Tag Archives: birds

Big Cypress National Preserve

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 1, colorButcher’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 cloudsPre-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 swampCypress 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.

Fakahatchee Strand - Red-shouldered Hawk PairRed-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, colorFakahatchee 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 1, IR B&WLoop 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!

Cyprress and air plants, IR B&WCypress 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.

Two other blog posts about this trip:

A previous post about the Everglades:

Related Flick Albums:

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Shark Valley

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 3River 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 airspaceCrowded 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 2River of grass 2 – The view looking ~ SE from the observation Tower in Shark Valley

The water and trees around the tower are full of wildlife.  I spotted this Yellow-crowned Night Heron there. I’m going to count this as a life bird (first sighting).  I saw one before, but it was outside the US (in Costa Rica).  I also saw what may have been a  juvenile at Viera Wetlands, but it was an iffy ID.

Yellow-crowned Night HeronYellow-crowned Night Heron

There are lots of turtles and alligators along the way.

Happy togetherHappy together – A pair of yellow-bellied sliders soaking in some sunshine

And you’ll probably see some “circle of life” scenes too.

Lunch timeLunch 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.

You can view my other Everglades National Park photos in this album on Flickr.  And I’ve started to collect photos from the Big Cypress area in this album.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Viera Wetlands – 1/15/20

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 morningA 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)“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 launchRedwing Blackbird launch.  I managed to catch it just as it as it took off.

Cormorant in flightCormorant in flight – There were a great many there that morning.

Sunning AnhingaSunning Anhinga.  There were a large number of anhingas too, and this lady was enjoying the early morning light.

Palm WarblerPalm Warbler

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!

You can look through my blog posts about Viera Wetlands  (44 and counting!) at this link: https://edrosack.com/category/photo-ops-in-florida/viera-wetlands/.  And I’ve collected over 300 photos from there in this album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157623223995224.  Also please click on the photos in these blog posts to view them in higher resolution on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos -even if the road’s closed!

©2020, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

MINWR – 12/26/19

Twas the morning after Christmas*

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 pierDawn 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 DriveDawn on Black Point Wildlife Drive

Kingfishers dodged my camera with ease, not stopping for long even when I said please!

Male Belted KingfisherMale Belted Kingfisher

A lady Merganser was flapping her wings. Shaking off water and other things.

Female Hooded Merganser wing flapFemale Hooded Merganser wing flap

An unblinking gator watched me draw nigh. I almost saw myself in his eye.

Eye of the gatorEye of the gator

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  A pretty pink spoonbill wading quite near.

SpoonbillRoseate Spoonbill

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,

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

White Pelican PodWhite Pelican Pod

Now egrets and herons, with all of your calls.

Great Egret in flightGreat Egret in flight

Great Blue Heron portraitGreat 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 morningMerritt 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!

And have a very Happy New year too!!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

*With sincere apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

A few bird photos

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.

Hoodie Hoodie

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 and minnowSnowy 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 flightLittle 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 sandSanderling 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!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

MINWR – 11/10/19

I went over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Sunday with Kevin M.  If you’ve been waiting for our winter visitor bird friends to show up – they’re here!

We first stopped by the Titusville marina for a few blue hour / sunrise photos.  In the original color version of this one, the orange reflections in the water from the streetlights along the shore didn’t mix well with the blue water and sky in the distance.  A B&W conversion eliminated that problem and I like the result.

Marina at dawnMarina at dawn

Kingfishers were abundant and even a bit cooperative.  This one rested on a dead tree for me.

Belted KingfisherBelted Kingfisher

And another even waited until I had my camera all ready and focused on it before it took off!  You can view a short video time lapse of that at this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/49052297597/in/dateposted/

Other winter birds we saw:  American Avocets, Blue-winged Teals, Northern Flickers, Northern Shovelers, a Northern Harrier, Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroats, and Palm Warblers.  The ducks weren’t plentiful yet, but I’m sure more are on the way!

