Thursday, January 17, 2019

Flying with an eagle

Our local pair of Bald Eagles share responsibility for incubating the eggs, the first of which was laid around December 9 or 10. The female usually sits on them overnight and takes turns with the male during the day.  On the morning of December 27 the male (Pride) took over incubation duties and his mate (Jewel) stretched her wings and circled overhead:

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 102-20181227

First one, and then a flock of Tree Swallows joined her. They did not attack or disturb her, but just floated around in circles with her:

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 104-20181227

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 108-20181227

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 107-20181227

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 105-20181227

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 106-20181227

Bald Eagle female Jewel in flight 103-20181227

One may ponder the reason for this behavior. The swallows are migrants from the north and they have no territory to defend. Did the swallows perceive a threat? If so, there was no sign of this, as they glided effortlessly with the large bird and rotated together, gaining altitude before departing. Perhaps heat from the pavement of the roadway created a local updraft, and all simply took advantage of it. For me, the uplifting beauty of nature was a sight to behold and enjoy. 

A Turkey Vulture also rode on the rising currents. Its wingspan is about 6 feet, about a foot less than that of the female eagle. Its tail is long but its neck is short. From a distance it may almost appears headless. Its silvery flight feathers contrast with the darker leading edge of the wing:

Turkey Vulture 20181227

Flocks of Black Vultures were also present. Smaller than Turkey Vultures, they look "front-heavy" with short tails and they extend their necks in flight.

Black Vulture 20190110

Black Vultures have whitish wingtips and relatively shorter wings (4.5 to 5.5 feet) and must flap often and strongly to gain altitude:

Black Vulture 20151231

Sometimes an immature Bald Eagle may join a flock of vultures. Turkey Vultures have an exceptionally keen sense of smell. Until the eagle becomes fully competent as a hunter, it will often feed on carrion. A meal of roadkill may be its last, as many are struck by motor vehicles. This is a juvenile (first year) bird, as evidenced by its dark bill and bulging secondary wing feathers. Its head and tail will turn almost completely white when it is about four years old:

Bald Eagle juvie 2nd year 2-20140105

A few times I have identified a Short-tailed Hawk flying with vultures. The association may allow the hawk to escape detection before it drops like a stone to catch an unwary bird:

Short-tailed Hawk dark morph 2-20131023

Short-tailed Hawk dark morph 20131023

Fish Crows often loaf in the vicinity of the eagle nest, which if left unguarded may provide a meal of leftover prey, or worse, an egg or nestling. They can be distinguished from hawks and vultures by the fact that they almost never soar, beating their wings constantly as if "rowing a boat:"

Fish Crow 02-20190107

Fish Crow 01-20190107

We have enjoyed deliciously cool and clear mornings out on our local wetlands. Still air sets up beautiful reflections. From our shadowed vantage point on the lakeside marsh, we watch as the sun, rising in a cloudless sky, touches the pine bank on the opposite shore:

Rising Sun touches Pine Bank20190110

Mottled Ducks bask in full morning light:

Mottled Ducks 20181230

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Crops & Clips: Vireos

The White-eyed Vireo is a permanent resident in south Florida, although the winter population is supplemented by migrants from the  eastern half of the US. I have heard it singing all year long, though the frequency and volume of its song is reduced during the winter months.

Although often shy and retiring, it is one of my favorite photographic subjects. Like all birds, it is incapable of changing its facial expressions, but it can assume some very interesting postures which seem to be communicating its thoughts.

Is it looking for a bug up there or wondering what I am doing here?

White-eyed Vireo 02-20181109

Is it angry?

White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) cropped 20120112


White-eyed Vireo 02-20171122


White-eyed Vireo 5-20111024

Or simply exuberant?

White-eyed Vireo 20160121

Vireos are small and rather inconspicuous birds, mostly native to the New World, with most species concentrated in Central America and northern South America.  They eat insects and also fruit, especially during winter. About a dozen vireo species inhabit the US. Most are brown or greenish, and some show yellow tints. A vireo's bill is more stout than that of warblers and its upper mandible is slightly hooked.

