Category Archives: Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR 12/8/2022

I spent a few moments before sunrise last Thursday morning at Scobie Park (just south of Veterans Memorial Park in Titusville), watching the pre-dawn clouds reflecting in the calm Indian River water. Oh, and I had a camera with me too – I made 6 frames to stitch together into this image:

The day beginsThe day begins

After that I wandered over to Black Point Wildlife Drive and one of the first things I saw was this:

Large numbers of birds were going after minnows concentrated in this small pond along Black Point Wildlife Drive.

These “feeding frenzies” don’t happen all the time, but when they do they can be great photo fun.

At first glance, they look like a photographer’s dream – all those birds in a confined area – taking off, landing, chasing minnows and each other, just waiting for you to snap the shutter.

It turns out it’s not so easy. They’re crowded together against a cluttered background. They move quickly, change directions unexpectedly, and in general make it hard to pick a subject and compose deliberately – especially if you’re looking through your viewfinder with a long lens on your camera. I often keep the camera away from my eyes so I can see what’s going on. Then I can sometimes anticipate the action and make a photo when they all decide to move at once:

Exodus Exodus

I also like to study the scene for a while and try different vantage points and lenses. I chose a spot where the wind was at my back and most of the birds were taking off and landing toward me. It helps to keep looking around so you can spot them as they’re coming in. I noticed this spoonbill a long way out. Since I knew where it was headed I could track it as it approached and make several frames when it landed. This side lit one is my favorite:

Landing SpoonbillLanding Spoonbill

There were lots of Roseate Spoonbills around. The header image at the top of the post on the web is another one I like from the trip. That pair was wading in a less busy part of the drive.

I also had some good luck with this female Belted Kingfisher. She ignored me and kept gazing out over the water as I crept closer. I stayed in the car, moved slowly and tried to be as quiet as possible so I wouldn’t bother her. Most of the time, they leave as soon as you point a camera at them, but she wasn’t concerned at all. This is one of the closest photos I’ve made of one (the EXIF data says I was about 19 meters away). She’s very pretty and quite regal, I think.

An Unusually Calm KingfisherAn Unusually Calm Kingfisher

It was a short visit, but a wonderful one. This is an excellent time of year to visit the refuge, get out in the midst of nature, and enjoy some of the things you can see there.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  I hope all of you are doing well and that you have a joyful holiday season with your family and friends. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make a few photos!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Merritt Island NWR – 11/4/22

Jim Boland sent out his latest email newsletter last Thursday and it made me want to visit the refuge again. The last time I’d been was a while ago and before Hurricane Ian. I charged up my batteries and left early on Friday morning to explore.

There are still some road closures over there (see this link for the latest official status: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/merritt-island), but the good news is that Black Point Wildlife Drive and West Gator Creek Road – spots I usually visit – are open.

I arrived well before sunrise and stopped by the Titusville Municipal marina. The weather forecast had me expecting very few clouds and I had a longer lens mounted to try and frame some details on the boats. When I saw this low cloud drifting in, I didn’t think I’d have time to swap lenses, so I pulled out my phone. Current phone cameras are just amazing! (Click on this one to see a higher res version on Flickr.)

A cloud drifts by above the marina before dawnA cloud drifts by above the marina before dawn. iPhone wide camera, handheld, 24mm eq., f/1.8, 1/5 sec, ISO 8000. RAW capture, processed in Photoshop and Lightroom.

I saw the same things that Jim reported including Spoonbills, a Reddish Egret, Blue-winged Teal, and Black-crowned Night-herons. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out this Redish Egret is the exact same bird he saw. It was especially entertaining: busy showing off its fishing prowess and ignoring photographers interested in making photos.

Hunting EgretHunting Egret.

I enjoyed seeing all the Goldenrod in bloom. This one was in nice light:

Goldenrod in golden lightGoldenrod in golden light.

And I couldn’t resist making a photo of this people watching gator. The header image is a crop from the center of the photo.

