Monthly Archives: February 2010

Comparing Gatorland to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Intro



Tri Color Heron_DSC9601_7_nx2
Tri-color heron at Gatorland

A few weeks ago, I promised to compare the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to Gatorland from the point of view of a nature / wildlife photography enthusiast. And in this post, I’ll do it.

This entry is only a top-level summary of what you can expect at each place.  For more information, please look at earlier posts I’ve done, which you can find via the blog table of contents or by using the search box at the top of the page.

Roosting Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron roosting at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

Summary table

Both of these parks have rookeries where wild birds come to roost.  This concentration of avian visitors is very handy for the bird photographer. Why would you pick one over the other to visit? The St. Augustine Alligator Farm caters to photographers and tries to make it easy to capture images of the birds, while Gatorland has canceled their photo pass program.  In my opinion, this is a huge difference and a major advantage for the Alligator Farm. This table lists other factors that I think would be important when comparing these parks.  I’ve listed each along with a comment to explain and a + or – rating to show which place I think comes out ahead on that factor.

Factor: Gatorland Alligator Farm
Birds
variety: Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks, anhinga, limpkins, vultures, others+ Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks,  vultures, others+
number of birds: Many+ Many+
Distance: Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+ Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+
behavior: Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+ Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+
Other wildlife: Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+ Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+
Information available: Lots of info available on the Website, and especially the blog (no longer being updated). There is a Flickr group where you can see the types of photos possible.+ Lots of info available on the  Website, There is a Flickr group, where you can see the types of photos possible. A Yahoo group used to post rookery updates, but has now been replaced by an Alligator Farm Blog.
Exhibits and shows: Several, good for the kids.+ Some, good for the kids.
Price: $20 – 100 (adults).  Some discounts available. $20 – 70 (adults)
Photo pass available: Yes: re-instated in 2012.  February through July, 7:30am to dusk. $99.99. Yes, $70 – with early entry at 8:00am+
Proximity ~40 minutes from Winter Springs.  Closer to Orlando.+ ~1 hour, 50 minutes from Winter Springs.  Farther from Orlando.-
Other photo ops in the area: Gatorland is a little isolated from other photo opportunities in the area. Historic St. Augustine has a huge number of photo opportunities.+
Other attractions in the area: Many attractions and parks in the Orlando area within a short drive.+ A few smaller attractions are close by.-

Conclusions

Which one should you go to? For nature and wildlife photography, I would say you probably can’t go wrong with either place.  Having an early entry program is very important to photographers so in my opinion, the overall edge goes to the Alligator Farm until Gatorland restores their program.  The staff at both parks is friendly,  and in the past  Gatorland has seemed even more so, but I’m concerned about the turnover at this park (apparently, Mike has left).

If you’re going for more than just photography, then  Gatorland is also probably a little more well-rounded, with more to do.  On the other hand, the Alligator farm makes for a nice day trip from Orlando when you combine it with a stop in the historical district or the fort.

You can capture stunning images at both places, so pick the one that is most convenient for you.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Central Florida Bird Photography Scouting Report

It’s February and the birding / nesting season is moving into full swing in Central Florida.  In the last three days I’ve been to four of our local birding hot spots.  If you’re into birding or bird photography it’s time to get your gear out and get out there!  Here’s a short status report on what’s happening at the sites I visited.

(Note:  click on any of the photos below to go to Flickr, where you can see them larger.  You can also read posts I’ve done on each of these places.  Go to the index page to find them.)

Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, Friday, mid-morning.

Spoonbills are the main attraction – they were everywhere.  The best place I found was in the pool just behind the parking area near the rest rooms, where several were putting on a show, posing and sweeping their bills through the shallow water.  There were also the usual herons, egrets, etc. and I made one nice photo of an egret eating breakfast.

Spoonbill in flight
Spoonbill in flight

St. Augustine Alligator Farm,  Friday, late morning

There’s some construction going on at the Alligator Farm.  They’ve rebuilt part of the boardwalk through the rookery, and when I was there Friday, they had a backhoe going digging out and moving concrete from one area.  I hope that all the noise doesn’t keep the nesting birds away.  I did see one pair of Great Egrets building a nest and several other birds roosting in trees.  The alligators of course, are there and quite happy to pose for photos.  I made this one where you can see me reflected in its eye if you enlarge it to full size.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait

Orlando Wetlands Park, Saturday, early morning

Orlando Wetlands closes for the winter and just re-opened in February.  This year, they have many activities planed for each weekend.  Last Saturday the Education Center was open with an exhibit of Orange Audubon Chertok Photo Contest winners, tram and hiking tours as well as videos showings about the park.  As a result, the park was as busy as I’ve ever seen it.  Perhaps all the people are making the birds skittish – I had a hard time getting very close to any.  There’s supposed to be a White Faced Ibis at the park and although I did not see it, many people did.  I like this landscape I made which shows how pretty this park is on a calm morning.

