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!
The annual photographer pass program at Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida started again on Friday, and Keith H. and I were the first ones there. We saw Great Egrets, a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Black-crowned Night-Herron, Wood Storks, Anhingas, Boat-tailed Grackles, and a few other species.
Female Boat-tailed Grackle – a common bird in uncommon light
Great Egret and reflection – all dressed up in formal wear for the start of breeding season
Black-crowned Night-Heron – a nice bonus, since I don’t see these very often
And of course you can also see Alligators in the park. They’re starting to breed too – we heard quite a few bellows.
Very still gator and tree reflection
With the photographer pass you can get into the park at 7:30am Thursday – Sunday and stay until dusk on Saturday. This lets you photograph the nesting birds with nicer light and no tourists. It greatly improves your chances of getting good photos of the birds and their breeding behavior in the rookery. These are wild birds that choose to nest in the area because of the protection offered by alligators from other predators such as snakes and raccoons. They’re acclimated to people so you can get quite close to many of them. The Great Egrets are already courting and building nests – they seem to be the earliest breeders. The Wood Storks are getting started too. Later in the year you’ll also see Snowy and Cattle Egrets, cormorants, and if you’re lucky maybe some other species breeding.
Gatorland is a great place to visit at this time of year. If you’re in town for a short while, you can also buy a one day photo pass to get in early. Check it out! Click on the photos above to go to Flickr where you can see larger versions. You can also see more photos from Gatorland in this set on Flickr. And you can read my previous posts about Gatorland at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
The dragon is the most powerful of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, and is associated with high energy and prosperity. It’s also the only mythological beast in the Chinese astrological stable that also includes the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
I don’t have a photo of a mythological dragon. But I do have this image:
Komodo Dragons are found in Indonesia and can grow to about 10 feet in size. They’re carnivores and dominate the ecosystem where they’re found. This particular one lives at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
This year is considered especially auspicious because it is the year of the water dragon, something that only happens once every 60 years. I don’t have a photo of a mythological water dragon either. Perhaps this one will do?
I hope that all of you and your families and friends are having a joyful and happy holiday season!
The weather has been pretty gloomy here this weekend, so I didn’t get a chance to go out and make any new photos. I thought it would be a good time to jump the gun and put together my second annual “Favorite photos of the year” post.
One again, I’ve gone through the photos I made in the last 12 months. I use Lightroom to rate them from 0 through 5 stars. My rating system definitions are:
1 star – The photo is interesting
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) any given photo shoot
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year
5 stars – My favorite photo (ever)
Photos without stars are seconds or not so good versions of other photos. I usually keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. I’ve used this system consistently, and it seems to work for me. Of course, this is all subjective and my opinion only. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve chosen.
Again in 2010, I was really blessed with a huge number of photo opportunities. On my hard drive in my 2010 folder, I have about 11,700 files (not all are photos), taking up 145GB of space. Of these:
5997 of the 2010 images have been cataloged in Lightroom. Many of the rest are source images for multi-shot panoramas or HDRs, or high rate bursts that I selected from.
1139 are rated 1 star or higher
639 are 2 star or higher
88 are 3 star or higher
1 is 4 star, and
None are 5 star (I’m still not done taking photos yet!)
Of the 88 that are 3 star or higher, I’ve selected 10 images to include in a gallery of my favorite 2010 photos. You can click on each of these to go to Flickr, where you can see a larger version. One interesting difference from my 2009 Favorite Photos post is that all the ones this year were made in the Central Florida area.
So, here we go…
My #10 favorite 2010 photo is: Waving Gator. Gators always smile at you, but this one was even waving! No, I didn’t Photoshop the wave. The gator really did it all by itself. I have witnesses.
My #9 favorite 2010 photo is: Roadside Flowers. Wildflower photography is a little different in Central Florida than some other areas of the country. Some might say it’s more challenging here, and I doubt anyone comes to Central Florida specifically to photograph wildflowers. None the less, wildflower photo ops are around here too if you keep your eyes open. These are along the Florida Turnpike. I saw them while driving home from Gainesville, Florida and just had to stop and photograph them.
My #8 favorite 2010 photo is: Cattle Egret in Flight. For once, I was ready when this bird flew close by. Right lens, correct camera settings, and paying attention. I could almost feel my camera nail the shot. I wish I felt like that more often.
My #7 favorite 2010 photo is: One Second Koi or “One second, Koi” or “One second Koi?” I don’t usually make this sort of photo. On this occasion, I decided to experiment and I was very pleased with how it turned out.
My #6 favorite 2010 photo is: Sunrise, fog, palms, pond. This scene is close to the north-west shore of Lake Jessup. On this particular morning, the mist in the distance and the clouds on the horizon shaping the sunlight drew my attention.
My #5 favorite 2010 photo is: Burning waters @ Orlando Wetlands. We were at Orlando Wetlands Park back in late September before dawn. It was raining very softly, but not enough to discourage us from hiking out to Lake Searcy and capturing this scene. I like the light hitting the flowers on the left, the rain cloud in the distance, and the dawn colors in the sky.
