I sincerely hope that all of you are staying safe and well.
This is my next entry in the occasional blog category called “Postcards” where I upload a photo of Central Florida scenes – similar to ones you’d see on a postcard.
It’s easy to find them all. Just use the “Places / Categories” pulldown menu over on the right side of the blog and select “Postcards”. If you’re viewing the site on a phone, you may not see that menu – in that case, just type “postcards” into the search box.
Cattle Egret in breeding colors
I made this image in June of 2015 at Gatorland in Orlando Florida. Gatorland is a theme park and wildlife preserve in south Orlando. The main attractions there are of course the alligators, but wild birds also use it as a breeding area in the spring. The birds are used to people and you can get some fantastic photos of nesting birds and breeding behaviors. I’d been thinking about buying an annual pass this year, but the pandemic has delayed that – Gatorland is closed for now. I’ll get one when we get back to normal.
Note: Items in my blog that are marked with a Creative Commons license are available in high resolution for you to download for your personal use. Please visit this page to see details and restrictions that apply: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.
With all the bad news about the novel coronavirus pandemic and the economy / stock market, blogging about photography doesn’t seem too important, does it? But maybe photography can distract you from those headlines for a bit, like it distracted me last Wednesday morning.
Gator Creek Mirror
I made a solo trip over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and spent a few hours enjoying nature. I started on Gator Creek Road before dawn, and then went round Black Point Wildlife Drive. When it was about time to head home, I decided to make one more pass through Gator Creek Road before I left. I’m very glad I did.
As I went past where Catfish Creek Trail branches off, I heard a loud group of birds squawking in the distance. I decided to back up and go and see what was making such a big racket. I found hundreds of (mostly) Laughing Gulls along with a few terns and skimmers in the water – all making noise. They were a little too far away for good photos, but on the other side of the road I spotted several circling Ospreys.
Osprey catch sequence 1
They were looking for fish in Catfish Creek. I stayed for 15 minutes or so watching and photographing. They dove and missed a few times and then I saw this one plummeting toward the water.
Osprey catch sequence 2
The splash was huge and things were happening very fast. It wasn’t until it gained some altitude that I could clearly see it had a fish.
I’ve seen Ospreys fishing before, but these are the best photos I’ve been able to get of an actual catch. It’s exciting to see something like this in the wild. My experience is that you have to be lucky to photograph it when it happens. Thank goodness those gulls were calling or I’d have driven right by!
You can click on these photos to see higher resolution versions on Flickr. You can also visit these related Flick albums:
On a side note: I’ve been enjoying our bug free weather here but I noticed when I got home from this trip that I had several mosquito bites. Time to break out the bug spray – I think our Central Florida spring may already be just about over.
I hope that all of you make it through our current troubles unscathed. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, stay safe – and make some socially distanced photos!
Anyone can snap a photo. As photographers, we choose subjects and then compose frames around them so a viewer’s eyes are drawn to what we want them to see. One thing to think about when we’re out with our cameras is how to isolate the subjects in our images.
Scan the scene when shooting – look for distracting elements and get rid of them. How? Sometimes you can’t, but here are some suggestions.
Viewpoint: Shift a few feet one way or another to hide things. There’s a much less attractive mailbox just out of the frame below on the left.
A Mailbox on Joe Overstreet Road
Magnification: We never have enough zoom, do we? Use what you do have to get close and separate subjects from clutter. You can also crop later on the computer, but you’ll risk losing some image quality / resolution.
A good morning for a song – singing Eastern Meadowlark. Joe Overstreet Road
Light: Sometimes the light is just right to make your subject stand out from the background – take advantage of it! This can be modified a bit in post processing too.
Shy bird – A Roseate Spoonbill in the light. Black Point Wildlife Drive
Depth of Field (DOF): In addition to getting as close as you can and using a long focal length, shooting with a wide open aperture creates a shallower DOF and blurs the background behind your subject. You may need to shift your position a bit to insure that the entire subject (e.g. both the insect and the bird) are in the plane of focus.
Butcher Bird – Loggerhead Shrikes often kill prey by impaling them on a thorn or barbed wire. Joe Overstreet Road
Color: Catching your subject against a contrasting color can help it stand out. These American White Pelicans with their yellow beaks were very nice to pose for me in the blue water.
American White Pelicans. Black Point Wildlife Drive
So that’s a few ideas. If you think about this when you’re out, your photos will improve. Do you have any other suggestions? Feel free to add them in the comments.
And speaking of isolation, Lynn and I are both generally in good health (thankfully!). But the CDC says we’re at higher risk from the COVID-19 virus due to our ages. We’re going to follow their recommendations and stay up to date on developments.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go out, stay safe – and make some photos!
Kevin M. asked me on Friday if I wanted to go photographing Saturday. I’d just been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge that morning, but Lynn and I didn’t have anything planned so it sounded like a good idea to me! I told him to pick a spot and he wanted to go down to Osceola County / Joe Overstreet Road.
We’d already had a very nice trip – trying to find Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, checking the Bald Eagle nest and finding the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers again on Joe Overstreet – among other things. As we got close to the lake, we started to notice a lot of Tree Swallows.
Tree Swallow Trio
These birds are winter migrants in our area and breed as far north as Alaska. We’re used to seeing them here but as we got closer to the lake, we’d never seen them like this.
Tree Swallow Swarm
There were thousands – maybe tens of thousands (?) of the birds in the fields and areas close to the lake. They were madly flying around chasing something. Eventually we got close enough to notice the hoards of blind mosquitoes they were after. Here’s one of those that got inside the car.
These aren’t really mosquitoes and they don’t bite, although they were thick enough to be bothersome (for us, not the Swallows). Actually, I don’t think they’re blind either! We stopped by the store at the landing and I asked the young lady running it about all the birds. She told us that when the chizzywinks show up, it’s not uncommon for large groups of birds to go after them. I’ll say! I’d never heard them called that and had to ask her to repeat it so I could make a note and look up the word.
If you’ve ever seen or tried to photograph Tree Swallows, you know how energetic / erratic their flight is. Going after the flies was definitely a high energy task and we also saw them congregating on some nearby wires to rest between servings of their chizzywinks happy meals.
Resting Tree Swallows
Photographing Tree Swallows is usually hard because it’s difficult to keep them in the frame. Photographing this spectacle was hard too, but it wasn’t because we couldn’t keep them in the frame – they were literally wherever we pointed our cameras. It was just that it was so chaotic that I was never sure what I was capturing. and I was worried about depth of field and motion blur. There was plenty of light, so I ended up stopping down and making sure my ISO was high enough to get a fast shutter speed. This frame is my favorite:
Chizzywinks and swallows
Something like this is why I really like photography. It gets me up and out of the house and every once in a while, I see something amazing that I’ve never seen before. And if I can figure out how to photograph it, I can share it with people too. Fun!
Also, I occasionally learn a new word!
My video skills are not the best and this is a bit jumpy with a lot of wind noise, but here’s a ~20 second recording of this:
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go out and explore nature. You may see something amazing – and make some interesting photos!
“Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!” — Si’ahl (Seattle), leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes
Beginning with my very first adventures out in nature, I’ve always been taught to leave no trace. And so I was startled and then a little sad when I saw these along Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge about a week ago.
I’ve seen rock stacks (or rock cairns) before, just not in MINWR. I guess I also noticed that stacking rocks (and posting photos of them on social media) has become a thing. People shouldn’t do this anywhere, and when they start doing it in one of my favorite places, it’s time to speak up.
I looked through my image archives for another photo from near the same spot and found this one from back in 2013 that I never processed or posted before. It’s looking in a different direction, and it shows rocks where they should be. It’s worth a click to view a larger version.
Gator Creek pano
There are of course, legitimate reasons for building rock cairns and different National Parks have different rules. See this NPS page: https://www.nps.gov/articles/rockcairns.htm. However, it’s always wrong to tamper, add to, or build unauthorized cairns in national parks.
I couldn’t find anywhere on-line that specifically says rock stacking is prohibited at MINWR. Even if it’s not against the rules – it’s still ethically, morally, and environmentally wrong. And it’s rude and selfish. Don’t do it.
Big Cypress National Preserve is a 729,000 acre swamp in South Florida adjacent to Everglades National Park. It was originally going to be part of that, but instead was established as a national preserve in 1974.
I’ve wanted to visit for years and finally went down a couple of weeks ago. I stayed at the bungalow Clyde Butcher rents behind his Big Cypress Gallery along Tamiami Trail. This is a “first impressions” blog post, not a guide. I don’t know the area well enough to give you a comprehensive review.
Butcher’s Pond. Next to Clyde Butcher’s gallery on Tamiami Trail
The bungalow was very nice and provided a good base for exploration. I do wish there was cell service or that they provided an internet connection – although I guess you could argue that being cut off is part of the swamp experience!
Big Cypress is huge and there are a lot of places to check out. And even more places if you include Everglades National Park. For me, the southern portion of the Everglades was just too far away from where I stayed so I concentrated on nearby spots including Kirby Storter Park, Fakahatchee Strand, Loop Road, Shark Valley, and a few others. There was a lot I didn’t get to – I need to go back!
Pre-dawn stars and clouds, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
Kirby Storter was only a few minutes away and I hoped to take advantage of dark skies and catch site of the Milky Way from there. I did manage to glimpse it but clouds rolled in towards dawn and I had to make do with a starry pre-dawn photo instead. I can tell you that I felt very alone out there in the middle of the swamp at 5am. It was dark (no moon) and hard to see very far – kinda spooky. But I also felt pretty safe because every time I moved a bit, the crickets went silent. I figured they’d warn me if anything large got close!
Cypress swamp, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
There’s a lovely, short hike along a boardwalk that leads back into the swamp next to some flowing water and ends at a large gator hole.
Red-shouldered Hawk Pair. Fakahatchee Strand State Park
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park was close too. It’s the largest state park in Florida and Janes Memorial Scenic Drive is an eleven mile dirt road leading from the visitor center back into the swamp. There’s only about six miles open right now due to damage from Hurricane Irma. You can drive this yourself like I did, or take a guided tram ride.
I was busy trying to make landscape photos when a lady hawk (the one on the left) started calling in the tree next to me. I thought she was yelling at me for being too close, but it turned out she was calling for her mate. He flew in and they had a “conjugal visit” while I rushed back to the car to get my longer lens. I missed the action, but did get a nice family photo of the pair afterward.
Fakahatchee Strand 4, color
There are a great many views of this lovely swamp along the scenic drive. It took me a long time to go out six miles and back because I stopped so often to photograph.
Loop Road Cypress and Sawgrass
Loop Road is another scenic area. Both ends connect to Tamiami Trail and I explored those, but didn’t travel the whole twenty six mile route. Next time!
On my visit, I mainly focused on landscape images although I did see and photograph some wildlife – mainly in Shark Valley. There were alligators, turtles, and a lot of birds – most were the same ones we see up here in Central Florida although I did sight a yellow crowned night Heron which isn’t very common in my usual spots. There were also a lot of small birds / warblers that I should have spent some time photographing / identifying.
This was a good time of year to visit. It’s considered the “dry season” and in additon to the comfortable temperatures, I got zero bug bites even though I didn’t use any bug spray the whole time.
You could spend a lifetime exploring there. I stayed for three nights and was very tired when I got home but only touched the surface. Things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Corkscrew Swamp, a swamp buggy tour, a swamp walk, an airboat ride, the Indian reservations and many others. Things to look forward to!
Cypress and air plants, IR B&W
Location scouting is a huge part of good landscape photography. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of scouting in advance. You know that an area is special when you can come back from your first visit with photos you really like. Big Cypress is extra special – a Central Florida Photo Ops Must Do!
We should all be grateful that we’ve preserved places like Big Cypress and the Everglades and that we’re working to restore them to their natural state.
I’ve just about finished going through the photos from my trip to South Florida. I ended up with many images I like – way too many for a single post. Today, I’d like to complete what I started in the Wild Baby Gators! blog with a few more photos from the Shark Valley area of the Everglades. Next week I’ll finish my trip report with images from other parts of Big Cypress.
In a couple of spots along the north side of Tamiami Trail a few miles east of the entrance to Shark Valley visitor center, you can cross over the canal and drive along the dirt road on top of the berm. From there you can get a good look at the “River of grass”, stretching farther than you can see.
River of grass – looking north
I tried to stop by Shark Valley on my first afternoon in the area. But the parking lot was full and there was a line of cars waiting to get in, so I turned around and explored elsewhere. At 8:30 the next morning I was first in line waiting for the park to open. I bought a ticket for one of their two hour tram rides and was on the first one to leave. If you go, arrive early to make sure you can get in. I think taking the first tram ride of the day is a good idea too. Wildlife should be more active / visible and the light is better for photography.
Crowded airspace – Glossy Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill in flight. This was close to a small pond where a bird feeding frenzy was in progress.
There was a lot to see on the ride and the tour guide was excellent. He knew where to spot things and passed along a great deal of info to everyone. The tram stops for about 20 minutes at the 65 foot observation tower. There’s a wonderful view there too. If you zoom into this next photo, you can see two large alligators floating in the pond.
River of grass 2 – The view looking ~ SE from the observation Tower in Shark Valley
There are lots of turtles and alligators along the way.
Happy together – A pair of yellow-bellied sliders soaking in some sunshine
And you’ll probably see some “circle of life” scenes too.
Lunch time – Great Blue Heron with a Florida Gar
We also spotted Cormorants, Anhingas, Great and Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored and Little Blue Herons, White Ibis, Wood Storks, Red-shouldered hawks, a Purple Gallinule, and other birds. We didn’t see any pythons, but you can tell they’re out there because many of the smaller mammals have disappeared – eaten by these large snakes.
To summarize: Shark Valley is definitely a Central Florida Photo Ops “Must do” location and I’m going to visit again.
I returned Friday afternoon from several days in South Florida, scouting and photographing in Big Cypress National Preserve and the northern Everglades. I have a huge backlog of images to go through so I’m not yet ready to blog about it. Today I’ll just post this teaser because I know some of you are alligator fans (hi Calvin!).
I see alligators all the time here in Florida and often spot younger ones. But I only remember seeing babies together with their mother once before, up in Paynes Prairie. Last Wednesday morning in the Shark Valley portion of the Everglades I saw several different momma gators with their 1 – 2 year old babies close by.
A momma gator with five babies.
These are wild animals in their natural environment in the Everglades.
A different mom with six (eight?) babies.
I made them from the tram ride in Shark Valley. Highly recommended! The guide was very knowledgable and let us know where to spot all sorts of things. He also knew a lot about these animals:
Alligators are one of the few reptile species that care for their young.
Only the females take care of the babies – the males aren’t involved (well, except at the beginning!).
The female defends the nest from predators and helps the babies hatch and make it into the water.
She’ll continue to provide protection for a year or two.
The hatchlings are 6 – 8 inches long and grow 9 – 10 inches a year at first, so the ones in these photos are less than two years old.
After a couple of years, the juveniles will move away (or get chased away by mom) and it’s time for her to mate again and start over.
Alligators normally ignore humans. But you should always keep your distance and respect the animals. Our guide said to stay at least 15 feet away (some say 30 – 60 feet is better). However, alligator moms can be especially aggressive defending their nests and young. If you see one in the wild, be very cautious. Always back off if the animal hisses, starts paying attention to you, or moves toward you at all. They are faster than you are, especially over short distances.
The two photos in this post are fairly high resolution and worth looking at a little closer. But one of my readers (thanks Lynn!) pointed out that not everyone knows how to zoom into them on Flickr. So if you want to zoom in:
Click on the photo in the blog, which will open the same image inside Flickr.
It’ll probably already be higher res, but Flickr scales it to the size of your display and window. To see it best, maximize your browser window.
Then you should see a cursor with a little + sign inside a circle. This means you can zoom in a little further. Click once to zoom and use your mouse to move around inside the photo.
Some images are detailed enough to support a second level of zoom. If so, you’ll see another + and you can click again to zoom in even further.
Take a look!
I need to finish going through my photos from the trip and I’m looking forward to writing about other things I saw. More to come!
Over the holidays, Mike asked if I wanted to ride with him (and Avon) on his drive from Wisconsin to Florida and back. Of course I said yes! It was a good opportunity to spend some time together and I haven’t been on a road trip like this in a long while.
This post includes some photos from along the way and a few comments about the trip. It’s a little off topic from Central Florida Photo Ops’s stated purpose. I hope you don’t mind.
It’s quite a drive! It took us three days, although you can make it in two if you push hard enough.
Three Amigos. Here we are mid drive on the way back up – it was chilly at times! Avon is a good traveler. The only times he got even a little bothered was when Mike left him with me for a few minutes and was out of sight, or if the hotel we were in had other dogs that night.
Food on the trip was varied and tasty. This Vietnamese place was across from our hotel in Indianapolis. Good food, quick!
We were usually on the road early and some of the sunrises were pretty. This one is leaving Indianapolis, south bound.
This semi up ahead of us was moving around 70 mph – backwards!
When you get near Chattanooga, there are many “See Rock City” signs. No, we didn’t go by and see it.
Heading south out of Atlanta, the clouds were pretty thick
The last time I drove I-75 through South Georgia, I remember seeing a giant peanut on the side of the road. We couldn’t find it this time – even though the map said it was still there!
There are a lot of “World Famous Ruby Falls” signs too. This one may need a little maintenance.
We went north on a slightly different route and it was a little more scenic, especially through the mountains.
Another Mountain View
Passing wind: According to Wikipedia, the Meadow Lakes wind farm along I-65 in Indiana has 414 turbines and produces 801 megawatts of power.
We lucked out on the weather. There were clouds and some rain on the way down, but it wasn’t too cold. On our way north there was a snow storm coming, but it didn’t hit until we were almost to Mike’s house. The next morning, the park near his place was a very un-Florida looking landscape!
A path through the snowy woods
After I got back home, I was struck by the contrast between winter in Wisconsin and Florida. Our weather is very different!
Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Osceola County
Family time during the holidays is wonderful. Our home seems so very quiet and empty after everyone leaves. But it’s also wonderful to look forward to the next visit!
Thanks for the invite, Mike – I really enjoyed the ride!
And thanks to everyone for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos – on a road trip!
The last time I visited Viera Wetlands was in March of 2019, so I’ve been wanting to go back. Each time I checked the road conditions hotline, it said they’re closed to vehicles. But the message hasn’t been updated since mid-November and I suspected (hoped?) it wasn’t accurate. This week I decided to go down anyway.
I started the morning with a pretty sunrise at the River Lakes Conservation Area Boat Ramp where the St. Johns crosses SR 520.
A very calm morning
Then I headed down to Viera. The hotline is correct – the wetlands roads are closed to vehicles and there’s some repair work going on. I haven’t found any info posted about when they expect to allow cars again. Anyway, I took off on foot with my camera and had a nice walk around the east half of the park closest to the parking area. Here are some of the things I saw.
“Who are you lookin’ at?” (3). These early morning deer were very alert and very suspicious of me and my long lens. I saw about a dozen of them and there were probably more. I liked the light on this group and how they were all staring right at me.
Redwing Blackbird launch. I managed to catch it just as it as it took off.
Cormorant in flight – There were a great many there that morning.
Sunning Anhinga. There were a large number of anhingas too, and this lady was enjoying the early morning light.
I heard lots of Sandhill Cranes but only saw them in the distance and there was one Spoonbill that was too far away for a photo, I didn’t see anything rare or exotic on my walk, but there were plenty of smaller birds, water birds, vultures and alligators. And I enjoyed my time out in nature and got some steps too!