North American Nature Photographers Association

Graceful Arctic Tern.

I am excited that my image above was selected as part of the top 250 images in the North American Nature Photographers (NANPA) 2021 Showcase. The NANPA Showcase includes six categories: scapes, birds, mammals, macro/micro/all other wildlife, altered reality, and conservation. NANPA recently released most of the images which can be viewed here. The remaining images will be released next month. The images are stunning and worth a look.

If you are a nature photographer, I recommend joining NANPA. They are advocates for photographers rights and ethics in nature photography. They have many membership benefits including education opportunities and member discounts. For more information go to http://www.nanpa.org/membership-2/.

A Few Local Pictures

One of several red-shouldered hawks I saw on my walk.

I want to share a couple pictures from some local walks around the neighborhood.

A common ground-dove.
A red-bellied woodpecker getting ready to snatch an acorn.
The red-bellied woodpecker got the acorn.
A couple turkey vultures sunning. Notice the backs of the wings have lots of bird poop on them. They need a bath.

Mute Swans in Florida

Three mute swans swimming in a pond in Florida.

I regularly look at the eBird alerts to see what rare birds are showing up in my area. There had been several postings of the last few days about mute swans. Instead of doing my daily water aerobics today, I went to the spot where the latest sightings have been to get some pictures. I was fortunate to see three mute swans, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that one of the mute swans had a problem. I noticed that the right back leg of one of the mute swans was being held differently than the other birds. At one point, two of the mute swans flew to the other side of the pond, but the third swan just swam.

Later, they came out of the water and it was clear something was wrong with one of the swans. I didn’t know why there were mute swans in our vicinity because they shouldn’t be here. Also, these three birds were clearly sticking with each other. I am associated with a local wildlife rescue and wasn’t sure a rescue made sense. Taking the wounded bird away might allow the others to leave. When the wounded bird healed, where would it go? I took video and pictures of the wounds and called the local wildlife rehabilitator (The Ark) to get some guidance.

Injured mute swan. Its right back leg is injured preventing it from flying or walking.

Oddly, my contact told me they already had my wounded swan. I had just left the swan, so I was puzzled how they picked it up so fast. I asked when they picked up the bird and she said “two days ago”. Obviously, I saw a different bird.

As we talked, my contact said the Ark thought that the bird they retrieved may have been raised by someone nearby and released after the birds got too big. Knowing there were three more birds made them believe that they may have all been released at the same time.

The Ark attempted to retrieve the wounded bird I found and they were unsuccessful. But, they realized the location was, for the most part, a good place for the swans to be. They had sufficient water and vegetation to feed. There is a nearby road that presents a danger, but otherwise it was a good place. They decided to return the wounded bird they had to the same pond where the other three birds were located. They recorded the release of the 4th bird and it was a reunion to bring a tear to your eye. The four birds appear to be happy together at this location.

Mute swans are considered an invasive species in most of the United States, so no public organization is likely to care about the outcome of these birds. Letting them make their way as best they can in this little pond is the best these birds can hope for. And local folks can get a great view of these beautiful birds.

In the following video, you can see three of the swans. Note that one of the swans holds its right back leg awkwardly and when it is on land, it can’t walk.

Cedar Key

Roseate spoonbill ((Platalea ajaja) we saw while kayaking.

We recently returned from camping several days in Cedar Key, Florida. We stayed at our favorite location – Low Key Hideway. They have about 10 campsites and all located on the water. There is a small hotel and a Tiki Bar and it is adults only. Our plan was to watch the wildlife and sunsets from the deck at the campsite and go kayaking.

Dart sitting on the deck at our campsite. We always watch over the water for wildlife while he watches the campground for potential human or canine activity. Since we were the only camper two of the three nights, it was boring for him.

We arrived in the rain and it continued to rain most of the next day. During a small break in the rain on the first full day, we hauled my kayak across the street and launched from the shore. It was high enough tide to float the kayak but required walking through the silty mud. I was sure I was going to sink down to China. It was a muddy mess. I did my best to limit the mud in the kayak and took off. Once I got on more open water the wind was too much to stay out and I immediately returned.

