BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN: 978-0-7267-8755-5)
Roseate spoonbills forced me to make a choice—do I risk being eaten by a giant crocodile or do I pass up a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity?
From a distance—with their brilliant pink and red feathers and graceful, gliding flight—roseate spoonbills immediately attract your eye. Framed by the bold greens of a mangrove swamp and backed by the azure blue of a Florida winter sky, these luminous birds provide an unparalleled scene of natural beauty.
For years, I longed to get good photos of these mesmerizing birds but I could never manage to get close enough for even a single picture. Then during a winter trip to Florida’s Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, my luck finally changed. Around midday, I ran into another group of photographers who told me about a pond full of spoonbills they had just seen. I could barely contain my glee—spoonbills, at last!
Large wading birds of the southeastern US coastlines, roseate spoonbills fool many Florida visitors into thinking they have seen a flock of flamingos. But closer examination always reveals the truth. While spoonbills may be the same color, their bodies and heads aren’t even close to those of the famously iconic but nonnative flamingos. The most obvious difference is the bizarre broad, flat bills for which the spoonbills are named.
About halfway to the recommended pond, a strip of yellow flagging was tied across the trail with a sign that read, Caution: Giant Female Crocodile Laying Eggs on Trail Ahead. Now I had a real dilemma. Should I give up the one chance I may ever have to photograph roseate spoonbills close-up or should I take my chances on being eaten by a crocodile. It took me less than five seconds to decide. I proceeded down the trail, rationalizing as I walked: There aren’t any crocodiles in South Florida anyway, right? It’s probably just an alligator and they’re all over the place. Even, if it is a crocodile, she’ll be busy laying eggs and won’t even notice me, I can run.
So I walked on and soon came to a tiny, jewel-like pond nestled into a clearing in the mangrove-choked swamp. Right in the middle of this idyllic setting about thirty visions of rosy pink swirled in tight circles, creating mini-whirlpools to scare shrimp and small fish up to the surface where they could be captured with lightning-quick snaps of uniquely shaped bills.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was staring at a scene I had dreamed about ever since I started seriously taking bird photos. The spoonbills acted as if I wasn’t even there and went right on feeding. And there wasn’t a crocodile to be seen anywhere around! I went to work with my camera, and quickly got out of there—still intact!
I’ve since had the pleasure of photographing nesting spoonbills up close in a natural rookery located in St. Augustine Florida’s Alligator Farm. Spoonbills have an elaborate courtship ritual that begins when the male presents sticks to the female. If she accepts the male’s offer, the female then begins using the sticks to build their nest—typically in a cluster of mangroves. Nest building is accompanied by much celebratory bill-clapping and branch-rattling by both the male and female birds.
Text excerpted from book: BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, written by Budd Titlow and published by Lyons Press (an imprint of Globe Pequot Press). Photo credit: Copyright Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS.
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.