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.
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.
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.)
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!