Kevin K. and I went over to Black Point Wildlife Drive last Tuesday. The water levels were low and although we saw quite a few birds, many of them were far from the road and hard to photograph. Here are some images from the trip that I like.
Hunter’s Dance – A Reddish Egret stalks fish in the marsh
These Egrets have a distinctive dance they use to scare up fish. It seems to work for them!
Morning minnow meal
Green Herons use a different technique. This one was wading carefully through the mangrove roots on the side of a canal looking for a snack.
Stalking in the Mangroves
And finally, here’s a photo of a Great Egret taking off from a tree beside the trail.
Great Egret Launch
This one was a little slow – normally birds are gone by the time I get my camera ready!
Once in a while, conditions are just right. Low water levels force fish into small pools and birds flock to the spot to feed. When you can get close to a scene like this early in the morning, with soft golden light from the rising sun behind you – count your blessings!
The birds all compete for food. Watch for interactions and squabbles – they can lead to great poses and action shots.
Since the birds are very focused on the fish they’re more tolerant of close photographers. Be quiet and move slowly so you don’t stress them.
They’ll be constantly coming and going and moving in the pond. Watch for good compositions as they shift around.
When they fly in, you can often track them as they get closer and land in the pools for some great images. After a while you’ll be able to anticipate their paths.
As the birds land, they’ll be low and close to you – great for eye level BIF photos (BIF = Birds in Flight)!
You’ll need to balance zoom level, composition, background, exposure, focus, etc. And conditions change rapidly. Set up your camera in advance and be nimble. I have a BIF preset programmed so I can quickly shift to it when needed. It shoots at 10 frames / second with continuous focus, large focus area, and higher ISO settings to keep my shutter speed high. You’ll need 1/1000 sec. exposures (or shorter!) to freeze wing motion.
A white bird against a dark background vs. a dark bird against the sky will require exposure compensation adjustments. I have EC mapped to the rear wheel control so I can easily vary it when needed.
Your “keeper” percentage may be lower than you’re used to. But there are so many photo opportunities at a feeding frenzy that you’ll likely come home with images you like. Practice when you can and you’ll get better.
Landing Ibis – I like the composition / background on this one. But my shutter was too slow to freeze the wings and I didn’t get the exposure compensation right either. I’m still practicing!
It’s not all about birds in flight. Interesting groups or poses on the shore or perched on nearby branches are also photogenic.
On the banks of the pond. I like compositions with multiple species in the frame.
That was a wonderful morning. I’m glad I was able to see all the action. Oh, and before the bird activity, I also made a couple of landscape photos:
Dawn at the dock on the Indian River. Olympus Hi-Res mode.
Florida clouds along Black Point Wildlife Drive. Monochrome infrared.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
First an announcement: If you’re here because you didn’t get an email from the blog this week, please see the very last bullet at the bottom of this post.
And for those interested, you can read much more about other blog tech details / status / news following the Merritt Island photo update.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Late Thursday, Kevin K. asked if I wanted to go photographing Friday morning. I did and we decided to meet early and visit Merritt Island. We arrived way before sunrise, so we stopped first at the Titusville Municipal Marina for a quick photo in the dark.
Pre-dawn at the marina – Titusville. Olympus high res mode, two frame panorama
Next we went by the fishing pier on the North west side of the causeway. From there you can shoot through the bridge toward sunrise. I liked the viewpoint, but I wish the sunrise color had been better.
Dawn through the bridge. Olympus high res mode, two frame panorama
After this we headed to Black Point Wildlife Drive. There were a lot of birds there and we ended up going around twice. I was worried that it would be dull and overcast, but we actually had some very pretty light for most of the morning.
Roseate Spoonbil feeding in the shallows
Hooded Merganser (female)
We also saw (among others): American Robins, Great snowy and Reddish Egrets, Great Blue and Tri-Colored Herons, White and Glossy Ibis, Norther Shoveler and Pintail ducks, Belted Kingfishers, gulls, terns, Osprey, Vultures, and more. We were hoping to spot some White Pelicans, but didn’t we couldn’t find any on this trip.
Enough of the pleasant content. Now on to the agonizing stuff.
Blog status / news
It’s been a very tough week at Central Florida Photo Ops HQ. Our head of tech support (me) along with Google search, and two different hosting provider customer support lines struggled mightily to get the blog transferred and back up and running again.
