Alligator Nursery

“Alligator Nursery” are two words you don’t normally see together! This mother American Alligator owns this territory — has been lounging on this ledge for years, so it is no surprise that she has made this private corner the nursery for her babies. How many baby alligators can you spot in this photograph?

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Mother Alligator with at least 9 babies at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples FL, February 2020.

Mother gator tries to protect her young from predators, which include adult male alligators. Dad gator doesn’t hesitate to snack on the children.

This close-up of Mom Gator and four baby gators reminds me of the advice given to human mothers of newborns, “When baby sleeps, you should sleep.”

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Shhh… Naptime for mother alligator and babies on Lettuce Lake at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Collier County, Naples FL 2020. This image was made from a safe distance with a 600mm lens.

When visiting Florida, keep your distance from any alligator you see and don’t walk close to the edge of any lake or pond, for alligators are dangerous to humans and their pets. If the alligator is hungry, it will strike very fast without warning.

What the Red-Bellied Woodpecker said

While I was leaving Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at 5pm, I witnessed a dramatic ambush. A Red-Shouldered Hawk swooped into the woods and nearly took out a quick moving Red-Bellied woodpecker. As the hawk flew in and just as quickly flew away, the woodpecker, traumatized by its near-death experience, shrieked and jumped around frantically for several minutes. I recognized the behavior as a way of communicating, “HOLY —-. That hawk almost KILLED me!!!”

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker has just survived an ambush by a Red-Shouldered Hawk in Naples, FL, 2020. Observing wildlife behavior is always a learning experience.

I set up my tripod as quickly as I could and made some images of the woodpecker as he momentarily rested on the trunk of this tree. When I got home to examine my photos, I was able to identify the type of bird he was. While the hawk’s behavior is part of Nature’s food chain, I could relate to the anxiety of the little woodpecker. That was one scary experience!

Green Heron, Turn Around

Want to know a fun fact about the Green Heron?

  • The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish. (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)
The Green Heron is a short stocky bird, compared to other herons. I found this one at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at the water’s edge.
As I watched silently, the Green Heron turned around for another view in the sunlight. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples, Florida.

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.

Portrait of a Roseate Spoonbill

“Okay, perfect. Now, stand up straight with one foot in front of the other, step into the sunlight, look at me, and hold it right there.” Snap!

If only a wild bird would follow directions like that! If only a beautiful roseate spoonbill would show up when you go out with your camera hoping to capture something interesting. In the wild, the photographer shows up often and prepared with know how and good equipment hoping that the birds and the events will happen someday.

When it is time to process a digital image, some experience with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom comes in handy. I was grateful to be prepared when this Roseate Spoonbill and I met at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

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I could not have posed you any better, Roseate Spoonbill. Thanks for looking at the camera and stepping into the light.

Who Am I?

This mostly white bird seen in the southwest Florida swamp stumped some experienced bird watchers who were guessing its identity. What do you think? Yes, it looks like a heron with that long beak, but it’s not blue…at least not yet.

 

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This juvenile blue heron has just a hint of blue on its beak and in its feathers.

My first guess was the Wurdemann’s Heron, a  mostly white mutation of the Great Blue Heron, that I had recently learned about and sighted in Rookery Bay.  Don’t we love to put our newly found knowledge to work? But the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary naturalist gently corrected me: this is a juvenile Great Blue Heron.

If you have some birding knowledge to share, please leave a comment to this blog. I’m happy to start a conversation.