Nesting Anhingas

•February 1, 2015 • 15 Comments

Nesting Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga atop its nest.

My first winter foray to the rookery at Wakodahatchee this year was a cold day by Florida standards. While cold weather can be invigorating, it can also make us want to snuggle up in our nests and doze the afternoon away. The nest sitting Great Blue Herons and Anhingas must have felt the same way!  While the Great blues were nestled down and rather hidden from view among the twigs that will serve as a protective crib for the future hatchlings, the Anhinga nests were in plain view. Anhingas for as long as they have been observed are anything but inconspicuous with their striking black and white back feathers and alert snake-like undulations of their necks and heads as they peer around, quickly back and forth, seeming alert to the slightest sound or movement.

Anhingas have been known by different names over time: Audubon noted that the Creoles of Louisiana called it “Bec a` Lancette” for the appearance of its bill which can skewer a fish easily. Some called it a “Water Crow”.  I can’t help but think due to the iridescent sheen it shares with the more common black birds? Audubon stated that in southern parts of Florida the anhinga is called “Grecian Lady” although I know of no one today who uses that reference. But, I rather like it and it feels fitting to me.Other names include “Snake Bird” and sometimes “Black-bellied Darter” altough the latter could only refer to the male with its black chest and underbody. But, whatever you call them, they have a very inquisitive and alert demeanor even seemingly at rest on a cold day.

The pictures below show both male and female anhingas taking their turns on the nest. The male anhinga has always amazed me with its velvet black feathers which catch iridescent greens in the light. The black seeming to have endless depths and dimension.  The head plumes on the male anhinga can be quite shaggy making a rather punk hairdo of its tufts of copper and white…and when erect form a rather regal head piece. (as per this image) The female has a golden brown chest with more sparse tufts of white head plumes. These amazing creatures sit on a platform that seems about two feet in diameter formed of dry twigs laid crosswize in a circular direction. The greener twigs often have leaves or berries still attached, and in this area, also bits of cypress leaves are present.  Anhinga nests are typically positioned in low bushes or among the lower branches of bigger trees over water.  Audubon’s observations that this is generally no more than eight or ten feet above the water seems to be consistent  with the nests I have seen. Anhingas are known to return to breed in the same nest from year to year. Of course, that can be tricky in a busy rookery when the nest you vacated is disassembled by other species to incorporate into their nests so quickly.  But, even so, I am sure I have taken pictures of the same anhingas in rather the same spots from year to year. Always coming home seems an event we are lucky to be witness to.

The two Audubon images I included in this post along with these recent shots are to show his versions of the male and female anhinga to better see their different features. The first drawing shows a parallel body position of the bonded pair which is so typical in observation of these birds during breeding season. But, Audubon felt because the male drawing covers up most of the female that from a naturalist point of view did not show good scientific comparison. The second drawing became Plate 316 in The Birds of America and Havell, the engraver added the scenic background with distant anhingas perched above the water from other Audubon sketches.     Male Anhinga Nest Sitting

 Male Anhinga nest sitting! I love those shaggy head plumes and ruby eyes.

Female Anhinga Sleeps on Nest

Sleepy Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga-Yawn_8169-wps

She awakens with a big yawn.

Audubon - Anhinga mating pair - early version prior to drawing chosen for Plate 316 in Birds of America

Anhinga mating pair picture which became Plate 316 in Audubon's Birds of America.

Final Plate 316 of Audubon’s The Birds of America, The Anhinga or Snake-Bird

Judy

When day’s end brings seas of satin, the birds come!!

•January 19, 2015 • 17 Comments

Snowy Egret wades into a mercurial Florida Bay

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A descending sun can have a spectacular effect on water, especially on those windless days when people love to describe the sea as “glass”. Sometimes the water will look like pewter with silvery grays and blues. Sometimes you’d be more inclined to liken it to quicksilver for the nature of its movement when it seems a type of  surface tension bonds the water into a silky smooth whole. The surface disturbed only by gentle, undulating currents somewhere beneath.  Or maybe it is more like satin with its silvery swirls of disturbance with delicate hints of reflected sky and pale yellow sunlight? No matter how you try and describe the appearance, it is utterly peaceful and even the birds, normally so intent on fishing, seem poised for a moment in the stillness of the sea.

