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

Doors, Gates, Nooks and Crannies

A walk off the beaten path through the nation’s oldest city yields some architectural delights. All images were taken with my Fuji XT-2, a mirrorless camera that is lightweight and a delight to use. The controls are a whimsical throwback to cameras of the 1960’s and the build quality is superb.

When working the streets, the small form factor of the Fuji helps keep everything discrete. I used no filters on the day, and worked with a 10-24mm wide-angle lens. I’d like to go back earlier in the morning, and especially would like to do this same walk in the rain!

The Gallery below contains more of my favorites from the day. Click any image to enlarge to full size:

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. 

New Photo Creativity Seminar

Stuck in a photography rut? Join me for “Structured Vision”, my new seminar for photographers with an emphasis on enhancing creativity. Offered in conjunction with my new friends at The Beaches Photography Club. May 1st, 2018, at the Neptune Beach Regional Library, 600 3rd St, Neptune Beach, FL.  I hope to see you there!

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.

Ancient City Lights: Photowalk

It was my pleasure to host a UNF/OLLI continuing education class trip through the historic city of St Augustine last night. After being postponed due to bad weather, we were blessed to finally have perfect conditions for a hike around town, looking for fun scenes and bright lights.

We were not disappointed! When shooting at night, I like to remind my students that a study tripod is just the beginning. Depending on the scene and the length of exposure, you may also want to use a remote or self-timer to avoid any possible movement of the camera.

Modern cameras do much better with high ISO settings. I often to preach to not be afraid to go up there and even shoot hand-held!  You never know what you might miss while waiting to set up the shot with a clunky tripod and related accessories.

We all had fun experimenting with different settings and techniques, followed by the compulsive debrief over beverages. Cheers!