Central Florida Wildlife PT.5
Upon leaving the Venice Audubon Rookery, an Audubon volunteer had offered me a sheet listing other locations of interest in the surrounding area. Back at my hotel room, I was reviewing website descriptions of these spots when I discovered an obscure small park ( only 11 acres ) that caught my attention. Supposedly there was a Bald Eagle’s nest on this site. It was only 5 miles from my room and just a few more miles to Celery Fields, my next recommended stop. It was a no brainer. I would stop at Bayonne and if it were a bust just continue on to the more renowned Celery Fields. Very little shooting time should be at stake.
Damn, not only another cold pre-dawn Florida morning but the wind was blowing hard. As I pulled off the highway into a church parking lot, it did not seem this could possibly be the location. Fortunately, two other vehicles pulled in just behind me. I watched as these two individuals pulled on insulated vests, camouflaged hunting coats, neck warmers, hats with earflaps, and gloves. I put on my nylon wind breaker, gathered my camera equipment and silently followed these apparent acquaintances into the woods assuming the pair knew where they were going. After a short 250 yard walk, we popped out into an opening. They stopped and set up their equipment. I followed suit. I listened as they chit-chatted as to whether Bob would show up today. Eventually Clint, a big old southern boy ( 6’4″ 280+), introduced himself shaking my hand with a mitt the size of Rhode Island. Yes indeed, there were a pair of nesting Bald Eagles with month old chicks Clint informed me as he pointing out the nest. “Can’t approach any closer, State of Florida is afraid they won’t return next year if disturbed. Pay attention to the shag ( big old standing dead tree). They will roost there looking for prey.” Confident guy that Clint, lived around the corner and came to this site every morning to photograph these raptors. I stood there shivering as Clint began to spin his entertaining yarns. Suddenly, a raccoon emerged from the brush and brazenly approached Clint. I stepped away from my tripod assuming we were about to have an encounter with a rabid animal and watched as the raccoon pulled up a couple steps shy of Clint. Clint simply reached into a large canvas grocery shopping bag and handed the coon a piece of cheese bread. “Steve,” Clint bellowed, “I want you to meet Bob, wasn’t sure if he was going to show up today. Bob here has been a good friend of mine for a few years now. Helps me pass the time while I am waiting for those Eagles.” Thus began a four course meal. There were walnuts that Clint had to crack because Bob couldn’t quite figure out how to open them and peanut butter spread on a tree branch (Bob’s favorite) and finally the entrée, a broasted chicken carcass. I assume Bob figured these were simply his modeling fees.
Well the Eagles did start showing up and, just as Clint suggested, lit on the shag directly in front of us. What an incredibly powerful image of strength and grace as this giant wingspan gently descended to the barren limbs of the tree. There is little wonder why this particular bird was selected as a national emblem. Only one problem, that damn wind was not only cold but was blowing in the opposite direction of its prevailing nature. Because the Eagles fly into the wind using their wings as parachutes for soft descents, we were going to see butts rather than faces this particular morning. With the sun from the southeast and the breeze form the south or southwest, perfectly illuminated head shots were the norm for Clint and his friends. Even though it wasn’t ideal wind conditions and the sun would come and go, I understood I had but one morning to be there and I was truly thrilled.
One last little story. While breaking down my camera equipment in the church parking lot before departing, I heard a commotion at the church dumpster on the edge of the woods. I wandered over to find Clint in the mist of a big belly-laugh while lowering a long 2×4 board into the dumpster. He placed a similar board at the top edge of the dumpster to the ground. Just as I stuck my head into the dumpster, a small raccoon came scampering up the board and down the other side to freedom. Seems that the coons routinely get themselves trapped while raiding the dumpster and the benevolent pastor of the church left the boards for angels like Clint when he was not around.
Watch out, incoming.
Don’t you see me here!
Hey buddy, this is getting reported to the FAA for a full investigation.
I told you there was no problem. I am a good driver.
Clint’s friend, Bob, performed between between Eagle landings.
Bob was not the only peanut butter fan. This Northern Cardinal male didn’t mind a few tastes.
Nor did the Cardinal’s female counterpart.
Even the Grey Catbird, renowned for its mewing cat-like call, was a fan.
All too soon, it was time to bid farewell to my new acquaintance, Bob, and amble down the path onto new adventures.
Having spent far more time at Bayonne than I had anticipated, I was quite aware Celery Hills would have to be an abbreviated stop but still wanted to check it out even if only for future reference. Being tired and cold when I arrived, I questioned whether to drag my gear over the long boardwalk to the observation deck in the middle of the wetland. Stop being a wimp and move your butt. And gratefully I did because no one ever got to capture a good image without putting themselves in a position to snap the shutter.
Little Blue Heron searching for food.
As they vigorously stabbed the swamp with their beaks, interesting things happened with the water even when the target was missed.
It was frequently almost impossible to determine the strike’s successful with the naked eye.
I haven’t enough knowledge of all the wetland’s aquatic prey to identify this catch but the photo does demonstrate the eyesight and coordinated speed of the Little Blue Heron.
This last series is why you drag yourself at every opportunity. As you can tell from the camouflaged colors and patterns, this bird was made for the reeds and weeds. You weremore likely to hear it thrashing about after a kill than getting a clear glimpse of an American Bittern. A good photograph is a rare event, one unattainable from the seat of your car!
Some small reptile’s tail was the only remaining evidence of the dinner menu this day.
Adios to the brief but fruitful stop at the Celery Hill Wetlands.