Oh Dark Thirty

We have all heard the sage advice of experts, professionals, spouses and others who know a lot more than we do. All the good stuff happens early. A photographer is only able to take decent images an hour before sunrise and up to two hours afterward. The remaining hours are left over for amateurs to amuse themselves. Wildlife is only active immediately before and after the sun peeks over the horizon. All of nature apparently lapses into a coma once the sky becomes illuminated. This special time even has been assigned an official designation: “The Golden Hours”. There is probably an International Bureaucracy Of Properly Naming Things somewhere which is responsible for providing us a convenient label for the rare item which does not already have one.

Ahh, “The Golden Hours”! The mere sound of it makes you want to participate in whatever it has to offer. Who doesn’t like gold? And to think, you can enjoy actual hours of it! What you don’t know is that in order to take part in an activity during this anointed time means getting out of your comfortable bed at an early hour. Very early. The further away your objective, the earlier it will be when you must awaken. From a deep, pleasant sleep. One must be truly dedicated. Or a bit nuts.

There I was, standing on a dirt road in the middle of a VERY DARK forest a full three hours before the sun was scheduled to make an appearance. Wait a minute. Why so far ahead of those “Golden Hours”? I could have had more sleep! The awful truth is, if you want to discover what night birds are active in an area, you must be in that area, well, at night. On this occasion, we made three such stops in the space of a half-hour and were rewarded with hearing the calls of Barred Owls, Eastern Screech Owls and Chuck-will’s-widows. For me, the angst of setting the alarm for such an unheard of time faded completely and reminded me why I do this over and over again. The booming hoot of the large owl dwelling in the swamp, the soft gurgle of the diminutive Screech Owl, the piercingly clear whistled name of our largest Nightjar – each now a wonderful memory.

Satisfied for the moment, we headed down the road to explore a few new places to see what they might offer. As the day progressed, we once again were amazed at the amount of life we discovered active outside the “Golden Hours”! Critters were everywhere! It was obviously Spring and we enjoyed blooming flowers, greening trees, beautiful butterflies, birds building nests, creatures of all types going about the daily business of surviving another day. We didn’t see all there was to see nor did yours truly take any spectacular photographs. We decided to leave such things to the experts.

Check out Additional Information below for some really neat places to explore if you’re in the area . Visiting during the “Golden Hours” is not required.

 

Grab a cuppa and come along to see what’s happening during the “Other Hours”!

 

Swallow-tailed Kites have returned to our area to begin the breeding cycle. They will be in Florida (and a few other scattered areas in the southeastern U.S.) until mid-August when they’ll migrate to South America for the winter. These striking birds grab a weed or branch for nest construction and during flight will transfer the item from talons to beak, probably to make landing easier.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

At Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, this Carolina Wren used an overhanging eave at the rear of a building to shelter her nest. Her mate was busy bringing her insects to eat. We backed away quietly so they wouldn’t be disturbed.

Carolina Wren and Nest

Carolina Wren and Nest

 

Speaking of nests, we saw a White-eyed Vireo flying with nesting material and managed to discover the nest. Males are singing loudly just about everywhere right now. (Full disclosure. The photo of the bird is from a different time and location. Just wanted to show what the species looks like in case there are those who aren’t familiar with them.)

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

Nest - White-eyed Vireo

Nest – White-eyed Vireo

 

Migratory Sandhill Cranes which enjoyed our relatively warm winter have departed for their breeding grounds. Local Florida Sandhill Cranes (a sub-species of Grus canadensis, G.c. pratensis) are typically monogamous and begin laying eggs in late winter through early spring. These two either haven’t started a family yet or are “just friends”.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Most “birders” tend to give short shrift to domestic fowl. The Muscovy Duck is usually ignored but once in awhile they can be intriguing to watch. This one kept dipping its head underwater, shaking vigorously and kept repeating the process. It may have been trying to rid itself of mites or perhaps was just having fun.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

 

The Yellow-throated Vireo is pretty solitary. They sing their “conversational” song from atop a tree for all to hear. Once breeding is complete, they return to being loners.

