Thursday, April 28, 2016

Crops & Clips: Parting shots from Florida

Fog over the wet prairie on the morning of April 13:

Fog over wet prairie HDR 20160413

Before we departed Florida for our second home in Illinois, we were pleased to see receding water levels in our local wetlands. High water dilutes the prey upon which both sight feeders (such as herons and egrets) and tactile feeders (storks and ibises) depend. There have been widespread nesting failures of these species this season, as they do not breed if food is scarce. 

Conversely, low water also discourages breeding because the birds benefit if their nest trees are in standing water. This deters terrestrial predators and encourages alligators which not only protect the nests but are rewarded when young birds fall into the water. Optimal breeding time usually begins around November and finishes before spring rains once again flood the wetlands.

An old cypress stump, which I call the "Enchanted Island," provides a convenient gauge of the depth of the water near the shore of the lake in our birding patch. By late winter it normally would be sitting on a mud flat.

In March, 2015 the water level was a bit above average because of late winter rains:

Red-winged Blackbird reflection 2-20150301

An unusually dry summer followed, and it was high and dry by July, 2015:

Enchanted Island stump landlocked 20150724

Then the record-setting winter rains came, and by December, 2015, only the top of its spire appeared above about 3 feet of water:

Enchanted Island at high water 20151207

Here it was on April 12, 2016:

Red-winged Blackbird on Enchanted Island 20160412

The newly created shallows now have attracted waders, including several Black-necked Stilts: 

Black-necked Stilts 3-20160411

One arrived early on April 12. I first saw it during the "blue hour" before sunrise. My photo was very dark, so I nudged it to life by overlaying a series of lighter exposures from the original RAW image::

Black-necked Stilt before sunrise HDR  20160412

A bit later, while the sun was still low, a flock of five stilts foraged in the shallows:

Black-necked Stilts 3-20160412

Black-necked Stilts 6-20160412

Black-necked Stilts 5-20160412

The eggs in a Green Heron nest, which I had been observing for about two weeks, began hatching during my last couple of days in Florida. At first (on April 13) I saw four chicks and one unhatched egg. In this photo the parent is feeding them regurgitated fish particles. The egg is a beautiful blue color:

Green Heron 17-5 with hatchlings HDR 05-20160413

The next day I counted five hatchlings:

Green Heron with nestlings HDR 06- 20160414

Green Heron feeding nestlings HDR  05- 20160414

The nest is in plain sight over the water of a canal in the bare branches of an herbicide-treated tree and is exposed to the elements and predators. About 6 feet away and deeper amid the dead branches, a second pair was tending a nest still containing eggs. I am anxious about their safety. 

Migrating warblers, including this acrobatic Black-and-White Warbler, started arriving just before our departure:

Black-and-White Warbler 04-20160414

Black-and-White Warbler 08-20160414

Black-and-White Warbler 06-20160414

Other notable sightings provided nice "parting shots," including a Tricolored Heron in dawn's glow

Tricolored Heron HDR 2-20160411

The first Caspian Tern of the season flew over the lake:

Caspian Tern 20160410

Least Terns also appeared on the lake, a sure sign that spring had arrived:

Least Tern 04-20160408

A flock of migrating Blue-winged Teal flew along the opposite shore (click on photo for enlarged view):

Blue-winged Teal header 20160410

A pair of Mottled Ducks exercised their wings:

Mottled Ducks HDR 3-20160412

Sightings of the mammalian kind included these White-tailed Deer. The buck's antlers were in very early velvet stage, and one of the does appeared to be pregnant:

White-tailed Deer 3-20160412

I got quite a fright very early one morning as I nosed through some brush to get a photo of the wet prairie. Suddenly I saw a large black creature not too far away. It was too dark for me to photograph or even make out its shape so I watched for a while as it moved slowly along the edge of the high grass. 

Then I remembered that decreasing the exposure compensation permitted the camera to focus better in the dark. The prolonged exposure time also caused a blurred photo as I was not using a tripod, but it was good enough for me to recognize the creature as a large wild pig-- the first I have seen here over the ten years I have been walking the patch [This photo was taken a few minutes later, at Exposure Compensation Minus 1, ISO 3200  at 1/25 second]:

EC Minus 1 ISO 3200 Tv 1 25th sec

Looking for a fence picture for Tex's Good Fences meme, I found this one, of the lighthouse on the point at Sanibel Island on the Florida Gulf Coast. This was taken just after Easter, when we spent a few delightful days there with our Illinois granddaughters and family. It is processed as an antique oil painting:

Lighthouse Point Sanibel OLD OIL 20160329

GOOD NEWS! IMPORTANT UPDATE to my April 14 post "Bald Eagles hatch second brood-- BUT...

