Confessions. And Precarious Pursuits.

When do you know you have become a crazy photo enthusiast?  I got my answer this week. You see, I have never considered myself as a photographer. But I have to admit photography has occupied my mind – and my time – quite a bit lately. I’ve had nightmares about not having one single photo to post on my blog. And I’ve dreamed about another photo safari in Africa. All true.

giraffe walks the trail ud48Early this week I found myself far from Africa, on a whirl-wind visit to Washington D.C. for work. My incoming flight was delayed due to bad weather in D.C. and I arrived at my hotel late, around 8 p.m. It was raining. As soon as I had put down my small carry-on, I checked the view out of my window. Through the drizzle and darkness, I could see the Washington Monument, the “needle”, blinking in the distance. Without a second thought, I took out my umbrella and my camera bag, and put on a trench coat. Being in the nation’s capital this time of year  I had to see the National Christmas Tree. And take some pictures. Even when I knew I would be two days early to see its full glory.

washington-dc-ud92I must confess I knew that walking solo at night in downtown D.C. was not a completely safe undertaking, particularly outside the lively restaurant quarters. I found myself walking on deserted streets among all the sleepy government buildings. 12 blocks. It was not raining anymore, but the mist was hanging heavy and the visibility was poor. I felt in my bones that my pursuit of pictures might be an exercise in futility. But I kept going.

exacutive-building-dc-ud92Finally I passed the Executive Building and arrived at the White House. Some people were lining up at the east gate, perhaps to attend a holiday function. I passed them and walked south into the dimly lit park toward the “needle”. No soul in sight.

the-washington-monument-2-ud92And after a few minutes I spotted the National Christmas Tree. It was not lit as yet, but I thought it still looked beautiful. It would be lit on Thursday, December 1st when I would already be back home. (You can find the White House tweet on the side bar to see the true glory of the tree and to hear the President’s beautiful message).

national-xmas-tree-3-ud92The little Christmas trees representing the states were illuminated by light beams of various colors coming from the tents at the outskirts of the fenced area.

white-house-xmas-trees-small-ud92I stayed there in solitude for a while snapping more pictures in the misty night…

…before I walked back towards the White House. It was beautifully decorated for the holidays. The famous columns were lit, and many Christmas trees were visible through the windows. Despite the dreary weather, I could feel the spirit of the season.

white-house-3-ud92I was tired, but happy with my nightly photo outing. The rain held off and I walked back to my hotel for a late dinner. Maryland blue crab cakes with a glass of good wine. And a few usable photos. You can’t get a better reward for being a crazy photo enthusiast.

I wish you all a great weekend.

Thanksgiving Feast at the Salt Marsh. Pure Magic.

Yesterday morning I lifted my head from the legal language on my screen and looked towards the salt marsh. I immediately saw that we had visitors for Thanksgiving. Many of them. I left my project in mid-sentence, grabbed my “birding camera” and ran out of the door. Looking towards the marsh from our driveway, I spotted Papa Stanley and Mama Sandy on lamp-posts at the parking lot next to the marsh.

papa-and-mama-osprey-ud91They were discussing something. Perhaps planning the furnishings of their new home. And they were watching the skies, sounding an occasional ‘double warning’ to a male Osprey flying around overhead. Stanley had a fish, but Sandy had probably already eaten.

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mama-osprey-ud91Do you see what I see? No, I don’t mean the bright blue autumn sky. But Sandy is clearly ready for the nesting season. She has gained weight, as she should.  She knows she will always eat last when there are other mouths to feed in the nest. And that time is not too far away now.

birds-at-salt-marsh-ud91When I arrived at the salt marsh, I saw birds everywhere. Many different species – see Miss Rosa there on the left with the big boys? Every single islet and shallow pond was sprawling with birds. Early in the morning when Dylan and I passed by the marsh, it had been almost deserted – this was pure magic. I was guessing many of birds were visitors on the move to their final destinations, like the 20+ Wood Storks and some of the Great Egrets.

older-wood-storks-ud91There were teenagers, parents and grandparents. It was great to see how all the different birds enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast together. Everyone was accepted and welcomed. The Mayor did set the tone, of course. He was staying a bit away from the biggest crowds, keeping an eye on everything.

