Blue Heron: Gotta Eat and Run

Today’s episode on bird behavior features the Little Blue Heron, now officially named “Blue Heron.” You’ll notice its blue beak and smaller size in comparison to the Great Blue Heron. As you follow along this series of four photographs, you will see the heron wade into shallow water and look for food with a head tilt.

Blue heron, reflection
Little Blue Heron looks for food in shallow water, but it looks like it admires its reflection. J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, Sanibel Island, FL.

Next, the blue heron suddenly dunks its head under water to pierce or grab its prey.

blue heron, feeding
Ker-splash! Blue heron grabs its food in the shallow water. Sanibel Island, FL
blue heron, feeding, wading bird
Blue heron feeding during low tide on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Finished feeding here, the little blue heron takes flight for a new location.

Wings outstretched, the blue heron takes flight on Sanibel Island, Florida.

My Favorite Hawk

I should be more precise: the Red Shouldered Hawk is the ONLY hawk I like. I think it’s such a handsome bird. It’s classy, quiet and artfully patterned. What do you think?

red shouldered hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in SW Florida, on the hunt.

I like this pose in which the hawk tilts its head while looking at possible prey.

red shouldered hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk with a sharp eye on the swamp below at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

I first spotted this silent hawk directly above me. At this angle, its torso is foreshortened, but the morning light illuminates its habitat. You don’t need binoculars to observe this large hawk.

red shouldered hawk
The Red Shouldered Hawk displays piercing eyes, a bright yellow bridge on its beak and a barred pattern on its feathered breast. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, SW Florida.

Ibis Activities

The Ibis — large white wading birds with pink curved beaks — are often seen in Florida. They feed in groups, pecking the ground in shallow water or near the water. I like them because they are beautiful, peaceful birds with black wingtips, whether I see them soaring overhead, landing on the beach or walking through my neighborhood.

The Ibis were active at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a wildlife observation site near Naples, Florida. A flock of three flew overhead, making a racquet with their unique “quack.” I observed one perched atop a high tree branch, and watched him long enough to photograph him fly into the brilliant blue sky.

ibis in flight
Ibis flies from his perch on a high tree branch in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in SW Florida.

Later, I watched an Ibis in a tree gathering nesting material. Usually, I see Ibis in shallow water or in the grass feeding, so this was interesting to watch.

Ibis nesting
Ibis gathers nesting material in January at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, SW Florida.

A more typical Ibis sighting is this one from Sanibel Island at low tide, where I observed this Ibis catching a crab in his beak.

Ibis feeding
Ibis feeding on a crab at J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.

A White Christmas Tree

Welcome back, American White Pelicans! Every winter it is delightful to see the return of the true snowbird, this beautiful and enormous bird that migrates to Florida from the Great Lakes region. I usually find large flocks on them on Sanibel Island in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and further south in “Ten Thousand Islands.”

In this close up photograph, the closely packed White Pelicans made an artistic arrangement. I see the composition as a white Christmas tree. I share the image with you as I send best wishes to you for a wonderful Christmas holiday filled with peace, joy and love.

Flock of White Pelicans on Sanibel Island at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Copyright Cathy Kelly.

Please share my blog post but not the photograph by itself. Prints are available upon request: cathykellyphotography@gmail.com.

Bringing Color to the Shadows

The start of every wildlife photography outing is overshadowed by doubt. Will I see anything today? Will the wildlife come to me? There is a great deal of luck involved in success: while we plan for weather, the angle of the sun and the tides, we don’t control the wildlife. We just pray for it.

The other half of the success equation is preparedness. How often do we go out there? I tell myself that I won’t see anything staying home or sleeping in! How good is your equipment? How well do you use it?

On my last trip to Sanibel Island, Mother Nature gave me a gift. The sought after Roseate Spoonbills were feeding at low tide in the shadows of the mangroves. I was there with my Sony mirrorless camera, a 600mm lens and a tripod. All the pieces came together.

