My Muse is on the Loose. Weekly Photo Challenge (13 Images)

To tell you the truth, she’s actually wild. Or maybe I should say she always wants me to shoot in the wild. Take time off from everyday grind. And buy better equipment. Had she a full say, I’d spend months every year on the African savannah or an a secluded bird island in the middle of the ocean shooting pictures of life in the wild. Looking at the natural world through a high quality super telephoto lens.

great egret honeymoon island Florida
A Great Egret on Honeymoon Island, Florida

But like most everyone else, my Muse has to adapt to life’s circumstances. And to my mini-sized wallet. So now she reluctantly allows me to shoot whatever wildish crosses my path. Which is mostly birds. Like this year’s Osprey chicks getting their fish delivery from Papa Osprey. And learning to fly.

papa ospreys fish delivery Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Fish delivery by Papa Osprey.
osprey chick returns to nest Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
The middle chick learns to fly.

Or Mama Osprey defending the nest in a preemptive strike against one particular Great Blue Heron, who’d attempted to raid her home several times previously.

mama osprey prevents attack by blue heron Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Mama Osprey prevents the Great Blue Heron from attacking the nest.

Or it could be Bottlenose Dolphins playing in the calm ocean waters early in the morning.

bottlenose dolphins at caladesi island Dunedin Florida
Bottlenose Dolphins play in the water.

While my Muse still occasionally gets to shoot on wild islands, she’s not giving up on returning to the savannah.

fresh water pond on caladesi island Dunedin Florida
In the wilderness on Caladesi Island.

She constantly nags me about it. Opens old photo albums and makes me scan pictures. Reminds me of the giraffes and elephants I spotted on my first safari ever in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Gosh, she says, that was over 25 years ago.

giraffes South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Giraffes on the savannah in Zambia.
elephants in South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Elephant mom with teenagers in the bush, Zambia.

And pokes me about the hippo we encountered on one beautiful New Year’s Eve in Queen Elizabeth’s National Park in Uganda. Remember that pink hippo, who wanted to crash the party on the lodge verandah?

A hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
The hippo who liked to party, Uganda.

Or the baboon, who taught you about food hygiene? She asks these detailed, leading questions to refresh my memory.

baboon mom with her child in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
Baboon mom with her kid, Uganda.

She remembers all the wild adventures of the past. From the hyena, who came to our camp in Awash desert in Ethiopia to the lions we encountered just before nightfall in Kenya.

Hyena awash Ethiopia
A hyena makes herself at home in our camp, Ethiopia
two lions in Kenya
Two female lions prepare for their hunt at nightfall, Kenya

My Muse is definitely on the loose. Who knows where she’ll take me in months and years to come. But she’d better have a good plan for taking care of all I need to take care of. And provide a generous budget. Cheers to that, my Muse ~

You can find other replies to this week’s photo challenge, Muse, here.

And Then There Was Only One. In Papa Osprey’s Fishing School.

The event rich and quite dramatic 2015 nesting season for Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley is almost complete. They can let out a sigh of relief, and proudly exclaim : We did it again!

female and male osprey Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sandy and Stanley in mid February before eggs were laid.

Only one of the three osprey chicks is still in the nest, little Sindile. Lofty left first, on Tuesday last week. My last picture of him was in flight with Papa Stanley, which I shared in the previous update. Aspire, who fledged about four weeks ago just one day after Lofty, was hanging around until Saturday. I found her perched on a lamp-post close to the nest.  And I knew her farewell was imminent. On Sunday morning she was gone. I wish them good luck, and I will miss them. I hope our paths will cross at some point later.

an osprey fledgling Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Aspire perches just outside the salt marsh on Saturday…
an osprey fledgling perching close to the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…and says hi to the ever-lurking paparazza.

Mama Sandy has left too. She may have taken a well deserved vacation miles from here. Chilling out among swaying palms on a secluded island in the Gulf, with a smorgasbord of tasty fish right at her talontips. Or she may have followed the two older chicks to keep an eye on them from a distance. Just in case they’d still need fishing lessons. She left Stanley in charge of feeding Sindile. And he’s been doing well. Perching close to the nest, fishing and sharing his catch with her. Sometimes he’s brought her a whole fish, like the morning I spotted them both eating at the same time.

Male osprey just caught a fish Sand Key Clearwater Florida
Stanley gave the first fish to Sindile, and caught another one for himself…
osprey fledgling eating in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sindile is working on her fish…

But I have a sense that his food deliveries have been less frequent in the last couple of days, maybe only twice a day. You see, the strategy Ospreys use to get their young serious about moving out, is to bring them less and less food.  Motivates them to learn how to fish. Sindile fledged about two weeks ago, and it’s time for her to go to the fishing school.

sindile cooling herself UD13
Sindile is hot and cooling herself…

It’s been brutally hot and muggy, with heat index well over 100 F (close to 40 C) almost every day. Since Ospreys don’t sweat, Sindile’s been cooling herself by letting her tongue hang out. After a refreshing thunderstorm on Tuesday afternoon, the temperature plunged down to icy 74 F (23 C), and she seemed to have more energy. She made several short flights over the salt marsh, diving down to the water a few times. She may have tried to catch a fish, or just wanted to take a cooling “breast bath”, popular among Ospreys on hot days.

sindile is fishing on the bay UD13Then she flew over to the bay side. When I spotted her again after fetching my camera, she was very far on the bay, close to the opposite shore. She flew back and forth trying to locate a school of fish close to the surface, within her max diving depth of 3 feet (about one meter). She didn’t catch any fish, or even dive for it, but she made a good effort lasting about ten minutes. She’s getting there. She has already beaten the odds ~ only 36% of thirdborn chicks survive until they fledge. And now she’s learning to fish. I wonder how long she’ll be hanging around, maybe one more week, if that. So I made a short video clip while I still could. For those of you who don’t get dizzy from my wobbly footage.

The salt marsh has been popular with lots of birds during this heat wave. One day I counted over 20 Great and Snowy Egrets. And a dozen other birds. All sharing this little “village” peacefully.

snowy egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Snowy Egret is looking for food.
great Blue Heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A young Great Blue Heron is hunting too.
roseate spoonbill Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Roseate Spoonbill is wondering about all the visitors.
five egrets in the salt marsh UD13
A party of five…Great Egrets.
ibis family with a juvenile Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Parents are teaching a juvenile Ibis foraging skills.
reddish egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Reddish Egret is curious about all the visitors.
snowy egret and tricolored heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
You go that way, I go this way…a Snowy Egret and a Tri-colored Heron cross paths.

I took a short walk just to see Sindile today at lunch time. She was thoroughly wet, but she didn’t have a fish.

a wet juvenile osprey Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sindile is wet after a dive…Thursday, June 25.

I’m hoping to capture her flying with a self-caught fish one of these days before she also takes off. You go girl!

Warm greetings and much love from all of us at the salt marsh.

Five Photos. Five Stories. Monochrome Photos Challenge.

Several weeks ago, John at Book of Bokeh invited me to participate in the Five Day Monochrome Photos Challenge, posting one photo each day and inviting someone else to participate. Not to risk further procrastination, or posting only one image and then fluttering to something else, I decided to squeeze the five days into one.  Five different images, each with their own little story.

A Bird. You might have noticed that I’ve dedicated quite a bit of my discretionary time lately to bird photography. So there has to be a bird shot among the five. My feathered friends can be aptly represented by this fellow, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. One early morning at the salt marsh, he almost scared me to death. I thought I was alone when he croaked really loud in a tree just above my head. When I spotted him again later, he projected an air of innocence and pragmatism. A bird has to sleep, and when woken up by an intruder, a loud croak in protest is called for. I forgave him.

yellowcrowned night heron portrait in monochrome
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Back to my roots. This old barn in Finland brings me back to my roots. It’s been there as long as I can remember.  I think of my paternal grandparents when I stand in front of the now padlocked doors. They used to store all sorts of farming equipment and hay there when I was a child. And it was always an adventure to go see them working there, milking cows or feeding the horse. As a protector of quality time with my grandmother, this barn served as a cradle of wisdom and valuable insights for me.

old barn in Finland monochrome
My grandparents’ old barn.

