The A. Max Brewer Bridge over the Indian River is my favorite. Not for how it looks (it does look nice!) but because it leads to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
My favorite bridge
Here are a few things I was fortunate to see the last time I crossed over.
This flock flying over the water next to Gator Creek Road caught my eye. I’m pretty sure they’re Sanderlings, although in one of the other photos there was a single Yellowlegs mixed in with them. It’s fascinating how their motions are so coordinated.
Synchronous Sanderlings (?)
As I watched the sanderlings, I noticed other things happening. Mullet were jumping and there were several Dolphin chasing them. Terns, gulls, and osprey overhead and Cormorants in the water were also going after the fish. It was a tough morning to be a mullet in Gator Creek.
I stopped at the Wild Birds Unlimited Trail on Black Point and walked out to see if the Cinnamon Teal was still there (didn’t see it). Savannah Sparrows were hopping on the trail and in the bushes. This one chose a great perch next to a spiderweb.
Savannah Sparrow and spiderweb
And finally, a drowsy yellowlegs picked a very nice setting to pose for me:
Drowsy Lesser Yellowlegs
There were many other things to see. In addition to alligators and regular birds, there were some Northern Shovelers, a few Ring-necked ducks, an American Wigeon or two, some Black Skimmers, and a Kestrel.
It seemed like about half the cars I saw that morning had out of state plates – people driving long distances to visit a place that’s close by for me. I’m so lucky to live here in Central Florida, near my favorite bridge.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Your visits, comments, and likes are very welcome and a big motivator for me. Be kind, take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, make some photos in one of your favorite places!
Our weather here in Central Florida is finally starting to cool off a bit. I could definitely feel a difference when I set out for Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge early last Monday. And the high temperature reached just 81ºF later that day. Our forecast for next weekend predicts highs in the mid 70s – the beginning of a very nice time of year!
Anyway, I came home with a number of photos I really like. This week I’m going to go way over my usual photo quota and share many of them. First, a couple of landscapes
Beneath the bridge at daybreak: This is along side the A. Max Brewer Causeway, looking east into the refuge, about a half hour before sunrise.
Around the shore: Pretty light and calm water along Gator Creek Road, about 15 minutes before sunrise
Next, some visitors. As pleasant as the cooler temperatures are, they also mean it’s time to start looking for some of our winter bird friends and I spotted several on my trip.
Palm Warbler. They can be a little jumpy and hard to photograph. But this one sat still for a moment on an interesting and close perch, in nice light, with a good background. Doesn’t happen very often for me – I’m glad it was briefly cooperative.
Adopt an Area: This Eastern Phoebe has adopted the refuge for a while.
Blue Wing Teal: A few ducks have started to show up too.
Of course we also have many of our normal residents around.
Bottlenose Dolphin: The Dolphins and the Brown Pelicans were chasing plentiful fish in Haulover Canal
The header image is a of a Brown Pelican that just caught a fish in the canal. It’s not that good of a photo, but I kept it because it shows an interesting moment in nature’s circle of life.
Posing Anhiga: Anhigas are very common here but still well worth photographing when they pose against such a nice background in morning light.
Dragonfly: These can be skittish too, but if you see one in pretty light, be patient and still. Often they’ll return to the same perch and you can squeeze your shutter button.
I saw other birds on this trip, including Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Ospreys, Belted Kingfishers (sorry couldn’t get a photo), Pied-billed Grebes, Mourning and Common Ground Doves, and others I’m forgetting. I also used the Merlin bird app a couple of times to listen to bird calls. It ID’d a Black Scoter. Those have been spotted before at MINWR, but I wasn’t able to find it to confirm.
Changing the subject#2 : Halloween is next weekend so here’s one more photo from last Monday that fits with the holiday:
Web and Mangrove
Okay – I think that’s a long enough post for today! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, get out and see some nature. And make some photos!
Here are several photos I made recently. To me they don’t strictly fit into the Landscape or wildlife categories, although they do include those as elements in the compositions. I like them though, so I’ll post them here and call them “Nature photos“.
When I first saw the dolphin, it was a little too far away for a good wildlife photo, so I waited for it to swim even farther into the colors reflecting in the water. I’m pretty sure it was only thinking about catching fish for breakfast, but the scene made me wonder if it thinks about other things sometimes.
Do Dolphins watch the sun rise?
This still water made a perfect mirror on that morning. But I probably wouldn’t have made a photo if I hadn’t seen the bird off to the right. It was moving left, so again I waited and clicked the shutter as it crossed the line of clouds.
Ibis in the clouds
I’d think that as much rain as we have sometimes here in Florida, I’d see scenes like this more often – but I don’t. I like how well defined the footprints are in the dried mud. I wish I was knowledgable enough to read the story these tracks are telling us.
And in this last one, I was photographing the clouds and water with a neutral density filter and small aperture to get a 10 second exposure. When I finally noticed the birds in the surf, I quickly removed the ND filter and opened the aperture to get to a 1/10 sec. shutter speed and capture the birds reasonably sharp. When I got home I blended the two frames together to get what you see here. I guess this one is a landscape photo, but I think the birds add to the scene.
Sometimes, I try to be clever and people ignore me – which may be a good thing.
I noticed a Bottlenose Dolphin making a fuss hunting for fish – big splashes and noise. I was too slow to catch that ruckus, but a few minutes later I made this photo as it swam through calm water in front of colorful early morning reflections on Gator Creek and left interesting patterns in its wake.
A wake at dawn
I posted it to Flickr and expected people to moan about the pun in the title, but crickets about that. Maybe it would have worked better as “Awake at dawn”. Dunno. I suppose I should leave the comedy to professionals. At least I didn’t get a bunch of nasty comments about it!
Here are two more images from that trip. This one is nearby, about 15 minutes earlier.
Restful rays, distant clouds, and a calm creek
And this one is two hours later, along Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Clouds over the marsh
My drive to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was rewarding once again and well worth the time. No wonder it’s a favorite place for me!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope all of you are staying safe – take care of yourselves, your friends, and your families. And if you can, make some photos, and even some bad puns!
Brown Pelicans were very numerous. They look pretty now in their breeding colors. There’s a small island they use for a rookery and roost near the tour start and you get good views of them.
Landing at the Pelican Rookery
This tour is offered once a day at 1:30pm. We arrived about 1pm at the Marine Discovery Center, picked up our tickets and headed over to the dock.
The 40 passenger boat is covered so you can stay out of the sun if you want. We had nice weather although it was a bit windy and a little chilly too. We were glad to have the sun and our jackets (I know, Florida people, right?). There’s ample room on board, especially since it was only about half full. The bench seats are comfortable and we had a lot of room to move around for the best views.
I was expecting to see porpoise (dolphin) – they’re quite common in the Indian River. This is a typical view:
But we were in for quite a treat. On the way back to the dock, this group of four or five put on an exciting show for us right next to the boat. I wasn’t expecting to see them breech like this up close.
Of course, I wasn’t well prepared and it was over very quickly. I ended up just watching them and trying to shoot blindly without bringing the camera up to aim. This isn’t a really great photo, but I’m lucky I got it.
Our guide pointed out a wide variety of other wildlife: Ospreys, Great Blue, Little Blue, and Green herons; Great Egrets, Cormorants, Anhingas, Black Vultures, gulls, terns, and more.
Osprey with fish
The mid afternoon light was harsh – not the best for landscape photos. But an infrared camera can tame contrast, so I used mine for an image or two. Here’s one from the trip – I like the look of the weathered tree along the shore.
Weathered wood – A gnarly old tree along the Indian River
The Marine Discovery Center offers several boat, kayak. and walking tours. They also have an indoor exploration area with exhibits, aquariums, and more. Plan to go next time you’re in New Smyrna Beach. Call before you visit, since they sometimes cancel due to weather. I hope the dolphins will be as playful for you as they were for us!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Here are a few photos from a scouting trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday. I wanted to see how it was doing in the wake of Hurricane Irma and my shutter finger was itchy. Some things didn’t fare too well:
Wreck at Markers 1 and 2 – on the northwest side of the Max Brewer Causeway
I drove over on SR 46 from Winter Springs and the road was clear the entire way. Although the water’s very high in some locations (especially near the St. Johns River), it doesn’t reach the road.
I made these next three images standing in the same spot near the Bairs Cove boat ramp on Haulover Canal. It’s amazing how reliable a place this is to see wildlife. I almost always find at least these three species when I go there and I was glad to see them still around after the storm.
They’ve finished the Haulover Canal Bridge repairs so it’s open now. I need to go back there and kayak again. It is going to cool off soon I hope!
There were a few shore birds along the causeway. I couldn’t check out the wildlife in two of my favorite areas (Black Point and Gator Creek) since they’re closed due to hurricane damage. I don’t know when they’ll reopen – you can find out the current status at this webpage: https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147578811
For everyone that ended up on this page after searching for math answers or song intros, I’m sorry about the title. I know it’s bad for Search Engine Optimization, but I couldn’t resist. I only wish I’d found a group of four somethings to photograph too.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Editors note: Today we have another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. This time from the middle of the Pacific Ocean – enjoy!
Back in May, I (willingly) kidnapped my youngest cousin Annie and took her to one of my bucket-list destinations and remaining states to visit: Hawaii! We were there for 5 days and 4 nights, so we stayed on Oahu the entire time (vs. island hopping) – which was a different and enjoyable experience for me since I’m usually on the go! We shared amazing outdoor experiences like snorkeling, reflected at somber memorials like Pearl Harbor, and discovered captivating views while exploring the island on the drive of a lifetime.
The most memorable experience was snorkeling off of Waianae. If you’ve read any of my past blog posts, you know I have a passion for wildlife, especially dolphins and whales. While we visited at the wrong time of the year to see humpback whales, I was really excited to see Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins in the wild.
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin
While snorkeling, we saw five Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins, green sea turtles, and even a baby hammerhead shark. The tour company was respectful about keeping our distance, being quiet and still, and not harassing the wildlife.
However, while in Hawaii, I found the book The Lives of Hawaii’s Dolphins and Whales by Robin W. Baird, and was saddened to read that “because spinners do all of their feeding at night and all of their resting during the day…exposure to vessel traffic and swimmers may disrupt their resting patterns or cause them to leave the relative safety of their traditional resting areas. A recent study off Kona showed that spinner dolphins were exposed to humans, boaters, and/or swimmers within 100 yards of them about 82 percent of their time during the day.” Because of this, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is considering new regulations “to prohibit swimming with and approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards.” Knowledge is power, so I will cherish the memories I have from this experience and instead watch them from afar in the future – even if the rules don’t change. Pacific Whale Foundation has a great PDF with more information on how to Be Dolphin Wise.
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin
If you make it to Oahu, definitely follow my brother Mike’s advice to rent a car and drive the island. We got a better feel for the place by seeing so much more of it. From Waikiki, we drove north up the middle of the island (stopping at the obligatory tourist stop: Dole Plantation), then to the north shore for some shave ice, lunch at the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, scenic views, and a tour at the Kualoa Ranch where movies like Jurassic Park and TV shows like Lost were filmed (can’t you just imagine a T-Rex popping out of the shot below?). The drive and the views are the destination, so take your time and enjoy the ride!
Kualoa Ranch – Home of Jurassic Park (if it’s a good photo you’re raptor, come here!)
Editors note 2: Thanks so much MK – it was wonderful to read about your trip. Hawaii is still on my bucket list! Also readers, if you’re going to visit, you might want to take a look at the Hawaii category on my on-line friend Jeff Stamer’s blog. He’s been to there several times and has some amazing photos and tips.
You can click on any of these photos to see a much higher res version on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and make some photos!
If you search the web for “Haulover Canal” you’ll get many hits on fishing and kayaking there. I haven’t tried the fishing, so I can’t really comment on that, but I see people (and dolphins!) fishing there all the time so it’s probably pretty good. I have kayaked there many times and it’s a wonderful place to paddle and to photograph too.
Haulover Canal is in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and it’s part of the Intracoastal Waterway. It connects Mosquito Lagoon with the Indian River. You can launch your Kayak at the Bairs Cove boat ramp on the south side of the canal, but we use a better spot on the north-west end of the canal. Heading north along the Courtenay Parkway, take the first left after the bridge and follow the dirt road to the end where there’s a sandy bottom put in. There’s a fee to launch from Bairs Cove, but not from the north side.
From the put in, you can paddle west and circle around Mullet Head Island where there are usually quite a few birds. We’ve seen Redish Egrets, Great Egrets, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons, Pelicans, Cormorants, etc. there. It is a protected nesting area, though – so you’re not allowed to get too close.
Handsome Pelican: From my kayak, near Mullet Head Island (Olympus EM5)
We usually paddle east along the canal and stop back in Bairs Cove, where we’ve seen manatees every time we’ve been. They’re very docile and sometimes friendly. You’re not allowed to harass / approach them, but if you sit quietly in your kayak, sometimes they’ll harass you!
Manatee checks out Mary’s kayak (Olympus EM5)
You can paddle further east and go under the bridge to a manatee observation deck along the north shore. However, I’ve never once seen manatees there. Do you think the manatees enjoy the joke?
We frequently see Bottlenose Dolphins too and they’re often feeding. This one was near the launch point and made a fuss chasing fish before swimming off.
Mike & Sara watch a dolphin from their kayak (Olympus TG-2)
There are even a few landscape opportunities, although I haven’t made it over for sunrise or sunset yet. This group of struggling trees caught my eye.
Survivors : On the west side of Haulover Canal. (Olympus TG-2)
You’ll need to watch for boat traffic, but since it’s a no wake zone, it’s fairly safe for kayaks. If you haven’t kayaked before and want to have a little support when you make this trip, A Day Away Kayak Tours is close by and very helpful. They’ll take you on a guided tour or rent you a kayak so you can go on your own, too.
All the photos in this post were made on kayak trips using a variety of cameras. I now have enough experience with our boats that I’m confident in the water and not afraid of tipping, but splashes from paddles and waves are still a worry where camera gear is concerned. A dose of saltwater is not too healthy for most normal cameras. So I’ve been using an Olympus TG-2 and a GoPro Hero3 (both waterproof) on these trips.
Photographing birds near Mullet Head Island (GoPro and EM5)
It’s great not having to worry about water damage, but I do miss some of the higher end photo capabilities (e.g. RAW format, interchangeable and long lenses, etc.). So I’ve taken the higher end gear out once or twice. In the photo above I really photo-geeked and used the GoPro to make a photo of myself making a photo with the Olympus EM5.
Here’s some additional info on Kayaking at Haulover Canal from a couple other sites:
Eyes of the tiger – resting in his den and watching visitors at the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa Florida.
Neither place is intended to be a good photo-op (lots of fences and obstructions) – you have to be lucky to get a good image. The geometry and light in the scene above worked well, but it’s the only animal photo I made that day that I like.
Volunteer caring for residents at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary
So why am I writing about these if they’re not good photo ops? This is supposed to be a blog about photo ops, right? Well, we met several volunteers at each place and learned a great deal from them about wildlife in captivity. If you care about wildlife then there are things about captives that you should know.
Killer whales are captured or bred in captivity and separated from their families. They spend their lives in small tanks performing for audiences.
Seeing wild animals such as whales in their natural habitat is exciting and inspiring. Seeing them in captivity, knowing some of the background on how they’re captured, bred, and kept is depressing. The tiger in the photo above was well cared for and kept in nicer conditions than many others. Although sometimes big cats can be returned to the wild, this tiger will never be released. Wouldn’t it be better if they’d never been captured at all? Places like the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary are doing their best to care for large, wild animals that can’t be returned to the wild. But there are so many of these animals that they’ll never be able to keep up.
I know you don’t come to this site for editorials and commentary, but thanks anyway for stopping by and reading this. And if you care about this subject, you should click on the links in this post to learn more.
One of the great things about photography is that it gets you up and out there. You may not see anything if you go – but if you don’t go you definitely won’t ever see anything. Here are a few photos of what I saw around Central Florida this week.
I made this first one about a half hour before dawn along Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The low tide had uncovered these rocks, so I used my ultra wide-angle, rectilinear lens and lowered my tripod to emphasize them. This is a single exposure, processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. I also tried out the new Topaz Clarity filter. It seems to do a good job enhancing contrast without introducing halos.
The word “parhelion” comes from the Greek for “beside the sun”. They’re also called sundogs and are always 22 degrees away from and at the same elevation as the sun. They’re most visible when the sun is low and the sky is darker – dawn or dusk. I like to watch for them and I thought it was nice of this kayaker to pose with one for me. I was lucky that I’d already shifted to my long lens to make bird photos. I needed the reach for this composition.
Early start – Kayak fisherman paddling underneath a sundog.
There were several dolphins also fishing in this area. I could see the fish jumping and the dolphins seemed to catch a lot of them.
I stopped by Orlando Wetlands Park briefly and it was very scenic despite the cloud cover. I liked the pathways the birds made through the vegetation in this scene.
Morning marsh – A cloudy morning in Orlando Wetlands, just after dawn
This time of year, there’s not as much bird activity as in the spring. Orlando Wetlands was pretty quiet and so was MINWR. But there are still some regulars around and it’s nice to watch their antics.
Killdeer nest on the ground. When a predator gets close, they pretend to have a broken wing and try to draw the predator away from the nest. I watched this one perform and when it finished it turned around to peek back at me and check if it was working. It did – I didn’t bother its nest.
Killdeer checks me out
I don’t know how many times I’ve driven by the remains of this dock on the right side of the causeway leading into MINWR – but I never noticed it before. When I was leaving the other day, I finally saw it. It was a quick thing, almost subconscious. I actually drove on by before I processed what I saw and turned around. I’m very glad I stopped – it doesn’t look like it will last much longer. By the time I made this photo, the light was pretty bright. I used a neutral density filter to slow down my shutter speed and tried several focal lengths / compositions. I like this one the best. A B&W conversion using Nik Silver Effects seemed to fit the scene. In the future, I need to be more observant. What else is out there I’ve missed?