Craggy face critterCraggy face critter.

Our other common birds were out and about. I spotted a few warblers too, although the only one I was able to ID was a Yellow-rumped Warbler. It was a great trip – thanks for motivating me Jim!

I hope all of you are doing well. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Hello Again

It’s been a little over a month since my last post. I enjoyed writing this one after such a long break.

I went over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge toward the end of August. I wasn’t expecting to see much, but I wanted to get out and photograph something. I’m glad I did, because the sunrise was one of the best I’ve ever watched.

Nature's GiftNature’s Gift

That photo’s from Veterans Memorial Park on the west side of the Indian River looking east toward MINWR and Kennedy Space Center. I was concentrating on the sunrise when I noticed several other folks had shown up. One was Pat H., who I’ve known for a while. I’m glad I ran into her since she was there to photograph the Artemis 1 SLS rocket on the pad at launch complex 39B. At the time, the planned launch was a couple days later. After we talked, I went and got my long lens to make a close up photo of it (the header image). You can see a higher res version on Flickr at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/52311586034/in/dateposted-public/. I’d hoped to include a photo of the launch in today’s post too, but it’s been postponed. Hydrogen is tricky stuff!

After that I went through Gator Creek Road, Black Point Wildlife Drive, and also stopped by the Bairs Cove boat ramp. This kayaker had gotten up very early to go fishing. I didn’t see him catch anything while I was there though.

A fine morning for fishingA fine morning for fishing

I was happy to find this pretty, young Roseate Spoonbill and its reflection at one of the first corners on Gator Creek.

Spoonie!Spoonie!

Other birds were a bit scarce, but this Loggerhead Shrike flew right in front of my car and landed in a mangrove. I quickly rolled down the passenger window and pointed my lens at it. Auto focus is amazing now days. My camera locked on the bird in the middle of all those branches at the first shutter press (no – that doesn’t happen all the time!)

A Bird in the BushA Bird in the Bush (is worth two in the hand?)

I also saw some gators and a raccoon on Black Point, and 5 or more manatees at Bairs Cove – but didn’t get good photos of any of them.

Changing the subject, I was browsing my archives one day and found this image I’d never processed. It’s from one of my previous cameras (an IR converted Olympus E-PL5). I ran it through Lightroom’s enhance detail and the Topaz Sharpen AI plug in and it came out with an amazing amount of detail. I like the subject rendering and the background separation too.

IR SunflowerIR Sunflower

A few days later, I ran across this blog post http://infraedd.blogspot.com/2014/03/cameras-fuji-x100-hoya-r72-filter.html. He talks about using an R72 filter on a Fuji X100 to make infrared photos. I’ve tried R72 filters before (a long time ago) but maybe I should take another look at them. It would be an inexpensive way to occasionally do a bit of IR photography.

In other news, we’d planned some travel but that got postponed while we dealt with a broken central air conditioner here in hot, humid Florida. Supply chain issues mean it takes a very long time to get a replacement compressor (and other parts). Hopefully that’s behind us now (I hope Murphy doesn’t read this). As a side note, I didn’t realize Portable ACs work as well as they do!

Sorry to ramble on for so long. I suspect that my posts will be longer since they’re less frequent now. I hope all of you are doing well. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Perseverance

This is the best photo I’ve been able to make of a Northern Flicker.

Flickr FlickerNorthern Flicker (Click to see a larger version where you can zoom in a couple of levels.)

This one is yellow shafted and based on the black “mustache” a male. There’s also a western / red shafted variety but I haven’t seen one of those.

I don’t spot them very often although they have been in the blog before (https://edrosack.com/tag/northern-flicker/). The first photo I made of one was back in May of 2013. It’s a blurry image of the bird in flight, fleeing my camera. They seem to be very wary and for me nearly always leave as soon as I see one – which explains why it’s hard to get a good photo.

This bird acted like that too, but only flew short distances and I was able to watch him for a while. Finally he landed on top of a mangrove tree and I made this photo. The pose could be better but I like the warm early morning glow, the catch light in his eye, and the feather detail. Lest you think I was crowding him, that’s not the case. I’m not sure of the exact distance but the focal length I used was equivalent to 1260mm so he was pretty far away.

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

John Quincy Adams

So persevere – it may take years and several tries on a lucky day to get a good photo.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can — keep making some photos!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Glad I Stayed!

There’s a fenced lot near the NW corner of the A. Max Brewer Memorial Parkway and County Road 3 in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. An old utility pole there has a nesting platform near the top. I’ve seen Great Horned Owls and Ospreys using the box before: (https://edrosack.com/2015/01/11/merritt-island-national-wildlife-refuge-172015/).

It’s probably way too late in the year to see the Owls nesting, but there’s a chance that the family could be near so I drove by hoping to spot something. When I slowed down and saw a bird on the nest, I was a bit disappointed that it was “just” an Osprey and almost didn’t stop. They’re common and seeing one isn’t as exciting as finding owls.

Nesting Ospreys 1 of 6: Mom and two chicksMomma* Osprey guarding two chicks

But I stopped anyway and waited a bit to see if the chicks would pop up a little so I could get a better photo of them. It was hard to see the chicks and I was thinking about leaving when I saw another bird off in the distance that turned out to be:

Nesting Ospreys 2 of 6: Dad brings home the groceriesDad bringing home the groceries

One of the chicks did show itself then, but neither one made a fuss and they weren’t calling out for food, so I think they must be pretty well cared for. I watched a little longer hoping to see them feeding and when that didn’t happen, I thought about leaving again. But then this:

Nesting Ospreys 3 of 6: Since Dad's back, Mom leaves on an errandSince Dad’s back, Momma leaves on an errand

I din’t have clue why she left. It turns out she must’ve discovered a weak spot in the nest, because it wasn’t long before she came back:

Nesting Ospreys 4 of 6: Mom returns with a stick to repair the nestMomma returns with a stick to repair the nest

And landed in the nest with the stick, very careful not to poke one of the chicks.

Nesting Ospreys 5 of 6: Mom carefully lands back at the nest with her stickMomma carefully lands back at the nest with her stick

Which she moved into place to repair the flaw she’d found.

Nesting Ospreys 6 of 6: Mom patching the nestMomma patching the nest

I was there for about a half hour and these six photos cover a total time span of only 5 1/2 minutes. I was very lucky and excited that this family shared all this activity with me. Maybe Nature was trying to teach me a lesson: Slow down, stay a while, observe. You might see something wonderful. And it doesn’t have to be an owl!

*I’m not an expert when it comes to telling male and female Ospreys apart. But I think I’ve got it right in this post based on behavior and markings. See this link for some more info: https://hawkwatch.org/blog/item/1016-telling-osprey-sexes


Winter Park Osprey nest: On a related note, Jean Thomas commented (in this post: https://edrosack.com/2022/04/24/busy-birds/) that she went by that nest on April 25th and there was one chick that seemed about two weeks old. She’d heard that there were two seen there earlier. I went by on May 3rd and the nest was abandoned. Sad to know, but not all nests are successful every year.


Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the US: It’s our opportunity to remember those that have sacrificed so much to defend our country. Please honor them with a moment of silence, a reverent act or a thoughtful gesture of thanks.


Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. Honor the fallen. And whenever you can, stay for a while and make some photos. Nature might reward you!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved


Fewer birds?

I was browsing through my photo archives last week and came across an unprocessed RAW image of an American Avocet and its reflection. I thought it had potential so I went ahead and worked on it.

American AvocetAmerican Avocet

I made this in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on March 3, 2015. It got me thinking – I know, proceed with caution, right?

The last time I was over there, I spent a few minutes talking to someone and he mentioned that there are fewer birds there now than there used to be. I hear comments like that a lot when when I’m out photographing. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen an Avocet but I knew it’d been a while. Maybe there are fewer of them around. When I went back into my archives in Lightroom, it turned out my most recent photo of one is from January of 2021.

I don’t see too many of them, and they’re distinctive enough that I’m sure I’d notice them if they were there. But my data is sparse and can’t really say if these birds are getting less frequent around here. So how can I tell?

I’ve mentioned eBird.org before. It’s managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and collects data on bird sightings from all over the world to “document distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends”. Maybe if we look there we can see if there are fewer Avocets now at MINWR.

There’s a tremendous amount of data and science resources on eBird. But I couldn’t find specific information on year to year trends. So I looked at the specific page for MINWR bird observations: https://ebird.org/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2022&bmo=1&emo=12&r=L123565. If you search for American Avocet on that page and click on the little graph symbol next to the name, it opens this page: https://ebird.org/barchart?r=L123565&bmo=1&emo=12&byr=1900&eyr=2022&spp=ameavo

Then you can select different metrics and date ranges. I chose to look at the “Totals” tab, which is the “sum total of all counts from all observations for a species within a specified date range and region”. I picked two date ranges: 2007 – 2014, and 2015 – 2022 to compare and see if I could tell if there are fewer avocets now than when I first started going over to MINWR.

American Avocets: Total observations by month at MINWR, 2007 – 2014. Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 3/26/22.
American Avocets: Total observations by month at MINWR, 2015 – 2022. Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 3/26/22

This seems to say there are about twice as many American Avocets seen at MINWR recently than there used to be. But… it isn’t normalized to account for the increased reporting by more birders as time goes on. So I don’t think these numbers are an accurate representation of the number of Avocets actually there. Is there a way to determine the accurate numbers? Sorry – I couldn’t find one. But I’ll keep looking and let you know.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are always very welcome and a big motivator for me. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some bird photos now – in case their are fewer opportunities in the future.

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Mostly Shorebirds

Our weather’s been interesting – lots of rain and warmer than expected. Between that and other obligations, I’ve had a hard time practicing photography. Checking the forecast late on Thursday night, Friday looked like it would be halfway decent so I jumped at the chance to head out.

There were a few rain drops falling at first and it was overcast. But that made for some dramatic clouds when I stopped by the marina.

Impressive clouds over the marinaImpressive clouds over the marina

Later on it turned into a pretty nice day. I spent some time around Parrish Park watching all the shorebirds.

I like photos like this next one. Getting a flock of birds close by with a fast enough shutter speed and in focus isn’t easy though. This time most of the birds listened to me when I asked them to all fly by at the same distance!

A "grain" of SanderlingseeA “grain” of Sanderlings

I drove slowly along the shore and stayed in the car trying not spook the birds. I spotted several different ones and worked to isolate each one in the frame:

Semipalmated PloverSemipalmated Plover

Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy Turnstone

Dunlin Dunlin

MINWR was quieter than last time I was there. But shore birds were out over there too.

Lesser YellowlegsLesser Yellowlegs

I was sitting at this next spot when MaryKate called. The Killdeer were so loud she heard them through the phone and asked about them.

Killdeer Killdeer

Thistles are blooming on Black Point. They’re attractive photo subjects if you catch a colorful one in good light. A bee or butterfly helps too.

Busy beeBusy bee

There were other birds and wildlife around: the regular wading birds (herons and egrets), Alligators, Belted Kingfishers, Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teals, Caspian Terns, Black Skimmers, and I’m sure others that I missed. I also spotted a different looking hawk that the Merlin Bird ID app thinks is a Swainson’s Hawk (I’m not convinced).

Anyway, it was a wonderful visit and a very nice distraction from current events.

You can click on these photos to view larger versions on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are always very welcome and a big motivator for me. Stay positive, be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, practice some photography.

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Black and White Light

I’ve written a bit about this before (see #2 in this post: https://edrosack.com/2020/06/28/black-and-white/), but I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly revealed the secret.

Here’s the finished photo:

Under the bridgeUnder the bridge(click to view larger on Flickr)

I like it and the Flickr folks seemed to like it too. It’s a two frame composite blended from these images:

Image 1, exposed for the water: ISO 100, 16mm, f/11, 13s
Image 2 – exposed for the sky: ISO 100, 16mm, f/11, 2.5s

I think the the subject and composition are nice, but the mixed natural light and bridge lighting are too different. I could have tried to use selective white balance (see: https://edrosack.com/2011/10/30/using-selective-white-balance-to-fix-problem-photos/) to fix this, but I think it would have been hard in areas where the colors overlap.

Anyway, today’s secret is that wild lighting can look a lot better in B&W. The Lightroom B&W conversion tool has sliders to adjust the intensity of eight different colors in an image. Wide color differences in the photo combined with all that control gives you a lot of variability and choice when converting to B&W. To me, the B&W lighting in the finished version is much more attractive than the original colors.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are always very welcome and a big motivator for me. Be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if the light is wild, make some B&W photos.

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

My Favorite Bridge

The A. Max Brewer Bridge over the Indian River is my favorite. Not for how it looks (it does look nice!) but because it leads to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

My favorite bridgeMy favorite bridge

Here are a few things I was fortunate to see the last time I crossed over.

This flock flying over the water next to Gator Creek Road caught my eye. I’m pretty sure they’re Sanderlings, although in one of the other photos there was a single Yellowlegs mixed in with them. It’s fascinating how their motions are so coordinated.

Synchronous SanderlingsSynchronous Sanderlings (?)

As I watched the sanderlings, I noticed other things happening. Mullet were jumping and there were several Dolphin chasing them. Terns, gulls, and osprey overhead and Cormorants in the water were also going after the fish. It was a tough morning to be a mullet in Gator Creek.

Morning DolphinMorning Dolphin

I stopped at  the Wild Birds Unlimited Trail on Black Point and walked out to see if the Cinnamon Teal was still there (didn’t see it). Savannah Sparrows were hopping on the trail and in the bushes. This one chose a great perch next to a spiderweb.

Savanah SparrowSavannah Sparrow and spiderweb

And finally, a drowsy yellowlegs picked a very nice setting to pose for me:

Drowsy Lesser YellowlegsDrowsy Lesser Yellowlegs

There were many other things to see. In addition to alligators and regular birds, there were some Northern Shovelers, a few Ring-necked ducks, an American Wigeon or two, some Black Skimmers, and a Kestrel.

It seemed like about half the cars I saw that morning had out of state plates – people driving long distances to visit a place that’s close by for me. I’m so lucky to live here in Central Florida, near my favorite bridge.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are very welcome and a big motivator for me. Be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos in one of your favorite places!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Common Birds

We’re blessed here with a wide variety of birds. The eBird list for Central Florida (Orange, Seminole, Lake, Osceola, Volusia, and Polk counties) shows 443 species (https://ebird.org/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2022&bmo=1&emo=12&r=US-FL-069,US-FL-095,US-FL-097,US-FL-105,US-FL-117,US-FL-127). The bars in the chart reveal which birds are here year-round and how often they’re seen / reported. Snowy Egrets are one of the most common.

Pretty PerchPretty Perch

I’ve seen a lot of them and you probably have too. Much of the time now, I glance their way and don’t make a photo. But every once in a while I’ll I come across a common bird in an uncommon situation or setting. It reminds me that I do need to pay attention – and make occasional photos of these very pretty, common birds.

This egret was calmly perched on a branch in still water. I was attracted to its pose, the light, and the mirror-like reflection. I made two frames for a vertical panorama so I could zoom in and capture as much detail as possible. Later on my computer I stitched them together into the image you see here. The header image is a crop from a B&W version of the same image.

Common birds can make splendid photo subjects. Don’t pass up the opportunities.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are very welcome and a big motivator for me. Be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos!

©2022, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved