everglades preserve and are fed by seepage of ground water and storm water from local rainfall. Yet their cycle of water levels roughly parallels that of the  Everglades. This year the wet season has persisted into early November, in what the weather forecasters call a "spring pattern" of almost daily rain showers and thunderstorms. An old cypress stump in the lake which I call the "Enchanted Island" serves as a convenient water gauge.

A Red-winged Blackbird casts a reflection as it perches on the "Enchanted Island," March 1, 2015:

Red-winged Blackbird reflection 2-20150301

Water levels fell and rainfall was sparse into early summer. Only half the normal amount of rain fell from January through June. The Enchanted Island stump was landlocked, July 24, 2015:

Enchanted Island stump landlocked 20150724

As the lake receded it left isolated pools along the shoreline, trapping fish, to the delight of the herons (July 27, 2015):

Cloud at tree bank HDR 20150727

Heavy rains beginning in mid-summer brought the lake to its highest level. On October 26, 2015 only the tip of "Enchanted Island is visible.

Enchanted Island high water 20151026

The summer wet season normally peaks in August and September, often bringing floods, especially when the normal rainfall is augmented by hurricanes and tropical storm systems. While average annual rainfall is about 52 inches (133 cm) , summer rainfall averages 34-35 inches (88 cm)  and has varied greatly from 23.4 to 53.5 inches (59-136 cm) in years between between 1918 and 1985. The dry season (which peaks between December and February) averaged 17-18 inches (44 cm) with annual extremes between  7.3 and 30.9 inches (19-78 cm).

During the winter (dry) season in Florida the crescent moon is illuminated from the bottom, giving it a "U" shape. Legend has it that the cup-shaped moon is trapping the rain water and preventing it from reaching the ground (November 5, 2015):

Moon 20151105

Two general groups of long-legged waders are affected somewhat differently by the changes in water levels: the herons and egrets, which hunt by sight, and the ibises and storks, which are tactile feeders.

Normally, with the approach of the dry season, water levels diminish. If there has been a bountiful wet season, prey items then become concentrated, which is good for both groups of waders. Tactile feeders especially benefit from relatively shallow water as prey must wander into their waiting jaws. However, with drought the wet prairies may dry up completely, confining the water to creeks or channels (sloughs or "slews") where sight feeders have a competitive advantage. Drainage and development of vast portions of the Everglades have reduced the amount of prairie land and channeled the water into deep ditches and canals, further reducing the foraging areas of tactile feeders.

The best time for all of these birds to breed is around November, just as prey is becoming easier to find and standing water helps protect their nesting colonies from terrestrial predators. Ideally, the water will still be low and prey plentiful when nestlings have their greatest need for food.

Herons have forward-facing binocular vision, as demonstrated by this displaying Yellow-crowned Night-Heron:

 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron display 05-20140224

Herons, like this Snowy Egret, are also able to compensate for the shifting of the image of a fish caused by refraction at the surface of the water:

Snowy Egret-12 HDR 20150817

Water that is about 7-9 inches deep is ideal for this tactile feeder, as it allows the Wood Stork to keep its eyes above the surface to watch for predators as it feeds:

Wood Stork 2-20140225

The White Ibis is an adaptable tactile feeder, probing for crustaceans in the mud and even for lizards, worms and other insects in grass turf:

White Ibis 20140411

The Whooping Crane (a captive-bred wandering migrant from Wisconsin) captures prey by sight:

Whooping Crane 12-15 at 0839AM  20130207

Ibises generally forage near their nests and may move their breeding colonies to take advantage of local conditions. Wood Storks forage more widely and tend to use permanent colonies. They may delay breeding until water levels fall to an acceptable level, sometimes into February or March. This introduces the danger that offspring may starve if the wet season begins early. In many years the storks may not breed at all (as has happened because of the erratic weather over the past several years), or the parents may need to fly so far to find food that their chicks are left unguarded or starve.   

Only ten years ago, Wood Stork colonies in south Florida included hundreds and even thousands of individuals. Sadly, Wood Storks have now abandoned their historic breeding grounds because of the combination of the effects of a changing climate and human disturbance of their habitat. They now populate new colonies to the north, in Louisiana and up to North Carolina. Families of storks commonly visited our lake in late winter or early spring, following breeding season. I have seen none on our lake since February 2, 2015.

Six Wood Storks, representing two families, each with a single offspring, made a memorable visit to our back yard lake on January 23, 2012 and perched on a fence on the oopposite shore. The immature bird in this family portrait is the one on the left. Note its pale bill and legs and that unlike its parents, its head is not yet bald:
 Wood Storks 2-20121023
 A Macro view of an adult stork:

 Wood Stork close 20120928

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display