Instead, I got some fresh squeezed margaritas from the Tiki bar and enjoyed the view. There were no spectacular sunsets to be seen the first two rainy nights but plenty of wildlife watching available.

Skate or ray in the water by our campsite.
White ibis (Eudocimus albus) feeding by our campsite.
Regis noticed this off the dock at the Tiki bar.

We were fortunate to have great weather the last day and Regis recommended launching from a boat ramp instead of the muddy shore. Great idea! The boat ramp and launch was only about a 1/2 mile from our campsite and less muddy conditions. We paddled out to the Gulf of Mexico and saw lots of birds with flocks and flocks of them flying occasionally. I rarely get to see a captivating sight of so many birds flying together in flocks.

Willet (Tringa semipalmata) feeding on an oyster bar.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) standing on an oyster bar. Those oyster bars were rough on the bottoms of the kayaks when we occasionally scraped bottom.
American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) on an oyster bar with a willet in the background. There was an oystercatcher super highway going by on our kayak return. It appeared there was going to be an oystercatcher gathering on the gulf and they were flying by in singles and multiples. I tried very hard to get a picture, and with so many going by, I would have thought I could get just one in focus. Not.
Black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola).
Willet.
Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).

It became too hot to stay out, so we returned to the campsite and got prepared for a spectacular sunset and were not disappointed. In the middle of taking pictures, it started to rain on top of us and we had to watch the stunning colors that appear after the sun sets while sitting in the motorhome. The Tiki bar was closed the last night or I would have had a margarita in one hand while the other hand was free to press the shutter release on the camera.

Sunset from the deck at our campsite.
My last sunset picture before those clouds at the top of the picture starting dumping rain on us. See how the colors become more spectacular after the sun sets.

On this short adventure, we learned that we are incapable of properly packing for a short trip. We forgot so many things I had to run to the grocery store twice. I forgot Dart’s leash, which is unbelievable. Part of the problem was the thorough job of cleaning the RV after our summer trip and removing lots of items that would normally stay in the RV. For example, I removed many dishes to run through the dishwasher and all the towels, sheets, blankets, etc. All that stuff did not make it back into the motorhome. We published a packing list for other campers to use but we didn’t bother to use it ourselves.

We created a short video of some of the bird feeding behavior we saw from our campsite. Notice the mud on the feet of the first bird (little blue heron) as it walks and sinks into the muck. That bird doesn’t weigh much. I had to walk through stuff like that to launch the kayak and it was hard to pick my feet up after I sunk into the silty mud. Also, notice how the roseate spoonbills move there bills through the water to get food.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Family of black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis). There are six babies but one of them is hidden in this picture.

For the first time in our neighborhood, we saw some black-bellied whistling ducks. A few days ago, I saw two adults and seven babies. Today there are only six babies. These ducks used to be called black-bellied tree ducks because they roost in trees and sometimes nest in tree cavities. They are mostly vegetarians and like to eat the grain from agricultural fields. They usually feed at night. They can be found year round in the peninsular part of Florida. These birds make a very interesting whistling call. The little ones kept trying to get underneath one of the adults for shade. It was hard to fit six babies under one adult.

Six baby ducks trying to fit under the parent to get shade.
Family of black-bellied whistling ducks. The adults mate for life.

While trying to get photos of the ducks, I heard the rattling call of some belted kingfishers and saw a pair of them on one of the branches of a tall pine tree. These birds are only seen in our area in the winter. The female has two chest bands, blue-gray and rusty while the male lacks the rusty band. These are two males.

Two male belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon).

Local Wildlife 2

I enjoy all the wildlife we see near our home. As much as I love to travel and see all the wildlife on the road, I also enjoy all that I can see from home. There is always something happening.

We have been seeing lots of tree fogs lately. I found this little guy sitting on the vegetation in the front garden. We usually see the frogs stuck to the side of the house. Tree frogs are small, making it easy for them to climb trees and other vegetation. They have small legs that help them grasp and toe pads that allow them to stick to the side of the house.

Tree frog. I think the foggy look is because the lens fogged up. The camera had been in the air conditioned house and it was very hot and humid outside. As a reference the stick is half the size of a pencil.

