Our weather here in Central Florida is finally starting to cool off a bit. I could definitely feel a difference when I set out for Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge early last Monday. And the high temperature reached just 81ºF later that day. Our forecast for next weekend predicts highs in the mid 70s – the beginning of a very nice time of year!
Anyway, I came home with a number of photos I really like. This week I’m going to go way over my usual photo quota and share many of them. First, a couple of landscapes
Beneath the bridge at daybreak: This is along side the A. Max Brewer Causeway, looking east into the refuge, about a half hour before sunrise.
Around the shore: Pretty light and calm water along Gator Creek Road, about 15 minutes before sunrise
Next, some visitors. As pleasant as the cooler temperatures are, they also mean it’s time to start looking for some of our winter bird friends and I spotted several on my trip.
Palm Warbler. They can be a little jumpy and hard to photograph. But this one sat still for a moment on an interesting and close perch, in nice light, with a good background. Doesn’t happen very often for me – I’m glad it was briefly cooperative.
Adopt an Area: This Eastern Phoebe has adopted the refuge for a while.
Blue Wing Teal: A few ducks have started to show up too.
Of course we also have many of our normal residents around.
Bottlenose Dolphin: The Dolphins and the Brown Pelicans were chasing plentiful fish in Haulover Canal
The header image is a of a Brown Pelican that just caught a fish in the canal. It’s not that good of a photo, but I kept it because it shows an interesting moment in nature’s circle of life.
Posing Anhiga: Anhigas are very common here but still well worth photographing when they pose against such a nice background in morning light.
Dragonfly: These can be skittish too, but if you see one in pretty light, be patient and still. Often they’ll return to the same perch and you can squeeze your shutter button.
I saw other birds on this trip, including Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Ospreys, Belted Kingfishers (sorry couldn’t get a photo), Pied-billed Grebes, Mourning and Common Ground Doves, and others I’m forgetting. I also used the Merlin bird app a couple of times to listen to bird calls. It ID’d a Black Scoter. Those have been spotted before at MINWR, but I wasn’t able to find it to confirm.
Changing the subject#2 : Halloween is next weekend so here’s one more photo from last Monday that fits with the holiday:
Web and Mangrove
Okay – I think that’s a long enough post for today! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, get out and see some nature. And make some photos!
I might see one or two people fishing whenever I pull into Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge before dawn. It’s rare to see another photographer there for sunrise, although later in the day on Black Point Wildlife Drive there are often plenty of folks taking photos. On this morning someone else was already out there when I pulled into this spot. They had their camera / tripod set up over on the right (out of the frame in this image). I parked a bit away to give them some space and not interfere with their photography.
Mangroves at dawn
As I set up and starting making images, they headed over with their tripod and camera. I didn’t pay a lot of attention, since I was busy trying to decide on compositions and wanted to capture the light on the clouds before it changed. I figured they just wanted to try a different viewpoint.
They stopped when they got to where I was and started talking about all sorts of things: music, musicians, photographing concerts, what camera I was using, where they lived, where they photographed, etc., etc. I was busy and concentrating on my photography, so a lot of my replies were monosyllabic. As time went on, I continued photographing and they continued talking. I hope I didn’t seem too rude. At one point I even mentioned how much I liked the cloud formations, but they never did make a photo.
There are all sorts of people, and we all have different priorities, but I still don’t understand. This person was motivated to get up very early, pack all their gear and head out for a morning of photography. But then didn’t make photos of a wonderful scene taking place all around us. Maybe they’d already got a lot of great photos before I arrived. But if it was me, I’d have kept shooting.
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”
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.
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.
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 – 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!
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.
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. A 1/125s shutter speed was fine for a still subject.
“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:
Since it told me Stilts and Yellowlegs were around, I could keep an eye out for them too.
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?
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!
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
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.
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).
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
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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 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: 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?
There were lovely patches of wild flowers on Black Point too:
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
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.
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!
I don’t have a new photo of our banded bird to share with you, but I will include this one from 2012.
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:
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!