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More Florida birds

Well, back in Ohio, where the temperature will drop into the 20's F tonight, and the wind is howling. A far cry from southern Georgia and southwest Florida, where I spent the last eight days. It was pretty much a gonzo, dawn to dusk everyday, birding/photographing expedition, and a highly productive one at that. It'll take a while to sort out many thousands of photos.

The trip was not without challenges. I made my first trip into the Withlacoochee State Forest, a place known for its Bachman's Sparrows and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, among many other species. I found both, but also learned the perils of navigating the forest without benefit of four-wheel drive. My first day, I managed to stick my car but good in an undetectable soft sandy spot on a very remote forest road. That took about three hours to resolve. Also, the two days that I poked around the Withlacoochee were plagued by overcast skies and off and on rain, which made sharp, crisp photos a near impossibility. Nonetheless, I look forward to a return trip, in four-wheel drive mode.

But after the ill weather of the Withlacoochee, it was mostly warm weather and sunny skies. Following are a smattering of images.

A Willet stalks through surf in the Gulf of Mexico. There are two distinct subspecies, Eastern and Western, and there is talk that some day they may be carved into separate species. This is, I believe, the Western type. These big sandpipers are quite common along the Florida coast. They look rather plain, until taking flight. Then, a conspicuous white wing stripe creates a bright burst.

Another common shorebird, the Black-bellied Plover. When these birds attain breeding plumage later in spring, they'll look like a different species. Breeders have ebony underparts and snowy upperparts checkerboarded with black.

Brown Pelicans are everywhere down there, and are irresistible photo subjects. Not very challenging though, whether perched or in flight. But, capturing one with a juvenile Laughing Gull perched on its head is a bit harder. This pelican had just plunged into the water for fish, and the gull instantly landed on its head, awaiting an opportunity to pilfer a morsel.

A Sanderling, the classic wave-runner sandpiper of beaches nearly worldwide.

Much of the aural ambience of Florida's beaches comes from this species, the Laughing Gull. It's well-named, and being in close proximity to a flock can sometimes veer on the annoying when they began to loudly "laugh" en masse.

An adult Laughing Gull, in full breeding plumage. After breeding, they lose the hood and are not as spectacular. Most gull species become distinctly handsomer when in breeding condition. The bill, legs, and orbital ring (thin ring of bare flesh around the eye) become more colorful, and the plumage brightens. In the case of smaller hooded gulls such as this, the dark head cowl develops, too.

An adult Herring Gull, already in full breeding plumage. It has lost the dusky streaking on the head, which now gleams n the brightest white, and its bill and orbital ring are brilliant.

A flock of Royal Terns rest on Fort Desoto Beach. Some Laughing Gulls lurk in the background, right. I had a great time in this spot one morning. By arriving just after sunrise, one has several hours before all of the tourists arrive and the sun gets too high and harsh. A resting flock like this attracts other birds, and I photographed many species as they came and went. Also, by laying/kneeling on the sand and shooting from a low position - which yields a better perspective - the birds are less bothered. After a while, I essentially became one with the flock, and birds were all around me, sometimes within five feet. I shot this with my 70-200mm lens at 70 mm, and wished that I had brought the wide-angle 16-35mm onto the beach with me.

A Royal Tern in flight. A thing of the utmost fluid grace.

A personal favorite is the Black Skimmer, what with their strange bill and black hoodie pulled over the eyes. They use that odd bill to skim the water, just the elongated lower mandible slicing through the liquid. In this way, they are able to deftly snare small fish.

Head on with a skimmer, showing a completely different dimension to the bill. You could slice off a finger with that thing!

I spent several wonderful hours at the fabled Venice Rookery, owned by the Venice Area Audubon Society. The rookery is on a very small treed island in a little pond, and thus viewers are quite close to the action. Nesters include various egrets, herons, Anhinga, and ibis. Here, a nearly fully grown young Great Blue Heron begs for food from an adult. A second after I made this image, the young bird lunged upward, seized the adult's bill, and yanked it downward. This is how the young stimulate the adults to regurgitate food.

Burrowing Owls next, I think.


Bryn De Kocks said…
Loving the shots in this post, especially the direct portraits. Would love to see one of those Laughing Gulls get a little lost and end up on our South African shores.
Gaia Gardener: said…
Love that head-on shot of the Black Skimmer, showing how narrow the bill is. While I've seen skimmers before, I've never seen the bill from that angle. Great capture!

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