Most people just call the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands near Viera, Florida “Viera Wetlands”, although I’m sure they mean no disrespect to Mr. Grissom. I hadn’t been there in a while, and since it’s one of my favorite places I took a trip down to check on things last week – it didn’t disappoint.
On the way, I stopped by Kelly Park in Merritt Island for sunrise. I’m not sure if this Great Blue Heron was really getting ready to fish, or just enjoying the beautiful, pre-sunrise light, but I was glad it waded into my photo.
The early birds get the fish – Looking east over the Banana River from Kelly Park in Cocoa, just before dawn.
At Viera Wetlands, I got to watch this otter’s antics as it enjoyed a dirt bath in the road:
River Otter dust bath – I watched it rolling around in the dirt on the road for a while. When it had enough, it stood up, shook itself off, and moved back into the water.
I also watched this scene and although I felt badly for the frog, I guess I should feel good for the bird:
Hooded Merganser catches frog at Viera Wetlands – This doesn’t end well for the frog.
I don’t see Green Herons as often as some of the other herons and egrets, so it was nice to watch a number of them in the reeds along the sides of the berms. This pose is typical of one of their hunting techniques. They’ll perch frozen on the water’s edge and wait for prey to come within striking distance. Green Herons are reportedly one of the smartest birds. I haven’t seen the behavior, but they’re said to drop small bits of food or insects onto the water to attract fish.
Concentration – A Green Heron stalks its prey.
Viera is a great place to see Great Blue Herons courting, nesting, and raising young and there are several pairs active now. I saw one nest with very small chicks already hatched. I also saw many of the regulars there including alligators, Great Egrets, Tri-color Herons, Scaups, Coots, Red-winged Blackbirds, and others. On the way out I also took a turn around the Click ponds, but didn’t notice anything I hadn’t already found in the main areas. A great trip and well worth the time!
Click on the photos to go to Flickr, where you can see larger versions (the otter photo especially where you can see all the dirt it’s flung around) . You can also see more photos from Viera Wetlands in this set on Flickr. And I have many older posts about Viera Wetlands – you can look through them from this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
The river carries us serenely through a forest on a continuous mirror, showing us symmetries and compositions created out of chaos in scenes invisible from the shore. And us? We delight and choose which moments to save.
The Speedway in Daytona is the home of the Daytona 500 and opened in 1959. In addition to NASCAR events, the track also hosts ARCA and other races. It’s a 2.5 mile high-speed tri-oval, and has sports car, motorcycle, and karting courses.
Saturday was part of Speedweeks which culminate next weekend with the Daytona 500. There were two practice sessions, the Lucas Oil 200 race, the Sprint Unlimited Exhibition race, and other things to see and do.
Pit Road and the grandstands from the Fanzone
Kevin K’s son, Evan scored a package deal for us that included general admission, infield parking, and Sprint Fanzone entry for a very low price. Sometimes being part of a prestigious organization like the Photography Interest Group can really pay off. 😉
Info for Photographers
This was the first time I’ve actually photographed an automobile race and it took a while to settle on a shutter speed. Luckily, Kevin M. was along – he’s a big race fan and advised us on settings. He suggested using 1/1250th sec. and at this shutter speed the car body was relatively sharp while the wheels were a bit blurry – which is what I wanted to help imply motion.
These cars run over 190 mph and if you can get to the stands in the infield, they pass by very close. So it’s a great situation to practice your panning technique. I got the best results when I picked up the car in the viewfinder well before I pressed the shutter, concentrated on smoothly following as it approached, and continued to follow through after the shot. I also had better luck when I used a focus point on the side the car was coming from and selected continuous focus. Previous experience with bird photography and keeping the focus point on target will pay off here too.
You may want to try turning off your camera / lens image stabilization to see if it works better without it at high-speed. With fast shutters, you probably don’t need it, and depending on your equipment it might actually degrade the image.
I normally shoot in aperture priority but for this, the most critical part of the exposure triangle is the shutter speed – so I switched to shutter priority. I set 1/1250th, and then controlled ISO manually to move the aperture to 1/f8. It was cloudy most of the day, so my ISO ranged between 400 to 1000.
I also found myself using some positive exposure compensation at times to bring out detail inside the cars.
It’s fun to try to catch each driver at practice, but photographing single cars can quickly get monotonous. We were fortunate to have access to several locations which helped us vary positions / light direction, and avoid back lighting most of the day. Be on the lookout for unusual / different compositions. There was a checkered flag in the foreground near turn two and it was fun to try to catch cars as they passed underneath.
Juan Pablo Montoya – car #42; Passing underneath a Daytona International Speedway checkered flag during practice
You should also watch for interesting people. Be quick, since they don’t seem to stick around very long.
Allowed, but not recommended. With all the panning you’ll be doing, a tripod would get in the way. And when crowds get dense, you’ll have trouble finding space to set yours up.
This depends on where you are at the track. We were using various camera systems with a number of zoom lenses (70-200, 70-300, 150-500, 200-600 mm – full frame equivalent). From the infield grandstands, the 600mm was a bit too long. From the main grandstands, something that long might be useful.
It’d be helpful to have a shorter zoom available too for non-racing situations in the garage and Fanzone areas. And a wide-angle or even a fisheye lens are useful for car close-ups.
Best time to visit:
Consult the speedway website for race schedules. I found that last Saturday was a wonderful day there. We got to see all the big name stars, but the crowds were very reasonable. The traffic and number of people at the track can get crazy for big events like the Daytona 500. Of course, if you’re a race fan, you probably don’t mind putting up with crowds to see that one.