Remarkably, one observer provided a photo of two eaglets on the nest five days after another photographer witnessed (on April 11) what she interpreted as the smaller/younger of the two being killed. She saw and documented a struggle between both siblings. Her photo clearly showed what appeared to be the lifeless form of the smaller one sprawled over the rim of the nest. Here is a link to her photo:  

The subsequent observer wrote: "At 09:15 today [April 16] I saw and photographed both eaglets. They were both alive, and moving throughout the nest and doing well. Mom was also in the nest..." His photo showing the two may be viewed here at this link.

At first I wondered whether the "dead" eaglet may have been a third and even younger nestling, but what I now think that this represented a defensive instinct which protected the weaker sibling from further attack. 

I have seen this kind of behavior in small birds when a hawk suddenly appears. Usually the birds scatter into protective shrubbery and remain perfectly still. If surprised out in the open they may "freeze" in place as long as the threat is present. 

As a kid I often helped my grandfather catch chickens which roamed in our adjacent backyards. If I cornered one by extending my hands in front of it (almost like a hawk swooping down) it would suddenly become motionless, crouching low. I could pick it up and even turn it on its back without it trying to escape.  See "How to Hypnotize a Chicken" in the The Old Farmer's Almanac at this LINK.

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

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


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


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Crops & Clips: Roseate Spoonbill

Before leaving for our walk, I stepped out into the darkness of our back patio to capture the pre-dawn sky. Neighbors' homes (and their fences, if you look closely) cast reflections on the surface of the lake:

Sunrise Monaco Lake HDR 20160408

Out in the wetlands just before sunrise, a Great Blue Heron was mirrored on the undisturbed surface of the lake:

Great Blue Heron before sunrise 2-20160408

It was a great morning to find a Roseate Spoonbill!

 View to North HDR  20160407

These magnificent birds rarely visit our local wetlands. I saw two at a great distance and the next day one of them showed up in a small pool of water which had been cut off from the lake as water levels receded. As the pool diminished in size it concentrated fish and other marine organisms, a protein-rich "soup" for waders. There was barely room for the foraging herons, ibises and a yellowlegs which joined the spoonbill.

The spoonbill surprised me as it emerged from behind some vegetation. A Greater Yellowlegs waded alongside it:

Roseate Spoonbill HDR 20160410

Like the spoonbill, the immature White Ibis next to it is also a tactile feeder, clamping down on any organism which touch its sensitive bill. The spoonbill sweeps the water in hopes of encountering its prey, while the ibis keeps its bill partially open as it walks along:

Roseate Spoonbill HDR 08-20160410

Two Snowy Egrets hunt next to the spoonbill. Sight feeders, the egrets probably benefit when the spoonbill and ibis stir up the fish and frighten them out into the open:

Roseate Spoonbill HDR 07-20160410

Roseate Spoonbill HDR 02-20160410

Roseate Spoonbills are a favorite subject. This one visited our birding patch in December, 2012:

Roseate Spoonbill in flight 3-20121205

Roseate Spoonbill 3-20121205

A large flock was present at a Stormwater Treatment Area (STA-5) in Hendry County in February, 2015:

Roseate Spoonbills 2-20150228

Roseate Spoonbill 3-20100215

This was my first photo of a spoonbill, back in 2009, soon after I purchased my Canon 30D:

Spoonbill in Flight 20091227

Several Wood Storks flew over, a welcome sight which meant that water levels are once again favorable for their feeding habits:

Wood Stork before sunrise HDR 20160414
This stork had foraged in the same pool only days earlier:

Wood Stork HDR 04-20160405

The spoonbills' first visit to our neighborhood provided a nice opportunity to record their feeding habits in a video. (I thought I had lost my New Jersey accent after all these years!)

If the video fails to load, please click THIS LINK

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

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


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


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bald Eagles hatch second brood-- BUT...

Sunrise over the entrance to our local wetlands:

Sunrise at gate HDR 20160407

The rainy "dry season" has been followed by more typical Spring weather. Morning clouds carry a promise of even more rain:

Looking west before sunrise HDR 20160407

As related in this earlier post, Bald Eagles trying for a family again, our local Bald Eagles failed to breed last season during the winter of 2014-2015. The new female of the pair was young and inexperienced and never seemed to exhibit a brooding instinct.

Bald Eagles usually breed only once in a season, as the rearing and training of an eaglet takes about 4 to 5 months after the egg is laid until it gains independence. Second broods occasionally occur if a nest or eggs are destroyed early during incubation, and rarely after the loss of eaglets. 

However, this year, because of unusually severe weather during January and February, 2016, several pairs of Florida's eagles have produced second broods. Our local pair hatched out at least one eaglet but it was probably injured and lost by January 20. 

