Burrowing Owls & Florida Scrubjay

 

Burrowing Owls & Florida Scrubjay Photo Workshop

 
 
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Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owls are a state threatened species, native year round to our area in Southwest Florida. Babies start to emerge for brief periods in March & April. As they grow and get older, they will spend more time outside of the burrow & be less skittish to any movement or activity. I have picked an area where the owls are used to people.

May and June are excellent months to capture the whole family out playing together or just increase your odds of photographing a burrowing owl in flight.

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Burrowing Owls (cont.)

Babies are usually seen above the nest in May. As the babies get larger in the nest and take up more room, the adults spend less time in the nest. Larger Babies means more food. Parents will hunt at the same time (lots of drop offs) or perch near the nest, allowing for some incredible photo opportunities.

May is the peak activity for the Swallow-tailed Kites to hunt, perch, and feed their babies before they start to branch and fledge starting in early June.

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Florida Scrub Jays

About 8,000 mature Florida Scrubjays are believed to exist, which does not make them an easy bird to find. Scrubjay Mating season ranges from March to June. Fledglings can be distinguished from the adult birds due to the coloration of the feathers on their head, which are brown instead of blue. Florida scrub-jays live in family groups that consist of a breeding pair and their offspring.

ALL of the Scrubjays I have seen so far have been banded

 
 

Time & Location

My Burrowing Owl & Florida Scrubjay Tours take place in Cape Coral, Florida. Because of the sensitivity of these birds, I only do one-on-one photo tours. We start at Sunrise and go for 3 1/2 hours to take advantage of the prime sunlight & wildlife action that the morning offers.

Recommendations

The ground is currently wet and muddy in some areas on the way out to where we will be photographing. May and June are fly season. Wear lightweight long sleeves and pants. Plan on your shoes getting wet & a little muddy, or bring waterproof boots if you’d like.

Expectations

I build my tours around finding the spots that have the most action, while including nice foregrounds or backgrounds for photographing. My customers regularly get incredible photos on my tours, however weather and wildlife do not always cooperate with our plans.

Aside from helping you with your gear and camera settings, my goal on the trip is to educate you on where to go and when to look for specific species of animals. It might take you a couple of days to get every single shot you want, but at least you will know where to look. Because these birds live underground, they will spend warm days underground. Some days the owls are all out playing for hours. One of the sites has 8 owls currently.

Burrowing Owls - Disclaimer

  1. Keep your distance from the Burrowing Owls.  Burrowing Owl burrows can be 10 feet long, so the chamber where the owls live can extend OUTSIDE the marked area. 

  2. Do not feed the owls!  Their diet consists of mice, roaches, small snakes, anoles and frogs.

    Florida Scrubjay - Disclaimer

    An inquisitive and intelligent species, the most striking attribute of the Florida scrub jay's behavior is its remarkable tameness. As such, scrub jays willingly take food from human hands.

    Unfortunately, this tameness is dangerous to the well-being of the species. Florida scrub jays that are fed by humans will reproduce earlier in the year than those that are not. However, fledgling scrub jays feed primarily on caterpillars present in the late spring and summer; if they hatch too early in the year when the caterpillars are not available, this can lead to their malnutrition or starvation.

    Another potential danger of feeding Florida scrub jays occurs when people feed them near a road, as one major cause of death for scrub jays in urban areas is collision with vehicles. Since humans build subdivisions, railroads, and highways on the highest and driest ground, where Florida scrub jays like to live, this removal of habitats, along with the introduction of pets, especially cats not on a leash, has devastated scrub jay populations. In the last 100 years, 90% of the bird's population has been lost. 

    The Florida scrub-jay is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  It is also protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.  

    ***ALL of the Scrubjays I have seen so far have been banded***

Testimonials

“Had a fantastic kite tour with Andrew Mease who spent weeks finding the nesting pairs of swallow-tailed kites in South Florida. Kites spend most of their time up in the air and are very difficult to photograph at a close distance. Their nests are very difficult to locate and photograph. I highly recommend getting a photo tour with Andrew, with only 2-3 weeks left in the nesting season contact him ASAP.”

- Ronald K. (5/12/2019)

 

Q&A

What should I bring for photo gear?

I recommend bringing a 400mm or larger telephoto zoom lens for a Full Frame camera to fill most of your frame. A 100-400mm or a 200-500mm or 150-600mm will allow you the most opportunities to create nice compositions and fill the frame with these groups of moving targets.

What type of non-photography gear should I take?

Bugspray (the bugs really aren’t bad at all – most of the time you won’t need it, but doesn’t hurt to have it)

What’s the skill level?

This trip is suited for any photographers wanting an opportunity for lots of Burrowing Owl activity & photos with natural foregrounds & backgrounds. Finding photogenic Burrowing Owl sites can be very difficult, as nature is always changing.

First, you should be comfortable with operating your camera. You should also be familiar with – and able to change – the following options on your camera:

Exposure Modes

Exposure Compensation

AF Modes / Areas

Metering Modes

Drive Modes

In addition, you should understand what shutter speed, F/Stop, and ISO do.

My customers typically fit into one of two groups: Beginners to Intermediate and Advanced to Semi-Pro. 

Amateur to intermediate photographers:  I can help you learn how to use your DSLR or mirrorless camera during downtimes. I can also help you with suggestions on additional gear, like tripods, ball heads, and lenses. Most of this trip is dedicated to getting those perfect Swallow-tailed Kite photos you’ve been wanting.

Advanced to semi-pro photographers: My primary goal is to get you to the spots, help locate incoming kites, and teach you as much as I can about where to be while you are on your own.

On most occasions, I will be shooting right alongside you, but the emphasis is always on you getting the shots.

Is there a lot of walking?

There will be little to no walking. We will be visiting 2-4 locations on our photo tour. All photos will be taken very close to where we will be parking.

What should I wear?

The weather in Southwest Florida is very hot and humid. I recommend avoiding cotton if possible. I prefer dry-fit style shirts (like Columbia) and I recommend wearing lightweight long pants in case you want to get low and kneel or lay down for some of your photos.

How do I sign up? 

Fill out the form below if you’re ready to book & put down your deposit. Thanks! 

 
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Burrowing Owls & Florida Scrubjay