A flower. I love roses. They always light up my day. This love story started with the white wild roses I admired in my grandparents’ garden as a child. Their fragrance and delicate beauty embodied romantic mystique to me ~ and still do.

rose in monochrome
A rose.

A black and white photo. That brings me to an old photo. It’s the only genuinely black and white analog image of these five. And obviously not a selfie. I’m about four years old, in my Sunday best attending my aunt’s wedding. I still look pretty much the same, only my shoes are bigger now and my hair is a few inches longer.

Tiny when she was really tiny.

A Beauty. And my final image is of a young giraffe.  I was privileged to meet many of them, from babies to grandparents, in my years living in Africa. This one though is Floridian and lives in Bush Gardens. He looked at me with his big eyes and made his way right into my heart. I guess we were both dreaming of Africa.

A giraffe in Bush Gardens Tampa Florida
A young giraffe in Bush Gardens.

I invite any blogging friend who is inspired by monochrome photography to participate in this challenge ~ five images in five days, or a compressed version like mine. I’m thinking of Joanne, Nancy x 3, Frank, Amy x 3, Kathy, Rob, H.J. and others. That’s a hint  😉

I hope your week is going great.

Happy Father’s Day, ROY G. BIV! (10 Images)

Roy is not my father. Or any father I know. He’s simply a representative, or an acronym, for the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. And Roy G. Biv is also this week’s DP photo challenge.

As my first response, I have compiled a gallery where each photo represents one color in the rainbow. All made by Mother Nature.

But I have a real rainbow for you too. A scene I captured from my terrace last year. Rainy day turning sunny, as often is the case here in Florida.

rainbow WPC
A rainbow beyond the bay.

You can see other responses to this challenge here.

Finally, as Father’s Day is celebrated today in the US and many other countries, I wish all fathers in the readership HAPPY FATHERS DAY!

Commotion. Surprises. And Demolitions at the Salt Marsh.

Sindile, the youngest of the three Osprey chicks, was alone and asking for fish. She was also the only one in the Osprey family I had seen in the nest (looking with binoculars from my terrace) since my return home. Nobody came to keep her company even at night.

Osprey fledgling in her nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sindile was in the nest asking for fish…

I found her two siblings each perched on their own lamp-post on a parking lot, just outside the park boundary and fairly close to the nest. I was happy to see for myself that the chicks had made it through the storm that hit our area while I was away.

But the signs of the storm were still visible. Decorations, railings and loose sticks had been blown off the nest. Palm fronds and other debris from trees and bushes were scattered throughout the park. Only the immediate area around the salt marsh and the trails had been cleaned up. You may remember the old palm trunk (aka the condo building) that used to house Papa Stanley’s man cave, and homes for the Nanday Parakeets, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and European Starlings. It was now laying on the ground, demolished by the storm. Luckily the little ones living there had already fledged.

an old palm trunk taken down by the storms Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The condo building had been demolished by the storm…

After locating all three chicks, I wanted to find Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley. And I was lucky. Sandy had parked herself on a street light a quarter-mile north of the salt marsh, and Stanley was on his usual spot in front of the Sailing Center on the bay side. They were both still wet after recent fishing trips.

mama osprey on her perch Sand Key Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy was drying herself on a street light…
Papa Stanley said hi from his perch close to the nest…

It was great to have found all of them in good health. Lofty and Aspire fledged about three weeks ago. They are now following Sandy and Stanley on fishing trips and learning to dive for fish by themselves. An adult Osprey catches a fish in one out of four dives, on average. Sometimes the success rate is as high as 70%. I believe Sandy belongs to that champion category. I’ve seen her come back with a fish in three, five and seven minutes! One time she went fishing right there in the salt marsh and brought home a fish in 30 seconds 🙂 Stanley usually takes closer to the average of 12 minutes. But for the chicks fishing is a tricky business. And they have to master this unique skill in 4-5 weeks after fledging. Their lives will depend on it.

an osprey fledgling in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sindile was chilling in the nest…waiting for food.

I’ve been worried about little Sindile. She was born about a week after the other two, but had not fledged when I left on my trip early last week. And there she was, perched on the edge of the now bare nest. I spent some time with her and then decided to walk to the other end of the marsh. I wanted to see if I could spot any of the other residents. And I did.

great blue heron Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The young Great Blue Heron was at home, drying himself after a fishing trip…
a snowy egret juvenile Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A juvenile Snowy Egret still had some baby hair on her head…
reddish egret fishing Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Reddish Egret was fishing, but this was a young one, not the older “showman” with a long, red hippie hair…
tri-colored heron hunting Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Tri-colored Heron was also looking for food…
great egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Great Egret scanned for fish too…

I was happy my feathered friends had weathered the storm well. I spotted most of the usual suspects, apart from the Spoonbill. To my delight I also saw two Black Skimmers at work in the salt marsh.

black skimmer skimming Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Black Skimmer was skimming the surface with her longer lower bill…
…and left a long trail in the water.

They prefer to skim on the ocean or on the bay, so it was a treat to see them in action right there. I was watching them when I heard some commotion at the osprey nest in the other end of the marsh. I raised my camera and started shooting. Sorry for the quality as I had to shoot right against the sun and crop these images heavily. But at least you can see what happened. Life is not easy for the youngest chick.

male osprey brought a fish Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Stanley had brought a fish to Sindile, and Aspire wanted it too…
osprey chick lands in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…she landed just behind Stanley…
osprey chick tries to push the male osrey off the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…and it looked like she was trying to push Stanley away…
a scuffle ensues between the osprey chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sindile tried to eat fast…and Stanley flew away…
Osprey chick has taken the fish from her sibling Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
As soon as Stanley left, Aspire got the fish (in her right talons) and Sindile resigned.

I felt for Sindile, and hoped she had managed to keep at least a small piece for herself. I started walking back towards the nest. And the next that I knew, Lofty landed in the nest. He wanted to inspect if there was anything left of the fish.

an osprey chick lands in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lofty landed in the nest and Sindile hunched to protect  herself…
osprey chicks scuffle over a fish Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…they scuffled for a few seconds…
osprey chick in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…and Sindile was left alone in the nest.

I didn’t see if Lofty got any fish. But at the end of the scuffle Sindile was alone in the nest. That’s when she surprised me. She spread her wings and took chase. Wow! She had fledged while I was away. And she was fighting back! She probably flew after Lofty just to show him she was angry. She didn’t get to him, but got excellent flying exercise at high speeds for a few minutes.

osprey chick in flight Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sindile flew several rounds above the salt marsh chasing Lofty…
osprey chick lands in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…then she landed elegantly back in the nest.

All this happened on Tuesday afternoon. I also went to see them quickly yesterday morning. Aspire was in the nest. She was wet, which means she’d been diving for fish. I guess she had chased away Sindile who was perched on a lamp-post nearby.

osprey chick Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Aspire had taken over the nest…
osprey chick perching on a lamp-post Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…and Sindile was perched on a lamp-post nearby.

Sindile was looking at Papa Stanley who was flying overhead with big brother Lofty, and a fish. I’m thinking Lofty had followed his Papa on a fishing trip, but didn’t catch anything himself this time.

osprey chick in flight Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lofty flew with Stanley…
osprey carrying a fish Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
…who was carrying a small fish.

Sandy was drying herself on a lamp-post on the bay side, also watching Lofty and Stanley.

female osprey drying herself Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Sandy was drying herself after breakfast dives.

I’ve noticed that Lofty is not around much any more. I haven’t seen him since that flight yesterday morning. He may have learned to fish well enough to take off on his own. But I’m guessing he’ll not go very far from home, as yet. Aspire will probably stay around at least for another week practicing her fishing skills. And Sindile, the little survivor, maybe two-three more weeks. Then they’ll start their independent lives as young Ospreys, and their fantastic parents get a well deserved vacation.

I hope your week is going great. Love from all of us around the salt marsh.

Swan Songs and Alligators.

I’m back home after a great trip. I shouldn’t really say this was a short vacation, as I feel no need to take time off from my permanent vacation here on our barrier island. My travels nowadays are usually connected to work or visiting family overseas. But this was different. A trip back in time. To my musical youth. One of those nostalgic journeys I like to make occasionally. Changing my zip code for a few days. This time it was 32805.

orlando downtown
Downtown Orlando

So I went with hubby to see the good ol’ Stones. And I wasn’t disappointed. They are still rolling with an amazing speed.  And a strong, familiar beat in a masterful production. After playing together for over 50 years they still fill stadiums with 60K people. Remarkable.

Orlando zip code…
…concert.

That was an experience to add to the previous ones. Several of which were said to be the last tour, the swan song. But retirement doesn’t seem to be in these guys’ vocabulary. Mick said “see you in 30 years”. And I’m not sure whether or not he was joking.

So I saw an alligator, even if I didn’t have the time to go to the wetlands. But fortunately I could see some birds. Like this Swan family.

two juvenile swans orlando
Juvenile Swans
baby swan 2
One of the juvenile Swans
daddy swan orlando
Papa Swan

And many other birds familiar from the salt marsh, including a few juveniles.

great egret orlando
A Great Egret
cormorant
A Cormorant
juvenile great egret
A juvenile Great Egret

Now I’ll need to catch up on your blogs. And first thing tomorrow I’ll go see the Osprey family. I’ve heard there were very strong storms here at home last Friday night. I hope all of them are safe. I already have a sense that a lot has changed while I was away. But that will be for another story later this week.

Keep rolling, and have a wonderful week.

Teen Moods. Flying Feathers. And Other Excitement at the Osprey Nest.

The morning was beautiful. A few birds were out and about at the salt marsh, still looking for breakfast. Some were trying to hide in the bushes. And yet others chose to pose for the visitor.

spoonbill and ibis Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A White Ibis is looking for food, but Ms. Spoonbill is more interested in the paparazza…and someone is hiding in the bushes (to the left)
snowy egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A Snowy Egret is shopping for breakfast…

At the Osprey nest the breakfast was over.  Lofty was again looking after little Sindile, who has not yet fledged.  Mama Sandy had left to fetch her own breakfast, and middle sister Aspire was flying around somewhere, getting her exercise. Everything appeared peaceful.

But soon it was obvious something was amiss. When Aspire tried to return to the nest, Lofty got very excited. He was watching her approach and made it very clear she shouldn’t land in the nest.

two osprey chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Look who’s flying there, it’s Aspire…

I have no idea what had happened between them earlier, perhaps at breakfast time. Maybe Aspire took the fish for herself, like I saw her do last week, and didn’t share enough with her siblings. But that’s just my speculation. What I saw is in this 1.5 minute video clip. The last segment is on half speed to let you see more in detail how it went down.

After this incident Aspire tried to land in the nest one more time while I was still there. Lofty chased her a short distance before returning to Sindile in the nest. Wondering what had caused this seemingly serious dispute between the two best buddies, I walked to the bay side.

Great Egret fishing in the bay Clearwater Florida
A Great Egret is fishing on the bay side…

I was on my way home, on the other side of a busy street, when I heard Lofty getting very vocal for the third time. I tried to capture the drama, shooting pictures from quite a distance over and between passing cars (you should have seen me, good I didn’t get killed). The shots are not very sharp, but the sequence of events is even clearer than in the video. Like in slow-er motion. Although for the two siblings it was fast enough, I’m sure of that.

osprey chick wants to return to her nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Aspire approaches the nest…
osprey chick gets excited and vocal Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lofty gets vocal…and Sindile prepares to turn her back…
one osprey chick kicks out the other Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lofty block’s Aspire’s new tactics, to come from below…
osprey chick prevents the other from entering the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lofty puts his foot down…on Aspire’s back…
osprey chick chases the other chick away Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Lofty flies after Aspire…
One osprey chick flies away while the other returns to the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Aspire flies away again, while Lofty returns to the nest…feathers and decorations are flying in the air…

Poor Sindile didn’t want to know anything about the drama playing out while Mama Sandy was away. She turned her back and stared out into the distance. Maybe she was reflecting on the perils of fledging.

three ospey chicks in the nest Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
All three chicks are in the nest one hour later…everyone in their own corner…

About an hour later, I checked on the chicks from my terrace. And saw all three in the nest. They didn’t talk, but at least they didn’t quarrel. The whole dispute, whatever it was about, was settled in good time before Sandy came back with fresh lunch. Such is life. Forgiveness always wins.

This is a scheduled post. I wish you all a great week and a wonderful weekend. See you next week 🙂