Here are a couple more photos from the races:
Julian Jousse in car #94 has trouble in the Lucas Oil 200 race
The Big One (photo by tkmckinn) – A crash after dark in the season opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition race later on Saturday night
Check the weather before you go. It can be a bit warm or even a bit cold in Daytona in February. Dress appropriately, and bring sun block.
Food and drinks are a little expensive. Consider bringing in some of your own in a small cooler. Check the Speedway website for their rules on what you can bring in.
The Speedway has a phone app that might come in handy. It’ll show you the day’s schedule, maps, and other info. It also has a mode that allows you to find friends (although it didn’t work all that well for us – everyone needs to have it open and on the GPS map screen).
Entry to the Fanzone is worth doing. There are a lot of photo ops there that you won’t be able to get close to from the grandstands. The infield parking was also nice, since it allowed us to move around for better vantage points. Separate fees for admission, parking, Fanzone, etc. add up though. Do a little research, and you might be able to find a special deal like we did.
Even though I’m not a huge race fan, I had a good time. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to visit the speedway.
I went over to Merritt Island this morning with Kevin K. and Kevin M. It was crisp and clear, so there weren’t many clouds to enhance the sunrise, but we enjoyed watching it and making some photos anyway. This one is from the Titusville Municipal Marina located just north of the Causeway.
Many morning masts at the Municipal Marina
After dawn, we drove through East Gator Creek Road but there wasn’t much to see, so then we headed to Black Point Wildlife Drive. There were a lot of people there and a few unusual birds including a couple of Wilson’s (common) snipes, Lesser Scaups, and a Sora. We also saw a Reddish Egret or two, lots of Coots, Pintails, Norther Shovelers, Osprey, White Pelicans, Hooded Mergansers, Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the distance, some Great Egrets (in breeding colors) and snowy egrets feeding at small pool on back side of the drive and a few other assorted ducks, shorebirds, and gulls. One of the highlights was coming up on a pod of photographers going all paparazzi on this scene:
Great Blue Heron with Banded Water Snake – Fresh snake was on the menu this morning for breakfast (thanks to Karlie Carmen for helping with the snake ID).
Near the end of BPWD we saw a wild hog off in the reeds, but it ambled out of view before I could get my camera up. I really need to practice my quick draw technique.
Kevin M. talked us into stopping by the Visitors Center and it’s good he did. On the way there we sighted a Florida Scrub Jay, a Kestrel, a Red-tailed Hawk – and there were Brown-headed Cowbirds, male and female Painted Buntings, Cardinals, and other birds behind the center. It really did turn into an interesting morning.
Orlando Wetlands Park is closed from November 15th through January 31st each year. Now that it’s open again, Keith H., Tom M. and I went by this week to see how things are at one of our favorite locations.
Sunrise was nice, although I was late getting there and missed some pre-dawn color. Note to self: Always arrive at least a half hour before sunrise.
Lake Searcy Sunrise 1 – Lake Searcy is on the right as you walk in from the parking area. It’s scenic and usually very calm, with lots of cypress and palms. I liked the way the sun glow came around the palm trees.
Since I had my IR camera with me and the clouds were so awesome, I made this panorama to get as wide a capture as possible.
Lake Searcy Sunrise 2 – This is a Black and White, Infrared, Panorama. Sometimes IR can really bring out the detail in clouds.
We saw many of the normal birds including Coots, Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons, Blue-winged Teals, Anhingas, Red-shouldered Hawks, and others. I also saw what I’m pretty sure were several Common or Wilson’s Snipes, although these birds are extremely wary and fly off at the first sign you’re looking at them (worse even than Belted Kingfishers!) so I didn’t get a positive ID. There’s been two Vermillion Flycatchers reported again this year on the far end of the park and one seems to come closer than usual. If you haven’t seen this bird, it’s worth a visit all by itself.
We also saw either a small bobcat or large house cat on the walk in, but it was too dim to be sure.
The annual photographer pass program at Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida started again on Friday, and Keith H. and I were the first ones there. We saw Great Egrets, a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Black-crowned Night-Herron, Wood Storks, Anhingas, Boat-tailed Grackles, and a few other species.
Female Boat-tailed Grackle – a common bird in uncommon light
Great Egret and reflection – all dressed up in formal wear for the start of breeding season
Black-crowned Night-Heron – a nice bonus, since I don’t see these very often
And of course you can also see Alligators in the park. They’re starting to breed too – we heard quite a few bellows.
Very still gator and tree reflection
With the photographer pass you can get into the park at 7:30am Thursday – Sunday and stay until dusk on Saturday. This lets you photograph the nesting birds with nicer light and no tourists. It greatly improves your chances of getting good photos of the birds and their breeding behavior in the rookery. These are wild birds that choose to nest in the area because of the protection offered by alligators from other predators such as snakes and raccoons. They’re acclimated to people so you can get quite close to many of them. The Great Egrets are already courting and building nests – they seem to be the earliest breeders. The Wood Storks are getting started too. Later in the year you’ll also see Snowy and Cattle Egrets, cormorants, and if you’re lucky maybe some other species breeding.
Gatorland is a great place to visit at this time of year. If you’re in town for a short while, you can also buy a one day photo pass to get in early. Check it out! Click on the photos above to go to Flickr where you can see larger versions. You can also see more photos from Gatorland in this set on Flickr. And you can read my previous posts about Gatorland at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!