Ospreys are Back … Kinda

Yesterday  (2/21) it was very foggy here in town and over most of this area. But when I got to Fort  Pickens around 11 a.m. the air was much clearer. There were even a few patches of blue sky. Nothing to get excited about. But it was a pretty damn nice day for mid-February.

And I simply HAD to go see if there were any Ospreys out there. As I drove in, checking right and left for any signs of them, I began to worry that I was in for another disappointing day.

My first stop was at the Battery Worth picnic area where Big Mama has been ruling the roost (so to speak) for quite a while now. She’s certainly the one Osprey I’ve photographed more than any other. But no luck. She hasn’t returned yet. I’m just hoping she’s survived the winter, wherever she was, and will be back in a few days.

But that stop was going to be a good one after all. Back in the far northwest corner of that area there’s another huge nest that’s also been a favorite of mine for years. And they were home!the-old-couple

As always in the past, they seem not to like me very much, and began screeching at me when I was still pretty far away. As I approached (still at least 300 feet away) she sprang up off the nest, dodged through the pines, then directly over my head at a pretty low altitude — just to let me know I was not welcome. So I left.

Farther down the road I parked near the fort and set out on foot, toward Turtle Bridge. I wasn’t expecting any far away activity so I left the huge 200-500mm lens behind and set off with the 70-300 zoom on the Nikon and my trusty little Canon SX40, in case I did spot something far, far away that was worth recording.

There were two Snapping Turtles at the bridge and a young Blue Heron just hanging out in the reeds. The beaver has apparently decided that that huge cedar tree is more than he wants to handle, so there were no new tooth marks on the tree. And, of course, I still haven’t seen him!

But look at what I DID see!


There in the water beside the bridge, on a little island of brush and floating debris was a very large egg. And I swear, when I got the image home and blew it up it DOES NOT look like a fake plastic egg, as someone passing by seemed to think. It looks exactly like a Great Blue Heron egg.

How it got there I have no idea. And it will probably be gone by the time I get out there again – after all, it’s surrounded by Snapping Turtles and other smaller ones, and there are plenty of egg thiefs in the area. I wonder if a female GBH was just flying by and had an emergency landing to make a quick delivery that simply wasn’t going to wait until she got back to the nest.

And so … that was the adventure around Turtle Bridge.

But the day wasn’t over yet.

I keep a good eye out for Osprey activity as I’m driving along. And I always drive with my windows down and no radio playing – so that I can hear their distinctive screech. I had just passed the large clump of dead pines where so many Ospreys nested in years past – the ones whose tops were largely stripped bare during Hurricane Michael so that now there are almost no places to build. And there’s this scrawny little pine snag that a pair tried to build on last year but finally gave it up because the supporting limbs are just to short to be good nest bases. This is the tree that’s pretty close to the entrance to campground A on the north side of the road.


I drove past and almost missed the sight of a single Osprey low down in that sad little clump of nest. So, of course, I had to make a U turn to go back and get another look. And just as I stopped the car and put on my blinkers, raised the camera to my eye, zoomed in, and focused, there was an attacker swooping in from the left.


The female on the nest reared up in defense, but the aggressor literally knocked her off the nest.


But she came back immediately, attacked agressively, and drove the attacker away … for the moment.


I didn’t wait to see what happened next. But it’ll be interesting, as always, to see how the Osprey community shakes out due to the loss of so many of their favorite building spots.

Stay tuned. And let’s all hope that Big Mama gets home soon.


Finally! A Beaver!

I’ve been told for years that people have spotted a Beaver, maybe more that one, in the waters surrounding the bridge I call Turtle Bridge (along the trail between Fort Pickens itself and Battery Worth (GINS)).

And I had always poo-pood such claims for the simple reason that I never saw it (And I spend a lot more time there throughout the season than most visitors do).

But now …


… I have to believe.

I haven’t seen the actual Beaver yet. But this is a clear sign that there’s at least one in the area. No other animal that I know of would do this.

This is a fairly large Cedar tree that stands on the bank of the slough. I hate to see it taken down, but it seems inevitable.

The funny thing to me is that this is not a moving body of water. It’s an enclosed pond, or slough, or whatever you might call it. The only time it might get an infusion of new water would be from rain or perhaps a hurricane that was powerful enough to bring the Gulf or Santa Rosa Sound up and over its banks.

So why build a Beaver Dam? It’s not blocking a stream of moving water.

Maybe the little guy just wants to build a nice home. And if, as I suspect, he’s alone, maybe he’s hoping that a nice Beaver Lodge will attract a nice Beaver lady.

Good luck little guy! Now maybe I’ll get to see you one of these days.

Cedar Waxwings!

For more than a week now I’ve seen these little birds (maybe 50 of them) swarming in and around the gap that I can see from my fourth floor apartment building. It’s right along, and above the approach ramp to the interstate which dominates my view.

I saw them at various times of the day.  And they were always swarming, almost like the famous murmurations that Starlings make over various parts of the world.

I couldn’t identify them. They didn’t seem to be like any birds I had ever seen before. And this behavior was strange too – but entertaining.

But yesterday just as I was looking out the window, they were all swarming into and around a palm tree that is between our parking lot and the ramp.

So I grabbed my big old bazooka of a lens (the new 200-500) and tried to capture at least a glimpse of them.


This shot, at least allowed me to make a clear identification. The yellow belly. The black mask. The yellow tipped tail. No question – they are Cedar Waxwings.

As you can see, I was only sorta successful. These little suckers are fast! And they don’t normally stay anyplace for long.


But I did catch this one with a berry in his mouth; a berry that he had just plucked from the generous stock of palm berries (fruit?) of that particular tree. This is why they were swarming around and landing in the tree. If you look closely at the picture above you’ll see at least eight birds.


And in this last shot you can see that they’ve just about stripped this palm bare.

When they finally swarmed away from the palm, they must have decided that it was time to call it a day. They swept up into the sky, wheeled off to the north, dipped and swooped a couple more times,  and vanished into the very top of a huge Live Oak across the way.

I can’t brag on the quality of any of these photos. But considering that I was holding a 200-500mm lens without a tripod, and that I was shooting through my living room window, I think I did okay.

December at Fort Pickens

I’ve been able to make three trips out the Fort Pickens so far this month. My favorite birds – the Ospreys and the Least Terns – aren’t around yet, but there’s always something. For example:


This is a Merlin. I’ve never seen one before. Beautiful little member of the Hawk family. I’m told it’s a female. Anyhow, she was surveying her hunting territory just inside the front gate at the park. Looks like she had just taken a bath and was drying off in the sun.

And then there was good old Trevor. Jerri and I named him last winter when we were living on the beach. He was a regular visitor to the pond in the middle of our complex.


He’s a big, big Great Blue Heron. And appears to be all ready for breeding season with his feathery regalia and that cool topknot blowing in the breeze.

Down the road, on the beach side, I came upon this group (flock?) of Sandpipers. Just huddled on the beach with their backs turned to the cold north wind.


Every few minutes the ones at the front, who were taking the brunt of the wind, would break away and run to nestle in behind the rest of the gang. Seems fair to me. That beach wind can be brutal!

Down near the fort, on the Sound side, I found this young GBH, just sitting out in the open with his back to the wind. From the size of his topknot I’d say he’s not going to be finding any pretty young things who are interested in him this year.tiny-topknot-GBH

But he did have one fascinating feature. His foot, the one they curl up and into their feathers while they’re standing on the other leg …


Maybe there’s too much sand on it, and he needs to shake it off before he tucks it into his nice clean feathers. The rest of his entire leg is already nestled up in those feathers somewhere. I’ve always wondered why bird do that – stand on one leg. Any ideas?

