Header Image: Least Bittern
Clear skies and the wind had subsided. Two hours before sunset. I had a sudden notion to wander along the western shore of the lake where the sinking sun would provide strong but warm light as I peered into the reeds and trees lining this side of the lake. I knew there were breeding egrets and herons here, but would their nests be visible?
When attempting to learn about photography (a work STILL in progress), we’re told how important light is in making a pleasing image. Indeed, the very word “photography” is formed from two Greek words for “light” and “drawing”. We are further instructed that, in nature photography, the very best light is available a couple of hours around sunrise and sunset. The “Golden Hours“. Some very intent students take that a bit to the extreme and almost refuse to carry a camera outside those parameters. Fortunately, I’ve never been a very good student.
On this day, however, I actually saw the words “Golden Hours” illuminated within my brain and that motivated me to go forth and shoot birds. I even took a tripod. And used it. On purpose. No, really.
A two-mile meander (I don’t think bird photographers actually “walk” and we most certainly don’t “hike”) along the edge of the lake was not only pleasant, it turned out to be what, in another lifetime, I recall Air Force combat jet pilots referring to as a “target-rich environment“. Birds were busily preparing for a night of roosting by very actively hunting for a last-minute meal.
A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks prepare for a quiet evening by preening and taking care of an itch.
The best roosting logs are occupied early or else a young Limpkin might have to sleep in the reeds or in a tree.
This particularly tall cypress tree is serving as an Anhinga nursery. These water birds tend to nest in colonies and I counted eight nests in this one tree. Immature birds, seen here, retain an overall whitish plumage for about the first three weeks after hatching, at which time the feathers turn light brown as they prepare to fledge.
Let’s just check out this dock which offers a good view into the reeds. Hmmm. It seems other nature lovers are already here. We wouldn’t want to disturb them so let’s just see what’s on down the shore line. (Those are empty apple snail shells on the dock left by Limpkins and/or Snail Kites.)
The chamber of commerce has hired a few event actors to pose for eco-tourists such as yours truly. A Glossy Ibis shows off an impressive wingspan and then folds the wings neatly to exhibit the “mother-of-pearl” iridescence which is its namesake.
Once upon a time, we had friends over for barbecue. One of the visitors stated he didn’t care for BBQ, not because of the taste, but because he couldn’t eat it without getting messy. Gini, always the helpful hostess, advised: “If you don’t get it all over yourself, you’re not eating it properly.” (She then pointed the picky diner to the cabinet holding the peanut butter.) This adult White Ibis would have felt right at home at our BBQ table, based on the amount of mud on its bill. Breeding season has turned the bird’s bill and legs a brighter shade of red than normal.
Immature White Ibises are brown, white feathers begin to appear during their first summer, they show more white during the winter and by their second summer they will achieve full adult plumage. The bird in this image is likely about a year old and will be all white by summer’s end.
Stealth is the means by which many birds survive. Watching this Tricolored Heron move in on its prey was like watching the hands of a clock. I knew he was moving, but couldn’t see it happening. Note the white head plume, only present during breeding season.
At the end of the day, a Great Blue Heron hopes for just one more frog. Don’t we all?
Somewhat surprising was finding a very busy Spotted Sandpiper. They breed in our area but I haven’t seen many around this lake. Nice to see one with all its spots, as opposed to the plain winter plumage.
Several years ago, the city erected a Purple Martin house by the lake. It has enjoyed full occupancy every year since. Indulge me for a little while as it is supper time.
Adult male Purple Martin. We typically see them flying at high speed and they appear black. Good light reveals how they got the name.
Mom brings a Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) to a hungry chick.
Junior receives a regal repast of Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) as Dad watches to be sure the kid doesn’t choke.
The diligent parent cleans up after junior’s meal by removing the fecal sac from the nest. (Many bird species nestlings produce a mucous sac to contain feces which is removed by a parent to keep the nest clean.)
Another female brings a last-minute dragon as it will soon be dark and time for young Martins (as well as Mom and Dad) to rest.
During breeding season, the bill turns blue and the eyes of the Little Blue Heron turn quite dark. There were heron and egret nests in these reeds but they were not visible from the shore.
A male Snail Kite conducts one last sortie for some escargot to go with his lemon garlic butter.
Sunset. A Least Bittern tried her best to become a tall reed. I pretended not to see her, but I’m pretty sure she could hear all that “click-click-clickety” going on. It was a great way to end a day.
Although I covered a couple of miles, I can’t really say I benefited from very much “exercise”. Walk three steps, take pictures, walk two steps, take pictures, etc. There was a lot of bird activity at the close of the day and the “golden hours” lived up to their billing. The light was perfect, the drawing was enjoyable.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!