I had a wonderful trip up to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive a week ago. It was a Saturday with a lot of people around, but it was gorgeous and there were more than enough things to see for everyone.
Most folks took Welland Rd. away from the pump house, so I chose to leave there on the Lake Apopka Loop Trail. I’m glad I did – I didn’t see anyone else on that part of the drive. LAWD’s a special place and even more so when you’re out there by yourself.
Along the north shore
I think this spot near the shore looks good in black and white. I like the trees, clouds, reflections, and Cormorants roosting in the branches. Here’s a closer look at one of the birds:
Bald Eagles are always awesome. This one seemed to enjoy the view as much as I did.
A little further along, a hawk flew by screaming at me for daring to point my camera in its direction.
When I first got there, a large alligator was floating close to the main road and seemed to be staring right at me. Watching it made me feel less like a photographer and more like a gator snack. I’ve never actually seen them show any aggression toward humans, and I was a good distance from it. But I was glad to be in the car.
Great Blue Herons are supreme predators too. I’ve spotted several recently with huge fish. This one was in nice morning light.
It doesn’t take very long to forget about some things. Good habits lapse and bad ones take over quickly.
I hadn’t been out photographing in about three weeks and was anxious to go last week. So I got up early Wednesday morning and headed over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – one of my favorite spots. Although I managed to come back with some photos I like, all did not go well. Turns out I was out of practice and there were several issues that made me miss shots. So today, I have a few reminders of things not to do. Maybe my mistakes will help someone else.
Morning glow – from Gator Creek Road
I didn’t check the MINWR website before I went. If I had, I would have seen: “The Black Point Wildlife drive will be closed for two weeks for annual maintenance beginning 8/19/21.” Luckily, there are plenty of spots to explore in the refuge, so this wasn’t a critical error. But somewhere else, it could have been. Check the website!
I hadn’t reset my camera / lens. My long zoom has a focus limiter switch. You can choose the full range of focus (2.4m – infinity) or limit it to one of two ranges. I usually keep it set to the 10m – infinity selection which speeds up focus response for birds in flight. I’d used it at home though for a close up (2.4m – 10m) and put it back in the case without reseting it. Then when I pulled it out at MINWR to photograph a distant bird, it wouldn’t focus. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I’ve made this mistake before, and it didn’t take long to correct. But it was confusing and I did miss a shot. Reset your camera and lens to defaults when you put them away.
A lot of the time, I have my camera in my lap so it’s ready to use on short notice. But at one point while driving down Biolab Road, I’d put it in the open case on the seat next to me. Of course, a huge gator picked that time to stroll across the road in front of me. I probably wouldn’t have made the shot even if I’d been ready, but I would’ve had a better chance if the camera had been closer. Keep your camera ready at all times.
I’m really upset at myself about this last one. At some point during the trip I’d set my aperture to a small f-stop to increase my depth of field. And I forgot to change it back to wide open (the default – see above!!!). This slowed my shutter speeds and ruined a few photos due to motion blur that I wish I’d gotten. I usually don’t check my photos all the time, but the instant feedback you can get with digital cameras is wonderful – if you use it. Inspect what you’ve captured every once in a while so you can catch problems.
Morning meal. A 1/125s shutter speed was fine for a still subject.
As I was starting home from Merritt Island National Wildlife refuge yesterday morning, I decided to make one last stop along the causeway. Looking around, I noticed something in the distance rolling around in the water. I couldn’t tell what it was and I wasn’t carrying the long lens, so I walked over to the car to get it. I thought it’d be gone by the time I got back but it wasn’t. This is the first image I made:
What it that?
I still couldn’t see it really well in the view finder. I thought it might be a manatee’s head or maybe even part of a dolphin. Then I saw this:
Cormorant vs. fish
So now I knew what it was! The bird struggled for several minutes trying to swallow that huge fish. It would hold it under water for a while (changing its grip?) before bringing it back up in the air. It eventually got it arranged just right and managed to get it all down. This was the fish’s final view of things – Circle of Life.
Eye to eye
The weather on this trip was somewhat unusual. I almost always go over there in the mornings. One reason why is that it hardly ever rains early in the day. Most of our rain comes down in afternoon thunderstorms. But this time there was a big downpour as I drove around Black Point Wildlife Drive and even a rainbow!
Overall, birds are still a bit scarce out there. I did see some of our usual ones including Pie Billed Grebes, a Red-shouldered Hawk, Ospreys, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Tri-colored and Little Blue Herons, Mourning Doves, Common Gallinules, American Coots, a few gulls and terns, Anhingas, and (of course) Cormorants. And Jim Boland reports that there are two Bald Eagles hanging out near stop 11 on BPWD although I wasn’t looking for them and didn’t spot them. I also saw a few fast, un-identified tiny birds (UTBs?), a Belted Kingfisher, and some Blue-winged Teals – so maybe more winter visitors will arrive soon.
I’ll leave you with one more photo from the trip. I stitched this together from 21 frames made with my IR modified camera. I’m not sure who / what left that vehicle track there – maybe rangers doing some maintenance? Seems like a great place to get stuck. Anyway I think this gives you an idea of the landscape in the area.
Black Point vista: Monochrome, IR, stitched panorama
Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope you all are staying safe, and taking care of yourselves, your friends, and your families. And if you don’t recognize something, keep watching – you might get a photo out of it!
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.