Swamp landscape
Swamp Landscape

Viera Wetlands, Sunday, early morning

I only discovered Viera Wetlands this year and I continue to be amazed at the quantity and diversity of the birds you can see there.  Today was no exception.  We saw an American Bittern, a Wesley’s Snipe and many other varieties.  The Great Blue Heron’s are nesting and some already have chicks.  One Great Blue Heron couple put on a show for us with the male fetching sticks for inspection and use by his partner.

Pair of Great Blue Herons building nest
Great Blue Heron takes stick back to nest

I posted additional photos on Flickr.  You can browse the set here, or view a slide show at this link.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Florida tree colors

I apologize in advance to all my colder climate readers for saying this (hi Sis), but our weather has been chilly lately. We’ve had several nights in the last couple of months with hard freezes and many more with temperatures down in the 30s. The Florida panhandle even had snow a few days ago!  So it’s surprising to see our trees starting to bud and blossom already. We don’t get a lot of color in our fall foliage but beginning around this time of year, it seems nature tries to make up for it. This can lead to some nice photo-ops if you keep your eyes open.

Lynn and I went out for a Valentine’s Day breakfast this morning and on the way back, she drove me around for a few minutes looking for good examples to photograph with my Canon S90. By the way, I very much like the S90.  It has a great deal of capability in a very small package.

Here’s one tree that caught my eye (click these to go to Flickr where you can see larger versions).

IMG_0512Red maple tree and reflection

The color isn’t from leaves, but from red seed pods. Here’s what they look like up close.

IMG_0515

Red Maple seed pod close up

We have other trees starting to bloom too.  Here’s a white one, with some more of the red maple trees in the background.

IMG_0518White blooms, blue sky

So – keep a camera with you and keep your eyes open.  You might find something interesting to capture.  Also – if you can help with identifying these specific trees, please comment on the post or send me an email. Thank you, Kevin McKinney for helping me identify the Red Maple trees.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Viera Wetlands Update

The Photography Interest Group elected to return to Viera Wetlands this morning. Once again, it was a very nice visit.  The weather was much better than last time. We had clear skies and plenty of light, although the road was chained closed due the recent rains – making it a walking visit only.  Walking is better for us anyway.

One thing I definitely wanted to see was the masked duck that had been reported in the paper recently. Apparently, these are very rare in the area – and I’d never seen one. There are a lot of birders coming from as far as 2 hours away to add this one to their life list.

Masked Duck
Masked Duck

Here’s a few other photos from this morning.

Wood Stork in flight
Wood Stork in flight – I like the water drops in his wake.

Limpkin in flight
Limpkin in flight

Pair of Mottled Ducks (?)
Pair of Mottled Ducks (?) – I really like the lead duck’s head reflected in the water.

I’ve added these and several others to my Viera Wetlands Set on Flickr, where you can view larger versions of them.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

I've added a Table of Contents / Index …

The blog has been up and going for almost three years and this is my 75th post. I’ve covered a broad variety of (mostly) photo related subjects.

I tag my photo scouting blog posts as either “CFL Photo Ops” or “Other Photo Ops” depending on where they’re located. You’ve always been able to filter the blog by clicking on these (and other) tags in the side bar on the right side of each blog page.

With so many entries it’s becoming harder to find information, so I decided to add a Table of Contents / Index page to organize the photo-op information and make it easy to find. You’ll see a permanent link to it at the top of the blog.

Although I can’t promise to keep blogging forever, I do very much enjoy sharing my experiences and I hope to continue for a long time. Your comments and constructive criticism on how to improve the blog, or suggestions for places to visit are always welcome. And if you have questions on the area, please feel free to ask. I’ve lived in here for many years, and just may have the answer you’re looking for. Leave a comment or email me at ed@rosack.com.

Epson R 1900 printer and Exhibition Fiber paper

For your information:

A friend told me about Epson Exhibition Fiber paper and since it was on sale at Atlex, I bought a box to try. Unfortunately, I just assumed that Epson would have a profile for using this paper with my Epson R1900 printer.

They don’t. But I went ahead anyway and got pretty good results with it by printing with the Premium Photo Paper Semi-Gloss profile.  YMMV.