There’s good and bad news. Good news: The blog is mostly back up. And the head of tech support probably won’t get fired since there’s no one to replace him. Bad news: He’s not getting a raise anytime soon.
I started looking for a new hosting provider over the Christmas break since my agreement with GoDaddy is almost up . My blog’s been responding a little slow and GoDaddy’s renewal fees and their SSL (https) offerings were expensive. And even though Bob Parsons is no longer CEO, there’s the whole GoDaddy Elephant thing.
I did some online research and discovered that inMotion hosting is highly rated and has some inexpensive plans. Since this is a non-commercial, personal blog, I don’t feel I need a high end hosting plan and decided to go with them.
It was very easy to open an account and purchase their WPS500S plan. The rest of the process wasn’t as easy. Here are some of the issues I ran into:
Since I purchased a WordPress specific hosting plan, I thought InMotion would automatically install WordPress for me. They didn’t. I could have installed it myself through their cPanel interface, but I wasn’t familiar enough with their software and what to expect. A call to their tech support took care of this right away.
Next, I requested that InMotion transfer my content from GoDaddy. I gave them my login credentials, but for some reason they couldn’t access the old account. I ended up doing this myself by FTPing into GoDaddy and copying my content files first to my computer (for backup) and then uploading them to InMotion.
Next I initiated the domain transfer to move edrosack.com from GoDaddy servers to inMotion servers. This was probably a timing mistake (see the bullet below about follower migration). The domain transfer happened relatively quickly and I could see the new edrosack.com on the web.
Next I turned on inMotion’s included SSL capability. This was easy and I now have an https connection. My blog readers don’t do any business through my site and don’t sign in, so this probably isn’t strictly necessary for them. But Google factors this into search rankings so it’s good to have.
I then went about configuring WordPress to make it match the old installation. I had lots of problems with the Jetpack plugin. It turns out that InMotion enables the Mod Security firewall by default and the WPS500 hosting plan doesn’t allow customizing this. Jetpack relies on access to the site xmlrpc file to work and Mod Security blocks this by default. I was able to resolve this with another call to InMotion tech support.
Since I was now worried about security on the new site, I spent some time installing firewall / security plugins and testing / configuring them. In the process, I managed to lock myself out of edrosack.com at least once. Fortunately, I could still get to the site file system so I could nuke the security software and then reinstall / reconfigure it. Whew! It would have been embarrassing to have to call inMotion on my second day with them to get that fixed.
Most of my content transferred ok, but I couldn’t get the NexGen gallery plugin to display my Portfolio without re-setting it and starting over. In the end, I decided to use the gallery provisions included with Jetpack and re-did my portfolio pages. I needed to update them anyway and now they reflect some of my more recent work. Please check them out if you get a chance!
And late on Saturday as I was finally getting things fixed, my cable internet here at home went down for the first time in months! This stuff is just too hard!
The final problem (that I know of) and one that I haven’t resolved yet is that since I couldn’t connect WordPress.com to both my old and new providers at the same time, I was unable to use Jetpack’s subscriber migration tool. So for now, I’m waiting on Jetpack to respond to a support request. Once I hear from them, I’ll know how to proceed. If they can’t re-instate my subscribers, I’ll have to send out an email and request that folks re-subscribe. Stay tuned on this and I’ll let you know what happens.
Well, that’s much longer than a normal blog post, so I’ll sign off now.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And if you’re having issues with your server, don’t call me!
Then we drove around Black Point Wildlife Drive. The water there is very high and although wildlife numbers might be a bit below average, there’s great variety with both normal residents and winter visitors present.
A ternery pano – Caspian Terns and a Sandpiper in a four frame panorama
We saw Green, Blue, Great Blue, and Tri-colored Herons, Reddish, Snowy, and Great Egrets, a Roseate Spoonbill, Sandpipers, Caspian Terns, Belted Kingfishers, Blue Wing Teals, Coots, Ospreys, a Bald Eagle, Savannah Sparrows, White Pelicans, Gulls, Vultures, an Alligator, and probably others I missed. A person we talked to at the rest stop had just seen a bittern.
My friend Jim Boland reported seeing a Red Headed Duck, Northern Pintails, Blue Winged Teal, American Wigeons, and Northern Shovelers on BPWD in his newsletter* last Monday. We didn’t see that many – I suspect they were out there, just hidden. We heard hunters making a lot of noise throughout the morning and I bet the ducks are skittish.
If you’ve held off visiting MINWR or BPWD because you were uneasy about hurricane damage and lack of wildlife – stop worrying. The place is rapidly getting back to normal and there’s every reason to get out there and witness some of Central Florida’s beauty.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Our first stop was at the boat ramp on the St. Johns River. It’s a pretty place at dawn and the view was different this time since the water is several feet higher than I’ve ever seen it. Lots of rain here recently.
Once at the refuge, we headed straight to Black Point. The water there is a little higher than I’ve ever seen it too. The road surface was in great shape – I didn’t see any damage remaining from the hurricane.
Spiders and webs were very common. This one had set up in some great early morning light.
Banana Spider – A little early for Halloween!
Some of our winter migrants are starting to show up and our regular birds were around, but not in great numbers. Belted Kingfishers teased us, and there were a few Savannah Sparrows foraging near the road.
We didn’t see too many ducks. I’m not sure if they just haven’t come down yet, or if they’re somewhere else.
We thought we spotted another Kingfisher over the canal on the right by the paved section near the exit. It was about the right size and seemed to fly like a Kingfisher. But then it landed in a tree and started acting like a Woodpecker – perched on the side of the main trunk and hopping around. I was pretty far away but took several photos anyway. When I got home and looked closely I didn’t recognize the bird. Kevin M. helped me ID it as a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (another new life bird for me!). Unfortunately, the photos aren’t very good so I haven’t posted them. Maybe next time I can catch it closer in better light. It seems like I’m always saying that!
One more thing: We met a woman at the rest area on the drive who’d just seen a Bobcat. She was patiently waiting to see if she could get a better photo. We left before we found out if she was successful. I’ve seen a Bobcat out there before, but it was further along, not near the Rest Area. If you go, keep your eyes open!
Three more or less unrelated things to discuss today…
1. Image Stabilization
I’ve used Olympus micro four thirds cameras for a while and I’ve watched their capabilities get better and better. Their latest image stabilization is truly amazing – Olympus claims five to six stops. This means that if you can normally shoot at 1/100 second handheld without inducing camera shake blur, then with IS, you may be able to shoot at 1/3 to 1/2 second. Truly a huge difference, as long as subject motion blur is not a problem.
The settings on this photo are: focal length equivalent of 28mm, ISO 64, f/8, at 0.5 seconds, handheld. Using the (1/focal length) rule of thumb, I should have exposed this at 1/30 sec to prevent camera shake. But I wanted to use a slower shutter speed to blur the moving water. With IS turned on in camera, I could hand hold at a half second and still keep all the non-moving rocks, etc. completely sharp in the frame. And I like the way the water looks.
It’s a nice option to have if you don’t bring your tripod.
2. Workflow Experiments
I recently bought an SSD (solid state device) disk. The main advantage of these is that they’re faster than spinning hard drives. I wanted to speed up my photo processing workflow. So I moved my 2017 image file directory and my Lightroom catalog to this drive and sure enough, Lightroom does seem faster.
But then it occurred to me that when I travel, I can take the SSD with me on the road and use it with my laptop. All I have to do is add a folder for the images from the trip. When I get home I can just move it back to my desktop computer and any work that I’ve done on the road will come across with the SSD. I won’t have to export / import, etc. This should definitely save time when I get back.
There are some things to be careful of. I’m backing up the SSD drive using Apple’s Time Machine in case there are any glitches with the SSD. And I’ve had to re-arrange the image folders across the different disks and tell Lightroom where everything is. I also need to make sure that preferences and presets are all accounted for.
After a week or so, it all seems to work ok. I’ll let you know if I discover any other gotchas. If you have questions about this setup, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer.
I haven’t been back recently, and when my friend Howard T. wanted to try out a new camera, we decided to see what’s going on over there. I’m happy to report that the water is back to normal (or even a bit high). I can’t really recommend it for wildlife photography yet – the birds and animals still seem to mostly be elsewhere. Maybe they’ll read this blog and return when they find out conditions have improved.
Black Point Wildlife Drive – The drought has eased – there was a lot of water there last week.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I had a strong urge to photograph, and at the last-minute decided to drive over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge before dawn last Friday. My first stop was at a spot Kevin M.Tom M. (3/25/17 correction – I misremembered, sorry. Tom told me about this place, not Kevin.) had mentioned – underneath the east side of the A. Max Brewer Causeway that leads into the refuge.
