Saturday is for Eagle Watching

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.

Marco Island bald eaglet stands on edge of the sturdy nest and peers overboard. March 23, 2019.

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.

It will take five years for these brown eaglets to look like their parents with white feathers on the head and tail.
Scanning to the right and left, this bald eagle parent is on guard, to protect the eaglets in the nest.

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.

Silent and Strong

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.

Silent lift-off of the Great Egret in the grass of the Everglades. Shark Valley, South Florida.
American Egret uses its massive wings in a graceful arch to gain more height. Its long black legs extend behind. Everglades National Park, Florida.
Great Egret tucks its neck and reaches for the sky as it flies above the Everglades in Florida.

The Ghost Tulip

“Ghost Tulip” is my own affectionate name for this unique tulip that reminds me of the Ghost Orchid, the elusive tropical orchid that blooms in Florida in mid-summer. Seasonal Florida residents can’t catch a glimpse of the ghost orchid, since they have months ago fled to northern climes.

The Ghost Tulip stands out brilliantly from its green leaves and earthy roots. Find it at the Spring Flower Show, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh.

My good friend Sharon was patient with me as I composed, focused and captured 64 photographs at the Phipps Conservatory Spring Flower Show. I shared with her my thoughts on photographing flowers.

“I’m mainly concerned with finding good compositions here. The background must be simple yet show some depth. If I choose a single flower to dominate the composition, it’s helpful to have a second flower play best supporting actor, to echo the main actor, but play a secondary role, as in this composition,” I added.

Later, “I mentioned that a star pattern is always a good thing, as is an S curve or a diagonal.”

“Why?” she asked. “Ha, ha, good question,” was my reply.

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.