Central Florida Wildlife PT.4

After the late afternoon rain wiped out my sunset photo session in the Viera Wetlands, it seemed to make sense to use the extra time to drive across the state. Photographers I met in Merritt Island had raved about all the wonderful bird shots they had taken at the Venice Audubon Rookery. I had read about this very famous iconic location when researching for this trip and knew it was just south of Sarasota right off the major north south RT.75. How hard could that be? Just drive west and sooner or later you have to run into Rt. 75. Except the signs keep announcing  Tampa was getting closer and I wanted to be an hour and a half south of that location. No problem, I would pull into the next Stop and Go and finally purchase a road map. Unbelievably, not only were there no road maps, but the kid behind the counter had never even heard of Venice. Not to worry, if Ponce de Leon could figure it out I assumed I would. I pulled into a Venice hotel parking lot around 9:00pm … good thing this wasn’t a race.

Morning came quickly after staying up late downloading the day’s shoot and cleaning all my equipment. But as I drove through the dark to this famous Audubon location, I was genuinely excited at the day’s possibilities. Upon entering the Rookery’s parking lot, I was completely deflated by just how tiny this site looked in the early dawn light. It was a small pond with an even smaller mangrove-type island in the center. Maybe I should check to make sure I was in the right location before dragging out all my equipment. The island couldn’t have been more than 75 feet long with a 50 foot moat surrounding it. On my approach to the pond’s edge, my reservations about the location quickly evaporated. There were literally thousands of roosting and nesting birds covering every square inch of every bush and shrub on the island. As the sun rose and it warmed a bit, a series of “blast offs”  occurred with massive numbers of birds departing at the same time to leave the safety of the roost for their feeding grounds. Truly an awesome sight! As the sun set, these birds would return in droves once again noisily claiming the security of a night’s space at the inn.

The island was was abuzz with activities as the permanent residents constantly gathered materials for nest repairs. Great White Egrets were breeding while some of the Great Blue Herons were already feeding young.

Great White Egrets

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Breeding plumage was displayed indicating availability.

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Nesting pairs stay close.

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This particular day was very windy and cold. I was definitely underdressed. With the brighting sunlight starting to washout colors and my hands freezing after 4 hours of photographing, I had just broken down my camera  to leave when this pair started to breed. You can’t get them all!!!!

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While gathering material on short flights around the pond, the Great White Egret, which is actually a variety  of Heron, flies with its neck outstretched. When flying any distance, it will recoil its neck back against its chest as all Herons do. On the other hand,  Cranes fly with an outstretched neck.

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The Anhinga were also in the mood for love as we can see from the color of their eyes.

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The color of this Common Cormorant’s eyes was not related to breeding but was still very distinctive.

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In the following series, a Cormorant speared a huge catfish. While fending off a competitor, the Cormorant turned the fish so he can swallow it head-first. Notice the expanded neck size of the Cormorant. Apparently he was never taught to chew before swallowing.

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The Great Blue Heron is a magnificent creature. Its grace and beauty have dream-like and other-worldly ethereal qualities offering unique photographic opportunities for image-making. Much of my wildlife photography tends to be documentary realism, but by looking differently at color, texture, camera angle, background blur, and clarity of focus on the subject (just to mention a few) I can create images that are more artist than scientific.  I just love the entire thought process as it stretches me in new directions. Hopefully this next series demonstrates better than my words. After all, a picture is supposedly worth a 1000 words. Let’s see.

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Curious chicks peered from the nest awaiting the next round of feeding.

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A loudly protesting juvenile pestered its parent for more regurgitated food. The crop on top of its head resembled a teenager with a crewcut. It will grow into an adult cap quickly as the infant will be full size in a total of just 6 weeks.

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A dust-up between aggressive siblings was a common occurrence. It is not unusual to have chicks knocked out of the nest. More food for the winner.

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” I said shut up stupid.”

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” There. Take that.”

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Not all Herons are large. The small Green Heron was quite shy.

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This tiny oasis was home to a vast number of species. Even Brown Pelicans arrived at the pond.

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Life is all about perspective and frequently so is photography.

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As the sun began to set on this small island, throngs of birds continued to stream in until every square inch was covered. I guess big things really can come from small packages.

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As I departed from my second trip of the day to the Rookery, a kindly Audubon volunteer offered directions to additional sites in the area. Fortunately, I had the good sense to follow his suggestions.

9 responses

  1. Sue

    Fantastic photos, the light is really gorgeous, and the detail in your photos is amazing! Thanks for sharing these.

    March 10, 2014 at 10:33 pm

  2. Wonderful photos, what a fantastic spot! I especially love the images of the young herons.

    March 12, 2014 at 8:25 am

  3. Becky

    Steve, these are fabulous! You must have tremendous patience to wait for all of the action that you are able to capture.

    March 16, 2014 at 2:37 pm

  4. Kyle

    amaIng captures here! I initially noticed your “heron vs fish” shots here. That thing looked huge and the bird was really able to gulp it down entirely whole? It looks like big fish is still fighting going down?? Was that still the end for poor fishy?!

    October 17, 2015 at 7:20 am

    • Actually that was a cormorant that gulped down that entire fish but I have also witnessed a blue heron devour an equally large catch. At Lettuce Park in Tampa, Florida, I watched an anhinga try numerous times to consume an even larger bass. After many failures, the anhinga finally just resorted to ripping off pieces.

      October 17, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      • Kyle

        Oh interesting! You ware correct, that was a hungry cormorant! I have never witnessed such an event like that before. It looked like a big (a catfish?) struggling fish and hard to imagine it ended up as a meal for the bird.

        I wonder, wouldn’t a thrashing/spiky fish that size stand a slim chance of escaping or even damaging the birds stomach/insides? If not does the bird manage to digest it bones, fins and all really??

        Thanks for the feedback/info, you have some other cool shots as well, keep it up! 😉

        October 18, 2015 at 5:19 pm

  5. The Cormorant turns the fish around and swallows it head-first so the spines on the fins are collapsed and can’t open as it descends for digestion

    October 19, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    • Kyle

      Just stumbled across this fascinating blog again! It seems ironic how the fishes best defense works against it in the end, I wouldn’t have thought.. I can’t imagine the fish agreed with the birds stomach however? I imagine the big fish would bite and thrash rather than somehow succumb to the birds hungry gullet??

      December 2, 2015 at 6:25 am

  6. kyle

    ?

    August 11, 2017 at 4:44 am

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