Today is a rainy day in Southwest Florida, and I’m packing up for my own migration back to Pennsylvania. I’m definitely sad to leave. Looking back on my photographs in the Everglades, I found another series of three photos of the Great Egret lifting off from the swamp, showing its beautiful wings outstretched.
There comes a time when the bald eaglets are mature enough to fly on their own, and of course, the parents still like to keep an eye out for them. We human parents can relate! The pair of Bald Eagles who have raised two eaglets in their nest near Seagate Drive in Naples, Florida are taking their first flight. Join me in observing this special stage.
On a recent Saturday, I visited three active nests of American Bald Eagles in South Florida to observe the eaglets and the pair of parents and to photograph some of the activity. The nest in Marco Island held the youngest eaglets, with two in the nest who were still weeks away from their first flight. As the eaglets moved around and stood up on the edge of the nest to take care of business — you know, to keep the nest clean — we got a good look.
Using my Tamron 150-600mm lens on my Nikon D800 mounted on a Really Right Stuff tripod, I got these close up photos, using ISO 200 around 10 am.
Perhaps a dozen spectators with a variety of cameras, long lenses, tripods, binoculars and camera phones gathered on the sidewalk at a respectful distance (behind a rope as a reminder). One told the story of last year’s drama: The father eagle was electrocuted in a power line while chasing off prey. Some time later, a new male eagle arrived on the scene, and finding eaglets in the nest, he threw them out. The young eaglets, unable to fly, plunged to their deaths. This year, the family is doing well.
On my recent visit to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, I challenged myself to photograph the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron in flight. Both wading birds are large and beautiful while standing still or wading in the shallows, but their look is entirely different when they take flight and display their enormous wing spans.
My friend Caroline, who accompanied me on this 15-mile bike trip, noticed the exquisite silence around us as we observed the birds and watched them fish and eventually take flight. I needed to keep my lens focused on the bird, as without warning and without a sound, it would take flight. If I looked away, I would be too late to capture take-off. Freezing action and maintaining focus on the egret in flight was a serious challenge!
Here is a series of three photographs taken in quick succession. I enjoy the brilliant feathers from each angle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.