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younger-great-blue-heron-ud91Fishing was great. And the styles were many. But it was difficult to capture much of their acrobatics through the very high grass.

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wood-stork-fishing-ud91To my amazement, there was not one Reddish Egret but two. I had to observe them to know which of them was our Clown. One of them was a bit shy and just stayed quietly next to the bigger birds.

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wood-stork-and-reddish-egret-ud91I concluded it was not the Clown, but perhaps his girlfriend. Then I walked to the far end of the marsh and knew I had found him. His hunting dance was on.

reddish-egret-hunting-ud91When a Wood Stork walked close to where he was fishing, he asked – in no uncertain terms – to be left alone.

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reddish-egret-the-clown-ud91I had to smile. Definitely the Clown. And he was in a feisty mood. The Wood Stork decided to move a bit further. There was plenty of fish for everyone.

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wood-stork-ud91I was looking for Miss Rosa. I had seen her fly away, but was not sure where she had landed. I walked around the marsh again and finally spotted her in a busy pond with several Snowy Egrets and juvenile Wood Storks.

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roseate-spoonbill-ud91It was great to see her again. She looked at me to say hi, and went on to demonstrate that she too was a great fisher(wo)man. And she proved her point by catching the biggest fish of the day.

roseate-spoonbill-caught-a-fish-2-ud91Not far from her, I spotted two other permanent residents, the Tri-colored Heron and the Little Blue Heron.

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little-blue-heron-ud91Then my attention was captured by a call that I didn’t recognize. I walked towards a tree where I thought it was coming from. And spotted the tiniest bird, about 3″ from top to toe. It was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, perhaps a juvenile. This very fast bird made me work hard for a few glimpses.

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blue-gray-gnatcatcher-2-juvenile-ud91After that I walked back home to continue my work. Later in the afternoon I saw Mama Sandy again. She was perching at her new nest, and I think she spotted me spying on her from our terrace more than a block away.

mama-osprey-at-her-new-nest-ud91We wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving and a great weekend.

Moonlight. Cinderella. And Operation Osprey at the Salt Marsh.

A text message flashed on my screen late on Thursday afternoon. The countdown to replacing the osprey nest platform had begun. Yay! I gathered my two cameras and called my friend Gladys. We arrived at the salt marsh just when the last rays swept over the water. We noticed right away that the Mayor had come to oversee the construction project. As he should.

the older great blue heron mayor ud90.jpgAnd so had the Tri-colored Heron, who appeared quite surprised encountering visitors at this late hour. But tonight he would see something he hasn’t seen before.

tricolored-heron-ud90We walked around the marsh as the sun plunged into the ocean. Dusk arrived fast. We could hardly see a family of White Ibis feeding at the shallow part of the marsh.

white-ibis-ud90We returned to the bay end of the marsh to wait for the contractor’s truck. A Little Blue Heron was relaxing right below the nest. She had no idea what was to come.

little-blue-heron-2-ud90We sat in the swing. We chatted. It was 6 p.m. and no truck in sight. We learned they were heading our way, so we walked onto the road hoping that they would arrive before the gates were set to close at 6:30 p.m. Standing there we suddenly heard something unusual. Hooves. Cinderella and her prince rode past us in a lit carriage. We cheered them on. What a romantic wedding transport.

cinderella-wedding-2-ud90We waited. And suddenly Mama Sandy flew towards the nest. Oh no! She shouldn’t be witnessing this particular project. It could be traumatic. So I shouted to her not to come to the nest – and luckily she flew away.

mama-osprey-flies-by-at-night-2-ud90The moon appeared in the sky and the blue hour soon turned into darkness. That’s when a huge truck turned into the park and into the salt marsh. Phew. Blake and Matt from Powertown had made it with only 15 minutes to spare before nobody could enter the park, only exit.

truck-arrives-ud90The tree trimming undertaken by the park personnel a few weeks earlier made it possible to park the truck right next to the nest.

truck-at-the-nest-ud90I took the last picture of the completely run down nest platform. It had seen many nestlings grow and fledge over the years. But it was time for this Osprey couple to move into a safe, new home for the next nesting season.

last-picture-of-the-old-osprey-nest-ud90We got a first glimpse of their new ‘mansion’ next to the truck, before the lift arm was deployed and Blake went up to remove the old platform.

