Crimson Slippers – Mating Colors of the Snowy Egret

•May 21, 2015 • 8 Comments

Snowy Egret in Bright Mating Colors Peers through the branches of the nesting colony

Wood Storks aren’t the only species nesting at Wakodahatchee these days. In between being entertained by Wood Stork chicks, it was also fun to watch a couple of pairs of Snowy Egrets fly onto the Pond Apple branches, their temporary home,  and disappear into the dark recesses of the tree island where a nest is hidden from view. I included an assortment because I find the aigrettes and head plums so beautiful to see, erect and all fluffed out when they are excited.  Like the Louisiana Heron aka Tri-Color, they are a sprightly, quick species and you must be equally quick to catch a moment. Two of these images show how very bright red the normally yellow lores and feet get under the influence of mating hormones. Golden slippers have turned a passionate red for dating and mating!! The lores (skin between the beak towards and around the eyes) are startling to see in person, truly fire engine red. With most herons the mating colors are brightest as they attract and begin to mate. Once the eggs are here, the colors will begin to fade and aigrettes will slowly diminish.  Two of these images exhibit exorbitant lore color and the other two are just beginning to show red. The length of time chicks stay at the nest does seem somewhat relative to size as the young of this small heron will leave the nest at 20 to 25 days. The Great Blue Heron chicks will stay close to the nest for 2 up to 3 months with periods of foraging on their own.

It is Spring and all the colors are gorgeous, the birds with their mating garb and the beautiful deep greens and yellow greens of the Pond Apple tree islands they call home.

Snowy Egret Landing at Nesting Site

 

 

Snowy Egret Breeding Plumes and colors

Snowy Egret Extended Pose with fluffed aigrettes and crown

Judy

443 Pounds of Fish and it shows!!

•May 18, 2015 • 10 Comments

Wood Stork at ~ 4 weeks

Wood Stork families are said to require 443 pounds of fish in one breeding season! My recent visits to the Wood Stork nests I have been following, certainly show evidence of abundant fish consumption. When I visited in early May,  I had intended on getting a nice image to make a pretty portrait of a 4-5 week old wood stork. However, large quantities of fish remains on the bills of hungry chicks and bits of the same matting their feathers made this a somewhat unrealistic enterprise. In between meal flights from Mom or Dad, the chicks will pluck at leftovers still in the bottom of the nest, and of course,  lay down in the nest. Add to that an earthy down wind scent and a few buzzing flies, well a rookery is what it is!  They looked so cute until I  raised my camera viewfinder to find a portal to rather wretched looking nestlings in very bad need of a bath. I exclaimed out loud to that effect and another photographer on site laughed in agreement. Birds always look pretty in National Geographic don’t they? So, I made a trip a week later, thinking I might have better luck, only to find the chicks a bit taller but with no better hygiene! Barring a cloud burst sometime soon and a visit right after a natural washing, I do not think  we will see clean chicks until after they fledge. Until they learn to fly, the little ones are stuck in the nest with no chance of wading in the cleansing wetland waters.

But, despite all that, it is extremely entertaining to watch them. I mentioned before that one of the wood stork nicknames is “preacher bird.” I’ve read that this is due to the fact that they stand around after eating a look as if they are seriously contemplating life and they do in general possess a very distinguished and learned manner of bearing. It occurred to me that there might be another reason. I haven’t shown too well in the images below but when the parent lands in the nest and chicks think food is on the way, they will assume a position on their knees in the nest facing their parent and raise their heads in near unison up and down vertically, clamoring audibly for some sustenance. This creates quite a racket and they look almost in worship, rocking their bills up and down at the feet of their rather stately Mom or Dad.

 

Another observation that I never really noticed with the great herons, is that when a neighboring parent wood stork lands with food and is feeding its chicks, the nestlings of other nearby nests do not react. They must sense there is fish nearby but the chicks of a given nest only go crazy with wing flapping and the bill rocking when their own parent lands at their nest. Perhaps this is so obvious because the wood stork nests are quite close to each other and maybe the heron nests I am more familiar with are further apart.