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

Black-and-White Warblers have the feeding habits of a Nuthatch, running down a tree trunk head first and dangling upside-down from a branch in pursuit of insects. This female lacks the black cheeks of the male.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

 

Another songster that seems to be heard all over the place in Spring, the Northern Parula is a beautiful mix of blue-gray and yellow.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

A Burrowing Owl stands next to the entrance of a burrow and contemplates a Bumble Bee passing by. He didn’t go after the big insect, maybe due to a past unpleasant experience?

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

 

This pair of Burrowing Owls fixed their large yellow eyes on me as soon as the camera clicked. They didn’t seem to be agitated and probably felt they were sufficiently hidden in the grass. If it weren’t for those eyes, I probably never would have spotted them.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

 

Back near home, we’ve been keeping an eye on a Great Horned Owl who made a nest in an old Osprey nesting platform. This platform is about 20 yards from the local fire department training tower. Sirens, fire, smoke, spraying water. No problem. She raised two healthy owlets who recently left the nest. This is what the family looked like two weeks ago.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

 

 

If you’re able to take advantage of those “Golden Hours”, by all means, do so! However, it seems there is an awful lot going on out in Nature at all hours of the day and night. So, don’t worry about getting out of that warm bed at Oh-Dark-Thirty. Just get up when you’re ready. Seriously, get up! Now!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Dade Battlefield State Park

Flying Eagle Preserve

Withlapopka Community Park

Withlacoochee State Forest – Croom Tract

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on “Oh Dark Thirty

  1. You probably thought I fell asleep at the wheel, but am in process of transferring files to a new computer. Just found some unread posts, and was delighted to see someone makes good use of those hours when others (like me) are snoozing away the golden hours of morn. Love the owls, sharing this post with my granddaughter because she is a big fan of them. The Swallow-tail Kite looks like it’s taking a flower to its mate, it must have stayed out too late last night. The nest of the Carolina Wren looks loosely woven, like a comfy sweater. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi, Patti. Asleep at the wheel (or the computer or the couch) is my normal operating mode! 🙂
      Thank you very much for taking the time to make such nice comments. Hope your granddaughter liked the owls!

  2. I’ve nominated you for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award 🙂 http://judylindophotography.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/sisterhood-of-the-world-bloggers-award/

    • Thank you very much, Judy! I have no idea what that means, but in my considerable experience, anything involving sisters is a very good thing!

  3. Getting up early is a drag – but at least the roads are generally empty! Great set of pictures.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thanks, Stewart! Yep, commuting to the great outdoors is much more pleasurable when one doesn’t have to sit in traffic!

  4. HI Wally I love the way you write the posts and your humour. Yes getting up early is the answer to a good days birding and you certainly had that. the Swallow =tailed Kite series of shots are stunning. Each one a winner. Then the Owls are just so adorable. I saw a Muscovy duck myself the other day although is being more action. great shot. The Black and White Warbler is stunning. Oh Wally I could go on and on, they are all wonderful and you are so fortunate to have all these variities of birds in Florida

  5. Wonderful golden hour pictures and words. Thank you for sharing with this lazy bum! I love the burrowing owls precisely because they do come out in daytime hours. Your advice works for me — get up and get out — but just not quite that early please.

    • Thank you very much, Sallie! I actually do enjoy being up and out way before the sun rises. It’s always surprising how many birds are singing in the dark!

  6. For a minute there I thought I’d have to read about The Golden Years and almost switched the PC off. But no problem with the Golden Hours even though as you say, motivation is the key and the rewards do often outweigh the temporary discomfort of a very early start.

    Hey that White-eyed Vireo has a ring (band, sorry). You pictured my favourite warbler the B&W, a great capture Wally. Those undertail coverts are just amazing.

    Brilliant kite pictures. What an unusual adaptation that this branch of the kites developed a swallow tail?

