Category Archives: Gatorland

Breeding blue and hatching chicks

Thursday night, Tom M. invited me to meet him at Gatorland.  We both showed up at 7:30 Friday morning to see what’s changed from our visit on February 20th.  The answer is a lot!  Last time, it was mostly the Great Egrets starting to breed.  This time several more species are dressed up in their fancy colors and plumage and building nests.  And the Great Egret chicks are starting to hatch.  Here are some photos from the trip.

I saw this male Anhinga getting ready to take off and managed to make a frame  just as it left the tree.  You can see the breeding season blue around his eye as well as some of the crest on his head.

Anhinga close upAnhinga close up

Cormorant eyes are always pretty in the right light.  They add a striking blue mouth during nesting season.  Some of the Cormorants are already on nests.  This pair looked like they were just about to “get busy”.

Cormorant couple 2 Cormorant couple

Tri-colored Herons also add a dash of blue for breeding season.  They’re starting to show off with courting behaviors and poses to attract mates.

Tri-colored Heron displayingTri-colored Heron displaying

And here’s a couple of Great Egret siblings huddled up close to Mama in the nest.  I’m not sure you can call these young chicks without a full set of feathers beautiful, but they are cute.

Mama and two chicksMama and two chicks

Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Wood Storks and other species usually also nest in the this rookery – so we still have those to look forward to.  It’s a wonderful time to visit Gatorland, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, or your local bird rookery.  Don’t miss this chance to see nature in action!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Two birds, a selfie, and the blog

I met Tom M., and Lee A. at Gatorland again last Thursday.  During breeding season I like to go at least once a month to keep up with the activity there.  It’s a very nice experience over time to  see different species nesting, eggs hatching, and young birds growing and fledging.  It was our coldest morning of the season so far, with temperatures a few degrees below freezing.  I know all of you that are suffering in colder climates are thinking that’s not cold – but down here we think it’s pretty chilly.

Anyway, the Great Egrets are wearing their fancy plumes and colors and looking for mates. One of the advantages of the photographer’s early entry program at Gatorland is that the light can be very nice in the morning.  It certainly was on this bird and it was displaying a bit too. I waited for the right moment, and made this image.

Displaying Egret Displaying Egret

A while ago, one of my friends on Flickr asked me about this photo of a Black-crowned Night Heron. Here’s the question and my answer:

Vicki:  “I was wondering about the heron you posted. It has only one leg. Was it missing a leg or is it the way they hold them? I spotted one near me last week and when I got the photos on the computer, I discovered it was only using one leg…even after it moved around in the tree. So I was wondering if you know if it is a normal pose for them to do that.”

Ed:  “I can’t be 100% sure since I didn’t see this heron’s other leg, but it is a typical pose to tuck one leg up against their body.”

In this new image, also of a Black Crowned Night Heron, you can see the other leg, since it’s not quite hidden in the feathers.

Black-crowned Night-Heron Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron Juvenile

This last photo is my latest selfie.  For several years I’ve been looking for situations like this where the geometry is right to see my reflection in the Alligator’s eye and get close enough to photograph it.  This one is a tight crop, but I think it’s my best so far!

Gator eye selfie (crop) Gator eye selfie – Not photoshop – that’s the actual reflection in its eye of me standing on the boardwalk.

 And now about the blog.  I’ve been a bit aggravated for some time with the performance of my hosting service – the load times seemed slow and  I’ve also had intermittent, unexplained  outages  So finally last week I decide to move to a managed WordPress hosting service.  It seems to be working very well so far.  This is my first post on the new system and I hope that everything works well – including the email subscription function.  I’m only telling you this in case you notice any issues.  If so, please let me know so I can work on them.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Gatorland Photographer's Pass

During bird nesting season (February – mid June in Central Florida), Gatorland’s Photographer’s Pass program allows early entry to the park at 7:30 am Thursday – Sunday and lets you stay until dusk on Saturday.  It’s great if you want to photograph wild birds in good light outside of normal business hours when there’s not many tourists around.   You can find out a lot more detail on their website at this link.

This season started last Thursday and I met Tom M., Zvia S., and Lee A. there.  It’s early in the year so there’s not too much nesting activity yet, but there’s plenty to photograph.  We saw many Great Egrets in breeding colors and plumage, and a few have started building nests.  We also saw Anhingas, Cormorants, Black Vultures, and some Snowy Egrets, Wood Storks, and Great Blue Herons.  I even sighted a Belted Kingfisher and a Black-crowned Night Heron.

