I had a strong urge to photograph, and at the last-minute decided to drive over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge before dawn last Friday. My first stop was at a spot Kevin M.Tom M. (3/25/17 correction – I misremembered, sorry. Tom told me about this place, not Kevin.) had mentioned – underneath the east side of the A. Max Brewer Causeway that leads into the refuge.
We’ve had cooler weather here and very clear skies, so I wasn’t expecting much color at sunrise. But this is what greeted me at dawn:
This image is a two frame panorama I made with the Olympus E-M1 II camera in high res mode. Lightroom’s been updated for the camera, and I’m impressed with how it handles these files. And the more I use the new camera the better I like it, especially how it minimizes motion artifacts in high res mode.
I next took a turn around Black Point Wildlife Drive. The water on the first half is as low as I’ve ever seen it – gone in many places.
Cracked. Infrared, B&W
It was exciting to spot a Bobcat. It was stalking slowly through the grass, but I only managed a single (poor) frame before it disappeared. I wish it had lingered for a few minutes so I could get a better shot. I’m guessing it might be a long time before I get another chance for a Bobcat photo as good as the one in this post from 2011.
On the back half of Black Point there was a lot more water and a lot more of the regular birds.
I also took a turn around Gator Creek Road and saw an Osprey close up with an awesome fish. But it grabbed the fish and flew off with it before I could get a photo. Seems like I need to practice my quick reaction shots!
I was planning to post more photos from our recent cruise this weekend. But after visiting Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Friday with Kevin K. and Tom M. from the Photography Interest Group, I changed my mind. There’s a great deal of activity there and it’s well worth a blog post (and a visit!).
One of the first birds we watched was a Redish Egret fishing close to shore. It’s great fun to see these birds dance and pounce.
Reddish Egret and Minnow
I had the Olympus E-M1 Mark II with me and practiced with the “Pro Capture” mode (I brought the right lens this time). This really helps you catch a decisive moment – it’s almost cheating. You’d better have a large card in your camera and time to go through all the images, though. I used low-speed and still had way too many frames. Here’s one example:
Wood Stork and Minnow
There were a huge number of White Pelicans and they treated us to “air ballet shows” all morning.
Several (3 or more?) large fish (carp?) swimming in the canal near the road. These were about two feet long.
And there were more gators visible than usual. They look well fed – perhaps they’ve been after those large fish. These monsters stay so still that you can take your time and make a stitched panorama of them. Unless they’re chasing you 🙂
We also spotted Belted Kingfishers, a Bald Eagle, Osprey, several varieties of duck, a wild pig, and many other interesting things.
For a while anyway. Many photographers would agree that daylight savings time and “fall back” make it harder to get up for sunrise. Photography Interest Group members Kevin K., Kevin M., Tom M., and I met at 6am last Friday for a photo expedition over to Merritt Island. It was the last time we’ll be able to set the alarm that late until next year. Despite sleeping in, we arrived well before dawn. This was the scene at the boat ramp at the Titusville Municipal Marina.
Blue hour at the marina
There weren’t a lot of clouds, so my expectations for color were low but we did see a bit as the sun started to rise.
And as usual, after it was light we went looking for wildlife on Black Point Wildlife Drive. There are some winter visitors showing up there now. We saw warblers, wrens, and Kingfishers. But the ducks, Avocets and others are still missing. They’ll show up before long.
Marsh Wren (?) – At least I hope it’s a Marsh Wren – that would be a life bird! At the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive, MINWR
So once again it was a good trip to one of my favorite places.
It was a good thing that I got there well before dawn, because the place I had in mind for a sunrise photo didn’t turn out (construction and street lights). On the way over I noticed a massive thunderhead that looked like it would add some interest to my photos. Unfortunately, it also added a lot of rain to the area, so I spent some time wandering around looking for a new place and making a few uninspired photos during gaps in the downpour.
Almost made it… A sunken sailboat near the Titusville Municipal MarinaI
I ended up at the Titusville Municipal Marina. There always seems to be a sunken boat or two there. I think this one is recent, but it’s hard to be sure. By this time, the rain was slacking off, so I parked and hurried over to where I could get a good angle on the colors in what was left of the rain clouds. The light was pretty and I used the boat and the rocks on shore to add foreground layers to my composition.
I made many exposures, framing the boat in different ways. The color built and I like the last set of frames best. For this image I made seven exposures from the tripod. Four were for the sky / clouds, pointed up slightly and bracketing exposure to make sure I captured the entire dynamic range. I pointed three down slightly for the boat and water, to make sure I had everything in focus. One of these three was through a neutral density filter so I could get a long shutter speed and smooth the water surface. At home, I ended up using six of the frames, combining some in Lightroom’s merge function, and blending the rest manually in Photoshop. Finally, I used Nik Color Effects Pro to tune the colors and Topaz Clarity to increase mid-range contrast to get what you see above.
After sunrise, I headed over to Black Point Wildlife Drive for a look around. It’s been closed while they worked on the road. It’s open again, in great shape, and ready for all the fall visitors. There’s not much bird activity yet, but I did find this nicely posing Tri-colored Heron.
Reflections – Tri-colored Heron, Black Point Wildlife Drive
This image is less complicated. It’s just two frames, hand-held. One’s focused on the bird’s eye and the other on its reflection in the water. I merged them in Lightroom via the Photo Merge – Panorama function, and finished this one too with tweaks to color, contrast, and cropping in Photoshop.
Should you try these techniques? I can’t decide for you. For me, it’s more work, but it gives me much more control over the final result. If you do decide to try them and have any questions about how to do this kind of thing, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.