◊ 

The birds here enjoying the sultry end of day are along Florida Bay, Key Largo, Florida. The first images are of a Snowy Egret wading out into the bay, with a color then a black and white treatment. A Green Heron perched on mangrove prop roots, follows, also with a black and white and a color version. The sun on the water makes such pretty light!

Snowy Egret - Mercurial Florida Bay - Black and White

Green Heron on Mangrove Prop Roots - Key Largo - Black and White

Green Heron- Key Largo-Mangrove Roots

 

May Peaceful Days and Silvery Seas be Yours!!

Judy

Elise Portrait – Georgia to Garden of the Gods – without a ticket!

•January 3, 2015 • 10 Comments

Elise Portrait - Garden of the Gods

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Taking my granddaughter, Elise, from the Georgia woods to Colorado’s Garden of the Gods without an airplane ticket!! For Christmas, my son Dave and his wife, Martha, sent me  a collection of unedited family snapshots on a CD. I fell in love with this picture of Elise, which Martha captured, and could not resist playing with it in Photoshop. When doing the black and white portrait, I could see in the windy, cold Georgia setting (below) a budding young geologist amid the vertical sandstone spires of Colorado on an equally cold day (top image). I really need to introduce Elise to my collection of rocks from the sixth grade or so. Yes, they still reside in shoe boxes packed away with my sea shell boxes from the Philippines and my sand collection.  Some people think I am a pack rat but, of course, they are wrong. Scientific artifacts are treasures and must be saved!!

One of my goals in 2o15 is to work on proficiency in Photoshop making composites and portraiture.  With this lovely pose, Elise helped me practice isolating a person from one scene in order to give different backgrounds and looks to the same picture.

Happy 2015 Everyone!!

Elise Portrait-Wintry Georgia Woods

Elise Portrait - Color Texture Background

A color version with new background and color filtering.

Always,
Judy

Garden of the Gods – A Christmas Gift Beyond Time

•December 11, 2014 • 16 Comments

Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Surreal Landscape

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“If we were to scale earth history on a one-year calendar, with the earth forming on January 1 and today being midnight December 31, the oldest rocks we find in Colorado would not appear until the beginning of August. The detailed sedimentary record of the seas begins about Thanksgiving, and humans reach Colorado only in the final hour. It would be worth the time to sit in a high place above town and briefly review the geological history of the region.”

Geology Professor Jeff Noblett in “A Guide to the Geological History of the Pikes Peak Region”:

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Garden of the Gods - Craggy Formations

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The study of rocks reveals the secrets of ancient upheavals in the earth and its environments to those who understand their language. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs is one of the most spectacular places in the country to learn those words and to read what the sedimentary layers have to tell. Inscribed in the rocks are chapters telling of years as an inland sea, time as tropical environment, even as a landscape of sand dunes. Dinosaurs once browsed stands of tropical ferns, ‘sea serpents’ once swam shallow seas, and mammoths once roamed, each in their turn of Colorado’s story.  Millions of years have passed since mountains rose and tipped vertical the rocks we see today. The old Pacific plate slamming into the North American Plate set off an intense period of upheaval forming  great mountain ranges.   Mountains rose pushing upward the overlying layers of sedimentary rock. Over the course of time, softer rock crumbled away leaving the hard ridges and vertical sandstone formations which today draw visitors from the world over.

The advent of man here was rather late in the timeline. But, we late comers do know magic when we see it. Native American Indians, notably the Ute Tribe, considered the area sacred grounds and assembled here in the shadow of Pike’s Peak to hunt in the fall and to winter here under the surreal formations of rock.  The Ute people are said to have always lived in the region and had no stories of migration from any other place. Artifacts dating back 3000 years are a testament to the presence of early peoples in the Garden.

It is a common misconception that Garden of the Gods derived its name from the Native Indians who lived here. Gold was discovered in the South Park area, NW of Colorado Springs and along the Front Range in 1858 bringing gold seekers in great numbers. “Pikes Peak or Bust” was a popular slogan of the time.  In 1859 two surveyors tasked with laying out the townsite of Colorado City gave Garden of the Gods its name. As the story goes, Malancthon Beach and Rufus Cable, were riding on horseback through this fantastic area.  Malancthon suggested it would be a “capital place for a beer garden”. Rufus Cable, a “young and poetic man” replied, “Beer Garden? Why this is a place fit for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” And, so it is!

