I decided to revisit this week and I’m glad I did. It’s a wonderful place to observe this family from 40 – 50 feet away. Since the birds are used to traffic and people, you can watch them without stressing them at all. An ambulance even went by with its siren going and Mom just calmly watched it.
As a bonus, I met another photographer there. Turns out we have a lot in common: While we shot, we talked about birds, locations, cameras, lenses, and grandkids! A marvelous, mini photo excursion!
I spotted this large fish (~2 1/2 feet long) resting near the shore. My long lens was stowed in my backpack and I knew it wouldn’t stay there long, so I quickly made a photo with my IR camera. If you click through to the larger version on Flickr, you can better see the small minnows swimming nearby.
Dragonflies are out and about. This is the first time I’ve noticed them this year.
And finally, here’s a photo of my walking companion. This bird joined me for a bit on my stroll around the park.
The park offers free Tram Tours on weekends – check their site for details. I much prefer to walk so I can pause and photograph any time I want and get a little exercise too.
Thanks for stopping by the blog. Now – go make some photos!
Early morning calm – Along the St. Johns River where it crosses HW 50
On the way, we stopped at a favorite sunrise spot and even though it’s been well photographed, managed to get images we liked.
At Viera, we drove around the main cells a couple of times and saw some interesting things. This Tricolored Heron had speared a large fish and was trying to swallow it. It couldn’t hold on and dropped it just after I made this photo.
Tri-Colored Heron, this one with breakfast.
We saw a few of the regular birds there, but the ducks and other winter migrants don’t seem to have arrived yet. On the way out, Kevin M. talked us into taking a quick spin around the Click Ponds and I’m glad he did. The water’s been low there for a while and the birds are having a feast. The shallow water concentrates the fish and makes them easy prey. Birds lined up and grabbed fish out of this small stream that flowed toward the low point in the pond.
Chow line – The water level in the Click Ponds at Viera Wetlands was very low yesterday.
Over in the corner was a very large mixed flock also enjoying the banquet. I spotted Wood Storks, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Glossy and White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Black Vultures, and a White Pelican in this one photo.
A large flock of feeding birds
So, it wasn’t a good day for fish, but the birds enjoyed it.
I have many posts about Viera Wetlands here on the blog that you can scroll through at this link, and many photos you can look through in this album on Flick.
I don’t have much to say this morning, so the photos will have to do most of the talking. I started yesterday along the Indian River at Space View Park.
Watching the morning sun. This is a two frame, blended exposure. I made the bottom half exposed for the water with a Neutral Density filter to slow my shutter speed to 20 seconds at ISO 100 and f/11. I made the top part with the filter off, exposed for the sunrise at ISO 100, f/11, 1/100 second. I was very happy to see the Osprey fly through the frame with a fish as I clicked the shutter. I blended them together in Photoshop with a layer mask.
Juvenile Little Blue Heron. There were several around, so they must be nesting nearby. I’ve seen Green Herons breeding there, but not Little Blue Herons.
A Mottled Duck. I don’t spot these too often. When I looked it up, I learned (or maybe re-learned) some things. Mottled Ducks are related to both Black Ducks and Mallards, and are the only duck adapted to breeding in southern marshes. The Florida population is a subspecies and the male has lost its distinctive plumage so that the both sexes are colored alike.
My friend Tom M. wanted to go out shooting last week and hadn’t ever been to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. The drive itself is only open to cars from Friday through Sunday, so we met on Friday morning and went over. It was raining when I got up and still cloudy on the way over, which made for interesting skies in my infrared photos.
Lake Apopka Pump House – 2 frame panorama, infrared, black and white.
We did have a bit of good light while we were there. We saw this bird struggling to swallow a fish and stopped to watch for a few minutes. It was on the side of a canal with the clouds reflecting in the water behind it and flowers blooming in front. I stayed in the car so I wouldn’t bother it and shot a series of single frames while we watched. This one was the best one of the series.
Nice catch! – an Anhiga tosses a fish it caught along a canal on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.
