Category Archives: Merritt Island NWR

Planning or Luck?

Ansel Adams is known for his pre-visualization approach to photography.

“The term [pre]visualization refers to the entire emotional-mental process of creating a photograph”

“It’s not what you see, it’s what you want me to see”

Ansel Adams

Having deliberate control of all parts of the photo capture and printing processes allowed him to create wonderful images. We can’t be Ansel Adams, but we can continue learning so that we gain as much control as possible in our own photography.

Embrace your craft.  Study it.  Understand it.  Practice it.  Select a subject. Compose and expose. Process and print. Use all your skills to control the light you capture. It’s a life long activity that you’ll never completely master.

But sometimes the subject and light find you. When this happens, be ready. If you are, you can use all of your acquired skills to make a photo showing what you want people to see. Ansel also said:

“Sometimes I arrive just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter”

Ansel Adams

A while back over in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I saw this scene developing and really liked the way the sun was shining through the backlit clouds. I quickly searched for some foreground and found a pool of water reflecting the sky. I made a set of four frames that I could stitch into a vertical panorama.

Wetland Weather Wetland Weather

Later on the computer, I had to solve issues with stitching, exposure, and focus but luckily I knew what to try and had the tools to do so. Of course, it’s not Ansel Adams level photography – but I’m very pleased with the result.

What kind of photographer are you? Do you pre-plan / visualize all of your photos? Or do you wander around and photograph what nature presents? Which approach gives you the best results? Which gives you the most pleasure:  A carefully controlled composition that comes out exactly like your vision?  Or a serendipitous image that came out well when you tried something new?

Luck is good.  Preparation is good.  Being prepared when you get lucky is better.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Louis Pasteur

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, be ready – and make some photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Out of practice

It doesn’t take very long to forget about some things. Good habits lapse and bad ones take over quickly.

I hadn’t been out photographing in about three weeks and was anxious to go last week. So I got up early Wednesday morning and headed over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – one of my favorite spots. Although I managed to come back with some photos I like, all did not go well. Turns out I was out of practice and there were several issues that made me miss shots. So today, I have a few reminders of things not to do. Maybe my mistakes will help someone else.

Morning glow Morning glow – from Gator Creek Road

  • I didn’t check the MINWR website before I went. If I had, I would have seen: “The Black Point Wildlife drive will be closed for two weeks for annual maintenance beginning 8/19/21.” Luckily, there are plenty of spots to explore in the refuge, so this wasn’t a critical error. But somewhere else, it could have been. Check the website!
Silhouettes Silhouettes

  • I hadn’t reset my camera / lens. My long zoom has a focus limiter switch. You can choose the full range of focus (2.4m – infinity) or limit it to one of two ranges. I usually keep it set to the 10m – infinity selection which speeds up focus response for birds in flight. I’d used it at home though for a close up (2.4m – 10m) and put it back in the case without reseting it. Then when I pulled it out at MINWR to photograph a distant bird, it wouldn’t focus. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I’ve made this mistake before, and it didn’t take long to correct. But it was confusing and I did miss a shot. Reset your camera and lens to defaults when you put them away.
Bird Buddies Bird Buddies

  • A lot of the time, I have my camera in my lap so it’s ready to use on short notice. But at one point while driving down Biolab Road, I’d put it in the open case on the seat next to me. Of course, a huge gator picked that time to stroll across the road in front of me. I probably wouldn’t have made the shot even if I’d been ready, but I would’ve had a better chance if the camera had been closer. Keep your camera ready at all times.
  • I’m really upset at myself about this last one. At some point during the trip I’d set my aperture to a small f-stop to increase my depth of field. And I forgot to change it back to wide open (the default – see above!!!). This slowed my shutter speeds and ruined a few photos due to motion blur that I wish I’d gotten. I usually don’t check my photos all the time, but the instant feedback you can get with digital cameras is wonderful – if you use it. Inspect what you’ve captured every once in a while so you can catch problems.
Morning meal Morning meal. A 1/125s shutter speed was fine for a still subject.

