I went over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Sunday with Kevin M. If you’ve been waiting for our winter visitor bird friends to show up – they’re here!
We first stopped by the Titusville marina for a few blue hour / sunrise photos. In the original color version of this one, the orange reflections in the water from the streetlights along the shore didn’t mix well with the blue water and sky in the distance. A B&W conversion eliminated that problem and I like the result.
Marina at dawn
Kingfishers were abundant and even a bit cooperative. This one rested on a dead tree for me.
Other winter birds we saw: American Avocets, Blue-winged Teals, Northern Flickers, Northern Shovelers, a Northern Harrier, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats, and Palm Warblers. The ducks weren’t plentiful yet, but I’m sure more are on the way!
Our year round birds competed for attention by posing in very nice light.
Reddish Egret in warm morning light
Egret and reflection
Heron in flight
And we also managed to find a Florida Scrub Jay along the entrance road to Canaveral National Seashore for Kevin’s list this year. So once again a wonderful visit to MINWR. You should go!
Monday is the 11th day of the 11th month, when here in the US we pause to honor the service and sacrifice of all our current and former military personnel. To our veterans and those serving today – you have our deepest gratitude.
I’ve been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC and posted about it before here and here. The wall includes over 58,000 names of people who died in that conflict. It’s a powerful, emotional experience and the traveling wall replicates that power.
Travelling Vietnam Memorial Wall
It’ll be open 24 hours a day through Veterans Day, 11 November. A visit is one way to honor and remember veterans.
“There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.”
Thanks for stopping by my blog. Now – go thank a veteran!
I make a lot of photographs – you may not have been able to tell ;-). And I have many that I like that never get into the blog. So this week I’m going to post a handful of B&W images from around Central Florida that I think are worth seeing. I hope you like them too. Not many words this morning. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Pump house, Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive
Cathedral Interior, St. Augustine
Cypress stand, Orlando Wetlands
Quiet morning, Merritt Island NWR
Sunrise Along Bobcat Trail, Orlando Wetlands
Tranquil morn, Orlando Wetlands
As always, click to view larger on Flickr, and you can see many more of my monochrome photos in this folder.
Thanks for stopping by and looking at my blog. Now – go make some photos!
There’s a lot going on at this city run park out in Christmas, Florida. I needed steps last Friday, so I got up early and took a walk. Hours are “Sunrise to Sunset”, but generally the gate is open about a half hour before sunrise. Plenty of time to catch some good light.
Marsh, moon, and sun rays
The quantity and variety of wildlife is remarkable. I’ve seen occasional deer, bobcat, raccoons, and otters in the past – and alligators and our common wading birds are plentiful. Winter migrants are also arriving.
Eastern Phoebe (winter visitor)
Savannah Sparrow (winter visitor)
Other migrants I came across included Belted Kingfishers, Black-necked Stilts, and Palm Warblers.
Spoonbills have been numerous there in recent years, but I only saw one this time. Maybe more will show as we get closer to springtime.
There were other unusual things too:
Pie Billed Grebe and crayfish
I noticed this Grebe surface with what I thought was a fish. But when I got a better look I could tell it was a large crayfish. It had a precarious hold at first. As I watched for about a minute, it adjusted its grip and eventually swallowed the whole thing. The crayfish looked bigger than the bird’s head!
Other birds I spotted: Black Bellied Whistling ducks, Mottled Ducks, Coots, Common Gallinules, Red-shouldered Hawks, Sand Hill Cranes, Limpkins, Wood Storks, juvenile and adult Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds, Glossy and White Ibis, Anhingas, Black Vultures, and I’m sure others I missed.
There are on-going or planned projects that’ll make this park even better. They’re currently “demucking” cell 13 (far corner from the entrance). And they’ve prepared a site for a new visitor center at the first corner as you hike north from the entrance. I’m also looking forward to new vantage points a future boardwalk over lake Searcy should provide.
In the USA, the second full week of October each year is National Wildlife Refuge Week. I visited my local refuge last Thursday to help celebrate.
I decided to go straight to Black Point Wildlife Drive to photograph sunrise. The gate was still closed when I arrived, so I set up by the sign at the entrance and made the image above. The wind was blowing and I like the surreal appearance of the clouds, moonlight, and stars visible in the full res version.
This was the view a little later from the parking area at the southwest corner of the drive:
And here’s a monochrome infrared photo along the western side of Black Point. I like the low sun angle and clouds.
Out early on a straight road
You might be able to tell from these three photos that I was the first and only one on Black Point Wildlife Drive that morning – which led to the next situation. I stopped at the rest area and got out to scout around. There’s a small observation deck there at the start of Cruickshank trail and as I was just coming off the path to go up the short boardwalk, I heard a noise and then saw a very healthy looking Bobcat jump over the rail and disappear into the vegetation. Even though I had my camera in my hands, set up and ready – I was way too slow to get a photo.
I’ve come across Bobcats several times in the wild. Usually when they see me, they fade away quickly and it’s hard to get a photo. This time was unusual – I wasn’t trying to be super quiet, I can only guess it was catnapping and didn’t notice me at first, or it was hoping I wouldn’t come its way so it could stay comfortable.
I’m sorry I didn’t get the photo for you on Thursday and I know you’re disappointed. So here’s a previously un-published one from March 2017 from very near the same area. It’s typical of the brief and poor look I normally get of Bobcats:
Feral pigs in MINWR aren’t as shy as Bobcats. They typically go about their business when I see them. This one stared me down and when it was sure I was going to stay put, continued across the road – hackles raised. It too quickly disappeared into the undergrowth.
Young wild boar
One more picture to close this out – from the boat launch area at Parrish Park:
#53 – A banded Ruddy Turnstone
I had an exciting day at Merritt Island. Although the winter birds aren’t back in force yet, The Ruddy Turnstones and skittish Belted Kingfishers I saw are migrants – a good sign.
I’ve been using the iPhone 11 Pro camera for a bit and thought I’d post some sample photos and a few photographer type thoughts about it this week.
This isn’t a comprehensive review – you can find many of those on the web if that’s what you need. This also isn’t a “should you buy it” post. That’s a personal decision only you can make.
Morning Light on a Majestic Oak. I think I’m going to like the 13mm eq. FOV ultra-wide lens
The iPhone 11 Pro has three cameras and the ultra-wide is new this year. It’s a bit limited compared to the other two: It’s widest aperture is f/2.4 so it doesn’t gather as much light. It also doesn’t have stabilization, it’s fixed focus, doesn’t support RAW format, and doesn’t support night mode.
Wide angle at the mall
I’m not sure why Apple designed this camera with those limitations. But at a 13mm eq. field of view, it truly is ultra-wide. That’s going to be very handy in a lot of situations, especially where the light is good. It’ll probably mean I use panorama mode on the phone a lot less. And I think one of the main benefits of the ultra-wide is the inputs it provides for computations Apple can do.
Narwhal the kitten helping me test portrait mode
Narwhal modeled for me so I could test the latest Apple implementation of portrait mode. I think his image above looks great and would be pretty hard to tell apart from one taken with a high end camera and a large aperture lens.
That’s because I corrected some issues with the way the phone algorithms rendered depth of field in the original photo. Things like whiskers and hair are difficult to show correctly. Look at the image below to see what I’m talking about. Click on it to open, and then click again to enlarge.
Correcting depth of field flaws
Look at the crop on the left – it’s the Portrait Mode photo produced by the phone. If you’ve enlarged it, you can see that Narwhal’s whiskers have been clipped by inaccuracies in the algorithm. Bright highlights and low contrast have confused the depth map info. The middle photo is with portrait mode turned off. In that one, all of his whiskers are visible with no depth of field / bokeh effects. On the right side and in the full image I blended some of the middle image with the left one to show the focus rolling off more naturally.
Portrait mode has improved this year. You can make portraits with both the wide and tele cameras. And the depth mapping algorithms are better – but they can still be improved. You may not notice or care much about these things and compared to previous attempts, the algorithms are better and the results look great. Important photos could be manually edited to fix them. If we can do this manually, eventually the software wizards will figure out how to automate it into the phone algorithms. iPhone 12 super pro?
I complained last year, that other phones had low light modes and Apple didn’t. They listened to me (ha ha) and added it.
Night mode street scene
I think it captures low light situations very nicely. And the image stabilization is unbelievably good. I made this next photo of the constellation Orion in my back yard, hand held!
There are other changes that I haven’t tried yet and don’t have examples of.
If you shoot in landscape mode with the wide (1x) camera, it saves information outside the frame using the ultra-wide. This allows you to correct perspective distortion or rotate your images after capture without cropping(!).
“Deep fusion” is still in beta. It captures multiple frames and combines them pixel by pixel for the best results. The demos are super interesting and I’m looking forward to trying it.
What about RAW format and manual control?
So many of the improvements in phone cameras now come through software. But the hardware has changes too. In addition to a third camera, the sensors and lenses in the wide and tele cameras are improved. And (except for the ultra-wide) they have all the RAW format and manual control capability they’ve always had, with a little better output.
A touch of color. 4 RAW frames, stitched and processed in Lightroom / Photoshop
So manual control is still possible. The question is: “When should I bypass auto mode and use manual?”