This fawn was lying under the palm trees near a pond a few blocks from our house. Mother deer leave their fawns alone for safety reasons and return to them later in the day. Fawns do not have an odor while the mothers do. Usually, the fawns are tucked away in the vegetation but this little one was enjoying the sunshine. It is a little big for a fawn but it still has its spots.

Fawn lying under palm trees.

Regis went exploring at the beach and found this bedraggled grackle.

Grackle that has some feather issues. It could be molting but it shouldn’t be down to one lousy looking tail feather.

Regis loves taking pictures of ospreys.

Osprey.

One of our little raccoon families has broken up since we first saw them when we returned. The small babies are now on their own and one baby shows up under our bird feeder regularly. We don’t know whether momma kicked the babies out or something happened to her. The babies are too small to be on their own so soon. The other family has one baby left with the mother and the her baby is bigger than the little ones that are on their own. Regis found two dead raccoons in the preserve behind our house and based on their decay, they did not recently die. I found a raccoon skeleton back there after we moved in, so it appears to be some kind of raccoon graveyard back there.

One day I went into the back yard with Dart and didn’t notice the baby raccoon under the feeder. It bolted for the nearest tree when it saw us. That tree is a slash pine at least 60 feet tall with no branches until you get to the top. We have an owl box mounted on the tree and the baby raccoon climbed onto the top of the box and stayed there for about an hour and slept part of the time. I was worried a hawk would get it because the raccoon is small. When the raccoon started to come down, it lost its grip coming off the owl box and plummeted to the ground. Even though it fell at least 15 feet, it appeared to be unharmed and we continue to see it.

Baby raccoon sleeping on an unoccupied owl box.

We have seen Topaz, our released blue jay, several times in our yard. Topaz acknowledges us when it visits by doing its begging wings when it sees us. It talks to us and then leaves. It has been coming to the feeder that has Bark Butter bits. I know it is back there when I hear a unique bird sound. I recognize the hawk and osprey calls that it makes but I can’t figure out what all those other sounds are. The bird sounds are so unique that we know Topaz is around before we see it. When I hear it, I run out and look for it. That’s when it lets me know when it sees me by shaking its wings. The bird looks very healthy.

Local Wildlife Update

As we described in earlier posts, I raised a baby blue jay, Topaz, last spring and released it in May. We went across country for the summer and came back mid-August. About a week after we came home, we saw the blue jay about a 1/2 block up the street. The next day I saw it again and was able to get pictures. (Recent Topaz post here.) I walk the dog in that area regularly and haven’t seen or heard the blue jay in the area. Two days ago, Regis spotted a blue jay at the feeder. It left and landed in a nearby tree and when Regis got close to the tree, the blue jay started to exhibit begging behavior. That’s our bird, Topaz! It was great to see it again but once again it is remaining elusive. It was eating the Bark Butter Bits, so I will be sure to keep the feeder full.

We also posted about some raccoon families hanging around. Over the last several days, we have not seen the families together. We have seen individual baby raccoons show up to check under the feeder for any seed that has fallen. They are adorable. Last evening, I saw one of the little guys as it was starting to get dark and then an adult showed up. This was not the mother because we have seen this other raccoon before. The raccoon has an injury. My heart breaks for it but it seems to be able to get enough food. We saw this hurt raccoon a couple weeks ago but this is the first picture we got so we could check out the injury.

Wounded raccoon.

The baby raccoon laid on the ground when the adult came and stayed there while the adult ate what it could find. After the adult left, the baby laid on the ground under the feeder for about 15 minutes before it finally left.

Baby raccoon laying low while an adult (not its momma) eats.

Hawk Pursuit

Juvenile Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Dart and I inadvertently seem to have interrupted a hawk pursuit. Dart likes to play with his flying disk. It’s technically not a frisbee, but we call it one. If you say “frisbee” to Dart, he goes nuts and starts running around in circles as he is trying to get outside. When he was young, he would catch the disk until he dropped dead. We had to be the ones smart enough to stop the game because he would never give up. He is older now and his desire to play exceeds his ability by leaps and bounds. Once I get out and toss the disk, he often doesn’t bother to chase it. Dart is more enthusiastic about playing with Regis. I thinks its because Regis claps and hoots and hollers when he catches it and Dart loves an audience. Dart may catch the disk twice or three times for Regis.

