The path that leads to to our favorite birding patch is only a few paces outside the entrance gate to our subdivision. However, we must reach the gate by walking in front of about two blocks of residences. Clothed in our rugged garb, we accept quizzical stares from passing motorists as they bring their kids to school or head for the office, all dressed up. We are often recognized as birders, and have acquired some legitimacy by answering questions from neighbors, such as “Did you notice that a lot of baby white cranes [translation: Snowy Egrets] have just joined their parents [translation: Great Egrets] along our lake?”
Here in Florida we must pay special attention to protection from sun and insects. Sensible wide-brimmed hats, trousers tucked into socks and long sleeves on the hottest of mornings make us stand apart on the fashion scene. (No wonder Mary Lou regarded all birders as rather eccentric folk– until she became one herself! See: “A Valentine for my Favorite Birdwatcher“)
The latest additions to my wardrobe and gear have been an insect-repelling shirt, waterproof snake-resistant boots and an OP/TECH Dual camera/binocular harness. Here I am, all decked out and ready for action (photo courtesy of Mary Lou):
The harness has solved a vexing problem. Until now I have been carrying my camera and binoculars, slung over my neck and opposite shoulders. This can be a troublesome arrangement, Not only do the straps conflict with each other, pinching and constricting my neck all around, but their business ends can become hopelessly entangled. It’s very disconcerting to lift the camera for a shot and find the binocular strap wrapped around the long lens. The harness (or halter) stores the two items of equipment independently on each side, and distributes their weight on a single soft neoprene yoke that goes over both shoulders and is secured by a chest strap. Strangulation is out of the question.
Well, the snake boots are something else. A few close encounters with Cottonmouth water moccasins notwithstanding, I am usually very careful about looking where I step, and am not afraid of any snakes– provided I see them first. My attitude changed a couple of months ago, when (wearing sneakers) I went out in the pre-dawn darkness to try to obtain a photo of one of the Bobcats that live in the wetlands. I forgot to take a flashlight, and depended upon the moon and a little keychain LED lamp to light my way. This was fine until I had to cross some deeper grass and felt that I might be taking my life into my hands. Indeed, another photographer who walked out that way a couple of mornings earlier (and obtained a knock-out Bobcat portrait) told me he saw four small moccassins along the same path. Why didn’t I see any? This experience, and prodding from my spouse, son-in-law and daughter (as well as a couple of birding friends) led me to finally buy the snake boots.
This past Friday, we got out about ten minutes before sunrise and took our usual warm-up “power walk” to the Harbour Lakes Impoundment, a lake about a mile away from our gate. Here, a day-old full moon hovers overhead and the first rays of sunlight have just reached the trees on the far side of the lake:
An Osprey flew over, the early rays illuminating its flight feathers from below:
Along the way, I stopped to photograph a Common Ground Dove…
Truth be told, I just don’t take one picture and move along. Usually, I shoot as soon as I spot my subject, then move in cautiously for better views. Rather than shoot in bursts, I like to catch the bird doing something, such as calling, preening, or looking up, down or over its back. Such poses seem more interesting than simple “field guide” side-on views. If a twig or leaf is in the way, or part of the bird is in shadow, I try to angle around it or wait until the bird moves into a more suitable location. Approaching nearer to the subject requires stealth and slow movements. Each bird seems to have a limit as to how closely it may be approached. (The shrike usually flies off if someone gets within about 30 feet, though there are exceptions). All this takes time and can be very BORING to a non-photographer birding companion. I know this from experience, having taken up photography only recently, and used to hate it when photographers held up other birders’ progress.
Therefore, Mary Lou usually leaves me with my camera and starts birding her way back home within an hour, alone– that’s her, fading away in the distance:
Look closely at the above photo. she is just passing the small, compact wooded area that I call my “fake hammock.” Although it is an isolated area of hardwoods and is dry underfoot all year long, it otherwise bears no resemblance to a “real” hammock, an elevated island in the Everglades, populated by native oaks, mahogany, maples and palms. While my fake hammock contains ligustrum, exotic Brazilian Pepper and lantana, it also has several large native Florida Trema trees (Trema micranthum) with an endless crop of nutritious berries that continue to ripen all winter. These trees are very attractive to wildlife. Visit “Birding in a make-believe hammock”
Trema berries grow along the stems of the tree and are in various stages of ripening:
I had not entered my “hammock” since spring, and found the path that led into it overgrown with high weeds, vines and shrubs. I would never have ventured there without my new snake boots, but I forced my way under the canopy of the trees. Once inside, I found very little ground cover in the rather open shaded area.
An old folding chair had been left there a long time ago and it provided a nice place to sit and just wait for the migrating birds:
I did not have to wait very long, as two vireos suddenly showed up to partake of the Trema berries. One had markings that suggested it might be a Black-whiskered Vireo, but other views confirmed it was a common Red-eyed Vireo with “bad hair”(click on photo to also see a Black-whiskered specimen that I photographed at about the same spot in March of this year:
No doubt about it– they were indeed Red-eyed Vireos:
These were the best open shots I’ve ever gotten of the usually secretive species:
Just above my head, a male Prairie Warbler foraged in a sunny patch of leaves:
A noisy group of three Red-bellied Woodpeckers flew in, allowing me to pull off a couple of lucky shots before they disappeared:
There were very few mosquitoes and no deer flies, and it was almost cool inside my hiding place, as I watched a Black-and-White Warbler work its way towards my position (click on image for more views):
OK, I OD’d on Black-and-Whites. I probably took over 100 shots, almost all through peep-holes between the branches, and most marred by the rapid movement of this little sprite. Then it came into the open and I finally got some full views:
A Northern Parula peered down at me from the canopy:
Another brightly colored male Parula joined him:
The Blue Jays have completed their molt, and this one looked sleek and handsome:
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were almost as distracting as the many butterflies that fluttered in my peripheral vision:
A Brown Thrasher was a surprise visitor:
This Great Crested Flycatcher preferred to perch against the sun and sky, providing me with only severely back-lighted soft images:
For me, the real treat was a pair of Ovenbirds that chased each other back and forth, rarely sitting still long enough for decent portraits; this one insisted on hiding behind a leaf as it eyed me:
The other Ovenbird never perched nearby, requiring me to shoot through holes in the foliage into its shaded retreat:
This tailed butterfly is a Dorantes Skipper:
September 17th, 2011 at 10:18 pm Welcome back to Florida! I can never get over the variety you find only a couple of miles from where I live. I especially enjoyed seeing the Red-bellied Woodpeckers, as I have never seen any around my house. I’m glad you look for interesting poses. That is one of the best features of your photography. Thanks again!
September 20th, 2011 at 12:22 pm Your camera/binocular arrangement is pretty ingenious. I am using a Black Rapid across the shoulder strap and carry my binoculars around my neck. That setup works well for me. I love your warblers, particularly the Prairie W., also your Ovenbirds and Vireos. Excellent photography!
September 20th, 2011 at 12:56 pm A wonderful post Ken…a very informative read, beautiful images (your woodpecker is a little beauty)and you strike a great pose showing off your new kit. Those boots make so much sense. Take care..
September 20th, 2011 at 1:10 pm Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.
September 20th, 2011 at 3:37 pm Great photos of the birds and your habitat - and very interesting to read how you manage the bugs and snakes. I must investigate the harness for the binocs. and camera. There’s always too much weight strung around my neck!
September 20th, 2011 at 4:47 pm Looks like a great day of birding. I have to look into the bug repellant clothes. I usually end up getting bug bites. I love all your bird photos. Some of my favorites are ALL the warblers, and the osprey in flight and that redbellied woodie is just too cute. Great post and wonderful photos.
September 20th, 2011 at 6:42 pm The new gear looks and sounds like great additions to your grip. I’m not surprised your a Canon user, love that lens. It’s hard to imagine the variety of birds you encountered in the false hammock. A great read, I felt like I was with you!
September 20th, 2011 at 7:10 pm Wonderful pictures — I need a new camera, but then I wouldn’t have any excuse! Love the outfit, especially the vest, because it is hard to balance binos and camera. And the boots really make sense in FL. We spend our winters in Ft Myers, but I’ve never seen so many wonderful perching birds there. Maybe we don’t get there soon enough.
September 20th, 2011 at 10:14 pm Wow..I could only hope to see those birds in a year let alone a day..lovely collection. I may need to get a harness as my neck is always killing me..but thank goodness I do not need the snake boots….love the oven birds….Michelle
September 21st, 2011 at 3:41 am Hi there - some real cracking shots in there. The flicker is a bit of a star! Cheers : Stewart M - Australia
September 21st, 2011 at 7:26 am Another amazing post with exceptional photos Ken! Those Red-eyed Vireo shots are marvelous, and the warblers, wow! The show stopper for me though is that Red-bellied Woodpecker! Beautiful! Oh yea, I almost forgot about the Loggerhead Shrike. I really enjoyed your description of the camera/bins dilemma. I am going to look into that harness myself.
September 21st, 2011 at 9:45 am I love this post! Such a beautiful place and great collection of birds! My favourite is woodpecker:)
September 21st, 2011 at 11:01 am Thanks, all, for your comments. @Sallie: During the warm months, we have very few small birds in the less developed parts of South Florida. Among warblers, the Prairie Warbler and Common Yellowthroat are the only regular breeders. Fall migration seems best for migrants, and some stay here all winter– notably the Palm Warbler, which is so common on lawns and shrubs that many locals call them “sparrows.” FYI, here is the Amazon.com ad for the harness: http://www.amazon.com/6501032-Harness-Neoprene-Carries-Cameras/dp/B002IUQ180/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1316282094&sr=8-4
September 21st, 2011 at 3:19 pm Another marvelous post, chock-full of delightful photos! I love them all but that Red-bellied Woodpecker has me enchanted. We have them around here, but I’ve only seen the female. Those boots are a necessity in your birding country.
September 21st, 2011 at 4:38 pm I must have one of those harnesses! You really had a successful birding walk. I love the Black and White Warbler.
September 21st, 2011 at 7:31 pm What a great wealth of birds you have in your false hammock! The chair is a great adjunct, giving you more stability against camera shake. Here in Australia we have to cover up totally as well. I like the idea of a harness although as a fashion statement it is rather a flop. I am glad you have your snake-proof boots and was also glad that you are wearing loose trousers so that if one strikes higher, the poison will go more into the trouser than your leg. Here too we have a number of deadly snakes and one of them, the tigersnake, will chase you when disturbed. I just wear my knee-high rubber boots in snake season. Thanks for a great post.
October 7th, 2011 at 9:23 am Thanks, everyone, for your feedback! I finally got out and slogged through ankle-deep water in those boots– stepped into a hole that brought the water up to mid-calf and discovered that both boots leaked! Returned them and manufacturer is sending a replacement pair.