Cradle Creek Preserve

The morning sun had just turned the saltwater marsh to a golden hue, as I strolled through the Cradle Creek Preserve in Jacksonville Beach. As joggers passed me along the trails, I ventured out to the canoe and kayak landing just as some visitors from Canada were launching their Kayak on their way to Dutton Island.
Cradle Creek Entrance

I found the preserve a birding paradise, as palliated woodpeckers darted back and forth thought the oak canopy of the maritime forest; the sounds of other migrant and resident birds filled the air. Off into the distance from another wildlife observation area, an osprey called out to its mate from a large tree that supports their nest. Several anhinga were perched on logs air-drying their wings, offering a picturesque foreground to an amazing vista.

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Located on the corner of South 15th street and Fairway Lane, this 43 acre park is a true gem offering a wonderful way to explore Florida’s native plants and animals from the comfort of well groomed trails and boardwalks. More information can be found on the Jacksonville Beach website at http://www.jacksonvillebeach.org.

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“Soar like an …”

Our area is quite abundant with wildlife and there’s nothing more powerful than the king of the bird world, the Bald Eagle.
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Over the weekend, I spotted a mating pair and was mesmerized as they soured back and forth like fighter jets, while calling out to each other in the early morning sun.
The eagle is a magnificent bird of prey – their image represents many powerful symbols and national pride; from old American gold coins to the Presidential seal – they are the American mascot, our national bird.

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So what does the eagle symbolize in our culture? According to the website Universe of Symbolism (universeofsymbolism.com) the Native American’s regarded the eagle as the Great Spirit and its feathers are used in different ceremonies and dress. Spiritually, it may remind us to be victorious, proud and strong and historically their symbol represents freedom, truth and justice.
A myth of the ancient Aztecs society told a story of a battle between the eagle and a jaguar about who would become the sun. The eagle won after throwing itself in to the fire and the jaguar followed, thus becoming the moon. Afterwards, the Aztecs built two elite armies called the eagles and the jaguars.

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Locally in N.E. Florida there is a webcam for viewing eagles and their chicks at http://www.eagles.org/Cams/FloridaNest.html offering 3 different camera views and chatting capabilities, however to protect these birds its nest is not revealed.

Nature Photography – A Year In Review

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect back on my favorite stories and photographs from the year.  For me, this was quite a daunting process, given the weekly stories that are produced, each with an average of three photos per column – well you get the idea.

This year my favorite pictorial stories came from near and far from the First Coast and while I could probably take up quite a few pages in the paper through my indecision, I’ve narrowed list down to these five stories.

#5.  Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an amazing place to visit, but for a photographer, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the autumn glory of the golden aspens glittering in the mountains.

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#4. Stumbling across two alligators in unusual places with two weeks was pretty amazing. I found one under a sign that read “beware of alligators” who appeared to be smiling at me, and another one stuck in the Winston YMCA pool.

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#3. Witnessing a troop of wild monkeys in Florida was a very exciting experience for me and I was happy to add their photos to my list of unusual species found in Florida.

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#2. Storm Chasing, had been a lifelong dream of mine. A week of hunting storms and funnel clouds ended with a five hour adrenaline rush as we chased a super cell from San Antonio, Texas to near the Mexican border, only to have one of our chase vehicle windows blown out in the process.

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#1. Arctic Snow Owl. Social media is an incredible tool and a great example of that was when early reports from fellow photographers filtered in mentioning that there had been an Artic Snowy Owl sighting on the First Coast. Historically, there had only been two previous sightings in Florida, but what made this so different is that it was documented through photography. While she only gave us a few days, the imprint of this arctic bird sitting next to a palm tree is something that many of us won’t see again.

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While ending this year and looking forward to 2015, I leave with a quote from a famous nature photographer, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”  ― John Muir

And with that, I look forward to bringing you, through the lens, many more stories and photographs in the next year. Happy New Year!

Washington Oaks State Park

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Just down A1A near Palm Coast, lays Washington Oaks State Park, encompassing over 400 acres of forest hammocks with great views of the Matanzas River and marsh, located on its western border.

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According to the Friends of Washington Oaks website, there are 20 acres of formal gardens and during my visit, I was amazed with the serenity are this area which includes large moss covered oak trees, stream and beautiful flowers.

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One of the most unusual characteristics of this park is the many coquina boulders or rocks that are strewn throughout this strand of beach. The history of coquina rocks as building material goes back over 400 years and can be found in many buildings in St. Augustine, including the Castillo de San Marcos fort.

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The geology of these unusual rock formations goes back to the Pleistocene Ice Age some 11,000 years ago when, according to coquinarock.com, the last continental glacier retreated for the shores of Florida.

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If you love to take photos, this a great place to go and experiment with your equipment. Many of my wedding photographer friends use this part of the beach for engagement and family portrait shoots. So grab the family, get out and enjoy a little Mother Nature at Washington Oaks State Park.

 

Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s hawk is a wonderful bird to observe and for the last several weeks this one has been hunting in the saltwater side of the Guana dam.

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This member of the goshawk genus accipiter family was named after William Cooper, one of the founders of what’s now called the New York Academy of Sciences. Also known as chicken hawks or a name I fancy, a Striker hawk; for their speed and agility as they quietly hunt both bird and mammal prey often in dense forest.

At one time this bird was extensively hunted for preying on poultry and I remember my farming neighbors in rural Minnesota would always keep a wary eye out for this hawk and would raid their chicken coops.

I first notice this hawk sitting on a branch at ground level tucked in some tall grass along the road that leads from the dam to the Guana trailhead, which allowed for close up photos. After a truck approached, it flew to higher elevation in a dead tree where it fought to hold its position during several gust from the winds of a Nor’easter.

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Not far from this location, I was hoping to capture a photo of a warily Kingfisher that was spending the morning, darting back and forth between its resting place and the edge of the water, when a couple of deer come darting out into the open tall grass and after a glimpse at me, they disappeared just as quickly into the palmetto bush.

I realize every time I wonder through the trails and wilderness along the First Coast, how fortunate we are to call this place home.untitled-5423

Assortment of lizards easy to come by in summer

Lizards and skinks are plentiful throughout our area, particularly this time of year. They seemed to be basking in the sun everywhere I looked on a recent photo hike.I followed an eastern fence lizard, also known as a pine lizard, as it scampered through an upland habitat loaded with pine and oak trees. As it jumped on the side of a tree, it became incredibly difficult to spot because of its gray and brown camouflaging.

Eastern Pine Lizard

Eastern Pine Lizard

Skinks are in the same family as lizards but there are differences — they have smooth skin and are also a bit more cylindrical in shape, prone to moving in a more snake-like fashion. This broad-head skink was stretched out on a rotting log gathering energy from the morning sun to warm its cold-blooded body, perhaps to ready itself to hunt insects.

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Broad head skink

One of my favorite lizards is the green anole, a very territorial creature. Unfortunately, the highly invasive brown anole from Cuba has sharply reduced the green anole’s population, especially in urban areas.

Green anole

Green anole

Both skinks and lizards have detachable tails to use as a survival tactic. A detached wiggling tail gives the lizards a chance to escape a predator. If the reptile escapes, its tail will grow back.

Equipment used.

Canon 5d Mark II

Canon 100 Macro Lens

San Disk Memory Cards

 

Froggy Tails

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By day they slumber motionless, but as darkness approaches in our sub-tropical environment local tree frogs come alive with their sounds of the night.

One of the most common tree frogs we see is the Green tree frog and they’re often seen attached to our homes near a light source waiting for bugs to land. These frogs can be easily identified at night by their “oink-oink” sound.

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The Barking tree frog sounds much like a dog would if it was barking into a tin can. While they are also green their body is covered with bumps.

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Another cool frog that is found dwelling in our pine forest and cypress swamp is the Pine Woods tree frog. This pint size frog comes in a variety of shades of mixed green and brown. Known as the “Morse code frog”, this amphibian calls out a series of staccato, or short sounds.

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Frogs have stronger legs for distance jumping and swimming than their cousins the toad and toads are more known for walking on “all fours”.

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You cannot get warts from a frog or a toad, but some species can cause the skin to be irritated through poison secretions.  Myth busted.