The boardwalk along the breeding marsh offers close up looks at wild birds that are used to photographers and cameras.

Anhinga portrait

Anhinga portrait – These birds are very pretty in the right light

Gatorland is also a great place to practice flight photography.  The birds often fly over the boardwalk, many times along the same routes.  With a little study, you can anticipate their path and get some good shots.

Great Blue Heron in flight Great Blue Heron in flight

And of course, there are lots of alligators to photograph too.

Sunbathing gatorSunbathing gargantuan gator – I was about 15 feet away with my long lens zoomed out and had to make a 3 frame panorama to fit it all in.

We had a great time at Gatorland.  If you want to get some really good photos of typical Florida wading birds, this is a wonderful place to do it.  You can view many other Gatorland photos in this set on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  I hope I’ll see you at Gatorland one morning making photos!

©2015, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Gatorland, 7 June 2014

If you’ve meant to go to Gatorland in Orlando, Florida to see the wild birds that nest in the rookery there, you’ve just about missed your chance for this year.

I went by last Saturday with Mahesh S. and Greg N. to see what was going on (and to renew my annual photographer’s pass). There were still one or two Great Egret nests with chicks, but the other young birds have hatched, grown, fledged, and moved out. Nesting activity will start-up again in mid to late February next year.  After this weekend, you’ll also have to visit during regular hours since the early entry program ends on June 15th.  In the mean time, Gatorland’s still a great place to get close access to a number of Florida bird species.

Great Egret ABOAS*
Great Egret ABOAS*

And of course, it’s always a great place to see Alligators.

Like an iceberg
Like an iceberg – There’s more under the surface than you can normally see from above.

And there are occasionally some nice avian visitors too.

Soaring Swallow-tailed Kite
Soaring Swallow-tailed Kite

I’ve posted a great many photos from Gatorland in this set on Flickr and you can read Central Florida Photo Ops posts about Gatorland at this link.  The St. Augustine Alligator Farm posted a very handy bird nesting season reference guide here and you can read Central Florida Photo Ops posts about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm at this link 

I’ve also uploaded a short bonus video of bellowing alligators at the park.  They were feeling feisty and declaring their gator dominance.

Turn up the volume and make sure you have your sub-woofer on too!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!

©2014, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

*ABOAS = Another bird on a stick 🙂

Gatorland update, 5/11/13

Keith H. and I took advantage of our annual photo passes and stopped by Gatorland yesterday morning. If you’ve planned to see the wild bird rookery there, don’t wait too long. There’s a lot going on now and it won’t last forever.

Cattle Egrets and Cormorants are still incubating eggs and should start hatching soon.  Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Anhingas, and Woodstorks have hatched and you can get great photos of parenting activity including feeding, nest maintenance, displays, and flight to / from nests.  All of the birds are in peak  breeding colors.

Tri-colored Heron in flight
Tri-colored Heron in flight

Gatorland is a great place to practice flight photography.  Observe the bird behavior for a while, pick a likely place with a good background (hopefully in the shade) and wait.  Opportunities will occur!

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret

Most of the Cattle Egrets were back in the bushes, in bad light and obscured by twigs.  Be observant and patient you’ll find one out in the open and maybe even in front of a dark background.

Here’s a couple more photos from yesterday:

Anhinga in flight
Anhinga in flight – they’re very different (and attractive) in breeding season. 

Double Crested Cormorant
Double Crested Cormorant – very pretty eyes if you can catch them in the right light

We also saw several other birds types including a Swallow-tailed Kite.

If you go during the week, take advantage of the early entry option.  We got there at 7:30 and there were only a few other photographers there.  As we were leaving about 10:15, there was a huge line waiting to get in.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer to photograph in the early morning light and when it’s peaceful.

Another reason to visit Gatorland is to see the new Panther Springs exhibit.  These animals are very impressive – I didn’t realize how large they are.  These two are a brother and sister pair that were raised in captivity and so can’t be released back to the wild.  The Florida Panther population is estimated at only 100 – 160 in south-west Florida.  Well worth seeing.

Hello kitty

Hello kitty!

You can read other Central Florida Photo Ops blog posts about Gatorland from this link.  And this set on Flickr has many other photos I’ve made there

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Gatorland – 1 Feb. 2013

The annual photographer pass program at Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida started again on Friday, and Keith H. and I were the first ones there.  We saw Great Egrets, a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Black-crowned Night-Herron, Wood Storks, Anhingas, Boat-tailed Grackles, and a few other species.