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hard-hat-going-up-to-the-nest-ud90-2It was exciting to watch, but we could not see much in the pitch black night.

at-the-nest-ud90The mosquitoes had now come out in full force. And it was well past the time for Dylan’s nightly walk. So we decided to go back home to take care of dinners, walks and the like. After I came back from our 1.5 mile walk, I went out onto the terrace. It was 7:45 p.m. As you can see the park was pitch black, but work was still going on at the nest.

working on the nest at night ud90.jpgOn Friday morning I was up early. And took a camera with me for Dylan’s morning walk. At the Sailing Center, Cormorants and Anhingas had gathered to greet the misty sunrise.

morning-meeting-ud90Up on a lamp-post opposite the salt marsh, Mama Sandy was inspecting her new mansion from the distance.  When she turned to greet us, I told her to muster the courage to check it out in person sooner rather than later.

mama-osprey-morning-after-ud90Dylan and I walked into the park to check out the new dish. It looked great! Unlike the old platform, it could easily accommodate both parents and 3-4 chicks.

new-osprey-nest-ud90We did not walk around the marsh, but caught this Great Egret greeting the rising sun right next to the new nest.

great-egret-2-ud90When we walked home, I spotted Mama Sandy. She was flying past the nest. She did not go there as yet, but I was sure she would find it very comfortable. Her old ‘furniture’, which (minus some red ants) was carefully carried back into the new nest, should make it feel familiar.

mama-osprey-flies-by-the-nest-ud90Once the nesting season begins, I’m sure Papa Stanley will find the new perch very useful. He no longer needs to find another perch in the woods or on a lamp-post when he wants to stay close by.

On Saturday, Sandy was still in the watching mode. She perched very close to the nest and observed it intently, but she didn’t go there. Then this morning – voilà! She had convinced herself that the new ‘mansion’ was safe – and all hers. The best sight ever!

mama-osprey-on-the-perch-ud90Later this morning I took a walk at the salt marsh. Sandy was still there, visibly happy for the new perch and her new home. Soon she flew away, and I heard her tell all about their new home to Stanley. There was a lively discussion in the sky above the bay. Perhaps they were planning for additional furnishings. And trips to Home Depot by Stanley.

mama-osprey-at-the-new-nest-ud90The marsh was busy. The Mayor was there again. And the Reddish Egret entertained me with his hunting dance.

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reddish-egret-hunts-ud90The smaller wading birds were back too. I spotted the Little Blue Heron in deep thought. And the Tri-colored Heron was happily hunting around. Everything was in good order.

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tri-colored-heron-ud90Operation Osprey was a great success. I want to express my sincere thanks to Duke Energy  for their generous grant and all others who contributed to funding this project, including Sand Key residents, blogging friends, and Sheraton Sand Key Resort. My thanks also go to Kathy, the Chief Ranger at Sand Key Park, and her staff for all the tree trimming that was necessary to make this project possible. And to my friend Gladys for her help on the fundraising and always being there despite the fact that mosquitoes liked her more than they liked me. Last but not least, my thanks go to Barb at Clearwater Audubon Society and to Steve, Blake and Matt at Powertown Line Construction for making this all happen.

We all wish you a peaceful week ahead.

No Election Stress. At the Salt Marsh.

It’s election day. The salt marsh is right next to our polling place at the Sailing Center.

election-day-ud89Early this morning as voters started to stream in, Papa Stanley was stationed right there, on the wind metering device, keeping watch. He was very alarmed, to say the least.

papa-osprey-sounds-alarm-ud89To my relief I discovered that he was alarmed about something completely different. Another male osprey flying over the salt marsh, where Mama Sandy was minding the nest.

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mama-osprey-ud89Sandy and Stanley are dating now, and he doesn’t venture far from her side. I bet he is already rehearsing his proposal dance to be performed in late December. In any case, the bay side was as lively as the polling place. Pelicans had gathered around the pier, and lots of fishing was going on.

