Wood Ducks seem to really like Lake Davis. There were more than a dozen adults and many more babies. Other kinds of ducks like it too. This Mallard posed in nice light so I could make its portrait:
A colorful, curly tailed Mallard
With pandemic lockdowns nearly everywhere here in the US, it’s nice that we have close by spots for a little solo exercise (with a camera, of course). MK and I made these photos on two separate trips around Lake Davis near her place over the last couple of weeks. Thank you for your help with this post, MK!
I’m glad the ducks like this place as much as we do!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Stay safe out there and take care of yourselves, your friends, and your families. And if you can, make some photos!
We also have a lot of Cypress trees in Florida. They’re deciduous conifers – the leaves turn reddish brown or orange in the fall and drop by winter time. New growth in the spring is a vibrant green.
When we left on our walk, I’d seen a large bird take off from a tree. It happened too fast for a photo and I couldn’t really make out what it was. But I remembered to look for it again when we returned.
Watching the Neighborhood
That’s when I spotted this pretty Red-shouldered Hawk watching intently from the gutter on a house by the corner. Our squirrels and rabbits need to be careful!
Park closing info: I don’t want to post anything about which parks and areas are open or closed in Central Florida. The situation has been changing every day. But many places have shut down – do your research first if you decide to head out.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Stay safe out there and take care of yourselves, your friends, and your families. And if you can, make some photos!
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/.
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!
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.
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!
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!
I’ve been wanting to go back to Viera Wetlands. When I called their hotline Friday night, it said the roads are closed to vehicles. I think this is old info, but I didn’t want to drive all the way there to check. So I went to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge instead on Saturday morning. Here are a few photos from the trip.
Hooded Mergansers were there on our last visit. This time they were close enough for a photo.
There was a large group of birds feeding on minnows in one small pond by Black Point Wildlife Drive (yes – the Drive is open again – yay!). It was very close to the road with an unobstructed view – an excellent photo op!
Snowy Egret with a minnow
Since I sold a portion of my Olympus gear early this year and bought the Sony A7R3, I’ve been using it for landscapes and portraits – I don’t have a birding lens for it but I’ve wondered how it would do. Yesterday’s close-up feeding frenzy was a perfect opportunity to try it. After I made some images with the Olympus, I pulled out the Sony with the 24 -105mm lens mounted and made several more photos. I really liked how well it worked – especially the autofocus. Here’s a sample.
Little Blue Heron in flight
On the way out, I saw this winter visitor walking toward a notch in the sand along the river. I crouched down low and waited for it to frame itself. I’m pretty sure it’s a Sanderling, although I’d welcome other opinions.
“The Sanderling is one of the world’s most widespread shorebirds. Though they nest only in the High Arctic, in fall and winter you can find them on nearly all temperate and tropical sandy beaches throughout the world. The Ruddy Turnstone and the Whimbrel are the only other shorebirds that rival its worldwide distribution.” – Cornell Lab, All About Birds
Sanderling through the sand
I visit MINWR a lot. But it never disappoints me. What a treasure!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!