A common visitor during migration is the Red-eyed Vireo:

Red-eyed Vireo 04-20181012

It is a common breeding bird in Canada and much of northern and eastern US. While it does nest down into Florida we do not find it breeding in the southern tip of the peninsula. Thus we wait for migration to hear them as they pass through and rarely stay for the winter. Most continue on to spend the winter in northern South America. They sing persistently up north, but we can hear their distinctive repetitive but varied 2-3 note slurred song during spring migration.

The Red-eyed Vireo is larger, about an inch longer (6 inches) than the White-eyed species. It can be very hard to find as it stalks among the leaves in search of insects:

Red-eyed Vireo 2-20140827

The light must be right to catch the red in its eyes:

Red-eyed Vireo 20130919

Red-eyed Vireo 2-20100922

The plumage of the Black-whiskered Vireo is similar to that of the Red-eyed Vireo, but it sports its namesake "whiskers." It inhabits coastal mangroves in south Florida, but I was lucky to see it once in our local wetlands, 18 miles inland:

Black-whiskered Vireo 3-20110420

Black-whiskered Vireo 20110420

Another winter visitor which has been numerous this week is the Blue-headed Vireo. Its white "spectacles" contrast strikingly with its dark blue head:

Blue-headed Vireo 04-20181225

Blue-headed Vireo 02-20181225

An unusual migrant visited us for four winters between 2009 and 2017. Bell's Vireo is about a half inch smaller than the White-eyed Vireo which often accompanied it. This species breeds to the west, in central and southwestern US. Normally, it migrates through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to its wintering grounds on the Pacific coast of Mexico.  Over the years a few vagrants have wintered in Florida. There were only 24 Florida records between 1947-1976, less than once a year! 

Bell's Vireo is rather plain, and easily overlooked:

Bell's Vireo 2-20151222

Bell's Vireo 3-20151031

On of my most recent "first seen" birds in our local wetlands was this colorful Yellow-throated Vireo:

Yellow-throated Vireo 02-20181123

The Warbling Vireo has been present several times, but my best photos of it were those I took in Illinois, such as this one:

Warbling Vireo 3-20100818

The Philadelphia Vireo is another unusual visitor to south Florida, but i did photograph it here on two occasions. Its voice is very similar to that of the Red-eyed Vireo. It usually migrates from its Canadian breeding grounds to Central America by way of the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It is quite colorful:

Philadelphis Vireo 01-20151019

While I have seen other vireo species elsewhere, this covers all my Florida sightings. This week was not all about vireos. An Agapostemon Sweat Bee visited the flowers of Bidens alba:

Agapostemon Sweat Bee 20190104

Venus, the Moon and Jupiter were aligned as we walked out 45 minutes before sunrise on January 3. I even saw Mercury closer to the horizon, the first time in my life!

Venus Moon Jupiter aligned 20190102

Images of a very old Moon just before it disappeared into the sunrise on January 4th:

Very old moon 062711 AM 20190104

A Tricolored Heron danced with its reflection:

Tricolored Heron 01-20190101

Common Grackles congregated along a neighbor's fence:

Common Grackles 20181225

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

 Linking to Fences Around the World by Gosia


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


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Crops & Clips: Flashback to January, 2016

Once again, I am looking through the retrospectoscope and refreshing my memories of walks in the Wounded Woodlands three years ago. We will review photos which depict favorite memes: birds, butterflies and critters of all kinds, fences, skies and reflections, as well as scenes which speak for themselves. It was an eventful month, as I processed 975 photos. There was also concern about the welfare of our local Bald Eagles.

We celebrated the return of one of my favorite winter resident birds, the American Kestrel. Most years we have hosted three of these small falcons which defended separate foraging territories in our local patch:

American Kestrel perched on a top shoot of a Royal Palm:

American Kestrel 20160109

On January 3rd there was heavy overcast and a brisk cool (68 F, 20 C) wind from the north. It started to look like rain, so at around 7:15 AM I turned around to go home, when I saw a Bobcat at the side of the gravel road. It was about 80-100 yards away and conditions were so dark that my photos were very poor. It ran away just as I began to walk a bit closer:

Bobcat COREL 20160103

As a sort of excuse for such a crummy photo I reproduced it as an aged Daguerrotype:

Bobcat1 Daguerrotype 20160103

We had several very foggy mornings. While they may interfere with wildlife-watching, they can present some nice photo opportunities. The rising sun pierced through the lakeside gloom on January 9...

