Sweetwater...

     Gainesville is well known for it's champion "Gators" football team. The city has a lesser known Gator lair known as the Sweetwater Wetlands Park. I stopped by there recently while enroute to another photoshoot looking for eagles. There were indeed a good number of real Gators present, but more to my interests, I saw a nice variety of marshland birds and ducks.  I also met my favorite Hollywood actor, Jack Nicholson. Yes, it is true he has come out of retirement.

     Per the website information, “Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a great place to connect with nature. The park, which consists of more than 125 acres of wetlands and ponds, was created to improve the water quality of wetlands in nearby Paynes Prarie and the Floridan Aquifer”. At the park you can (and I did) walk 3.5 miles of crushed gravel trails, and boardwalks. Unfortunately my arm is now so sore from the hike that I can barely push the Doohickey. There are also occasional special events guided by park personnel. A fellow photograher, Chris Billman, and I had a great time there.  I helped him avoid stepping on several snakes. We watched a Great Blue Heron on a piling trying to lift off with a moss covered stick. It pulled and pulled to no avail. The stick was connected to a large string of moss. Unfortunately. the Heron didn’t realize he was standing on the other end of the moss rope and thus could not figure out how to take off with it.

     I have been wanting a picture of my favorite actor Jack Nicholson. I was pleased to see him sitting on one of the boardwalk rails. He looked at me and smiled and gave me his autograph. Really. I have the picture to prove it. Don't believe me? You want the truth? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

Gainesville is known for more than  just the home of he Gators, it has Sweetwater Wetlands Park

A Red-winged Blackbird sings in the marsh....

Male Anhinga drying its wings,,,note the oil gland nipple at the base of the tail. 

Female Anhinga (has brown head feathers) drying its wings..

Limpkin takes a seventh inning wing stretch

Come on you stupid stick...what is your problem?

Can't figure out why that stick would not let loose!

I'm standing on the other end of the moss rope? Go figure!

Help! There is an ANHINGA stuck in my mouth! The poor black crappie was soon swallowed whole

Guess who else was hanging out with those lazy "Gators"?

No, it is not true that this is a Double Crested Cormorant. It is me, Jack Nicholson! But "YOU CAN't HANDLE THE TRUTH"!

Bird Boot Camp Graduation

     Bird Boot Camp with Maxis Gamez continued to some familiar places. Several years ago I photographed the Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral. One never gets enough of those cute little owls though. Day four took us to Gatorland in central Florida where we watched wading birds sitting on top of gators trying to steal the hot dogs the tourist were throwing to them. In March I chronicled the Venice Rookery, which we again visited on our final day five of the workshop.

     Although it was too early in the breeding season for us to see young Burrowing Owlets, we did have a pair of cooperative little wide eyed adult owls who stared at us starring at them. “Gatorland” had a wide variety of marsh and wading birds busy building nests along the expansive lake full of alligators. I practiced with some fill flash techniques and isolating birds for more captivating photos. Maxis was especially good at providing tips and techniques to make our photos a cut about the norm. The sun was not too cooperative on our final day at the Venice Rookery so I concentrated on capturing some flight shots of some of the birds landing on the small crowed bushes used for nesting.

     At the end of the five day boot camp I was whooped. It went too fast but Maxis made every minute a learning experience I hope I never forget. You are never too old to learn new techniques and I feel I upped my game a notch or two. Thank you Maxis (and Karen) and thank you Kathy Williams for the great new photo friendship. I think we graduated with flying colors. Blessings

April's full moon is called the Pink Moon, for the first flowers or pink moss, or pink phlox of spring

This pair of Burrowing Owls starred at us starring at them

I see you Mr Doohickey

And Lord, tell Grandpa I miss him..

On an earlier excursion to Cape Coral I found a rare dark eyed Burrowing Owl caused by a genetic abnormality.

This Cattle Egret at Gatorland was showing breeding colors on the head and chest feathers.

Trying to isolate a bird from a busy background is often challenging

Snowy Egret fly by at Gatorland

Cormorant surfaces at Ding Darling showing its blue-green eye and breeding coloration  

Cormorant surfaces at Ding Darling showing its blue-green eye and breeding coloration

 

Say Ahhh!...one of the many gators at Gatorland..

Great Blue Heron catching some rays..

Great Egret doing a display of breeding plumes

White Ibis landing

Snowy Egret taken with fill flash 

The light was challenging at the Venice rookery,,the various birds were busy nesting and feeding hatchlings like this Great Blue Heron chick.

Black bellied whistling ducks fly by in a brief bit of sunlight.

A Great Egret makes its turn to final approach at the rookery.

Great Blue landing on a precarious perch

Great Blue Heron about to take off..

Great Egret touching down like an Angel

Boot Camp Graduates Ms Kathy Williams and Mr "Doohickey"

The Great White Ghost..

     One of my first photography workshop instructors is a relatively younger fellow by the name of Maxis Gamez from southwest Florida. His bird photographs have graced the cover of National Geographic at least five times. This is truly a significant accomplishment considering his age and years of experience. I recently signed up for his five-day bird photography “Boot Camp” hoping I would capture “the Great White Ghost”.

