Early Urban Birding

It’s all about the light.  Read any text or take any course on photography and you’ll discover this mantra.  For some, taking photographs any time other than two hours before and after sunrise or sunset is illegal, immoral and bad for your teeth.  The bad news?  They’re usually right.  Sigh.  So much for sleeping in.

On Tuesday, I visited the lakes of downtown Lakeland, Florida.  At this time of year, many migratory water fowl use these lakes as a stopover point on their journey northward to rest and fuel up.

I dawdled a bit before exiting the truck.  Partly because there was coffee still in the cup but mostly because there was a howling wind and very low temperatures outside my nice warm metal cocoon.  Okay.  Let’s go.  Don’t lose the light.  It’s all about the light.  Brrr!

My subjects appeared to agree with me.  Hundreds of ducks were huddled in tight floating formations in the center of Lake Morton.  You could identify the more intelligent ones by noting which ones were positioned in the middle of the flock, surrounded by all the feathers of their friends.  Wading birds were not wading, hanging about instead on dry land.  Not many birds were flying, likely due to the strong winds.

As the sun began to cast its rays on the water, things began to change.  Wings stretched, beaks opened in protracted yawns, preening began in earnest and the noise level rose as the little lake awoke.  I even imagined I felt a bit warmer.

Light in this urban setting can be interesting.  The surrounding tall buildings absorb some light but the varied types of construction reflect light differently.  Some of the older, brick structures reflect very little light while the more modern architecture of steel and glass reflect quite a bit.  One nearly all-glass building can be blinding if you’re standing in the right (wrong?) spot as the sun strikes it in the morning.

Pictures are from two lakes in downtown Lakeland, Florida:  Lake Morton and Lake Mirror.  Lake Morton, the larger of the two, has a fair number of year-round residents, including the city’s famous swans (see our previous post:  “The Swans of Lakeland”), ducks, wading birds and relatively large numbers of Limpkins.  Lake Mirror is more of a “decoration”, with spraying water fountain, meeting buildings, formal gardens as a backdrop and  a platform in the lake for displaying the city’s Christmas Tree.  Both lakes play host to migratory birds during the winter and provide rest stops for those passing through in fall and spring.

 

Ring-necked Ducks begin to wake up after roosting on Lake Morton.  I counted about 200 of these ducks on the water this morning.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

 

As the sun’s rays reached their roosting spot, American White Pelicans began to stretch, yawn, preen and discuss where they were going to go fishing today.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

 

A flock of 85 Ruddy Ducks spent the night on the lake.  This male is transitioning from winter to breeding plumage.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

 

 

The lake has several exotic species as residents.  This Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) and mate have built a large nest, mostly from grass clippings they gather after the city crews mow the lawn around the lake.  I didn’t see any eggs or chicks present.

Black Swan

Black Swan

 

 

This is the base of a cypress tree and I just liked the color and texture combination.

Cypress Tree

Cypress Tree

 

 

Once the sun was up, flight activity began.  American White Pelicans left their roosting spots and spiraled up high above the lake to form into small groups to head southeast and search for food.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

 

Ring-necked Ducks also began to lift off from the lake’s surface in small formations.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

 

One of the pelicans seemed reluctant to leave the roosting area.  I can relate!

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

 

Early morning light enhances the beauty of the Mute Swan.  As if she needed any help!

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

 

 

Lake Mirror has its own beauty and attracts many of the same species as Lake Morton, but in smaller numbers.  This pair of Black Swans help show off the lake’s setting.

Black Swan

Black Swan

 

A platform in the lake is used for various displays, including the annual city Christmas Tree.  It also makes a fine roosting spot for Black Skimmers, Caspian Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and others.  (Note to the purchasers of plastic owls:  birds don’t appear to be scared of them.)

Roosting Birds

Roosting Birds

 

 

This Ring-billed Gull seems to prefer the soft freshly cut lawn to the cold water of the lake.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

 

It was difficult to walk anywhere without stepping on a Palm Warbler.  They were scooping up insects from the grass as well as plucking them from spider webs on light poles.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

 

A female Lesser Scaup samples a snail found along the edge of the lake.

Lesser Scaup (Female)

Lesser Scaup (Female)

 

 

The city recently purchased two pairs of Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) to enhance the appearance of Lake Mirror and act as an additional drawing card for potential visitors to Lakeland.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

 

 

Okay, the Mandarin Duck is nice looking.  However, (and I admit to being prejudiced for our native species) the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) can certainly compete for colorfulness!

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 

It was good to get back in the truck and out of the wind.  It was almost 9:00 a.m. and official sunrise took place at 6:50.  No more photos allowed, now, because – it’s all about the light!

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

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35 thoughts on “Early Urban Birding

  1. Every one of these is amazing! Purely and absolutely perfect! I am speechless with awe.

  2. Wally,
    Your images are gorgeous! My mouth dropped at the sight of the swan and the wood duck!
    While you’ve convinced me that following the rule of light is indeed very worthwhile it will take some doing for me to get out and obey. 🙂
    Thanks for stopping by this week.

    • We appreciate your visit, too! Yeah, following rules is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”! I’m only partially successful in getting there for the best light.

  3. Oh, that wood duck is gorgeous! I appreciate you sacrificing a few hours of sleep to bring us these wonderful photos!

    • You’re very welcome! My truck has an autopilot for all the birding spots so I just nap while driving. (KIDDING!!!)
      We appreciate your visit!

  4. Great set of pictures – kids and a job tend to make it hard to get the golden hours – but its great when you can pull it off!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Yes, Stewart, been there – done that! With the “empty nest”, I just have to convince myself to get out of bed while it’s still dark!

  5. I was chuckling along your first paragraph and the rules of shooting in “the light.” It looks like getting up early pays off. I may have to try that sometime! You got some fabulous shots.

  6. Your ducks shots are pretty perfect! Looks like we’re almost on the same schedule. We should do a meetup there in the next couple of weeks. Swans babies should be hatching soon.

  7. I’ve been to those lakes wally and viewing your images and reading your words took me back there. Thanks you. Very lovely images.

    • Thanks, Mia! I have to force myself to get by there more often. One gets in the mindset it’s necessary to drive a long distance to see anything worthwhile, which is definitely not true!

  8. I’m so impressed with your shots of the wood ducks. They are extremely shy around here. Can’t get close at all. Enjoyed the pelican shots as well as the ruddy duck. Marvelous collection!

    • Gail, thank you! My thoughts are usually on distant locales and it’s easy to forget we have such a great resource so close by!

  9. Ah, love that variety and beauty!! I have to agree though… As a HIKER/photog, it’s mixed whether I’m out there when the light is at its best. 🙂 Unless I’m lost, that is — then I get the benefit of a sunset while I’m still miles from the car, heh.

    • Well, as an experienced outdoorsman, I never get lost. There have been times when I was confused for several days, though!
      I figure whatever light I have when I’m out there will be just fine.

      • Hahah!! I like that take on it… “Confused for several days.” I’ll use that from now on. 🙂

      • The actual credit for that line I think belongs to either Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. But it does describe the male ego pretty well! “Never admit you’re lost and never ask for directions!”

      • Oh I had no idea!! Believe me, at some points on my alone-hikes out there, I would have asked the stray coyote or hog for directions. THEY woulda known the return trip, for sure. I have no shame when the sun’s setting and I’m miles out. 🙂

      • Just make sure someone knows where you are if you’re in new territory and be sure your cell phone is charged!

      • ALWAYS! And I’ve been investigating those handy-dandy, and mightily confusing, hiking GPS’ as well. 🙂

  10. Great series. I love the shot of the Pelicans waking up.

  11. jimbey

    …. That’s why us hikers will outlive you photoglodytes. We don’t need to get up before the sun (we would trip over things trying to walk in the dark) – and we never EVER leave until the coffee is drained. That’s where you come in, Wally. You get up early and take great pictures of Lakeland so that I don’t have to (get up OR go to ugh Lakeland). Your service is greatly appreciated!

  12. TexWisGirl

    love the row of pelicans! the pelican shot in flight is gorgeous in that morning light, too! the ruddy looks like it is smiling at you. i like the wood ducks, too. hope the mandarins do well there!

  13. As per Tammy – great entertaining commentary and excellent photos again.I have to say the outstanding ones for me are the fantastic Lesser Scaup and the Palm Warbler on the post. At the moment Wally I would happy with any old light, never mind 3 hours of sunshine, and as for packing in at 0930, if I went home then my wife would think me ill and send me off to the doc. By the way I’m on a 45 stretch too. Those Lapwings are wintering flocks with local ones now breaking off from the herd to begin their courtship rituals.

    • Phil, thank you very much! Congratulations on having an apparent understanding Mrs of your own to last as long as we have! (Don’t tell anyone, but I very seldom quit by 0930! I never was one for obeying rules……)

      Thanks for the information on the Lapwings.

  14. Great post, as always Wally! So many excellent photos to compliment your fun-to-read text! The colors in the Wood Duck are stunning and the lighting on the White Pelicans is outstanding, such great detail in their feathers! I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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