Category Archives: St. Augustine

Alligator Farm Spoonbill Chicks Take Off!

I’ve found that one of the pleasures of bird photography and bird watching in general is the repeated observation of locations over the course of a nesting season.  When you return to a place regularly, you can watch the behavior of the parents over time as well as the young birds as they develop.

I’m fortunate to live relatively close to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery and I was able to visit four times recently.  This was the first year that Roseate Spoonbills have nested there and the farthest north that they’ve been recorded nesting.  In this post, I’ll show you a sequence of photographs made over about six weeks of the two easily seen Spoonbill nests at the Rookery.  Nest 1 is on the right side of the boardwalk closest to the entrance.  Nest 2 is the one you can see from the far end of the boardwalk close to the large tree.

This first photo was taken at the end of May and shows one Spoonbill above and to the right of nest 2.  At the bottom left you can barely make out  one of the very young and small Spoonbills.  This is the first photo I managed to make of the chicks.  Sorry about the quality.  The chicks didn’t come out in the open at all when I was there that time.

Mother Spoonbill keeps an eye on chick, nest 2.  May 30th, 2010

Here is the same nest (#2) two weeks later.  The chicks have grown a bit, have some beginning feathers, and are more active.

Roseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks in nest 2, June 13th, 2010

And this photo shows how large the chicks had grown yesterday when I visited  – quite a difference in only 16 days!

Spoonbill Mom returnsRoseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks near nest 1, July 5th, 2010

Several of the young Spoonbills have fledged and I was able to capture this photo of one of them trying its wings:

Juvenille Spoonbil tests its wingsJuvenille Spoonbill tests its wings, July 5th, 2010

So you can see how fast these Spoonbills develop.  From just hatched and barely moving to flying in about 6 weeks.  I’ve enjoyed following their progress this year.  What a wonderful opportunity!

The bad news for those of you that haven’t yet visited the Alligator Farm is that you’ve missed most of the nesting season.  Make your plans for next year!

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm – Bird Rookery Update

Lynn and I paid another visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm this morning to check on things at the Rookery.  Things are hopping!

After a somewhat slow start (cold weather?), the Rookery has had a very active and varied nesting season.  If you haven’t visited yet, you need to get over there before you completely miss your chance until next year.  You can still see many species in the nest with chicks, although there are also many juveniles that have grown very large and are even flying around.

According to Gen Anderson – who is the Bird & Mammal Curator at the Alligator Farm (via the birdrookery@yahoogroups.com mailing list), there have been over 250 nests with more than 700 chicks counted in the rookery.  That’s a tremendous number of birds in a relatively small area!  The following species are resident:

Wood storks:


Mama Woodstork preens one of her chicks

Cattle Egrets:


Cattle Egret nest with chicks

Tri-colored Herons:

Tri-Colored Heron nest with chicks

Roseate Spoonbills:


Mother Spoonbill and baby

Great egrets, Snowy egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Green Herons are also in residence.

There are four Spoonbill nests in the rookery and since I’ve never seen Spoonbill nests or chicks, these have been very exciting for me.  This is the first year that they’ve nested at the Alligator Farm and the farthest north they’ve been recorded nesting.  Two of the nests are well hidden at the back of the property, but the other two are easily viewed.  All four contain chicks  although it is difficult to see them, since they’re still so small. The chicks in the easily viewed nests will only be there for about another 5 weeks before they fledge.

I’ve also posted a video I made this morning of one of the spoonbill nests. In it, you can see Mama feeding one of the two babies. You can also listen to all the noise at the Rookery as the chicks demand food from their parents.

You can see other photos I’ve made in St. Augustine in this set on Flickr.

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Memorial Day, 2010

Once again we pause to reflect and thank all those that serve or have served our country and helped keep us free.  Please know that we appreciate your service and can never thank you enough.

The Flag of the United States of America
The Flag of the United States of America, flying at the Fort Matanzas National Monument, near St. Augustine, Florida.

Many in our family have served in the military.

Lynn’s Grandfather, Harold Christensen was a Navy pilot in the second World War.   As an electrical engineer I enjoyed hearing him talk about working on the top secret team that developed radar for use on aircraft. Lynn’s father, Doug was also in the Navy.  He was stationed in Pensacola after WW II.  Both Lynn’s Grandfather and father been gone for some time.  We miss them.

My Mother’s brother, uncle Jack was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.  He never said much about his time in the service and passed away a year or two ago.  We miss him too.

My Dad and his brother were both young men during World War II and both were in the Army.  My Dad started high school just as WW II broke out and he enlisted as soon as he could.  After basic training in Florida and some additional training as an intelligence recon scout, he shipped out to Europe.  By that time, the war had ended and he was stationed in Furth, Germany – just outside Nuremberg as part of the occupation.  He was there during the time of the Nuremberg trials.   Dad had several stories he used to tell about his time in the Army.  Most were quite fun, although I never heard him talk about the trials.  I’m not sure if all his experience was happy, but those were the only ones he shared with us.  He passed away quite a while ago, and of course we’ll always remember him.

I didn’t know much about my uncle’s service until we visited him just after Christmas last year and I asked about it.  Msgr. Edward V. Rosack (we called him Fr. Ed) also joined the Army Signal Corps after he graduated from high school during WW II.  He was older than my father and served in the Pacific Theater of Operations for about two years. His tour of duty took him to the Hawaiian Islands, Marshall Islands, (Einewetok, Kwajalein, the Palau Island (Angaur), Mariana Island (Saipan),  Ryukyu Island (Okinawa), Korea (In chon) and Yokohama, Japan. As a member of the 3922nd Signal Service Company of the 3117th Signal Service Battalion, his outfit was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with one bronze star (Angaur, Palau Islands). Watching Ken Burns “Pacific” mini-series recently brought home what a great sacrifice and profound experience it must have been for him and everyone else in those battles. I can only imagine the hardships and horror that he and others endured.  I wonder if that is at least partly what drove him to become a man of peace for the rest of his life.  Sadly, Fr. Ed passed away in March of this year, not long after we visited him. We’ll always remember him too.

©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? The St. Augustine Alligator Farm caters to photographers and tries to make it easy to capture images of the birds, while Gatorland has canceled their photo pass program.  In my opinion, this is a huge difference and a major advantage for the Alligator Farm. This table lists other factors that I think would be 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, and especially the blog (no longer being updated). 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.  Having an early entry program is very important to photographers so in my opinion, the overall edge goes to the Alligator Farm until Gatorland restores their program.  The staff at both parks is friendly,  and in the past  Gatorland has seemed even more so, but I’m concerned about the turnover at this park (apparently, Mike has left).

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, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Re-processing older photos

Today, I had some time and a new computer I wanted to try out, so I went looking for a photo to reprocess. Take a close look at the two images below. The differences aren’t as obvious in these smaller versions, so if you click on them, you can go to Flickr and look at large resolution versions of each so you can see the changes in detail.

_DSC2269
Nikon D80 @ ISO 100, Nikon 70 – 300 lens @ 260mm, f/5.6, 1/320 sec.

I made this photo back in April of 2007 in the bird rookery at the St. Augustine Alligator farm. The version above is “straight out of the camera (converted to JPG with Lightroom 2.5). It has potential, but the blown sky is bad and the levels and sharpening need work.

The version below was processed in CaptureNX2 for levels and curves. I also created a version that was sharpened, and a third version that adjusted the sky. I then opened all three in Photoshop and used layer masks to choose the portions of each that I wanted in the final photo. After saving the result, I imported it into Lightroom, tweaked clarity and vibrance, and cropped it slightly before once again exporting this JPG.

_DSC2269-nx2&ps&lr
Same, photo: re-processed and slightly cropped.

I guess you can tell I’m not a straight out of the camera, photo journalist type photographer. I like the second version much better than the original. Do you?

The interesting thing to me is that almost 3 years after I made the photograph, I can go back and reprocess it with better software and better techniques. Since I captured it in RAW, I have much more flexibility in what I can change. Processing RAW is like having the original light and framing fixed, but being able to tweak the camera settings. Do I need Photoshop, CaptureNX2, and Lightroom? No, but each has strengths and I believe that if you want the best image you can get, you need to have SW and understand how to use it.

Or at least shoot in RAW so that when you do get the software and techniques, you can go back and have another go at things.

©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery

For my birthday this year, Lynn gave me a photographer’s pass to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. While you can take photos of alligators, the special thing about this park is that they’ve expanded the Alligator Swamp exhibit. The extra area includes a boardwalk where you can stay safely above the monsters in the water and get within feet of nesting birds. These wild birds have learned that the gators keep predators out of the trees, and as a result the park has become one of the largest natural bird rookeries in the state of Florida.

From March 2 – July 18, the annual pass allows you to enter the park early (~8 am) before it opens to general admission. May is the prime time for nesting and breeding. Lynn and I have been back several times.

Since they’re accustomed to people, you can get quite close to a variety of birds, although you’ll still get the best results with a long telephoto lens and a sturdy tripod. I get by with my 70 – 300 zoom, but there are people there with monster glass! Many use flash with a “Better Beamer” magnifier for greater range.

There’s an annual photo contest, with the winners used for a calendar sold at the gift shop.

For more information, visit the St. Augustine Alligator farm website .

My bird rookery photographs are here.

©2007, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.