Going retro – or a recent experience with severe "film deja vu"

A little bit of background. I’ve been seriously interested in photography for a long time. I owned several film SLRs before I switched to a digital camera at Christmas time in 2000. It took me a while to change over, since I wasn’t convinced that digital quality matched film. Once I did switch, I haven’t looked back (until now), and I’ve been happily shooting digital ever since.

When I used film, I always wanted a pro level Nikon camera and could never afford it. This started with my first SLR, which was a Yashica entry level model (I don’t remember which one). The best film camera I ever had was my last one, a Nikon 6006. I bought this sometime in the 1980s and it was a great camera, but it wasn’t a “pro” model.

So recently, I was browsing eBay and ran across a listing for a Nikon F4. This tank of a camera was introduced in 1988 and was Nikon’s top of the line film camera until maybe 1996 when the F5 was introduced. To make a long story short, I couldn’t resist.

This particular one is an F4S and is in great shape for a camera this old. It comes with an MB-21 auto-winder: can you imagine ripping through almost 6 frames of film a second with this puppy? A whole role of 36 gone in 6 seconds! Another feature that’s really nice is that this one can meter / focus with all Nikon lenses, including the newer G series (although you can’t control the aperture directly). For more information on the camera, you can look at the Nikonians website article on the F4 or visit Ken Rockwell’s site, where he talks about it. Also, a Google search will reveal several places on the web where you can download a PDF file of the camera manual.

Déjà vu 9 - B&W Rose
After the frost. Tri-X film, Nikon F4S, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens

When the camera arrived, I went to my local drug store to buy some film. To my surprise, they carried Kodak Tri-x B&W ISO 400 film! This is the first film I ever used in my rangefinder and SLR cameras and I used to load my own 35mm photo canisters from 50ft. rolls of film and do all of my own development. So … of course I bought a roll to run through my “new” camera. 24 exposures later, I brought it back to get developed. “Do you develop Tri-X black and white film?” I asked. [Photo clerk looking at film canister] “Of course we do. Do you need it back in an hour?” “No, I said” [Thinking to myself – ‘this is amazing’], “I’ll come back later tonight to pick it up.” So I leave and on my way home, I get a call from the clerk: “Uh, sir, we can’t develop this film.” Apparently they can develop B&W film that’s designed for color print film chemistry, but not good old Tri-X. Anyway, my local camera store (Colonial Photo and Hobby) does develop Tri-X and can also scan it to CD for you as part of the process. I also ran some color print film through the camera, and ended up shooting a total of three rolls.

Déjà vu 2 - weed
Weeds. Kodak Ultra Max Color Print film, Nikon F4S, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens

The camera works pretty well. The focus and exposure seem good. So what else did my tests reveal? How was the experience? What impressions did the Nikon F4S make? Did I finally fulfill my desire for a pro film camera? Will I give up digital and go back to film?

First of all, the controls were very familiar, so I didn’t have any problem using the camera. The locks were annoying to me – I’m not used to having to unlock the on/off switch. One thing that using the F4 emphasized is that film cameras are simpler to operate than modern digital cameras. Most of this is because on a digital camera, you not only have to control the camera, you also have to control / adjust the sensor response. Loading your film into a film camera determines the white balance, ISO, color profile, etc. for you.

Second, this is the heaviest camera I’ve ever used. An F4S weighs 45 oz. vs 37 oz. for a D700 or 25 oz. for a D90. That’s a big difference. Maybe I’m glad I didn’t have to carry this around all the time.

Third, I shot three different kinds of ISO 400 film: Tri-X, Ultra Max, and Black and White (CN 400). Grain is apparent in all of the shots although much less so in the CN 400. In fact, the grain is much more apparent than noise in either a D-90 or D-700 shot at ISO 400.

Déjà vu 6 - B&W Orchid
Orchid. Kodak Black and White (CN 400) film, Nikon F4S, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens

Fourth, having 24 or 36 exposures to work with instead of hundreds is quite different too. There’s much less experimentation and more ‘get it right the first time’. Even though I was only testing this camera and not on a serious shoot, I still found myself conserving film instead of shooting with abandon.

Fifth: Chimping is really handy! With a film camera, you can’t tell if you got the shot until much later. There’s a lot more “trust the camera” and “trust your skills” involved. I remember a trip to Germany in the early ’80s with many rolls of slide film and its narrow exposure range. I felt a lot of anxiety then until I got the processed slides back.

So, am I going to abandon my digital tools and revert to the good old days of Film? Absolutely not. It was fun to play with the camera and it brought back a lot of memories. But we’ve come a long way and the F4S is going on my shelf to look at. I won’t be looking through it too often.

You can click on any of the photos above to view them on Flickr. You can see the rest of my test shots here.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.