Birding at Lake Okeechobee (Part 2)

WHEN: 06 February 2018, 07:30
WHERE: Lake Okeechobee, Florida, USA (Google map)

This is part 2 of a post about my birding trip to Lake Okeechobee in Florida USA, to read part one please follow this link.

On our way to the lake we spotted a superb Anhinga (Snake Bird) sunning itself in the trees. Clearly related to the cormorants I see local to me back home, but with a far more impressive looking plumage.

 

Anhinga

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

Heading out onto the lake the fishermen were out in force. They weren’t the only ones fishing however, just as I was enjoying the ride with the boat at top speed, Dave slowed up suddenly and took us off towards the plant life in the margins. His keen eyes had spotted an American Bittern lurking hunting in the foliage. A simply stunning bird to observe at such close quarters. I decided to keep low and go for an atmospheric shot, the level of detail in the full size image is amazing.

American Bittern

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

 Leaving the Bittern behind we passed an American Coot, again larger than the Eurasian variety I see at home. A Purple Gallinule remained somewhat hidden and I struggled to get a good image from this amazing looking bird. This Glossy Ibis however showed nicely, I was somewhat taken by this bird and closer inspection of my pictures makes me realise how colorful they are with the sun shining on them. I love the blues browns and greens hidden underneath the glossy sheen.
We had been taunted by kingfishers since getting in the boat, none of them seemed to want to hang around once they saw the boat. The engine had been off whilst we were watching the Gallinule though so as we drifted around to the other side of some trees this Belted Kingfisher didn’t spook until I had managed to bag a shot.

Belted Kingfisher

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

 One species that Dave informed me is on many birders tick lists when they visit Florida is the Limpkin. An interesting looking bird with a strange crying call, Dave took me to a spot where he had seen a couple of chicks roaming around on the floating plant life. True to his word as we watched the adult birds it soon became apparent there were a couple of fast growing chicks tucked away hidden by the leaves.

Limpkin

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

Limpkin Chick

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

 One of the species Dave targets with his trips of Lake Okeechobee is the Snail Kite. The species has been hit hard by hurricane Irma, occurring during the breeding season all the snail kite nests were lost during the hurricane. Changes to water levels at the lake have significantly impacted the kites only source of food, snails and the specie is truly on the brink in Florida. We were thrilled to see this female nest building, although she had picked a spot very close to some of the major fishing traffic on the lake.

Female Snail Kite

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

We moved on quickly to avoid spooking her. Shortly after seeing the Kite we spotted a large flock of Tree Swallows just hanging out in the middle of the lake. Perching space seemed to be at a premium as they jostled for position on the branches of the trees. This was one of the few shots where I wish I had put a little more thought into my camera settings. Just sligtly more depth of field and all of the birds would have been in focus, still pretty happy with the shot though.

Tree Swallows

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

Roseate Spoonbill

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

This is one of my favourite shots from the lake, Dave took me to an area that had traditional grazing at the edge of the lake. The mud/grass habitat the grazing had created led to a variety of different birds taking advantage of the feeding opportunities, this solitary Roseate Spoonbill continued to feed as we cut the motor and drifted past. I got some terrific shots, but this one just seemed more appealing because of the unusual angle.

Sand Hill Crane

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

After seeing the Sandhill Cranes 1st thing in the morning it was great to catch one in broad daylight, fantastic. Since returning home I have looked up cranes in the UK, turns out we only get Common Cranes in the UK unless you count 4 sightings of Sandhill cranes since 1980.

Killdeer

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

We had spotted a Killdeer whilst Dave was getting the boat ready to go in the water, I had failed to get a clear shot of it at the time. I didn’t miss on my second opportunity. Apparently this is another rare bird to spot in the UK, it has a really striking band of black across the eye, quite a pretty bird.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

Leaving the grazing area gave me chance to snap this great looking wading bird, a Lesser Yellowlegs. There was quite a selection of wading birds around along with a few young smooth ibis as well.

Gator

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

Finally what trip to Florida would be complete without Alligators? These are numerous in many of the southern states but I hadn’t seen one outside of a zoo until this trip. They seemed to spook pretty easy with the boat and dive into the water whenever we passed. I managed to catch a shot of this enormous adult before it splashed into the lake I would guess it was at least 3 metres long

Heading back past the Snail Kite nest we saw another male and female, unfortunately it proved difficult to get a clear shot and we didn’t want to disturb the birds too much. This time however the male was sitting on the nest.

Final bird for the trip had managed to stay pretty well hidden a few hours previously, still well hidden but allowing us a little closer and therefore a bit more success with the shots was this Purple Gallinule.

Purple Gallinule

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF + TC-17E II at 500mm (750mm equiv.)

Equipment
I traveled with my favorite wildlife lens for this trip, the Nikon 300mm f4 PF. It spent most of the time mated with a 1.7 Teleconverter and attached to my D500 body. This gave an effective length of 750mm for the majority of the images in the article. Exceptions were when the boat enabled us to get too close to the birds! In this case i had to swiflty remove the teleconverter.
VR on the lens was on all the time as I took all shots handheld and when the engine was running on the boat the VR did a great gob of removing the engine vibrations.
If I had the lens then the Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 would have made a perfect choice as sometimes even the 300mm lens on it’s own was too close. Given a full frame camera body you would likely long for a longer lens than 300mm, a lens like the 200-500 could again work well, possibly with a 1.4 teleconverter for added reach.
Bright light, whilst not guaranteed is reasonably certain so I would recommend leaving the f2.8 lenses at home unless you can transport them easily. Almost every shot on my trip was taken at f8 and only the sandhill crane images in part 1 required me to push my ISO above 500.

If you are in the area and want a fantastic private tour be sure to look up Dave, his website is http://www.evergladesbirding.com

The bird list for the entire trip was as follows;
> American Coot
> American Crow
> Anhinga
> Belted Kingfisher
> Black Vulture
> Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
> Boat-tailed Grackle
> Cattle Egret
> Common Yellowthroat
> Crested Caracara
> Eastern Phoebe
> Glossy Ibis
> Great Blue Heron
> Great Egret
> Greater Yellowlegs
> Green Heron
> Green wing teal
> Killdeer
> Lesser  yellow Legs
> Least Sandpiper
> Limpkin
> Little Blue Heron
> Northern Rough winged-swallow or tree swallow
> Northern Cardinal
> Northern Harrier
> Northern Parula
> Osprey
> Painted Bunting
> Palm Warbler
> Pine Warbler
> Purple Gallinule
> Purple Swamp Hen (gray headed)
> Red shouldered hawk
> Ring-billed Gull
> Sand hill Crane
> Snail Kite (both male and females)
> Snowy Egret
> Tricolored Heron
> Turkey Vulture
> White Ibis
> Wood Stork
> Yellow-rumped Warbler
> Barred owl

 

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