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Amelia SanJon Gallery
Amelia Island Artists Workshop
Sandra Baker-Hinton
218A Ash Street., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
904-491-8040,  904-557-1195 cell
Amelia Island Artists Workshop (for workshop schedules)

A new painting which is not entirely new.  It was a painting which I was not totally happy with because it was too overwhelmingly yellow--school bus yellow.  I decided that I just had to "finish" it and this is the result.  Not much difference in composition just color changes.

Time to reflect lets us see things, even a painting, in a more objective way.

It is also the time of the year when the birds are starting the reproductive season in their lives.  A most interesting time, which with our warm winter, seems to be starting early this year.  My favorite place to see this happening is at The Alligator Farm down in St. Augustine.  I happily accepted an invitation to accompany good friends and fellow photographers, Stephan and Jo-Ann on such an adventure.  The entrance to The Farm is always a treat as it visually is a very pretty place with attractive plants included in their landscape, and a wide variety of birds and monkeys, all in addition to the many types of gators and crocs and other critters who reside there.  A visually exciting greeting once inside the gate were two of my favorite tropicals, a Pitcher Plant and a Bird of Paradise, in full bloom. 

Next on the agenda, soon after you enter the park is another rare and exotic gator, beautiful Albino Alligators.  They are both rare and exotic.  They are only found in Southern Louisiana.  They are kept underneath a roof to protect their delicate white skin from sunburn.  Usually the big female is in this enclosure but since this is mating season she may be out on a date with a handsome pale gentleman.  The Alligator Farm is permitted to do breeding programs with several of the endangered critters they keep in their Park.  These gators are part of that breeding program.

I stroll onto the boardwalk where according to Stephan, who had been down the week prior, we should find lots of birds.  It would seem there were certainly lots of alligators as they were feeding them from the feeding platform when we arrived.  The water was "jam up and jelly tight" with gators all watching and hoping for a treat.  There was a lot of dogfood-like pellet chow thrown into the pool but the more prized treats were several large dead rats which were tossed into the mob below.  There was really a feeding frenzy when those special "rat" treats were thrown into the fray. 

As I walked on down the boardwalk over the alligator pond I couldn't help but think how interesting the reflections of the trees were with the alligator laying in the middle of them.  I especially loved the way his head was outlined with the reflected white and black reflection of a slight water ripple.

Reaching the end of the boardwalk where there should have been a hundred big white birds, we found only a few.  Very strange.  We began to ask around from some of the other photographers what had happened to the birds.  We found out that the birds had flown away after workers came in to do some work, some of which involved a chain saw.  Well that explained that.  But there were still some of the Great White Egrets working on nest building and getting ready for mating.

A few of the other birds which were still hanging around included the the Black and the Yellow Crowned Night Herons. This Yellow Crowned Night Heron was busy napping his afternoon away.  They actually do hunt in the daytime too but mostly I have observed them just sleeping, with a quick glance now and then when they hear the camera shutter click.

Only a few of the many, many Woodstorks which will eventually arrive were there.  They are the largest of the birds which nest in the rookery and are America's only Stork.

I really like palms which are left natural without the pruning to remove their petticoats.  This is how they appear if left to their own ways.  There is a similar one on the way home from the gallery which I see each day as I make that trip.  So many trees are pruned into being something they are not as in Crepe Myrtles.  It is called "the murder of the Myrtles".  I thought it was funny a couple of weeks ago, that a class was announced at the local Lowe's on how to "properly" prune a Crepe Myrtle, and then the same weekend their landscape crew came in and butchered their own plantings of Crepe Myrtles doing exactly what the class instructor was saying "don't do".  The girl who works in the plant department was livid.

But the Great White Egret was perfect and regal looking as usual.  The mating season brings on the beautiful long land lacy plumage for which they were once killed in great numbers.

This fellow was busy building his nest getting ready to have a nice new home for a young family with room to expand.  You can see the green lores starting to show up on his face also a sign of mating season.

Since there were not that many birds I head off to check out other areas of the park.  The Reptile building houses several interesting and varied snakes.  Besides some very, very large ones, there is the King Cobra, which I find interesting and yet unnerving to only be inches away from this deadly fellow.  Do you know that it is believed over 50,000 people die from snake bites in India and Bangladesh each year.  From this vantage point I can closely examine the intricate patterns in his body and head.  My favorite snake, who is always in this symmetrically draped position, is the wonderful bright green snake in the photograph.  I had to ask where he was because he had been moved from a small glassed cubical to a large more natural environment shared with two other of the really big snakes.  It looked like the female Monitor Lizard was the only one in residence (I know "Lizzard" is not correct but I'm sure you remember our adoptee Lewis Lizzard from last year).  I am not sure where the much larger male is.

I exited out the other side of the Reptile building to see some very active shenannegins by this colorful Cassowary.  This is a very large bird and from head to foot probably stands almost as tall as me.  He seemed to have a thing, whether love or hate I am not sure, for the park worker who was just leaving the area.  The big bird seemed to be trying to get to him in a very agitated state of mind.  In a few minutes the worker came back and he said he wasn't sure what the deal was but that the bird was all about wanting to get with him and follows him everywhere when he is nearby.  Could be the feeding routine.

I crossed over to the African section and found these guys also following one of the zoo keepers.  Food was the motivation in this case and maybe that was the reason for the other.

An exciting nesting is taking place there as well as one of the Buzzards has laid an egg.  One of the other females is looking on as mom stands up to turn her egg.  She glares at the girlfriend when she looks a bit too closely.  The Daddy is sitting up on the nearby snag.

There were four parrots out but the one in the center was the star of the show.  They are sitting out on natural perches unrestrained.  Parrots are very intelligent and this one began to interact with me as I talked to it.

It began to dance for me when I talked to it, prancing and swaying back and forth.  A very fun and unexpected interaction. We even got the attention of a little girl nearby who also came over to enjoy the show.  

An Angels Trumpet bloomed wildly through the fence back at the Alligator pond. They are a very beautiful flower and an easy one to grow from cuttings.

By now some of the birds are starting to settle back into the trees.  Some Roseate Spoonbills are flying on top of the tree we used to call The Woodstork Tree.  However, last year the Woodstorks moved over to other trees it was primarily used by the Great Whites.

Its always a challenge to try to catch a bird in flight.  Once in a great while I actually am able to do that.  The flight of these big birds is very beautiful to watch with variations in the species in the way they hold their heads, feet and flight patterns.  The way these great wingspans can catch and seemingly hold the flight form in midair gives you a chance to really see how graceful their flight is.

It was an overcast day and as an artist I love the patterns of light from the sun which makes me different from serious photographers who love the unbroken image of an overcast day to not have the sun patterns on their subject, but I am an artist, a painter, and artists love the play of light on their canvas.

But in either case the mating dance is a beautiful sight as it begins by this fellow as he bows and gracefully reaches his long neck skyward all the while spreading his feathers to show off for, and to attract the females attention.

Toward the back of the pond almost out of reach of my lens is what I call the swimming hole where the birds, especially the White Ibis, like to gather and bathe.  It may be that it is an area, because of the downed trees and underbrush, in which they are protected from the Gators in the main part of the pond.  A young Little Blue Heron who has yet to acquire his blue color wades in front.  His dark bluish looking bill tells me this is not one of the egrets.

With time running out for visiting hours in the park suddenly Jo-Ann yells out the word "incoming" which is the cue to all of us to look skyward.  And 'incoming' it was, -the birds return in great numbers to their favorite place as the calm of the park returns without tourists and chainsaws to mess with their comfort zone.

The trees suddenly fill with what had been missing all afternoon.

In a matter of minutes the trees begin to look like they are decorated for Christmas, adorned with lots of white ornaments.

There were a greater number than usual of the Little Blue Heron, one of my favorites.  The youngster from the swimming pool area joined this fellow so maybe it last year's offspring.

There were lots of the White Ibis although they never seem to nest here.  I wonder where that happens.

This old snag is a favorite perch for all of the bird species.  They seem to take turns getting this birds eye view of the park.  It becomes a "King of the Hill" type of game when the youngsters, later in the season, vie to see who gets the best spots.

All the photographers hedge their time a bit and wait snapping photos until the park worker comes to personally say it is time to leave (as if we didn't really know that).  It is just a few minutes to squeak out a few more shots with no one in the park but you.  We all appreciate the gift of about 15 minutes after closing time alone with the birds.  Today it was just five of us some who have come from far away.  One fellow from the Midwest says he comes every year to "Shoot the Birds".

Now the birds and the gators can have their park back.  Now it is their world only.

The clouds had finally broken up, allowing some light and a tiny patch of blue as one straggler makes his way and becomes my final shot before turning to the exit gates.  Another good day of shooting birds has drawn to a close but hopefully as the season progresses into nesting, hatching and juvenile's I will get to return for more rounds of shooting.

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These photo-stories have always been offered completely free, to simply share the wonders of nature. Thousands of hours have been poured into them and it has even become necessary to enlist the services of a paid email service to send out the large numbers who now receive them. So, with the current economic situation if you are able to make a small donation to help ensure the continuation of the stories it would be greatly appreciated.)

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