It takes a village?

     Does it really take a village to raise a child? If your child has wings and is a newborn Royal Tern, then, it might be true. The Royal Terns and Laughing Gull chicks I photographed in June (see 15 June blog) are nearly fledged. There were thousands of chicks hatched in the sand dune scrapes at Huguenot Park this summer. I would dare say about half of them are gone due to predators. The remaining Royal Tern hatchlings called “Downys” are few. The entire flock of adult Royals closely guards the few survivors.  

      Per the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: “Young Royal Terns leave the nest scrape within one day after hatching and congregate together in a group known as a crèche. Eventually all of the chicks in a colony come to the crèche, which can have thousands of chicks ranging in age from two to 35 days old. A pair of Royal Terns will feed only their own chick, and manage to find it in the crowd, probably by recognizing its call.” As the young grow and begin to fledge and move out onto the beach to feed, the adults surround the remaining young in groups of 10-20 or more birds around a single downy. All incoming birds are called and challenged as they approach. A predator will be met with the fury of the entire Royal “aunts and uncles” that they can muster. And of course if a parent comes in to feed the downy the protectors all expect a little reward from time to time.

     Royal Terns continue back and forth over the beach returning from the ocean with a variety of foods; small fish, minnows, large shrimp, eels and even squid. The latter often leave large “ink” blotch stains on the tern. They are usually be followed by other hungry Royals or Laughing gulls who pounce on them and steal the food whenever possible. Wealth redistribution they call it.

      Only the strong survive. I am not convinced it took the small rural town I grew up in to raise me. I had two able and willing parents to do that and some mighty busy guardian angels. But that small town sure left a big influence on me. I think it was mostly good too. Be blessed. Harry

It may look like a great day to be a Royal Tern on the beach...now look closer!

But if you are flying, it can get real crowded up there...Huguenot Air Traffic Control..we have a problem..

It does take a "village" of Royal Terns to protect one "downy" (see it in the center with orange legs?)

All incoming birds are challenged..

It's just me...so happy to see you this Monday!

Fish anyone? Raise your beaks if you want one..

The parents will only feed their own young which they recognize probably by its call...this was the wrong chick and the parent flew off with the fish.

Hungry young Royal Tern fledgling calls for food...

Filling the frame..an adult Royal Tern with a large fish flies by..real close too!

A Laughing Gull is in hot pursuit of the Royal Tern's fish prize..

Coming at you..we deliver..fish

Squid dinner with the ink stains to prove it....

More fish anyone?

Fresh shrimp is good too..

Instead of Meals on Wheels, Royals have EELS FOR  MEALS..

Looking good..struttin their stuff...

Ghost Crab blasts out of its hole to defend its territory from another crab..

En Garde! Prepare to defend yourself intruder!

Ode to a Ghost Crab...this hapless crab was later eaten by a Ruddy Turnstone...

A Ruddy Turnstone has to eat too you know...

If you go right, I go left...A Ruddy avoids the lens..

A Sanderling hunts in the surf zone..

Fledgling Royal Tern waiting for fish in the surf

Someone call for more fish?

Laughing Gull Fledgling begs for food..

Laughing Gull Fledgling begs for food..

A first for me...Sandwich Tern feeding its young..

Someone asked where did the Sandwich Tern get that name.I figure Adam was eating a sandwich when he named it...A FWC employee said look for the black beak dipped in mustard on the end...

Looks like mustard dipped to me,,

An illusive Reddish Egret...

The mad "Red head" says "PUT THAT CAMERA DOWN MISTER DOOHICKEY!"

I'm just a hairy guy...

From the lyrics of “Hair”

"She asks me why, why I'm just a hairy guy.

I'm hairy noon and nighty night night, my hair is a fright.

I'm hairy high and low, but don't ask me why, cause he don't know."

 

     The Editor has to return to school soon so we took off on a Saturday morning to the Alligator Farm and Zoo…I was hoping to see the last of the Roseate Spoonbills but alas they were gone. However, there lots of Tricolored and little Blue Heron fledglings. The peach fuzz feathers on the fledglings give a comical look to the Tricolored Heron young. They sure make me laugh with their fuzzy spiked hair-feathers. I think you will see a smile form on your face too as you look at them.

     The young fledglings will soon be gone. They have lots of energy and the parents are still very busy feeding them. When the parent arrives with food it can quickly turn into a nasty food fight among the siblings. Sibling rivalry is very evident at food time. Survival of the fittest is the law of the jungle still.

     Thank God for cell phones now though. No such food fights occur at our kitchen and dining room tables much anymore. Cracks me up to see a family of siblings at the table. No one is looking at the food. They all have their faces glued to their phones instead. Not in my day, I was looking at the drumstick, and ready to stick a fork in my brothers hand if he reached for it.  Be blessed Harry

My hair (feathers) is a fright! Fledgling Tricolored Heron's funny hair-doo

You got something to say about my hair feather dude?

Look, here comes mom with more FOOD!

I think there is a flea in my feathers...gotta scratch..

Here comes the adult with more food!

