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Blue Cypress Lake Photography: Sunrise and Ospreys!

It’s that time of year again!  Time to drive down to Yeehaw Junction in the crazy-early hours of the morning for some Blue Cypress Lake photography. :)  A sunrise pontoon boat ride on gorgeous Blue Cypress Lake is totally worth the early morning.  My friends Michael, Debbie, and Debbie’s Sherpa Tom and I met two weekends ago for a fun morning of landscapes and birding.  You see, Blue Cypress Lake is one of the best places to go to photograph nesting Ospreys.  The lake is beautiful, with almost no human presence at all.  The shoreline stretches before you and the Ospreys call you to photograph.  And we did!! :)

Blue Cypress Lake

Blue Cypress Lake

Ironically, the day started with very slim prospects for sunrise.  The weather forecast said that the heavy overnight clouds would lift a few hours before sunrise.  Well, as usual, the weather forecast was a little off!  The clouds were thick as pea soup as we arrived at the lake (better than last year, though!).

I think we were a little excited – we all got there about half an hour before the boat would leave.  That’s dedication for people that drive 2-3 hours to get there! :)   As the sun peeked out over the horizon, the clouds really did start to lift, and the sun lit them up in all sorts of wonderful color.

Blue Cypress Sunrise

Blue Cypress Sunrise (Photoshop composite)

I loved my sunrise shot with the lone cypress, but it seemed to be missing something.  Later that morning, we found an Osprey with a huge stick.  It was easily twice as tall as the bird.  He flew around with it as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.  Other birds chased him, jealous of its size.  Or did he steal it from someone else’s nest?  He flew too low at one point and got his stick stuck in a tree.  It was hard for him to get it free.  We laughed so hard watching him.  But the light levels were pretty low that morning, and my under-exposed shots were easy to darken.  So I took the Osprey with his stick and blended him into my sunrise.  It’s a composite, but that’s how I will remember that morning!

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

The Osprey above flew right towards us with a nice big fish.  As my dad will attest, I love to photograph Ospreys carrying fish!  My dad likes to tease me that I won’t even take an Osprey’s picture at the Circle B Bar Reserve unless he has a fish.  A few frames later, this same bird was still carrying his fish, and he had his mouth open with his tongue out!  I’ve been getting lots of birdie-tongue shots lately.

Osprey Chick

Osprey Chick

The babies are starting to hatch.  The babies are a week or two old before they get big enough to see over the tops of the nest.  This baby above intrigued us because his colors are very dark, darker than other babies we’d observed.  It’s amazing how Nature camouflages young birds.  These guys blend in pretty well with their nest.

Sunrise, Cypress, and Osprey!

Sunrise, Cypress, and Osprey!

The sun crept behind the clouds, making flight photography challenging.  I kept my wide-angle lens on my 5D Mark III, and as our boat driver wove the boat in between the cypress trees, I watched for pretty landscape opportunities.  I loved how the sun beams crept through the clouds.  This shot is another classic Blue Cypress Lake image – the beautiful tree against the rising sun, with an Osprey sitting on her nest.  I hope your little ones hatch soon, Mama!  Maybe I’ll be back to check on you!

Lots of Good Color at the Gatorland Rookery

Some friends convinced me to visit Gatorland in early April, and I’m really glad I went!  I was a little burned out on rookery photography after the past few years, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting the crowds on the boardwalk.  But the birds were more than worth it.  We had excellent opportunities with Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and especially the Cattle Egrets.

Great Egret Preening

Great Egret Preening

The Great Egrets are in all stages of breeding.  I saw some several-week-old chicks, some recently-hatched nests, some mating, nest-building, and of course, lots of bright green lores and lacy plumes!  I love the feathers on these birds in their breeding colors.  It’s fun to try to get good preening shots, which aren’t as easy as they sound.  You want the bird’s head parallel to the image plane.  If only they would take direction from photographers! :)

Great Egret Chick

Great Egret Chick

This nest of Great Egret chicks was a lot of fun to photograph.  The chicks weren’t more than a few days old.  The little guys were hungry, and they wanted their mom to know all about it!  Much head-bobbing ensued as they tried to get Mom to regurgitate a nice fish for them.  (Rookery feeding habits are a little gross, but you get used to it!)  With my 500mm lens and an extension tube, I was able to get great head shots of these little cuties.

Great Egret Feeding Chicks

Great Egret Feeding Chicks

A few nests down, a trio of slightly older chicks were being fed.  You could tell that Mom was coughing up something good as the babies got more and more animated.  They positioned their beaks right on top of Mom’s, trying to be the first to grab the fish as it came out of Mom’s mouth.  The problem is, with three chicks in the nest, they haven’t figured out how to share very well!  It’s a free-for-all as poor Mom just tries to keep from getting her eyes poked out.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Usually at the rookeries I focus most of my attention on the little chicks, but on this visit, I spent more time with the adults. The birds are in such pretty color right now.  The Cattle Egrets moved into the rookery a little early this year, and they are busy building nests.  Their peak bright pink and purple breeding colors last only for a few days.  The bird above has not quite reached peak color, although his orange feathers are quite striking.  The bird below is almost at peak color.

Cattle Egret Showing Off His Colors

Cattle Egret Showing Off His Colors

You don’t need a long lens to get great pictures at Gatorland, as many of the birds nest very close to the boardwalk.  It’s not at all unusual to have a beautiful bird in great breeding colors jump down to the boardwalk right next to you.  Keep a set of extension tubes in your pocket, and go!  It’s fun!

Happy Easter!

Just a quick post today, to say Happy Easter!  I’ve been keeping this adorable Sandhill Crane colt shot for Easter because he is just so cute and so perfect for the day.  This is the same colt that I saw hatch a week and a half ago.  He was about 36 hours old at this point, and the long walk from his nest tired him out!  I still have more to blog about these wonderful little birds, so I’ll leave you with this adorable teaser.

Asleep in the Meadow

Asleep in the Meadow