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Lone Tree

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Perched Boulder

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Garden of the Gods is a wonderland not just for geologists, but also rock climbers, hikers, photographers, and students of nature and the outdoors. General William Jackson Palmer founded Colorado Springs in 1871 while extending the lines of his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In 1879, Palmer encouraged his friend and fellow railroad man, Charles Elliot Perkins, the head of Burlington Railroad to build a railroad from Chicago to Colorado Springs and to purchase land in the Garden of the Gods to build himself a home.  While the railroad didn’t go directly to Colorado Springs, Perkins bought 240 acres and later added 240 acres more to his holdings.   He never built on the land but instead chose to keep it open to the public and in its pristine, natural state.  He intended on giving his 480 acres to the city of Colorado Springs to become a park. He died in 1907 before putting this into a will. But, two years later, knowing how he felt about this place, his six children honored his wish. Christmas Day of 1909 Perkins’ 480  acres were officially given to the City of Colorado Springs with the provision that  the park remain free to the Public always. The Plaque reads:

The Garden of The Gods

Given To

The City of Colorado Springs

in 1909

By The Children

of

Charles Elliott Perkins

in Fulfillment of His Wish

That it be kept Forever

Free to The Public

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Waiting to Climb

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Garden of the Gods,Colorado - Rock Climber

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Girl Rock Climbing

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The gift conveyed by Perkins’ children on Christmas Day of 1909, was not just a piece of land with some surreal rock formations. Perkins and his family preserved our right to enjoy majestic, natural beauty and by that access,  inspire a quest for knowledge of the beginnings of the earth and ourselves!

Merry Christmas!

Judy

PS: A big thanks to my son Zach and his wife Jen who took us to see Garden of the Gods during our brief whirlwind stay in September. Colorado is beautiful exciting country!! Geology really was my first love and I could spend many days learning and exploring its wonders!! Please see my Writer Links sidebar  or click here for the Architectural History of the Old North End, Colorado Springs book which was co-authored by Jennifer Wendler Lovell.

Some links about Garden of the Gods:

A Guide to Geological History of the Pikes Peak Region by Jeff  Noblett

Friends of Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods History – Colorado Springs

Ibis

•November 24, 2014 • 21 Comments

Ibis Face-Key Largo, FL

Just sharing some images of the colorful American White Ibis taken last Friday during a trip made to Key Largo for a meeting. Although it was a drippy day, I was happy to squish through the mud to watch and photograph birds along Florida Bay.   The mature breeding Ibis exhibits extremely reddened legs and bill which contrast so beautifully with its gorgeous, light blue eyes. My alma mater is the Univeristy of Miami whose mascot is the Ibis. A tidbit from Wikipedia is that the “Ibis was selected as the school mascot because of its legendary bravery during hurricanes. According to legend, the ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane hits and the first to reappear once the storm has passed.” It is a ubiquitous bird here in South Florida and can be seen in urban settings, like my front lawn, as well as in wetland trees or probing shallow coastal waters and marshes. I love seeing flocks of these white birds sailing over the yellow green stretches of mangroves and the everglades. Just a beautiful sight! They are such a common bird that I tend to take them for granted, but still take great pleasure in their presence and character. My Sunday morning constitutional today brought sights of groups of juvenile ibis’ which are a mottled brown in color pecking at various lawns for some nice juicy insects or worms. But here are some colorful grown ups to brighten up the day!! Personally, I think the American White Ibis should be the Florida State Bird rather than the Northern Mockingbird.

 

 

Colorful Ibis perches on rocks along Florida Bay, Key Largo, FL

Brilliantly colored Ibis preens beside the waters of Florida Bay, Key Largo

A black and white treatment for such a balletic pose!!

Ibis preens beside the waters of Florida Bay, Key Largo

These Ibis images bring with them my wishes for a Warm and

Happy Thanksgiving Celebration to Everyone!!

Certainly we can add the diverse bird and wildlife which grace our lives to our list of things to be grateful for!!

