What’s Momma doing? Sand Hill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands. The chick’s concentration is fascinating.
And Great Blew Heron families (Pun intended – Windy day? Blew? Blue? ):
Breezy Blue and baby – Mom guards the nest and chicks
And caught a brief glimpse of a family of River Otters before they disappeared into the reeds:
River Otter family – 3 or 4 of them ran across the road and into the water
I have one more photo to show you. Since I started using the Olympus E-M1 II camera, I’ve been on a quest to apply its ‘pro-capture’ mode to photograph a Red-winged Blackbird in flight. Their shoulders are pretty and you can’t see them very well when they’re perched. This is my best attempt so far. I like it, but I’m going to keep trying. I’d like to catch one in a little better light and it’d be nice to have the bird facing more toward the camera. While we’re wishing, a catch light in the eyes would be wonderful too!
Red-winged Blackbird in flight –
We also looked for a different sunrise spot and stopped by a pasture on the way to Viera. Unfortunately, nature didn’t cooperate – I ended with a few uninspiring photos. You can look at one (if you must) on Flickr at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some spring time photos!
During bird nesting season (February – mid June in Central Florida), Gatorland‘s Photographer’s Pass program allows early entry to the park at 7:30 am Thursday – Sunday and lets you stay until dusk on Saturday. It’s great if you want to photograph wild birds in good light outside of normal business hours when there’s not many tourists around. You can find out a lot more detail on their website at this link.
This season started last Thursday and I met Tom M., Zvia S., and Lee A. there. It’s early in the year so there’s not too much nesting activity yet, but there’s plenty to photograph. We saw many Great Egrets in breeding colors and plumage, and a few have started building nests. We also saw Anhingas, Cormorants, Black Vultures, and some Snowy Egrets, Wood Storks, and Great Blue Herons. I even sighted a Belted Kingfisher and a Black-crowned Night Heron.
The boardwalk along the breeding marsh offers close up looks at wild birds that are used to photographers and cameras.
Anhinga portrait – These birds are very pretty in the right light
Gatorland is also a great place to practice flight photography. The birds often fly over the boardwalk, many times along the same routes. With a little study, you can anticipate their path and get some good shots.
Great Blue Heron in flight
And of course, there are lots of alligators to photograph too.
Sunbathing gargantuan gator – I was about 15 feet away with my long lens zoomed out and had to make a 3 frame panorama to fit it all in.
We had a great time at Gatorland. If you want to get some really good photos of typical Florida wading birds, this is a wonderful place to do it. You can view many other Gatorland photos in this set on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope I’ll see you at Gatorland one morning making photos!
Most people just call the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands near Viera, Florida “Viera Wetlands”, although I’m sure they mean no disrespect to Mr. Grissom. I hadn’t been there in a while, and since it’s one of my favorite places I took a trip down to check on things last week – it didn’t disappoint.
On the way, I stopped by Kelly Park in Merritt Island for sunrise. I’m not sure if this Great Blue Heron was really getting ready to fish, or just enjoying the beautiful, pre-sunrise light, but I was glad it waded into my photo.
The early birds get the fish – Looking east over the Banana River from Kelly Park in Cocoa, just before dawn.
At Viera Wetlands, I got to watch this otter’s antics as it enjoyed a dirt bath in the road:
River Otter dust bath – I watched it rolling around in the dirt on the road for a while. When it had enough, it stood up, shook itself off, and moved back into the water.
I also watched this scene and although I felt badly for the frog, I guess I should feel good for the bird:
Hooded Merganser catches frog at Viera Wetlands – This doesn’t end well for the frog.
I don’t see Green Herons as often as some of the other herons and egrets, so it was nice to watch a number of them in the reeds along the sides of the berms. This pose is typical of one of their hunting techniques. They’ll perch frozen on the water’s edge and wait for prey to come within striking distance. Green Herons are reportedly one of the smartest birds. I haven’t seen the behavior, but they’re said to drop small bits of food or insects onto the water to attract fish.
Concentration – A Green Heron stalks its prey.
Viera is a great place to see Great Blue Herons courting, nesting, and raising young and there are several pairs active now. I saw one nest with very small chicks already hatched. I also saw many of the regulars there including alligators, Great Egrets, Tri-color Herons, Scaups, Coots, Red-winged Blackbirds, and others. On the way out I also took a turn around the Click ponds, but didn’t notice anything I hadn’t already found in the main areas. A great trip and well worth the time!
Click on the photos to go to Flickr, where you can see larger versions (the otter photo especially where you can see all the dirt it’s flung around) . You can also see more photos from Viera Wetlands in this set on Flickr. And I have many older posts about Viera Wetlands – you can look through them from this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I went over to Merritt Island this morning with Kevin K. and Kevin M. It was crisp and clear, so there weren’t many clouds to enhance the sunrise, but we enjoyed watching it and making some photos anyway. This one is from the Titusville Municipal Marina located just north of the Causeway.
Many morning masts at the Municipal Marina
After dawn, we drove through East Gator Creek Road but there wasn’t much to see, so then we headed to Black Point Wildlife Drive. There were a lot of people there and a few unusual birds including a couple of Wilson’s (common) snipes, Lesser Scaups, and a Sora. We also saw a Reddish Egret or two, lots of Coots, Pintails, Norther Shovelers, Osprey, White Pelicans, Hooded Mergansers, Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the distance, some Great Egrets (in breeding colors) and snowy egrets feeding at small pool on back side of the drive and a few other assorted ducks, shorebirds, and gulls. One of the highlights was coming up on a pod of photographers going all paparazzi on this scene:
Great Blue Heron with Banded Water Snake – Fresh snake was on the menu this morning for breakfast (thanks to Karlie Carmen for helping with the snake ID).
Near the end of BPWD we saw a wild hog off in the reeds, but it ambled out of view before I could get my camera up. I really need to practice my quick draw technique.
Kevin M. talked us into stopping by the Visitors Center and it’s good he did. On the way there we sighted a Florida Scrub Jay, a Kestrel, a Red-tailed Hawk – and there were Brown-headed Cowbirds, male and female Painted Buntings, Cardinals, and other birds behind the center. It really did turn into an interesting morning.
Waiting to launch – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket sits on the pad at Launch Complex 37B before dawn at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
I got up very early on Friday morning and arrived on Merritt Island in time for the Delta IV Heavy rocket launch scheduled for 6:15am. I figured it might be very picturesque, since sunrise was scheduled for 6:30. Unfortunately, the sunrise happened on time, but the launch didn’t.
If you’re not a Florida resident, you may not be aware of how hard it is to actually see a launch unless you live very close to or are staying at the Cape. I live about an hour away, and going over is an investment of time and effort. The problem is that launches very rarely happen when they’re first scheduled. At least when I try to see them. There always seems to be a technical problem, hold, or reschedule. Maybe I’m a jinx?
Anyway, this one finally did go at about 9:15 – although it wasn’t as photogenic as I hoped.
Delta IV Heavy Launch – From Peacocks Pocket Road in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is not the kind of bird I normally photograph at Merritt Island.
The delay gave me an excuse to drive around the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge while I waited. It’s the time of year when there’s not much happening there. But I did see some of the usual birds including Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Reddish Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Turkey and Black Vultures, Killdeer, and others. I also saw a group of Black Skimmers, a Loggerhead Shrike, a few Terns and gulls, and some smaller shorebirds.
Great Blue Heron – I know, I know: these birds are common around here, but they’re pretty and it’s hard to resist making a photo when they pose in good light.
I also (of course!) took advantage of the opportunity to make a few landscaped photos.
Sunrise crossing – from the Bennett Causeway in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The rising sun’s reflection and a boat wake created the cross pattern in the water near the cruise ship dock.
I had a good time. You will too, as long as you keep your expectations in check and work the other photo-ops if the launch is late.
The activity at Blackpoint Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Orlando Wetlands Park, and Viera Wetlands is slowing down now from the peak nesting and breeding season. Most of the young ones are hatched, grown, and fledged, although you can still find some amazing sights such as a White Eyed Vireo nest next to the boardwalk at the MINWR visitors center.
At BPWD the water is quite low. We found some concentrations of birds in a few of the areas that did have water including Redish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, etc. There are also some juvenile Green Herons in the bushes by the rest rooms. But the ducks seem to be mostly gone – even the moorhens and coots. And we haven’t seen any Kingfishers lately either. We did see an Eastern Kingbird on BPWD, and a Northern Parula and Grey Catbird at the visitor center.
Wading Roseate Spoonbill – feeding at BPWD
Orlando Wetlands is quiet too – both people and birds. I was the only visitor when I went by last Thursday morning. I saw a solitary Swallow-tail Kite fly by briefly (too fast to get a photo). And there were plenty of Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, some hawks, limpkins, herons and egrets – but again the most of the ducks seem have gone elsewhere.
Mom and kid Limpkin on a sunrise stroll
At Viera Wetlands we saw a few of the usual birds and there are still some GBH juveniles on nests. Terns and Ospreys were putting on a fishing demonstration. It’s fun to watch this behavior and it’s a good situation for Birds in Flight practice.
Blue Heron Portrait
And even if the birding is slowing down, you can always find some landscape photo ops around the area.
Drippy: I was scouting for new sunrise locations and got to the Cocoa Beach pier a bit late. I decided to make a photo anyway… Next time I’ll be there before dawn.
If you click on any of the photos, they’ll open in Flickr, where you can see larger versions. You can also see some of my previous photos from:
I had a rare mid-week day off last Wednesday and decided to spend the morning making photographs.
First up was a site I’ve driven by many times and always said “That looks like a great place for a photo”. It’s the boat ramp off of Highway 50 where it crosses the St. Johns river. I was there before dawn and had a good time watching the sun come up and the clouds evolve. And yes, it is a good place for a photo.
Dawn on the St. Johns River at the Highway 50 boat ramp
Next, I drove over to Viera Wetlands. I haven’t been there recently and wanted to see what’s going on.