My #4 favorite 2010 photo is: Grasshopper and Donuts perform photo-magic on the beach under the stars for an audience of three.
We have a local camera club and three of us decided to go over to the beach to try to photograph the Perseid meteor shower. My two friends went out on the beach while I stayed up on the boardwalk. At one point I looked down and could barely make out this scene in the dark. I like the way the camera’s LCD is lit up and draws the viewer’s eye to the two photographers. I also like how the three strangers (who were watching for meteors) look like they’re watching my friends.
I was using ISO 1600 and my “nifty 50” 50mm lens at f/1.8 to keep exposures as short as possible (I was trying to prevent the stars from trailing), and I had focused manually at infinity. All I had to do was switch on live-view, re-compose, and zoom in on my friend’s white shirt to manually re-focus. Fortunately no one moved very much during the 4 second exposure. It’s really amazing how modern cameras can capture scenes that are barely visible to our eyes! And yes, we did get a few meteor photos. (Grasshopper and Donuts are nicknames for the two photographers in the scene).
My #3 favorite 2010 photo is: Cyprus tree and knees. I wanted to try the Nikon D7000 on some landscape photos, but didn’t really have time to go anywhere special. This tree is very close to my home – along the shore of Lake Jessup in Central Winds Park. Cypress trees make very good photo subjects since they can provide both near and middle distance content for a scene.
My #2 favorite 2010 photo is: Cormorant at the Circle Bar B. These birds have been posing for me lately. I think it’s amazing how pretty they look in the right light.
And … my #1 favorite photo of the year 2010 is: Ponce Inlet light, sunset, bird. Imagine if you will, a perfect dusk scene with sunset colors drifting up from beyond the horizon. In the distance is a photogenic lighthouse that’s illuminated just enough to make it stand out against the bright sky. Beneath your feet, slow-moving Atlantic Ocean surf rolls up on rocks. You spot a bird in the surf and hope it will be still while your shutter remains open for the seconds necessary to record the image as your mind’s eye sees it – tack sharp from foreground rocks all the way to the distant lighthouse, with silky smooth water reflecting the dusk sky. Imagine coming home and seeing the image that you imagined right there on your computer screen in all it’s glory. That’s what happened to me last August.
I’ve uploaded these photos to this Flickr set, and you can click this link to watch a slide show. When you watch the show, you might want to click the “show info” link.
At 310 miles, the St. Johns is the longest river in Florida. It’s one of the few rivers in the US that flow from south to north. Near Orlando it forms the dividing line between Seminole and Volusia counties, and it’s a favorite destination for fishermen, boaters, and folks on jet skis. It should be a favorite destination for photographers, too.
Vince invited Tom and I out on his boat for a photo expedition a while back. We finally took him up on his offer a couple of weeks ago. We were up early, put in near the I-4 bridge right around dawn, and motored north.
There’s a rule of thumb about sunrise and sunset. The rule of thumb is that there’s no rule of thumb telling you when the good colors / conditions will occur. You have to hang around and keep making photographs until you’re sure the show is over. The next photo is a good example of this rule (or is it a lack of rules?):
The St. Johns River near Blue Springs
When we first got out on the river around sunrise (~7am), there was some color in the sky, but nothing spectacular. About an hour later the conditions were quite different and much more photogenic.
This image is a 5 frame panorama that I merged in Photoshop. I made the exposures hand-held from a moving boat, so they weren’t aligned all that well. In post, I first ran all 5 RAW frames through Lightroom and adjusted several parameters identically, including color balance, lens profile, and camera profile. Then I moved to Photoshop to do the merge. After that, I worked on it a little more to take a small curve out of the shoreline, and then used Topaz Denoise 5 to selectively reduce the residual noise that you could see in the full res version. The last step was to add a duplicate layer and run it through Topaz Adjust 4. Back in Photoshop, I modified the transparency of the resulting layer and the strength of the Topaz filter. I also selectively erased portions of the Topaz layer until I liked the result.
Info for Photographers
Photo hints: We saw many kinds of birds and several alligators. But the wild life doesn’t like power boats very much. We had a hard time getting close to any of the birds, and alligators would see or hear us coming and submerge long before we got close to them. If you have time, you might try coasting in from a longer distance – but that could take a while and we didn’t try it so I can’t tell you whether it will help. You can also look for alligators on docks. They don’t seem to be as skittish when they’re out sunning themselves. In fact, they seem quite friendly.
Gators always smile at you, but this one was even waving!
Tripod/Monopod: They won’t do you much good on a moving boat, so save yourself some trouble and don’t bring them unless you’re going ashore.
Lenses: The boat motion will also make hand holding a long lens difficult, so don’t bother bringing really long glass either. Instead, carry your wide-angle lens and maybe a short telephoto or zoom.
Best time to visit: Early in the morning on a calm day before the other boats show up. The water should be calm, undisturbed, and very scenic. And you can get some photography in before it gets too hot.
Other: There are several places to stop and eat along the river. If you want to grab lunch ashore, do some research first. Also, if you don’t have a friend with a boat, don’t let that stop you. Nearly every marina we passed had pontoon and house boats for rent.
