All About the Owls

South Carolina and Florida, March 6-27, 2008
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The highlight of my recent three-week drive to Florida was getting this image of Great Horned Owl fledgling and mother in Honeymoon State Park near Dunedin.

 
Great Horned Owls

As I've said several times before, Honeymoon Island is one of my favorite places because it's the best place I've found to view nesting osprey. The owls are a bonus. Two years ago I saw one of the adult owls in a tree and chicks in a nest, but the images I was able to get weren't very clear. This time as I started my first lap around the Osprey Trail, one of the locals said an owl chick had fledged two weeks before. On my second lap, I was stopped by other hikers who pointed out the mother owl in a nearby tree. Eventually one of the guys noticed the fledgling was in another tree not far away.

I got some decent shots of the two separately, especially of the fledgling, then continued on down the trail to see what the osprey were doing. I came back to the owls 40 minutes later to find that the mother had come over to roost next to the fledgling. I judge this to be the best of the 50+ frames that I snapped.

I found the owls again the next day in the same vicinity, but they were higher in the tree and weren't together. I snapped a few shots but they didn't compare to those of the previous day. Owls are hard, and such exceptional opportunities are rare, so I don't think I'm overstating it to say this is already one of my favorite images ever. Now I have to spend the rest of my life trying to top it. Maybe if I get the perfect image of a bald eagle plucking a huge fish from the water.

Summarizing the three-week journey, I stopped for about three days each in Charleston, SC; Titusville, FL; Ft. Myers, FL; and Dunedin, FL before working my way back northward. I've tried to categorize my photos in a somewhat logical manner.

South Carolina
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Charleston was essentially a military history tourist stop. I went to see the the Hunley submarine, the Patriot Point fleet, and Ft. Sumter.

The Hunley was a Confederate privateer that was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in 1864, but was lost on that same mission. It was recovered from the ocean floor in 2000, and has been undergoing conservation in Charleston ever since. No photography is allowed in the conservation area, so I don't have any shots of that.

But the USS Yorktown is outside for all to see. It's moored at Patriot Point along with a destroyer, submarine, and Coast Guard cutter. I've been on the USS Intrepid which is from the same era as the Yorktown, so the experience is similar.

I was sitting on a bench on the destroyer, the USS Laffey. I could not believe how narrow it was. It's only 41 feet wide! On this ship, 336 men lived in cramped quarters for months at a time, and from time to time went into battle. As I get older, and particularly today after I banged my head going up one of the low stairways, I find it harder and harder to believe that humans do such things.

I'm sure in the 19th Century a harbor fort such as Ft. Sumter made sense for coastal defense when you also had control of the nearby mainland. But if all the land around you is hostile, you are just a target for enemy artillery practice. It's best to give up and sail back to New York, which is what the undermanned Yankees did when the Rebs started lobbing shells at them.

Much of the original fort was blasted into rubble when the Yankees came back, 1863-65, so the structures on the island actually were built after the Civil War. Still, it's a fascinating old fort, and it was my one chance to get out on the water in Charleston.

Wading Birds
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I was passing through St. Augustine, so of course I had to stop at the Alligator Farm to see the bird rookery. Last year I was there in May and there were chicks in the nests, but this time on March 13 the egrets and storks were still building their nests. I snapped away for a few hours and got a few satisfactory images.


Butterfly
 

My next stop was Titusville and I did a few laps around Merritt Island NWR. Much of the time it was overcast and there's only one image from this stop, a tri-colored heron (I think). Most interesting thing at "Ding" Darling NWR on Sanibel Island were the shorebirds. The drive from Sanibel north to Dunedin always includes a stop in Venice to see what's up at the rookery there, and I stuck around for a few hours to see the blue herons gathering nesting material. Honeymoon Island is mostly about raptors, but I did see an egret close to shore when I went down the Pelican Trail.

Owls and Osprey
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I photograph herons and egrets when that's what there is to shoot, but if I had my druthers I would just chase around after raptors. So I spent two days on Honeymoon Island among the osprey, and got the owls as well.

Although there are plenty of opportunities to see osprey carrying fish and eating them in the trees, I'm not sure where they catch the fish. I went down the Pelican Trail which is closer to the water than the Osprey Trail, but there's not a view of the water until you get to the north tip of the island. There were brown pelicans diving for fish, but I didn't see the osprey nearby.

Other Wildlife
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Most of the images in this category came from Lower Suwannee NWR north of Tampa. There were lots of big butterflies, and my only regret was that there weren't a lot of flowers except thistles. Next time I'll get a pot of daisies at Lowe's before heading out. I also saw a fox in the road ditch and managed to get a few images. And there are a few bison, gators and other things that I saw on my 4,700-mile journey.

 
P-51

Air Show
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Has it really been five years since the last time I went to the TICO Warbirds Air Show in Titusville, FL? I guess so. Unfortunately it was overcast on Friday and Sunday, so I only went on Saturday. I think it's pointless to shoot airplanes (or birds) against a grey sky, and even Saturday it was partly cloudy. At least there was some blue mixed in with the white clouds. My 100-400mm lens is perfect for air shows. The 500mm is too long for most shots, but if the weather had been better on Sunday I would have employed it to get some of the climbing jet shots.

Miscellaneous
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There are only two images here. The first is of Hammond Stadium, spring training home of the Minnesota Twins. I spend St. Paddy's day there. The second is of the daffodils in Land Between the Lakes NRA in western Kentucky, which I explored for a day on my way home. Spring is coming.

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All photos 1998-2008 by Thomas O'Neil