Female Boat-tailed Grackle
Female Boat-tailed Grackle – a common bird in uncommon light

Great Egret in breeding colors
Great Egret and reflection – all dressed up in formal wear for the start of breeding season

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron – a nice bonus, since I don’t see these very often

And of course you can also see Alligators in the park. They’re starting to breed too – we heard quite a few bellows.

Very still gator and tree reflection
Very still gator and tree reflection

With the photographer pass you can get into the park at 7:30am Thursday – Sunday and stay until dusk on Saturday.  This lets you photograph the nesting birds with nicer light and no tourists.  It greatly improves your chances of getting good photos of the birds and their breeding behavior in the rookery.  These are wild birds that choose to nest in the area because of the protection offered by alligators from other predators such as snakes and raccoons.  They’re acclimated to people so you can get quite close to many of them.  The Great Egrets are already courting and building nests – they seem to be the earliest breeders.  The Wood Storks are getting started too.  Later in the year you’ll also see Snowy and Cattle Egrets, cormorants, and if you’re lucky maybe some other species breeding.

Gatorland is a great place to visit at this time of year.  If you’re in town for a short while, you can also buy a one day photo pass to get in early.  Check it out!  Click on the photos above to go to Flickr where you can see larger versions. You can also see more photos from Gatorland in this set on Flickr.  And you can read my previous posts about Gatorland at this link.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Gatorland cancels early entry program

Update (1/8/2012):  Gatorland has re-instated their photo pass.  See their blog post here.

Gatorland in Orlando announced on their Blog that they’re canceling the 2011 Photographers Pass Program.  This is very unfortunate for bird photographers, since the early entry / stay late times are during the best light of the day and when there are no “civilian” crowds.

The Alligator Farm in St. Augustine has issued an announcement in response on their mailing list saying that they will continue their Photo Pass / early entry program.

I’ve updated my post comparing Gatorland to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm as I think having a photo pass gives the  Alligator Farm a strong advantage for photography.

There’s some discussion of this on Flickr in the Gatorland Group (this discussion has since been deleted).

Three Topic Post

I’m going to depart from my usual practice of one subject per post and include three different ones in today’s entry.

  1. Photos and information on a visit to Gatorland, yesterday.
  2. An update on this blog after three years of publication
  3. A political comment

Feel free to read the portion you’re interested in, or indulge me and look at all three.

1. Gatorland May Day Update

If you haven’t yet visited Gatorland this year, now is still a great time.  Yesterday morning, I decided to drive down there to see how the rookery is progressing through nesting season.  We’ve  had a cold winter in Florida and as a result, the birds are about a month behind the normal schedule. The last time I visited (in March), it was mostly the great egrets building nests, courting, and sitting on eggs. Yesterday the Great Egrets were still very active (many with large chicks), but there are also Cattle Egrets, Tri-Colored Herons, Anhingas, and Cormorants all very actively fulfilling the purpose of life.

By the way, have you looked lately at the Gatorland blog that Mike Godwin writes ?  He’s posted a report on the current nesting activity (sorry – no longer available), with a lot of detail and photos.  There’s also an active Gatorland Flickr group and looking at the photos posted there on any given day can give you a real good idea of what’s going on.

Here’s some of what I saw yesterday:

Pair of Great Egret chicks in nest
Pair of Great Egret chicks in nest: You can get an idea of how far along the Great Egrets are by the size of this cute pair.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret: This one was hiding in the brush, but still posing.  The Cattle Egrets seem to be just getting started with a lot of nest-building going on.

Mother Cormorant with just hatched chicks

Mother Cormorant with just hatched chicks:  Not a great photo, but you can see the chicks beside the very protective mother.  Their eyes were not yet open and there was another un-hatched egg in the nest, so they had to be only hours old.

Common Moorhen Chick
Common Moorhen Chick: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a moorhen chick before, but I have to admit I haven’t been paying that much attention to this species.  They’re very common in the area.

Wood Storks and chicks on nests
Wood Storks and chicks on nests: Mike Godwin is a great host at Gatorland.  He made sure we knew where these nests were so we could photograph them.  There were two right next to each other and they were very crowded and active.

You can click on any of the photos above to view them on Flickr.  You can also take a look at my Gatorland set on Flickr for some other photos from yesterday (the last nine in the set) as well as from previous visits.

2. Happy Birthday, Blog!

My first post was on the 4th of May, 2007, so it will be three years old on Tuesday.  Not a long time in absolute terms, but more than a lifetime for some in “internet years”.

