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Precious Moments with Sandhill Crane Colts

Thanks to my friend Michael, I went to Viera Wetlands last weekend to photograph a pair of Sandhill Crane colts.  They were just precious!  Our friend Debbie drove up from South Florida and we joined a few other photographers in admiring the young family.  It was the first time I’ve photographed a pair of colts at the nest.  Often only one colt survives.  Both of these colts seemed strong and feisty.  We had such a great morning watching them.

Run to Mom!

Run to Mom!

When we first arrived, the adult crane was lying on the nest and had both chicks tucked under her wing.  Before long, a colt popped out.  He ventured to the edge of the nest, checked out his surroundings, and then decided to make a dash for Mom’s neck.  He was so cute!  The still photos just didn’t capture the joyful run or the thrust onto Mom’s back.  A few clicks in Photoshop merged the shots to show the progression…much better!

Mom eventually tucked her little charge under her wing and went back to sleep.  Dad was off foraging in the distance, and eventually disappeared for a while.  So Mom wasn’t anxious for her colts to wake up too early.  Besides, it was chilly and breezy that morning, good reasons for colts to stay warm under Mom.   But colts get restless, and it wasn’t long before they made an appearance together…

Double Trouble

Double Trouble

I’ve often observed colts fighting with each other, but I’ve never seen them fighting in Mom’s wings before!  Too funny!

Squabble in the Wings

Squabble in the Wings

Actually, small Sandhill Cranes can be quite brutal with each other.  They wrestle and peck at each other, and really, it’s “survival of the fittest.”  These guys were less vicious than some.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Like Mother, Like Daughter

I thanked the cool breeze, which definitely gave us more “on the nest time” than I expected.  Usually the birds get up and start foraging for breakfast as soon as the colts awake.  Instead, we got to see the second colt playing Peek-a-boo while the first colt explored.

Peek-a-boo

Peek-a-boo – Look closely under Mom’s wing to see the baby colt

Then the colts played together on top of the nest.  They stretched their tiny stub-let wings and reminded me that in a few short months, they will be as tall as their parents and make their first flights.

One Day We'll Fly!

One Day We’ll Fly!

Finally, though, the babies started to take matters into their own beaks.  They were hungry!  They continually reached for Mom’s beak, begging for a morsel.  She pulled out a bit of eggshell for one and a small bug for the other, but no, that wasn’t doing the trick.  Where are the worms and bugs, Mom?

Is It Breakfast Time Yet?

Is It Breakfast Time Yet?

Dad came back and joined the family as they left the nest and began foraging in the marsh.  I hoped they would come close and maybe hang out in the clean grass (i.e. with a good background!) Alas, they had no interest in fulfilling a photographer’s desires.   But before I left, one of the babies did extend me an invitation…

Wanna Play in the Mud?

Wanna Play in the Mud?

Watching Sandhill Cranes is one of the best parts of springtime photography.  The gentleness of the adults, the cuteness of the colts…there’s something so exquisitely sweet about each family of birds.  Still photographs don’t always do it justice.  So to close out this blog post, here’s a video of a few more precious moments!

Snakes Make Bad Necklaces for Birds!

On the day that I saw my lifer Merlin at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, I turned around from the Merlin to find a Pied-billed Grebe in distress.  The poor grebe had a snake around its neck!  I don’t know exactly how that started.  Was the snake trying to kill the bird?  Or did the bird attack the snake, and the snake was just defending itself?  Either way, I found myself saying “Somebody help that poor bird!”  Snakes make really bad necklaces…

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake “Necklace”

The grebe swam about quickly, trying to pull the snake off.  He twisted back and forth, trying to grab the snake with his beak…

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe Trying to Remove Snake

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

“I can’t find the necklace clasp!”

Apparently violent shaking of the neck only makes the snake tighten his noose. :(

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Finally the bird gripped the snake and started to unwrap it.

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Score one point for the bird!

Yay! The bird seemed to be winning as he unraveled the snake.

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

The bird dove under the water at this point, and I stood watching, not wanting to leave until I saw the bird emerge from the water snake-free.   I know grebes can stay under the water for a long time, and they can swim pretty good distances while they are under water.  But after a few minutes, the bird still hadn’t come up!  I saw a couple of splashes, but no bird.  I was really sad.

Then I saw a bird emerge farther down.  Undoubtedly it was my bird, and undoubtedly it was snake-free.  The poor bird was stretching its neck repeatedly, shaking and flexing and generally showing relief in having full control of its neck again.  Hooray!

Pied-billed Grebe with Snake Around Neck

Pied-billed Grebe is Snake-Free!

The people on the wildlife drive crack me up.  As I grinned at the bird’s good luck, someone drove by and asked me if I was photographing an alligator.

Nope, not exactly.

Springtime Morning of Backyard Birding

Recently I spent a weekend morning in my backyard – rather unusual for me, since mornings are usually when I venture beyond the backyard.  It was fun to see my yard in morning light.  This is the time of year that I love backyard birding the best.  Flowers are blooming, the air is fresh and not too hot, the goldfinches and buntings are getting into their best costumes for spring, and knowledge that they will soon be leaving makes the quiet opportunities even more special.

Within a few minutes, the alert was out.  Fresh food at the feeders!  Fresh food!  Come and get it!  The Red-winged Blackbirds are like birdseed magnets.  They pose in the nearby shrubs as they alert the neighborhood.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

The little Palm Warblers came to see if I put out any fresh mealworms.  They don’t mind having me around.  This one perched in the flowers very close to where I was sitting.  So close, in fact, that I could barely focus on him.  (That’s a nice problem to have!)

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Our Common Ground Dove flew in and landed on the feeder perch.  He looked a little scruffy.  He’d lost some feathers since the last time I’d seen him.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

One of my target birds for the morning was the American Goldfinch.  They only seem to visit in the mornings and early afternoons.  They were very wary of the photographer sitting in their backyard.  All morning I could hear them congregated in the oak trees around me, calling.  They’d fly over the yard, see me sitting there, and keep going.  Finally they sent in a sentry.  He perched, saw me and startled, and took off again.  The birds aren’t this skittish when I use my blind.  Finally they got used to me (a little) and posed near the feeder.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

He stole a few bites and fled to the nearby bushes, where he posed with his mouth full.  Didn’t his mother tell him that it’s not polite to sing with his mouth full?

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

My last photos of the morning were of Mr. Warbles (again). How do we know which warbler is Mr. Warblers?  He’s the one who visits Goldilocks at her window, of course!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler