Flying Shrimp Invasion?

So I’m sitting in my favorite spot to watch hummingbirds, when this alien-looking creature arrives. It’s actually a Hummingbird Moth, Hemaris thysbe, the hummingbird clearwing, of the family Sphingidae (hawkmoths).

Hummingbird Moth

Compared to a hummingbird, this moth is silent, and about 2/3 the size of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Not nearly as skittish as a bird, this moth let me approach and take as many photos as I wanted..but getting one in focus wasn’t easy!

Somewhat uncommon to see in daylight, coloration of this moth varies between individuals. Typically the moth is olive green and burgundy on its back, and white or yellow and burgundy on the underside.

I still think it looks like a flying shrimp.

Hummingbird Moth enjoying a sip of nectar from Pentas.

An Evening With Audubon

It was my pleasure to present to the St Johns County Audubon Society last night. My seminar, entitled “Ethical Bird Photography” was well-attended and the questions were thoughtful. This is a well-informed audience!

Wildlife photography is a wonderful hobby for some, but it has the potential to harm fragile species if we do not monitor the behavior of the over-zealous few. There are stories of inconsiderate or downright illegal activities from eco-tour operators as well as ignorant photographers seeking self-affirmation on Instagram or Facebook.

As a photography instructor, I pledge to teach my students and coach my colleagues in the following:

Ethical Bird Photography Guidelines

  • Avoid causing unnecessary disturbance. Keep your distance, use blinds or natural cover, and stick to natural lighting. (I never use flash)
  • Nesting birds are vulnerable, and need special consideration. 
  • Never lure hawks or owls with live bait.
  • Don’t use sound playback.
  • Show respect for property and consideration for other people.
  • Promote the welfare of birds and their environment. Learn their behavior and signs of stress.
  • Ensure that any backyard feeders are safe and kept clean
  • Group birding requires special care. Encourage others you travel with to follow these codes of ethics to promote better understanding.
  • Never share a nest location publicly on social media.
  • If you observe an overzealous shooter, point out the dangers this behavior poses to the wildlife we all strive to protect. 
  • If the violator persists, report the location and description to the FWC.
Great Horned Owl near sundown, spotted by Vicki. Canon 6d & 150-600mm lens.

They’re Back!

I was sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee (as we often do every morning) when buzzzzz – the first hummer of the season stopped by for a sip of Salvia!

I went back inside to grab a camera and fired off a few shots of this handsome male. I was using a Fuji XT-3, a neat little mirrorless with whimsical controls that are like a throwback to my early days with film cameras. Only this little powerhouse can fire off 30 games per second.

Yikes, I can vouch that in 10 seconds I racked up nearly 300 images of this hummingbird! Depth of field is so shallow that you really can only see from the tip of his beak to his head, which is less than an inch. But I love the detail in the feathers along the gorget (throat) and the pollen on his head!

“Plants for Birds” at WBU

I was very pleased with the turnout last night (November 1st) at my “Plants for Birds” seminar at Wild Birds Unlimited in St Johns. With over 30 in attendance, we had lots of discussion with smart, highly engaged customers. This is why I love doing this stuff!

Thanks again to store owners Brian and Joline Bidwell, who encourage me to educate and promote biodiversity in the natural world around us.

If you were able to attend, great! I hope to see you again soon. If you’d like a copy of my handout, click here: Plants for Birds Handout

Black-throated Blue Warbler on American Beautyberry

Pine Warbler on Slash Pine

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Coral Honeysuckle

Eastern Phoebe with dragonfly

A Little Slice of Heaven

Today we finalized the installation of the first phase of our native plant garden. Our objective is to create a wild bird sanctuary and eventually return our little yard back to some semblance of its “natural” state. Some of the plantings today include: Yaupon Holly, Eastern Red Cedar, Walter’s Viburnum, Wax Myrtle, Firebush (Hamelia Patens), Fakahatchee Grasses, Tickseed, Blueberries, Liatris, Horsemint, Rudbeckia, Wild Petunia, Rosemary, and more. All of these will increase butterfly and bird activity, and we hope to set an example for Florida-friendly gardens in our neighborhood. True story: Before we finished planting we had birds sitting in the plants-even while still in the containers! Many thanks to Rene Stambaugh at NativePlantConsulting. 

First Rookery Visit of 2018

We’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to visit an old local favorite, the rookery at the St Augustine Alligator Farm. So glad to be back!

