As soon as Mama Muscovy Duck saw a photographer across the lake, she silently signaled her ducklings to hide beneath her. It amazed me to see all eight ducklings completely hidden underneath her feathers, while she confidently looked around as if to say, “what ducklings? I don’t see any ducklings.” In this sequence of photos, you can see the adorable fluffy chicks before they huddle together beneath Mama’s feathers.
Before leaving Florida for the season, I want to share a series of photos of the unique Reddish Egret. It’s a medium sized heron with a mane of elongated reddish feathers, a pink translucent beak and a cool way of dancing while foraging. You can find them in the salt water shallows foraging at low tide.
I observed this adult breeding reddish egret on Sanibel Island at J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve in February 2020. My friend marveled at the bushy neck plumage, asking, “Are you sure that’s not hair?”
During the Covid-19 pandemic when our mobility is suddenly limited, I think about the enviable mobility of the birds around us. Here in Florida, we often see brown pelicans soaring through the sky and flying low across the Gulf of Mexico. For birds, mobility equals escape from danger, or the slightest perception of danger. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fly away from the virus that threatens our health right now?
Pelicans are fun to watch. They fly in V-shaped formations with numbers ranging from 3 to 20 or more. They are silent, and they never bother people, given us the impression that they are gentle creatures.
When they forage for fish, they fly close to the surface of the water and then make a steep climb and nosedive to stun the fish with their beaks. Then, they scoop up the fish and a gallon or more of water with their stretchy pouch. Keep watching to see them tip up the beak and swallow the fish whole.
Happy news: the Bald Eagle pair close to my home in Naples has an eaglet in the nest. One lucky observer saw the eaglet peering over the side of the nest. When I visited the nest, located high in a pine tree yesterday, I did not see the eaglet, but I did observe one of the parents standing guard, looking all around. After a few minutes I observed the parents feeding the eaglet. It was tearing little bits of pink flesh from some prey to feed to its young.
Male and female eagles look alike, so you can only tell the sex of the parent by seeing them together. Often the female is larger. Both parents participate in parenting by taking turns guarding the nest and hunting for food. The eagles know enough to guard the eaglet from an incoming predator like an osprey or iguana.
I will be stopping by frequently in the coming weeks to watch for the eaglet.
Silently watching a rookery island at sunset, I observed flocks of ibis, flocks of pelicans and flocks of snowy egret gently glide along the water to land on the island and take refuge for the night. One bird in flight is a graceful wonder to watch, but a flock of one species in flight together is a veritable ballet.
Seconds later, the flock extended their wings and feet to land on the rookery island. Zoom in to get a closer look!
Even more exciting than spotting my first moose was watching a spontaneous show of behavior between two male moose in the presence of a female and calf. Joining a Brushback Wildlife Tour in Grand Teton National Park one evening at dusk was definitely worth the investment.
What are these two moose looking at, you might ask? All eyes are on a mother and calf grazing on the nearby hillside. The young buck just wanted to get close enough to say hello, but the senior moose (notice the superior headgear), would block his path. Young buck takes a few steps to the left, Big Moose takes a few steps to the left. A few steps to the right are also blocked.
Light was low, and I had to increase my ISO to 3200 and use a tripod on the Sony aIIr7 with the Sony 100-400mm lens in order to capture these images.
Wouldn’t you like to start every day feeling this confident — with your face to the sun and your head held high? I will keep this image in my mind.
Bird photography gets really fun when you are trying to capture unique behavior. This Reddish Egret I observed on Sanibel Island, Florida had some cool moves. I was amused by the head tilt that began his feeding dance. In this image, it looks like he is given the duck some attitude.
There are many reasons to love the Pileated Woodpecker. First, you notice its brilliant red crown feathers and the red, black and white plumage, which would be a striking way to dress yourself today. Second, you can observe its impressive ability to steady itself vertically way up high in an old tree or utility pole. Then, you may marvel at its ability to hunt for food or carve out a nest by tapping its beak into the wood like a hammer 10 to 20 times per second. How can its head withstand all that impact?
Lastly, you may like the woodpecker for these traits you would admire in a human: it is non-migratory, inhabiting the same territory for its lifetime. It chooses and is loyal to a single mate. It benefits many other bird and mammal species in its environment, as song birds, owls and even raccoons later inhabit the old tree holes that the woodpecker has carved out for its nests.
And here is a mixed blessing. That pileated woodpecker in your backyard may be giving you some free advice: that dead tree needs to come down.
After breakfast, at low tide and warmed by the sun, these white pelicans decided conditions were perfect for a morning nap. Until one male pelican arrived and cried out to all of them, “Wake Up!”
The J.N. Ding Darling Nature Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida is a wonderful place to observe the White Pelicans, Great Egrets, Great Blue Heron and Roseate Spoonbills in the winter months.