“There’s something on the side of that dead Palm tree.”
(Raising telephoto lens for a better look through the windshield.)
“It’s a Raccoon.”
(Checking camera settings, slightly panicked.)
“I’m getting out of the car!”
(Fumbles with seat belt and door handle)
“That’s a picture!”
(Making quite a few…)
“Oh look, it’s crawling inside!”
“Aww – you don’t see that every day!”
(Hoping the image is in focus and exposed correctly.)
Shy Raccoon disappears. Elapsed time: about 45 seconds.
No, you don’t see something like that every day. Even when you’re out looking and paying attention to what nature shows you, things like this are rare – and a treat! Coming across them is a strong motivator for me to go out as often as I can. How about you?
Thanks for stopping by and reading the blog. Now – go make some photos!
Greetings from Central Florida – the place of plentiful photo ops! I think this morning I’ll just post a few photos and comments. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.
I found a new sunrise spot: Rotary Park At Suntree. It’s on the way to Viera Wetlands in Rockledge, Florida next to the Indian River. I like the look of coquina (very “Florida-ish”) and I wanted to see how the rocks would look at dawn. The shore line is positioned a bit awkwardly, but I think I’ll go back! An interesting point: Flickr will display a map of photos around a location. It can be a good tool for research before you go somewhere. But when I looked a Rotary Park, the coquina rocks didn’t show up in other folks photos. Hmm – maybe I’m alone in my admiration of coquina.
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warblers are common in Central Florida in the winter. I happened to search for them on the web yesterday and discovered that they’ll probably be split into four different species. The variety we see on the East Coast of the US are Myrtle Warblers. I guess I should pay more attention to bird taxonomy.
Taxonomy is hard though. Even though I’d seen this bird before, I couldn’t remember what it was. I use iBird on my phone and the search function sometimes isn’t very helpful. It didn’t list Phoebe as a possibility even though I entered location, size, etc. Fortunately, I have a friend that can help (thanks Kevin M!!!)
“Stay off my berry bush!”
Sometimes you take the photo anyway. Grackles are very common around here and I don’t often bother to photograph them. But this one was in good light and was squawking at me as I went by. I enjoyed imagining what he was saying!
Last time we went to Viera Wetlands we saw a Sandhill Crane couple that looked like they were building a nest. I checked that area again yesterday and didn’t see any sign of them. Since I didn’t see a nest there, I’m not sure now what they were doing – courtship behavior?
That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
We organized a photo expedition to Viera Wetlands yesterday. I went with Kevin K., Kevin M., and Tom M. We tried a new sunrise location, Alan Shepard Park, right on the beach in Cocoa where SR 520 ends. Even though we got blocked by a train stuck on the tracks and a closed parking lot, we made it in time for the show. I was also worried that there wouldn’t be much color, but Mother Nature rewarded our efforts.
On the beach
There were a lot of shore birds on the beach with us. I have several more images to process with them in the foreground.
Our next stop was the wetlands, and this trip demonstrated the advantages of having extra eyeballs to help search for things. We went right by this Bittern until Tom saw it and got us to stop. They’re pretty reliable in the winter at Viera, but they’re hard to see sometimes. Their standard behavior is to freeze in the grass / reeds and try to blend in. They don’t spook very easy, so you can get fairly close without bothering them.
American Bittern in the grass
A little further on, Kevin M. called out a Snipe he spotted. It was on the opposite side of the car, so I got out quietly and snuck around. It took me a bit to see it even though it was only a few feet away. This one was pretty calm and let us photograph for several minutes. They’re small and usually skittish. And they fly erratically, so they’re usually hard to photograph. Again, though they seem to like to stop by Viera in the winter.
Wilson’s Snipe in the grass
Belted Kingfishers are also common around Florida in the winter. If you’ve ever seen one of these, you know how hard it can be to photograph them. You’ll see them perched on a branch and as soon as you try to get closer or even point your lens toward them, they take off and move further away. This one was more tolerant than usual and I was able to get set for it to leave. But I was over conservative with my zoom and left too much room in the frame. I did catch it, and even though it’s a little small, it’s one of my best flight shots of one. But I’ll have to keep trying.
Belted Kingfisher in flight
We spotted Red-winged Blackbirds, Black Crowned Night Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Green Herons, Egrets, a hawk, Grebes, Morehens, a juvenile Purple Galinule, and Ring Necked Ducks. And Kevin M. also called out a Ruddy Duck – which was a life bird for me but in very poor light, so I won’t post it here. Kevin K. was the first to spot a herd of deer (well four of them at least) – which I don’t see very often there. Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Sand Hill Cranes, and Cormorants are all nesting now too.