In case you were wondering why the top image of the young wood stork looks fairly handsome, in order to show off one of these interesting fellows, I invested some Photoshop time in cleaning the bill and matted feathers. These birds at 4 or 5 weeks already look rather poised and elegant. Although the wood storks have been down listed from endangered to threatened in my area, still it is not a common sight to see wood storks nesting and especially with such a good vantage point. I am curious as to when they get the flinty neck texture, but suspect it is after they fledge and mature. It takes 4 years for a wood stork to mature and they can live 3o years.

Three Wood Stork Chicks at nest ready to be fed

 

Wood Stork Chicks at ~ 5 weeks awaiting a feeding

 

Wood Stork Parent feeding large fish to chicks

 

Wood Stork Siblings at about 4 weeks

Judy

The Anhingas are Growing Up!

•May 2, 2015 • 16 Comments

Young Female Anhinga in Spring Greenery

Watching baby birds grow up shows it is not a far reach to compare them with human young. They just go through the stages in weeks instead of years. On February the 22nd I took some pictures of baby anhingas only a couple of weeks old being fed by their parents. For reference these images are here and some previous others here  .  These interesting creatures are completely helpless and dependent on protection and feeding from their parents to survive. And, while they look a bit like space aliens or ugly ducklings they will quickly mature into one of the most elegant birds on our beautiful and diverse planet. (as here)

The two images I am sharing today are just a little later down the timeline. The image below was taken on March 3rd and shows a curious chick at the edge of its nest high above a cascading drop of leafless limbs.  Even in the early morning light, it is easy to see that this ‘teen’ is still tied to the nest awaiting the return of Mom or Dad with a meal. Although, the energetic youngster will scamper about the branches and exercise its wings greatly between parental feeding visits. Late winter’s muted light highlights the still downy feathers of the bird and the curves of the pond apple tree branches. Everything is waiting for just a few short weeks until everything erupts in a blast of green when Spring arrives.

By April the 15th when the top image was taken, Spring had most certainly sprung!! The upper portrait reveals a young lady with a shy, self-conscious demeanor in a pose alert to her surroundings. Already taking on the distinctive feathering of her kind, she sits in a glorious green glow as the branches are now as fully leaved as she is now feathered!!

Anhinga Chick in Morning Light

It is always such a pleasure watching a small new creature grow up and become itself! One of life’s purest joys!

Judy

Baby Woodstorks – Feeding Sequence

•April 18, 2015 • 30 Comments

Woodstork Nestlings

Life in a rookery has its many beautiful moments however the energies and amounts of fish required for avian parents to sustain themselves and their young can make for a gooey mess at times. Woodstork families will need an estimated 443 pounds of fish each breeding season and in the first two weeks of life the chicks are fed as often as 17 times per day. It is truly exhausting work. Woodstorks will not breed if conditions do not support the needed quantities of food. In times of natural drought or flooding or with unfavorable man-made hydrologic changes,  they simply won’t nest. This is one reason they are considered an indicator species for the health of the Everglades ecosystem. While Woodstorks were upgraded from endangered to threatened in June of 2014 after three decades of conservation effort, the challenge will be to continue with the work and secure this great natural ecosystem forever.

This is why it is such a pleasure to witness several healthy nesting pairs in proximity I have never seen before. The scenes here are of baby Woodstorks about two weeks old by my very loose reckoning. This sequence shows hungry chicks ready for a meal while their parent patiently digests fish already in its gullet. When ready the parent bird will lean into the nest with open mouth and predigested fish will plop out onto the waiting baby beaks.

Taking their pictures at this time was somewhat challenging due to their small size and being hidden behind the fringing leaves and structure of their crib. So you have to wait until something happens that energizes the little ones to stretch and raise their heads above the rim of the nest to get a view of their faces. Generally, that stimulation is being hungry and seeking food. Movement can be awkward and often the head will be thrust back and fall forward as if it were too big to hold steady like all babies. Already they will shake their heads in a side to side movement typical of their species.  Nest watching involves periods where all are still and snoozing in the nest and even the parent on duty stands by with eyes closed. Then a great flurry of activity as feeding begins, difficult to realize in stills but fun to remember.