Landing conditions are tricky..for experienced adults

A fledgling follows on its first test flight...looking for food..

Food fight begins among the Tricolored Herons..no room for siblings here...

Snowy Egret parent arrives with more food..

A food fight follows..

This Snowy fledgling chases away its rival siblings.

The food is mine, mine, mine..Snowy with a "tude"

Why can't we all just get along like the peaceful mourning dove..?

Three young fledgling Wood Storks...they don't fight like the herons..because..right now they are a hairy guy..

The young Wood Storks know soon enough they will loose their hair feathers and look like the old man!

Think about it...enjoy your youth while you have it..you will grow old soon enough..but enjoy that too, hair or no hair!

Zugunruhe..Part 2

     Still feeling restless? You’ve got a bad case of Zugunruhe then. The early morning boat ride under a setting blue moon sky was breathtaking to behold. Unfortunately the moon dipped below the clouds before I could get a good photo. I am already restless thinking about next year’s Swallow-tailed Kite migration.

     Motoring quietly up the channel to the roosting site gives us time to check our equipment and get ready. Dressed in drab colors we blend with the camouflage covered boat and background.  The tall Cypress give us cover as the boat snuggles up to the bank, while the nesting Kites gently stir over head. As the sun rises, a mirror like water surface reflects the trees on the opposite bank. Our Guide had previously told us these calm wind conditions are not good for the Kite skimming activity we hope to capture. Kites prefer to skim in wind-rippled water, because in calm water, they can’t determine where the surface is and might dive too deep or into the mouth of a waiting alligator. Our guide is prepared for the calm water and has brought a small radio controlled boat (painted to resemble a skimming Kite) to run out in the channel to make the needed ripples. Unfortunately, it has a malfunction on launch and slowly drifts away. A small gator surfaces next to the boat and begins a slow swim across the channel.  Apparently the gator mistakes the boat for a real Kite and attacks it. (Later we spot the boat with only the bow floating nose up, drifting down the channel, sadly in need of repair). The good news is the wind picks up a bit and ripples the water. Suddenly the sky is filled with Kites and the skimming action starts. We raise the cameras and start clicking away.

     There are too many birds for our guide to call out; we just pick the closest one. Our arms quickly tire holding the heavy lenses while trying to follow the swift movements of the Kites skimming for water and washing their feathers. The clouds clear. The light is perfect. Tired arms click away. Then, as swiftly as it began, the skimming ceases as the kites leave to forage. Our guide describes the scene we have just witnessed as the longest and most intensive Kite skimming period he has seen in a dozen years. As I preview my later photos I realize that I forgot to adjust my shutter speed the guide had called for when the light conditions changed. Silent disappointment fills my thoughts. I missed the best part of it. Some of the early shots were ok and our Guide helped me salvage a few others in post processing. Whew! 

     Later in the afternoon we return to watch the “kettle” formations of returning kites as they come in to roost. Several have captured tree dwelling Florida rough green snakes for an evening dinner. They swoop by with the live non-venomous snakes dangling from their claws and begin to devour them in mid flight. A Barred Owl calls its mate from somewhere in the canopy. Our guide activates a recorded Barred Owl call on his phone and soon two Barred Owls appear in the tree line to investigate the intruding “owls” in their territory. Flying silently across the channel, they land in a nearby tree and then peer into the boat looking for another owl. It is only a bunch of old photographers in “camouflage” pulling a ruse. Off they go, but I this time I got them. A Kite then flies by in “camo’s” (covered in tree moss) hoping we don’t spot it as it comes in to roost. Wonder where the Kite got that idea?

     The owls and I both learned a valuable lesson. They got fooled. I fooled myself. Don’t get so caught up with the moment that you forget why you came in the first place. Remember to check your settings! Some of the photos etched on my memory card didn’t turn out too well but the pictures etched in my mind are still perfect. Be blessed. Harry

Our radio-controlled boat "Swallow-tailed Kite Skimmer" used to make ripples..a malfunction leaves it dead in the water..and gator bait..

Early skimming activity shot in lower light conditions..

Swallow-tailed Kite "butt bath"....

A little tall feather shake off...

Another dip and drink run..

Hard to distinguish at first but some of these birds do have dark red eyes..

Some fresh water to start the day!

Shake it off...ahhhh

I see you in those camo's Mr Doohickey!

Time for breakfast...bugs anyone? 

Topshot of a Juvenile returning...note the lack of the longer scissor like tail of an adult . 

A juvenile Red Shouldered Hawk checks out the camouflaged  boat...nice job Ron!

Who wants snake for dinner? An unfortunate Florida Rough Green Snake snatched from the tree tops..

Snack time in flight..the Kites often eat their catch on the fly..

Snake, it's whats for dinner!

Swallow-tailed Kites returning to roost in the Cypress tops for the night..

A pair of Barred Owls in the trees fly closer to investigate the Guide's "owl" call!

You're not an owl! If you are you sure are an UGLY one..

Outta here! The Barred Owls figure us out to be a ruse..

A Swallow-tailed Kite wearing tree moss camouflage wings by...where did it get that idea I wonder?

I think I will head for Brazil soon...how bout you?

I see that Zugunruhe in your eyes..until the next migration...

Zugunruhe...

     Did you ever get restless and feel like moving on? Flying south for the winter? If so,you too have Zugunruhe…the anxious, restless behavior of a migratory species, especially found in birds. It is sort of like a sailor being on land too long..the restless call of the sea beckons, and away they go.

      On this Beyond the Broward excursion, I witnessed firsthand the “Zugunruhe” of the Swallow-tailed Kite. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology describes this unique raptor as follows; “A strikingly marked raptor of wetlands in the southeastern United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite captures flying insects or plucks insects and lizards from the tops of trees.” They forgot to mention tree snakes also. They can often be seen eating the catch while still flying. Each summer thousands of Swallow-tailed Kites gather in flocks of hundreds in South and Central Florida to begin the long migration back home to Brazil. Each spring they return, traveling thousands of miles to the southeastern US to breed before the Zugunruhe again calls them home.

      Soaring on thermals, the Swallow-tailed Kite rises high on broad wings, which they seldom flap. The long scissor like tail is used as a rudder to turn and steer them through the air. The aerobatic maneuvers I observed included fast steep dives from thousands of feet, followed by barrel rolls, loops, summersaults, and wingovers that would make even the best fighter pilot pass out from the number of G’s pulled. They look like huge black tornado formations as they “kettle” over the cypress trees, circling higher and higher before departing to forage or coming in at evening to roost for the night. Often in the morning before leaving to eat, some of them swoop down, skimming low over the river to grab a fresh gulp of water or wash their tail feathers. This skimming behavior is one of the most challenging photographs I have ever attempted. Our guide, Ron, made it look easy. It wasn’t, I can assure you.

      I feel a bit of Zugunruhe myself as I watch these restless birds longing for home.  My spirit man grows more restless each day as time passes and the world around us seemingly seems to disintegrate into chaos. Until the trumpet sounds...Be blessed. Harry

The morning sun rises over a restless sky...somewhere in central florida the birds awake....full of Zugunruhe..

Sleepy Swallow-tailed Kites begin to stir.....there are hundreds of them in the treetops...

One by one the Swallow-tailed Kites awaken and stretch their wings as the sun begins to warm the air..

Time to rise and soar...lets get up and go

But first things first...

A little drink first..

Ahhh...Cool Clear Water...

Now a little tail feather washing...or bird butt bath as some call it...

All washed and ready to fly...let's eat..

Rudder check...flaps check...all flight systems go..a juvenile gets read to fly and forage..

Let's go fly a kite...Swallow-tailed that is...

Hey Dad..can we poop on these guys in the camouflage boat first?

A moment in time...

     The Wild Amelia photo walk group met this past week for a sunrise shoot on Blackrock Beach. Shooting landscape shots like this requires different lens combinations, use of filters, and knowing how to compose and expose the scene to catch the moment. And you only have a short window and moment in time to get the right shot.

     Walking down the trail in the predawn light, I chuckle as the folks ahead of me encounter the numerous spider webs strung across the trail by the Banana Spiders ( that is why I am bringing up the rear). After the hike to the beach we carefully scale the small dune cliff and begin to set up for the coming sunrise shoot. There are some altocumulus clouds in the sky and we hope they will catch some color reflections as the sun begins to peak over the horizon. Such was not the case today as the few clouds quickly blew over and the sky cleared. The orange glow of the sun was about the only color showing over a low distant cloudbank near the horizon. I chose my spot and begin to push the doohickey, changing my exposure settings to match the sky. Got it.

     Later that morning on the dock I have some close encounters of the "blue" kind. A young Great Blue Heron flies up the channel, completely unaware of my presence until at the last moment. It suddenly realizes that I am sitting exactly where it planned to land and does a hard bank to its left to avoid me while filling the frame. Click. Shortly after that encounter, a Tricolored Heron almost lands on me also! Some Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons are looking for eels and other morsels in the tidal stream. Two Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Herons get their feathers ruffled over territory and George, the adult, has to step in and let them know that is no way for young ones to act.

     "Raise up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" the proverb tells us. That is why it is so important to take that moment in time while they are young and raise them right.  It is those in between years that cause all the grey hairs and wrinkles though. Be blessed. Harry

You only get a small moment in time to catch the sunrise...Got it..Black Rock Beach sunrise triptych...Follow the sun...

Several Black Crowned Night Herons fly by in the morning light..

The Black and Yellow Crowned Night Herons are looking for mud eels and other morsels..

A young Great Blue Heron approaches the dock unaware I am sitting there..

OMG we are going to crash..hard bank to the left...

The Great Blue fills the frame as it flies by and joins the night herons..

A Tricolored Heron then almost lands on me too..

That was close there Mr. Doohickey..only had a moment to avoid you..whew!

The two Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Herons get their feathers up over who is King of the marsh..

I was here first there bozo...

Get out of here...!

George, the adult Yellow Crowned Night Heron had had enough of these young ones rude manners...

George tells the young ones to go back to the roost and stay there until they learn some breakfast manners..train em young ya know..!

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