Sunrise HDR 20160109

...and then the fog lifted up off the Pine Bank:

Fog lifting over pine bank HDR 20160109

The Brown Thrasher tends to be reclusive, so it is a treat to have one come out and pose in the open:

Brown Thrasher 20160107

In a neighbor's back yard, a Great Blue Heron had captured a creature which initially looked like a snake:

Great Blue Heron with Amphiuma 03-20160108

Closer inspection of the photo revealed it to be an Amphiuma, a legless salamander:

Great Blue Heron with Amphiuma 04-20160108

White-eyed Vireos had already resumed singing in the dead of winter, after taking a break in late fall (January 21):

White-eyed Vireo 3-20160121

As if not to be outdone by the vireo, a female Northern Flicker flashed her gilded tail feathers to a prospective suitor in what appears to be an amorous display, on January 25:

Northern Flickers male and female display 20160125

Palm Warblers were abundant all winter on residential lawns. Some locals call them "Florida sparrows:"

Palm Warbler HDR 20160125

A Great Egret and White Ibis foraged along the shore of the lake:

Great Egret and White Ibis 20160126

A female Painted Bunting blended into background foliage:

 Painted Bunting 20160126

The male Painted Bunting was more visible in this poor photo:

Painted Bunting male 2-20160130

There was cause for great anxiety about the local Bald Eagles. You may recall that the female of the pair (Joy) disappeared in October, 2014, just before the prior nesting season. The male (Pride) chose a new mate but they got together too late in the season and no brood was produced.

The new female  (Jewel) laid her first egg around December 13, 2015. It was expected to hatch on or about January 17, 2016, but early on that very morning we had severe thunderstorms which produced high winds and even tornadoes not far from the nest. The weather disturbance was widespread and destroyed several Bald Eagle nests around the state of Florida.

Later that day we discovered that a large branch had fallen directly on the nest. We could see the female eagle. She appeared to be incubating on the nest, almost hidden by the fallen branch:

Bald Eagle female after storm 20160117

On January 19, I photographed the male (Pride) feeding at least one hidden eaglet:

 Bald Eagle male feeding nestling 20160119

Although some observers thought that one or more nestling was being fed as late as January 24, no eaglets were ever seen and we presume any survivor of the storm was lost. Yet the pair continued to visit the nest and made some repairs on January 23:

Bald Eagle at nest 04-20160123

For the next several days the nest was not continuously attended, but the pair renewed courtship and copulated on January 26:

BaldEagle Pride flies to Jewel 2-20160129

BaldEagle Pride mounts Jewel 2-20160129 

Jewel laid a second clutch of eggs around February 10 and hatched out two  eaglets on March 16th. One eaglet survived and  fledged successfully in June. The pair roosted together on January 29 (note the size difference-- the female is on the right):

Bald Eagles Powershot SX700 HS 30x plus 1.3 digital 20160129

Butterflies and blossoms were less abundant during January, but the Lantana bloomed in mid-month...

Lantana flowers 20160113 did a flush of Bidens alba, another favorite source of nectar and pollen, here hosting a White Peacock:

White Peacock fresh 20160109

The month provided me with a record number of beautiful sunrise photo opportunities. This is the view on January 28, looking to the west just as the rising sun touched the Pine Bank across the lake. The clouds appeared to form a crown over the treetops:

Cloud crown 980x400 20160126

Reflections on the flooded prairie on the last day of the month:

Reflections in flooded prairie HDR 20160131

In an attempt to improve on nature, I rendered this photo of a January 17 back yard sunrise as an old canvas painting:

Sunrise HDR OLD CANVAS 20160117

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

 Linking to Fences Around the World by Gosia


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