Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mute Swan nest

There have been several reports online recently about a pair of Mute Swans nesting in Viera.  I first found out from my online friend Jim Boland’s recent blog post.  I had a little free time yesterday and decided to check on them.

Mute Swans (nesting pair)
Mute Swans (nesting pair)

They aren’t native to North America or common in Florida.  These two are doing well and have lots of fans.  They’re actually in a retention pond on the side of a busy road.  At least 20 people stopped by during the few minutes I was there.  Mom spent most of her time on the nest and occasionally tended the eggs.  Dad patrolled the area and kept other birds away.  They can be aggressive, but these are used to people and ignored us.

Mute Swan
Mute Swan and reflection

I didn’t see any sign of cygnets yet, but I’m guessing they’ll hatch soon.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get back over and see them.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Cocoa – March 20, 2014

Keith H. mentioned that he’d like to visit the Cocoa Pier.  I hadn’t been in a while and when I checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris, it looked like the sun would rise lined up pretty well with the Pier this week, so we decided to go over.  We arrived early hoping for some star photo ops, but thick clouds and lights on the beach limited star visibility.  I did manage to capture a planet in this frame:

Venus rising past the pier
Venus rising past the pier – The clouds parted for a few moments before dawn

It’s pretty crowded underneath this pier, so the sun alignment wasn’t as big a deal as I hoped.  I caught a glimpse of it through the pilings and clouds just after dawn – here’s what it looked like:

Sunrise under the pier
Sunrise under the pier – The ship visible in the upper left was a bonus.

On the drive back, we stopped to photograph the new Port Canaveral Exploration Tower:

Port Canaveral Exploratio Center
Port Canaveral Exploration Tower – The new building is quite eye-catching! It wasn’t there the last time I drove by.

 A quick, but fun photo excursion.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, 15 March 2014

I had cataract surgery last Thursday and didn’t think I’d be able to go photographing this weekend. But I could see remarkably well this morning, so I rode over to MINWR with Kevin M. and Kevin K.

It turned out to be a lovely day. There was more color in the sunrise than I expected, and after dawn we found some photogenic fog / mist.

White Pelicans in the mist
White Pelicans in the mist on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive

In addition to the White Pelicans, watching a skimming Black Skimmer was another highlight.  Kevin K. even managed to photograph it with a fish in its mouth.  The Visitors Center bird feeder was active too.  We saw Catbirds, several Painted Buntings (both male and female) and a White-throated Chipping Sparrow (a life bird for me!).

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Chipping Sparrow

I enjoyed trying out my refurbished eyes today.  It’s amazing what modern medicine can do!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Universal set-up

Photography is challenging and wildlife especially may be difficult to photograph well. Poor light, bad weather, a distant animal far away or facing away from you, or in front of a busy or too bright background: These all make capturing beautiful wildlife images tough. Overcoming challenges like these makes photography a rewarding pursuit.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s not as challenging. It’s almost like the universe sets up a photo-op to make things easy for you.  Like it wants you to show how pretty the animal is.  And the wildlife cooperates too!  We came across one of these gifts yesterday at Viera Wetlands.

We were driving south along one of the berms and saw a small group of Black Skimmers land on the road in the distance. These aren’t rare birds in Florida, but I hadn’t seen them at Viera before (they’re more common at MINWR). They’re unusual enough to make me take notice and they’re a bit difficult to expose well because of their coloring (white and black with very dark eyes) so I’m always looking for better photos.

We got out of the car and slowly walked towards them and I noticed several things. The birds were up on the road, so we could approach from low on the side of the berm and get them at eye level with the sun behind us. The wind was coming from the same direction as the sun, so the birds were facing into it and toward us (they like to face into the wind so they can more easily take off).  The water behind the birds provided a nice clean background.  And as we crept closer, the birds stayed calm and didn’t seem to mind us at all. 

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer (Settings:  1/1000, ƒ/9, ISO 400, 500 mm)

We got close, enjoyed watching them, and photographed for a while.  We had time to make sure all our settings were correct.  I carefully braced my camera and lowered the ISO to get the best quality image.  I checked my exposure /  histogram to make sure the bird’s eyes were visible (difficult on this species) and the white feathers weren’t blown out.  This went on for a bit until another car came down the road.  It stopped for a minute so I had time to adjust my settings to get ready for the birds to fly.  Then it drove on, and they flew up, circled around and landed back on the road in front of us and over some wild flowers.  A perfect flight shot opportunity!

Black Skimmer in flight
Black Skimmer in flight (Settings: 1/2500, ƒ/7.1, ISO 800, 290 mm)

Be on the lookout for situations like this.  They’re truly a gift and not as common as we’d like.  Be ready.  Know your camera’s capabilities and limitations. Think through your settings and double-check your results.  Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities – when the universe sets you up and the animals cooperate.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Exploring Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area

Florida’s blessed with many places where you can see Nature and / or animal life.  There are captive animals in zoos /  parks / attractions.  There are anthropogenic places like Orlando Wetlands and Viera Wetlands, where human activities and management can greatly enhance opportunities for animals.  And then there are places like Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area (lets call it TWMA for short) where large areas with little human intervention can approach true wilderness.

If you’ve driven the Beachline toll road (528) from Orlando to Cocoa, you’ve passed through TWMA.  It’s spread out over 30,000 acres along 19 miles of the St. Johns River in east Orange County.  It has a variety of natural communities including  rivers / streams / lakes; freshwater marsh;  Cypress swamps; Wet Flatwoods; Forested Wetlands; and Pine Flatwoods.

Grassy Trail

Grassy Trail – In addition to dirt roads running throughout TWMA, there are lots of trails to walk or bike.

Activities at TWMA include hunting, fishing, hiking, bicycle riding, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, camping, and scenic driving.  There’s a daily entry fee and hours are 8am to sunset.  As long as it hasn’t rained too much, the dirt roads are passable – even with a two-wheel drive car.  So everyone can see much of the area.  Hiking trails lead off from parking areas on the roads so you can get even further out into the wilderness.

Lonesome lifeless pine
Lonesome lifeless pine – Pine Flatwoods at TWMA

eBird lists 162 species seen in TWMA, vs. 293 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, so there aren’t as many kinds of birds there.  And they’re spread out over a larger area, making them harder to see.  During my visit, I found Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Osprey, Yellow Rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Red-winged Black Birds, Anhingas, Belted Kingfishers, Red-shouldered Hawks, an American Kestrel, Black Vultures, an Armadillo, and a deer.

Embrace the chaos
Embrace the chaos – Cypress Swamp at TWMA

I hadn’t explored TWMA until recently.  I’m glad I finally got down there.  Although you may not see as many animals as you do in some other spots, the types of terrain are more varied and the animals are there if you’re patient.  It’s a great place to catch a hint of wild Florida out along the St. Johns River.  Definitely worth a visit!

TWMA is about 25 miles east of Orlando, near Christmas.  From Orlando, take S.R. 50 east to Taylor Creek Road. Turn south on Taylor Creek Road and the entrance will be on the east.

Sure, it'll hold - you go first...
“Sure, it’ll hold: you go first” – A sturdy and well maintained bridge across a stream at the southern end of TWMA

You can click on the photos above to get to larger versions on Flickr, and this set has a few more images from Tosohatchee.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.