Palms, clouds, and marsh at Viera Wetlands
There are a lot of the usual birds around: Herons, Egrets, Ibis, Anhingas, Coots, Grebes, Limpkins, Ospreys, Cormorants, a Caracarra, a Hawk, Gulls, etc. I also saw a lot of winter visitors there, including Kingfishers, Mergansers, Caspian Terns, Tree Swallows, and Northern Shovelers. By the way, another good place to find out what’s going on is the Viera Wetlands group on Flickr. I usually check it before I go so I’ll know what to watch for when I get there. Other folks are seeing Northern Harriers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Horned Grebes, American Kestrels, and many more.
Caracara with prey
The Great Blue Herons are all busy courting and building nests. This is a wonderful time to get some action shots, especially of these birds in flight. If you watch one of the couples for a while, you’ll likely see the male leave repeatedly to gather nesting material. They tend to leave and return from the same direction and this gives you a big advantage when setting up to take flight photos.
Great Blue Heron pair
You can see other photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands in this set on Flickr. If you get some spare time over the holiday break, this would a good place to spend it.
I enjoy both nature/landscape photography and wildlife photography. I was thinking about this recently and it occurred to me that these can be quite different from an equipment, skills, and approach perspective.
Landscape: Lake Jesup flood waters after Tropical Storm Fay
Birding: Great Blue Heron profile
Here are some of the things I think are different about the two:
Birding / Wildlife
The quality of light is important (e.g. “Golden hour”). The amount of light isn’t too important: You can make long exposures from your tripod.
The amount of light is important. You need lots of light to get your shutter speed up.
You need to know the location, and figure out sun timing and position. May still be hit or miss depending on the weather.
You need to know about the animal and its habits, and where you might find them. May still be hit or miss depending on the animals (and maybe the weather).
1. Composition, 2. Exposure, 3. Focus
1. Focus, 2. Exposure, 3. Composition
Probably better by yourself: Your location, your vision.
Can be better in groups. Many eyes can help spot things one person will miss.
Good tripod with good ball head. Wide angle lens, small aperture for greater depth of field, long exposure. Frame rate not too important.
Very long lens, large aperture for a fast shutter speed. High frame rate body. Maybe a tripod with a gimbal head.
Not as expensive
Can be very expensive
Have I missed anything? What else is different about these two types of photography?
Our local photography club organized an expedition to Viera Wetlands yesterday. It was one of our larger outings, with 8 people from the group there, including one new member. We arrived just after sunrise and spent a little over 2 hours exploring the main site, and also took a quick tour of the click ponds.
Great Blue Heron: These birds aren’t nesting yet, but they do seem to be reserving their spots.
Wow – what a day for avian variety and nature lovers! The weather was quite nice too – sunny with temperatures in the 50s. There isn’t much nesting going on yet, but we did see an amazing number of both year-round and winter visitor species. Several of these birds are difficult to spot and / or photograph well and it helps to make multiple circuits of the wetlands. It also really helps to have multiple sets of eyes watching for and pointing out interesting things. About the only thing we struck out on was the River Otters, but we did hear others talking about them – so they were around somewhere.
Belted Kingfisher: There were several of these at Viera Wetlands yesterday. They generally stayed out in the middle of the cells and so were hard to photograph.
Lynn and I went out to Viera Wetlands this morning to survey the wildlife that’s around and also so I could get a little more field testing in on the Nikon D7000. Once again, this great birding spot didn’t disappoint us and although the activity and number of birds were down quite a bit from their peak during the nesting season, we found plenty to observe and photograph.
I’m shooting the D7000 in RAW & fine jpg mode, but using only using the jpg files until later when RAW is supported by ACR and Nikon CaptureNX2. So far, it’s definitely living up to my expectations. The combination of more pixels and improved sensitivity is a great for bird photography. Here’s one shot I did early in the morning, before the almost full moon set:
Great Egret, Ibis, and Moon, Nikon D7000, ISO 100
On this photo, I cheated a little bit. The depth of field on the Sigma 150 – 500 @ 500mm and f/7.1 is too shallow to hold the moon in focus along with the tree and birds. So I made a second exposure focused on the moon and masked it in using Photoshop.
I set up the camera in auto-ISO mode and let it respond to the varying lighting conditions so that I could see how it performed over a range of ISO sensitivities. At ISOs up to 1000, there is very little noise. I need to do some comparisons with RAW files, but so far, it looks to me like the ISO performance of the D7000 is at least a 1/2 stop better than the D90. Here is one example from today at ISO 900:
A pair of Limpkins share a snail snack, Nikon D7000, ISO 900 (Try repeating that caption 3 times fast!)
Here is another, un-cropped photo of a Great Blue Heron:
Great Blue Heron keeps watch, ISO 280
One of the comments on these photos today on Flickr was “You’re lucky to be in an area with amazing wildlife.” I couldn’t agree more. And that’s just one of the many ways that I am so very lucky.
You can click on each of the photos above to view them on Flickr. I’ve also uploaded several more in this D7000 set on Flickr. Many of them are in high-resolution so that you can better judge the image / camera quality. You can also view additional photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands here in this set.