By the way, if you’re visiting Florida you may not know that it’s probably not a very good idea to swim in the river. The alligator in the photo above was about 5 feet long. It (along with some larger relatives) lives in the river. We also occasionally have people infected with water-borne diseases (such as amoebic meningoencephalitis), although that usually occurs in lake water.
We had a great time and were very grateful to Vince for taking us out. I got a photo or two that I really like.
We’re really blessed in Central Florida with many places that photography and nature enthusiasts can visit. The Photography Interest Group took another trip to Black Point Wildlife Drive yesterday. There was a lot to see.
I used a 750mm effective focal length lens to shoot this sunrise photo. I like the transparent look of the trees in front of the sun.
A 4 shot panorama.
Kevin McKinney (who has the knack for spotting things) let us know there were kingfishers in the area. I saw this one (my first ever) and made a very quick photo hand-held out the window at 750mm (eq). Thank goodness for optical stabilization! It was terribly back-lit, but the best I could do. It flew off as soon as we opened the door, living up to their reputation for being very skittish.
Like the previous time I was there, we saw many spoonbills. This one posed for us for a while. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the fishing line wrapped around its bill. Please, please think twice before you throw anything in the water.
3/22/10 update: Good news! Kevin Krause reports that the fishing line was gone a little later.
A beautiful bird. I hope it can get the fishing line untangled from its upper bill.
And finally, here’s another gator eye photo. In this one you can see both Keith and Ed in the upper right.
We’re very fortunate to have Sandhill Cranes in Central Florida. You can see these large wading birds all around the area and you often see them in groups of two to four. Usually the group is a family with two larger birds (the parents) and one or two smaller juveniles.
For a few weeks last year, I regularly saw one family on my way home from work – they were often in a field next to the entrance ramp where I get on the toll road . It was interesting to watch the young bird grow and eventually leave the parents. I’ve also seen them in parking lots and even crossing major roads (on foot!).
According to Wikipedia, The Florida Sandhill Crane subspecies is estimated to have some 5,000 individuals remaining and is protected in our state. Sad fact: Sandhill Cranes are hunted in several western states and Canada. Fun fact: Ten million year old fossils of the Sandhill crane have been found which makes it the oldest known bird species still surviving.
Sandhill Cranes and nest – Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/8, 1/640 sec, Sigma 150-500mm @ 500mm, 60 meters distance
I didn’t realize that Sandhill Cranes nest on the ground. I saw a nest for the first time yesterday at Vierra Wetlands and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. How has this species survived for ten million years using this strategy? Can you imagine how difficult it is to protect a nest from all the predators in the middle of a marsh? I saw large alligators not far from this nest and I’m certain that there are raccoons, snakes and other things that would love to eat eggs or small birds close by.
Alligator on bank at Vierra Wetlands – Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/8, 1/640 sec, Sigma 150-500mm @ 500mm
iBird says that both parents incubate the eggs during the day, but only the female does so at night. It doesn’t say what the male bird does at night, but it must have to help defend the female. I can only conclude that these birds are very fierce defenders. Alligators and other predatory animals must learn to leave them alone – after all, modern alligators have been around for about six to 12 million years!
Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the entire set and a slide show version of the photos.
In a “ToDo” post last year, I promised to visit and report on Gatorland and to compare it to the St. Augustine Alligator farm for you. I was finally able to go and this post is the basic review. I’ll follow-up with a comparison to the Alligator Farm shortly. Gatorland is a vintage, Florida, roadside attraction (started in 1949) and has grown into a 110-acre, photographer friendly theme park featuring some great shows with many kinds of animals on display. Although there are a lot of things to do in the park, the two that may attract nature and wildlife photographers more than others are:
The Bird Rookery: Created in 1991 as a natural breeding area for the gators, the 10 acre Breeding Marsh has over 100 adult alligators and is a completely natural environment. It attracts wild birds,which tend to nest above the alligators, since they provide protection against some of the bird predators such as raccoons and snakes.
The bird rookery and breeding marsh
The Swamp Walk: This is located at the southern end of the park and is a self guided tour on a raised wooden walkway through a Cypress Swamp and affords visitors a rare look back into what much of Central Florida looked like before development.
There is also quite a bit for the non-photo family members to do, including shows, a small water park, a petting zoo, and displays of other captive animals.
The gator jumparoo show
Photo hints: Gatorland reinstated its photo pass in 2012. It allows entry at 7:30 and lets you stay inside until dusk. Quite an advantage for bird photography.
Tripod/Monopod : Gatorland is a photographer friendly place. You can bring all of your equipment, including a tripod or monopod and there is ample room to use them as long as you are courteous.
Lenses: Of course, long lenses are a must for most bird photography and they will certainly help you at Gatorland. But since many of the birds are so used to people you can get very close to some of them, so very good shots with not so long lenses are possible.
Wood Stork and Alligator bokeh
Best time to visit : Early February through June (nesting season) where the weather is also not as hot.
Other : Normal hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm. Be sure to ask about Senior Citizen and Florida Resident discounts.
Families will find lots to interest them at Gatorland. It’s a good value in today’s overpriced theme park environment. And photographers will enjoy visiting this park multiple times.