Header image: Looking west from Biolab Road, Infrared, B&W. Full version here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/51424824946/in/dateposted-public/

These mistakes are embarrassing – I hope I don’t repeat them the next time I’m out. And I hope they help you too!

“That is what you should not do. So let that be a lesson to you.”

Berenstain Bears: THE BIKE LESSON

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, avoid some mistakes and make some photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Bird Sound Wizardry

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

The wizards at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have cast some potent spells with the latest update to their free Merlin Bird ID app.

I’ve had it on my iPhone for ages (it’s also available for Android). But I got used to the iBird app (http://ibird.com) and I normally open it for help with bird identification – so Merlin’s been sitting around idle. It wasn’t until last week that I heard about the new sound ID feature they added in June.

Sound ID records bird songs around you, analyzes them, and suggests IDs for what’s singing. You can compare the recording to other songs and calls for confirmation. It’s also a great way to learn bird calls. Hearing some, and then having the app tell you what they are in real time is great re-enforcement and helps you remember what you’ve heard. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

I updated the app and tried it out yesterday on a trip over to MINWR. I simply held it out, watched the waveforms record and the results as they came up magically on my screen. Here’s a screenshot:

I used it several times and it found Black-necked Stilts, Red-winged Blackbirds, Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Kingbirds, Ospreys, and Mourning Doves. Most of them before I ever saw the birds. When the Eastern Kingbird ID popped up, I started looking for them and spotted this one perched briefly on a distant branch:

Eastern Kingbird Eastern Kingbird

Since it told me Stilts and Yellowlegs were around, I could keep an eye out for them too.

Black-necked Stilt Black-necked Stilt

Greater Yellowlegs Greater Yellowlegs

I was surprised by how sensitive the recordings are. It heard most all the calls that I did, and it seems accurate, at least in this short test.

There are 458 birds in the Sound ID list and more are promised. Cornell Labs has done some fine work with this. I think it’ll be very helpful to me in the future. If you’re at all interested in birds or birding, it belongs on your phone too! Did I mention that it’s free?

Header image: A pair of bunnies I also photographed yesterday. No, Merlin didn’t pull them out of a hat. That would’ve been very advanced technology! Full image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/51363803209/in/dateposted-public/

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Covid cases in Florida are still at an all time high. Be careful out there and please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, photograph (and ID) some birds!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

More landscapes

A short post today with more images from my last trip to MINWR.

Dawn over the anchorage Dawn over the anchorage

I suppose we all occasionally struggle with photography – finding something to point our cameras at can be difficult. Other times, it seems easy and images almost make themselves. My last trip to MINWR was like that – I came home with more than a normal number of landscapes I really like.

Across the marsh Across the marsh

I felt like I was really in the “zone”. Every composition I tried looked good to me. And they still looked good when I got home.

Wide Water Wide Water

Anyway, here they are.

Fun fact: These were made with three different cameras: A Sony full frame, an Olympus Micro Four Thirds, and an iPhone. Can you tell which is which? If you’re interested in the answers, you can click on these to see larger versions (and EXIF data).

Header image: Another view of the marina. Larger version: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/51349701361/in/dateposted-public/

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Covid cases in Florida are at an all time high. Be careful out there and please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Merritt Island NWR – July 21, 2021

Our weather’s been seasonably hot and humid here in Central Florida. We’re very definitely in the dog days of summer. According to Wikipedia, they’re called that because historically they’re associated with the summer-time rise of Sirius (Canis Major – the “Dog Star”) in the night sky.

Anyway, mid-summer isn’t the best time for birds / wildlife but I really wanted to do a bit of photography. So I packed some camera gear and headed out toward Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at zero dark thirty last Wednesday to see what I could see.

There was a nice view near the entrance to the refuge about 25 minutes before sunrise:

Titusville Marina at dawn Titusville Marina at dawn

I drove around Gator Creek Road next although there was little activity and I didn’t make any photos.

Black Point Wildlife Drive was a different story. There were a few of our regular resident birds:

Reddish Egret Reddish Egret

Watching Watching Osprey

And I lucked into a feeding frenzy where Herons and Egrets were “fly fishing” for minows in a small pool of water.

The light was harsh, but it was a great place to practice birds-in-flight photography. They move fast and erratically chasing the fish. Looking through the camera with my right eye while watching the wider scene with my left helped me anticipate the action before I could see it through the lens.

Fly fishing 2 Fly fishing 2

According to the iBird app on my phone, Northern Flickers are here year round, but I don’t spot them very often. When I do they’re usually skittish – this one was no exception. But it decided to fly ahead of me along the road and I followed along slowly at a distance. It finally stopped for a few seconds on the side of a palm tree in some pretty good light and I was able to jump out of the car and make this image.

Northern Flicker Northern Flicker

While I was over there, I went by Veterans Memorial Park to check on the repairs they’ve been doing. The area’s been closed since way back in September 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Irma. It took a while, but now it’s open again and back on my list of favorite sunrise spots!

Sunrise at Veterans Memorial Park Sunrise at Veterans Memorial Park

I like going to MINWR in the dog days of summer when it’s quiet. It may not be the greatest time for wildlife, but there’s still plenty to see and photograph. As a bonus there are usually fewer people there too. I had Black Point all to myself for most of my drive – a very special privilege and well worth getting up early for.

Header image: A Snowy Egret, also “fly fishing”. Larger version here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/51327744874/in/dateposted-public/

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Covid is surging out there again. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A Marvelous Morning After All

Have you ever had one of those photography outings? The kind where you’re not sure any of the photos will be worth the effort? Where it feels like you’re just going through the motions?

 Hindsight: Perception of the significance and nature of events after they have occurred.

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/hindsight

I hadn’t been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge since March. The weather forecast when I got up at zero-dark-thirty last Thursday wasn’t good: Overcast, hot, and probably buggy because of the rain we’ve had recently. I went anyway and on the drive over, the clouds were pretty thick. I stopped at a favorite spot and made a few photos. The light was mostly dull, but there was a minute or so when the clouds lit up.

A nice morning after all A marvelous morning after all: Gator Creek Road panorama

There wasn’t much wildlife along Gator Creek Road, but the sun was back-lighting some flowers along the water. I tried a few photos, hoping to catch the early morning colors in the background. The shadows of the stamen and stigma on the flower petal were a nice bonus!

Wild flower 1 Wild flower 1: Morning-Glory(?)

The hot summer months aren’t the best time to see wildlife here in Central Florida and I didn’t spot much on Black Point Wildlife Drive, either. But I made a few photos of our colorful residents. The clouds made for diffuse light and soft shadows, although to get a good exposure, my ISO settings were running between 3200 and 6400. A little noise / grain in an image is better than no image, right?

Green Heron Green Heron

Blue Heron Blue Heron

There were lovely patches of wild flowers on Black Point too:

Wild flower 2 Wild Flower 2

I normally see several Manatees at the Bairs Cove boat ramp. On Thursday I only got a brief glimpse of a single one. There’ve been reports of a lot of Manatee deaths this year. I wonder if that’s why. Anyway, while looking for them I found this place by the canal that I’d never noticed before. I liked the viewpoint.

By the boat ramp By the boat ramp

Driving home Thursday morning my thoughts were mixed. I’d enjoyed getting out and seeing the refuge again, but I wasn’t sure I’d gotten any good photos. Most of what I remembered seeing in the view finder didn’t seem that great. When I started looking at them on the computer, I was happy with how they turned out. There’s something about the light that morning that appeals to me.