     The Reddish Egret (dark morph) is one of the most photogenic birds I have encountered, and it was a photo of this beautiful heron that got me my first award as a photographer. It is a medium to large sized heron, with a grey body and rufous colored neck and head feathers. The adults are over 3 foot in height with wings spans of nearly four feet. Almost hunted to extinction at one time, they have rebounded to about 12,000 mating pairs in the tropics and Gulf of Mexico states including some sightings in southern Florida.  The feeding antics in the surf or shallow water are like a matador with a cape challenging the bull. They leap, prance, and use their wings like a cape to spook fish. So why do I call it the Great White Ghost? Like an albino, or the white morph of the Great Blue Heron, the Reddish Egret has a white morph variant too. About 20% of Reddish Egrets exhibit this white morph coloration of all white feathers, and a pink bill with a black tip. It is rarely seen and its breeding behavior is the subject of an ongoing study by wildlife officials. White morphs of the Reddish Egret can only have White Morph offspring. However, a dark Morph Reddish Egret can hatch a White Morph. The latter is very rare though.  It is this rare white morph, or Great White Ghost , that I was seeking to capture. 

     Maxis spotted a white morph in a tidal pool as we were about to leave on our second day of the boot camp. It took off quickly up the beach. Maxis looked at me and said are you in? I nodded in agreement and was determined to follow it. It quickly outdistanced us.  Though exhausted, I kept plodding through the surf determined to capture this rare beauty. Then “Lady Luck” smiled on us. The “Great White Ghost” grabbed a needle fish in the surf and flew back right towards us.  Quickly raising my camera, I pushed the Doohickey. Holding my breath while reviewing my shots, I prayed at least one would be tack sharp in focus. My prayers were answered. This particular white morph had a radio tracking device on its back and was being tracked by local Florida Wildlife officials.

     Seek and ye shall find. This day the promise was fulfilled. My thanks to Maxis Gamez and most of all the one who made it. Hope you enjoy it too. Blessings. Harry

This 2014 photo of the Reddish Egret (dark morph) shows the beauty of this birds feathery neck and head and was my first award winning photo. 

The Reddish Egret hunts in the surf zone and shallow waters using its wings like a matadors cape to find food. There is a white morph also of this bird and that was the one on my bucket list that I call the Great White Ghost because it is rarely seen.

On day one of the "Boot Camp" we found a Reddish Egret,  Photo of me by and with permission of Maxis Gamez

On day one of the "Boot Camp" we found a Reddish Egret,  Photo of me by and with permission of Maxis Gamez

Reddish Egret "dancing" in the shallow water as it hunted for food in the early morning light.

View through the lens of "Big Red" the Reddish Egret (dark morph) in early morning glow

Can you do this to your neck? 

Big Red's wing spread can be up to 4 ft or more.

Big Red, the Reddish Egret in flight...

A Marbled Godwit searches the shoreline..

Morning traffic jam on the beach...where are the air traffic controllers when you need them?

White Ibis scratches an itch..

On day two of the "Boot Camp" Maxis challenged me to up my game and get low to get the shot that separates the pros from the amateurs..photo by and with permission Maxis Gamez.

Getting low to capture a Black Bellied Plover resting in the tide. 

Maxis spots a White Morph Reddish Egret, it flies off and the quest is on to capture a photo

Lady Luck smiles on us at the White Morph grabs a needle fish and flies back in our direction..photo by and with permission of  Boot Camp photographer Kathy Williams

I Press the Doohickey and pray...the bird is wearing a radio transmitter for tracking by FWC officials

I finally capture a photo of "the Great White Ghost", a rare White Morph Reddish Egret..Thank you Lord and Thank You Maxis..One less on the Bird Bucket List now...

50 Shades of Green......

     Spring had sprung for sure! Emerald green buds are coming out on our Bald Cyprus (“The General”) and on the maple tree. Birds are busy building nests in various places. When the sun hits the trees on the opposite bank of the Broward it seems like '50 shades of Green'. Bird rookeries are full of nesting and mating activity, some of the hatchlings have grown and are beginning to fledge already.

     A recent visit to the St. Augustine Alligator farm and rookery saw more activity than expected. Great Egrets in breeding plumage and displays were all over. They were still busy bringing in nesting materials to their mates who would carefully weave a suitable place to lay the sky-blue eggs. Some Roseate Spoonbills have already hatched a new generation.  The Wood Storks, although not as “pretty” as the egrets, were also busy nest building and some were on eggs already. A future visit is planned as soon as I pay Uncle Sam his due.

     Although Spring has sprung and the April showers with it, it also brings my most unpleasant time of the year. Yes, birth, death and taxes are what we humans must face. At least the birds don’t have to pay them! Time to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and don’t forget to render unto God, that which is God’s. Blessings. Harry

Our "Bald Cyprus" is blooming in Spring Green

Our "Bald Cyprus" is blooming in Spring Green

50 Shades of Green on the Broward...

50 Shades of Green on the Broward...

Spring is in the air all right...The Great Egrets were in full display to attract their mates..

Spring is in the air all right...The Great Egrets were in full display to attract their mates..

Another Great Egret Display

Another Great Egret Display

Love in the shadows...hard to have a private moment with all the photographers around..Rated R for mature audiences only

Love in the shadows...hard to have a private moment with all the photographers around..Rated R for mature audiences only

Time for nest building....Great Egret bringing back stick after stick...till its just right..

Time for nest building....Great Egret bringing back stick after stick...till its just right..

Filling the frame...

Filling the frame...

Egret rising....

Egret rising....

Soaring high..

Soaring high..

A Red Shouldered Hawk was looking for easy pickings at the nests below..

A Red Shouldered Hawk was looking for easy pickings at the nests below..

Roseate Spoonbill with hatchlings..

Roseate Spoonbill with hatchlings..

Did you pay your taxes yet Mr Doohickey? We birds don't have too :)

Did you pay your taxes yet Mr Doohickey? We birds don't have too :)

email: selsorhd@me.com

All photographs and materials copyrighted and possession of Harry D Selsor. All rights reserved.

Photos are avail for purchase framed or unframed.