I love being the first person to walk a trail or down a boardwalk. Usually that means very early, so I have good light, generally I am alone or with Karl, and often it means that any birds or wildlife are still about. Once the joggers and walkers begin to go by, the more skittish of the wildlife move out of view.
This morning I walked as quietly as I could, and noticed the Black Crowned Night Heron on a log in the creek. These night herons frequent this area, and though not strangers to people going by whether or not they stay depends on the bird. This one looked up almost immediately and gave me that sideways glance.
He turned after a moment and started walking toward the vegetation on the side, keeping me in view. While not a run, it wasn’t a saunter either and I only managed the one shot before he disappeared from view.
I walked further along the boardwalk, and then turned and walked back.
I don’t know what made me look over, but I did and there he sat, still watching me. I took another shot and left him to continue whatever morning activities herons engage in when we are not looking.
We live in a place between a brackish creek and the salty Gulf of Mexico. The soil is barely sand and mostly rock fill. The houses are close, most with landscaped lawns of bushes and trees to make the tourists think of Florida resorts, and back yards with screened in lanais and pools. My little garden resides in containers and planters of various sizes, due not only to the poor soil but the knowledge that most people around us are using chemicals to keep green lawns in a climate that does not naturally grow lawns.
The herb garden grows incredibly this time of year. I went out to trim the oregano, lemon verbena (makes a wonderful tea), chives and several others. The overgrown chives made a nice nest for the basket, and by sitting on the ground to get eye level and using a shallow depth of field it looks like I have a large, wild garden. It is actually ten 16”pots placed closely together in a small area that gets enough sun, but not too much. That can be a concern here.
Note to self: for future garden shots, take the camera down from your eye, and look around before you sit down to get the shot you want. It rained the night before and I plopped down without looking in a small puddle!
Last year I decided to expand. The gardener/farmers supplying our local farmers’ market slowly went on to other things and we were left with no one providing vegetables or greens during the hotter months. Gardening in Florida during the summer provides plenty of challenges. Container growing provides another set of challenges on top of that. I learned to try different kinds of greens that the usual lettuces, growing a few which Karl and I had before, and trying some new varieties. Hopefully they will provide some photography subjects as they grow, barring weather and bugs!
Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa) blooms in the spring and summer here in partly shaded areas. The beautiful large, dark green, veined leaves shine in the filtered sun. This plant attracts a lot of attention from hikers, in the spring because of the white flowers against the green and the multitude of insects enjoying those flowers, and especially in the autumn when the contrasting red berries against the dark green look wonderful and attract birds and other wildlife.
On a recent hike the profusion of blooms attracted my attention, and the attention of numerous insects. May is spring love bug season. Yes, here in central Florida we get two love bug seasons, our second one in September. Love Bugs covered the most blooms of the coffee plants as I walked by though I did see other insects including honeybees and a red beetle.
With the distinctive red body and black head and legs I didn’t expect any issues in identifying this guy. So far, no luck.
The honeybee finally landed in the sun so I could get this shot. I took all of these with my Canon 100mm – 400mm fully extended at 400mm for the close-up.
Florida is slowly re-opening. None of our regular activities have been resumed yet, and we suspect that it will be July before most start up. We hoped to be able to camp in our RV the beginning of June at one of the state parks. To date, our reservations have not been cancelled, but the park is still closed to camping. We will see. We are eager to get going again, but also conscious that it will be slow steps.
The limited re-opening of the beaches on Monday meant Karl and I once again feel comfortable venturing into the open parks and preserves. The hiking trails at Brooker Creek Preserve remained open through the closure of so many parks and the beaches, and we received feedback that it was often crowded along with the few other places open. As it is a thirty to forty minute drive from here, more depending on traffic, we hesitated to make the trip only to find crowds. We took and still take our social distancing seriously. With beaches open, most people flock to them so Karl suggested we take a chance.
We arrived about 7:15 a.m., shortly after the gate opened. At the end of the nearly one mile drive to the parking lot, we discovered no other cars; we were the first and only for the start of the day.
We saw a Pileated woodpecker as we parked, and heard a Northern Parula as soon as we left the car. We searched for the parula, hearing but not seeing, but did catch a glimpse of two Carolina wrens flitting through the trees. Green salvinia covered the main channel of the creek itself, not unusual with the warm weather and lack of rain. We walked to the bridge, and then retraced our steps and took the boardwalk down to the buildings and into the wetland behind them. After walking to the end of the boardwalk, we decided to walk back along it to capture some shots while the light was still good. A very polite couple came along asked to pass by us so we stepped aside.
We walked slowly, photographing and savoring the damp open air of the swamp. Suddenly we heard a bellowing, which stopped and repeated four times. Karl’s hearing is amazing; he can triangulate easily and is always showing me the precise location of birds when he hears their calls. In this case he pointed to an overgrown, grassy area of the water and said “He is right in there”. “He” in this case meaning a male alligator. He was close, but kept to the grass and we didn’t get to see him.
We passed by the window of the Center to wave to the dedicated staff inside, and then headed back to the car. The beautiful weather together with the eventful hike really helped shake the slightly claustrophobic feeling we were both developing.
Like most of you, we stayed home for the last six or seven weeks due to the virus and the stay-at-home orders, and likely will continue for a few more weeks. This time period is generally one of our busiest, with spring migration bird photography, our central Florida spring weather bringing out all the wildlife and flowers, day trips and camping trips, and our interpretive naturalist hikes. Most of the parks around us closed due to people not observing the social distancing rules so our plan to hike and continue our spring photography fell through. The preserve where we lead the spring hikes cancelled all events, which included our two-hike Spring series. Social distancing an interpretive naturalist/photography hike just doesn’t work. We are always pointing things out, gathering around certain areas getting interesting shots, and comparing shots by crowding around someone’s camera.
Karl has found various subjects to try test shots as he works at learning the Sony mirror-less as well as he knew his Canon. I thought that maybe pet photography, that old standby, might be interesting. Why, I don’t know. I guess all the time at home affected my memory. I wrote before how the two feral cats who decided to live with us six years ago don’t like cameras.
When they first came in, both cats started out happy to share the house as long as we kept our distance. Over time they turned into friendly cats who love attention and sit with us in our chairs, and during colder weather insist on sharing our bed. Sassy, the gray one, is actually a loving lap cat.
However, put a camera in your hand and everything changes. During this time they have gone from simply running away and hiding as they did as kittens, to faking me out by posing nicely then bolting just before I pressed the shutter, to their current mood of staying put while giving me unfriendly cat looks.
Neither felt like rousing themselves while sleeping on an outdoor shelf, so I tried again. Midnight would not look anywhere near the camera. This is the closest I got, which is more like a “just get it over with” look.
Sassy gave me the annoyed cat stare. She is very good at that. She also has an open eyed stare that truly makes you wonder what you have done. Hard to believe she is a purring, happy lap cat most of the time.
Well, it was an idea. No cute cat photos or cat videos from me.
Birds are part of the fun of visiting the Okefenokee Swamp. I watched the Snowy Egret high-stepping toward me, and kept the camera on him waiting to capture one of the “golden slippers” of his feet in the air, along with a reflection.
He flew not long after this shot, and I turned around and walked toward the purple I saw on the other side of the road. The Blue Flag Iris just bloomed, with several more set to bloom. The color when they are new is so rich and vibrant.
Another bird caught my eye, this time a Great Egret. He also walked along the shore, but on the other side.
When we first arrived I walked along the docks next to the ranger station. Something caught my eye, and I looked down to see a smaller alligator taking the sun. From the dried mud caked on its head, he had been sunbathing for a while.
I decided to take advantage of the time at home and review my photographs on the organizer this week. I need to delete those I keep ‘just in case’. They are not good shots and I won’t use them but I do like to keep them a little longer to look at again with fresh eyes. They never get better, so time to do some cleaning up. Who knows, maybe I will find a gem taken at a busier time and overlooked due to the volume of other shots.
A month ago we arrived at Stephen Foster State Park, GA in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp for a two-day camping stay. We visited a few times before on day trips and looked forward to this trip for quite a while. Prior to our arrival, the area received quite a bit of rain. We saw flooding on the drive there, and were not surprised to find the camping area quite wet. Camping in a swamp of that size, we expected bugs. Due to the additional wet and rain, including a couple of fairly deep puddles in our campsite, oh did we have insect life!
As a designated dark sky site, we hoped for some clear skies but did not expect them. It remained partly to mostly cloudy for the trip so no night sky gazing, but that just means we need to go back again. We had been warned that internet, TV, and cell phones did not receive seventeen miles into the swamp where we camped. Our mobile phones had a weak signal that fluctuated in and out, but not even strong enough to call or text.
We took the ranger tour on our prior day trips, and decided since we only had two days to skip it this trip and explore the other areas. We hiked around the campground area, and then drove up to Savannah River Sill recreation area where we spend two mornings. The first day we walked around, alone except for one other group. Later we ran into a birder who showed us where Swallow-tailed Kites had nested the year before and told us she heard that people were seeing kites so came daily to see if they returned. She went on her way, and as we left we looked across the access road, not too far from the nest area, and saw a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring over the trees.
The second morning we woke to fog, so had a quick breakfast, grabbed our cameras, and went back. This time we had the place to ourselves. The fog created some beautiful shots. The shot above came out exactly as it appeared, somewhat ghostly and alien looking. Then I turned around and saw this bird, the only white spot, flying across.
No description of the swamp would be complete without the requisite American Alligator picture. We saw other alligators on the opposite bank the day before, this one was just down the bank from the road where we walked.
We will return, and this time for more than two days.
We hope everyone is doing well during this time. The pandemic changed so much so quickly. Most parks and preserves around us remain closed. Normally this week we would have family staying with us and spend the week with them hitting all of our favorite birding hotspots. We talked on Easter and planned for next year when we can resume our several decade tradition…