The pink plumage of the roseate spoonbill brings a splash of color to the shadows of the mangrove in Sanibel Island, Florida. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

I delight in the pink hues of the Roseate Spoonbill’s plumage. In this photo the splash of pink contrasts the dark shadows of the surrounding mangrove and water.

My Eastern Bluebird

I’m taking the liberty of calling this photo “My Eastern Bluebird,” because I was just complaining to a friend that I have never taken a satisfactory photo of an Eastern Bluebird. I just love the coloring of this elusive bird, which always seems a step ahead of me. In the past, by the time I focus the lens, he is gone.

I knew that I had captured a photo of an Eastern Bluebird, but the small bird was so far away from me, that I wasn’t sure how successful the photo would be. In fact, the background of the sky was just a bright, amorphous glare. Yuk.

As I processed the photo and liked the focus and coloring of the bird, with thanks to my Sony 200-600mm lens, fully extended at 600mm and mounted on a tripod, I went in search of a better sky to create a more harmonious image, and voila…

Adding a pale blue sky with wispy clouds from Skylum’s Luminar software, my Eastern Bluebird shows off her beauty.

Pecking the Palms

This morning I rose before the sun to go birdwatching on our golf course. As the sun began to light the landscape, I spotted this Red-Bellied Woodpecker looking for insects on the palm trees. As he flew from one palm to the next, the sunlight gave us a good look at his red crown and black and white patterned wings.

This Red-bellied Woodpecker was spotted in Naples, Florida, but they can be found all along the East Coast of North America. Their red crown feathers are far more prominent than the tiny red lower belly.

Introducing the Pronghorn

This beautiful mammal is truly one of a kind, as the pronghorn’s 11 closest relatives are extinct. It is the last surviving member of the Antilocapridae family. The Pronghorn’s closest living relative is the giraffe!

The pronghorn (female shown here) is the fastest land mammal in North America, running up to 55 miles per hour. Grand Teton National Park.

You might have seen some pronghorns running at top speed around the national parks of Wyoming, because the species is repopulating, coming back strong from near extinction in the early 1900s, when it had been over-hunted by humans for food. It’s numbers dwindled to about 13,000. Private groups began buying up land to create a refuge for the pronghorn until the 1930s when Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt (FDR) created enough public land for them to live in a protected habitat. The presidents also put hunting restrictions in place. Now the pronghorn is estimated at 500,000 to a million in the American Rockies. (Read full details on Wikipedia.)

Now we could say of our fast-footed friend, that she is one in a million.

2022 Nature Photography Calendar: Ready Soon

I’m hard at work selecting 12 very special images from Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park to create a beautiful new calendar in time for holiday gift giving. As a sneak preview, I’ll share one of my favorite photos here.

Fresh snow on the Tetons was my birthday gift this year. I shot this photo at 7am on my birthday!

If you are interested in buying a calendar this year, send me an email with your mailing address. I will give you information on size, price and payment method, and have the calendars shipped directly to you.

My email address is: cathykellyphotography@gmail.com

The Best Part of Wildlife Photography

I think the most exciting aspect of Wildlife Photography is the chance to observe wild animals in their habitat, doing what they like to do. You can learn a lot from watching their behavior, and in doing that, I feel like a privileged secret observer. While we always keep a respectful distance in order not to distract or interfere with the animal, we whisper to each other, and our excitement is palpable.

Early one morning in Grand Teton National Park, we spotted a bull elk in the field, and his silhouette in the bright morning sun was striking.

Bull elk in Grand Teton National Park with morning light and fall colors.
A photograph of this bull elk in his habitat tells the story of his life in the wild. Grand Teton National Park, September 2021.
Bull elk running after his “girl,” an elk cow, during mating season in Grand Teton National Park.

At one point, we observed the interaction of the bull, the cow and the calf elk, and then they ran out of our line of sight. While close-up photographs are satisfying and show us exactly what the animal looks like, these experiences are exciting, and the photographs share a story. Autumn is a busy time in Grand Teton National Park for the elk, as well as the moose and bears.