So it was a marvelous morning. Great weather, scenery, bird watching, photography, and friends. Much better than sleeping in!
Please click on the images above to see a larger version on Flickr. And you can see many more of my photos from Viera Wetlands in this Flickr album.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
What’s Momma doing? Sand Hill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands. The chick’s concentration is fascinating.
And Great Blew Heron families (Pun intended – Windy day? Blew? Blue? ):
Breezy Blue and baby – Mom guards the nest and chicks
And caught a brief glimpse of a family of River Otters before they disappeared into the reeds:
River Otter family – 3 or 4 of them ran across the road and into the water
I have one more photo to show you. Since I started using the Olympus E-M1 II camera, I’ve been on a quest to apply its ‘pro-capture’ mode to photograph a Red-winged Blackbird in flight. Their shoulders are pretty and you can’t see them very well when they’re perched. This is my best attempt so far. I like it, but I’m going to keep trying. I’d like to catch one in a little better light and it’d be nice to have the bird facing more toward the camera. While we’re wishing, a catch light in the eyes would be wonderful too!
Red-winged Blackbird in flight –
We also looked for a different sunrise spot and stopped by a pasture on the way to Viera. Unfortunately, nature didn’t cooperate – I ended with a few uninspiring photos. You can look at one (if you must) on Flickr at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some spring time photos!
It was the first Friday the 13th of the new year, but our luck wasn’t completely bad. The day started early with some challenging light and fog at sunrise. I’m glad I brought my IR modified camera and used it to cut through the limited visibility. I did get one or two pleasing photos, including this one. But it’s a B&W sunrise! What’s up with that?
The boardwalk by the boat ramp in the fog – at SR 520 and the St. Johns River
Kevin led us right to the Smooth-billed Ani (thanks Kevin!). The light was still poor and we ended up coming back later for a better look / image. These aren’t normally found this far north in Florida and they’re unusual looking with a very large beak – fun to see. People have also reported a close relative (Groove-billed Ani) on Apopka Wildlife Drive.
We saw Scaups, Mottled Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Limpkins, White Pelicans, a Wilsons Snipe, a Great Horned Owl, Coots, Moorehens, Roseate Spoonbills, and Osprey among other things.
Hooded Merganser pair
Mom and juvenile Limpkin about to enjoy escargot
The light was spotty all morning with periods of rain. There were a couple of images I tried that didn’t work out. I’m going back soon to try again. NOTE: Their website says that Viera Wetlands is closed January 16 – 20. Plan accordingly.
Based on this post and my previous one, I think you can see that the bird activity has picked up here in Central Florida. It’s time to get out and enjoy our natural wonders.
Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
Early morning calm – Along the St. Johns River where it crosses HW 50
On the way, we stopped at a favorite sunrise spot and even though it’s been well photographed, managed to get images we liked.
At Viera, we drove around the main cells a couple of times and saw some interesting things. This Tricolored Heron had speared a large fish and was trying to swallow it. It couldn’t hold on and dropped it just after I made this photo.
Tri-Colored Heron, this one with breakfast.
We saw a few of the regular birds there, but the ducks and other winter migrants don’t seem to have arrived yet. On the way out, Kevin M. talked us into taking a quick spin around the Click Ponds and I’m glad he did. The water’s been low there for a while and the birds are having a feast. The shallow water concentrates the fish and makes them easy prey. Birds lined up and grabbed fish out of this small stream that flowed toward the low point in the pond.
Chow line – The water level in the Click Ponds at Viera Wetlands was very low yesterday.
Over in the corner was a very large mixed flock also enjoying the banquet. I spotted Wood Storks, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Glossy and White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Black Vultures, and a White Pelican in this one photo.
A large flock of feeding birds
So, it wasn’t a good day for fish, but the birds enjoyed it.
I have many posts about Viera Wetlands here on the blog that you can scroll through at this link, and many photos you can look through in this album on Flick.
I slept in a bit Friday. Instead of getting up for sunrise, I met Kevin M. at 7am to go to Viera Wetlands. I know, I know – missing dawn is for photo wimps. Well, don’t do as I do – do as I say! Get up for sunrise!
On the way, we stopped by the boat ramp at SR 520 and the St. Johns River for a few minutes. Water Lily photos are a bit cliché, but I like how the tear in the leaf only shows in the reflection.
This is a popular place to launch boats. I caught this one coming back into the ramp and liked the way the wake patterns look.
A boat on the St. Johns River
There were a few herons along the boardwalk and a great many Swallows – which I have trouble photographing. They seem to almost always be in the air and change directions before I can track them. My Tamron 150-600mm lens was also acting up. For some reason, it has an intermittent focusing issue. After I use it a while, the focus seems to slow and then stop. Usually I can turn the camera off and back on and it will work again, but yesterday that didn’t help. I did some research on-line when I got home and many folks are complaining about this. Two of my friends have this lens and theirs sometimes do it too. I cleaned the contacts on the lens and camera – maybe that will fix it. If not, Tamron has a 6 year USA warranty.
When we got to Viera Wetlands, the road was closed (lots of rain lately), so we got to walk the circuit around the nearest ponds. There are very few ducks so far. But there were lots of Wrens, Terns, herons,and egrets. We also had a Black Crowned Night Heron, an Osprey fishing, an American Eagle fly over, a Caracarra, a Harrier, and a Belted Kingfisher – all in the distance. I missed getting a photo of the eagle because I was fooling around with my phone. Again, don’t do as I do – do as I say! Quit messing with your phone!
Forster’s Tern in flight – and example of when my Tamron would focus
Kevin spots things all the time that I don’t notice. He discovered an American Bittern back in the reeds. They have very effective camouflage. It took me several minutes to find it – even with him telling me where it was.
Flower and fly – Another flight shot
The Click ponds have been closed for a while. They’re open now but almost empty of birds. Maybe next time.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Kevin M. organized a trip to Viera Wetlands on Friday and Kevin K., and I went along. We were at the small park across from the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp where SR 520 crosses the St. Johns River about 45 minutes before sunrise. It was very dark – making focusing difficult and exposures long. It was also very calm, and I thought the reflections in the water were lovely.
Before Sunrise – Two frame panorama, 24mm, f/8, 30 seconds at ISO 160
Kevin M. noticed a puddle in the parking lot and we spent several minutes using it to frame the sunrise. You should check out Kevin K’s version of this here on Flickr.
“Hey Ed – sunrise is over here!” – Kevin K. helping me figure out which way is east. Isn’t it amazing how level he’s holding that leg of his tripod?
At Viera Wetlands, the rangers closed the roads because of all the rain we’ve had, so we walked around the cell closest to the entrance. It was quieter than the last few times I’ve been there, but we still saw many of the usual Florida avians. This Turkey Vulture was posing in good light on one of the observation platforms.
Why don’t I ever see Eagles posing like this?
It’s still plenty hot here in Florida, but the days are getting shorter. We can look forward to cooler weather soon along with the arrival of migrants and winter visitors to make the birding even more interesting.
I enjoyed Viera Wetlands so much the last time I visited, that when my friend Robert Wilson suggested we meet there I was more than willing to go again. Here are three more photos showing some of what you can find there.
It’s not easy being green – A Pig Frog. Believe it or not, these aren’t too hard to spot once you know what to look for.
Least Bittern – Most of the time they hide down deep in the reeds. This one hung out at the top for a bit. It’s a little better look than the last one I posted.
A pair of otters – We enjoyed watching these two take their morning dust bath on the dirt road. I’ve seen them do this several times at Viera Wetlands. The one on the right seems to have an injury to its mouth. Robert thinks it might be a cleft palate.
I had a great time exploring Viera with Robert. By the way, he’s an excellent photographer and really into digiscoping. He explains what it is and shows some wonderful examples of his photos in this article he wrote on the Photography World site. Well worth a look!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Viera Wetlands are two of my favorite places to photograph and I had time to visit both last week. They’re each wonderful and seem similar, yet they can be very different. When I was at MINWR, it was very quiet with few birds or other wildlife around. July isn’t the best time for birds in Central Florida, so I wasn’t expecting much.
On the other hand, Viera Wetlands was full of activity. Right away, we saw a couple of Osprey fishing:
Osprey with catch at Viera – always fun to see and a thrill to get a good, in focus photo
And as we walked around we saw Sand Hill Cranes, a Caracara, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swamp Chickens (Common Gallinules), a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Bitterns, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Green Herons.
Green Heron at Viera – posing nicely in very good light
My friend Kevin M. was with me, and he saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We also spotted a family of four otters crossing the road, and multiple Alligators.
Why did we see so much more at Viera than Merritt Island? Was it the weather (don’t think it was much different)? Time of day (we were there a bit later)? Water type (fresh vs. brackish)? Vegetation? Kevin’s luck?
I really don’t know. I’m just grateful I went to both places and got to see so much. The moral of the story: If one of your local photo spots is quiet, try a different one. You never know what you’ll see.