It’s getting chilly outside, presents are starting to show up, and we’re hearing carols on the radio. Family and friends are arriving soon and before we know it, It’s a Wonderful Life will be on TV around the clock. Whether you celebrate Christmas or another winter holiday, family gatherings are the greatest photo-op of the year!
Mom, me, Dad – Christmas, 1955
Gather folks up and make photos and maybe even some video. Include everyone and make sure you get yourself into a few. Don’t put it off and don’t take no for an answer. Technical perfection isn’t even required. You and people you love will cherish the photos anyway.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some family photos! And share them – someone will be very glad you did!
Indian Springs is about six hours by car from Central Florida. It’s east of I-75 between Macon and Atlanta and well worth the drive. Lynn discovered they have cabins and suggested that we go up for a few days to see if any leaves are changing. They definitely are!
I think peak color will be in a week or so. We get very little fall color in Florida – so it was a treat to see.
The cabins are nice – some of the best we’ve stayed in. They must have been refurbished not long ago. They have two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, a screened porch, and are fully furnished. And the location on a gorgeous lake was wonderful. This was the view just a few steps from the back porch:
Good morning (three Frame vertical panorama)
There were other things to see in the park too. This creek runs along the road by the entrance.
Big Sandy Creek (using the new iPhone “Live Long Exposure” mode)
And we spotted this cemetery from the 1800s along the road to the cabins.
At rest in the wood (Infrared)
We saw a few deer and although I didn’t put much effort in, several kinds of birds. We had some fun watching (and listening) to Canada Geese on the lake. I managed to make this video one morning around sunrise. The flock took off just as the sun started to hit the lake.
There are several other places to see in the area. High Falls State Park is just to the east and Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge is to the west. We’ve explored several state parks in Florida, but after this experience, we’re going to expand our target zone! And Indian Springs is definitely on our “go back” list.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
This morning, we’re waiting to see what Hurricane Irma is going to do and it looks like it might pass directly over Bahia Honda State Park as a Cat 4 or Cat 5 storm. It’s hard to imagine the damage that could result.
Lynn and I returned from the Florida Keys a week ago. We spent a couple of days in Key West and then were lucky enough to stay in one of the 6 cabins at Bahia Honda State Park for 3 more days. They’re built on stilts but even so are only about 10 -15 feet above the ocean. And we felt them swaying at times while we were there – even in good weather.
The cabins are on the right side of the overseas highway as you head down to the keys. They’re furnished with everything you need for a great Florida vacation. And the location on a beautiful lagoon is wonderful. These next three photos were all made on the patio, just a few steps from the cabin door:
Loggerhead Sea Turtle – The ranger told us that turtles, dolphin, and tarpon like the lagoon because it’s so quiet and protected. We’d see one or more of Loggerheads from the cabin porch almost every time we stepped out to look. We also saw Tarpon rolling on the surface a few times and maybe a dolphin or two.
Sunset Fishing – You can fish in the lagoon by the cabins, but other water activity isn’t allowed. We often saw campers fishing there.
Another view from the cabin porch. The skies at Bahia Honda are some of the darkest in Florida. Lynn and I got up at about 1:30am on our first night. The moon had set and we had a stunning view of this part of the Milky Way, right from the patio. And the bugs weren’t biting too much!
The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is about 8 miles southwest of Bahia Honda and snorkeling trips leave for the reef twice a day. It was a relaxing swim – the water temperature was in the high 80’s, which can cause storms to strengthen.
Looe Key Sergeant majors and others – The visibility wasn’t very good the day were were there, but the number of fish we saw was still impressive.
There are also 72 campsites in the Park. Many of them are in awesome locations too.
Between the bridges – This is at sunset, between the old abandoned bridge on the left and the new one on the right. You can see some of the lovely Bahia Honda campsites on the left side of the frame.
Lynn and I thought of this visit to Bahia Honda as a “scouting trip”. Based on what we saw, we definitely want to go back.
To everyone in Irma’s path and to everyone impacted by Harvey: We’re thinking of you.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – stay safe in the storm!
The birds we saw in New Mexico varied from what we’re used to in Florida (of course). I saw 12 life birds while we were there. And this was really with just casual birding. I’m sure my more serious birding friends (thinking of you Kevin M.) would have found many more!
Gambel’s Quail – Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
MK wanted to visit White Sands National Monument. I did too, but I’d heard a lot about the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge so we agreed to get up early and stop by there on the way. I was really glad we did!
Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Broad-tailed Hummingbird (on the left) – Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The volunteers at the Visitors Center were very helpful and pointed out where to look for the Golden Eagle. We would have missed it without their help. At first glance, I mistook it for a vulture! They also apologized since there were no Sand Hill Cranes (they migrate through in the winter). I assured them that we see plenty in Florida. Hopefully I can go back when it’s cold. Seeing huge flocks of cranes would be an experience!
Golden Eagle – Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
MK was an excellent spotter. We found the Caissin’s Kingbird when she stopped to look at a road side field on the way home from White Sands. She also found the Yellow Warbler at the top of Sandia Peak – thanks MK!
Caissin’s Kingbird – Carrizozo, NM
I’ve called myself a “beginning” birder for too long. Maybe it’s time to change this to “casual” birder. I like birding and enjoy finding / seeing new birds and figuring out what they are. But I mostly enjoy the photography and get a bit disappointed if my images are poor. So, from me to you, here are my…
Birding hints from a casual birder:
Take advantage of travel. New locations can be an easy way to add to your life list.
Consider going even if it’s a slow time of year. Bosque is well-known for its Festival of the Cranes in November. But we found lots to see even in the middle of summer.
Research the local hot spots and add some to your itinerary. Find and check local sightings or species lists so you’ll know what to look for. I read through the wildlife list on the Bosque web site before we went. It lists bird species by month observed and was a big help.
Try to look at the right times of day when birds are more active. We saw the Yellow Warbler near dusk on Sandia peak, and had good luck at Bosque early in the morning. I strongly doubt we’d have seen as much in mid-afternoon.
Stop by the Visitors Center and talk to other birders there. The volunteers at Bosque were very helpful.
Don’t let birds you’re familiar with fool you. I might have missed the Golden Eagle and the Neotropical Cormorants if I hadn’t been looking for them. They look similar to other birds I’m familiar with in Florida.
A second set of eyes is very helpful. With two of us looking, MK and I saw more than we would have by ourselves.
Birding friends are helpful too. I probably could have figured out what all the life birds were on my own, but it was faster with Kevin helping. And having a second opinion is good too.
Photograph everything you see and confirm later. I wasn’t sure about the Golden Eagle until I enlarged the image on the back of my camera.
If you think you might be birding, bring your long lens. I didn’t and regret that. Thinking back on it, I should have left my ultra-wide at home and taken my longest lens instead. You can always stitch multi-frame panoramas to get a wider field of view. But you can’t get a longer focal length in post processing without losing quality.
I never expected to see so much – it was a great trip! Here’s what we saw:
Life birds: Golden Eagle, Gambel’s Quail, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Ring-necked Pheasant, Neotropic Cormorants, Swainson’s Hawk, Cassin’s Kingbird, Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, House Finch, Yellow Warbler
Other birds: Blue Grosbeaks (M & F), Crows, Common Ravens, Brown-headed Cowbirds, House Sparrows, Mockingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Road Runner, Barn, Tree, and Cliff Swallows, Wild Turkeys, Canada Geese, Blue Wing Teals, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Herons, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Robin, Grackles, …
Other wildlife: Prairie Dogs, Snakes (no ID, although one roadkill might have been a Rattlesnake), Deer, Rabbit
Mary Kate had a craving for Lobster Rolls last Saturday and her favorite place to get them is at Cafe Heavenly (http://www.cafeheavenly.com) in New Smyrna Beach. Lynn and I like the place too, so we drove over with her.
After lunch the girls wanted to window shop. Me – not so much. We set a time to meet, I left them to it, and set out to walk up and down Flagler Avenue. With my camera, of course.
Harley Ladies on Flagler Avenue.
It’s an interesting place. There are all sorts of people, shops, places to eat and drink, and even a few hotels and B&Bs.
No Vacancy – Fortunately we didn’t need a place to stay.
Our weather here in Central Florida is turning summer like. After about 45 minutes I was getting hot and thirsty. I saw this, and agreed completely:
Polly wants a cocktail – I was getting pretty thirsty.
Oh yeah, about that Lobster Roll – they are delicious!
I enjoyed the food and the stroll. You can see a few more photos from the area in this album on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Surprisingly, it’s been 2 1/2 years since I’ve been to the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida. Surprising because although it is a longer drive for me, it’s such a wonderful place. Every time I go, I realize again that it’s well worth the time.
Anyway, four of us from the Photography Interest Group woke up very early (me at 4:25 am!) and headed over. Sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some mornings are, but the calm winds made for nice reflections.
Calm morning – Looking west before sunrise
When we had enough light, we all shifted to birding mode and explored. The temperature was just right for walking around. We saw many warblers in the trees and bushes – I think most were Yellow-rumped, but I’m not so good with IDs on smaller birds.
U lookin’ at me? Yellow-rumped Warbler
And the canals were full of wading birds looking for breakfast.
In spots the surface of the water was completely covered with duckweed, but incredibly the birds still managed to grab small minnows.
Snowy Egret and minnow
I saw another egret pounce and come up with a stick, but as I watched it dropped the stick and kept and swallowed the minnow that was also in its beak – amazing skills!
On the way out we parked for a few minutes to meet some famous new arrivals.
Great Horned Owl nest and chicks
It wasn’t hard to find this nest – the tree was roped off, and a volunteer was doing a good job protecting the site and keeping all the photographers in order and back away from the birds! It was nice to see these two little ones, and it was nice that all the people were polite and respected the bird’s space.
Just a quick and early post this week to make sure everyone knows about the Orlando Wetlands festival this Saturday (2/20/2016).
Smoke on the water – Morning mist on Lake Searcy at Orlando Wetlands Park
It starts at 9am and since attendance has grown so much, you’ll have to park this year at Fort Christmas and ride the free shuttles out to the Wetlands. Please click on this link to go to their webpage for all the details:
When you think of the desert in the western US, you might imagine extreme heat and monochromatic scenes of empty barren land. If so you probably haven’t been to Death Valley. There is some empty barren land:
Badlands sunrise – This was my first visit to Death Valley and what I thought it would look like.
And there are sand dunes and wind-blown textures:
Photographing Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – A distant photographer lines up his shot.
But there are so many more things to experience there.
It’s the largest national park in the contiguous US at over 3.4 million acres. The habitats are varied and the elevation ranges from 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America) to more than 11,000 feet at the top of Telescope Peak.
Panorama of Badwater from Dantes View, looking west toward Telescope Peak
Many of the places we wanted to see weren’t accessible while we were there. The good news is that there were more than enough locations we could still get to, and the water created some rare views of the area.
Death Valley Reflections – Some locations had 5 inches of rain. The following morning, we saw large pools of water west of route 190 and north of Furnace Creek. It was a long walk (~1.5 miles from the road) to get close, and at times I wondered whether it was a mirage. I’m guessing it’s rare to see the mountains and clouds reflected in standing water at this spot.
And are there any waterfalls in the desert? You wouldn’t think so, right? We decided to find out one day and after a long drive, hike, and rock scramble through a gorgeous canyon, we arrived at Darwin Falls, which seems like a miracle in the middle of such arid country.
Darwin Falls – This desert waterfall in Death Valley had about a 40 foot drop. It’s spring fed and flows year round, although the rains may have added some water while we were there.
There’s a lot of history in Death Valley too. The Native American Timbisha tribe have lived in the valley for at least 1000 years. Gold and silver mining started in the 1850s and Borax was discovered in the 1880s. There are also several ghost towns to explore in the park and the surrounding areas.
20 Mule Team Wagon Train – Used in 1885 to haul Borax From Death Valley to Mojave. Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California
There’s also a surprising amount of wildlife. While hiking back from the Mesquite Flat Dunes we spotted some motion ahead that turned out to be my first sighting ever of a fox in the wild.
Kit Fox at Mesquite Dunes – We saw it from a distance. At first I thought it was a coyote, but Eric Vanbergen on Flickr suggested it might be a Kit Fox. Judging by the info on Wikipedia, he’s right. I made the photo handheld (with my tripod still attached!) using a 24-120mm lens that I was using for landscapes. This is a small crop from the frame. It was nice of the Fox to stop, stand in the light, and look at the camera for me – but it should have come closer!
We also saw several of these, curiously along or as they crossed the road. They’re large enough (~3 inches across) to spot as you drive by.
Classic Death Valley (Photo by Kevin McKinney – used with permission) – We saw several Tarantulas while we were there.
Here’s one last photo. We’d been searching for a Road Runner all week but hadn’t seen any. On the last afternoon we finally sighted this one as we drove by the visitor’s center. Of course, none of us had our camera gear – thank goodness for iPhones!
“Beep Beep” – A Roadrunner outside the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek. I think this is the one the rangers have nick-named “Robbie”. It’s very tolerant of humans and went about catching and eating bugs while we watched.
You can view many more photos from our trip at these links:
Link to Tom M’s album on Flickr No longer available
This is really more of trip report than a review or guide. With so little time on site, I’m not qualified to give you much specific advice on photographing Death Valley. But here is some info I found very useful:
On July 4th, 1936, in the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains along Skyline Drive at Big Meadows, President Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park. Since that time, people have greatly enjoyed wonderful vistas, beautiful waterfalls, quiet wooded hollows, hiking, wildlife and the night sky.
Sunrise at Spitler Knoll
I’ve been to Shenandoah many times. It’s the first national park I ever visited – too long ago to admit. I hiked there with our Boy Scout troop from Bowie, Maryland when I was a very young man . Hiking’s a major activity at the park – the Appalachian Trail runs along and crosses Skyline Drive in many places.
Appalachian trail view
Lynn and I also took Mike and Mary there when they were younger and we have fond (and scary!) memories of hikes with those two scrambling over rocks and along ridges to be first to see a view. On one of our visits, we also picnicked with our good friends the Sullivans, and hiked with the kids down to Dark Hollow Falls.
Dark Hollow Falls – A gorgeous waterfall, although crowded at times since it’s one of the closest ones to Skyline Drive. (Photo from 1996).
To get the most out of your visit, you need an up to date guide-book. We had one from our previous visits (printed in 1988!), but unfortunately we didn’t realize how out of date it was. Fires and other events have changed places in the park, sometimes quite dramatically. Fortunately, we found updated books at the park. One example of the changes:
Dead eastern hemlock trees – Hemlock Springs, Shenandoah National Park. We really enjoyed hiking through large stands of hemlock trees the last time we were there, 20+ years ago. Now, 95% of the Hemlock trees in Shenandoah have been killed by the hemlock woolly adeligid, an invasive species introduced by humans.
Weather can vary in the park. All of our visit was beautiful, but we spent one day completely socked in with heavy rain and visibility of 50 to 100 feet. I had fun walking around in the fog looking for photos, while Lynn wove a White Oak basket from scratch.
Rain drops in the mist
We saw lots of wildlife while we were there. The deer are all over and not very skittish, since animals are protected in the park. We also saw 2 black bears – exciting! I didn’t look too hard for birds, but managed to spot at least one life bird (Dark-eyed Junco).
If you search the web you’ll see things to do in the surrounding area too. We’ve been to Luray Caverns in the past, although we didn’t have time to explore outside the park this time.
In summary, Shenandoah National Park deserves to be on your bucket list. If you haven’t been there yet, just go. If you have been there, you know what I mean.
You can see larger versions of the photos above by clicking on them and some other photos from our trip in this album on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I’d heard about Lion Country Safari and I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Lynn and I finally got a chance to go last week.
“Lion Country Safari is a drive-through safari park located in Loxahatchee (near West Palm Beach), in Palm Beach County, Florida. Founded in 1967, it claims to be the first ‘cageless zoo’ in the United States. In 2009, USA Travel Guide named Lion Country the 3rd best zoo in the nation.” Wikipedia’s Lion Country Safari Page
There are about 5 miles of paved roads running through several large areas divided by water and fences with more than 1,000 animals throughout. I haven’t been to Africa, but it seems like a wonderful place to get a small taste of what safari might be like.
Info for Photographers
Access for photographers is excellent. It’s similar in some ways to Animal Kingdom in Orlando. The photo ops for most of the large African animals are better than the safari ride at Animal Kingdom. At Lion Country Safari you go at your own pace in your own car. At Animal Kingdom, you’re in a vehicle with others that you have no control over and most of the time you’ll have to shoot from the moving / shaking vehicle. That said, Animal Kingdom does have some animals that Lion country Safari doesn’t have and in some cases with much better photography access.
You’re cautioned to drive slowly and not stop too close to the animals. You’re also supposed to keep your doors locked and windows shut at all times. I did cheat and one of the rangers yelled at me on a loudspeaker – “Close your window right now!”. I did, of course and felt a little embarrassed. The ranger probably would have been embarrassed too if she knew she yelled at the Central Florida Photo Ops lead writer!
When we drove through the zebra herd, I was a little leery of stopping behind any of them – I believe they have a very powerful kick. But in general we felt very safe and I didn’t have any problems positioning the car for the shots I wanted.
Tripod/Monopod: Nope. You’ll be in your vehicle – so they aren’t useful.
Lenses: Long lenses are good, although the animals are very close at times. You’ll do fine if you have at least a 200mm equivalent lens. Zooms are also very helpful to frame your composition from inside your car. Unless it’s very overcast you should have plenty of light, but you’ll want to use a wide open aperture to blur out distracting detail (e.g. fences, etc.) and to keep your shutter speed high.
Best time to visit: The animals are most active early in the morning. Plan to drive through at least twice (no extra charge): the light and the animals activities / positions will change.
The entrance fee is $31, although you can find discount coupons on-line. This includes both the drive through safari park as well as the walk through safari and amusement park areas. Lynn and I didn’t really explore the amusement park side, for more info on this, please see the Lion Country Safari web page.
We stayed at Jonathan Dickenson State Park in Jupiter, Florida in one of their small cabins and it made a great base of operations for exploring the area.
Our base of operations at Jonathan Dickenson State Park
We both liked Lion Country Safari. The animals all seemed well fed, healthy, and even interested in the visitors. They do animal rehabilitation, sanctuary, and research and seem to take very good care of the residents. It’s one of the best zoos I’ve been to and I wish I’d gone sooner. You can see more Lion Country Safari photos in this set on Flickr.
2003 Lion Country Safari Rd
Loxahatchee, FL 33470
Central Florida Photo Ops Rating:
A Central Florida Photo Op must do!
On a different subject, this blog celebrated its 8th birthday last week – the first post was published on May 4th, 2007. That’s a long time ago in web years! I hope that my photography and writing has improved at least a little since then. Many thanks to everyone stopping by to read the articles and comment on them. It really helps to motivate me!