Our year round birds competed for attention by posing in very nice light.

Reddish EgretReddish Egret in warm morning light

Egret and reflectionEgret and reflection

Great Blue HeronHeron in flight

And we also managed to find a Florida Scrub Jay along the entrance road to Canaveral National Seashore for Kevin’s list this year.  So once again a wonderful visit to MINWR.  You should go!

I’ve put many more of my images from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in this album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157627776386723.  And please click on the photos in these blog posts to view them in higher resolution on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Orlando Wetlands 10-25-19

There’s a lot going on at this city run park out in Christmas, Florida.  I needed steps last Friday, so I got up early and took a walk. Hours are “Sunrise to Sunset”, but generally the gate is open about a half hour before sunrise.  Plenty of time to catch some good light.

Marsh, moon, and sun raysMarsh, moon, and sun rays

The quantity and variety of wildlife is remarkable.  I’ve seen occasional deer, bobcat, raccoons, and otters in the past – and alligators and our common wading birds are plentiful.  Winter migrants are also arriving.

Eastern PhoebeEastern Phoebe (winter visitor)

Savannah SparrowSavannah Sparrow (winter visitor)

Other migrants I came across included Belted Kingfishers, Black-necked Stilts, and Palm Warblers.

Spoonbills have been numerous there in recent years, but I only saw one this time.  Maybe more will show as we get closer to springtime.

Spoonbill Spoonbill

There were other unusual things too:

Pie Billed Grebe and crayfishPie Billed Grebe and crayfish

I noticed this Grebe surface with what I thought was a fish. But when I got a better look I could tell it was a large crayfish.  It had a precarious hold at first.  As I watched for about a minute, it adjusted its grip and eventually swallowed the whole thing. The crayfish looked bigger than the bird’s head!

Other birds I spotted:  Black Bellied Whistling ducks, Mottled Ducks, Coots, Common Gallinules, Red-shouldered Hawks, Sand Hill Cranes, Limpkins, Wood Storks, juvenile and adult Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds, Glossy and White Ibis, Anhingas, Black Vultures, and I’m sure others I missed.

There are on-going or planned projects that’ll make this park even better.  They’re currently “demucking” cell 13 (far corner from the entrance).  And they’ve prepared a site for a new visitor center at the first corner as you hike north from the entrance.  I’m also looking forward to new vantage points a future boardwalk over lake Searcy should provide.

If you take a look at all the posts I’ve written about it, you’ll probably be able to tell that Orlando Wetlands is one of my favorite places . If you haven’t been, go.  It’s a Central Florida Photo Ops “must do”!  You can see more of my photos from there in this album on Flickr.   And this Flickr group will show you other folks photos.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Daybreak, Bobcat, Boar, and More

In the USA, the second full week of October each year is National Wildlife Refuge Week.  I visited my local refuge last Thursday to help celebrate.

Moonlit marsh 1Moonlit marsh

I decided to go straight to Black Point Wildlife Drive to photograph sunrise.  The gate was still closed when I arrived, so I set up by the sign at the entrance and made the image above. The wind was blowing and I like the surreal appearance of the clouds, moonlight,  and stars visible in the full res version.

This was the view a little later from the parking area at the southwest corner of the drive:

Golden Golden

And here’s a monochrome infrared photo along the western side of Black Point.  I like the low sun angle and clouds.

Out early on a straight roadOut early on a straight road

You might be able to tell from these three photos that I was the first and only one on Black Point Wildlife Drive that morning – which led to the next situation.  I stopped at the rest area and got out to scout around.  There’s a small observation deck there at the start of Cruickshank trail and as I was just coming off the path to go up the short boardwalk, I heard a noise and then saw a very healthy looking Bobcat jump over the rail and disappear into the vegetation.  Even though I had my camera in my hands, set up and ready – I was way too slow to get a photo.

I’ve come across Bobcats several times in the wild.  Usually when they see me, they fade away quickly and it’s hard to get a photo.  This time was unusual – I wasn’t trying to be super quiet, I can only guess it was catnapping and didn’t notice me at first, or it was hoping I wouldn’t come its way so it could stay comfortable.

I’m sorry I didn’t get the photo for you on Thursday and I know you’re disappointed.  So here’s a previously un-published one from March 2017 from very near the same area.  It’s typical of the brief and poor look I normally get of Bobcats:

Bobcat Bobcat

Feral pigs in MINWR aren’t as shy as Bobcats.  They typically go about their business when I see them.  This one stared me down and when it was sure I was going to stay put, continued across the road – hackles raised.  It too quickly disappeared into the undergrowth.

Young wild boarYoung wild boar

One more picture to close this out – from the boat launch area at Parrish Park:

#53#53 – A banded Ruddy Turnstone

I had an exciting day at Merritt Island.  Although the winter birds aren’t back in force yet, The Ruddy Turnstones and skittish Belted Kingfishers I saw are migrants – a good sign.

I have many more images from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in this album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157627776386723.  And you can click on almost all of the photos on my blog to view them in much higher resolution on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Overdue in Osceola

Kevin M. wanted to go down to Osceola county and Joe Overstreet road last Friday.  I don’t seem to get down there very often (the last time I wrote about it was in March of 2017).  Since a visit was so overdue, I readily agreed to join him.

We stopped first along a side road for a sunrise pasture photo.  It’ll be hard to see at web resolution, but there’s a large herd of cattle on the right in the distance.

Cow contry sunriseCow country sunrise

Next, we drove down Joe Overstreet road.  This is a great place to see birds that aren’t too common elsewhere in Central Florida.  Here are some examples:

Bob WhiteBobwhite

Snail KiteSnail Kite

Loggerhead ShrikeLoggerhead Shrike

We also saw many of our common wading birds including some Sandhill Cranes, Anhingas, Cattle Egrets, Great and Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks.  There were a couple of Bald Eagles, a family of Red-headed Woodpeckers, an Upland Sandpiper, several Solitary Sandpipers (several? solitary? I know, right?), many molting Meadowlarks, lots of Killdeer, and lots of swallows ( I think these were Cave Swallows, although there could have been others mixed in).

And dragonflies were very plentiful.

Dragonfly Dragonfly – Not sure of ID on this. Maybe a Red Saddlebags?

After Joe Overstreet, we stopped by Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area to see if we could spot any Red-cockaded Woodpeckers but they weren’t cooperating.

If you haven’t been to these areas, check them out.  They seem to attract a diverse group of species.  Click on any of these for larger versions, and you can see a few more of my photos from there in this album on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Back to nature

It seems like ages since I’ve been out amongst our natural Florida wonders.  So I was eager to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last week for a look ’round.  I stopped first by the Indian River before dawn.  The geometry of the pier, bridge and sun rays teamed up to form nice leading lines toward the pending sunrise.

A peaceful morning on the pier by the bridgeA peaceful morning on the pier by the bridge – Veterans Memorial Fishing Pier by the Max Brewer Causeway in Titusville, Florida

East Gator Creek road was closed, so I drove up to Haulover Canal and the Mantee Observation Point – of course there were no manatees visible there!  Then I circled back to Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Standing birdStanding bird – Tri-colored Heron on a bush. It was so still that I had time to zoom in and make a three frame vertical panorama.

We’ve had lots of rain lately and there was plenty of water at Black Point.  I saw fish schooling in several spots, although for some reason the birds weren’t interested. I think the highlight of the trip for me was watching two Reddish Egrets dancing over the water.

Running birdRunning bird – a prancing Reddish Egret seems to walk on water

There were just a couple other people on the drive and I only saw them briefly.  It’s a special privilege to have a place like this mostly to yourself – even at this time of the year when it’s so hot and the wildlife is a bit sparse.

Flying birdFlying bird – a Great Egret glides above the water

What a delightful morning!  I have many more MINWR photos here.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go enjoy nature – it’s good for you!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved