Category Archives: Merritt Island NWR

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

That Darn Dodging Duck

You may remember my post from late last year (https://edrosack.com/2020/12/13/three-spoonbills/) where I mentioned a Cinnamon Teal that’s been wintering on Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  I didn’t find the bird on that trip and it avoided me on three more tries, although reports kept coming that others had seen it. Finally on my fifth try last Tuesday I actually saw it with my own eyes!

Odd duck
Cinnamon Teal

This is my first sighting and photo of one so it’s another addition to my (relatively short) birding life list.

Another update for today: It’s been a long while since I’ve visited Bio Lab Road. Damage from Hurricane Dorian closed it for a while, but that’s all been repaired now and the road is in very good shape. Howard T. told me they’d driven it a few weeks ago so I decided to check it out too.

A cloudy day on the Indian River
A cloudy day on the Indian River

There are some nice views across the Indian River through breaks in the vegetation. I think this one looking out across that sand bar is very “Florida”.

Bio Lab road is a good place to see large gators. I’m not sure if this is the same one Howard saw, but it’s huge. I was glad it was across the canal!

A big one
A big one

And here’s one last image from the day, also on Bio Lab Road. I don’t often see these little falcons and this one stayed still for a moment so I could make a photo:

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

It was cloudy last Tuesday. Some might think the light was bad and I agree it was dim. But diffuse, even light can be a plus. Direct sunlight can be harsh and create deep shadows and blown highlights. I had to raise my ISO to get decent shutter speeds for some of these shots, but the camera sensor handled it well. So if you’re out photographing on a cloudy day, use your ISO setting!

Thanks, Howard for reminding me to re-visit Bio Lab Road! And thanks to that darn dodging duck for providing such a large dose of motivation to get out, enjoy nature, and keep looking!

Thanks to all of you too 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

Merritt Island NWR – December 2020

‘Twas the night after Christmas*

‘Twas the night after Christmas and I sat at my desk,
trying to decide which photos were best.

To the refuge I’d been three times in December.
I was writing a blog post to help me remember.

All of these pictures I selected with care.
In hopes that they’d make you feel like you’re there.


This light on the Fish Camp made me pause for a bit.
When the pandemic’s over, we’ll stop in and sit.

Early morning at the Fish Camp Bar & GrillEarly morning at the Fish Camp Bar & Grill. On SR 46 at the St. Johns River.

Going into the refuge the river’s reflection,
painted this scene approaching perfection.

Clouds on the Indial RiverClouds on the Indian River. Just south of Veterans Memorial Park.

Kingfishers on Black Point are loud and brash.
But I managed to catch one, heading off in a flash.

Belted Kingfisher 3Male Belted Kingfisher in flight

A Common Yellowthroat posed in the brush.
Then he flew away in a very big rush.

Common YellowthroatMale Common Yellowthroat

Storks in formation soared by above,
A wonderful subject to make photos of.

Formation flight: Three Wood StorksThree Wood Storks in flight

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?
A pretty pink spoonbill, preening quite near.

Preening SpoonbillPreening Roseate Spoonbill

Other birds to the refuge, they also came.
It’s wonderful to see them and call them by name.

Now Ospreys, Shovelers, Pelicans and all,

Norther ShovelerNorthern Shoveler drake

White PelicanWhite Pelican

Now egrets and herons, with all of your calls,

Reddish EgretReddish Egret

Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

Now woodpeckers, cardinals, eagles, owls and more,
So many birds along the shore!

I know I saw a bug in there...Red-bellied Woodpecker. “I know I saw a bug in there…”

Male Cardinal in the MangrovesMale Cardinal in the Mangroves

Nesting Great Horned OwlNesting Great Horned Owl

Large birds, small birds, short birds and tall,
stay for a while, don’t dash away all!

Ibises and SpoonbillsIbises and Spoonbills

Ibises and EgretsIbises and Egrets

And I exclaimed as I turned out the light:
“HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL,
AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!”

Calm HarborCalm Harbor – Titusville Marina


Note:  I ended up visiting Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge three times this month and I had so many unused images from these trips that I decided to re-do a post from December 2019 with updated words to fit the new photos. MINWR is a truly wonderful place – especially at this time of year. I’m very grateful that I live close by!

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope this holiday season brings each and every one of you and your loved ones peace and joy. I know the pandemic has been extra challenging and not being with family is especially hard at Christmas time. Stay safe and take care of each other so we can all enjoy the better times that are on the way for 2021!

This is my last post of 2020, but I’ll be back next Sunday with another one. Until then, have a happy and safe New Year!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

*With sincere apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

Three Spoonbills

I made these photos last week while watching several cooperative and close Roseate Spoonbills posing in nice morning light.

Pretty in pinkPretty in pink

I’d left my car in the large parking area on the south west corner of Black Point Wildlife Drive (stop 4) and was walking south along the trail toward the observation decks.

Morning stretchMorning stretch

The Spoonbills were in a small opening on the right hand side of the trail almost all the way to the second deck. They were in among a group of birds that included Wood Storks and Ibis. When I first saw them, they were in the shade cast from the mangroves along the path. On my return walk, the sun was high enough to light up that area.

Red, white, and blueRed, white, and blue

The birds were busy and ignored me as they went about their morning business. With such pretty light coming over my shoulder, all I had to do is wait for an isolated moment, frame them, and click the shutter. Sometimes things come together.

And sometimes they don’t.

I was out there that morning scouting for a Cinnamon Teal that both Jim Boland and Kevin McKinney have found and photographed recently. You can see Kevin’s very nice image on Flickr here:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/44542650@N08/50688544146/in/dateposted/

Cinnamon Teal’s are a rarity in Central Florida and would be a life bird for me. Apparently this one’s been a winter visitor at that spot for the last few years. I couldn’t find it but I spoke with someone that’d seen it that morning. It likes to hang out on the east side of the trail, in among many other ducks. A morning photo into the sun might be a challenge so I think I’ll try again one afternoon.

There are lots of birds along Black Point Wildlife Drive right now. If you’ve been waiting to visit there, go ahead and go – it’s a good time. Even if you don’t spot the Cinnamon Teal, there are other things to see and photograph.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – make some photos – even if you don’t spot what you’re searching for.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Spellbinding Stare and Tremendous Talons

Ospreys are common here in Central Florida and actually throughout most of the world. Even though I spot them all the time, I still think they’re fascinating photo subjects.

This bird was already on its perch when I saw it. It looks like it just made a dive and hadn’t finished preening yet.

What're you lookin' at?What’re you lookin’ at?

They’re remarkably well adapted to finding and taking fish out of the water. Their keen eyesight helps them spot prey from on high before plunging in to grab them with opposable talons.

“I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.”

Shakespeare in Act 4 Scene 5 of Coriolanus

According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare was referring to “a medieval belief that fish were so mesmerised by the osprey that they turned belly-up in surrender”.

Looking at those eyes, it’s no wonder people thought the birds could hypnotize their prey into surrendering. This looks like a piercing stare, but it was really just a passing glance in my direction from about 100 feet away. Luckily, I wasn’t fully under its spell and still managed to make a photo!

And check out the muscles and long curved claws on its feet! It’s hard to imagine even a slippery fish escaping from a grip like this.

A common and totally awesome bird – sovereignty of nature indeed!

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

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A good day in the wild

I made a trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday. As you probably know, it’s a favorite of mine. I just hope all of you aren’t too tired of me writing about it.

Refuge:
1. Protection or shelter, as from danger or hardship

a. A place providing protection or shelter

2 b. An undeveloped area for the preservation of animals and plants.
Retrieved November 22 2020 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/refuges
I think MINWR lives up to these definitions and I’m grateful that it’s close by and has stayed open. Even as the pandemic here in the USA continues to worsen, a visit there seems very safe to me. Lots of fresh air, with just a few socially distanced people. And interesting landscapes and wildlife to see and photograph – and divert me from the 24/7 news cycle.

Anyway, our weather has been a bit strange here in Central Florida. We’ve had lots of rain showers and strong winds too, so I wasn’t sure what the conditions would be like. My weather app said there’d be some clouds (good for sunrise photos!) so I got up at zero dark thirty and headed over to the St. Johns River boat ramp on HW 50.

A windy morning on the St. Johns RiverA windy morning on the St. Johns River

The air here is still on most mornings. But in this photo you can see nearby grass blowing and the water motion smoothed out from my 3s shutter speed. As I was photographing, an owl swooped in and landed about ten feet away. It only stayed for a few seconds as it looked me over. It was very dark, I was a bit startled, and I didn’t have the right lens on – so I didn’t even try to make a photo. But it was a very cool moment.

When I got to MINWR I made a pass around Black Point Wildlife Drive. Maybe it was too early, but I didn’t see much. Then I went over to drive through Gator Creek Road and it was roped off – I’m not sure why. This page says Catfish Creek and Peacocks Pocket are closed due to hurricane damage, but doesn’t mention Gator Creek Road. Maybe it was because of a rocket launch – we’ve had quite a few recently.

The wildlife photography part of my trip wasn’t going very well. Before I headed home, I decided to go through Black Point one more time and I’m very glad I did. The second pass was much better!

_A6605130_DxO.jpgBelted Kingfisher

There are more winter birds showing up now than last time I was there. Kingfisher’s are notoriously flighty, but for some reason this one sat still for me – of course I wish it’d been closer!

Northern Flickers are always a treat. I wasn’t sure that’s what this was until I got home. It was severely back lit and I couldn’t see any detail until I looked at it on the computer (with the shadows slider cranked up).

Northern FlickerNorthern Flicker

There were several of this next one flying around over the marsh. I was pretty sure they were Northern Harriers – the white rump is distinctive. I don’t see these very often and I enjoyed reading about them when I looked them up again. They hunt with both hearing and sight and have evolved stiff feathers around their ears to help direct the sound. They also have soft feathers elsewhere to reduce their flight noise – leading to their nickname “Gray Ghost”. You can read more at this link: https://www.audubon.org/news/northern-harrier.