The blog has morphed a bit since then.  Originally it was just a place to share my photos, photo experiences, and talk about photo related ideas. I still do that, but I’ve added a theme around all of this:  I try to find interesting places around here to make photographs and then post blog entries including links to information about the places as well as some hints on what’s there and how to photograph it.  My hope is that this will be interesting to photo enthusiasts visiting the area as well as people who live here.  I know I’ve looked for similar blogs when I travel.

With this one, there are a total of 89 posts so far which is an average of about two per month, although lately I’ve been doing pretty well keeping up with my goal of one post each week.  Of these, 45 are tagged “CFL Photo ops”, about photo opportunities in the area.

As near as I can tell from my server logs (and disregarding spam and robots), I seem to modestly successful – at least some people are reading what I write. If I’m interpreting the CyStats log correctly, I have over 100 RSS subscribers, and about 10 – 30 visitors on average each day. They are from multiple countries, which is really nice.  The most visitors I’ve had in a single day was close to 200 early this year after Jim Goldstein posted his “best photos of 2009” entry on his blog.  Thanks, Jim!  The most viewed page is the main page, with the My Favorite Photos of 2009 post coming in second.

The most used browser, by a slim margin is Internet Explorer (~51%), followed by Mozilla, Firefox, Safari, etc.  Many people still use IE version 6.0.  If that’s you – update!  Modern browsers are much more capable and secure.

Recent, frequent external search terms include things like: “focus bracketing”, “gatorland photographers”, “central florida photos”, “orlando bird photography”, “alligator farm orlando”, “orlando photo ops”, “photographing birds in central flordia”, “good area to photograph fl”, “central florida places to photo”, “wildflower photography in florida”, “photographing birds in central florida”, “photographing wildlife in central florida”, and “ed rosack”.  I’m pleased that people are finding my blog with those search terms.

Of course, I’m my most loyal reader. I’ve enjoy writing it, but I also really enjoy going back and reading it and looking at the photos. I guess it really is a blog in the sense of a personal journal.

And what’s up with all the weird spam comments?  Do they really think I’ll let those through?  Would anybody?  Why do they keep sending them?

I don’t really have any plans to change the blog going forward.  However, I’d really like to figure out how to encourage more genuine comment and interaction.  And, I’m always open to your ideas and suggestions.  Especially for places around here to visit!

3. Warning – Politics Ahead

Caution – I apologize, but this paragraph is political.  It does relate to photography and nature in general.  Read at your own risk.

As I wrote down the words in topic one above about witnessing nature in all its glory, I couldn’t help but think a great deal about the gulf coast shoreline and what is beginning to happen there to countless birds, their chicks, and other wildlife from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The impact on people who are continuing to recover from hurricane Katrina will be an additional nightmare still to come.  And the news this morning reports that it will eventually reach the east coast of Florida too as the Gulf Stream current spreads the spill.

The scope of this disaster is unprecedented – and it was a remote possibility.  We can’t jump to conclusions yet, but complacency and the bottom line during the design of this oil drilling rig sure do seem to be causing great damage.  I wonder how many of the decisions that were made in the design were probably financial in nature and not based on the worst case outcome, which by the way is occurring?  The platform was either not designed or not built to preclude or handle it.

I also wonder if there are engineering memos or PowerPoint slides somewhere warning of this type of consequence if the design went forward as planned?  I wonder how many fail safes in the well shut off valve didn’t fail safe and instead just failed due to shoddy workmanship or poor design?  I wonder how the engineers that designed, built, and tested the equipment on that well feel today?  I wonder how their management can sleep at night?  I wonder how long British Petroleum will take to bring the well leak under control?  And I wonder how they will ever undo the damage they’ve done.

So far there are no answers, only questions.  And thousands of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every hour of every day.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Comparing Gatorland to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Intro



Tri Color Heron_DSC9601_7_nx2
Tri-color heron at Gatorland

A few weeks ago, I promised to compare the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to Gatorland from the point of view of a nature / wildlife photography enthusiast. And in this post, I’ll do it.

This entry is only a top-level summary of what you can expect at each place.  For more information, please look at earlier posts I’ve done, which you can find via the blog table of contents or by using the search box at the top of the page.

Roosting Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron roosting at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

Summary table

Both of these parks have rookeries where wild birds come to roost.  This concentration of avian visitors is very handy for the bird photographer. Why would you pick one over the other to visit?  Both cater to photographers and try to make it easy to capture images of wild birds. This table lists other factors that I think are important when comparing these parks.  I’ve listed each along with a comment to explain and a + or – rating to show which place I think comes out ahead on that factor.

Factor: Gatorland Alligator Farm
Birds
variety: Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks, anhinga, limpkins, vultures, others+ Herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks,  vultures, others+
number of birds: Many+ Many+
Distance: Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+ Birds can be quite close and are used to humans, with some nesting within feet of the boardwalk.  Some species are high in the trees.+
behavior: Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+ Natural and varied.  Courting, brooding, nesting, hatching, fledging, etc.+
Other wildlife: Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+ Large variety, with most of the animals easily accessible to photographers.+
Information available: Lots of info available on the Website. There is a Flickr group where you can see the types of photos possible.+ Lots of info available on the  Website, There is a Flickr group, where you can see the types of photos possible. A Yahoo group used to post rookery updates, but has now been replaced by an Alligator Farm Blog.
Exhibits and shows: Several, good for the kids.+ Some, good for the kids.
Price: $20 – 100 (adults).  Some discounts available. $20 – 70 (adults)
Photo pass available: Yes: re-instated in 2012.  February through July, 7:30am to dusk. $99.99. Yes, $70 – with early entry at 8:00am+
Proximity ~40 minutes from Winter Springs.  Closer to Orlando.+ ~1 hour, 50 minutes from Winter Springs.  Farther from Orlando.-
Other photo ops in the area: Gatorland is a little isolated from other photo opportunities in the area. Historic St. Augustine has a huge number of photo opportunities.+
Other attractions in the area: Many attractions and parks in the Orlando area within a short drive.+ A few smaller attractions are close by.-

Conclusions

Which one should you go to? For nature and wildlife photography, I would say you probably can’t go wrong with either place.  If you haven’t been to either one, choose the whichever is most convenient for you.

If you’re going for more than just photography, then  Gatorland is also probably a little more well-rounded, with more to do.  On the other hand, the Alligator farm makes for a nice day trip from Orlando when you combine it with a stop in the historical district or the fort.

You can capture stunning images at both places, so pick the one that is most convenient for you.

©2010, 2019 Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida

Intro / Description

A great blue heron portrait

Great Blue Heron portrait

Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the entire set and a slide show version of the photos.

In a “ToDo” post last year, I promised to visit and report on Gatorland and to compare it to the St. Augustine Alligator farm for you. I was finally able to go and this post is the basic review. I’ll follow-up with a comparison to the Alligator Farm shortly. Gatorland is a vintage, Florida, roadside attraction (started in 1949) and has grown into a 110-acre, photographer friendly theme park featuring some great shows with many kinds of animals on display. Although there are a lot of things to do in the park, the two that may attract nature and wildlife photographers more than others are:

  • The Bird Rookery: Created in 1991 as a natural breeding area for the gators, the 10 acre Breeding Marsh has over 100 adult alligators and is a completely natural environment. It attracts wild birds,which tend to nest above the alligators, since they provide protection against some of the bird predators such as raccoons and snakes.

Gatorland breeding marsh and bird rookeryThe bird rookery and breeding marsh

 

  • The Swamp Walk: This is located at the southern end of the park and is a self guided tour on a raised wooden walkway through a Cypress Swamp and affords visitors a rare look back into what much of Central Florida looked like before development.

There is also quite a bit for the non-photo family members to do, including shows, a small water park, a petting zoo, and displays of other captive animals.

The gator jumparoo at GatorlandThe gator jumparoo show

Photo hints: Gatorland reinstated its photo pass in 2012.  It allows entry at 7:30 and lets you stay inside until dusk.  Quite an advantage for bird photography.

Tripod/Monopod : Gatorland is a photographer friendly place. You can bring all of your equipment, including a tripod or monopod and there is ample room to use them as long as you are courteous.

Lenses: Of course, long lenses are a must for most bird photography and they will certainly help you at Gatorland. But since many of the birds are so used to people you can get very close to some of them, so very good shots with not so long lenses are possible.

Wood Stork and Alligator bokehWood Stork and Alligator bokeh

Best time to visit : Early February through June (nesting season) where the weather is also not as hot.

Other : Normal hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm.  Be sure to ask about Senior Citizen and Florida Resident discounts.

Summary

Families will find lots to interest them at Gatorland.  It’s a good value in today’s overpriced theme park environment. And photographers will enjoy visiting this park multiple times.

My Gatorland photo set on Flickr: The set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157623039154783/A slide show version: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157623039154783/show/
Website: http://www.gatorland.com/
Address: 14501 S Orange Blossom Trail Orlando, FL 32837 (407) 855-5496
Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: Birds and gators galore – family fun too!

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.  Updated on 3/29/2012.