You may remember my post from late last year (https://edrosack.com/2020/12/13/three-spoonbills/) where I mentioned a Cinnamon Teal that’s been wintering on Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I didn’t find the bird on that trip and it avoided me on three more tries, although reports kept coming that others had seen it. Finally on my fifth try last Tuesday I actually saw it with my own eyes!
Another update for today: It’s been a long while since I’ve visited Bio Lab Road. Damage from Hurricane Dorian closed it for a while, but that’s all been repaired now and the road is in very good shape. Howard T. told me they’d driven it a few weeks ago so I decided to check it out too.
There are some nice views across the Indian River through breaks in the vegetation. I think this one looking out across that sand bar is very “Florida”.
Bio Lab road is a good place to see large gators. I’m not sure if this is the same one Howard saw, but it’s huge. I was glad it was across the canal!
And here’s one last image from the day, also on Bio Lab Road. I don’t often see these little falcons and this one stayed still for a moment so I could make a photo:
It was cloudy last Tuesday. Some might think the light was bad and I agree it was dim. But diffuse, even light can be a plus. Direct sunlight can be harsh and create deep shadows and blown highlights. I had to raise my ISO to get decent shutter speeds for some of these shots, but the camera sensor handled it well. So if you’re out photographing on a cloudy day, use your ISO setting!
Thanks, Howard for reminding me to re-visit Bio Lab Road! And thanks to that darn dodging duck for providing such a large dose of motivation to get out, enjoy nature, and keep looking!
Thanks to all of you too for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can – make some photos!
Here are a few photos from a short trip over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last week. I spent most of my time on Black Point Wildlife Drive. This first one is a six frame, handheld, infrared, black & white panorama looking along the road near the entrance just after dawn.
What’s around the bend?
I heard these Common Nighthawks before I spotted them. Several were calling and flying near the road about half way around the drive. They’re very fast flyers, erratic and hard to track. They spend summers in Florida but this is the first time I’ve been able to photograph them – although I’ve heard them and seen them briefly before (over at Lake Louisa).
A nice surprise
Gators are frequent down here and I don’t often stop to photograph them anymore. I thought it was worth a snap this time since it was posing nicely and looking at me like I’d make a tasty meal.
Speaking of tasty meals, just up the road from the Alligator, I spotted two of these rabbits foraging in the grass. I stayed in my car and this one was very cooperative. But they should really be cautious around that gator!
Enjoying a snack – A Marsh Rabbit chowing down on some greens
I had this Osprey perfectly framed – before it took off. Turns out I was a little too close, which doesn’t happen very often in wildlife photography (at least for me). Even though I clipped the wings, I still like the image, so I’m including it.
This time of year is very hot and things to see and photograph can be a little sparse. It’s probably not a popular time to visit BPWD. I only saw two other people on the drive while I was there. But I’m glad I I decided to go over. Even if I hadn’t see anything, a little time out there in nature is a welcome distraction from ‘doomscrolling’ the pandemic.
A few updates – if you go, make sure to check on things before you leave:
They’re collecting fees again on BPWD.
Traffic was single lane and slow around some construction on the A. Max Brewer Memorial Parkway leading into the refuge.
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!
Twas the morning after Christmas, as I left the house – I tried to be quiet and not wake my spouse.
I drove to the refuge through the long winter’s night. To get there and catch the first morning light.
On the pier by the causeway, it was all blue and gold. Lovely start to the day with colors so bold.
Dawn by the causeway and the pier
To Black Point next – a wonderful place. Drive slow or you’ll miss things with too fast a pace.
Dawn on Black Point Wildlife Drive
Kingfishers dodged my camera with ease, not stopping for long even when I said please!
Male Belted Kingfisher
A lady Merganser was flapping her wings. Shaking off water and other things.
Female Hooded Merganser wing flap
An unblinking gator watched me draw nigh. I almost saw myself in his eye.
Eye of the gator
And what to my wondering eyes should appear? A pretty pink spoonbill wading quite near.
Other birds to the refuge, they also came. It’s wonderful to see them and call them by name.
Now Ospreys, Shovelers, Pelicans and all,
White Pelican Pod
Now egrets and herons, with all of your calls.
Great Egret in flight
Great Blue Heron portrait
Now Terns, teals, willets, eagles and more, so many birds along the shore.
Large birds, small birds, short birds and tall – stay for a while, don’t fly away all!
As I left the refuge and it left my sight, I thought “HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!”
Merritt Island morning
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope each and every one of you are having a wonderful holiday season. Cherish your time with friends and family and don’t forget to make some photos with them!
It’s getting to be that time of year down here in Central Florida: Hot, muggy, and buggy, with many of the birds hiding or gone.
None the less, Kevin K. and I went over to Merritt Island last week to see what’s going on. Our first stop was along the Indian River at the Titusville Marina. Clouds on the horizon helped the sun add some color to the morning.
Dawn, down on the river
On Black Point Wildlife Drive, our most interesting find was this Stilt wading through calm water and good light. I like this close up, but I wish I’d also made a frame including the whole reflection.
As we left, this healthy looking animal was calmly marching across the black top. There were no cars coming from either direction, so we could stop and give him the right of way. And make a photo too!
Why did the gator cross the road? It didn’t say, but the grass is green on the other side!
There are still some interesting birds at MINWR. For instance, Pat H. found a Clapper Rail on BPWD a couple weeks ago. But it seems like most of our winter visitors have moved on. Maybe we need to move on too and look for photo ops in other spots until it starts cooling off again.
You can click on these images to view a larger version on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
To help celebrate, I thought I’d share some photos I’ve made of Florida Mothers and their babies. These are all wild animals / birds and they’re from several places over several years, so I’ll include where and when in the captions.
Momma gator guarding her nest and 4 (blurry) babies. Along La Chua Trail, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, FL, December 2006
Momma Sandhill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands, March 2017
Spoonbill Mom returns, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, May 2010
Great Horned Owl Mom and chick in the nest, Circle B Bar, March 2018
Momma Limpkin and baby, Circle B Bar Reserve, October 2013
Great Egret Mom and chicks, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, April 2011
It’s amazing how devoted Moms are, and it’s fascinating to watch them raise their babies.
You can click on these images to see larger versions on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go spend time with your Mom!
I didn’t go to Gatorland last Thursday with Kevin K. intending to make images for a Mother’s Day blog post. It happened anyway – it’s pretty hard to avoid this time of year.
The nesting season has moved along and there are more species active now and raising their young. This tricolored Heron is hoping her mate gets back soon with some food for the kids!
Bawling, big mouth babies
Even with the chicks making all that noise, the Mom is sitting quietly, protecting them in case they’ve attracted any predators with their squawking.
In the next photo, an adult Great Egret is feeding an almost mature young one. I watched one nest where there were three juveniles this size, all competing for food from one adult. They were squawking and wildly grabbing for the adult’s beak. The adults are very careful and fortunately seem to avoid eye injuries.
Cattle Egrets are on the nest too and although I think some have already hatched, I couldn’t see them – they’re way back in the bushes.
Cattle Egret checking on her eggs
There are also some Dads around. This guy was preening – trying to look good for his mate. He impressed me!
And the alligators were getting in on the act too. Here’s a video of a bull gator bellowing a mating call. I like the sound track, the standing wave ripples over his back, and the steam (mist) coming out of his nose!
All of these animal behaviors are fascinating to watch. They’re exciting to photograph too!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Here in Central Florida, birds are starting to nest and raise the next generation. Their colors get brighter, feathers get fancy and they show off to attract a mate (and photographers!).
Great Egret display
One place to see this is at Gatorland. Wild birds nest above the alligator ponds there because gators keep predators such at raccoons and snakes away from the nests. You can take advantage of the early entry program to photograph when the light is good and get close to tolerant birds that don’t mind people on the boardwalk.
It’s early in the season now and Great Egrets are the most active. Later in the Spring, you can see Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Cormorants, Anhingas, Wood Storks, Cattle Egrets and maybe a few others nesting too. Here’s a Great Egret on her nest with 3 young chicks. I’d guess these three are less than a week old. And it looks like they’ve just been fed, since none are squawking for more to eat.
Moe, Larry, Curly, and Mom. This is a two frame composite with one focused on the chicks and the other on Mom.
There are other things to photograph there, too.
Happy Gator. Just what a photographer wants: a smiling model in good light!
Gatorland is one of my favorite places to photograph. You can read through the articles I’ve written about it at this link. I think you should go – you’ll have fun and get a some good photos.