Sunday, February 24, 2013

Egrets of Southern Florida

White dots: Great and Snowy Egrets, joined by Herons, Ibis, and Storks, Big Cypress National Preserve, FL; 12/26/2012.
After travelling through Southern Florida at the end of 2012, and hitting many of the important bird hotspots in the area, we could see white specks dotting the landscape everywhere we went. These white dots, of course, were the many white birds found in Florida: White Ibis, juvenile Little Blue Herons, White Great Blue Herons, White Pelicans and the three white Egrets - Great, Snowy and Cattle. These white birds proved to be a great contrast to the dark brown and greens fields, and the blue lakes and oceans that cover Florida. The photo (Above) is a a good representative what one may see just driving down the highway.

A Great Egret wading in the marsh of  the Corkscrew Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, FL; 12/26/2012.
The first of the three white Egrets found in Florida is the Great White Egret (Above), which we also see up in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin during the summer months. The Great White, as its name suggests is the largest of the Egrets, standing at 39" tall. Below you can see its size next to the Little Blue Heron (24") and White Ibis (25").
A Great White Egret towering over a White Ibis and Little Blue Heron, Ding Darling NWR, FL; 12/30/2012.
More Great Egret Pics (Below):
Great Egret on the South Pier, St. Petersburg, FL; 12/25/2012.
A Great Egret looking like it's doing a stand-up comic routine, South Pier, St. Petersburg, FL; 12/25/2012.
Snowy Egret, Lovers Key State Park, FL; 12/26/2012.
Snowy Egrets (Above), another of the big three white egrets were also very well represented throughout Southern Florida. We saw them in fields, in lakes, in marshes, along roadsides, and along ocean beaches. (Below) are more Snowy pics:
A Snowy Egret perched on a dormant bush in the fields of the Everglades NP, FL; 12/29/2012.

A Snowy Egret being dwarfed by a Wood Stork along the roadside canal at the Oasis Visitor Center, Big Cypress National Preserve, FL; 12/26/2012.

A wedge of Snowy Egrets roosting with Ibis and Herons at a pond, Everglades Nat. park, FL; 12/29/2012.
At 20", the smallest of the three white Egrets are the Cattle Egrets (Below), which are found more in the grasslands and open fields than the water as other Egrets.
Cattle Egret, Everglades NP, FL; 12/28/2012.
Another Cattle Egret, Everglades NP, FL; 12/28/2012.
I don't think I could have driven more than a mile in the Everglades without seeing a white dot out my window. It may be that because "white" a more visible color than the blues, grays and browns of tother wading birds, but it seemed that Egrets dominated the landscape of the Everglades, which should be renamed "The Land of the White Birds."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wading Birds of Florida: Roseate Spoonbill

A Roseate Spoonbill sitting on a tree branch along Hwy 41, Big Cypress National Preserve, FL; 12/29/2012.
One of my target birds during my December, 2012, Winter Florida trip was the Roseate Spoonbill (Above). Previously my only view of these beautiful wading birds was a few years ago while visiting the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
The arrows are pointing to two Roseate Spoonbills mixed in with some Reddish Egrets, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans, Isla Contoy, MX; 12/21/2010.
We were on Isla Contoy , an island that was sanctioned as a Mexican National Wildlife Preserve. Only a limited number of people per day were allowed on the island, and only with a required guide.  After spending a few hours exploring part of the Island, we departed and while on the boat, we saw some small dots of pink (Above) flying along the island's far distant coast. They were barely distinguishable. So on this Florida trip, I was looking forward with high hopes of seeing a Spoonbill within good photography distance.
A blurry Roseate Spoonbill flying closely overhead, Everglades Nat. Park, FL; 12/29/2012.
I had three fleeting opportunities to capture a BIF Roseate while in Florida. First, while we were hiking in Lovers Key State Park (near Naples), on 12/26/12, two Roseates flew over, but were gone faster than I could get them in my viewfinder. Then later the same day, while stopping at the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve, a small bowl of Spoonbills flew over in the distance, not even close enough to warrant lifting my camera. Then on both days we were in the Everglades Nat. Park, we saw Spoonbills flyover. On 12/28/12, two flew above our heads, but were gone in an instant behind a stand of trees; on 12/29/12, while hiking around "Eco Pond," just beyond the Flamingo Visitor Center, with the purpose of looking for these allusive pink avians (this was the place we were told that Spoonbills are most likely to hang out), one flew by me at close range and I captured it in my viewfinder for a couple of seconds and for at least 4-5 burst shots. Unfortunately, I did not have my autofocus on, which I need for good BIF shots, and it was out of sight before I could manage to try to manually focus or switch to autofocus. I kicked myself for missing the opportunity. All I got was four blurry photos (Above: the best of the four). Doesn't this species ever land?

So as you can see, between my distance pics from Mexico, and my blurry shot in the Everglades, I was getting frustrated with my lack of luck / ability to get a good photograph of one of our country's most beautiful birds.

On our way back to Fort Myers, to catch a flight to Phoenix, AZ, we had two more destinations. The first was to make a second stop at the Oasis Visitor's Center in the Big Cypress National Preserve, since we saw much wildlife there three days before. All along Hwy 41, we were spotting Aligators, Kingfishers and Herons and Egrets of all kinds. The Center did not disappoint as there were lots of widlife hanging out in the canal running along the highway, but no Spoonbills. As we were leaving the parking lot, I saw a flock of Roseate Spoonbills fly overhead, and it looked like one landed in a tree not far from the roadside.  I pulled over, got out and saw the neck and head of a Spoonbill peaking over the treeline where it landed. I climbed onto the rental car to get a better look and sure enough within 100' or so, sat my opportunity. I hoped it would stay put until I could get my camera equipment ready, and it did - it stayed for the entire 5-10 minutes we stopped to get photographs and gave us nice full-body portraits (Top of page).
Roseate Spoonbill sitting pink amidst a stand of White Ibis, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, FL; 12/30/2012.
Then a day later, during our last stop before leaving our 5 day Florida trip, we visited the Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve, on Sanibel Island, near Cape Coral / Fort Myers, I spotted three Roseates in a shallow pond among a congregation of White Ibis. It was quite a distance away, but it stood out beautifully with its bright pink reflecting in the water (Above and Below).
Another of the three Roseate Spoonbills, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, FL; 12/30/2012.
It took the final two days of our 5-day trip, but I was finally able to get some decent photographs of the Roseate Spoonbills. Between getting photos of these Spoonbills and Wood Storks from my 1/6/2013 post ...;postID=3841132405047196420
... I would consider the trip a birding success. These waders are primarily found in the southern third of Florida and also along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.