The Clappfields and the McRails

     It was a half moon setting over the Broward this morning. It should have been a blood moon instead. Although it is commonly held that “Birds of a feather flock together” that is not always true. There was a bad mood permeating the river like a thick fog. Today there would be violence on the marsh. It had been brewing a long time.  I am sure you have all heard the epic feud between the "Hatfields and McCoys". But have you heard the one about the Clappfields and the McRails?

     The Clapper Rail bird families of Broward River established themselves decades ago. The two main branches were the Clappfields and the McRails. The Clappfields made nesting grounds on the more affluent east side of the channel while the McRails flocks eeked out an existence in the channel island located in the middle of the marsh. At night you could hear the KAK KAK KAK calling of the various birds as they let each other know their locations in the dense marsh grasses. In the early mornings and late evenings the two birds branches would see each other across the muddy channel and give an eye of recognition but rarely did the two families cross to intermingle. That is until one day Johnse Clappfield spied Roseanna McRail bathing in the morning sunlight. Her feathers shone like gold in the magical light. He just had to get to know her better so that night Johnse Clappfield crossed the channel at low tide to pursue the bird of his dreams, the lovely Roseanna McRail. Well as these things go it was not long before Roseanna was found to be in a motherly way with eggs bulging in her belly. But Johnse boy was nowhere to be found. In fact he ran off and married Roseanna’s cousin Nancy instead. This is where the bad blood started. Roseanna’s younger brother “Bud” decided to take matters into his own feathered wings. He waited one morning after the baths and high tailfeathered it across the channel looking for Johnse. But Roseanna saw him and warned Johnse to be on the lookout. She still held a soft spot in her tailfeathers for Johnse. Well ole Johnse was waiting for Bud and hiding in the weeds. When Bud was peeking into the marsh grass, the attack came from the right like lightning. It was all mud and feathers and flying fowls. Johnse was brutal and pecked Bud in the back and grabbed his wing trying to break it.  Johnse slipped in the mud and went down. Bud did a reverse move he learned mud wrestling on the Broward and was all over his back. Bud then broke loose and made his escape back across the channel. So much for avenging his sister. Even she had betrayed them. And for what? A two-timing good for nothing Clappfield. To this day the two families remain at odds. Some marsh folks like the local turtle would still just stick their necks and noses out and continue to sink down in the mud and pretend it never happened. Not me. I saw it, and the bad blood will continue I fear.

     Sound familiar? Are there bad feelings somewhere on your side of the "river" for someone on the other side? Don’t be like the turtle and just sink further into the mud. Should you go “Whoop some tailfeathers” and get revenge?  (Been there, done that, doesn’t work).  Don’t continue the saga. Make amends before it is too late. Be Blessed. Harry

 

It was a waning half moon, it should have been a blood moon.

Let me tell you a tale of the Clappfields and the McRails...

Johnse Clappfield sees Roseanna McRail bathing in the morning light. It was a forbidden love though.

Johnse crosses the channel in search of the fowl of his dreams (or just a flying fancy?).

He returns home leaving Roseanna in a motherly way only to then marry another.

Bud McRail, the brother to Roseanne, goes off to seek revenge for his sister's betrayal by Johnse Clappfield. He is unaware the Roseanne has warned Johnse of his coming.

Johnse you fiendish fowl, are you hiding in there somewhere?

Johnse is waiting and attacks from the right! Feathers fly!

It is mud and feathers!

Johnse has the element of surprise and jabs Bud with his beak!

He tries to break Bud's wing.

A former Broward mud wrestling champ, Bud does a reverse move and pecks Johnse in the rear.

Bud then makes his escape back across the channel.

Most folks will not stick out their necks for another.

They just smile..and

and bury their heads in the mud and stick up their noses. 

The Hawk says nothing, He has a "Frog" in his throat!  (literally) 

Remember, someone above is watching you!. Make amends before it is too late.

Hope you enjoyed the tale of the Clappfields and McRails. Looks like another blood moon rising.

