It’s Wood Stork Nesting Season!

•March 26, 2015 • 11 Comments

Woodstork Pair Nest Building with newly gathered twigs

Intimate View of a Wood Stork Pair Nest Building

Once called the Wood Ibis for its re-curved bill resembling that of a true Ibis, the Wood Stork is the only stork which lives and breeds in Florida. My favourite nickname for the Wood Stork is Old Flinthead for the rough black skin which covers the head and neck of this large waterbird. While the Wood Stork’s numbers have improved, it is still the most endangered of the waterbirds here in Florida. As of June 26 of 2014 the US Fish and Wildlife Service upgraded its classification from’ endangered’ to a ‘threatened’ species. In my years observing Wood Storks, I find with time that I have been seeing them much more frequently and in greater numbers.  The largest breeding population is in Florida in the old growth cypress forests, primarily Corkscrew Swamp.

Taxonomically, the Wood Stork is in the Genus Mycteria and family Ciconiidae. The black- faced stork you see here is Mycteria americana. I have included Audubon’s Plate 216 of the Wood Ibis in this post and you’ll notice that he has used the genus/specie name of Tantalus loculator for the Wood Ibis. Always curious about taxonomy, I did a search to learn a little about the difference in today’s name and Audubon’s reference. Apparently there was some confusion in the genus names Mycteria and Tantalus from even 1758 when Linneaus originally described them and the figures in Systema Naturae. Both genera were monotypic with Mycteria having the single species Mycteria americana and Tantalus having the single species Tantalus loculator, but both names related to the same species of bird. Article 30 of the International Code of Nomenclature states: “A genus proposed with a single original species takes that species as its type.” So M. americana became the type and T. loculator which appeared second on the page in Linneaus’ book ( Syst. Nat., ed. X, 1758, P. 140) became therefore, a synonym by virtue of page placement. At least if I am reading that correctly.  A more detailed discussion can be found by clicking: ‘The Generic Names Mycteria and Tantalus of Linnæus, 1758′, by JA Allen, The Auk, Vol 25, No 1, pp 37-38, which was published in Jan of 1908 with citations in the late 1800’s.  Of course, Audubon named his plate prior to that as Havell engraved it in 1834.

The Wood Stork forages  in fresh, salt and brackish water marshes, generally in areas where water levels are lower allowing a concentration of fish to feed on. The birds patiently step along slowly and deliberately in the shallow water seeking aquatic prey such as fish or frogs and sometimes large insects. Prey is located by touch or tacto-location rather than sight or smell. The wood stork stands in shallow water with one foot stirring up the water in what I call a foot swish technique, and keeps its bill open and partially submerged. When a fish is detected the wood stork forcefully snaps it shut. This feeding technique does require a good concentration of fish to feel around for and often breeding and feeding  young is timed for the drier times of year.  Anything that reduces the number of fish in a marsh has impact on the health of the wood stork. During breeding season it takes 400 pounds of fish to feed the parents and chicks of one Wood Stork family.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands, where these images were taken, has had breeding Wood Storks for the 5 seasons I have enjoyed visiting the rookery. In the past they have located their nests on the further out tree islands making any kind of detailed photography less likely. However, this year some pairs have relocated to nesting islands much closer to the pathway providing a wonderful opportunity to observe them up close.

As with the other large wading birds,  the male and female quite equitably share the duties of gathering materials and building the nest. Though like some of the herons, the male may be the primary gatherer and the female the interior designer. At this very moment nests constructed of various twigs and vines are occupied by Wood Stork pairs busily taking turns incubating their eggs and making the food runs.  Incubation takes about 30 days and as many as 4 to 5 eggs can be laid. Typically, only two chicks within a single nest will survive the season. When the nestlings are about four weeks old, both parents can leave the nest for food gathering and fledgling wood storks can survive on their own at about nine weeks of age.

I greatly look forward to my first views of baby wood storks and sharing them here in a few short weeks.

 

Woodstork Portrait in Morning Light

Wood Stork aka Wood Ibis aka Old Flinthead in a confident pose!

Woodstork in Black and White

This wood stork has already pair bonded and alights back home at the nesting colony. The black and white portrait shows off its feather detail and the flinty texture of its neck which understandably gives the bird its nickname Old Flinthead.

Chatty Woodstork in morning light

Wood stork begins its day in a friendly mood and feathers beautifully backlit by the eastern sun of a Florida morning. This treatment is a black and white given a very light sepia tone.

Plate-216-Audubon - Wood Ibis - wps

John James Audubon’s Plate 216 of the Wood Ibis

Judy

Beautiful Male Anhinga Pose in Black and White

•March 8, 2015 • 16 Comments

Males Anhinga Black and White Portrait

Photographing even naturally lovely creatures is more often a case of behavior documentation than it is art. But, sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the subject’s natural movement, the photographer captures that moment of particularly pleasing body position. I found that with this beautiful male anhinga. My effort in this was to detangle the bird from its complex background without losing context so that its form was the main focus. I loved the head and body position relative to the tilt and spread of the tail feathers. He already has a mate and young ones at home, so he doesn’t really have to flirt so! And such a dapper dresser!! He’s ready for a formal dinner.

I hope you enjoy this black and white interpretation of the stately Anhinga anhinga male in his breeding plumage.

 

 

Judy

Anhinga Chicks – feeding sequence

•March 7, 2015 • 15 Comments

Hungry chicks goin in_8264-wps

 

Almost exactly one month after the images displayed on my previous post of both the male and female Anhinga nest sitting, I arrived back at the rookery to find happy Anhinga families with rapidly growing young. Most nests contained two or three chicks. As with all new parents, the Anhings were very busy keeping up with the voracious appetites of their downy nestlings. Upon hatching anhinga chicks are naked and helpless but quickly grow a soft white covering of down. Here you can see the covering of down and the prominent pin feathers on the wings.  They are initially fed by their parents dripping fluid and regurgitated material from partially digested fish down their throats. It does not take long for the chicks to figure out where the food comes from and soon are seen shoving their heads down their parents’ beaks to acquire food.  You can see how big they already are less than a month old (I am not sure how long after my last visit they did hatch).  The chicks can fledge at about a month and a half in age,  but stay with their parents for several more weeks before becoming truly independent. Please refer to an earlier post HERE for more on Anhingas and some Audubon thoughts.

Hungry Anhinga Chicks nip at each other

These little fellows nip at each other lightly as they await Mom to be ready to feed them. She has to digest first.

Anhinga Chick await feeding from Mom

The chicks anxiously ready themselves for a dive into Mom’s throat. Their head movements are tremulous as they sway their necks and heads back and forth in front of Mom.

Hungry chicks goin in_8263-wps

Ok going in!

Anhinga Chicks Feeding from Mom

One chick seemed a bit left out throughout this feeding in favor of its more aggressive siblings.

Anhinga Chick dives in Mom's throat to feed

View of anhinga chick head inside Mom's throat

A view of how deep they really do go. The parents seem happy to get the chick out of its gullet by the end of the process and often take to a branch out of reach.

Judy

Nesting Anhingas

•February 1, 2015 • 17 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 • 19 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

 
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