I’m using a monopod now, or trying to. Since I recently bought this enormous 200-500mm Nikkor lens, I need all the help I can get. But I’m still so used to hand-holding whatever lens I’m using, I kick the monopod to the side most of the time.

As careful as I plan to be, I just know that I’m going to topple over more than a few times when the nesting season really gets cranking.

We Caught Them All

Jerri and I went to FP yesterday to check up on Least Terns and Ospreys before we leave for PA on Saturday.


Our first interesting encounter was this rather surprised looking Yellow Crowned Night Heron, standing ankle deep in a parking lot and


looking rather surprised to see us. Jerri captured both these shots.

Then on along the road, looking for nesting Least Terns, these two

don't you turn your back on me

seemed to be having an argument about something. Maybe he wasn’t bringing her her fish fast enough, as she sat on the nest tending their eggs.


On down the way, at Battery Worth, Big Mama decided not to wait for her fish delivery to take a brief break from the eggs. Maybe just to stretch her wings – because she was back in less than a minute.

And next door


they seemed to have it right – the guy was bringing his mate her share of a pretty nice fish (after he had had his share, of course). Funny thing was – he allowed her to snack on it for a few minutes, then he snatched it up and went away to have some more himself.

Across the way we discovered what may be the first Osprey chick of this year, looking out to see the world.


And down near the fort, where the new ferry landing is, this young GBH crept out from under the walkway to stand facing the sun, in an apparent attempt to either dry his feathers or flash the woman who was fishing just down the beach.flasher-heron

A Day For Least Terns and Skimmers

Well, they’re back, and nesting. But nowhere near in the numbers they had last year. I’m afraid the flood last June that  killed so many chicks has had an effect on them.


This one, near Fort Pickens Road, seemed to be saying – just go away and leave me alone. Because, obviously …


… she had one young-un to look after, and was probably expecting another (maybe even two more) soon.

Meanwhile, down at Opal Beach, there were several more.


All of them looked healthy – and fiesty! This guy took an immediate dislike for me and decided to dive at the car just to let me know I was not welcome to come any closer.

So I meandered down to the Causeway at the Navarre Beach Bridge to look for Black Skimmers. There are currently two huge pods, or flocks, or whatever you call them, along the east side of the road. And as soon as I started shooting I noticed this commotion:


A confrontation between a tiny Least Tern and a much larger Skimmer. It seems that the Tern’s mate had decided to set up housekeeping right in the middle of this gang of Skimmers. And now …

defending-his-mate copy

…it was the little guy’s duty to fight off any interlopers who might get too close to her.

This could be a long process. I’ve noticed in the past that the Skimmers are very curious about Tern nests in their territory. I don’t know if they disturb them, but they sure are curious. And since it takes about 19 days for a Least Tern chick to hatch … well, Dad’s got a lot of defending to do.

So,  good luck, all you little guys. And you big guys too. I’ll come around to check on you whenever I get a chance.

Yesterday – Big Mama Takes Over

Just a brief visit yesterday to check on the progress or Big Mama and her young studly mate. She was sitting on the nest, squawking like mad, so I knew he would be coming along shortly with an offering. And he did.


She examined it closely. A nice, foot-long Needlefish. And apparently she approved. But it did take some wrestling for her to get it under control. It was still very much alive and apparently didn’t care much for the idea of being eaten.


She, literally, had to wrestle it into submission – face down in the nest.

But then she had it and was off to enjoy her dinner alone.


The fish wiggled and squirmed, but she was not about to let it escape those lethal talons as she soared across to the Pine Tree Inn, her favorite dining spot.


Then she settled down to really get on with it. I realized some time ago that Big Mama has chosen this Pine Tree as her dining spot because she can get down inside it, thus avoiding quick attacks from other birds who would like to snatch away a nice fresh fish. Big M’s mate and all her chicks, year after year, also choose the Pine. It’s a family tradition, I suppose.  And I’ve never seen another bird succeed in snatching anything away from the family when they’re in this tree.big-mama-chowing-down-on-a-needle-fish

So … I left her to her dinner and headed back down the road toward home. Along the way I noticed that a pair of Ospreys had, indeed, formed a nest in the top of the chimney at the campground check-in station. As I passed and grabbed this shot,  the female seemed to be content on the nest and her mate was watching from a radio tower nearby.


I knew storks did this in Europe. But I’ve never seen Ospreys do it.  Hope nobody sets a fire down there.

Baby Huey, Is That You?

Wednesday as I passed the Langdon pavilion I spotted two large birds overhead. Jumped out of the car as fast as I could to grab a shot if possible. As the larger bird soared close enough to capture (albeit still pretty far away) I grabbed this image.


From the dappling brown spots on his/her belly I’m guessing this is still a pretty young Bald Eagle. And there’s a possibility this is the bird I nicknamed Baby Huey a couple of years ago, when he was fully developed but his white head and tail hadn’t appeared. (This doesn’t happen until they’re 3 1/2 to 4 years old, I’m told.

I called him Baby Huey because he was all alone soaring above the bike trail that summer when I first spotted him. And every other bird in the area seemed to want to chase him and pick on him. He was constantly escaping into a tall Pine to hide out. Gangs of gulls, a couple of Ospreys and even a Great Blue Heron all seemed determined to have at him.

So – I ask – Baby Huey, is that you?

The other bird stayed too high to photograph. But as far as I could tell it was certainly another Bald Eagle, and a young one, because it’s colors had not changed.

So … we shall see …

And so it begins

Today! March 3, 2018, I knew that Osprey season had officially started (at least for me).

Jerri and I drove into the parking lot at Battery Worth and I had no sooner taken the camera out of the car than THIS happened!


Yep. That’s Big Mama — upside down, defending her territory. I’m not sure if her antagonist is a male or a female. But she was having none of it.


Best I can tell, this is another female, challenging her for her traditional nest site, even before she gets started on repairs and rebuilding after a really hard winter — lots of wind and rain since she left for somewhere South last August.

But she’s back. At least I think this is the same bird I followed last year. I’ll have to compare some shots from that bunch and look carefully at her chest markings before I can be sure.

A couple of hours later we went back there and I was told that she had just “coupled” with a mate. Damn! Sorry I missed that. But, oh well. I’ve photographed it before. If he’s right, and they really did mate, she’ll be very busy getting that wreck of a nest in shape before the kids stat arriving. And the boyfriend had better start pitching in. Big Mama does NOT tolerate malingerers and goof-offs! He needs to take lessons from this guy.


So, like I said — Osprey season is here. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Big Mama’s nest as well as a few others I generally keep track of, so — stay tuned.


Oh, and by the way, if you see something here you’d like to have a print of please contact me at jmmcdade@mac.com.

New Gulls

waves-1Two days ago, while sitting on the sand at Langdon Beach (GINS), watching some beautiful waves,  I watched three large gulls soar in from somewhere out over the Gulf and settle on the sand right in front of me.


As they walked about slowly, they seemed tired – as if they’d just completed a long journey or something.

I thought they were Herring Gulls, which are fairly common around here, but I later discovered that they’re Ring-bill Gulls, which are not common at all on this part of the coast.


Except at this time of year, when they’re migrating back toward their natural homes up North.

As I said, they seemed tired. Had they just flown in from somewhere down in Mexico? That’s where they spend the winter, according to my Audubon guide. And are they headed for Canada?

Anyhow, they’re beautiful. I hope they make it home safely. Heck! These guys might be from Nova Scotia.


P.S. We’re sitting out on the patio this morning, drinking our coffee and pecking away on our MacBooks. It’s another beautiful morning on the Gulf Coast.

No sight of Trevor, the GBH,  today. I’m guessing he’s hanging pretty close to the colony down at Fort Pickens, and courting the ladies. It’s that time of year.