This season, Jewel, the female of the pair, laid her first egg on or about December 13, 2015. This egg was expected to hatch in 5 weeks, around January 17. Unfortunately, several severe thunderstorms with winds up to 80 MPH roared through in January, depositing broken branches over the right half of the nest. Since the nest tree is a very limber Australian Pine, the wind surely whipped it about severely. This photo shows damage to nest on the afternoon after the January 17 storm. Adults kept sitting on the nest and tried to move the fallen branches:

Bald Eagle female after storm 20160117

On January 19 there was clear photographic evidence that at least one eaglet had survived the storm and was being fed by Pride, but this was the last sign of life in the nest:

Bald Eagle male feeding nestling 7-20160119

Presumably the newly hatched eaglet sustained injuries which proved fatal, and any other eaglets or eggs were lost. The pair of eagles never abandoned the nest area and the male spent much time sitting in it after the loss of the brood. Then, on January 29 I saw Pride attempting to mate with Jewel:

BaldEagle Pride flies to Jewel 2-20160129

BaldEagle Pride mounts Jewel 3-20160129

In mid-February the eagle watchers reported that an adult was persistently sitting deep in the nest, suggesting the possibility that a second clutch of eggs had been deposited. Then, on February 16, another swarm of severe storms swept through, depositing a second and much larger branch on the left side of the nest. Look closely at this photo and see that an adult continued to sit deep despite the new damage: 

Bald Eagle on nest post storm 3-20160216

The eagles stayed on the nest and we feared that the male may have been sitting on one or more infertile eggs, but then both of the pair appeared to be incubating and our hopes were renewed. On March 16 both eagles were seen peering into the nest. They often do this when the first eaglet hatches.  

On March 17 we received photographic evidence of at least one eaglet in the nest. I took this photo of them feeding a new offspring on March 24th:

Bald Eagle feeding 02-20160324

Bald Eagle feeding 04-20160324

There were actually TWO eaglets seen in the nest by April 2. One eaglet was more active and aggressive:

Bald Eagle eaglet HDR  2-20160402

The other was smaller and had more natal down:

Bald Eagle eaglet HDR20160402

The older of the two appeared to be about 2 1/2 weeks old, suggesting it may have hatched on or about March 16. This meant that incubation of the second clutch of eggs began 5 weeks previously, around February 10, just before the second storm blew the other branch down over the nest. They have survived so far despite the adversity.

Here they were on April 7:

Bald Eagle 2 eaglets 2-20160407

Pride was guarding the nest and flew down to check on the eaglets:

Bald Eagle male Pride in flight 20160410

As we watched the nest, a family of Raccoons decided to cross the busy highway. We held our breath but they seemed wise enough to wait for a gap in the stream of vehicles:

Raccoon family crossing Pines 20160402

One youngster (almost fully grown) was reluctant and lingrered behind. 

Raccoon straggler crossing Pines 20160402

After a couple of false starts, it scooted across safely, just ahead of the traffic: 

Raccoon straggler crossing Pines 2-20160402

As I was ready to publish this, I had to add the big "BUT" to the title... 

I posted this photo in my Bald Eagle Nest Watch FORUM on April 10, showing the older of the two eaglets. I was concerned because its aggressive behavior towards its nest-mate was quite obvious. I assumed that the younger chick was hiding but asked others to look for it and keep tabs on its welfare:

 Bald Eagle - one eaglet in nest 3-20160410

My concerns were justified the very next day, when one of the watchers actually saw and photographed the eaglet being attacked and killed by its sibling. Here is a link to her report of the horrific event. Scroll down to Kathy's post:  One eaglet seen in nest -- other has been killed     

In the event that you cannot bear watching this, here was my response:

!t is very sad to learn that the older and more aggressive eaglet killed the younger one. I feared it was being cowed into laying low or even already injured by the older one when I posted my message. Siblicide is one of the eagles' keys to success, as it gives the surviving eaglet a much better chance of becoming an adult.

As you may know, the first eaglet is more likely to be a female than a male, and she is larger than the male at all ages.  The second is more likely a male, so there is a 1:1 sex balance. The first-hatched, if a female, is more likely to kill a second female, perhaps because it eliminates a competitor while she is still small and weak.  A female and male sequence is the most successful combination for survival, maybe because the male learns his place in the hierarchy and does not challenge the female. This also assures a balance between the number of males and females as adults. If the first-hatched is a male the entire brood has less chance of surviving than if the first is a female.

Since south Florida eagles developed an instinct to breed much earlier than those up north, there were inherent advantages-- less heat stress on the eaglets and better prey availability when they are growing fastest in February and March. Let's hope that Pride and Jewel can provide for the single eaglet and see her fledge successfully sometime in late summer. 

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

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


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