The Rainbow Bird

It’s fun to spot the Purple Gallinule tiptoeing through the freshwater stream, pecking around for food. When it steps into the sunlight, its brilliant colors delight the birdwatcher.

purple gallinule bird
From purple to blue to shades of green and yellow, the Purple Gallinule’s feathers look electric in the Florida sunshine. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.

The Cornell School of Ornithology describes the Purple Gallinule’s behavior:

Purple Gallinules forage near the water’s edge, where they walk nimbly on muddy margins, or on aquatic vegetation. They hunt a bit like domestic chickens, walking slowly and investigating the vegetation with outstretched neck, or pecking at fruits or tubers. Like most rails, Purple Gallinules swim well, and they sometimes perch high in bushes and trees, where their long toes make them agile climbers.

Stop Action Series: Great Blue Heron in Flight

As an eyewitness to a bird in flight, I know the beauty we see is fleeting. In the blink of an eye, the sighting is a memory — as long as I didn’t blink! On the other hand, two photographs taken in quick succession can be studied, savored and enjoyed forever.

As a wildlife photographer, capturing a continuous series of a bird in flight is one of my goals, since I love seeing those beautiful wings outstretched. That’s not to mention the rewarding feeling of meeting the challenge of focus and freezing action of a fast moving subject!

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron’s lift off in the Everglades at Shark Valley. (First in series)
Great Blue Heron in flight
Great Blue Heron flies with wings outstretched. Everglades National Park. (Second in series)

Contrast these views with the serene beauty of the Great Blue Heron at rest, as it watches the water for a fish to catch.

Great Blue Heron, Everglades
Great Blue Heron perched waterside for feeding in Everglades National Park, Shark Valley.

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.

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.

Gator on the Move

I made a sunrise trip to Ten Thousand Islands near the Florida Everglades hoping to see roseate spoonbills, but instead got a good look at a very large alligator. He was old, long and big bellied, yet still looking for his next meal. As he swam parallel to the shore, I followed him down the trail for about 15 minutes, getting a good look at him at each clearing. He was looking at me, while I was looking at him (her). Do you see the sunrise reflecting in his eye?

With my Sony 200-600 mm lens, I could stay at a safe distance, but get a close look at this gator’s face. Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Southwest Florida, February 2021.

To give you an idea of the length of this alligator, here is a second photo showing its length. As he cruised the marsh, pelicans, cormorants, anhinga, and a variety of herons flew off to safety.

Some shoreline grasses blocked my view of this 10-foot alligator, but I didn’t want to approach this dangerous creature, as they can move very fast when they attack. Here, he seemed to be crawling on a sandbar.

Pelicans in Formation

When I observe birds flying and swimming in formation, I often think of synchronized dancers performing on stage or marching bands, but then I realize that humans are the ones imitating nature. We wear uniforms or dance costumes, so we will look as similar as two birds of the same species, right?

Two White Pelicans foraging together at low tide mirror each other in formation, as the overhead sun casts a mirror-like shadow on all three pelicans in the water. Low tide is feeding time, and on this day it happened near noon. J.N. Ding Darling Nature Preserve, Sanibel Island, Florida, January 2021.

When photographing wildlife, you can’t plan this. You just have to be patient enough to sit and wait, following your subject and continually adjusting your focus. Note: something really cool usually happens after you pack up your tripod and start walking back to the car!

Pelican Stare Down

I’m not sure who blinked first, but I do know that my camera shutter clicked before this handsome Brown Pelican looked away. I followed this Pelican for several minutes through a 600mm lens at a significant distance, tracking his behavior at a comfortable distance, not disturbing him. Yet he saw me watching!

As a bird lover with a specific affection for Brown Pelicans, I enjoyed this moment of connection with a Brown Pelican at the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida. The yellow crown feathers and pink bill indicate a pre-breeding adult. January 2021.