Thursday, April 30, 2020

Barn Owl and Coyote howl on morning prowl

About two years ago we started taking our morning walks about an hour before sunrise. We were always out "early," meaning after the sky began brightening up. Since I like photographing the setting Full Moon, we occasionally got out when it was very dark. After we became full-time (summer) Florida residents it became a habit. 

During the summer we escaped the heat of the sun and came to enjoy trekking out with flashlights and listening to the sounds of the night. We heard the calls of Eastern Screech-Owls and experienced the pre-dawn songbird chorus.

On April 8 I heard the eerie scream of a Barn Owl. It was high in a Royal Palm next to the gravel road which leads into the wetlands.  It was 6:20 AM, about 45 minutes before sunrise.  I could only see it using my flashlight. It was so dark that my camera would not click, even though I manually cranked the ISO up to 16,000. 

I had to hold my flashlight beam on the owl to permit the camera to focus, and the photos turned out to be very soft, with "red eye" which I corrected during processing:

Barn Owl 02-20200408

Barn Owl 03-20200408

Years ago, when I first heard heard its unfamiliar scream I thought it was a mammal, perhaps a Bobcat. This time, the Barn Owl called unexpectedly while I was recording the song of a Chuck-wills-widow. 

AUDIO FILE-- Chuck-wills-widow and Barn Owl

This was my tenth, but by far the best local sighting of (or hearing) a Barn Owl since first discovering one in 2015. I found a wing feather in 2018 in the same general location:

Barn Owl wing feather 20181009

The owl first called from on or very near the top of the trunk of this dead Royal Palm. It could be a nesting or resting place, so I am checking it carefully:

Royal Palm dead top 20200410

On March 25 I heard several Coyotes barking and wailing along the Big Levee Trail. By the time I reached the spot they had departed, but a treed Raccoon may have been their intended prey:

Raccoon 01-20200325

Raccoon 02-20200325

Nearby Chapel Trail Nature Preserve has since closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but my last visit there started with a peaceful stroll along the boardwalk, which starts out through a wooded area:

Chapel Trail boardwalk 01-20200314

Among the birds and butterflies at Chapel Trail, a Blue-headed Vireo was a cooperative subject:

Blue-headed Vireo 02-20200314

A Black-and-White Warbler foraged along the trunks and larger branches:

Black-and-White Warbler 2-20200314

Cattle Egrets walked along with a Longhorn cow and bull in the adjacent pasture:

Cattle Egrets with cow and bull 20200314

A Prairie Warbler flitted high up in the canopy:

Prairie Warbler male 02-20200314  

Prairie Warbler male 03-20200314

Out on the wet prairie, there were a dozen of these established exotic Gray-headed Swamphens:

Gray-headed Swamphen 01-20200314

Gray-headed Swamphen 03-20200314

Swamphens were joined by a pair of Mottled Ducks on the flooded prairie:

Chapel Trail view to north 03-20200314

A Zebra longwing butterfly sipped on wild Lantana blossoms:

Zebra butterfly 02-20200314 

A male Queen butterfly provided two nice views:

Queen butterfly male 2-20200313

Queen butterfly male 20200313

White Peacock wings are often damaged by their fighting,  so I never pass up a chance to capture a near-perfect specimen :

White Peacock 20200313

A Magnolia tree bloomed in a light rain shower:

Magnolia blossom 20200314 

The sun rising over the entrance to our local Wounded Wetlands:

Sunrise 03-20200413

The April Pink Moon setting:

Pink Moon one day old set 03-20200408

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Linking to:

Fences Around the World

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Our World Tuesday


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


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Unexpected Beauty

About to walk out of  the wetlands area, I stopped to review my eBird checklist. Suddenly a male cardinal flew down close by and picked up a berry. It was the fruit of a Firebush (Hamelia patens) which  conveniently ripens just when northbound migrants need quick energy. The cardinal is non-migratory and often spends its entire life foraging and nesting in one small territory, so it knows its food sources very well. I watched its table manners as it plucked, squashed, swallowed and then cleaned up after the treat.

Northern Cardinal:

Northern Cardinal 01-20200413

Northern Cardinal 02-20200413

Northern Cardinal 03-20200413

Northern Cardinal 05-20200413

Moments later, after I exited the gates of the preserve, I noticed three Common Grackles sitting close together on the edge of the tile roof of a neighbor's house. Two males appeared to be vying for the attention of a female who looked on. The males postured: 

Common Grackles 01-20200413

The male in the middle of the trio appeared to be the most assertive. He puffed up his feathers. Both closed their nictitating membranes  (third eyelids), commonly done as part of the display. 

Common Grackles 02-20200413

All three then flew off, so I do not know the outcome.

Overnight rain flooded the wet prairies. Seeking dry ground, seven White-tailed Deer appeared along the gravel road. They were barely visible, but their eyes reflected my camera flash:

Jacklighted White-tailed Deer does 01-20200412

They did not bolt away. Every time my camera clicked, they looked up:

White-tailed Deer 01-20200412

White-tailed Deer 02-20200412

Two Raccoons explored the margins of a puddle:

Raccoons 03-20200412

Raccoon 01-20200412

We enjoyed a beautiful red sunrise on two consecutive mornings. This was out of a hazy but cloudless sky on April 12:

Red sunrise 2-20200412

The sun reflected off clouds on April 13:

Sunrise 03-20200413

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Linking to:

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Our World Tuesday

Wild Bird Wednesday

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

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Early morning sightings

Sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic interrupts the familiar routines which formerly made each day of the week special. Now the days flow, one into another. There are no "weekends," no choir practices or church gatherings, all the parks are closed. Grocery orders and even routine doctors' appointments are handled on computers and iPads. The highlight of most mornings is our walk into and around our local wetlands preserve. Here is a random sample of our encounters...

Blue-headed Vireo:

Blue-headed Vireo 02-20200323

Male Common Yellowthroat:

Common Yellowthroat 20200322

Gray Catbird:

Gray Catbird 20200322

Red-bellied Woodpecker:

Red-bellied Woodpecker male portrait 03-20200321

Prairie Warbler:

Prairie  Warbler 20200323

An energetic Northern Parula warbler:

Nnorthern Parula 01-20200331

Nnorthern Parula 04-20200331

Iridescent neck feathers are highlights on this Mourning Dove:

Mourning Dove 20200404

A Red-winged Blackbird sings next to a cattail patch:

Red-winged Blackbird 20200402

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird is about to fly north:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 01-20200402

A White-tailed Doe graces the morning scene:

White-tailed doe 20200327

Fog lifts along the shore of the placid lake:

Sunrise minus ten minutes 20200327

Very early one morning we were surprised when two Eastern Screech-Owls began calling along the path. One perched on a signpost for flash photos (I darkened its pupils in these two photos):

Eastern Screech-Owl 01-20200405

Eastern Screech-Owl 02-20200405

The second owl landed on the ground and my flashlight produced a "red eye" in this poor photo.  As with all owls, their pupils react independently of each other.  

Eastern Screech-Owl 04-20200405

Owls have the uncanny ability to rotate their heads 360 degrees in an instant. The slow exposure created this funny "bottle owl:"

Eastern Screech-Owl 03-20200405

Florida normally has a dry season which lasts from late October into early May. This winter we experienced near-drought conditions. Water levels in our local wetlands had been unusually high almost all year around for the prior three years. High water dilutes aquatic prey and wading birds must range far and wide to find food. Trails which we have explored in the past had been flooded and inaccessible.   

Low water now allows me to walk some of the trails created by ATV riders out in the local Wounded Wetlands. I call this one the North Lakeshore Trail. It provides a unique view of a sunrise which softens the ugly scars left by the off-road vehicles  :

Sunrise wide 20200331

A few minutes later, the sun climbs into the open sky:

Sun rays 02-20200331

The low water reveals a labyrinth of ATV tracks through the woodlands, previously out of sight:

Off-road vehicle tracks 2-20200331

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Linking to:

Skywatch Friday

Weekend Reflections

Saturday's Critters


Camera Critters

All Seasons

Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)

Our World Tuesday

Wild Bird Wednesday

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