On this trip, I brought my micro four thirds cameras. I’ve used the system for about four years and they’ve worked very well. The dynamic range and noise performance are not as good as larger sensor cameras, but it’s “good enough”. And the noise is not an issue for me. DxO Optics Pro does an outstanding job processing the RAW files. The focusing capabilities have been fast for static subjects – but I’ve never been able to do very well with continuous focus. Well, I recently traded up to a used Olympus E-M1, which has phase detect sensors built into the image sensor and it’s been doing a great job with continuous focus. So much so that even for birds in flight it’s working “good enough” too. Here’s an example from Friday:
Checking me out – A hawk in flight looking at the camera
Kevin McKinney wanted to go by Shingle Creek for a sunrise photo and I’ve wanted to do that too. We went last Saturday – and found out that park doesn’t open until 8am. A little late for sunrise. 🙁
Fortunately we got there early enough for our backup plan to work and we ended up in Kissimmee along the Lake Tohopekaliga shoreline. They have a park there too – and it was open. 🙂
Lake Toho light at dawn
There’s a little lighthouse at the end of the jetty and the protected water makes for some nice reflections.
We saw a few birds hunting the shoreline close by that turned out to be Snail Kites. I’ve only ever seen these before at Viera Wetlands and didn’t get a very good photo. This one perched nicely for a minute or so before flying off.
And this Osprey flew by with its morning meal. I like sushi too, so I went ahead and make a photo of it.
Another Osprey with a “take-out” breakfast
A pleasant morning after all and I’m glad the backup plan worked.
Reminder – it’s that time of year again: The Lake Jesup flowers are getting ready to bloom. I got an email last week from my on-line friend Jeff Stammer. He’s already been out to Marlbed Flats to check on the flowers. He says that while it isn’t as wet as last year, it is quite grown up with tall plants and there aren’t as many cow or horse paths as there have been in the past. So the hiking may be tougher than usual. I skipped going last year and regretted it. I’m going to try hard to get out there this year. When we drove by Friday evening we could already see some yellow color. I think they’ll start to really peak in a week or two.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I first noticed the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa, Florida in April of 2012. We left from there on a cruise and the aquarium is right across from the terminal where we boarded. We didn’t have time to visit then, but I finally went back to see it last week.
Flying Starfish (not really – it was climbing on the aquarium glass); 27mm, f/2.8 @ 1/40s, ISO 3200
The Florida Aquarium has more than 20,000 plant and animal species on display and you’ll find many of the typical photo ops there. Major exhibits are “Journey to Madagascar”, “Wetlands Trail”, “Penguin Point”, “Bays and Beaches”, “Coral Reef”, and “Ocean Commotion”. The Coral Reef tank is big (~500,000 gallons), and has plenty of larger fish living there (sharks, rays and turtles, etc.). You’ll also find land animals such as birds, snakes, lizards and lemurs in the different exhibits.
Info for Photographers
As with any similar indoor attraction, the light is dim. You’ll need a camera with good high ISO capabilities, and the larger your lens aperture, the better. Image stabilization will help a little, but maybe not as much as you’d think, because your subjects will often be moving. You might also want to bring a polarizer to cut down on reflections in the glass although that’ll make the scenes even darker. I didn’t use a polarizer – I just tried to keep my camera lens as close to the glass as I could to block reflections. I’ve added exposure info to the captions in these photos so you can see what my settings were.
Toadfish; 38mm, f/3.2 @ 1/17s, ISO 1600
Tripod/Monopod: I carried a small one with me, but didn’t use it. Subject motion and other people in the venue made a tripod less useful.
Lenses: My 27 – 85mm equivalent lens covered most of the opportunities. I shot wide open (f/2.8 – f/4), with image stabilization turned on, and ISO sensitivities between 800 – 3200.
Best time to visit: We got there just after it opened (~9:30) on a weekday. The crowds were pretty light. This is a good place to visit in the summer, since it’s air-conditioned!
The aquarium offers many kid oriented activities. And they’ll also take you on a Wild Dolphin Cruise on Tampa Bay where you can see these animals and others in a non-captive environment. Certified SCUBA divers can Dive With the Sharks in the aquarium, and behind the scene tours are also offered.
Chameleon; 54mm, f/3.6 @ 1/45s, ISO 1000
The Florida Aquarium is a good family outing and offers many photo opportunities too.
I saw an interesting article in the New Your Times this week confirming what I feel: Spending time out in nature can improve your mind. It’s called “Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park” and references a study published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. (I hope you can read the NYT article – I’m not sure how their pay wall works.) The study measured volunteer’s brain waves as they walked along a path through three parts of a city. Then they looked at the recorded patterns for signs of frustration, agitation, attention / engagement, and calmness. The portion of the path through a park engaged the people’s attention while at the same time increasing their calmness. The urban portions of the walk increased their frustration. The moral of the story (at least for me): Spend more time with nature, and wildlife.
I increased my engagement with nature and my calmness this week by visiting the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
I stopped first at Kars Park. I hadn’t been there before and wanted to scout it as a sunrise spot. I also hoped I could see / photograph the cruise ships at Port Canaveral from there. They should make a good subject when they’re lit up in the dark. I arrived before dawn and found a pier, but didn’t really like the results and moved on. I’ll have to try again some time.
On the way to MINWR I noticed clouds developing on the horizon. They were pretty enough to make me pull over for this photo:
Pretty clouds – My sunrise photos didn’t come out so well, but the light was interesting a little later in the morning.
Turning in to Gator Creek Road, I spotted an Osprey in a dead tree. I crept up slowly, stayed in my car, and tried not to disturb it. It gave me a few hard looks but kept eating and was still there when I left.
No sushi for you – An Osprey with breakfast along Gator creek Road. It watched me as I drove slowly by and didn’t seem to want to share.
A little further on, I ran into this pair, also enjoying breakfast:
No sushi for you! (2) – A pair of eagles. They didn’t look like they wanted to share their meal either. I enjoyed watching them for a while and when they finished eating they flew away together – so I’m pretty sure they’re a couple. I’d like to go back to the area to see if I can get a better photo.
After Gator Creek, I took a turn around Black Point Wildlife Drive. It was pretty quiet but I did see a few of the regular birds (Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black Skimmers, Gulls, Mottled Ducks, Terns, Scaups, etc.).
My last stop was the Bairs Cove boat ramp. I wanted to check out a new kayak launch area just across Haulover Canal from there. On the way in to Bairs Cove I noticed an isolated tree on the left and made a quick photo. As I drove around the boat ramp parking area I kept thinking about the scene. Something was very appealing and I didn’t want to get home without a good image of it, so on the way out I stopped again and made this more careful photo. It’s two IR, HDR images arranged so I could stitch a vertical panorama to get this square format result.
This is a truly great time of year to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve gone over for the last two weekends. As I mentioned in my previous post, I took Lynn, Mary, and Monette there last Sunday – we had a great time and spotted lots of birds. I told Kevin M. about it and he insisted we go back yesterday with Kevin K.
Why is it so good over there now? I’m glad you asked! The number and types of birds in and around Black Point Wildlife Drive are probably the greatest I’ve ever seen. There are both regular species and winter visitors. Ducks are there in huge numbers, both in the water and flying overhead in vast formations close enough that the sound of their beating wings is quite loud. The larger wading and shorebirds are also there in force. On both days, there were feeding frenzies going on in ponds along BPWD. The water is full of minnows and the birds are feasting on them.
Black Point Wildlife Drive Feeding Frenzy Video
By the way, this situation is an ideal set up to practice your BIF (birds in flight) photography. Here’s a photo I made at this same pond, showing an egret with one of the minnows.
Snowy Egret with minnow
And here’s a close-up of the minnows in the water. No wonder the birds are going crazy!
The reason for the festive gathering (photo by Kevin McKinney)
On these two days, we saw close to 40 different types of wildlife. And I’m sure there were others I either didn’t see, didn’t recognize or forgot. Here’s a partial list:
Alligator, Cows, Deer, Manatee
Ducks: American Wigeon, Blue Wing Teals, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler
Egrets: Cattle, Great, Reddish, and Snowy
Herons: Great Blue, Green, Little blue, and Tri-color
Ibis: Glossy, and White
Pie billed grebe
Red Bellied woodpecker
Ring billed Gull
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Cruising White Pelican – a winter migrant to our area
So two wonderful visits, although we did have some disappointments. We looked for Florida Scrub Jays and didn’t see them in the normal spot. And the sunrise photos on both days were a challenge. Here’s what it looked like yesterday:
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.