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pelican-2-ud89I decided to visit the salt marsh. And the turnout of birds did not disappoint. Although Mama Sandy had now flown away from the nest, there was a lively crowd of ‘big boys’. Like the Wood Storks.

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wood-stork-ud89And the Great Egrets. Although a few of them decided to move to the bay side. More excitement there, I assumed.

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great-egret-flies-away-ud89But most importantly, the Mayor was in the ‘office’ on his favorite islet. He was keeping an eye on everything.

great-blue-heron-mayor-ud89In addition to the big guys, I spotted some smaller fellows. Like this Black-crowned Night Heron. He was trying to take a nap, apparently unsuccessfully, in the bushes below the osprey nest.

black-crowned-night-heron-ud89Then my attention was drawn to a rare visitor, a Belted Kingfisher. He was flying and hovering above the marsh for a long time, and finally sat down to rest in the middle of the marsh.

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belted-kingfisher-ud89I decided to take a swing on the beach. But I felt watched. A drone was circling above the beach. It was watching me, so I decided to watch it too. Tit for tat.

drone-ud89I didn’t like the drone and decided to return to the salt marsh. Just in time to see Mama Sandy return to the nest. I was secretly hoping she would not like the artificial ‘bird’ in the skies above the beach. But had to assume she had not seen it.

mama-osprey-lands-in-the-nest-ud89She had no fish. I believe she had already eaten her breakfast and was just taking an extra exercise round above the bay.

I then spent some time observing a few very small birds. They moved fast, but finally one of them sat down for a photo shoot. After looking at all my pictures, I think it might be a Pine Warbler, but stand to be corrected by friends who know these small birds much better than I do.

pine-warbler-ud89After getting my shot, I decided to walk home. Just when I got onto the street, I saw Papa Stanley fly over my head. With a fish. He landed on a lamp-post close to the marsh – with a direct line of sight to the nest where Mama Sandy was perching. Everything was in order.

papa-osprey-caught-a-fish-ud89Whatever happens tonight, I hope we will find peace. Individually and collectively.

Halloween at the Salt Marsh. Everything Transmogrified.

A few minutes after midnight I stepped out into the cool night. As I approached the end of our driveway, the pale crescent moon suddenly disappeared in red haze. It was pitch black. Then, slowly, a sparkling full moon appeared. I thought that was strange. But knew it would aid me on my visit to the salt marsh.

halloween-moon-3-ud88The gate into the park was closed, of course. But unlike any other night, a mean looking bird was guarding it.  His long bill was sharp and his left foot was raised as in a warning.

nature-reserve-forest-and-snowy-egret-halloween-2-ud88No admission. But stubborn as I am, I decided to climb over the low stone wall a little further down.

salt-marsh-stone-wall-3-ud88Right away I could see some hunching shapes on one of the small islands in the distance. A gathering of the ghosts perhaps? Halloween party? It was impossible to tell.

wood-storks-and-great-egrets-halloween-2-ud88Bang! The ground shook and lightning struck from the clear sky. It illuminated the osprey nest. From afar, it looked deserted and seemed to glow faintly in the moonlight.

osprey-nest-halloween-4-ud88I was frightened, but there was no turning back. So I walked closer. Suddenly I heard heavy wing beats right above my head. A large bat? I saw a huge creature land on the nest. He looked right at me and I thought his eyes were somewhat familiar. He didn’t say anything, just stared at me flexing his enormous wings.

papa-osprey-halloween-3-ud88Just under the nest, I could discern a glowing figure on the ground. Someone else was observing me too. It was spooky. And eerily quiet.

yellowcrowned-night-heron-playing-halloween-3-ud88The silence was broken by a bone-chilling scream. An apparition with a huge bill drifted right next to me. I started running.

papa-wood-stork-halloween-2-ud88Further out, I saw more dark shapes starting to gather at the far end of the marsh. Curiosity won over fear and I decided to investigate. Walking along the water line, I spotted large glowing fish in the deep pond. Monsters over three feet long.

fish-tarpon-in-the-salt-marsh-halloween-ud88I sensed many pairs of eyes were following my every step from the deep shadows. It was unnerving. But I kept going.

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great-egret-halloween-3-ud88

squirrel-halloween-ud88As I came to the far end, I noticed action on the water. Someone was running for his life!

mottled-duck-run-on-water-halloween-ud88The poor fellow was chased by a much bigger creature, who was flapping his wings as he ran on the water. I could feel chills go down my spine.

reddish-egret-hunting-halloween-ud88Suddenly I came to a halt. A creepy feathered being was blocking the trail. He was huge! And he was scrutinizing me from top to toe from the corner of his eye.

great-blue-heron-halloween-2-ud88I started shaking, but finally he let me pass. I took cover under some short palm trees next to the water. That’s when I saw her. Her pink skirt was flowing in the cool breeze as she performed her dance at the edge of the pond.

roseate-spoonbill-halloween-2-ud88All action stopped. No running, no chasing, no fooling around. Complete silence as if all the creatures were holding their breath. Then wings started flapping. Loud applause reverberated in the night. I tried to clap too, but couldn’t. Something heavy was weighing down my left arm. It didn’t move.

dylan-halloween-ud88I woke up. And Dylan turned to look at me. I must have been screaming because the hair on his head stood up. I had dozed off and been dreaming about my friends at the salt marsh. All transmogrified just in time for Halloween. I turned off the TV and the light, petted Dylan and went back to sleep. Who knows what the night might bring. Happy Halloween folks!

Rise and Shine. Fall at the Salt Marsh.

We have gorgeous fall weather here on Florida’s Gulf coast. I want to invite you all to join me on a morning walk on the beach, in the park and at the salt marsh.

love-grass-2-ud87Being “evergreen” we do not have the typical fall foliage, but there is plenty of color for us to enjoy right here in our garden.

And the beach is lively with shorebirds, particularly Sanderlings and Willets, in addition to the usual gulls and terns.

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willet-ud87From the beach we walk to the fishing piers at north end of the park. Sun is shining on the bay and the Clearwater Pass.

shine-ud87People are fishing and birds are flying over the water.

bridge-ud87We spot two familiar birds: the “other osprey” who was pestering Mama Sandy last week, and Henry, the younger Great Blue Heron.

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younger-great-blue-heron-henry-ud87For some reason, Henry is not at the salt marsh, but has flown into a kayak enclosure next to the fishing piers. Perhaps hoping for a free meal from one of the fishermen.

sand-key-park-ud87From there we walk south through the park to the salt marsh. And spot more fall colors on the way.

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pink-flowers-ud87Arriving at the marsh, we immediately notice the visitors. A family of eight Wood Storks mingle with Great and Snowy Egrets.

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great-egret-ud87The Great Egret wants to show the visitors who’s the boss, and some loud exchanges follow. But where is the real boss, the Mayor? We walk towards the osprey nest and find him hiding in the bushes right below the osprey nest.

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older great blue heron 2 ud87.jpgIt seems he doesn’t want to get involved in any squabbles, but rather prefers to take some quiet time to enjoy the morning. And the same goes for Mama Sandy. She has just caught a fish and turns to greet us before starting her breakfast.

mama-osprey-with-a-fish-ud87Then we spot the showman. The Reddish Egret performs his hunting dance. The clown of the marsh, as I dubbed him two years ago, draws his energy from a large audience. And today is no exception.

reddish-egret-hunting-ud87But the smaller herons, apart from the Snowy Egrets, have decided to stay away from the ‘big boys’.

snowy-egret-ud87Walking home, we find one of them, the Little Blue Heron, hunting alone on the bay.  The low tide has revealed new and interesting fishing grounds.

little-blue-heron-in-the-bay-ud87I hope you enjoyed this three mile walk in the crisp autumn air – a rare treat for us this early in the season.

At home another treat is waiting. The Audubon Society has received a grant from Duke Energy, our power company. Yay! Thank you to all who have contributed! We are now much closer to having the new dish platform for the Osprey couple installed on time. We all wish you a wonderful week.

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