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.
One of the first birds we watched was a Redish Egret fishing close to shore. It’s great fun to see these birds dance and pounce.
Reddish Egret and Minnow
I had the Olympus E-M1 Mark II with me and practiced with the “Pro Capture” mode (I brought the right lens this time). This really helps you catch a decisive moment – it’s almost cheating. You’d better have a large card in your camera and time to go through all the images, though. I used low-speed and still had way too many frames. Here’s one example:
Wood Stork and Minnow
There were a huge number of White Pelicans and they treated us to “air ballet shows” all morning.
Several (3 or more?) large fish (carp?) swimming in the canal near the road. These were about two feet long.
And there were more gators visible than usual. They look well fed – perhaps they’ve been after those large fish. These monsters stay so still that you can take your time and make a stitched panorama of them. Unless they’re chasing you 🙂
We also spotted Belted Kingfishers, a Bald Eagle, Osprey, several varieties of duck, a wild pig, and many other interesting things.
St. Johns Sunrise – silver lining and sun rays: This is a long exposure (10 second) image I made at the boat ramp on the St. Johns where it meets HW 50. The water is higher than I’ve seen it there before
Pollen covered Bumble Bee on Purple Thistle: These thistles are blooming all over Black Point Wildlife Drive. The pollen on this bee may be an indication of why we’re having such severe allergy problems here in Central Florida.
Spoonbill in the reeds: There were many other birds around too.
Life and death in the Florida wild: The bird (a female Red-breasted Merganser) was looking for fish along a small grass island in the distance. I glanced over when I heard some splashing but couldn’t see anything at first. Then I noticed this alligator with the bird. The struggle was hard to watch, but mercifully brief.
On a related subject, you may have seen news about the recent fish kills we’ve had in the Indian River Lagoon. These are occurring just south of MINWR, nearer Melbourne, Florida. As we were driving around the refuge, I was struck by how natural it looked and by the absence of any dead fish. I’m very thankful that the Refuge has preserved this natural area for us to enjoy.
I worry about the areas where fertilizer runoff and septic tank leakage can lead to pollution, brown tide, lack of oxygen and dead fish and animals. I hope that we can figure out solutions so that people living near our natural resources don’t damage them.
OK, sorry for the commentary. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
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.
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
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 – 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!
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 – 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
And of course, there are lots of alligators to photograph too.
Sunbathing 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!
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*
And of course, it’s always a great place to see Alligators.
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.
Just a quick post today. I haven’t done a sunrise in a while, so Kevin M. and I got up early this morning for a quick trip over to MINWR. The sky was very plain at first with some fog and very high humidity. But as dawn developed, a few clouds moved in and this was the scene right after sunrise. If you look at a larger version (click on it to go to Flickr), you can just see the alligator in the middle distance that swam into the sun reflections as I pressed the shutter.
An alligator swimming through sunrise at East Gator Creek Road, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Florida.
After sunrise, we continued on Gator Creek Road and saw a few of the regular birds, but nothing too unusual. It was the same story on Black Point Wildlife Drive. Things are a bit slow over there at this time of year.
I hope all of you are doing well. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!