Rio Santiago Hummingbirds

Rufous-tailed-Hummingbird

While in Honduras last February and staying at the Lodge at Pico Bonito, my guide for the day, German Martinez, who was assisting me locate wildlife in Pico Bonito National Park, told me about a “hummingbird sanctuary” about 30 minutes north of the lodge. He said, the sanctuary was home to hundreds of hummingbirds and as many as 10 different species. It was known as Rio Santiago, probably because it was located near the Santiago River.

Violet Sabrewing (male)

German definitely had me very interested. I had attempted to photograph the many hummingbirds that were around the lodge, but their fast and sporadic movement made them very difficult to photograph unless they perched on a nearby tree or bush, and I was not satisfied with what I had captured so far. Therefore, it was an easy decision to travel out of Pico Bonito, although I had no idea what to really expect based solely on German’s vague description. I wondered: would there really be many hummingbirds; at what distance would they be from me and my camera; what would the light be like to photograph them; would it be heavily wooded and shady or more open with harsh afternoon sunlight; and would I lose an afternoon of exploring and photography around Pico Bonito, if the hummingbird sanctuary did not work out. There was only one way to find out, we would go the next afternoon.

Long-billed Hermit

The lodge furnished a vehicle and driver, and German and I left for Rio Santiago after lunch. We drove north from the lodge for about 30 minutes and turned west on a narrow, rugged dirt road. I asked German how far up the dirt road we were going, and he replied about 4 kilometers. It seemed more like 10 kms, because the road was winding and very rough, and it had very recently rained so it was also muddy. As we drove up the dirt road, we passed many small, ramshackle homes, typical of how many Hondurans live in the rural areas, and it was very rural. There were chickens crossing the road, loose dogs running about, and a few Hondurans walking with machetes. I asked about them.

The mountain range, called Cordillera Nombre de Dios, which is encompassed by the Pico Bonito National Park, grew closer as we drove the dirt road. It was very overcast, but it was also very beautiful and green. It was a significant contrast to home in wintery Virginia. Where were they taking me, I wondered as the van slowly made it around and through large ruts and holes in the dirt road, and what was this place going to be like?

Violet-crowned Woodnymph (male)

Eventually, we arrived at the Rio Santiago “hummingbird sanctuary,” which turned out to be the private property of Terry Habdas, who is a Canadian that lives on 80 acres that abut to Pico Bonito National Park. Terry had about fifty hummingbird feeders around a facility that catered to visitors that came to see the hummingbirds. German had not exaggerated; there were easily a couple hundred hummingbirds buzzing around from feeder to feeder, bush to bush, and tree to tree. They were flying all around us and within what seemed like inches at times as they buzzed by. They were like little jet fighters often buzzing each other, because they are very territorial. After arriving, I couldn’t get my camera gear set up fast enough and start photographing.

German told me that Terry goes through over 80 pounds of sugar a week feeding the hummingbirds. Terry also had staff that were refilling the feeders for the next morning. They start to feed early.

White-necked Jacobin (male)

Terry stayed with us most of the afternoon and watched as I photographed the hummingbirds, switching between two different camera bodies and different lenses. It was very overcast, which actually worked out well, minimizing what otherwise would have been harsh afternoon light. In order to photograph the extremely fast hummingbirds in the dim light, I used a Nikon SB900 speedlight (flash) and Better Beamer, a device that attaches to the speedlight and extends the reach of the light, as well as focusing the light on the subject.

Rufus-tailed Hummingbird

Then, the heavily clouded sky opened up, and it began to pour. It slowed the hummingbirds down a little, but they continued the fly about in the rain. Several perched in a nearby tree and took advantage of the pouring rain to take a “shower,” flapping their wings vigorously and making very interesting images (below three images).

Violet-crowned Woodnymph (male)

Violet-crowned Woodnymph (male)

Violet Sabrewing (imm. male)

We did not leave Rio Santiago until about 4:30. I thanked Terry for his warm hospitality and conversation. Terry told me never gets tired of watching the hummingbirds, and I agreed, they were fascinating to watch.

Violet Sabrewing (imm. male)

It turned out to be an incredible afternoon. I probably will never see that many hummingbirds in one location again, unless I return there. I was able to photograph six of the ten hummingbird species that inhabit Rio Santiago.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph (imm. male)

You can see many more of my hummingbird images on my website at: http://stabone.com/p90686516 Each of them is identified for those that want to know  the type of hummingbird.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph (male)

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Bobcat on Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

While in  Florida in late November, I hiked the La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville. I walked to the observation tower at the end of the trail, which extends about a mile into the prairie basin.  It was an unusual morning, because I had the entire trail to myself.

After spending about an hour on the observation tower, I turned to leave, and as I did, I thought I saw unusual movement about 100 feet away along the edge of the trail. I stopped and looked more closely, but could not make out what it was, but I was certain it was not one of the usual birds or other wildlife that are frequently seen on the trail.

Bobcat-on-the-Prairie

I approached the area where I saw the movement very slowly so that I would not frighten whatever it was off. From the glimpse of the animal that I had from the tower, I hoped it would be a Bobcat. I stood in the area where I thought the animal went off the trail and carefully looked around for about ten minutes, but could not see it. Then, I spotted it, and it was starring straight at me, not moving (above image). And that is when I was certain that it was a Bobcat.

Bobcat-Hunting-on-the-Prairie

I had my Nikon D800 with a Nikon 70-200mm lens and a TC20 teleconverter, as well as a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight with a Better Beamer mounted on it, and I began photographing the Bobcat. It was amazing–the Bobcat stayed tucked into the tall grass as I fired shot after shot. Eventually, it must have realized I was not going to harm it, and it walked out from the grass and ran down the trail, where it turned into the vegetation along the trail and out of sight. I tried to locate it again, but could not.

Bobcat-1

Bobcats live in North America from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They are roughly twice the size of a domestic cat and are very territorial and most solitary predators. They have distinctive black bars on their forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby tail, which is how they got their name. They are typically nocturnal and avoid people. I probably was able to see and photograph this Bobcat because I was the only person on the trail that morning. It was my lucky day.

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Video of Nesting Great Horned Owl

My last blog article was of a female Great Horned Owl on her nest that I photographed while in Florida in January. If you have not seen it and the owl images, you can by scrolling down beyond this article. When I was photographing the owl, I switched my camera to the video mode, and yesterday, while stuck indoors because of the snow storm here in Virginia, I processed the video and uploaded it to YouTube.

You can see the video below by clicking on the start arrow or on YouTube at: http://youtu.be/QzSGE7bjBb0

Yesterday, I also started to review and process other images from Florida, where I photographed wildlife and landscapes in the Panhandle (Carabelle), Ft. Meyers, Naples, the Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, Gainesville, and Jacksonville. I have a lot of images to keep me busy, if I get snowed in again.

The below image caught my attention yesterday. While in the Everglades, I photographed a sunset. It was not spectacular, as some sunsets can be, but it was still very beautiful and colorful. Below is one of the sunset images, looking across a sawgrass prairie in the direction where the sun had just gone below the horizon.

Sunset-at-the-Evergaldes

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Nesting Great Horned Owl

While in Florida in January, I was able to see and photograph a Great Horned Owl nesting in a very large, old oak tree. It was a highlight of my trip to Florida.

Great-Horned-Owl-in-Nest

Great Horned Owls are commonly found throughout North America and their population is estimated to be over 6 million with about 45 percent in the United States. Chances are you have seen and photographed them too. I have seen and photographed them before, but on this occasion, all of the critical elements for capturing a really good (keeper) image came together.

Great-Horned-Owl-in-St-Cloud-FL

I was prepared with the right gear: Nikon D800 mounted on a 600mm lens on gimbal head and tripod. At times, I used an SB-910 Speedlight with a Better Beamer for some fill flash and catchlight.

Great-Horned-Owl

There were a couple of exciting moments. After about 30 minutes of watching and  photographing, I noticed through the viewfinder a very little, young owlet popping its naked head up from the nest towards its mother’s beak. The owlet’s eyes were not open yet. It probably hatched the day before or early that morning. 

Female-Great-Horned-Owl-with-Owlet

My timing at the nest was incredible. I was probably seeing and photographing the owlet’s first feeding (below). Notice how the female owl, although feeding the owlet, is literally keeping an eye on me.

Female-Great-Horned-Owl-Feeding-Its-Newly-Hatched-Owlet

Before the owlet appeared, the mother owl was feeding on something in the nest. I could not see what it was. Later the owl pulled a dead mouse out of the nest. With the mouse in her beak, the owl looked around and then flew up into the tree, and quickly returned to the nest without the mouse.

Great-Horned-Owl-with-Mouse

Nature photography opportunities like this, when everything comes together, are rare. Sometimes it is luck, but more often it is perseverance and persistence, as well as being prepared. Images like these feed my desire to shoot more, even when it is very early in the morning, far away, cold or hot, wet, bug infested, etc.

And in conclusion, one more image…

Great-Horned-Owl-Stare

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Black Bears at Alligator River NWR

Sunset-from-the-Ferry-2

In early December, a friend (Ernie) and I went to the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina (NC), where we planned to photograph wildlife at several refuges on the inland side of the NC northern coast. The refuges included MacKay Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Alligator River NWR, Mattamuskeet NWR, and Pocosin Lakes NWR. High on our list of wildlife to photograph were Black Bears, but we also expected to photograph Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, and various species of migratory ducks. This article is devoted to Black Bears, and subsequent articles will include the other wildlife. The above sunset image was taken from the Currituck – Knotts Island Ferry, as we crossed the Currituck Sound.

The first day at the OBX before sunrise, we drove to Alligator River NWR in search of Black Bears. Alligator River NWR contains over 154,000 acres and is one of the last significant habitats for Black Bear along the East Coast. Ernie had been there a few weeks earlier and had photographed several bears; therefore, our expectations were high. When we arrived at the refuge it was still dark, and we readied our cameras, lenses, and tripods, and then moved further up a dirt road separating open fields. As soon as we approached the first field, we spotted a large male bear. Since it was dark, I used a Nikon SB-900 Speedlight (flash) with a Better Beamer to extend and narrow the beam of light. The flash of light got the bear’s attention, turning directly toward us with its eyes glowing from the light (below). I also had to use a high ISO, and therefore, the image is grainy.

Black-Bear-at-Alligator-River-NWR

The area where the bears are more commonly seen is very large (hundreds of acres) and wide open, so while waiting for the sun to rise and provide better light, we drove further into the refuge. We saw several bears to include a very large male that strolled across the road in front of the truck. My only shot was through the windshield, and I took several until the bear disappeared into the woods. I made an animated GIF of the bear crossing the road. If you click on the below image, it will open up in your browser, and a sequence of four images will be presented.

Bear-Crossing-Road-1

After the bear crossed in front of the truck, we continued our search for more bears. Below are several of my favorites images.

Black-Bear-5

Black-Bear-at-Alligator-River-NWR-3

Black-Bear-11

Patience and persistence often pays off when photographing wildlife. I am not a patient person, as I am reminded regularly by my wife, but when outdoors in a natural setting, I relax and enjoy the natural world around me, and it often pays off enabling me to capture memorable images, like the images in this blog article, and in particular, the below two images.

Black-Bear-at-Alligator-River-NWR

Black-Bear-10

I have not posted any blog articles since November, but have been busy pursuing my passion for nature photography at many locations to include Florida. I am in the process of preparing other articles to include migratory water fowl in North Carolina, Wood Ducks at Prairie Creek Preserve in Gainesville, various wildlife to include a Bobcat on Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, and most recently, a Snowy Owl at Little Talbot Island State Park in northern Florida.

The images in this article were photographed with either a Nikon D700 or D800 and Nikon lenses to include a 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 600mm.

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.

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Barred Owl and American Bald Eagles

Barred OwlOn the Internet, many videos, articles, and images go viral, but my blog will never be one, and it is not expected. However, my blog did break another milestone today by exceeding 70,000 views. Such views and all of my blog followers are very much appreciated, since my blog provides a means to share my passion for nature photography and some of nature’s spectacular beauty that I experience. To celebrate this milestone, I am sharing a few very recent images that I processed within the last couple of days.

Above is a close up of one of the Barred Owls that lives near my home. They occasionally come very close to the house, allowing closeup photographs like this one. I have posted many of the owls’ images on my blog, but never a closeup. Owls are my favorite group of birds because of their dignified and majestic beauty, distinct calls, nocturnal habits, and silent flight. Did you know there are over 200 species of owls? Owls are divided into two groups: Barn Owls, consisting of 16 species, and True Owls, consisting of about 190 species in 23 genera. Some better known True Owls include screech owls, horned owls and barred owls.

Conowingo-Dam-Eagle

Above and below are two images of American Bald Eagles that I photographed a couple of weeks ago at Conowingo Dam in Maryland. The adult eagle above was flying above the Susquehanna River looking for fish, and below is an immature eagle also flying over the river.

Conowingo-Dam-Immature-Eagle

I was at the dam again yesterday with a good friend and fellow photographer, Ernie Sears. It was cold when we arrived at the dam, 26 degrees, but it warmed up as the day progressed. Unfortunately, it was not a very active day for eagle photography, but we did manage to capture some activity. I will be processing those images over the next few days. Ernie’s photography can be seen at:  http://www.fromwatersedge.com/index.html. If you enjoy bird photography, check out Ernie’s American Wild Bird website.

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Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine-Falcon

Two weeks ago at Conowingo Dam in northern Maryland, while photographing eagles, a Peregrine Falcon flew very quickly in front of me and my camera, and I was able to capture the above image. I have seen Peregrine Falcons before and tried photographing them, but they were too far away or flying too fast to get a decent image. This one is not bad, not perfect, but worth sharing.

I photographed the falcon with a Nikon D800 and Nikon 600mm lens with a TC 14 teleconverter at 1/1000 sec, f/8 and ISO 200.

Peregrin Falcons are the fastest flying birds and fastest member of the animal kingdom, diving to catch their prey at speeds over 200 mph. They feed almost exclusively on birds. The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species in many areas because of the widespread use of pesticides, especially DDT. The Peregrine Falcon has made an excellent recovery since the ban on DDT and protection of their nesting places.

If you look closely (click on the image), you can see that this falcon is banded with a green identification band. Green bands have been used on Peregrin Falcons in Virginia since 2000. If you would like to read more about the banding of Peregrine Falcons, go to this website http://www.ccbbirds.org/what-we-do/research/species-of-concern/peregrine-falcon/report-sightings/

Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature | Tagged | 5 Comments