This morning I decided to bring my Fuji X-T2 and give it a try for bird photography. This compact mirrorless camera features legendary sharp FujiFilm optics, old-school film-like controls, and advanced, lightweight design. I wanted to give it a workout against my traditional Canon DSLR.

FUJIFILM X-T2

I’m impressed with the clarity and depth of colors with the Fuji. It has a learning curve, very different from Canon or Nikon. The results look good but my keeper rate isn’t as high and I’m still working on my own quickness with the controls. Perched birds are not an issue, but for Birds-in-flight I’m going to need more practice and need to tweak my autofocus settings.

All-in-all, a good morning and we’ll be back to practice again very soon. Here’s a gallery of a few images from the Fuji X-T2 today. Click to see the larger size with detail.

Bluebirds on my Shoulder

Bluebird Seminar

The Bluebird is a longtime symbol of happiness, good health and hope in North America. Native Americans displayed the bird in their art and told tales of its beauty and humility in their folklore. But did you know that the Bluebird went from being as common as the robin, to being so rare that birders were sure of its inevitable extinction? Learn this amazing story as well as many fun facts about Bluebirds, how to attract them to your yard and create a safe nesting place for their families. I’ll also share a few photo tips along the way for aspiring nature photographers.

I’ll be conducting this free seminar on Bluebirds and their behavior on February 15th at 6:30 PM at Wild Birds Unlimited located at 450 SR 13 N in St Johns. That’s in the  Julington Village shopping center, right next to Publix.

Seating is limited, call 904-230-3242 for reservations. Most of you know I’m on the staff there, but we do much more than sell bird seed! Come by any time to learn more.

Paddle Faster!

Two miles out on the placid St Johns River, only the occasional leaping mullet disturbs the water.

Suddenly, Thump….Thump…..WHAM….

Paddle Faster!

The first strike felt like we collided with something…then I turned around and made eye contact with a VERY large (4+ ft) Tarpon who was just as shocked to see me.  He obviously mistook our rudder for a tasty meal (or maybe it was an amorous encounter?) After several more attempts to eat the kayak or otherwise get to know us better, he swam off, leaving us with way more adrenaline pumping than we expected for such a calm day.

What the heck? PADDLE FASTER!!

The Atlantic Tarpon (Megalops Atlanticus)

Now we know what those little mullet run away from! After that experience, the rest of our day seemed rather anti-climatic.

This time of year, we use the kayak to explore Bald Eagles nests that are inaccessible by land. We finally found the Eagles about 3 miles from our launch point, and were able to photograph one on guard duty along the riverbank. Notice the off-white “dirty” looking tail, which is a sign of nesting activity.

We also observed rafts of hundreds of Ruddy Ducks along the river, covering a wide area of the eastern shoreline, and a few Great Blue Heron engaged in nest-gathering.

I always have a GoPro filming on board, but today it was aimed ahead of the boat, and the only evidence of our encounter was my expression when I turn to see the Tarpon vs Kayak commotion.

The camera never lies, so it also captured my graceful exit from the boat at the end of the day.

Until next time…..

Click on any image below to see full-size:

New Bird Morning

I’m not the best bird watcher by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t keep a massively impressive list, but I love the challenge, particularly when photographing a new bird or tracking them down in a new place.

Yesterday we were thrilled to locally observe a flock of Sandhill Cranes, a Priority Species that the National Audubon Society says is vulnerable to loss of habitat. While overall they have rebounded in recent years, they are not terribly common here in North Florida.  Degradation of their habitat here and at major stopover points for migrants could have serious impact on the species in the future.

Anyone who pursues this hobby gets a little thrill when seeing a species for the first time, and today we saw Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and White-crowned Sparrows – new birds for our list! Both species are fairly uncommon in our location. Below are a few more results from a productive morning at our new little birding paradise. Click the preview for a full-sized image. For more information about bird photo outings in North Florida or for photography instruction, please contact me. Thanks for looking!

 

 

Plants are “For The Birds”!

I hope you’ll join me on October 12th for an interactive talk about the many benefits Native Plants can bring to your bird-watching enjoyment. Learn which plants in Northeast Florida will help attract more diversity than just birdseed alone. Many insect and fruit-eating birds can easily be attracted to your yard with a little planning and careful selection of key impactful plants. Using photos taken locally, I’ll share my personal journey from an HOA dead zone to a bird-friendly yard and the dramatic increase in species observed. This Native Plant Society sponsored event begins at 6:30 at the Historic Willow Branch Library at 2875 Park St, Jacksonville, FL 32205.