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!
I found this scene while driving down Biolab Road along the Indian River in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a few weeks ago. The composition with three posts and a full complement of Cormorants caught my attention. I really liked the graphical layout. But…
I was shooting into the sun and the light was incredibly bright and harsh. I struggled with the image and processed it two or three times without coming up with anything that I was happy with.
Then I vaguely recalled this photo that I made 10 years ago.
I dug it out of my Lightroom archives and remembered how much I liked the image. It’s from about the same location and in very similar conditions. I used it to guide my post processing decisions and the result is the the image at the top.
I guess the moral of this story is that you can find inspiration from many places – even from your younger self. Which seems like a very good thing.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I had a delightful visit to Gatorland yesterday morning. Tom M. and Jim B. were also there. I started following Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) years ago and we’ve been web friends for a while. I’m happy I finally got to meet him in person!
Anhinga gathering nest material
The nesting season is going full blast now, and this gives everyone a chance to see and photograph wild birds in breeding colors doing nesting season behaviors. Quite an opportunity!
We saw Anhingas, Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Cormorants, Great Egrets, Common Gallinules, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, and Woodstorks all in various stages of breeding. Little ones in the nest are quite common and some of the baby Great Egrets have grown into “teenagers” already and will be fledging shortly.
Nesting Double-crested Cormorant – Can you tell where this bird gets its name?
I’ll be with you in a moment just as soon as my feathers dry… – This Wood Stork was soaking in the morning sun
Keep an eye out for backlit birds – they can also be beautiful.
Great Glowing Egret
Gatorland is an exceptional place to practice your “birds-in-flight” skills. Patient observation lets you figure out movement patterns and get ready. I waited several minutes with my camera in “BIF” mode (high shutter speed, continuous auto focus) until this Tri-Colored took off. I didn’t expect it to grab a little fish on the way, but I was glad it did!
Breakfast to go – A Tri-colored Heron scoops up a minnow on the fly
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. If you haven’t been to Gatorland yet, go. And if you haven’t checked out Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) yet, go do that too. Then – go make some photos!
Thursday night, Tom M. invited me to meet him at Gatorland. We both showed up at 7:30 Friday morning to see what’s changed from our visit on February 20th. The answer is a lot! Last time, it was mostly the Great Egrets starting to breed. This time several more species are dressed up in their fancy colors and plumage and building nests. And the Great Egret chicks are starting to hatch. Here are some photos from the trip.
I saw this male Anhinga getting ready to take off and managed to make a frame just as it left the tree. You can see the breeding season blue around his eye as well as some of the crest on his head.
Anhinga close up
Cormorant eyes are always pretty in the right light. They add a striking blue mouth during nesting season. Some of the Cormorants are already on nests. This pair looked like they were just about to “get busy”.
Tri-colored Herons also add a dash of blue for breeding season. They’re starting to show off with courting behaviors and poses to attract mates.
Tri-colored Heron displaying
And here’s a couple of Great Egret siblings huddled up close to Mama in the nest. I’m not sure you can call these young chicks without a full set of feathers beautiful, but they are cute.
Mama and two chicks
Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Wood Storks and other species usually also nest in the this rookery – so we still have those to look forward to. It’s a wonderful time to visit Gatorland, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, or your local bird rookery. Don’t miss this chance to see nature in action!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Keith H. and I took advantage of our annual photo passes and stopped by Gatorland yesterday morning. If you’ve planned to see the wild bird rookery there, don’t wait too long. There’s a lot going on now and it won’t last forever.
Cattle Egrets and Cormorants are still incubating eggs and should start hatching soon. Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Anhingas, and Woodstorks have hatched and you can get great photos of parenting activity including feeding, nest maintenance, displays, and flight to / from nests. All of the birds are in peak breeding colors.
Tri-colored Heron in flight
Gatorland is a great place to practice flight photography. Observe the bird behavior for a while, pick a likely place with a good background (hopefully in the shade) and wait. Opportunities will occur!
Most of the Cattle Egrets were back in the bushes, in bad light and obscured by twigs. Be observant and patient you’ll find one out in the open and maybe even in front of a dark background.
Here’s a couple more photos from yesterday:
Anhinga in flight – they’re very different (and attractive) in breeding season.
Double Crested Cormorant – very pretty eyes if you can catch them in the right light
We also saw several other birds types including a Swallow-tailed Kite.
If you go during the week, take advantage of the early entry option. We got there at 7:30 and there were only a few other photographers there. As we were leaving about 10:15, there was a huge line waiting to get in. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to photograph in the early morning light and when it’s peaceful.
Another reason to visit Gatorland is to see the new Panther Springs exhibit. These animals are very impressive – I didn’t realize how large they are. These two are a brother and sister pair that were raised in captivity and so can’t be released back to the wild. The Florida Panther population is estimated at only 100 – 160 in south-west Florida. Well worth seeing.
You can read other Central Florida Photo Ops blog posts about Gatorland from this link. And this set on Flickr has many other photos I’ve made there
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Lynn and I drove over to Viera Wetlands yesterday morning in her Prius. This was our first photo outing with the vehicle and it is outstanding for this purpose. There’s plenty of room. It’s very fuel-efficient when driving in the slow speed mode you use through an area like the wetlands. And, it’s quiet. Cars normally serve as a very good blind for bird photography, but when your vehicle is this quiet, you can get even closer to the subjects without scaring them.
This first image was one of the scenes that we saw. We’d been there for a while and were just turning a corner out in the middle of the wetlands when we both commented about the light on the left side of the car. The sun through the clouds was changing rapidly and I wasn’t set up for landscapes. I ended up asking Lynn to back up and then scrambling to switch to my wide-angle lens. I made the photo using this two image composite technique I described here. I think it came out pretty well for a hand-held, scramble photo.
Swamp grass, flowers, water, and sky
There is lot less activity at the wetlands than there was a month or two ago, but we still saw a good variety of birds. I’ve included a couple below and you can see more in my Viera Wetlands set on Flickr.
Anhinga drying wings: The bird was only a few feet from the car.I had to stitch together a two image panorama, in Photoshop.
Female Blue Wing Teal: This bird let us approach very closely.
Although it was very tempting to sleep in this morning, I was up early and made it over to Viera Wetlands in time to witness another one of nature’s shows. The clouds cooperated and did their part, the sun and calm water pitched in, a couple of coots made just the right ripples, and all I had to do was snap the shutter.
Sunrise at Viera Wetlands
Once the sun was up, we parked the cars and walked for a while, thinking that the slow deliberate approach would yield better photos than the quick drive method. It didn’t – we failed to find much of interest on foot. The light wasn’t very good either – due to the clouds that made the sunrise so nice. We ended up getting back in the cars and using them to find things of interest. And after a while, the clouds cleared and we had better light for bird photography.
Last week we saw several Snipes, but couldn’t get good photos since they took off and flew fast and erratic as soon as we got close. This week our luck was better (or this bird was a bit tired). He stayed still for us to make his portrait.
Wilson’s (Common) Snipe
We saw the usual Heron and Egret suspects, along with Anhingas, Hawks, Black Crowned Night Herons, American Bitterns, Savannah Sparrows, Northern Shovelers, and Sandhill Cranes. I was able to photograph two new (for me) species – Ring Neck Ducks, and Lesser Scaups.
We also took a turn ’round the click ponds and there was a great deal of activity there. This Cormorant surprised me when he came up with his breakfast.
Cormorant with fish
We had a great time. Clicking on these photos will open them on Flickr, where you can view larger versions. You can also visit my Viera Wetlands set on Flickr to see other photos I’ve made there.
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.
This nature wonderland in Lakeland, Florida is named after a cattle ranch that used to exist on the property. It was purchased by Polk County and the SW Florida Water Management District in late 2000. The area is 1,267 acres total and starting in 2005, 400 acres have undergone a marsh reclamation to recreate a natural habitat and food source for many kinds of resident and migrating birds and wildlife. The Circle B is also home to the Polk County Nature Discovery Center.
The western shore of Lake Hancock (from the Alligator Alley trail)
Circle B has a tremendous variety and number of birds. Alligators also inhabit Lake Hancock and can be seen from the trails in several places. There are a variety of different areas on the property including Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and the lake shore.
The Circle B has over 7 miles of marked trails for walking or biking. If you go, make sure you see at least the Alligator Alley and Marsh Rabbit Run trails. We hiked these as well as the Shady Oak, Windmill Whisper and portions of Wading Bird Way and Eagle Roost trails when we were there for a total hike of more than 5 miles.
Marsh Rabbit Run trail
In our one visit we saw Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Ibises, Cattle Egrets, Ospreys, Red Shoulder Hawks, Cormorants, Anhingas, Limpkins, Whistling Ducks, Alligators, Turtles, a very brave rabbit and some other things as well. One local photographer we spoke with told us about a Barred Owl in the area as well as some otters, but we never saw them. Next time!
Cormorant – These birds have been posing for me lately.
In addition to the wildlife, the scenery is quite beautiful and different from our normal areas near the coast. There were many types of trees and flowers, including this sunflower variety that was very abundant all over the property.
These sunflowers (?) were all over the Circle B Bar Reserve – very pretty. I wonder if they bloom all the time or if we just happened to be there when they’re in season?
Info for Photographers
I’ve only been to the Circle B once, and need to go several more times to get an idea of how consistent the photo ops there are. If you have the kind of experience we did, you’ll have lots of opportunity for photos of still as well as in-flight birds. If you’re quiet as you walk, you can avoid scaring off the nearby birds and get some better shots. They are somewhat used to people here, but not overly tolerant. Make sure you look all around as you hike (especially up) and take an occasional glance behind to see if you’ve missed anything.
Allowed, of course. Tripods would be very handy for landscape photos or (with a gimbal head) for birds. You’ll have to decide how much gear you’re willing to carry on your hike. Since this was a scouting trip, we traveled light and I wished several times that I’d brought my tripod.
Telephoto for birds / wildlife and and wide-angle for landscapes. You’ll need a good range of lenses to cover everything here, but you’ll be able to get some good photos no matter which lens you have with you.
Best time to visit:
As for any place when looking for birds and wildlife, early in the day (or late) is best. I’m not yet sure what times of year are the best here, but mid to late November is definitely worth a visit.
You’ll be walking a good bit. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and bring some water with you.
You can click on any of the photos above to view them on Flickr, where you can also see a larger version.
I’m coming down with another cold and wasn’t very enthusiastic about going to Viera Wetlands yesterday. Actually, “not very enthusiastic” is a big understatement. I almost didn’t get out of bed – but now I’m glad I did.
We had to leave at “O dark thirty” to get to the west side of the wetlands just before sunrise. I wanted to try the D7000 out on landscapes and it performed very well. The image below is a single exposure of the sunrise. I don’t care too much for silhouettes – I like to have some detail and color in the shadows. For this one, I exposed at -2 EV to prevent blowing out the sky and then brought up the shadows in post processing. The D7000 recorded a very broad dynamic range and has remarkably little noise in the shadows at base ISO, even when under exposed. This real world example, along with the the results from the recent DxOMark test of the D7000 indicate it’s going to be a very fine landscape camera. The only problem is that I don’t have a very wide lens for it.
Sunrise at Viera Wetlands, D7000, ISO 100, 1/100 sec. @ f/11, 16 mm
As we were photographing the sunrise, an otter swam by right in front of us just past those reeds (about 8 – 10 feet away). That’s the closest one’s ever come to me in the wild. Of course, I didn’t have the right camera set up so I didn’t get a photo. I think the otter knew that, and swam by just to tease us. We saw it a couple more times but could never get a shot off. Those things are quick. And black. And hard to photograph.
After the sun was up, we drove around the wetlands and came up on this:
Bald Eagle on dead tree, D7000, ISO 320, 1/500sec. @ f/8, 500 mm
This eagle was just surveying the area. I did get a few images when it flew off, but none blog worthy. I need more Birds in Flight practice, especially at 500mm!
The sun was up, but still low in the sky as we saw some cormorants sitting on a viewing platform. The light was hitting this one just right to show off the detail in his dark feathers.
Cormorant, D7000, ISO 220, 1/500 sec. @ f/8, 500 mm
Here’s one more photo I want to show you. This little fellow was digging around in the reeds along with several birds. I’m not sure what they were after, but it might have been snails – we saw a lot of them yesterday. This image is a good example of the D7000 at ISO 1600. Very usable with minimal noise.
Rocky Raccoon, D7000, ISO 1600, 1/500sec. @ f/9, 500 mm
Today I feel a bit worse, so I’m glad I went out yesterday. Hopefully I’ll start feeling better tomorrow.