Tarpon Springs – Skywatch Friday

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The sign you first see when you turn down the famous sponge dock road.

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Cool old boats. It amazes me that most of these boats are still in use. Some of them look like they may sink any minute.

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Tourist photo opp – the statue of the sponge diver in the middle of the sponge docks.

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One of the best tourist stores on the street.

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More boats at the dock. On a Sunday morning they were all in at the docks.

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Miss Lexy looking good!

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A mural depicting the old ways of sponge diving.

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Yes, I’m in short sleeves and capris the Sunday before Christmas. The skies were blue and the weather was warm. It would have been nice to at least have long sleeves on but I’m not complaining.

One of the stops on our Christmas tourist tour while my sister was visiting from South Dakota was the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs. We grew up going there when we would come down to the area to visit the grandparents during the holidays. I guess that’s where my love for Greek food came from. The little town is about an hour north of central Tampa but worth the drive for the pastries. It was a beautiful day for a walk and lunch.

Off my silly tourist topic, if you get a chance, head over to Scott Kelby’s blog to read a guest post by Moose Peterson. It’s very inspiring and makes me want to get up out of my chair at work and go out and take pictures. It’s hard to balance a hobby you love and work that pays for the hobby you love (and the bills). Although, would it be a hobby you love if you did it all the time? According to Moose it is! I met him last winter at Fort De Soto park. We talked for a few moments and I told him were the owl’s nest was at the park. A few hours later I found him there waiting for the baby owl to wake up. We chatted for a while. Very nice guy. I also have his book Captured which I’ve read twice.  See his guest post here.

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My first Crested Caracara

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My first “in the wild” crested caracara. This was taken from the car. On our way back from West Palm beach I told my hubby we have to look out for a vulture looking bird with a big orange beak.  We saw him early into our drive. He was sitting in a tree just off the road. Hubby pulled off on the grass and I was able to snap this quickly before he took off. They are only found in Arizona, Texas and Florida and usually in open fields. This bird has alluded me for years. I’ve never heard of one being seen in the Tampa bay area. They are found in central Florida but every time we head to the other side of the state I can’t seem to find them.

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Later in our drive, about half way across the state, Hubby spotted this one on the road. He turned around and pulled off the side of the road. I took the above from the car since I was afraid he would take off as well. He did not seem to care, although we were pretty far back.

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This one is a juvenile with the pink beak and not quite dark feathers on his body. He was chowing down on a raccoon. I got out of the car and walked slowly towards him but still stayed far away.

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Nice yummy piece of raccoon meat in his mouth. He kept an eye on me as he was eating.

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What was he thinking as he stared at his meal?

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When cars went by he didn’t move but when a big truck came by he would fly over to the grass and come back a few seconds later.

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At one point he took off with a bite still in his beak.

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Then he flew over to the fence post.

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He stayed on the fence post for a while.

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Up close, he’s prettier than black or turkey vultures. I mean really, first with the pink beak and then it turns orange. How cool is that? I guess if I saw them everyday I would say (and to quote my Dad) “Just another buzzard.” We were only there for a few minutes, then he flew off across the cow pasture. We saw two other caracaras that day but there wasn’t anywhere to stop off on the side of the road so we kept going. The above were all taken into the sun as well so not ideal. I’m keep looking for them though.

Ducks and swans at Lake Mirror

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What a pretty pair. These are the only two black necked swans at Lake Morton.

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Male wood duck snoozing as he’s cruising.

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One of the fairly new mandarin ducks that live at Lake Mirror in downtown Lakeland. These ducks are not native here. They were acquired by the city since they look “pretty”.

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Now he’s just showing off. When I first saw the couple early this spring they had just been placed on the lake. They were very skittish and stayed far away from the other ducks and people. This trip they were in front of the crowd when people were feeding the ducks. They came close to the edge so I guess they are getting used to the place.

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Female mandarin duck.

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A new duck! The city now has two shelducks. They are very pretty. Although, they don’t look that much different from all of the other hybrid mallards that are there. I was wondering how you would buy a duck pair.  You can buy a pair of shelducks on efowl.com for $175.00. Interesting.

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They were not shy. They came close the edge of the lake.

I had heard about the new ducks at Lake Mirror and stopped by there recently on my way home from Circle B Bar Reserve. It’s only a 15 minute drive from the reserve. Lake Mirror is smaller than Lake Morton, which is only a couple of streets over. Both have swans and ducks that live there. It was a perfect beautiful day in late October and I wasn’t quite ready to go home. The area around the lake was packed with people. Everyone was out enjoying the day and tons of people were feeding the ducks. It will be interesting to see if the new couple have babies next spring.

Camera Critters

A hovering kingfisher – Skywatch Friday

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Standing on the edge of the lake watching an osprey go by, I saw a belted kingfisher out of the corner of my eye and was able to catch him.

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Several times he whizzed by. Male kingfishers have an all white stomach. Female ones have a rust color stripe across their stomach.

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He flew far out in the middle of the lake and was hovering.

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He spots something.

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Down he goes in a deep dive. He hit the water but did not come up with a fish.

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He flew around and came back, hovering again.

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He hovered for a few minutes then took off over the trees. That was the last I saw of him that morning. Kingfishers are “snow” birds down here. They only stay for the winter and then head back north to have their babies in the summer. I started  seeing them in early October. Every winter we have one that visits our dock a couple of times. I haven’t seen her yet but it’s still early. They have a very distinctive voice but are very skittish.

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Baby eagles flapping their wings.

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“Am I doing this right?”

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“Is this the standard eagle pose?”

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“Do these wings make my butt look big?” (says the baby eagle if it’s a she).

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“Man, the chicks are gonna dig these.” (says the eagle if it’s a guy.)

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“I have lift off.”

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“Quiet down, I’m trying to sleep.”

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“Kids!”

Above is a short video of the baby eagle flapping his wings. I stopped by the nest on a cold windy day in mid-February. Both babies looked good. By now they are around 2 months old? I’m not sure when they hatched. Only when I could see them peeking over the nest so they could be close to 3 months old.  By now they are flying far away.

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Breakfast with a limpkin family

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I turn the corner to head down Marsh Rabbit Run trail and see the above standing in the middle of the trail. He didn’t seem spooked by me.

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In fact, he walked right by me. That’s my shadow. I’ve never seen them this close before. Then I realized there were 3 others close together in the ditch below the trail. They all came up on the trail and I realized it was a family. Two parents and two almost grown babies. This was one of the late summer families.

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They all seemed very relaxed as I sat down on the trail and watched them.

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One of the parents brought up a snail from the ditch.

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The smaller one ran under mom and waited while she dug out the meat.

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Then the parent ate one herself. Doesn’t that look yummy?

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The other juvenile got fed.

What a way to start the walk down the trail. I sat there for about 20 minutes watching them bring up snail after snail. This has to be the most tame family in the park. A crowd of photographers started to gather behind me and we were all amazed that they didn’t seem bothered by us. After a while the family went back down into the ditches and headed out into the marsh. I headed down the trail to see what I could find but nothing else could match that.

Flying penguins in Florida???

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I get to the City Pier and see my first razorbill as it pops up from under the pier.

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He was chasing after the little minnows.

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Down again after that last bite.

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Giving me the eye.

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All wet.

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All morning they kept feeding around the pier.

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After an hour, they went cruising down the beach. We (a big group of photogs) followed them.

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Safety in numbers?

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Bye, bye.

The first post of a razorbill sighting in Florida was around 12/7. By 12/14, razorbills had been seen at the piers at Anna Maria Island, which is about an hour south of me. Soon the Florida bird forums were flooded with sightings of them all over Florida including the gulf coast. With it being right before Christmas and me working in retail, I could not get down there before leaving for Atlanta to spend the holidays with the in-laws. We drove back from Atlanta late Wednesday night and I immediately packed up to drive down early the next morning to find them. Hubby had to go to work and was like “Why don’t you sleep in?”. I said “No way, I gotta go find those razorbills.” Luckily, they were still hanging around and may still be there until spring.

This is a rare bird in Florida. Only 14 sightings on the east coast in the history of recording bird sights. No one knows the real reason they came this far. They usually spend their summers no more south than North Carolina. Some wonder if hurricane Sandy messed up their feeding grounds and they headed farther south for food. But to be on the west coast, they had to swim down around the keys and back up the gulf. People are worried about how they will make it back home. Do they know to go back south the way they came or are they going to try to go north up to the panhandle and get stuck there in the winter? They usually don’t migrate over land so it’s not known if they will fly across.

The sightings of this bird rare to Florida has even made the local news Razor bill article.

I spent about 3 hours watching a small group of razorbills swim around the two piers there along with a large group of photographers and bird watchers. As I was leaving, I heard a young girl yell “Look at the penguins. I didn’t think there were penguins in Florida.”

Camera Critters

Black neck stilt with his reflection

These were taken a few weeks ago at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland.  The black necked stilts usually stay far away from the trails. In the past, I have only seen them way out across the marsh. For some reason on this morning, one of them was feeding very close to the trail. Right in front of the main intersection. He stayed busy not paying attention to the long line of photographers taking pictures of him. He kept getting closer and closer.  I was glad it was a nice clear morning and not a ripple on the water.

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Sunset on Fort Desoto – Skywatch Friday

It was going to be a perfect night. Except for mid-April, it was extremely windy and a bit chilly.

This great egret stole this fish from a fisherman. These guys don’t keep an eye on their bait buckets. Makes for an easy meal.

Typical Florida sunset.

Not a cloud in sight.

Time to go home.

After a crazy night of looking for spring migration birds in the woods, we quickly headed over to the fishing pier right before the sun went down. Perfect way to end the night.  Although, most people would think it was perfect if we were standing on the pier with a pina colada in our hand instead of our camera.

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Baby limpkins

On my after work walk around Kapok Park, I saw an adult limpkin down at the end of the creek. At first I thought “I don’t feel like walking down there to get another picture of a limpkin.” It was just starting to get dark and time was running out quick. But, I noticed he was eating. So I headed down there and guess what I saw?

A baby limpkin hiding in the grass.

Not just one but four babies.  All hiding in the grass.  They looked to be just a couple of days old.

One of the parents stayed close to them and kept pulling the tall grass around them. I sat down for a few minutes and watched her. She seemed to be making a makeshift nest for the night. Finally, she plopped down on top of them and looked like she was going to stay there for the night.

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