All creatures Great and Small

     Driving on adrenaline at 4 am towards the Viera Wetlands of Melborne (just south of Cape Canaveral) Florida I slowly sip my warm mug of coffee. The moon is full and the skies are clear. As the light begins to creep into the morning I see several white tail deer feeding along the interstate. My quest is an illusive Least Bittern today. This small bird is a resident I am told of the Viera wetlands I am about to visit. I pull into the five small retention ponds of a reclaimed water treatment facility and stop to survey the scene. As the sun begins to rise the number of birds beginning to take wing astound me. The setting moon reflects on the large pond in the center of the wetlands as the dark profile of an alligator glides silently along the still mirror like surface of the water.

      I drive around the central pond to observe the layout and stop to set up my equipment. Overhead a Great Blue Heron silently glides by. It is just past 0630 and several photographers are already about.  One stops to explain his quest to capture a photo of the dew on a dragonfly that are just starting to stir. As the sun begins to rise I see a number of familiar shorebirds. Another photographer with a huge Canon lens directs me to a nest of Green Herons. I see three fledging Herons right where he said they would be and press the doohickey before I notice a pair of eyes only a few feet away staring up at me. As the alligator approaches the bank, I retreat.  It is very apparent that one must approach the ponds with caution. The alligator pauses beneath the Heron’s nest and waits in still silence just in case some unwary feathered friend above makes a foray into its lethal range. As I glance towards the east I see a spoonbill winging my way but by the time I raise the camera it is already overhead and soon out of range. My reflex click however does catch the broad pink wings in the morning light. A large doe comes out of the ditch to my left and pauses on the gravel road to see if I will move out its way and hurries by to my right. The creatures great and small are about and before me. A black-bellied duck goes into a slow descent and lightly touches down on a dying palm tree in one of the cell ponds.

     My quest for the Least Bittern begins as I slowly circle each pond hoping to catch a glimpse of this small bird. A small blue dragonfly deftly balances in front of me on a twig. Intrigued by this small insect I try to capture it as best as my lens can do. My friend Jim would love to be here seeing this I am sure. After several hours of searching in vain for the bittern I decide to leave and head for home. Perhaps another day.  A small alligator is sleeping on the bank. I stop and slowly approach it and lie down in front of it. I see a primitive looking eye staring at me thru the lens as it wakens but sits still. I creep forward to within the minimum focus distance of my lens and then perhaps just a bit too close. It raises its head and I slowly back away a few inches. Click. Gotcha before it can get me back. Don’t try this trick at home. Kissing an alligator is not high on my list for today.

      Although I am disappointed in finding my quest I have explored another great birding site in Florida and plan to return in the winter season. My friend Jim sees my dragonfly photo and comes over and shares a few hours teaching me how to capture the small creatures he loves to photograph. I am reminded of the verse penned by Cecil Alexander in 1848:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings. “

Yes indeed, and the Lord God Loves them all”..and you too. Be Blessed. Harry


 

An Alligator glides along the pond looking for something, hopefully not me!

Three fledgling Green Herons ponder the new day.

A Black-Bellied Duck touches down on a dying palm trunk.

A male Anhinga climbs up a palm trunk to warm in the morning sun.

A white tailed deer doe scampers across the road.

Broad Pink wings of the Roseate Spoonbill soar overhead.

My venture into the closer approach to creatures of creation begins with this small alligator.

A much safer dragonfly captures my attention after my search in vain for the bittern.

My friend Jim introduces me to the world of the dragonfly on a macro scale.

A green fly enjoys a little breakfast tidbit of an aphid.

A pollin encrusted beetle or June Bug.

Each little flower that opens...

He made their glowing colors.

Can you find the lizard's tear? It is sorry to see you go, till next time...be blessed.

Look into my eyes...

     Probably the highlight of my bird trip was a visit to Cape Coral Florida to see the Burrowing Owls. Per the Florida Fish and Wildlife web site “The burrowing owl is a pint-sized bird that lives in open, treeless areas. The burrowing owl spends most of its time on the ground, where its sandy brown plumage provides camouflage from potential predators. One of Florida's smallest owls, it averages nine inches in height with a wingspan of 21 inches. The burrowing owl lacks the ear tufts of the more familiar woodland owls. Bright yellow eyes and a white chin accent the face. Unusually long legs provide additional height for a better view from its typical ground-level perch.”

     As we drive around Cape Coral I am surprised to see us go to a housing and residential area near the library. There are many vacant building lots in the area where the owls have found a new habitat for homes. I guess they heard about the housing bust and figured the low rates made a perfect time to buy in the area. Most of the nests are marked off with stakes and tape and there is usually a cross-shaped perch or stick posted near the nest. It protects the nest from lawn mowers and allows the owls a perch from which to guard against predators. The owls dig deep holes into the sandy soil or take advantage of existing homes of tortoises or armadillos. We see several families and one had six fledglings in it. The owls are used to close human proximity and allow you to get very close to the nests. If they are agitated they let you know by a hiss or head bob movement. One nest was in a local residents home in the front yard by the sidewalk. She became more agitated than the owls and let us know by her scary stare (and ugly house robe) that it was time to move on so we quickly left to respect their wishes. We go to the “library” area where several large open lots are home to about a dozen or more owl families. It is not uncommon to find several nests in close proximity. It is warm and sunny when we started in the early afternoon but the clouds began to build up and skies darkened a bit by the time we left. We still were able to have some excellent lighting conditions and I got some treasured photos. I won’t soon forget peering into the burrows and seeing those large yellow eyes staring up at me.  I hope you enjoy these first photos I have of these marvelous little owls. Each one appeared to have a unique personality all their own. Just like us taller humans do.

     Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The eyes indicate the antiquity of the soul.”  I saw a few old souls that day I believe. A traditional proverb says “The eyes are the windows of the soul”. You can put on a smile on your face but your eyes can tell a completely different story. Look into the eyes of these little creatures and tell me what you see…Be Blessed..Harry

 

If I act nonchalant perhaps they will go away.

Oh my goodness. I am so sorry I didn't notice you standing there with that stupid camera!

if I stand on one leg will you go away...Pleeeaseee!

Do these eyes look antique to you?

Look, I am smiling...really!

If I close my eyes and wish hard enough maybe they will go away. 

If I close my eyes and wish hard enough maybe they will go away. 

Can't a bird do her feathers in peace!

Who invited you? A young fledgling owls strains its neck to get a better view of us.

Psst..tell the old lady in the house to scare them away..

Yawn!...Boooring..(are they still here?)

Will you get that thing outta my face buddy? Who invited you in here?

Hey buddy, see these claws..I can pluck your eyes out real quick ya know.

Oh, you are leaving...so good of you to come...

I will give you 10 seconds to leave...

Oh don't mind him, do come back..really, we are so..

so excited to see you...zzzzz!

First Steps

     It is almost 0630 and I have taken a wrong turn.  I pull off and ask directions from some local fishermen (real men do ask directions).  I am on the right road now and in a few more minutes I pull up on the East Beach of Fort Desoto in St Petersburg Florida to begin my photography trip adventure (a 60th birthday present from my Editor in Chief).  I meet Mr. Jack Rogers, my instructor, almost on time as the sun begins to fill the early Saturday morning sky.  Jack is an award-winning photographer (and also a fellow Oceanographer) who really knows how to get down to the birds eye level and catch some of the most stunning bird photographs I have ever seen. I hope to learn some of his techniques and teachings as I take my first steps to bring my photography to another level.  Hope you enjoy the results as much as I do sharing them!

     The first lesson I learn is that to shoot a good bird photo at times you have to be ready to get down and dirty.  Jack said to bring at least four changes of clothes. I didn’t know he meant for one day!  We spend the first part of the morning on our bellies photographing some of the migratory plovers and shorebirds. We then head to North Beach to the tidal lagoon and guess what? It is belly time again.  While there we spot a few Reddish Egrets (I shared a few photos of one of these from Huguenot Park a few weeks ago). We begin to follow them up the beach and down the beach. My huge telephoto lens I rented is beginning to feel like a ton of bricks. But I am so fascinated by the dancing antics of this large shorebird I ignore the 60-year-old backache.  The egrets antics remind me of the “capote de Paseo” of the graceful matadors of Southern Spain whirling their capes as they taunt and dance around the charging bulls. The Reddish Egret uses its raised wing like a cape to form a shadow over the water to possibly spook minnows or perhaps to better observe them in the shallow surf zones.  As the fish dart and turn, so does the Reddish Egret in stunning displays of feathers and dancing in the surf.  Then comes the “estocada”, the final thrust of the beak as it deftly nabs a wriggling fish from the surf and swallows it with joy. I am exhausted and dirty, but elated nonetheless.

     We pack our gear and head south towards Fort Meyers. In the evening we explore the beach and Little Estero Lagoon near the hotel. The shallow lagoon is home to several familiar species of shorebirds. There are Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, a juvenile Reddish Egret, Night Herons, and numerous plovers and terns on the beach.  Large portions of the beach have been taped off for nesting areas for the various plovers and Least Terns.  Least Tern hatchlings are capable of leaving the nest when one day old, but they remain nearby. They can fly when they are 20 days old. The hatchlings are beginning to wander about taking their first steps. The Least Terns are very challenging to anything that comes close to the nests. As long as we remain low they are at ease but as soon as we stand up they launch on us and dive repeatedly at us to “shoo” us away. I observe them swarm over any raptor or large bird flying over the nesting area and pester them till they leave the protected airspace.  Most of the danger to these nesting birds is from above by other marauding birds. However, the Creator of all things has been meticulous in giving these eggs and hatchlings the same cryptic colors of the surrounding sands and scrub so they appear nearly invisible from flying predators. The nests are small shallow indentations scraped out in the sand. Jack’s experienced eye helps me spot them.  A solitary egg warms in the sun as the parents stand guard nearby. An unwary beach goer could cause great damage to these eggs in their nests if not aware of their presence by the posted stakes and warning signs.

     The image painted in my mind will always be those recent hatchlings scurrying on the beach. Soon after the little fuzz balls begin taking their first steps they discover with glee that they can run, and seem filled with joy as they take off across the sand. They give the parents lots of “grey feathers” I am sure during this time. When a shadow of danger approaches the little birds quickly learn to duck and cover and head for the protective fold of the mothers wings. The Psalmist wrote of those covering wings also. My photography efforts are just like those hatchlings first steps. I have a long way to go to get my “photo feathers” and really learn to fly but I am having fun.  Next week I will share more with you as we visit the home of the Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral. In the meantime, Be Blessed. Harry

 

A Sanderling reflected in the sands.

Sand flies as the Ruddy Turnstone searches for tidbits. It is down and dirty time.

El Egreto de Rojo, the matador, proudly steps into the sandy Plaza De Pescados. 

Ole! The caped dance begins.

Toro Toro taunts El Egreto (that means minnow in Egret speak).

The dance of life begins.

The estocada, the final thrust.

The dance is over, to the victor, the spoils.

And so the paseo begins again.

Later a younger "Egreto" mimics his mentor.

And the dance of life begins again.

The Estocada of the younger Egreto. Photo by and courtesy of Mr. Jack Rogers. His work is amazing!

A hatchling Least Tern's first steps.

Three young hatchlings of a Wilson's plover take cover under the mother's wings.

A Least Turn dive bombs a predator Osprey as it flies over the nesting grounds.

The lone egg of the Least Tern lies camouflaged in the shallow nest in the sand.

Least Tern alerts as we approach the nest and hatchling.

Scurrying as fast as its legs can go, this little "Fuzz Ball" plover hatchling seems to shout "I'm Flying! I'm Flying! 

The sun sets on day one of my adventure. Thank you Editor and Mr Jack Rogers!

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