Saturday, January 14, 2017

FL Birds from the Canoe

 The number of bird pictures I took during our recent Christmas vacation in FL was amazing:  More than ever before.  The convenience of our little canoe camera, a Canon Powershot SH610 HS, is surely to blame.  Some trips we feel like taking pictures; some we don't.  This time we did but even so only about half our runs were covered!  Sorting out the mass of pix (over 600) into 'which river when,' it dawned on me.  Birds were present every run.  What did you expect from birdwatchers and a model-horse-show-photographer?!  This post will loosely follow chronology.
I will add two cents about slackwater canoeing:  It's a sport for folk who like movies in slow motion; and a good run bears a strong resemblance to a grand old-fashioned amusement park ride.

We'll start with Haw Creek, northeast of Ocala.  This shot (above) is as I took it.  Most shots in this post were taken from our canoe, on the water; if not, it's noted.  The blue is a Little Blue Heron and to his left is an immature Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.
Birdwatchers + canoe + Powershot = PhotoShop!  Below is the best one of the Immature Yellow-Crowned, cropt and sharpened.  Haw Creek was about half covered with duckweed, and required faith to launch.  We did eventually find clear water.
Here's the Little Blue Heron, zoomed and sharpened:
Next was the St John's River.  Along with the Withlacoochee this is one of the longest rivers in Florida... by no means fully canoe-able!  One of our favorite St Johns tributaries is the Econlockhatchee (which I've blogged on earlier).  These Sandhill Canes were photo'd by George while walking on the floodplain of the St John's near the Econlockhatchee.
The Sandhill Crane is one of the most majestic birds in FL.  They are always easy to identify because of their call, a rolling grinding mutter that sounds like "grullyo, grullyo."  For you horse color fans:  the Spanish word 'grullo' comes from this bird.  The color of the horse was exactly the gray color of the cranes.
This shot is cropt and zoomed:

  Next, still on the St John's, we were out south of the Jolly Gator marina off Hwy 50, heading for Puzzle Lake.
At first just white dots, these eventually turned into birds.
 Looks like a couple of White Ibis.  For some reason we started calling the many Ibises "Ibitz" and this nickname stuck for the rest of the trip.
A fine Common Egret (Great Egret).  This shot has been cropt and straightened; I'm still working on getting my horizons level.
We generally park for lunch by letting the wind blow us against a shore somewhere.  Canoeists are very aware of wind, especially when their craft weighs only 57 pounds.  During lunch that day I spotted a familiar color pattern on a post.  It took about 5 tries to capture this Bald Eagle:
The Econlockhatchee is one of the few places where you can step right out onto the prairie.  With the sun behind us, we caught a rare double portrait.  : )
On one of our Econlockhatchee runs, we found a great many Ibitz. 
Note the steep banks of the Econ.  This river varies from feet-high banks to almost no bank, and back again.  It's amazing considering the cows.  Speaking of cows, I believe this is a Snowy Egret.
Where there are cows, there are usually Cattle Egrets.  Although we saw a lot of them I was unable to photograph more than a few.  I was also trying to capture the colors of the cows.  There was a black bay I enjoyed (on left).
 Since we were below their radar, we saw mostly just heads.
The variety of horns and body shapes leads me to state that, at least in this part of the St John's, the cows are Brahman crossbreds;  in other words, mutts.
This day was a long one and we were out until near sunset.  I got lucky and shot a fine Tricolor Heron in the downsun golden glow.
These used to be called Louisiana Herons.  He was fishing enthusiastically.  I have sharpened these 3 shots but no other processing.
When you're in a canoe all day, Nature is your only entertainment.  And for whatever reason, wherever we floated on this trip there was a great abundance of Tricolor Herons.
There were also gators, but I didn't get a single shot of one this time.

There is a 4-mile dirt road along a canal at the mouth of the Withlacoochee, where it reaches the Gulf.  The mighty With, we call that river.  These 2 pix were taken from a beach accessed by the road.
 Those long grey strips of rocks are oyster bars.  They indicate the presence of salt water.  The oyster shells are hard as steel and sharp as diamonds and they can cut our canoe like so many Japanese sashimi knives.  We have gone canoeing in oyster territory, but not this trip.
What should we see here but a couple of Oystercatchers (black and white with a red bill), along with some Willets.  Here's a Shopped closeup:

Every Florida canoe trip includes some new rivers we haven't tried before.  One such this trip was the Tomoka, off the east coast north of Daytona Beach.  The weather was cloudy but it didn't rain.  I have brightened up these Pileated Woodpecker shots.  Capturing these hard-to-shoot birds was a high point for me.
 In the first pic (above) there is a Tricolor Heron in the lower right.  I told you they were common...
Such a characteristic pose!  I cropt and zoomed and brightened on this last:
This shot shows the surroundings in which my Pileated shots were taken, and the distance we were from them.  The bird is barely visible on the right side of the central trunk, just below the hole.

On the same Withlacoochee canal dirt road, we saw a Black Crowned Night Heron in a huge juniper bush.  Here is where my sense of time gets kind of hazy and so does my focus!  At first the bird is all but unfind-able.  Look in the lower right quarter of this unretouched shot:
Here I'm cropping and zooming, but he's still hard to find.  Look in upper center:
Finally I Shopped the best one up close.  At that distance there's some graininess, but it's still identifiable as a Black-Crowned Night Heron.
For some reason, Night Herons of both flavors, Black-Crowned and Yellow-Crowned, were practically common on this trip.  Usually they are rather rare birds for us.  I have no explanation.

This Yellow-Crowned was visible on a short trail in the Savannah Wildlife drive.  Other birders pointed him out to me.  There was supposed to be a reflection in the waters below, but I missed it with the camera.
 A close up.  The Yellow Crown looks almost fuzzy --!
Our next destination was Kings Bay, part of Crystal River on the west coast.  I am positive it was 2017 by now.  There will probably be another blog on this run because that's when the only model- horse-in-the-canoe pix of the trip were taken.  But for now, enjoy this driveby of an Anhinga and two turtles.  I like turtles -- very useful for a Florida canoeist!
 Kings Bay gave us one of our best-ever encounters with a Yellow-Crowned Night  Heron.  (I told you they were common, along with the Tricolors!)  This shot is unprocessed except for lightening:
Without a doubt, this is my best shot of a Yellow-Crowned.  And about the closest I've ever been to one, too.

He did not seem to be afraid.  That's one thing about canoes and kayaks:  they're quiet and slow, and birds don't seem to be alarmed quite so much.

Near the end of our trip we found ourselves in Dunellon, the jumping-off point for Rainbow Springs and more stretches of the Withlacoochee.  The With here is residential.  Looking at people's waterfront property is some of my favorite paddling activity.  Here is a fine male Anhinga on a dock post.
 Not far from the municipal boat launch ramp in Dunellon I got two birds in one shot:
 A very nice Great Egret,
And an Immature Little Blue.  Yes, the young Little Blues are white.  The differences between them and other white herons lie in the colors of the bill and feet.
 All this and no Green Herons!  Nor Kingfishers; Osprey, Vultures, Glossy Ibis, Palm Warblers or any of the multitudes we saw but did not shoot.  Safe to say birdwatching is a sport one can pursue just about anywhere with just about any level of determination.

A last rara avis, which I can't resist putting in, is this magnificent Wooden Golden Eagle, spotted on someone's staircase deck in the backwaters of the With near Dunellon.
I hope you've enjoyed this tour of north-central Florida's birds seen from a canoe.