 

Three Woodstork Siblings

This nest has three chicks. Woodstorks can lay up to 4 or 5 eggs and on average two chicks will survive to fledge. While these pictures are of a single nest, Woodstorks are a gregarious species and nest in colonies. There are several nests in this same island with chicks about the same age. Most appear to have three hatched chicks.  Aren’t they cute?

Woodsotrk Nestling with Attentive Parent

The nestlings are ready for food; their parent has been working on the fish and is preparing to feed the chicks.

Woodstork Baby Food

The throat of the parent is full of baby food (predigested and broken up fish) and the little ones are watching intently.

A nice Woodstork Meal

Ahh everyone is happy! Chicks are chewing their bits of fish and the parent looks happy to have delivered that meal.

Just Fed Woodstork Nestling

From Mom’s throat to the chick’s!

Woodstork Nestling Satisfied after a good meal

Some people call Woodstorks “Preacher Birds” because after a meal they appear to stand around and contemplate the universe. Maybe they start young?

The Littlest Woodstork

While siblings are flopped over in the nest sated, not sure the littlest one got its fill?

Oh, if you are wondering about the streaks of white liquid on the legs of the adult Woodstorks, it is due to peeing on the legs for cooling basically. In some stork species their legs act as a radiator to cool down the stork’s body when it is very hot. They deposit urates (in birds, a combination of urine and feces) onto their legs so that the moisture evaporates and cools the underlying blood vessels.

Let us work for the continued health of this interesting Everglades bird and its entire ecosystem home.

Judy

LEARN MORE – about the biology and status of the Woodstork with these links:

Everglades National Park – Woodstork Species Profile

North Florida Ecological Services – Species Biologue – Woodstork

Scientific American – Woodstork Removed from Endangered Species List  6/26/2014

Interesting nesting data showing decrease and increase in nesting pairs from 1975 thru 2013 but with changes in locations of nests

Habitat Management Guidelines for the Wood Stork in the Southeast Region – January 1990

Ospreys of Rookery Bay

•April 12, 2015 • 18 Comments

Osprey Glare_9203-wps

Who can ignore the round, brilliant yellow, all seeing eyes of the Osprey?

Sunday has historically been the day for afternoon drives out into the country to relax and regroup for the work week…and to commune with the natural world! One recent Sunday my husband an I made our afternoon drive three hours up the road to the Naples area to finally explore Rookery Bay by water. Rookery Bay is located at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast and is the western extension of the Everglades.  In the Naples area and  near Marco Island it is a popular natural destination.   The Reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with the NOAA. The mission of the reserve is to provide educational opportunity and exposure to this complex bio diverse community in order to cultivate stewardship of the natural and valuable eco system. Please visit the Rookery Bay official website–here–to learn more about this wild and beautiful place.

As one of the few undisturbed mangrove estuaries left in North America, The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is home to a great diversity of wildlife including 150 species of birds. I did see pelicans, cormorants, black vultures and other species nesting in the distance, but for me this particular Sunday outing was all about the Ospreys!! I found them on nearly every nautical marker along our route and while they seemed most inquisitive about our boat nearing various markers for an avian portrait, they remained unperturbed and went about the business of family life. It was my very first opportunity to take pictures of nesting ospreys and my first sight of osprey chicks…well at least close enough to see clearly. I have posted a variety of images, being my first probably offering a bit of redundancy of images, but hope you enjoy the ride. The images show the large, intricate nest structures on various nautical markers as well as the birds and some views of the mangrove laden waterway.

Entering Rookery Bay_9253-wps

Osprey Marker 6_9059-wps

I’ve always maintained that nautical markers are great oceanic bird perches. The Ospreys of Rookery Bay did nothing to prove me wrong! Marker # 6 is home to this family of birds.

Rookery Bay - Natural Waterway

Osprey-Manatee Zone-Marker17_9085-wps

Osprey Nest Marker 28A_9219-wps

Osprey Pair-Slow Speed_9186-wps

I don’t know if this happy couple is going slow, but they do have a couple of chicks already!!

Osprey Looking_9246-wps

Osprey Parent Landing at Nest_9229-wps

Osprey with Chicks_9232-wps

I was unaware that while the adults have yellow eyes, the nestlings eyes are reddish with ospreys.  I am so used to seeing other species such as Lousiana Herons with yellow eyes in the immature and red in the breeding adults.