With the software getting so good, and so much computation going on in the background, there are more and more reasons to use these cameras in automatic mode. As a photographer, you’ll need to really understand your phone camera capabilities and be able to wisely choose when to bypass it. For common situations, I think the answer is becoming “Use auto, most of the time”.
Should you give away your non-phone cameras? No, not yet. Phones are still at a disadvantage in some ways: Lens selection and sensor size are two important ones. And the interfaces on dedicated cameras are better and allow quicker control. But in some (many?) cases, your phone is an excellent photo (and video!) tool. And they’re going to get better. Just make sure you’re up to date on how to use the latest functions.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I hiked out into the Marl Bed Flats part of the Lake Jesup Conservation Area yesterday morning (10/4/19) to visit the swamp sunflower fields that grow wild along HW 417 north of Lake Jesup for a few weeks this time of year.
Swamp Sunflower panorama
I left a little late because I don’t really like to go out there in the dark. I’ve never had any issues though, so just be careful if you do go before or after it’s light (official hours are “Dawn to Dusk”). There were two cars already there when I arrived and the gate into the larger parking area was closed. Parking could be tight at the end of the road – hopefully there will be plenty of room if you visit. I met one of the other photographers on my way in.
We haven’t had much rain recently, so both the red and yellow trails are dry and clear until you get out to the flowers. The flowers are in great shape although they didn’t seem as dense as I’ve seen them in other years – they may still be filling in. The ground in the fields is damp in spots but not very muddy in the areas I went through. I didn’t have any problems with bugs but I used insect spray before hand.
Right now is a great time for a visit and I think the flowers will last for at least another week or so. You’ll get a little exercise and you’ll witness a wonderful Florida nature spectacle! Take water, bug spray, etc. and watch out for snakes and other wild animals. It is a wilderness area!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I’ve been photographing the swamp sunflowers in the Marlbed Flats / Lake Jesup Conservation area since at least 2006. Last year, the fields by HW 417 next to Lake Jesup were flooded and the Swamp Sunflower season was disappointing. But I’ve driven by there a couple of times in the last week or so and it looks like we’ll have a a lot of flowers this year. Blooms are already visible from the road.
Lake Jesup Wildernes Area – Swamp Sunflowers. This is a fisheye photo from 2012. I think I’ll take that lens out there with me again.
It might be a bit early for a visit right now. I’m guessing they’ll peak around the first or second week of October. If you do go, be careful. Take water, bug spray, etc. and watch out for snakes and other wild animals. It is a wilderness area!
And Eastern Meadowlarks declined by ~70% (73 million):
A Messy Molting Meadowlark – Joe Overstreet Road, Osceola County
The study is based on multiple independent data sources including bird counts and radar information. This particular study didn’t investigate causes, but habitat loss and degradation are seen as the biggest overall drivers of the decline.
The news isn’t all bleak. Raptors have increased by 15 million since 1970 due to banning some pesticides, and waterfowl gained 35 million because of wetland regeneration. This shows we can make a difference.
Editor’s note: First things first: We’re safe here in Central Florida and came through our brush with Hurricane Dorian with very little damage, although people are still worried about possible future flooding from all the rain – especially along the St. Johns river. Other places weren’t as fortunate as we are. The news from The Bahamas is horrific and some locations along the US east coast have severe impacts too. I hope recovery efforts are swift and thorough.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge announced they were re-opening on Friday (9/6/19) although BioLab Road and BioLab boat ramp were damaged and are closed for now. Kevin M. and I decided to ride over on Saturday morning and explore a bit. Here are some photos from the visit.
There were several Ospreys fishing along the sunrise side of the entrance and we stopped to watch. I caught this one very close to the rising sun but unfortunately clipped a small part of its wing. I was shooting in continuous mode though, so I was able to make this composite image using a separate frame to fill in the missing bit.
Wood Stork portrait
For some reason, I haven’t made / posted a Wood Stork photo in a while. There were three or four hanging out at Parrish Park as we left. They’re very tolerant of people (the folks fishing must give them handouts) and it posed quietly while I made this close-up portrait. Some folks might not think they’re handsome, but I like their rugged good looks. They have a lot of character and seem to own their unique style!
Perched Osprey – watching us from a dead tree branch on Black Point Wildlife Drive
Black-crowned Night-Heron. Not a great photo, but I don’t see Night-Herons very often, so I’ll include it.
In general, the conditions at MINWR are pretty good. The water is high, and wildlife is a bit scarce, but that’s not unusual for this time of year. It’ll cool off soon and we can look forward to lots of birds visiting in the fall and winter.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!