Pied-billed Grebe with an Amphiuma at Paynes Prairie

Grebe-with-Snake-7While on La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville,  Florida, in late December, there were several Pied-billed Grebes in the canal that drains into Alachua Sink. The grebes were diving and hunting for prey in the murky water. It is not unusual to see them surface with small fish and crayfish. However, as I was watching, one of the grebes surfaced with an Amphiuma (an aquatic salamander). I usually do not photograph grebes, but this was an exception, because the grebe was struggling with the Amphiuma as it was trying to position it for eating/swallowing. That behavior was worth capturing.

Grebe-with-Swamp-EelGrebes are very common at the Prairie and throughout South, Central, and North America, living on lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are medium sized, short-necked water birds, feeding on aquatic vegetation, insects, fish, amphibians, and crustaceans. Although they live on the water and appear to swim like ducks, they do not have webbed feet, but rather have lobes on their toes that aid in paddling.

Grebe-with-Swamp-EelAbove, the Amphiuma is putting up a good fight, while trying to escape. Below, the grebe has positioned the Amphiuma’s head at the tip of its bill, getting ready to work it down its throat.

Grebe-with-Snake

Pied-billed Grebes rarely fly. They migrate at night, and therefore, most people never see them flying. When danger is near, they dive below the surface of the water and can stay underwater for 30 seconds.

Pied-billed Grebes may breed and nest twice per year, laying between three to ten bluish white eggs. Young grebes may leave their nest within one day of hatching. Both parents participate in raising the young. Their numbers are declining in New England for unknown reasons, and some northern states have designated them as either endangered or threatened.

Grebe-with-Snake-5-wLogo

After “wrestling” with the Amphiuma for about ten minutes and tiring it out, the grebe was able to flip it into position (head-first) in order to swallow it (above image). It is hard to imagine that the Amphiuma tasted good, but it most likely filled the grebe’s stomach.

Pied-billed-Grebe

The images in this article were photographed with a Nikon D800 in Manual Mode, 600mm lens with a TC14 Teleconverter (equaling 850mm) at f/6.3 – f/8.0, 1/250 – 1/500 sec, and varying ISOs from 160 to 1600.

Note:  Thanks to Tara Tanaka, I corrected this blog article. I had misidentified the Amphiuma as a swamp eel. Based on my research, the Amphiuma looked very much like a swamp eel, but after further research, Tara is certainly correct. If you would like information on Amphiumas, you can read about them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphiuma. One amazing fact about Amphiumas is that they have 25 times more DNA than humans.

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Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Sandhill Cranes at Sunset on Paynes Prairie

Four-Sandhill-Cranes-at-PPSP-SunsetWhile reviewing recent images this week, I came across several that caught my attention and that I had not previously included on my website or blog. The images were taken at sunset in early January this year from the viewing platform at the end of La Chua Trail on Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Florida. As you can tell from the images, it was an incredibly beautiful and colorful sunset, and making it more memorable was the arrival of small groups of Sandhill Cranes.

Four-Sandhill-Cranes-at-PPSP-Sunset-3

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes winter in Florida, many at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The cranes roost on the Prairie’s wetlands at night for safety from predators. At sunrise most of the cranes fly to nearby fields where they feed, although they also find food on the Prairie. Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous and feed on land or in shallow marshes. Their diet predominantly consists of seeds, berries, tubers, small vertebrates, and invertebrates.

Two-Sandhill-Cranes-at-Sunset-on-PPSP

Sandhill cranes mate for life and live for well over twenty years. The oldest known Sandhill Crane lived 36 years and 7 months, which was determined by its band. Although some cranes start breeding at two years of age, some may reach the age of seven before breeding. Juvenile cranes stay close by their parents for 9 or 10 months after hatching.

Below, the cranes lower their legs and gracefully land.

andhill-Cranes-Coming-in-for-a-Sunset-Landing-on-the-Prairie

The above images show the cranes in flight against the gorgeous orange sunset, but they do not provide a detailed view of the cranes. Therefore, I have included the below images that I shot last year near Paynes Prairie. Sandhill Cranes with their bright red heads and orange eyes are an example of Nature’s diversity and beauty.

Four-Sandhill-Cranes

Sandhill-Crane-Eating

Sandhill-Crane-Headshot-2

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Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Recent Use of My Images

As one of my favorite professional photographers, Rick Sammon, often says, “What good is shooting images, if all you do is store them on your computer.” I practice what Rick encourages by posting some of my favorite images on my websites and blog, thereby sharing them and my passion for photography and the natural world.

My websites have over 430,000 views and my blog over 86,000 views. My blog receives an average of 200 daily visitors with most views from people in the United States, but also from people in many countries worldwide. I greatly appreciate such activity and the many comments people provide. Those frequent visits have been generating many requests for use of my images in community reports and newsletters, presentations and reports of nonprofit organizations, newspapers and magazines, and informative displays in parks and preserves. Lately, I have been receiving weekly requests for use of my images. I would like to share two recent requests, which are the subject of this article, that I am particularly excited about.

Florida Museum of Natural History

Gainesville-Sun-Museum-Article

Above is the front page of the Local and State section of the Gainesville Sun (click on image to read caption), the local newspaper of Gainesville, Florida. As indicated in the May 3, 2014, article, the Florida Museum of Natural History is using my images of inflight Sandhill Cranes that I photographed at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The Prairie is located just south of Gainesville. The museum is using the images as part of a permanent exhibit in its entrance, which is currently being renovated. There is another large set of similar windows in the atrium lobby adjacent to the one shown below that also contains the flying crane images.

Below are are two images of one set of the windows taken by my daughter shortly after the Sandhill Crane window exhibit was completed.

Sandhill Cranes at FL Museum 2

Sandhill Cranes at FL Museum

 

Menominee Park Zoo in Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Recently, I received a request from a representative of the Oshkosh Zoological Society to use my River Otter images in a new information sign at their otter exhibit. I sent them several images to choose from, and yesterday, I received a copy of a proof of the exhibit information sign (below) to be used at the Menominee Park Zoo. The proof is shown below. They will be sending a photo of the sign at the exhibit when it has been installed.

Otter Exhibit Sign Oshkosh Zoo

 

Special Limited Time Offer for Prints of My Images

I sell prints of varying sizes of my images from my website. I am not a professional photographer, meaning I do not make my living from photography. I am a photographer because I love photography and what I photograph. However, I have sold many prints, and they are hanging in numerous homes and commercial and noncommercial offices and facilities.

If you have ever considered owning one or more of my images printed, for the remainder of this month and the month of July, any size print of any image can be selected and printed at only the cost of printing, plus $10.00 that will be donated to the  Nature Conservancy. For example, a 12″ x 18″ print on professional grade photographic paper will cost $11.49 (my cost to print) plus the $10.00 donation for a total of $21.49, plus UPS shipping.

The images are printed by MPIX, the largest professional photography lab in the country. Whenever I print one of my images, I use MPIX. The quality of their prints is impeccable. Prints are never rolled, but are shipped flat, plastic wrapped and protected within the shipping container, and typically arrive within 4 to 5 business days.

If you would like one or more prints, send me an email, and I will send you a discount code to use when buying a print/checking out on my website. The prints can also be matted and framed, also at cost. The link to my website is:  www.stabone.com

Why am I making this offer? Solely to support the Nature Conservancy and do as Rick Sammon recommends, share my passion for photography and nature with those that follow my blog and enjoy my photography. I hope you take advantage of this offer and help the Nature Conservancy with your $10 donation.

 

Roseate Spoonbill 

In closing, below is an image of a Roseate Spoonbill I photographed in May while in Florida. I had a very successful trip photographing wildlife and landscapes and will be posting some of the images over the next couple weeks.

Spoonbill-in-Flight

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Posted in Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

American Alligator Water Dance

Gator-Getting-Ready-to-Bellow-2

I frequently travel to Florida to visit family and friends, and while there, I try to also visit as many of Florida’s national, state and local parks, refuges and preserves as possible. During recent visits, I have taken my 89 year old father-in-law out for the day to do something unusual and entertaining. For example, on a previous visit I rented a boat, and we went on the Indian River to photograph Brown Pelicans at a rookery covered in pelicans and other birds. (Pelican Island images at: http://stabone.com/p109901015#h3af83c9c) Last week, I picked up my father-in-law in the morning and planned to take him to Gatorland, near Kissimmee.

Although my father-in-law has lived in Central Florida since 1966, he had never been to Gatorland, which was Central Florida’s primary tourist attraction for many years before Disney World changed everything. I wanted to go in the morning, just in case there was something worth photographing, while the sun was low in the sky and the light was good for photography. However, my father-in-law wanted to go to a hotel near Disney World that he used to frequent several years ago and have a late breakfast. Unfortunately, we could not find the hotel, and instead, we had lunch at a different location.

Father-in-Law

After lunch, since we were in the vicinity of Gatorland, we drove there, arriving mid-afternoon. I was a bit disappointed because the sun was overhead, bright and harsh–not good for photography. Regardless, I brought my Nikon D800 and 80-400mm lens with me just in case we saw something worth photographing. I did not know what to expect, since I had not been to Gatorland in over 30 years. Shortly after arriving, while nearing a small lake full of gators, I heard what sounded like a tuba. A tuba, I thought, why was someone with a tuba at Gatorland, since it is not the kind of instrument someone walks around playing. We could not see where it was coming from, but headed in the direction of the sound. As we rounded a bend on the boardwalk that hugged the lake’s shoreline, we saw what was happening.

There was a video crew recording the gators, and there were two musicians playing their tubas to attract the gators and encourage them to bellow. It was quite a sight, because there were about 30 alligators of varying sizes in the water all staring at the tuba players. I learned after speaking to a member of the crew that they were shooting the video for a BBC show about how animals attract one another for mating. I also spoke with one of the tuba players, William Mickelsen, who performs with The Florida Orchestra. He was accompanied by Brad Postich, one of his students at St. Petersburg College. They were playing variations of a B-flat.

BBC-Videographer

Tuba Players

When a bull gator tries to attract a female, it goes through a very unique and unusual process of filling its lungs with air, while raising its body and tail out of the water. It then lowers its body just below the water surface and bellows at a low frequency that makes the water above its spiked back vibrate, causing the water to boil and explode, which is referred to as “water dancing.” The below three images capture two different bull alligators as they were making the water dance above their backs.

Gator-Dancing-Water-3
Gator-Dancing-Water-2
Gator-Dancing-WaterAlligator water dancing is a natural behavior that most people do not know gators do, or for those that are aware of it, never get to see, and here I was witnessing it and photographing it.

Below are 8 images that I shot and complied into an animated GIF. If the images are not sequentially moving, hold your mouse on the image and it should show the sequence that the alligator went through to bellow and make the water dance.

Gator-Water-Dance Besides photographing the gators as they went through their mating ritual of bellowing, I recorded a video on my iPhone. Below is the video. The video begins by showing the BBC videographer in the lake and then pans around to an alligator that bellows several times. Be sure to have your sound turned up to hear the sound of the tubas and the alligator bellowing, while making the water dance above its back.

 

As is often the case with nature photography, timing and being in the right place at the right time is very important, as well as being properly prepared. Obviously, my timing at Gatorland when the BBC crew and tuba players were there was critical to seeing and capturing this very unusual alligator behavior. I owe it all to my father-in-law, who wanted to go for a late breakfast, which delayed our visit to Gatorland, resulting in perfect timing. I had heard of the alligator water dance before and had seen photographs of it, but never thought I would be fortunate enough to see and photograph it. I am very grateful to my very special and fabulous father-in-law.

Old-Bull-Gator-SmileAs my father-in-law and I headed out of Gatorland, the above very large, old alligator caught my eye. It was totally in the shade except for its snout, which was brightly lit by the sun. His massive toothy grin was a fitting end to a very memorable experience.

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Spectacular Migratory Birds

Common-Yellow-throat-Warbler-2

Last Friday and Saturday, I went to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Leesylvania State Park to try to find and photograph some of the many migratory birds that are passing through northern Virginia on their way up north to where they breed. Most of the birds in this article migrated from Central and South America and are ravenously hungry to replenish their weight and energy for the rest of their journey. Since they stopped to feed, they are very active as they search for food, which makes them difficult to photograph. They seem to be constantly moving. (Above and below images are Common Yellowthroat Warblers.)

Common-Yellow-throat-Warbler

As you will see throughout this article, I was very successful. I did not see as many species of birds as other people (serious birders) were seeing and reporting in various bird sighting reports, but nevertheless, I was very pleased to see and photograph a significant number of species. Below are more Common Yellowthroat Warblers. Yellowthroat Warblers prefer marshes and wetlands with dense, low vegetation. Their diet consists mostly of insects.

Common-Yellow-throat-Warbler

Common-Yellow-throat-Warbler-with-Worm

 

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The following images are of Yellow Warblers. Yellow Warblers, like other warblers, frequent forested areas, as well s scrublands. The global population is estimated at 39 million.

Yellow-Warbler-2

Yellow-Warbler

The next two images are of Black-throated Blue Warblers. These warblers are very territorial and breed in deciduous and mixed woodlands. They build their nests in thick shrubs.

Black-throated-Blue-WarblerBlack-throated-Blue-Warbler-2The next images are of Yellow-rumped Warblers. They are very common and their population is estimated at 90 million. They prefer temperate, tropical and subtropical forests and shrublands.

Yellow-rumped-Warbler-2

Yellow-Warbler-with-InsectThe following images are of Prothonotary Warblers. They live primarily wooded swamplands. They are one of two warblers that nest in tree cavities. They get their name “Prothonotary” from the Roman Catholic church, whose robes were bright yellow.

Prothontary-Warbler-at-LSPProthonotary-Warbler-2Prothonotary-WarblerThe next images are of Palm Warblers. Their habitat varies from form forests, scrublands, wetlands, and grasslands. Their population is estimated at 23 million.

Palm-WarblerPalm-Warbler-2Besides warblers, there were many Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (below images). I was able to get several images of one of the Gnatcatchers beating an insect against a tree limb before eating it. They reside in forests, scrublands, and savannas. Their estimated population is 57 million.

Blue-gray-Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray-Gnatcatcher-Leaping-into-the-AirBlue-gray-Gnatcatcher-with-InsectThe following images are of an Eastern Towhee that was working to find insects under the leaves. They prefer forest and scrublands. They have an estimated population of 11 million.

Eastern-Towhee-2Eastern-TowheeBelow is a Eastern Kingbird that was perched high up on the top of a very tall tree just watching all of the activity. The Kingbird prefers forests, scrublands, and wetlands, and have an estimated population of 13 million.

Eastern-KingbirdBelow is an image of a White-throated Sparrow. They spend their winters in the southern and eastern United States. Therefore, I am not sure this one was migrating, but it was posing for me while photographed the warblers.

White-throated-Sparrow

Although I did not photograph the below Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Occoquan or Leesylvania, it too migrated and has decided to make its summer home behind my house, as it has done in previous seasons.

Ruby-throated-Hummingbird 2

Ruby-throated-HummingbirdComments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Like this: section. You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Leesylvania State park, Nature, Occoquan Bay NWR, Spring Photographs, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Spring Flowers

Spring-FlowersI love spring, especially after a severe winter like we experienced this year. With spring, however, comes many visits to local nurseries accompanying my wife as she searches and purchases plants for around our home. I appreciate her efforts, but going to nurseries is akin to going shopping, which I do not enjoy (like most men). There is a positive side to these outings, because I do enjoy walking around the nurseries and seeing all of the lush green plants and in particular those in bloom.

Purple-and-Pink-Fuchsia

To make the trips to nurseries less like shopping, I typically bring a camera, and while my wife is looking around at plants, I am not too far behind taking photographs of those that catch my eye. Included in this article are a few of the images from our most recent trip to a local nursery.

Purple-and-Pink-Fuchsia-3The above images are of Purple and Pink Fuchsia flowers. Their very unusual flowers attracted me and my camera.

Spring-Flower

Flower-Bud

 

Above are two unidentified beauties. I need to start photographing the names of the flowers that are attached to the pots. To see more of my flower photography go to: http://stabone.com/p578613902#h6650e15

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Posted in Nature, Spring Photographs | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Barred Owls Mating

Barred-Owl-in-Tree-at-NightMonday evening was a beautiful spring night, warm and comfortable. I was enjoying it from my office with the sliding glass door open onto my upper deck overlooking the lake. It was very quiet until I heard one of the pair of Barred Owls that live in the wooded areas around the lake. They were calling back and forth to each other. Their calls were very loud. They sounded close.  I quickly grabbed one of my cameras that I keep ready and mounted on a tripod with a speedlight (flash) and Better Beamer.

They owls were in the trees between my house and the lake. I began photographing them, but most of the time the owls were partially blocked by tree limbs. Occasionally, as they moved about while inspecting me, they were in the open and unobstructed. The pair of owls were in separate trees, but suddenly the male flew to the female, and they mated. They were in the open, and I was able to get the below image.

Barred-Owls-Mating-2

It was a lucky night for the male owl and for me, since I was able to capture the action. I have not located their nest, but will be looking for it with the hopes of photographing the owlets before they fledge the nest.

The above images were taken with a Nikon D800 and 600mm lens, exposed at 1/1000 sec,  f/8, ISO 3200, and with an SB910 speedlight.

Comments on my blog and this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Like this: section. You can also read other’s comments there.

Posted in Bird Photographs, Lake Montclair, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged | 4 Comments