Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nesting water birds at Sheldon Lake

A canoe trip through Sheldon Lake got us some close-up views of nesting water birds, such as this Little Blue Heron:

And these White Ibis:

There are hundreds of birds raising their young on little islands in this lake, and quite a variety of species: Cattle Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Anhinga - these are all the species I was able to spot nesting in the trees. And they're all clustered together, little groups of White Ibis among little groups of Little Blues, the occasional night heron or White-faced Ibis here and there. Little Blues, White Ibis, and Cattle Egrets were most common. The herons had young at all stages of growth, from tiny fluffy nestlings to adult-sized juveniles, but the ibis children were all still small enough to stay hidden beneath their parents, and many of the ibis were still in the process of building their nests.

My photographer for this trip was my brother Travis. I was steering the boat and identifying the birds, so it was a team effort. Two sets of eyes are often better than one when it comes to spotting all the cool birds!

Not sure if this is a baby Cattle Egret or baby Little Blue, but it's adorable regardless.

The Little Blue and egret youngsters were loud and boisterous, many of the older ones walking around the branches and flapping their growing wings. Sometimes they'd get overexcited when a parent came in to feed them, squawking, pecking their siblings, even chasing down and almost tackling the parent. Some of the parents would keep their distance when they arrived back at the nest, as their multiple almost-grown youths run up to them. I saw parents trying to run away from their own children when they begged too aggressively for food.

Young herons are quite the handful, especially as they get older.
You can see here that there are three young Little Blues begging for food from a parent that - for the moment - is just sitting and waiting in the next tree over. The kids almost looked they were dancing as they bobbed their heads and flapped their wings, stretching up tall for their parent's attention.

The Yellow-crowned Night Herons I saw all had mostly grown up children. All the black-crowns I saw were still sitting tight on the nest, with no visible kids.

This was the first time I'd ever seen young Tricolored Herons! Unlike a lot of these heron kids,they've already got colors and patterns very similar to the adults.

Adult Cattle Egret.

Another very exciting thing to see was a family of Moorhens! I describe these birds as "duck chickens", or water chickens - they swim like ducks, look a bit like ducks, but their feet and beak looks more like a chicken's. This family - two adults and four tiny, fluffy chicks - were foraging among the reedy plants at the water line, in front of the trees the herons were nesting in.

They were all out in the open for a little while, but then they started to hide - luckily we got this picture before they hid completely! Look at their bald heads!

There were plenty of flowers, lily pads, dragonflies and butterflies around as well.

And, of course, there are alligators. A vital part of what's keeping this place safe for all those nesting birds. The gators might eat a few unlucky heron babies, but they'll keep all the egg-and-nestling munching predators away.

There were plenty of other birds around too, that may or may not have been nesting nearby, like blackbirds, seagulls, cormorants, and Great-tailed Grackles like this one:

They get all poofy when they make their crackly grackle noises.
It was great to see so many youngsters so close, and to observe such a variety of wildlife. I'll leave you with one last picture, of a lovely backyard snail:

have a great day

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Backyard bird fledglings

Baby bird time is always an exciting time, and I've been lucky in that I've been able to get some extended observations of adorable fledglings living in my backyard. Cute "teenage" birds, still begging for food from their parents, dressed in almost-but-not-quite adult feathers, pretty good flyers but not perfect yet.

This is an adult mockingbird.

And this is a mockingbird child. A fledgling, looking like an adult, but not there yet! "Fledge is the stage in a young bird's life when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight." You can see the child has a pale beak in contrast to the adult's black, and dark speckling on the chest.

You can see here that the fledlings can still look very fluffy!

Another great thing about these little fluffs is that they're very curious - this one turned to look at me very intensely! The adults might look at you with wary, sharp caution and judgment (when they're not pointedly ignoring you), while the children are more likely to look at you with open curiosity or confusion, and if you start getting too close, a more obvious nervousness the adults won't show.

Still watching.
Blue jays are raising their children.You can see one of those parents here:

Beautiful iridescent blue
While the mockingbirds feel comfortable in the front yard, the Blue Jays keep most of their operations to the back yard. As such, they're often a little further away, and photographing their children is a little trickier.