Osprey with 2 chicks on nest_9231wps-2

Osprey Shell Nest_9112-wps

I included this picture as the nest was loaded with seashells stuck to the twigs the nest builder selected for the massive structure. Wherever a rookery is, the species who build there utilize nearby resources, so here things like shells are attached.

Rookery Bay Waterway

What a great Sunday at Rookery Bay!!

Judy

Cattleya-Light Play

•April 11, 2015 • 8 Comments

 

 Cattleya Orchid Outside in Morning Light

Before letting the lovely Cattleya plant just passively grace my house with beauty, I wanted to offer two additional images with different lighting than the Easter Orchid image. Whether a plant or some other subject, varying the lighting can produce completely different kinds of works. It is similar to being outside taking a landscape picture. Easy to become so vested in the scene in front of you, that you might forget to turn around and find there is something utterly gorgeous there too. I remember a dawn shooting effort of Alligator Lighthouse, floating around on our boat waiting for the lights to get turned on. I focused on the sun coming up behind the lighthouse but the real beauty for me was shooting the light facing south with glorious side lit clouds courtesy of the rays from the east.

The Easter Orchid image was taken indoors with the plant simply placed in front of a dark area with morning light coming through the sliding glass doors. In that image the greens are dark, rich with a bit more yellow and the purples dark with great detail. The top image here is not so different in idea except that the plant was placed on a table outside also in the morning a distance in front of my bougainvillea hedge.  The direct early light produced a softer result. The flowers are softer lavender and the leaves more a sagey, muted green. The hedge off in the background adds a nice field of dark green color with highlights and hints of red blossoms instead of the deep black.

Another effort in morning light is the backlit image below. While orchid flowers seem heavy and textured front lit, the opposite reveals the petals to be highly translucent and airy. For this image the plant was inside on a table in front of the sliding glass doors with light from the east coming through. This and the Easter orchid picture are opposites in the same room.

Always remember with photography to look the other way and to see what things look like from different positions as subjects take on new life.

Backlit Cattleya with Artistic Textures

As Ever,

Judy

PS: I did put in links to Alligator light pictures in the text if one was curious.

Easter Orchid

•April 4, 2015 • 8 Comments

Cattleya Orchid - Art Treatment

I am calling my Cattleya orchid an Easter Orchid because I post it here with my wishes for a –

 Happy Easter !

According to Wikipedia there are three orchids called Easter Orchids and two of them are of the genus Cattleya. Otherwise I know little about the genus only that like many orchid species what was once beautiful and rare, thanks to modern methods is now beautiful and abundant. When I found a neighborhood man grows orchids as a sideline I could not resist acquiring the lovely plant with its twin blooms. The sweet fragrance was unexpected and a bonus added to having the lovely plant to photograph and look at.

The picture itself is one of a couple that I planned to work with out of the photos I took of it. My vision for this shot was to take the picture in morning light with the plant placed in front of a dark area of my house. That way the window light would illuminate the flowers and let the background drop to black. I also wanted it to look a little bit painterly so I gave it some artistic filtering and even threw in a tad of canvas texture onto the black background (although that maybe hard to see unless you view on an iPad where you can size it up and down). I hope you enjoy the treatment!

Because no prayer says it better I include again this Easter  Rev. Peter Marshall’s thoughtful prayer which opened the Senate Session the Thursday before Easter Sunday in 1948 with my wishes for a wonderful Easter Sunday.

 

Thursday, March 25, 1948

Lord Jesus, Saviour of the World, in Thy holy name we join our hearts in prayer.

This week, as we remember all Thou didst endure for us, we may be sure Thou hast not forgotten. For we will not let thee forget.

With every sin of ours, we renew the pain Thy heart did know. Every time we ignore Thee, forget Thee, and heed not Thy way, we revive for Thee the loneliness Thou didst feel and the spiritual blindness that broke Thy heart.

O Lord, give us Thy grace that we may not crucify Thee afresh, but, loving Thee keep Thy commandments.

With a steady faith that Thy kingdom will yet be established upon the earth, help us to hasten its coming by letting Thee work in us and through us to do Thy will.
Amen.

Judy

 
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