As Ever,

Judy

We Shall Reap What We Sow

•November 10, 2014 • 16 Comments

Cypress Snowy 5321-c-wps

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

 

Ordinarily the choice of sharing a poem such as this would be simply to reinforce my belief that man must retreat into nature from time to time for perspective and psychological healing. Or perhaps as poetic underpinning for a beautiful nature photo…after all, this is a photo journal blog! But, today its cry for peace from worry, comes with outrage!

I am the furthest thing you’d find from being a passionate activist about anything. My principle of live and let live has served me comfortably and I tend to let things resolve as they will with minimal attention on my part. You can add to that, I love science and all the wonders that its exploration reveals which we can use for man’s benefit or just for the sheer coolness of the information! I do, I love science. Nor am I anti-business.

Well, this week I have been down with the flu and in between meds and abject misery and in a bleary haze,  watching documentaries on NetFlix. I would like to encourage everyone to view the documentary entitled GMO OMG. I am sure that there are others on the topic, but I thought this one covered the issues thoughtfully and without undue hype. The lead-in for the video was Wendell Berry’s poem shown above.

Genetic engineering, in some agricultural schemes, uses genes from bacteria or viruses which are artificially injected into the cellular DNA of plants. These cells are cloned into plants. As an example, some genetically modified corn has a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis in every cell. This gives the corn a built-in pesticide. Did you know that this modified corn is registered as a pesticide? A food is a pesticide? Other crops, such as soy, cotton, and beets, have other bacteria inserted that allow the plant to be resistant to massive amounts of weed killer. They call these crops “RoundUp Ready.” It seems that RoundUp, which I have used to spray on weeds myself, is a highly prevalent choice around the world for crop weed control. “RoundUp Ready” means that you can spray the field with RoundUp and all the plants will die except for the ones you’ve modified to be resistant to the RoundUp. So when you eat corn you are eating a plant classed as a pesticide which may have also been sprayed with RoundUp which didn’t kill it but…is it on/in the food? They say Round Up has been recently found in human urine!!?? Further, the GMO crop method seems to be now producing resistant weeds and bugs.

This is being forced on us with very little choice in the matter. The science part of me would like to think that we can find ways to improve crops in yield and quality. But, like anything science can do the questions is always.. not Can we do it? But, rather Should we do it? I believe this was forced without any real conclusive data of ramifications over time. Even the best of science cannot always predict nature’s response when you alter genes. Although you can rest assured nature will try to survive, hence the resistant weeds and bugs.

I would like to add that the outrage I feel comes from not just the lack of choice, the lack of foresight, and the lack of thorough scientific testing, but from the corporate behaviour of companies like Monsanto. I expect companies to make a profit and I do not necessarily think that corporations are in it for the good of mankind. That is why we are supposed to exert some oversight and proof of safety. Monsanto has ownership of its modified seeds such that a farmer who uses them cannot save seeds from his crop for the next season’s planting. Those seeds belong to Monsanto and can only be planted once. GMO OMG points out cases where a neighboring farmer raising organic non-gmo crops had contamination from airborne pollen from a GMO farmer’s crops. This caused his crop to take on the pesticide characteristics and RoundUp resistance. So guess what? Monsanto has sued such farmers for having the ‘illegal’ GMO plants and forced them to buy their seeds and/or pesticides. I think if it is that easy to contaminate other crops, that is dangerous. What are we doing? I also think the non GMO farmers should be the ones to sue for Monsanto “infecting” their organic crops. That undermines that farmer’s ability to advertise and sell ‘unmodified’ food and compromises further any choice we have. You can’t control what is in the wind can you?

Even poor, desperate Haiti, turned down the 475 tons of seed offer from Monsanto after the Earthquake. They only wanted to have their own seeds….the seeds of life…(not poisonous seeds)……and be able to harvest seeds for the next year’s crop. Monsanto’s free seeds could not be free forever.

While, I’ve been generally trying to choose Non-GMO foods where I had a choice, I think the situation has gone well beyond simply voting with our grocery budget..though we need to keep doing that. If you have a chance, vote for proper food labeling so you will be able to choose. Most of the corn and soy grown in this country is GMO and most of the so called’ healthy’ vegetarian feed  given to food animals is made with GMO corn or soybean meal. Not to mention that soy is in everything and corn in many forms such as corn syrup. There seems to be growing evidence of actual harm to humans over time..especially hormonal balance disruptions..probably from the estrogen mimicking qualities of pesticides. There is too much we do not know.

I just want to encourage everyone who has not already, to read up on this as there is much more involved than mentioned here.  We need to be very careful with this kind of manipulation and the seeds we sow into the world. Not everything issued into being can be undone.   To bring in a semi scientific analogy…just think about what happened with the dinosaurs breeding in the movie/book  Jurassic Park??  We think we can control it, but can we? Nature will find a way! The earth shouldn’t become a corporate laboratory and I don’t want me and mine to be guinea pigs!

 

With Concern,

Judy

PS: Regular programming shall resume after the flu! :)

Windows to Calm and Storm Since 1852

•October 12, 2014 • 12 Comments

Carysfort Windows

Summer doldrum or hurricane winds, the windows of Carysfort Reef Light have been a portal to the moods of the Atlantic Ocean since 1852. Lighthouse keepers quartered there must have fought boredom on days when all there was to do was watch fish swim in the shallows beneath them and keep the light lit. Despite the sparkling beauty of Florida’s waters, guiding mariners safely away from the treacherous shallows was a lonely mission.

Before the lighthouse was constructed, the reef was marked by lightships. The first named Caesar in 1825 ran aground on its route from New York City at Key Biscayne during a storm. The ship was salvaged by wreckers out of Key West and ultimately the owners had to buy back their own ship in order to finally place it at Carysfort Reef. Like its replacement lightship, the Florida, these vessels were subject to being blown off station by storms and running aground on the very reef they guarded. Carysfort Reef Light derives its name from the HMS Carysfort, a 20 gun Royal Navy ship which ran afoul of the reef in 1770.

I can still remember the first time I heard that George Meade was involved with the building of lighthouses. I only knew him as the Civil War general victorious at Gettysburg. The teaching of history can be very narrow with information tied to specific events. Historical figures have much more depth than a single date, time or place. So I never knew as a young lieutenant with the Army Corp of Topographical Engineers, George Meade was surveying for reef lights in Florida. And, as it would happen, Carysfort Light was his first such project!

While Carysfort Reef Light is the oldest of its kind still functioning in the U.S. we cannot take for granted the survival of this or any of Florida’s reef lights. The original Fresnel lens was replaced by an xenon flash tube and the beacon was automated in 1960. Time and technology have marched on  and today the Coast Guard is divesting itself of the aging beacons. These steadfast sentinels which have stood for over 150 years are now deemed too expensive to maintain.

So in early August this year, Jack Hardy a photographer friend who resides in the lovely city of Cuenca, Ecuador, visited my neck of the woods. It seemed natural to include one of the reef lights in our day of boating and snorkeling the upper keys…a good historical photo opportunity with perhaps a time limit. The water was like glass, a perfect Florida summer day as we headed to the red octagonal tower six nautical miles east of Key Largo. We weren’t alone as we encountered snorkelers already enjoying the day swimming around the base of the beacon.

The images below are various shots taken that day showing Jack one of Florida’s six reef lights and a little sample of my life taking pictures of these special historical structures from the 19′ Nautica Inflatable we call Janthina! And, you can’t beat sharing with friends!

 

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Carysfort Approach

Could the water be more glorious!! But,  you can see how shallow as we approach the lighthouse.

Carysfort Lighthouse

A closer up view shows some detail of the screw pile, pyramidal, octagonal tower and its traditional red paint job! Birds (Cormorants here) always happy to find a resting place out at sea, are perched on the various support beams.

 

Carysfort Back and White

A black and white treatment reveals velvety smooth water..one of those doldrum days so perfect for a boat ride and exploring the reef.

Jack Hardy - Photogapher

Jack Hardy aka Saipan Jack long time resident of Saipan now residing in Cuenca, Ecuador. Click his pic to go to his photo site.

Summer Sky - Moody

One of the fun things about converting images to black and white is changing the mood. Which day was it? A soft summer blue or something a bit more dramatic?

Summer Sky Over - Upper Keys

 

 Florida Lighthouse Specialty License PlateClick the Florida Lighthouse Plate image to link over to one way to help raise funds for the preservation of Florida’s historic lighthouses.

Judy

 
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