We’ve had cooler weather here and very clear skies, so I wasn’t expecting much color at sunrise. But this is what greeted me at dawn:
This image is a two frame panorama I made with the Olympus E-M1 II camera in high res mode. Lightroom’s been updated for the camera, and I’m impressed with how it handles these files. And the more I use the new camera the better I like it, especially how it minimizes motion artifacts in high res mode.
I next took a turn around Black Point Wildlife Drive. The water on the first half is as low as I’ve ever seen it – gone in many places.
Cracked. Infrared, B&W
It was exciting to spot a Bobcat. It was stalking slowly through the grass, but I only managed a single (poor) frame before it disappeared. I wish it had lingered for a few minutes so I could get a better shot. I’m guessing it might be a long time before I get another chance for a Bobcat photo as good as the one in this post from 2011.
On the back half of Black Point there was a lot more water and a lot more of the regular birds.
I also took a turn around Gator Creek Road and saw an Osprey close up with an awesome fish. But it grabbed the fish and flew off with it before I could get a photo. Seems like I need to practice my quick reaction shots!
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.
For a while anyway. Many photographers would agree that daylight savings time and “fall back” make it harder to get up for sunrise. Photography Interest Group members Kevin K., Kevin M., Tom M., and I met at 6am last Friday for a photo expedition over to Merritt Island. It was the last time we’ll be able to set the alarm that late until next year. Despite sleeping in, we arrived well before dawn. This was the scene at the boat ramp at the Titusville Municipal Marina.
Blue hour at the marina
There weren’t a lot of clouds, so my expectations for color were low but we did see a bit as the sun started to rise.
And as usual, after it was light we went looking for wildlife on Black Point Wildlife Drive. There are some winter visitors showing up there now. We saw warblers, wrens, and Kingfishers. But the ducks, Avocets and others are still missing. They’ll show up before long.
Marsh Wren (?) – At least I hope it’s a Marsh Wren – that would be a life bird! At the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive, MINWR
So once again it was a good trip to one of my favorite places.
It was a good thing that I got there well before dawn, because the place I had in mind for a sunrise photo didn’t turn out (construction and street lights). On the way over I noticed a massive thunderhead that looked like it would add some interest to my photos. Unfortunately, it also added a lot of rain to the area, so I spent some time wandering around looking for a new place and making a few uninspired photos during gaps in the downpour.
Almost made it… A sunken sailboat near the Titusville Municipal MarinaI
I ended up at the Titusville Municipal Marina. There always seems to be a sunken boat or two there. I think this one is recent, but it’s hard to be sure. By this time, the rain was slacking off, so I parked and hurried over to where I could get a good angle on the colors in what was left of the rain clouds. The light was pretty and I used the boat and the rocks on shore to add foreground layers to my composition.
I made many exposures, framing the boat in different ways. The color built and I like the last set of frames best. For this image I made seven exposures from the tripod. Four were for the sky / clouds, pointed up slightly and bracketing exposure to make sure I captured the entire dynamic range. I pointed three down slightly for the boat and water, to make sure I had everything in focus. One of these three was through a neutral density filter so I could get a long shutter speed and smooth the water surface. At home, I ended up using six of the frames, combining some in Lightroom’s merge function, and blending the rest manually in Photoshop. Finally, I used Nik Color Effects Pro to tune the colors and Topaz Clarity to increase mid-range contrast to get what you see above.
After sunrise, I headed over to Black Point Wildlife Drive for a look around. It’s been closed while they worked on the road. It’s open again, in great shape, and ready for all the fall visitors. There’s not much bird activity yet, but I did find this nicely posing Tri-colored Heron.
Reflections – Tri-colored Heron, Black Point Wildlife Drive
This image is less complicated. It’s just two frames, hand-held. One’s focused on the bird’s eye and the other on its reflection in the water. I merged them in Lightroom via the Photo Merge – Panorama function, and finished this one too with tweaks to color, contrast, and cropping in Photoshop.
Should you try these techniques? I can’t decide for you. For me, it’s more work, but it gives me much more control over the final result. If you do decide to try them and have any questions about how to do this kind of thing, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.
Thanks again to Mary Kate for writing last week’s post. I apologize for the lack of images in that email. I need to figure out how to get the server to send the photos when they’re not referenced from Flickr. If you didn’t get a chance to see her photos, please click through and visit the blog.