So:

  • You can’t know how a photo trip will turn out before you go. You can’t even be sure how much you’ll like the photos before you go through them.
  • If it feels like you’re just going through the motions, go ahead and do your best. You might be surprised by the results.
  • Hindsight could be another name for photography. Your photos let you perceive the significance and nature of a trip after it’s over.
  • In hindsight, my morning was marvelous after all.

Header image: A panorama of the wetland across the road from the Black Point exit.

By the way, Happy Father’s Day to all Dad’s out there! Many thanks for everything you do to make the world a better place.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And when you can, make some photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Banded Ruddy Turnstone update

You may remember this post from a couple of months ago where I wrote about sighting a banded Ruddy Turnstone by the boat ramp at Parish Park in Titusville: https://edrosack.com/2021/03/28/three-birds/.

I don’t have a new photo of our banded bird to share with you, but I will include this one from 2012.

A flying flock of Ruddy Turnstones and their reflections Ruddy Turnstones and reflections

Last week, the North American Bird Banding Program run by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service sent me an email. They included a very nice certificate of appreciation with information about the bird we reported:

Ruddy Turnstone sighting certificate

Some other interesting facts from their email:

  • Birds have been banded in North America since 1904
  • About 60 million birds in hundreds of species have been banded
  • About 4 million bands have been recovered / reported
  • Data from the bands is used to monitor populations, set hunting regulations, restore endangered species, study effects of environmental contaminants, and address issues such as Avian Influenza, bird hazards at airports, and crop depredations.
  • Members of the public reporting band sighting and recovery is critical for all of these uses.

Some photographers might be disappointed with an image that includes an “unnatural” band. But I was excited to sight and photograph a band (twice!), report it, and get back some information on that specific bird. The people running these programs are doing important work. We should all help them out.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And please report bird bands you see at www.reportband.gov!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Nature

Here are several photos I made recently. To me they don’t strictly fit into the Landscape or wildlife categories, although they do include those as elements in the compositions. I like them though, so I’ll post them here and call them “Nature photos“.

When I first saw the dolphin, it was a little too far away for a good wildlife photo, so I waited for it to swim even farther into the colors reflecting in the water. I’m pretty sure it was only thinking about catching fish for breakfast, but the scene made me wonder if it thinks about other things sometimes.

Do Dolphins watch the sun rise?Do Dolphins watch the sun rise?

This still water made a perfect mirror on that morning. But I probably wouldn’t have made a photo if I hadn’t seen the bird off to the right. It was moving left, so again I waited and clicked the shutter as it crossed the line of clouds.

Ibis in the cloudsIbis in the clouds

I’d think that as much rain as we have sometimes here in Florida, I’d see scenes like this more often – but I don’t. I like how well defined the footprints are in the dried mud. I wish I was knowledgable enough to read the story these tracks are telling us.

Making tracks Making tracks

And in this last one, I was photographing the clouds and water with a neutral density filter and small aperture to get a 10 second exposure. When I finally noticed the birds in the surf, I quickly removed the ND filter and opened the aperture to get to a 1/10 sec. shutter speed and capture the birds reasonably sharp. When I got home I blended the two frames together to get what you see here. I guess this one is a landscape photo, but I think the birds add to the scene.

Below the angry cloudsBelow the angry clouds

The header image is the wake left behind by a running Coot. I cropped most of the bird out, to fit the theme of the post. If you’re interested, you can view the whole image at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/51097712962/in/photostream/lightbox/

So, are these wildlife photos, landscape photos, or nature photos? What do you think?

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And when you can – make some nature photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

MINWR – 2/5/21

Well. Kevin M. wanted to meet and photograph the SpaceX launch scheduled for 5:15 am last Friday morning. Talk about zero dark thirty!

Anyway, I was all packed and prepared Thursday night when the launch was postponed. Since I was ready to go, I decided to head over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge anyway on Friday morning (just not so early!). I’m glad I did. I got to see a lot more things flying than just a space ship. By the way, if you like to look at photos of SpaceX launches, their Flickr stream is awesome.

With our recent cool, clear weather, I expected few clouds and a so-so sunrise. But this scene with the sun rising below the clouds and centered behind the Vehicle Assemble Building at Kennedy Space Center was pretty.

VAB SunriseVAB Sunrise

Gator Creek Road at MINWR has been closed for a while so I was glad to see it finally open again. They’ve been busy maintaining the dirt road surface and trimming vegetation along the sides. You can see a little better now – and you don’t have to dodge potholes! There was a lot of bird action.

A large squabble of gullsA large squabble of gulls (Mostly Laughing and Ring-billed)

Birding is interesting in many ways. For instance, you can always call a group of birds a “flock”. But I think the group names for different bird species are fun. If you’ve ever listened to a big “squabble” like this, you’ll probably agree it’s an appropriate name for gulls. You can also call a gull group a “flotilla”, “gallery”, “screech”, or “scavenging”.

I’m not sure what attracted these huge gatherings to Gator Creek. but they sure seemed to like it there.

A tightly stacked scoop of Skimmers A tightly stacked scoop of Skimmers

“Scoop” is a wonderful name for a group of Skimmers too. The classic photo for Skimmers is of a single one feeding just above a calm surface with its lower mandible in the water (like this one). I didn’t see any of that behavior on Friday, but I really liked this alternate flight shot. It’s hard to understand how they fly that close without hitting each other. Groups of Skimmers are also known as a “conspiracy” or “embezzlement”.

On Black Point Wildlife Drive the water was very low in spots but there was still a lot to see. Here’s one more group flight shot:

A fling of DunlinsA fling of Dunlins

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that Dunlin are sort of a life bird for me. What I mean is I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them before, but I find Sandpipers challenging to ID and I’d never consciously done so with Dunlin. I also saw / ID’d some Western Sandpipers on Friday for the first time. Flocks of Dunlin are also called a “flight” or “trip”.

And here’s one last bird photo. This group was a lot smaller than the others. They were spread out and flying around so fast the only time I could grab a collective image was when they settled for just a moment.

A small worm of American RobbinsA small worm of American Robbins

It looks as though there’s only the one name for a group of Robins. I suppose you could always be boring and call them a “flock”.

If these names interest you, here’s a good summary article on the subject: https://www.thespruce.com/flock-names-of-groups-of-birds-386827

So that was a great visit to my favorite wildlife refuge! In addition to the birds above, I also saw a Bottle Nose Dolphin, Alligators, a Bald Eagle, Roseate Spoonbills, Forster’s Terns, a Eurasian Collared Dove, Brown Pelicans, Turkey Vultures, Ospreys, Ibis, American Avocets, Great Blue and Tricolor Herons, Redish Egrets, Great and Snowy Egrets, and some others that I’m forgetting or (once again) didn’t ID.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – make some photos!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved


GO BUCS!!!

Wildlife Panoramas

Sometimes you want to get closer / zoom in with your lens to show as much detail as possible but if you do, you can’t fit everything in your frame. When I’m in that situation I try to expand the frame by making a stitched panorama. It’s a common approach for landscape images – but it can also work for wildlife and I don’t see that mentioned very often elsewhere. Here’s a recent example I assembled from two photos:

Pretty in Pink 2
Pretty in Pink

And here’s one more made from three photos:

A Partial Pod of PelicansA Partial Pod of Pelicans. (Click to see larger on Flickr. Click again to zoom in)

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t repeat myself. If you’re interested in my approach, see these two posts:

And there’s much more info on the web waiting for your DuckDuckGo or Google search.

There is an added complication to watch out for when stitching wildlife panoramas: the animals may move between frames. For that reason, I shoot as quickly as possible. I try stitching the frames together automatically and look for any anomalies along seams. If I find some, then I assemble the panorama manually in photoshop and mask out the issues.

I enjoy making these and have many more collected in this folder on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157637736002816. Take a look to see some possibilities.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – stitch some panoramas!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved