Saturday, May 25, 2013


If you love animals and cartoons, than you must love Gary Larson's humor. His Far Side cartoons are classic and one of them has the following caption: Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow a duck is watching  you. The other day, a musgovy duck was in my backyard looking through my window. This did not scare me, but I considered it an invitation to go out and photograph my neighborhood feral ducks. During the rainy season, there is a grassy area near my home that gets flooded. This is when I like to photograph the musgovy ducklings swimming in the little ponds. Sometimes there is a bonus bird such as a green heron or white ibis to photograph. When I can't go out on the water with the canoe, I find opportunities to photograph around home.

There are some good reasons to photograph these little musgovy ducks. First, they are so dang cute (unlike the adult). Second, the water is displayed with interesting reflections coming from the grasses, trees, and buildings. The display of colors is quite attractive, but the challenge is avoiding the noise that come from various structures (fence posts, light posts, etc). The other good reason to photograph these birds is simply that they are there and I can get rather close to them (with mother duck watching me somewhere, somehow).

I get low on the grass, but not too low. I find that there are too many distractions in the background if I get as low to the ground as the duck. Instead, I stay in a sitting position which allows me to angle the shot downward such that only the water appears in the frame. Once I get into a good front light, I can stay in one spot and if I am lucky, one or two clutches of ducklings will be swimming around the small pond. I wait for one to swim into good light and where the reflections on the water are as I want them to be.

Here are some photos of my neighbors, the musgovys, and a white ibis.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tree Houses

Kids love tree houses. Eventually, we grow out of the tree house, which becomes only a symbol of the places we seek out to find refuge and get away from our adult responsibilities. Apparently, there are some big kid adults that have found their refuge in actual tree houses. Along Biscayne Bay shoreline, I have found some of these hide-a-ways. Years ago, someone made a tree house on the bay in a clump of mangroves separated from the main shoreline. You can see it on Google Earth. Over time, it became dilapidated and unsafe to step onto. But, the location must be prime because someone decided to do some renovating. Above is a photo of the improved tree house, with a nice sturdy dock to support the upper stories. It is furnished with a comfortable chair and a container of nails.

To make this tree house, some one has to get the material there either by boat or from the shoreline which is only about 10 feet away. I think someone is getting the materials from land and below is a clue:

The photo of the platform above is directly across from the tree house. One can easily get there by foot or bicycle.

A few hundred feet south of that platform is another. I found this one by land while riding my bike in the area a year or so ago. From a dirt road, wood planks are strategically laid out along the muddy mangrove floor, taking you to this little open area on the bay. Notice the bench on the platform. Not the best angle for watching a sunrise, but its the thought that counts.

A couple weekends ago I launched from Blackpoint . About a 1/4 mile or so from the point, I spotted something in the trees. I wasn't surprised to see something as I am always finding debris washed up into the mangroves. Some of it traveled far to get here along the gulf stream and some things are too large to haul out in a canoe. What caught my eye this time were several bamboo poles tied together on the mangrove roots. My first thought was it was a washed up raft. Instead, it was a platform created for a tree house. I think the tree house in the photo above has an appealing quality to it because it is so well hidden from the main bay, but this new one wins the award for having the best view. In fact, it is a penthouse view with a hammock of sorts hanging about 12 feet off the ground. For this tree house, someone had to have brought in the building material by boat, and a large boat at that. Here's a view of it:

I guess some people are still living their tree house fantasies.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The dazzling white bird with the long S-shaped neck

For the past several years I have visited the nesting great white egret in the Everglades. The bird conveniently nests amongst the brown pelican, which I wrote about in my previous blog. For this writing, the subject is the great white egret. The rookery consists of a several dozen nests (at best guess, there are nearly a hundred nests) When photographing these birds, I attempt to isolate one family (usually one adult and two chicks) from other birds in nearby nests. This is not easy as the nests are close together. But typically, I can identify two or three isolated nests and work with each of them.

For my last two visits to the rookery, I had my sites on a small area consisting of several families of egrets. This made it impossible to isolate one family from another. But it was stunning to watch the activity among the families as more than one feeding would go on at a time. I wanted to somehow capture the entire chaotic scene which might include at least two families. This meant that as many as six or more birds could make up the composition of the photo. 99% of the time, I must photograph a bird at my maximum focal length of 400mm to fill the frame in a meaningful way. But for these subjects, I needed to zoom out and was able to create several compositions at 300-330mm focal length.

Normally, I get away with an open aperture of f5.6. This works well with one bird and more than one bird if they are similar distances from the lens. To capture several birds in the trees, I needed to increase the depth of field; so I settled on f9.0. This seemed to work very well as all the birds appeared to be in focus.

Another challenge that comes with capturing the nesting birds is to make sense of the chaos that is the feeding scene. For long periods, I observe the young nestlings wait for a parent to come back with food. Their skinny long necks allow them to see above the mangrove canopy and they look so forlorn in their long wait for food. Then all of a sudden, an adult comes swooping in. Immediately the little birds begin thrusting their beaks violently upward toward the adult's beak and it becomes a flurry of activity as each chick attempts to grab the adult. Sharp beaks are pointing in every direction among the flapping wings and when attempting to photograph these scenes, I rifle off as many shots as I can. Upon inspection of each photo, I throw away those that could not be possibly identified as a young chick being fed by an adult. The photos that I keep are those that clearly show a feeding chick and perhaps some beautiful wing display. Eye catch and head angle are also important.

Enjoy these photos of the nesting egret families. Bon appetit petit oiseau.