Thanks again to Mary Kate for writing last week’s post. I apologize for the lack of images in that email. I need to figure out how to get the server to send the photos when they’re not referenced from Flickr. If you didn’t get a chance to see her photos, please click through and visit the blog.
I haven’t been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in a while (the last time was back in May!) and I miss the place. So I left around 6pm yesterday and headed over.
Along Gator Creek Road
It was raining at our house in Winter Springs. Over on the coast, it was dry, but threatening. The clouds were just awesome – I even spotted some that looked like Mammatus clouds.
Next time I’ll leave a bit earlier – the light was a little dim for bird photography but I did see a few. I’m usually there in the morning and they behave differently in the evening. It was interesting to watch them going home in formation to roost for the night and to spot groups perched in trees and lined up along power lines.
On the water’s edge, watching the sun rise.
Distant clouds add color and rays to a magnificent moment.
Reflected sunlight reaching around a rock close to shore, creates golden ripples.
I stand – tripod steady; camera set; release in hand.
Deciding which instant to save and relive later.
Did it matter? Musing now, they are all marvelous moments.
I got up one morning almost four years ago at 4:30am to go out with my camera and make this photo. I enjoyed making the photo. I don’t really remember not enjoying the early wake up. Lately, I’ve slept in. I need to either go back to getting up early or turn into a sunset photographer.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
I don’t have much to say this morning, so the photos will have to do most of the talking. I started yesterday along the Indian River at Space View Park.
Watching the morning sun. This is a two frame, blended exposure. I made the bottom half exposed for the water with a Neutral Density filter to slow my shutter speed to 20 seconds at ISO 100 and f/11. I made the top part with the filter off, exposed for the sunrise at ISO 100, f/11, 1/100 second. I was very happy to see the Osprey fly through the frame with a fish as I clicked the shutter. I blended them together in Photoshop with a layer mask.
Juvenile Little Blue Heron. There were several around, so they must be nesting nearby. I’ve seen Green Herons breeding there, but not Little Blue Herons.
A Mottled Duck. I don’t spot these too often. When I looked it up, I learned (or maybe re-learned) some things. Mottled Ducks are related to both Black Ducks and Mallards, and are the only duck adapted to breeding in southern marshes. The Florida population is a subspecies and the male has lost its distinctive plumage so that the both sexes are colored alike.
St. Johns Sunrise – silver lining and sun rays: This is a long exposure (10 second) image I made at the boat ramp on the St. Johns where it meets HW 50. The water is higher than I’ve seen it there before
Pollen covered Bumble Bee on Purple Thistle: These thistles are blooming all over Black Point Wildlife Drive. The pollen on this bee may be an indication of why we’re having such severe allergy problems here in Central Florida.
Spoonbill in the reeds: There were many other birds around too.
Life and death in the Florida wild: The bird (a female Red-breasted Merganser) was looking for fish along a small grass island in the distance. I glanced over when I heard some splashing but couldn’t see anything at first. Then I noticed this alligator with the bird. The struggle was hard to watch, but mercifully brief.
On a related subject, you may have seen news about the recent fish kills we’ve had in the Indian River Lagoon. These are occurring just south of MINWR, nearer Melbourne, Florida. As we were driving around the refuge, I was struck by how natural it looked and by the absence of any dead fish. I’m very thankful that the Refuge has preserved this natural area for us to enjoy.
I worry about the areas where fertilizer runoff and septic tank leakage can lead to pollution, brown tide, lack of oxygen and dead fish and animals. I hope that we can figure out solutions so that people living near our natural resources don’t damage them.
OK, sorry for the commentary. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; …”
― John Muir
The first part of my visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Tuesday (2/2/16) was about as foggy as I’ve ever seen. So much so that I was happy to follow a large truck along SR 46 on the way over – better than feeling my way through the low visibility on my own.
For some reason, I’d taken a macro lens with me and I was happy to use it on the following image:
Nature’s necklace – Foggy mornings dew along Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is a 5 frame, hand-held focus stack.
One of my on-line friends (Dorothy) asked me on Flickr how I got the reflections in the dew drops. They were really a gift from nature. I could see lots of dew covered webs from the car, and I watched for one where I could frame the drops standing out against a clear background. When I found this particular one, I had to figure out how to best image them. One part of it was making sure the sensor plane was as close to parallel with the lines of drops as possible. I stopped down to f/8 for increased depth of field. Then I focused on the front string and made a high-speed sequence while I rocked slowly forward. This captured about 17 frames with different parts of the scene in focus. Back at my computer, I picked 5 of the frames and made a focus stack to get as much as possible in sharp focus. The last steps were to do some selective contrast / sharpening on just the drops. I like the way it turned out.
As I explored further on Black Point Wildlife Drive, I saw something for the first time – a fogbow:
Another Merritt Island Morning – I combined multiple frames to get everything in focus and well exposed. Blended manually in Photoshop.
Why do I like going there so much? Even after so many visits, it’s impossible to see everything it has to offer. I appreciate getting to know a place and watching it change over time. I enjoy seeing the same locations in different light or weather, with different birds around.
Not Birds of a Feather – An interesting group of at least four species
I do know that every time I visit, I see something beautiful – either something new, or something commonplace, but in a new light.
“We do these things not to escape life, but rather so life does not escape us.” From a favorite t-shirt
And yes, sometimes I get back and the photos I made aren’t very good. But I still have a wonderful day. Much better than the owner of this boat had.
Sunken Sailboat – On this one, I also combined multiple frames to ensure everything was sharp and to emphasize the smooth water.
Henri Cartier Bresson said that “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.” And I think my t-shirt is right too. Going after photos will give you life.