Friday, April 29, 2011

An Osprey Gets Its Fish

On our last day in Florida we decided to drive back down the coast to the Archie Carr NWR and do a bit of kayaking in the Indian River Lagoon. We put in at the Longpoint campground boat launch. Right next to it was a fish cleaning station, which was surrounded by begging birds waiting for fish guts. Four Brown Pelicans, a White Ibis and Great Egret awaited handouts.

We floated the calm waters watching fish leap and splash. Several Osprey soared overhead, their keen eyes scanning the waters. These birds were willing to work for their meals.

Then, one of the birds I was watching went into a dive. I scrambled to get my camera on it. I managed to catch up just before the bird hit the water--and what a shot it was! Click on this to enlarge it--you can see the bird's feet extended in front of its beak, toes splayed and talons hooked, wings tucked and set for impact, ready to take its prey.

I watched as the bird struggled to get out of the water...

...then finally emerge with its catch.

The clarity of these shots is not good as I had my cheaper lens with me on the water, but I was thrilled to be able to capture this sequence, grainy or not. Hope you enjoyed it!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Artwork--"Gone Fishin'"

This latest piece was quite an undertaking. If you follow Bear Track Studios on Facebook (hint, hint) you have seen the progression of it from inked outline to finished product. This is a big piece--over two feet tall--and took nearly three weeks to complete.

The images of this brown bear came from a trip I made several years ago to North Carolina and the zoo in Asheboro. While I have seen a handful of bears in the wild they were at quite a distance, and frankly, that's OK with me! This handsome fellow had been swimming so his fur was wet and clumping. I love the depth in this piece, and feel that my style has really emerged.

I am now on to some new birds, first a Blue Jay and then a Baltimore Oriole. After that? Maybe a gray wolf....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pelican Island NWR Redux

(I am still waiting patiently for spring to arrive here in Southeast Michigan. Highs 15 to 20 degrees below normal and endlessly cloudy days have stalled the emergence of plants, as well as me from my home. I am tired of being cold and it's wearing on me. Good thing I still have Florida posts to take at least my mind somewhere warm!)

Tuesday was Grandma Day. Suffering from macular degeneration as well as a bit of vertigo, she is unable to get herself around any more. Oh, she is still quite active, bowling two nights a week, hosting a bridge club on Thursdays. She does this with the help of John, her companion of 30 years. She's 88, he's 90, so while they manage to get around for the usual stuff, they don't do any extraneous travel any more.

So we decided to take Andree (John doesn't walk very well) down to Pelican Island, the first National Wildlife Refuge which was established in 1906 by Teddy Roosevelt to protect the Brown pelican. You see, they were being wiped out for their feathers, which ladies wore on their hats. The park has a nice paved walkway with lots of benches and a viewing platform that overlooks Pelican Island and the Indian River Lagoon.

The first bird we saw--OK, maybe Andree didn't see it, but I told her about it--was this palm warbler. I first saw this bird last year at the same park.

There is a small pond near the parking lot, with a pavilion and benches, and it is probably the best place to see birds. Several pair of Lesser Scaup were puttering around.

As we watched the ducks, one of the girls pointed out the hawk circling some distance away. Its white wing banding was startlingly bright. After some debate we decided this is a Red-shouldered Hawk, although none of the bird guides show it with such distinctive banding.

After several rest stops and a potty break were Andree went and peed behind a bush (I love my grandma!) we made it to the observation deck that overlooks Pelican Island. Yep, that's it. Doesn't look like much, but this is the place where we began protecting wildlife in earnest. It was quite literally protected by a gentleman named Paul Kroegel, who chased would-be pelican harvesters off with a shotgun. (You can read more about the history here.)

Once back at the parking lot, we spotted an American Kestrel. I recall last year the most interesting birds--the warblers and a Loggerhead Shrike--were hanging out by the parking lot. Lesson learned!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Turtle Ballet

And now, the Blue Spring Cooters bring you, Swan Lake....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Birds of Blue Spring

I awoke this morning to a steady snow falling, and we now have about two inches on the ground. I don't really mind, I think it's beautiful and know that it will be gone in a day, but it does make posting about our Florida trip that much more pleasant.

We saw lots of birds at Blue Spring State Park. The problem, as usual, is that they generally saw us first and so took to the air before we could get a good look. But we did have some special moments, like the Purple gallinule from the last post, and this one, a bald eagle atop a ratty looking pine directly across from the boat launch.

About fifteen minutes into the paddle we heard a Pileated woodpecker hammering in the woods to our right. We sat still until she showed herself.

Lisa pointed out several heron nests in a small rookery near the bank of the river. These large, lanky birds seem so out of place high up in a tree.

This heron plied the shallows, looking for lunch.

Once down the Smith canal the birding became a bit more difficult. The narrow, overgrown canal provided great camouflage for the birds. But while Lisa and Lori struggled somewhere behind me to find a place for a potty break, I watched this Eastern wood pewee until it came out and perched in the sun.

And this Anhinga waited just long enough for me to get a few shots before flying away in protest. I had no idea their tails were so long.

We heard many noises in the woods along the canal, and we hoped for a bear or a bobcat. What we got, eventually, was this turkey, a big tom who was working his way along the high bank of the canal.

Once back out on the river, we didn't see a whole lot. Boat traffic had picked up and it was early afternoon. But I did see this Black vulture preening in a tree near the river. I had never gotten such a good look at one before--we only have Turkey vultures at home. I think this bird is quite handsome.

As we neared the boat launch I was struck by this vulture, preening on the branch of a long dead tree with the moon coming up behind it. All I needed was a little mist instead of that bright blue sky, and it would be the perfect vulture picture!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Purple Gallinule

Not long into our kayak excursion into the wilds of backwater Florida, Lori spotted movement in the pennywort near the shore. "A Purple gallinule!" she whispered.

I had never seen this bird before and I was terribly excited! I took some shots from where I was floating, then paddled around for a better angle, hoping the bird wouldn't fly away.

What a wonderful creature! The iridescent blues and purples, the mahogany eyes, the silver patch on its forehead and bright white undertail coverts. Oh and of course that candy corn beak!

What you can't see in these photos is that the bird has bright yellow legs with huge feet. There is no solid ground under these plants, and I assume the long toes allow this bird to walk on top of the floating foliage.

What a stunner!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Paddling at Blue Spring State Park

Our second day in Florida dawned clear and calm (this will start to sound like a broken record). We packed a lunch, hooked up the trailer with the kayaks, and drove north to Blue Spring State Park.

The spring at Blue Spring "is a first magnitude spring that discharges 104 million gallons of water daily into the St. John's River" according to the park brochure. The water comes out of the ground at a constant 72 degrees, so in the deep of winter West Indian manatees gather here, sometimes in the hundreds, to keep warm.

I have been to this park several time over the past 15 years, have hiked and swum in the spring. But I had never taken a boat out onto the St. John's River, so was very excited to have the opportunity to explore other parts of the park.

The park has two boat launches and they rent canoes and kayaks, and have space available for day use folks to pull their boats up. They also offer guided tours of the waters and have several large pontoon boats for the purpose. This shot looks down the run that is generated by the spring. As there were still manatee about, we were not allowed to take the boats down there.

So we pushed off towards the St. John's River, with a bit of trepidation. This was some seriously jungley-looking habitat! The river was nearly deserted as it was early on a Monday morning. That was just fine with us. While much of the area is no-wake there are still motor boats allowed, and nothing ruins a kayak outing quicker than being surrounded by a bunch of puttering engines.

We worried about 'gators, or a manatee flipping one of us over. But the day was peaceful and oh so still.

The nice park ranger at the boat rental gave us a crude map of the river and canals. He suggested that, since we were in kayaks, that we make a loop and take this very narrow canal through some dense growth. He said, eying our 'yaks, that we "should" be able to get through. I was not terribly reassured, but we were up for an adventure. So we kept an eye out for the narrow canal as we paddled the river.

As we approached what seemed like the place, we paused. He had said it would look at first like we wouldn't be able to make it through. He was right. In the middle of the photo below is the canal.

We floated for a few minutes, considering. What was the worst that could happen? Well, actually, we decided that the worst that could happen was worse than we wanted to think about, but in the end we rolled up our sleeves and headed for the canal. Just then there was this tremendous splash about 50 feet behind us, from the low bank of the river. We all spun around in our 'yaks.

A fairly large alligator floated just off the far shore, which was totally not far enough at this point. We wondered if this was a female, guarding a nest--it just stayed there, watching us.

And then moments after that, as we were all contemplating the 'gator, something else dove into the water to our right, at the mouth of the canal. Lori suggested it was just a turtle. I thought it sounded an awful lot bigger than that, but I wasn't going to argue. We had to go down there, after all. So, putting the patrolling alligator behind us, we paddled into the canal.

It was no easy go. The canal was choked with water pennywort, water celery and water hyacinth, which formed viney masses on the surface that were difficult to paddle through. There were also a fair number of downed trees crisscrossing the water, which we had to push over and squeeze under. Large duckweed clung to our paddles and the sides of the 'yaks.

After 10 or 15 minutes we finally settled down and got the banjo music out of our heads. The place was gorgeous. We saw lots and lots of birds and turtles who generally fled our approach. We stopped near the end of the canal before it met up with one of the larger channels and had lunch. It was an absolutely perfect day, warm but not hot, the faintest breeze, and birds all around.

We were blessed.

Friday, April 8, 2011


We left the beach after about an hour--we had gone so that I could put my toes in the water, we didn't even have our suits. We decided to take a long-cut down a dirt road that lead to the Bio-station. It was in pretty bad shape, and we bounced along, looking for more birds. We didn't see a whole lot of anything new, but we did spot a good sized alligator sunning itself on the far side of a canal that flowed along the roadside.

That is exactly were gators should be.

We piled out of the van and stood gawking. I can't imagine what the gator thought of this behavior. I snapped away, focusing first on its head (look at those spikes on its back!)...

then on its back leg...

...and tail. I understand gator tail is quite tasty. Not that I have any desire to catch a gator.

Anyone who thinks the dinosaurs are extinct has never looked this closely at an alligator. I am not sure what that slit behind its eye is, but I assume it's an ear.

Smile pretty for the camera, Dear!

Good gator....