I took Dart out to play with his disk and tossed it into the yard and Dart stood in one spot. But, a juvenile Cooper’s hawk landed on the fence and started watching me and tweeting at me. That’s the first time I heard a hawk tweet. We stared at each other until it flew up by the side of the house but I didn’t see it rise above the roof. I went to the side of the house to investigate and found the hawk perched on the roof above a tree we have that just reaches the height of our one story house. At this point, I noticed a bird hidden in the tree. I am certain the hawk wanted that bird. The bird was panting in the heat. At first I thought the bird was severely wounded and after carefully getting a closer look without startling the bird out into the open, I saw that it was a male red-winged blackbird.

The hawk got tired of waiting for me to leave and flew into a tree behind our house and I went in for the camera. It was still there when I returned and I was able to get a few images. It gave up on me and flew through the trees proving itself to be a Cooper’s hawk. Cooper’s hawk are accipiters which are long-tailed agile hawks that deftly fly through the woods. Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks look similar, but sharp-shinned hawks are usually smaller. Although, a large female sharp-shinned hawk can be the size of a small Cooper’s hawk. Based on the size, I was pretty sure it was a Copper’s hawk but was able to verify when looking at the images because a Cooper’s hawk has a more rounded tail than the sharp-shinned. Because the bird had a brown chest and a streaked back, I could tell it was a juvenile. Adults have a gray back and pale reddish chest.

After the hawk left, I checked on the red-winged blackbird and he wasn’t leaving that tree. I checked back about an hour later and again two hours later and he was still in the tree. On the next check, he was gone. I am sure he is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Juvenile Cooper’s hawk hoping I will leave so it can continue to pursue a red-winged blackbird it was after. My presence forced the hawk to find a meal elsewhere and the potential red-winged blackbird victim lived through the experience.

Baby Shorebird

Baby shorebird, perhaps a ruddy turnstone.

I went for a walk on the beach today in Anastasia State Park. I saw this baby shorebird. I think it is a baby ruddy turnstone, but would love to hear from anyone who thinks it is something else. This little one was very active and doing well finding food on the beach. It needs a tail.

This young bird was very active and successful in feeding itself.

Here is a picture of an adult ruddy turnstone I took a few years ago near Marineland.

Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres).

There were lots of royal terns begging for food and keeping their parents busy bringing in fish to feed them. The young royal terns are almost as big as the parents but you can tell the young ones based on their begging posture.

Young royal tern (Thalasseus maximus) begging for food from its parent.

Raccoon Clean Up Crew

Mother raccoon with three babies cleaning up any food that fell from the bird feeder. There is a baffle on the pole, so they cannot get into the feeder.

When we returned from our cross country trip, I immediately set up the bird feeders since I love watching the birds. A few days after I set up the feeders, I noticed that two separate raccoon families were making it a habit to drop by during the day to clean up any seed that fell to the ground. The first shift is comprised of a mother and two adorable babies. The second shift of a mother and three babies shows up an hour or so later and cleans up anything that was missed or new stuff that has fallen to the ground. I feed a No Mess Blend from Wild Birds Unlimited that includes sunflower seeds and millet without the shells and peanuts. I also feed Bark Butter Bugs and Bits which the bluebirds and Carolina wrens love. If it rains, I will toss out the remaining Bark Butter Bits on the ground and replace with fresh food. I only put out a handful everyday, so there isn’t much to toss out when I do. The raccoons will not eat any of the millet that falls to the ground but they will clean up the rest.

Baby raccoon.

I love to watch them pick up the food with their little hands. The mom’s are always alert and if we make too much movement in the house, the moms shoo their little ones to safety.

Baby raccoon. It may have heard the shutter on the camera. Regis was taking pictures through the open bedroom window.

A few days ago, when I was leaving the neighborhood to run and errand, I saw 17 roseate spoonbills at our local pond. I called Regis and he came down to take pictures. We occasionally see a spoonbill or two at one of the ponds, but I have never seen so many at one time. We see them more often in the marsh, but even then I rarely see more than a few at a time.

Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) and wood storks (Mycteria americana) at our local pond.
Mother raccoon with her baby.