It's a blurry little fuzzball!
 You can see again that these kids have pale beaks, too, and though they've got adult colors and patterning, it's still all fuzzy and dull. The kids will often stay in more or less the same place while their parents are out finding food for them, which makes them easy to watch. They're also usually very vocal, making a lot of high-pitch begging calls that sound something like a creaky gate. I can often hear these calls even when I'm inside the house.

And here the adult comes in with some sort of food! Hooray.

I see the adults foraging a lot. Not sure what they're picking up, though.

It's actually been two weeks since I took these photos, and these children are now looking much more like their parents, with shiny adult feather patterns and colors. But they're still following their parents around, learning about the world and occasionally begging for food. It's been really fun to watch my feathered neighbors raising their families this year.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Spring Anole Photoshoot

My pet bird Merle the Blue-crowned Conure, and a Green Anole lizard!
I'm sure the lizards in the yard are sick of me. I'm always saying hello and asking for their photo and their autograph and if I can name a child after them and if they'll hang out with me and be best friends forever and then I take their beleaguered judgmental stares as consent. 

Yes I am guilty of bothering the wildlife.
So handsome!
This rain gutter is popular, it's true. Prime lizard territory.

This one has a weird ridge of skin on the neck! I've never seen that before! Not sure what's up with that.

We all know these lizards are the best. Even if we don't admit it, we all know it's true, deep in our hearts.
I caught him showing off his throat flap, hooray!
I hope y'all like lizards as much as I do 'cause I'm not even done yet. Let's show some other animals for a bit though:

How do ya like these animals??

Enough of that, though, there are more lizards to see!

Spring time? Lizard time!

Lizards, lizards, everywhere
Another picture of my bird, because why not:

And, because I have (most sadly!) run out of lizard pictures (but not lizards), we'll move on to a few things anoles might like to eat.

Like this cool beetle that landed on my hand. Very small! I like the colors. Skin looks weird close up, but I guess that's how bugs see it.
And of course I can't resist a prime oppurtunity for a mosquito photograph.

And this picture blurred but I like how it makes this small moth look really big and spooky! Up against the glass on a window of course.
Now we'll end on a *super ultra bonus!* picture:

This neat crab exoskeleton that I found at the nature center. It's the size of my hand, and it's so intact! It's much more common to see the smaller fiddler crabs than these bigger ones, so this was a cool find. I thought it was just a dead crab, but after taking this picture I've since found out that crabs shed their shells as they grow, so maybe it's just a molted exoskeleton?

Keep your eyes open for cool lizards, crabs, and birds! Spring is a great season for exciting (and accessible!) wildlife encounters. You never know where those lizards could be lurking.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ring-necked Parakeets in watercolor

Step 1: sketchy-sketch.

Step 2: some vaguely parrot-shaped blobs of color.

Step 3: those parrots need some beaks and feet!

Step 4: and they need something to stand on, too, don't they?

Step 5: how about some lovely parrot eyes? And other important facial features, such as visible mouths and neck markings?

Step 6: What about details? Better wings, better feathers! The parrots demand them! Also more of a background, too!

Step 7: Ah, but we need more of a background than that! Something that seems a little more interesting, and a little less flat. And just a little bit more polish on those parrots so they stand out, the stars of the show.

That's it, that's the end! It's like magic. Parrots, suddenly, where there were no parrots before! Watercolor paints on watercolor paper, with some colored pencil work for the details, and a tiny bit of black ink for those parrot pupils.

My workspace
Why Ring-necked Parakeets? I kinda fell in love with them when I watched some really charming individual pet birds on YouTube. I was fascinated by how many of them seemed to really love stuffed animals - my parrot, a Blue-crowned Conure, has only ever had a very passing interest in them (she might bite them, or give them one kiss or a high-five if prompted, but that's it). They also have such sweet voices!

You can see from the videos that the captive birds come in a variety of colors, and you might be able to tell from the painting that I'm pretty fond of that pastel blue form.Wild birds are usually green, though you can see from photos like this that the green can include aspects of blue:

Photo from Wikipedia

Parrots and Squirrels feeding together
Photo from Flickr
So, in short, I just think they're really charming, interesting, charismatic birds, which is why I wanted to paint some.