Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Viera Wetlands are two of my favorite places to photograph and I had time to visit both last week. They’re each wonderful and seem similar, yet they can be very different. When I was at MINWR, it was very quiet with few birds or other wildlife around. July isn’t the best time for birds in Central Florida, so I wasn’t expecting much.
On the other hand, Viera Wetlands was full of activity. Right away, we saw a couple of Osprey fishing:
Osprey with catch at Viera – always fun to see and a thrill to get a good, in focus photo
And as we walked around we saw Sand Hill Cranes, a Caracara, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swamp Chickens (Common Gallinules), a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Bitterns, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Green Herons.
Green Heron at Viera – posing nicely in very good light
My friend Kevin M. was with me, and he saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We also spotted a family of four otters crossing the road, and multiple Alligators.
Why did we see so much more at Viera than Merritt Island? Was it the weather (don’t think it was much different)? Time of day (we were there a bit later)? Water type (fresh vs. brackish)? Vegetation? Kevin’s luck?
I really don’t know. I’m just grateful I went to both places and got to see so much. The moral of the story: If one of your local photo spots is quiet, try a different one. You never know what you’ll see.
I have a long time interest in photography and a degree in Electrical Engineering. I’ve also worked for many years in digital design, software engineering, and system engineering. The changes happening in photography fascinate me. Here’s an example:
Tranquility – An exceptionally calm morning in the marsh (On Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.)
I made this image yesterday using the high-resolution mode available in the Olympus OM-D E-M5II. It’s a two frame panorama, but this discussion applies to single frame images too. The camera comes with a 16 Mega-Pixel sensor and can generate images 4 times larger (~64 Mega Pixels) using some very clever built-in technology and processing. I won’t go into how it does it (if you’re curious, here’s a good explanation). If you’re careful and the conditions are right (no motion) the results are outstanding. I’m also seeing lower noise and better color results compared to normal resolution images. Heres a small crop that’ll give you an idea of the detail captured.
Each new model of camera adds more capability: High Dynamic Range, Panoramas, Lens distortion / aberration correction, 3-D / post shot focusing (Lytro), face recognition, image stabilization, Live Composite, and many more algorithms are all being done now in camera.
Most of these (and more) can also be done with software on your computer or phone. In fact, the computation capabilities inside your phone are one reason they’re replacing point and shoot cameras. Algorithms / computation can overcome many of the limitations of the relatively simple camera in your phone. Look at the Hydra app for an example of this.
Photography started as an analog activity. Capture the light via optics, film, chemicals, and sometimes (for experts) manipulation / fine tuning of the chemical process. Create prints with more chemistry and manipulation of light during printing.
Photography today still involves capturing light using optics. Instead of chemistry, most people use digital sensors. And capturing the light as digital information allows us to apply algorithms using computers in many places in the process – either in camera like the E-M5II or in post processing.
I think the pace of change in the camera industry is slowing down at least with regard to sensors. For instance, the E-M5II sensor is said to be identical to the first model (from three years ago). But the rate of change in algorithms and processing is speeding up. The new model has a faster processor with added capabilities.
Where’s all this going? I don’t really know. As they say: “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future”. I do know it’s a very interesting time to be a photographer. And if you’re a photographer, I don’t think you should ignore the algorithmic and computational side of things. Some of the processing tools can provide exciting capabilities.
On a different subject, there’s a Clyde Butcher exhibition in town at the Maitland Art Center until May 16th, 2015. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you go. The subjects / compositions / technique are wonderful and the prints are large and masterfully done. Lynn and I went last Thursday and as we were leaving, Clyde Butcher walked in. I very much enjoyed meeting him.
He achieves beautiful results with an analog, large format, black and white approach which would be very difficult to reproduce with a digital workflow. That won’t be true forever. What will most likely be true forever is that his kind of artistic inspiration and results will be extremely difficult to reproduce with an algorithm.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Reddish Egrets aren’t as common in Florida as some of our other wading birds. I seem to see them fairly reliably over on Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. They’re handsome birds and they also have some interesting behaviors. They dance along in shallow water and wave / flap their wings while they’re fishing. I made a video this morning as I watched one catch minnows in the canal along the drive.
Reddish Egret fishing for minnows (~40 seconds)
Perhaps you noticed the splash at the beginning and the brief shadow on the right after the egret catches the minnow. I was trying to figure out what those were and stayed a little longer. Here’s a “big reveal” still shot that I managed to get.
Redish Egret and large fish
That fish is about as large as the bird. It seemed to follow the egret around – maybe it was trying to steal the minnows that the bird scared up? Anyway, it was a very interesting time with the Egret – and the fish!
I never really know what I’ll see when I head out and look around. That’s one big reason it’s so much fun.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! Or a video!
Next we drove around Black Point Wildlife Drive where there were lots of birds, some wild hogs, some alligators, and lots of photographers! Two different ponds had concentrations of fish attracting swarms of birds (mostly Snowy Egrets). They were flying low over the water and snatching their meals “to – go”. This one seemed full – it stood watching the action.
The Great Horned Owl nest was empty this time. We scanned the surrounding trees trying to spot the owls (like Jim Boland did on his visit) but we weren’t able to find them.
At least three Painted Buntings were hanging around near the feeder at the visitor’s center. The light’s usually difficult there for me, but this time I managed to get a good photo of this colorful bird. It’s exciting to see something like this in the wild. Now’s the best time – they migrate through here in the winter.
In the bushes – Painted Bunting
MINWR is a wonderful place and there’s almost always something there worth seeing. Check it out for yourself!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
My friend Tom M. wanted to go out photographing last week. And I was ready – I hadn’t clicked the shutter since last year! When he mentioned that he wasn’t very familiar with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I jumped at the chance to show him around.
Our first stop was along the causeway to watch the gulls and Black Skimmers that often gather there.
Black Skimmer – Along the causeway headed into the Refuge
Then we drove through Gator Creek Road and Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Roseate Spoonbill (BPWD)- This bird was foraging near the shore and ignored me as I crouched down and framed my shot. When it heard the shutter clicking, it stopped and stared right at me for a few seconds and then continued feeding.
River Otter (BPWD) – I stopped the car when I spotted two Otters in the water next to the road. They swam by and kept going as we got out to try to make a photo. We followed for a bit – but they were going quicker than our fast walk. One of them surprised me when it crossed the road and of course I was too slow to get a good photo of that. This is the best image I managed.
We also stopped by the Bairs Cove Boat ramp at Haulover Canal to visit the manatees there and then drove by the Great Horned Owl nest (near 402 and SR 3). Our last stop was the visitor center to see if the painted buntings were around ( no, but they had been).
Whether you’re familiar with the area or not, this would be a very good half day route to see the highlights at MINWR. And this is a wonderful time to go – there’s a lot of birds and other wildlife around, and the weather’s great. Maybe I’ll see you over there!
As usual, I arrived early for a sunrise photo. I’ve photographed from this spot on Gator Creek Road several times, but I’ve never noticed flowers blooming there before. I think they make a nice foreground accent.
Another day begins
After the sun was up, I drove around both Black Point Wildlife Drive and Gator Creek Road. There were a tremendous number of birds around – the winter visitors are here in force!
You can get an idea of which species to expect at MINWR (and when) over at this page on ebird. Here are the ones I recognized on my visit: Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Pie-billed Grebe, Wood Stork, Double Crested Cormorant, Anhinga, White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Ring-billed Gull, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Loggerhead Shrike, and Savannah Sparrow. I’m sure a more experienced birder would have recognized even more. I also saw an Alligator or two and a River Otter.
And my online blogging friend Jim Boland also spotted a Red-headed Duck there recently.
This bird was posing on a mound of seaweed next to the causeway. I was able to crouch down and make some eye level photos with a nice out of focus background.
And this Willet was hunting in the surf, also along the causeway. The sun was coming over my shoulder and the small waves rolling in made the blue sky reflections contrast nicely with the sandy bottom showing through the water.
And here’s a bonus sunrise photo – made with my long lens. I like the group of birds flying in front of the sun in the distance.
Merritt Island Morning – The sun rises next to NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
What a nice visit to one of our Central Florida Photo Op treasures! If you haven’t been over there recently, now is a great time of year to check it out. You can see other photographs from MINWR in this set on Flickr, and from BPWD in this set.
You may have noticed that I like Black and White photography. It’s how I started out, way back when (with Tri-X film, developed in a make-shift darkroom). So I’ve done it for a while, but I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve studied many books and looked at a lot of online info, but I felt it would be good to take a course and expose myself to techniques and ideas I haven’t discovered on my own – to see how others are doing it.
I signed up for “Modern Monochrome” at the Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, Florida. The course promises to cover “the aesthetic qualities of black-and-white photography, seeing in black and white, RGB conversion methods, tonal relationships, luminosity versus luminance, and demonstrations in Photoshop and Lightroom.”
I was a little worried at the first session. There were a couple of people who didn’t appear to meet the prerequisites and it seemed like we’d struggle trying to bring them up to speed. But they ended up dropping out and the remaining students all easily kept up with the agenda.
Next week is our last class and we owe the instructor ten B&W images. I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the ones I’m going to turn in.
Wild Orchids – at Fort Christmas
High Key Grebe – along Black Point Wildlife Drive
Gloomy dawn – Blue Cypress Lake
Misty Marsh – Orlando Wetlands Park
The instructor’s going to critique our work and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
This course has definitely lived up to my expectations. I learned several techniques in Photoshop – some that I’d heard about and never tried, and others that were completely new to me. I also enjoyed discussing printing techniques and I intend to apply these more in the future. I haven’t been printing my photographs as much recently as I should. The course was also a great incentive to think about and practice photography and especially B&W processing.
We’re finally getting cooler weather here in Central Florida. In addition to making it even more pleasant outside, the fall and winter months bring some changes to our area photo opportunities.
Orlando Wetlands Park is one of my favorite places. But if you haven’t been there this year, you’ve missed your chance. It closes on November 15 and doesn’t re-open until January 31st.
Downy Woodpecker at Orlando Wetlands – not a great photo, but it’s my first one of this bird. ISO 800, 1/800 sec, f/8, 600 mm
And Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) is also a favorite. When I went over last week, Black Point Wildlife Drive was closed. The web page says “until mid November”, so it should hopefully be back open soon. Fortunately there are many places to photograph in MINWR – even with BPWD closed, it’s still worth a visit.
Black and White Osprey on Gator Creek Road in MINWR. ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, f/8, 500 mm
Brown Pelican in Flight along Haulover Canal in MINWR. ISO 800, 1/2500 sec, f/8, 600 mm
Next, along Gator Creek Road we found a group of preening Roseate Spoonbills. I liked the contrast between their pink and the blue sky reflected in the water.
Later at the Visitor Center, we found a great many butterflies. They seem to like these Buttonbrush plants.
And Green Herons were common too, especially at the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive where we saw several nests and juveniles. This one (also at the Visitors Center) drew my eye as it posed against the silver-like water while it waited to strike an unwary fish.
Green Heron in a silver pond
With the hot weather starting to arrive, there’s not as much activity at Merritt Island as there sometimes is. But there’s still a lot to see and photograph.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
I had cataract surgery last Thursday and didn’t think I’d be able to go photographing this weekend. But I could see remarkably well this morning, so I rode over to MINWR with Kevin M. and Kevin K.
It turned out to be a lovely day. There was more color in the sunrise than I expected, and after dawn we found some photogenic fog / mist.
White Pelicans in the mist on Black Point Wildlife Drive
In addition to the White Pelicans, watching a skimming Black Skimmer was another highlight. Kevin K. even managed to photograph it with a fish in its mouth. The Visitors Center bird feeder was active too. We saw Catbirds, several Painted Buntings (both male and female) and a White-throated Chipping Sparrow (a life bird for me!).
White Throated Chipping Sparrow
I enjoyed trying out my refurbished eyes today. It’s amazing what modern medicine can do!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!