January in North Central Florida

Mill-Dam-Lake-Ocala-NF-L

In early January, I spent a week in Gainesville, Florida, and while there visiting my daughter, I was able to squeeze in some photography. One afternoon, we joined my daughter with some of her friends at Mill Dam Lake in the Ocala National Forest. We stayed long enough to see a beautiful sunset across the lake.

I purposely framed the above and below images between Spanish moss hanging from a large oak tree. In the above image, the sun was dropping below the clouds and reflecting in the lake. In the below image, the sun was about to drop below the horizon, and as it was getting darker, the colors intensified and the clouds were more prominent in the sky.

The two sunset images were taken with a Nikon 1 V3 and 28-300mm lens at 28mm, 1/400 sec, f/16 at ISO 400. I like the Nikon 1 V3 as a backup camera, or when shooting family events. It is very versatile and can be used successfully for nature photography too.

Mill-Dam-Lake-Ocala-D810-3200

The following day I captured, and previously posted, images of a young American Alligator perched on its mother’s head. Below is one of those images. This alligator behavior is not often seen and rarely photographed.

Mother-and-Baby-Gators

The same day I photographed the above alligators, I shot the below images of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. In the first image, the ducks were very aware of my presence. To see me more closely, they stretched up their necks and watched intensely. It was not long after spotting me, that they all flew off, as seen in the below image. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks get their name from their call, which sounds much like a whistle–they do not quack!

Whistling-Ducks-Paynes-Prairie-Preserve-State-Park-wL

Whistling-Ducks-take-to-the-Air-at-Paynes-Prairie-3200

Two days later, my friend Ernie Sears joined me as we explored and photographed Paynes Prairie and Cedar Key. Some of my favorite images while shooting with Ernie follow.

Bison-on-Paynes-Prairie-Preserve-State-Park-wL

Above is one of the many bison that freely roam Paynes Prairie. In the above image, as I was trying to get a good shot of a bison that was heading away from me and into thick reeds and undergrowth, the bison turned to at look me, eye-to-eye (and camera), before heading deeper into the reeds. Notice how the bison’s tail is raised. That behavior is a sure sign of one of two things. One the bison is potentially aggressive and could charge, or two, the bison is about to fertilize the Prairie. Fortunately, it was number 2.

Below are three images of a Green Heron that I spotted deep in a thicket surrounding a small pond. The heron sat still as we worked our way around the thick undergrowth to get a different view. While shooting, I noticed the heron reach down and snatch something. I could not tell what the heron was doing until later when I looked at the images. Then I could see the heron had caught a small Anole. Click on the second image to see the poor little Anole.

Green-Heron-at-Paynes-Prairie-Preserve-3200

Green-Heron-with-a-Small-Anole-at-Paynes-Prairie-Preserve-3200

Green-Heron-at-Paynes-Prairie-Preserve-State-Park

In the below image, I photographed a Great Blue Heron that flew into a Spanish moss covered, old oak tree on the edge of Lake Wauburg in Paynes Prairie. The heron perched in the tree looking over the lake for its next meal. The gray, blue colors of the heron blended in well with the similarly colored moss and background across the lake. (Click below to see the heron)

Great-Blue-Heron-in-Tree-on-Lake-Wauburg-3200

Shortly after photographing the heron, an Anhinga swam nearby with a fish that it had just speared. It was heading toward the shore to enjoy its catch. Timing with a bit of luck helps to capture such shots.

Anhnga-with-Fish-Lake-Wauburg-fW

Later that day, Ernie and I walked the La Chua Trail on the Prairie heading to the observation platform at the end of the trail. Along the way, we passed a small group of Ring-necked Ducks. Below is an image of one of the ducks with its wings spread and flapping. Ducks fall into two categories, dabblers and divers, based on their feeding behavior. Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, and after several dives, they raise up and flap their wings to shake off water from the dive.

Ring-necked-Duck-at-Paynes-Prairie-3200

Although we saw and photographed many birds and some gators along the way to the viewing platform on the trail, the highlight was sunset and photographing the Sandhill Cranes as they flew onto the Prairie to roost for the evening. Below are two of those images–one with the cranes against the colorful and glowing sky, and the other a black and white image of a pair of crane silhouettes against the heavily clouded, early evening sky.

Sandhill-Cranes-Flying-the-Prairie-at-Sunset

Sandhill-Cranes-Flying-B&W

As I mentioned above, Ernie and I went to Cedar Key, which is about an hour and a half drive west from Gainesville. It is an old fishing village on the Gulf coast. Along the way, on a narrow stretch of two lane highway, I noticed an eagle on the side of the road eating some form carrion. I immediately pulled over and the eagle flew up into a nearby tree. We were able to get off a few shots before the eagle flew away. Below is one of the images.

American-Bald-Eagle

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

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Snow Covered, Angry Bluebird

Angry-Snow-Covered-BluebirdWe are experiencing some winter weather in Virginia this week. Saturday evening, we had a little snow. Yesterday and today are very cold, never getting higher than the low 20s. The wind was blowing all day yesterday with gusts above 60 mph. Brrrr.

This evening, we are expecting up to 8 inches of snow. It will look beautiful outside my window tomorrow, even if we get half of what is predicted. In anticipation, I have two cameras ready to capture it in time-lapse video (from home, a good place to be). It should be good practice of another element of photography.

The cold winter weather and snow reminded me of one of my favorite winter images (above), shot a few of years ago. The snow covered, male Bluebird looked cold and angry. The bird’s head-on stare, irritated expression and the dusting of snow flakes made the image special. The next day, I was able to photograph the Bluebird again, but this time on a snow covered limb (below). He hammed it up for me again.

Bluebird-in-the-Snow Both of the images were photographed with a Nikon D300 and 80-400mm lens.

One of the things I love about photography is being able to see and enjoy someone or something that would only be a memory. Memories are wonderful, but when accompanied by a good photograph, the memory and experience is better remembered and seen in your mind’s eye.

Photographs also capture a moment in time and provide a slice of the ever changing detail that otherwise may have been missed. My image of the angry Bluebird is a good example. I would have missed seeing the Bluebird’s frown, if I had not captured it in my camera. Another appreciated benefit of photography is being to share what I see with others. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I do.

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

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged | 13 Comments

Barred Owl on Lake Montclair

Barred-Owl-on-Lake-Montclair

Some days are better than others. Today was one of the better days, because it ended with a Barred Owl flying into one of the trees behind my house. The weather today was unseasonably warm, and I was on my upper deck watching a gorgeous sunset when the Barred Owl flew into the tree. I quickly went inside and grabbed one of my cameras and took a couple of shots, but the owl was only a silhouette against the early evening sky. I quickly went back into the house and mounted a speedlight (flash) on to the camera and returned to the deck. Fortunately, the owl was still in the tree. I managed to get off a few shots before it flew away. What a great way to end a weekend!

The above image was taken with a Nikon D810, Nikon SB-910 Speedlight, 80-400mm lens at 200mm, f/5.3, 1/500 sec and ISO 800.

Posted in Lake Montclair, Nature, Wildlife | Tagged | 7 Comments

Mother and Baby Alligators

Mother-and-Baby-Gators

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the above and below images on my blog. I was in Gainesville, Florida, at the time I took the photos. My friend, Ernie, was meeting me there within a few days to do some wildlife and landscape photography. The day before Ernie arrived, I photographed the mother and young gator in a rarely seen and photographed behavior.

Mother-and-Baby-Gators-1

I returned to Virginia, and Ernie stayed in Florida for three more weeks photographing wildlife at a number of refuges and parks. Little did I know that Ernie was on the hunt for a similar gator image. As a guest contributor to my blog, Ernie explains his success in the below article.

Guest Article by Ernie Sears:

I first saw Steve’s mother and child alligator image as an email attachment sent to me a few days before I was to meet him at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida. Like everyone else I know who has seen the image, I was blown away. It is an incredible image, the kind you might see in National Geographic.  Right away I wished that I had taken it. It is perfect in every way, except that I was not the photographer who made the once in a lifetime shot.

As you may have picked up from Steve’s previous blog posts, he and I shoot together often. We share advice and experiences, and yes, there is a bit of friendly rivalry. It doesn’t happen often, but I do get a kick out of it when I get a better shot of a subject than he did. But how was I going to top his great gator shot?

Steve and I shot at Paynes Prairie, Cedar Key, and Crystal River State Park during the three days that my wife and I were in Gainesville. Steve captured a bison image that was much better than mine. I got lucky and got some bald eagle shots that were better than his. Good “keeper” shots, but nothing that special. Paynes Prairie has hundreds of gators – but none with a baby on its mother’s head, at least while I was there.

My wife and I left Gainesville and headed for Captiva for two weeks of exploring refuges and preserves in Southwest Florida. I will not say I was consumed with getting the gator shot, but I did check the dark tannin stained waters of every swamp, pond, and ditch wherever we went searching for the prize shot. I was hoping that lightning would strike again and I could get what was becoming my holy grail.

I found and shot a pair of outlandishly beautiful painted buntings, wood storks, ten of the heron and egret species, warblers, ducks, eagles, sandhill cranes, spoonbills, hawks, owls, 30 other species of birds, deer, butterflies, wild horses, snakes, nine-banded armadillos, turtles, and more. And I saw a lot of gators, but not a single baby, let alone one taking a ride on mom’s head.

It was also getting a little dangerous – for people in my way. At Six Mile Cypress Slough, I thought I heard someone say they saw baby alligators on the shoreline I had passed on the lakeside boardwalk. Without thinking of anything except getting the shot, I charged back on the one-way boardwalk, even though it was filled with a busload of people from a retirement home. Those walkers and wheel chairs take up too much room on the narrow walkways. No one was hurt, but my wife had to repeatedly apologize for my rude behavior. Of course there were no baby alligators to be seen.

We left Captiva and moved on to Lake Kissimmee State Park in central Florida to continue the quest. No luck there either, so it was on to St. Augustine, our last stop in Florida. My last chance to get the mother/child gator shot. Would I be successful?

It did not start well and I was about to give up, when I remembered that St. Augustine is the home of the mecca of gator lovers – the Alligator Farm! Here you can find hundreds of American Alligators including a rare albino gator. But how would I get one with a baby on its head? As you can see from the images below, it turns out not to be that hard at the Farm, if you think outside the box a little.

Now please excuse me. I need to go sit by the phone. After seeing these images I am expecting a call from National Geographic.

20150127_2763

20150127_2766

20150127_2765

20150127_2767

20150127_2768

20150127_2769

Click here to visit Ernie’s websites: AmericanWildBird.com and FromWaters Edge.com

——————————————————————

Stephen Tabone:  You can tell from the above article that I have a very special, talented friend with a great sense of humor. Thank you Ernie.

I have recently been reviewing images from when Ernie and I explored and photographed for three days in the Gainesville area. I will be posting some of those images in a blog article I am expecting to complete this week. It was a very good three days.

Posted in Wildlife | Tagged , | 6 Comments

American Alligator with Baby Gator (on Its Head)

Mother-and-Baby-Gators-1

I had incredible luck today, while on Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, when I was able to photograph a VERY large mother alligator with one of her young gators on her head. I had heard of such gator behavior, but I never imagined I would be able to photograph it.

Mother-and-Baby-Gators

Based on the length of the baby gator (about 12″), I estimate the length of the mother alligator to be over 10 feet. As you can see from the images, she was keeping a close eye on me.

Mother-and-Baby-Gators-croppedI shot the images with a Nikon D810 and 80-400mm lens. Since it was very overcast and the light poor and because I was hand-holding the camera, I shot the images at a high ISO of 2000 to enable shooting at 1/500 sec, f/5.6. Because the D810 produces low noise images at high ISOs, I did not need to apply any noise reduction to the images.

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

Posted in Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Swallow-tailed Gulls in the Galapagos Islands

Swallow-tailed-Gulls

When I visited the Galapagos Islands, the second island I visited was Genovesa Island, and one of the first birds I saw and photographed on the island were Swallow-tailed Gulls. Swallow-tailed Gulls are equatorial birds that breed only in the Galapagos Islands. These gulls are unusual because they are the only fully nocturnal gull and seabird, feeding only at night when squid and small fish rise to the surface to feed on plankton. Because they are nocturnal, their eyes are very large for a gull.

Swallow-tailed-Gull

Male and female Swallow-tailed Gulls are indistinguishable, looking exactly alike. In their breeding season, their heads turn dark grey or black, and they have bright red eye rings. Normally, their heads are white and and their eye rings black. I was lucky to be there during breeding season, because not only were the gulls in their breeding plumage, but there were young gull chicks to be seen and photographed.

Swallow-tailed-Gull-with-a-Chick-2

Swallow-tailed Gull eggs are incubated for 31 – 34 days. After 60 -70 days, the chicks are fully grown and take their first flight.

Swallow-tailed-Gull-Chick

When breeding season ends, the Swallow-tailed Gulls fly east toward the coast of South America, feeding while over the open Pacific Ocean. They return to the Galapagos to breed and typically to the same nest with the same mate within the same colony of gulls.

Swallow-tailed-Gull-Chick-2

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

Posted in Bird Photographs, Galapagos Islands, Nature | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Late Autumn Colors at Prince William Forest

Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest-fW

Early Monday morning, I met my friend, Ernie Sears, at Prince William Forest National Park. Prince William Forest encompasses over 19,000 acres and has over 37 miles of hiking trails. The northern Virginia park provides a quiet and peaceful respite from the  surrounding suburban masses and the very close and always busy Interstate 95. When deep in the forest, it is easy to forget the nearby traffic and crowded areas and imagine what native Americans and the early settlers experienced.

Early-Morning-Fog-Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest

We hiked over five miles looking for places to capture what remained of the autumn colors and found a couple of locations along Quantico Creek that provided picturesque views. When we first arrived at the creek, there was a light fog that could be seen up the creek from where we stood (above image). We were there about an hour, during which time the sun rose over a ridge and the fog cleared (below image).

Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest-with-Sunburst

As you can see from the above and below images, most of the leaves had fallen. However, there were still enough leaves left in the trees for us to enjoy and capture the autumn  colors. The fallen leaves also provided color on the creek’s banks.

Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest-2

About a mile from the above location, we found a small waterfall. The amount of water in the creek and its flow were minimized by the recent lack of any substantial rain. Nevertheless, I made the best of the “trickle” by using a slow shutter speed to soften the water and to capture the swirl, as seen in the foreground of the below image.

Quantico-Creek-Prince-William-Forest-4-sec

The above photo is a composite of two images. One image was shot at a very slow shutter speed to soften the water and to capture the swirl in the foreground, and the second image was shot at a much higher shutter speed to properly expose the background and surrounding rocks. The two images were blended together in Photoshop.

The images in this article were taken with either a Nikon D800 or D810 and either a 24-70mm or 16-35mm lens.

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

Posted in Autumn Photography, National and State Parks, Nature | Tagged , , | 6 Comments