Gray Ghost (Northern Harrier)Gray Ghost (Northern Harrier)

Here’s one last photo. Reddish Egrets are one of my favorite birds and I usually spot one or two along Black Point. I’m including it because this is the first time I’ve seen one perched up on a branch – they must do this all the time, right? This photo is worth a click to view on Flickr. You should be able to zoom in there with additional clicks to see a lot of up close detail. This post is getting too long or I’d tell you how I made this 40 MP image with my 24 MP camera. Maybe next time.

Pretty BirdPretty Bird

I saw a pair of Bald Eagles, Yellow-rumped Warblers (also winter visitors), a few (far away) Roseate Soonbills, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Anhingas, Double-Crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Black and Turkey Vultures, many Ospreys, gulls and terns, and others too, although I’m sure I missed many. I also saw what might have been a vole scurry across the road.  Lucky for it one of those Harriers wasn’t close by.

A good trip. I guess I’m glad Gator Creek Road was closed and I had to make a second pass on Black Point!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. If you have a National Wildlife Refuge near you, consider exploring it – in a safe, socially distanced way. Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – make some photos.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Black & White and Green

Our weather last week was nasty for a few days as tropical storm Eta came through Central Florida.  Luckily we were spared severe wind damage or flooding, but it did throw a soggy monkey wrench into my plans to go out and make a some photos. Since I don’t have any new images, I’ll just show you two I like that haven’t been in the blog before. 

The first is from a quiet, calm pre-sunrise morning.  It was so empty and still that it verged on spooky as I looked around while I waited on several long exposures to finish. It’s a single frame at 24mm, f/5.6, for 20s at ISO 100 and converted to B&W in Lightroom.

There was no one near, that morning by the pier.There was no one near, that morning by the pier

In this second one, I like the intense concentration of the Green Heron scouting for food as it stalks along the dead branches out over a canal. It’s at 280mm, f/10, for 1/1000s at ISO 1000.

Branching outBranching out

That’s it for this week.  It’s nice to have a large archive of unused images, but I’ll try to get something new for you next time.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. The rise in Covid cases is getting very scary again. Please, please – stay safe and take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – make some photos.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Don’t miss a good one

I like the view at this place on the back portion of Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve photographed it several times, but this image is my favorite from that spot so far.

Pond, grass, treeline, and cloudsPond, grass, tree-line, and clouds

The small pools of water aren’t always there next to the road, but on that day this one was reflecting some of our gorgeous Florida clouds and adding interest in the foreground. The grassy wetland, tree line, and distant clouds complete the image for me. I used my IR modified Olympus E-M5 II in high resolution mode and made two frames that I stitched together into a vertical 1×1 panorama.

You’ve seen this next image before.  It’s the last one in this post, and it’s from about 20 feet away and two minutes later on the same day.

Black Point vistaBlack Point vista

When I was going through photos after that trip, I liked ‘Black Point vista‘ so much that I didn’t even process the other one. Now, I still like it, but I’m very glad I came back and re-looked at ‘Pond, grass, tree-line, and clouds‘.  I feel it’s a stronger image.  What do you think?

Things change so it’s worth re-visiting places. While you’re there, it’s worth moving yourself and your camera around and trying several compositions.  And when you get home, it’s worth taking a second look at all your images so you don’t miss a good one!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please stay safe out there and take care of each other. And if you’re in the USA and haven’t yet voted, please do so.  Then you can make some photos.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

 

A Difference in Scale

The master copy of the image below is made from multiple frames that I stitched together into a panorama. It ended up being ~196 megapixels.  I used a 70mm lens, so the equivalent focal length is about 35mm.  Looking at it another way, the tree line along the horizon is probably a couple of miles in length.

A calm, cloudy mornA calm, cloudy morn

Especially at this time of year, if you can zoom in to almost any image like this you’ll see dragonflies moving around or perched on leaves.  Look closely at this crop from near the center of the first image and you can just make out two of them resting on reeds.

The next photo is a single frame I made a few minutes earlier with another camera / lens at  ~1400mm eq. focal length.

Four-Spotted Pennant (?)Four-Spotted Pennant (?)

So in terms of lens magnification, it’s about a 40x zoom.  In terms of distance shown, it’s a few inches vs. a couple of miles or ~20,000 times smaller.  Either way, quite a change in scale and two unique ways to show the environment and inhabitants.

By the way, the header image at the top of the post is this same one rendered in B&W.  It’s a little more abstract, but I  like that version too.  If  you’d like to see the un-cropped frame, I posted it on flickr at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/50499722736/in/photostream/.

Exploring an environment at a variety of scales can reveal interesting scenes and details.  Especially if a dragonfly tilts its wings just right in the light.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. Please stay safe and take care of each other. And if you can, make some photos – at different scales.

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved