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2024 Photography

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Merritt Island NWR, Florida

Missed my trip to the eastern NC coast this year because I was still dealing with a lingering combination respiratory/Covid bout. I did, however, manage to get to nearby Jordan Lake to see our resident eagles. One day, 10 were visible perching here and there.

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I was hoping to travel to Arkansas to witness the eclipse in totality. But finally I decided that that 32 hours in a car over a 5-day period was not exactly what the doctor ordered. Instead, I sat for two hours on the little golf course out back, on a gorgeous and clear day, and watched the partial eclipse. Partial or total, the fact is that an eclipse is a wonderful reminder of the larger context in which we exist.

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As consolation, we did start getting spring quite early this year and I (and others) have often thought back to the spring of Covid (2020). I find the abundance very comparable and the floral displays impressive.

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Tulips on February 14th!

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Itoh Peony - which I first ever saw during that spring of Covid!

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I've observed this cherry tree since 2020 and this year the blooms are so thickly clustered that they are practically dripping off the branches!!

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Finally, I got on the road in April. A revisit circuit through many of my favorite "bird places" in South Carolina and north/central Florida. April is not the best time to visit the wildlife refuges because so many birds have gone to their nesting places. But the rookeries, on the other hand, are buzzing with activity and full of nests with roosting moms, attentive dads, and chicks galore!

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First stop, Crystal Lake in Beaufort, SC - hardly a lake, but a lovely pond setting where the early Yellow-Crowned Night Heron pairs are starting to nest. The beds of sticks are still flimsy and plenty more birds to come in the next weeks - and then the eggs - the chicks - the fledglings!

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On to Cypress Wetlands in Port Royal - a favorite place - small rookery. This early in the nesting season, it was chock full of storks - putting them easily in camera range instead of at their usual treetop spots. Got lucky and saw/recorded one mating pair - these are huge creatures and it always amazes me that they succeed amidst the entangled wings and feathers and legs and long bills!

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The signs of a rich nesting season were already present. The great white egret practicing its rituals; the roosting green heron; and the common gallinule chick learning from mom.

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For many years, a special interest of mine has been what I call "the co-existence of species" - that is, in any one place, the degree of mixing of species that can be seen. Cypress Wetlands, being a small but highly desirable environment, is one place where the co-existence of species is truly present.  The heron above completely uninterested in the frequent mating by storks or any other neighbors. The gallinules that have no qualms about bringing their chicks into the company of turtles twice their size.

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Makes no difference because each species is totally absorbed in carrying out its own genetic mandate, reinforced each generation by their successful propagation...

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Even the gators lurking in the foliage immediately below the nests have their role: clean up the eggs and chicks that fall from the nests...a yolky experience for the witness.

As was true at Crystal, the yellow-crowns were just starting to arrive and establish their nests - elusive as ever...

And now on to Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, which used to be one of my favorite places. But since it reopened last year after major restoration efforts, it has been a bit disappointing. The distribution of water has changed, leaving fewer rich habitats for the various species. Add to that the emptiness connected to nesting season, this stop was not very fruitful.

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Among the beautiful water lilies and prolific pads, I did observe a new behavior that I had never seen before. I had always thought the many red-wing blackbirds that inhabit the marshy areas fed primarily off the marsh plants. But here I saw one prancing from lily pad to pad and actually putting beak under pads to flip them up in search of insects (I presume).

During my drive that afternoon to Ponte Vedra, FL I began to focus on the reality that this part of the world was experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures rising to the mid-90s - not exactly April weather, even in Florida! The next day I revisited the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Long ago, I had attended a bird photography workshop in this location, but had not had a chance to explore the dam and surrounding areas. Interesting but I did not hike into the trails and deeper areas. As near all dam areas, lots of cormorants and pelicans.

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It was just after noon and the heat was very high when I arrived at the rookery at Alligator Farm. A zoo, I know, but still one of my favorite places to get sharp, close-up shots of the nests and chicks of roseates, egrets, storks, herons and (if that's your interest) gators, gators, gators. While I had planned to spend the entire afternoon here, I was forced to shorten my photo session and seek the wonderful breezes across the street on the beach at Anastasia State Park.

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I enjoy taking what I call "Mutt and Jeff" photos of siblings hatched at considerably different moments. Apparently, egrets (to the right) do commit siblicide, but doesn't seem to be in the cards for this odd pair! The roseate series above suggests that in fact the older sibling showed some behaviors more like tending to the little one.

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This topmost branch in the rookery is one of the most coveted perching spots for great white egrets, snowy egrets, storks and roseates. It was long ago, when I first saw this more or less "friendly" competition for space, that I began to formulate my first thoughts about the co-existence of the species...

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The nest with this chick was also very high up and I got the immediate impression of a prayer for food - more food!! I had never seen such prominent green skin tones on egret chicks. When I looked it up, turns out that this is characteristic of an African subspecies of the great white egret. So the world wide movements and mixing continue!

More to come...

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