Fishing with Granddad

Sometimes I set out to shoot a sunrise or sunset or some wildlife and I stumble upon a completely different subject. I find it is important to keep my eyes open to serendipitous subjects when I’m out with my camera. Sometimes the humans that at first seem to be “in the way,” become the subject, as they tell their own story.

This little girl fishing with her grandfather struck me as a tender scene that would one day become a cherished memory. Early morning in Naples, Florida, March 2019.

When I walked onto the Naples beach near the pilings, I was mainly interested in the birds that would be there, and the abstract patterns the pilings make as they stretch away from the shore. I was strolling around to look at the pilings from different angles, when I realized that the grandfather fishing with the little girl made the most interesting image. I purposely underexposed the shot, so the figures would appear in silhouette. This way, any viewer can put themselves in the scene and relate to the bond between grandparent and child, or even father and child.

While I never went fishing with my Dad, I cherish the memories of the times we shared, especially the quiet times like this.

Glimpse of the Barred Owl

Well hidden in the dark shadows of the Cypress Swamp, undisturbed by onlookers on a distant boardwalk, the Barred Owl seemed to sleep. Bird watchers gathered, whispered and pointed toward the quiet owl. It would take a long lens (600mm), steady hands, perfect focus and the right camera settings (ISO 2000, 1/1000th) to capture a good photograph. Since our owl stayed in place and turned in our direction eventually, I got the shot.

This Barred Owl is nesting at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida. I was ready when it turned its head in my direction.

While mostly stoic, this owl took a moment to scratch its leg, giving us a new perspective on its feather patterns and a view of the feet and sharp opposable claws.

Red Shouldered Hawk

It was love at first sight when I spotted a Red-Shouldered Hawk for the first time. He perched on a high tree branch and kept his eyes trained on the water below, watching for prey. I waited and waited for him to take flight until my arms needed a rest. I wanted to capture him in flight, but his watch outlasted mine.

Red-Shouldered Hawk perched high above the water at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida.

My luck had not run out. About 5 minutes later along my hike in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, another couple had stopped to watch something low in the swamp. It must be the mate! Another red-shouldered hawk was foraging in the forested area, and I got some closer shots of its beautiful plumage. Sure enough, you can observe the red shoulder from this angle.

These raptors are fierce hunters, feeding on mammals as large as rabbits and tree squirrels, small reptiles and even birds of all sizes including the Eastern Screech Owl. Their length is typically 23-24″. Of these two hawks, I’m not sure which one is male and which is female.

All Eyes on the Eagle’s Nest

I had no idea how LARGE an eaglet is when it is ready to take flight for the first time, until I visited the Eagle’s Nest near my home in Naples. The “babies” don’t have a white (bald) head or white tail feathers yet, but they are quite large.

This eaglet in Naples FL made its first flight to a nearby pine tree branch, and he surveyed the new view while deciding on his next move.

Eagle admirers have been watching four nests in the region from Venice, FL to Bonita Beach, Naples and Marco Island. I have planned an outing to the Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary tomorrow to observe those eaglets.

Miracle of Migration

It’s exciting to spot the special bird species that migrate thousands of miles seasonally and find the same location every year. Purple martins and swallowtail kites migrate north to Florida from Brazil. Cedar waxwings, fly south in the winter from their breeding ground in Canada.

I was excited to capture a photo of these Cedar Waxwings, stopping for a few brief moments atop a Ficus Tree in Florida. They travel in flocks and migrate south to Florida (and Central America} from the northern reaches of the United States and Canada. Their coloring is beautiful.

Brian Beckner of Native Bird Boxes relates the story of Swallowtail Kites who were tracked by GPS monitors. Researchers found the individual birds returned to the same specific nest year after year. Their sense of direction and navigation is far superior to ours as humans.

Threats of Invasive Species

Iguanas are not native to Southwest Florida, and they are definitely the “bad guys.” They climb the trees, as you see here, and invade nests of native birds like Anhinga, Heron, Egret and Osprey and eat the eggs — reducing the population of these beautiful native birds.

This large iguana, resting in a tree on a Naples golf course, has thrived by invading the nests of native birds and preying upon the eggs. It is one of several invasive species that are considered pests in Florida. This one might measure 3 feet or one meter in length.

Other invasive species that disrupt the ecosystem in Florida include the Burmese python and a certain species of frog that is toxic to dogs. Communities as well as National Parks work toward reducing their numbers. For their own safety, dogs need to be leashed to prevent them from chasing and biting one of these toxic frogs.

Friends of the environment in Florida talk about reducing water usage, fertilizer usage and run-off, excessive development. The use of native plants fosters native habitats which encourage growth of native species. Audubon certified golf courses actively work toward these goals and make members aware of how we can protect and preserve our natural environment.

Mama Gator

The small baby alligators of the Florida Everglades are wise to follow their instincts and stay close to their mother, even lying on top of her. Their small size and still tender hides make them vulnerable to a Great Blue Heron or even a male Alligator. I spotted about six babies close to this parent.

Baby alligators like to bask in the sun, lying on their mother for protection. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, March 2018.

A 600mm lens allowed me to capture this close-up photograph, while standing about 15 feet away. It’s wise for humans to keep a safe distance away from this dangerous creature in the wild. While they lie still most of the time, when alligators are extremely quick when they attack.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama Gator. Good luck keeping your babies safe.