    A great story about the Gt Horned Owls too. Adapting to a working fire station must take some perseverance.

    Go easy on the early starts though Wally, you masy have to hit the sack at 8pm like I do.

    • Phil, if I start writing about The Golden YEARS, we’ll both be in our dotage and won’t care much about anything except the next bowl of porridge. Hmmm, so if I go to bed earlier, it will be easier to get up earlier? I have my doubts but I may try it! 🙂

  7. Great job getting the sequence of the kite transferring nesting material in flight, Wally! Good reflexes with the Burrowing Owl and the bee, too. I’m glad I’m a morning person at heart because it takes me an hour to drive to Antelope Island (I’m always there at sunrise) and I do my blog posts before I leave home so I’m usually up between 3 and 4 AM. That’s crazy I know but it works for me and to make up for it I rarely see 9:30 pm except in my dreams and then I often take a daytime nap. As always, I really enjoyed your narrative along with the photos.

    • I grew up anticipating fishing trips with Dad and seldom slept the night before. Birding has affected me the same way. I keep trying that daytime nap thing, but Gini insists I pay attention to the other drivers instead……

  8. I finally saw a northern parula in person!! How great that you got shots of it. A very quick and elusive bird. I’m impressed with your get-up-and-go when I can barely get myself out of bed for a 7AM bird field trip. You were certainly handsomely rewarded for your efforts! Your shots of the kite are stellar, as are the black and white warbler, and many others you’ve showcased here. So fun to come here and see what the birds you are able to photograph. Many times I see a new one, but can’t seem to get a decent shot.

    • Aren’t they pretty birds, Gail? Thanks for your nice comments! We won’t talk about how many shots it takes to get one useable one! Let’s just say I’m glad we no longer have to buy film. 🙂

  9. I’m not sure that I want to poke around in the dark in this area but I don’t mind getting up before daylight if it is going to get me some great bird photos by sunrise. The stars were not out yesterday morning and the sky was very dark so I went back inside even though the tides were perfect for an early morning outing – but no pics possible! Later in the morning I discovered the dark morning was caused by the rain being pushed southward by the latest cyclone! I’m glad I stayed in!!
    Your photos – as always – are great – but the ones of the horned owl and young ones are especially good! btw I thought owls used nice secluded places to nest – not on open osprey platforms?

    • Good thing you remained inshore. Kayaks and cyclones don’t seem like a good mix! The Great Horned Owl often picks unlikely spots for a nest, such as the one I photographed. My sister spotted one on a nest inside the garden department of a home supply store – tucked up under a tarp ceiling. You just never know with Nature!

  10. Hello Wally,
    I agree… Golden hours are a must in nature photography, it is the best time to get the right warm lighting on the subjects.
    I wouldn’t mind getting up early if the sky wasn’t so cloudy at present here and if we had easy wildlife to approach! LOL! I will repeat myself, but you are most lucky in Florida!
    A wonderful post, I enjoy discovering the birds around you!
    The Great owl family is soooo cute!
    Keep well and enjoy your sunday!

  11. Beautiful birds. The series showing the kite transferring the nest material to its beak is amazin.

  12. Superb post, Wally, with great images, and a real delight at the end with the owls!

    In my old age I’ve become hopeless at getting up early so these days I’ve adopted the motto of a fellow UK owler which is “In Dusk We Trust”. Sometimes, however, an early start is just too tempting, particularly when the weather is warmer!

    Isn’t there a big risk of bumping into something very unpleasant out in the wild at night over there in Florida? I have in mind alligators, snakes, and the like.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Richard! As for bumping into unpleasant things in the night, it’s usually a tree or a mud puddle! The wild creatures see, hear and smell me long before I get close!

  13. Wow, what a great outing. Awesome birds and lovely photos..

  14. well, thanks for getting up and then sharing all you sighted with us! especially loved the owl family at the end. amazing how wildlife adapts to man’s presence. 🙂

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