Tag Archives: Great Blue Heron

Casey Key

Intro / Description

Lynn and I have been visiting Casey Key on the Gulf coast of Florida for many years and last weekend Mary joined us for another very pleasant stay over Labor Day.

Casey Key is a barrier island created by the intracoastal waterway and is south of Sarasota and just north of Venice.  It lies partially in the city of Nokomis, Florida and is an easy drive that’s about 2 hours from Orlando via I-4 and I-75.

It’s a very wealthy community with very little commercial development and consists mostly of high end homes.  There are a few small beach hotels near the southern end.  We stayed at the Gulf Sands Beach Resort, which is an older place located right on the beach.

Info for Photographers

Casey Key is very scenic and would be a good place to hold a workshop on sunset photography.  The three nights we were there, they ranged from very nice to spectacular.  Here is one photo I made with some fairly prominent sun dogs visible.

Sunset, pelican, and parheliaCasey Key: Sunset, flowers, pelican, and parhelia

Photo hints: We don’t normally go to the Gulf coast for surfing since the water is usually calm and clear.  In the past I’ve seen it as clear as a swimming pool, so it’s often a wonderful place for snorkeling.  Anticipating this, I brought  my Canon G9 and underwater housing.  But I didn’t get to use them much this time because the waves were pretty high (for the Gulf) and the water was murky.  I think it’s still stirred up from recent tropical storms passing through.

Casey Key itself has the best view to the west so get ready for some very nice sunset photos.  The scenery to the east consists mostly of housing.  You may get some color in the morning clouds to the west if you watch for it.  You might also want to try a sunrise photo from the jetty area.

For sunsets, set up early and stay late since the color often changes after the sun goes down.  This is easy to do if you have a place right on the beach.  You may also want to go back out later for some night shots.  The night sky to the west will be fairly dark and allow you to get some stars in your exposure. Vary your foreground, the height of your camera, and your lens field of view to create some different looks.

You’ll also see a variety of birds.  We saw pelicans, gulls, Great Blue Herons, and several other species during our visit.

Bird watching me – a seagull at Casey Key

Tripod/Monopod: You can get by without a tripod, but having one will give you much more flexibility.  I tried some High Dynamic Range photography and was glad I had my tripod.

Lenses: You’ll appreciate a wide angle lens for sunset and landscape photos.  My most used lens was the  16-35mm wide angle.  You might also want to bring a longer lens too for the birds on the beach and nearby.

Best time to visit: Anytime (when the tropical outlook is calm).


If you like to fish, you can do so from the beach and also from the north jetty which is a very short drive to the south end of the key.  I once caught a very nice snook from this jetty, but had to let it go because the season ended the day before.

Three Fishermen
Three Fishermen: A Great Blue Heron stalks two humans, waiting for a handout.

There are many shells on the beach at Casey Key, so walking can be a bit rough for a city tenderfoot.   You might want to bring something to walk in.  And you definitely should walk the beach.  You’ll find many pretty shells as well as sharks teeth there.

Casey Key shells and shark teeth

Here are some other things that are close to Casey Key.  If you can stay a bit longer, you might want to check them out:

  • Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, Florida is a private resort with beautiful clear water.  Take your snorkel and underwater camera.
  • The Venice Rookery is a few miles south.  This is a small island in a small pond and hosts many species during nesting season.  If you’re there in the spring, be sure to stop by.
  • The Myakka River State Park has an unusual Canopy Walkway that would be worth seeing.
  • Oscar Scherer State Park is also very close by.
  • We’ve also been to the Mote Marine Lab for an interesting visit.  One morning we also saw one of their researchers monitoring the sea turtle nests on the beach at Casey Key.


Please visit my set on Flickr to see more photos from Casey Key as well as larger versions of the ones above.

My Gallery / Flickr photo set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157624780918915/
Website: http://www.gulfsandsbeachresort.com/
Address / Phone: Gulf Sands Beach Resort

433 Casey Key Rd.
Nokomis, Fl. 34275
Fax (941) 484-6827

View in Google Maps

Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: Make some nice photos while you relax

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Viera Wetlands – a birder's paradise?

Intro / Description

OK, so maybe you don’t look at the top of my blog very often, where it says “Central Florida Photo Ops – What & Where they are, and tips on how to photograph them”.  That’s the main purpose here – to let others know about all the great places to make photographs in the Central Florida area.  So I feel like I owe an apology to all my loyal readers and the wildlife / nature / bird photographers that have visited my blog in the past without finding any mention of the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, also known as Viera Wetlands.  I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better – but I do have a day job!  And there are so many fabulous places to photograph around here!

Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the my entire set, my slide show version of the photos, and some links to other photos of Viera Wetlands.

Some winter color in the trees at Viera WetlandsViera Wetlands

Our Phototgraphy Interest Group traveled to Viera Wetlands yesterday.  Located at the west end of Wickham Road, in Melbourne, Florida (behind the water treatment plant), the Viera Wetlands offers birders and photographers a close encounter with many species from the comfort of their automobiles.  Since cars are such a good blind to photograph from, you can often get quite close to the wildlife without disturbing them.  I’ve only been there one time (so far!), but if my visit with the Photography Interest Group yesterday was any indication, this is a very nice place to watch and photograph birds.  I should have checked it out ages ago.

Great Blue Heron full closeupUn-cropped photo of Great Blue Heron.  I did get out of the car for this one!

Info for Photographers

Photo hints:  You can get photos of many of the species right from your car.  The dirt roads are fairly narrow – so if you do exit your vehicle to get a “down low” perspective, or whenever you stop to get a shot – be courteous and make sure you pull over as far as possible to one side.

The roads are one way.  The perimeter road runs counter clockwise and so most of the photo ops will be on the driver’s side, although the roads through the center of the Wetlands do have some scenery and birds out of the passenger side.

The Viera Wetlands official site has a visitor’s checklist brochure you can download that lists all the species that have been sighted in the area, along with a map and some other information.  The brochure is here:  http://www.brevardcounty.us/environmental_management/documents/VieraWetlandsChecklistV3WEB.pdf.  It’s well worth looking at before you go and gives you an indication of how common each species is in the Wetlands.

An American CootAn American Coot (the bird – not the author)

Crested CaracaraA Crested Caracara in flight. (Photo by Kevin McKinney)

Tripod/Monopod :  Definitely allowed – you can bring all the gear that will fit in your car.  You may also want to bring a bean bag so you can rest your camera on your car’s window sill.

Lenses:  Some of the birds get quite close to the side of the road.  I probably don’t have to tell you that for birds, longer lenses are better. But you can get by with a not so long lens here. I used my 70 – 300 on my D90 (1.5 crop factor = 450mm equivalent).  I also got some good frames with my 70 – 200 on the full frame D700.

Best time to visit : Now is a great time.  There’s lots of activity and the weather is what Florida is famous for.  Many of the birds are getting their breeding plumage.  In general, early February through June (nesting season) should continue to be a good time to go.  Go early in the day when the light is good and the animals are active.

Glossy IbisBreeding colors are starting to show in this Glossy Ibis.

Other : Normal hours are Monday through Sunday, Sunrise to Sunset. The dirt roads through the wetlands are sometimes closed due to heavy rains.  If this is the case, you can still walk in.  You can also call ahead to make sure the roads are open (see below).


The photos I’ve posted here are just a few of the ones we made on Saturday, and this was just some of what there is to see.  This is a place worth going to multiple times.  Check out the links below for more images of different species.  You could also visit the Photography Interest Group on Flickr to see the photos that the others made yesterday.

Also, there’s a group on Flickr that appears to be pretty active and has many photos and discussions about Viera Wetlands.  If you’re interested, you may want to visit there to learn more and even join.  Here’s the link: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1224030@N24/

My Gatorland photo set on Flickr: The set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157623223995224/

A slide show version: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157623223995224/show/

Website: http://www.brevardcounty.us/environmental_management/VieraWetlands-Home.cfm
Address / Phone: 10001 Wickham Road

Melbourne, FL 32940

Information:  321-637-5521

Current Road Conditions:  321-255-4329

Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: Bird fan bonanza – shoulda gone sooner!

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida

Intro / Description

A great blue heron portrait

Great Blue Heron portrait

Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the entire set and a slide show version of the photos.

In a “ToDo” post last year, I promised to visit and report on Gatorland and to compare it to the St. Augustine Alligator farm for you. I was finally able to go and this post is the basic review. I’ll follow-up with a comparison to the Alligator Farm shortly. Gatorland is a vintage, Florida, roadside attraction (started in 1949) and has grown into a 110-acre, photographer friendly theme park featuring some great shows with many kinds of animals on display. Although there are a lot of things to do in the park, the two that may attract nature and wildlife photographers more than others are:

  • The Bird Rookery: Created in 1991 as a natural breeding area for the gators, the 10 acre Breeding Marsh has over 100 adult alligators and is a completely natural environment. It attracts wild birds,which tend to nest above the alligators, since they provide protection against some of the bird predators such as raccoons and snakes.

Gatorland breeding marsh and bird rookeryThe bird rookery and breeding marsh


  • The Swamp Walk: This is located at the southern end of the park and is a self guided tour on a raised wooden walkway through a Cypress Swamp and affords visitors a rare look back into what much of Central Florida looked like before development.

There is also quite a bit for the non-photo family members to do, including shows, a small water park, a petting zoo, and displays of other captive animals.

The gator jumparoo at GatorlandThe gator jumparoo show

Photo hints: Gatorland reinstated its photo pass in 2012.  It allows entry at 7:30 and lets you stay inside until dusk.  Quite an advantage for bird photography.

Tripod/Monopod : Gatorland is a photographer friendly place. You can bring all of your equipment, including a tripod or monopod and there is ample room to use them as long as you are courteous.

Lenses: Of course, long lenses are a must for most bird photography and they will certainly help you at Gatorland. But since many of the birds are so used to people you can get very close to some of them, so very good shots with not so long lenses are possible.

Wood Stork and Alligator bokehWood Stork and Alligator bokeh

Best time to visit : Early February through June (nesting season) where the weather is also not as hot.

Other : Normal hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm.  Be sure to ask about Senior Citizen and Florida Resident discounts.


Families will find lots to interest them at Gatorland.  It’s a good value in today’s overpriced theme park environment. And photographers will enjoy visiting this park multiple times.

My Gatorland photo set on Flickr: The set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157623039154783/A slide show version: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/sets/72157623039154783/show/
Website: http://www.gatorland.com/
Address: 14501 S Orange Blossom Trail Orlando, FL 32837 (407) 855-5496
Central Florida Photo Ops Rating: Birds and gators galore – family fun too!

©2010, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.  Updated on 3/29/2012.

My favorite photos of 2009

First, I want to wish all readers of this humble photo blog a very


Second, this year your devoted author has decided to join the growing tradition where photo blogs post a collection of their favorite photos from the year.

To accomplish this, I’ve gone through the photos I made in 2009 and used Lightroom to rate them from 0 through 5 stars. The rating system I’ve adopted is as follows:

  • 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 ) a given 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’ll keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention.  Since adopting this rating system, I’ve tried to use it consistently.  Before this I would rate images, but the meaning of the ratings would vary.  As far as what they mean now, it’s all subjective and my opinion only.  Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve chosen.

I was really blessed in 2009 with a huge number of photo opportunities.  On my hard drive in my 2009 folder, I have about 16,000 images, taking up 164GB of space (I shoot mostly in RAW).  Of these:

  • 3804 of the images have been cataloged in Lightroom.  Many of the remainder are source images for multi-shot panoramas or HDRs, or high rate bursts that I selected from.
  • 1084 are rated 1 star or higher
  • 692 are 2 star or higher
  • 75 are 3 star or higher
  • 1 is 4 star, and
  • None are 5 star (I’m not done taking photos yet!)

Of the 692 that are 2 star or higher, I’ve selected 44 (mostly 3 star) images to include in a gallery of my favorite 2009 photos.  You’ve seen many of these photos in this blog, already.  But where it made sense, I re-processed them to try and improve them.  Here are the top ten. You can click on each of these to go to Flickr, where you can see a larger version.

My #10 favorite photo is:  Great Blue Heron in flight.  This heron didn’t like me aiming my camera at it.  It’s making a lot of noise as it leaves the area.  I was able to pan with its motion to get a sharp shot.
Great Blue Heron in flight

My #9 favorite photo is: Ketchikan harbor.  The trawler Isis, a house in the background, and the parked float plane are very representative of Alaska.

My #8 favorite photo is: Black Point Sunrise. This reminds me of a boundary of a set of points in a complex plane (i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set)
Black Point Sunrise

My #7 favorite photo is: Glacier Bay Sunrise, A dawn panorama heading in to Glacier Bay National Park.
Glacier bay sunrise panorama

My #6 favorite photo is: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in flight.  We saw this unusual and photogenic duck at Orlando Wetlands Park.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in flight

My #5 favorite photo is: Lake Lily Park tree and bird at dawn.  Sometimes you go out specifically to photograph.  Other times you go out just  carrying your camera.  It’s exciting to me when I find a photo like this one while I’m just out carrying my camera.  The light on this Cyprus tree caught my eye as we walked around the Lily Lake  one Saturday morning looking at their flea market.  The bird in the middle distance was a bonus.
Lake Lily Park tree and bird at dawn

My #4 favorite photo is: Black Point Wildlife Drive: Wide angle, winter dawn. On this particular morning, it was hard coming up with any good photo inspiration for the sunrise.  There were no clouds, not much color in the sky, not a lot of interesting landscape detail, no cooperating wildlife, the wind was blowing pretty hard, etc.  This palm tree had an interesting vine growing in it that was pointing back toward the road, so I  made it the subject of the picture and violated all the composition rules by putting it way off too one side.  To me, the road leading past the tree could represent the last part of the long journey of exploration and learning that led to being able to make this photo in this place at this time. The road is empty because each person’s journey is unique. Oh, and BPWD just happens to be a one way road – toward the photographer. The somewhat surreal colors come from a program called “Photomatix” that will “tone map” multiple, bracketed exposures.  Anyway, I liked it too.
Blackpoint Wildlife Drive: Wide angle, winter dawn

My #3 favorite photo is: Gorilla watching people, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Disney’s Wild Kingdom.
Gorilla watching people

My #2 favorite photo is: Breaching humpback, off shore from Juneau, Alaska.  In the full res version, the two white dots in tree to the upper left behind the whale are bald eagles.
Breaching humpback whale near Juneau

And … my #1 favorite photo of the year is: Ship, water, glacier, rock.  A multiple shot panorama showing Johns Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park from the cruise ship MS Westerdam.  The full res version of this photo is 7747 x 4716 pixels = 36.5 megapixels.
Panorama view of Johns Hopkins Glacier from Cruise ship deck

I’ve posted a gallery of all 44 images on my website at www.edrosack.com/BO09.  I’ve also uploaded them to this Flickr set, and you can click this link to watch a slide show at Flickr.  When you watch the show, you might want to click the “show info” link.

Thanks for looking.

All content ©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

A bicycle ride 'round Orlando Wetlands Park

I’d been to Orlando Wetlands Park (25155 Wheeler Rd. Christmas, Florida 32709) several times, but always on foot and I always walked the 2.5 mile “Birding Route”. (Note: you can see larger versions of this photo in my gallery for this post.)

Great Blue Heron in flight

I wanted to explore the rest of the park, so yesterday I went back out there with my bicycle and rode around the perimeter. It was a very pleasant 5 or 6 mile ride. The dirt roads are very well maintained – no problems at all getting around with the bicycle. The scenery was similar to what I was familiar with around the Birding Route, although there seemed to be more wildlife – perhaps because there’s less visitors out there. The wildlife did seem more wary. I don’t know if it was because they’re not used to seeing people or bicycles.

In addition to what you see in the photos I posted on my website (gators, Great Blue Heron, Anhinga, Ibis, Bobcat (?), and flowers) I also saw a large turtle, and many other birds, including ducks, grebes, and many black vultures. The park ranger was anxious to close the gate at 7:30 so I had to leave before the sun had completely set, which was a very minor disappointment in an otherwise very pleasant late afternoon visit. I wonder when they open the gate in the mornings? It’s always been open when we get there before sunrise.

My photos for this post are here.

©2009, Ed Rosack.  All rights reserved.

Driving home from the Leo Kottke show

We had tickets to see Leo Kottke at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart Florida on Friday night. It was a wonderful show – the first time I’ve ever seen him live, although I’m long time fan. In addition to some great guitar music, he told a few very funny stories and we were both sorry to see the evening end.

On Saturday morning we took our time coming back and drove the first part home on A1A up the Atlantic coast, stopping at a few places to look for pictures. I had my photo backpack and tripod with me, and Lynn was a very good sport and even carried tripods and lens hoods for me and helped me scout for photos. She noticed this interesting tree (I think it was a seagrape ) along the beach at one place we stopped at.  The early morning sun shining through the combination of new and old leaves and branches on this seagrape tree against the bright blue sky was very colorful. (You can go to my gallery to see a larger version of the photos in this post.)

Colorful Seagrape Leaves

On the other side of these trees was a little play ground with what I think were some Parrot Fish toys to play on. They were also very colorful in the early light.

Colorful Playground

Further on up the road, nearer to Port Saint Lucie we stopped at another little park called “Bear Point Sanctuary ” and walked out a dirt road along a canal. This little park is along the Indian River lagoon, and I didn’t realize it stretched this far down the coast. We saw several birds – even though it was almost lunchtime, some calm, scenic water, and some pretty mangroves:

Canal, mangroves, sky (with polarizing filter)

There are a lot of little parks like this in Florida, and if you have time when you’re driving around, it’s worth stopping and wandering around with your camera. You can almost always find a photo or two hidden away.

I used my polarizer filter to make the photo above. One of my friends asked me why they should get one and I wanted to show the effect, so I made a second version with the polarizer rotated 90 degrees. That’s my shadow at the corner of the dock. You can see a pretty dramatic difference between the two versions. Carry a polarizing filter. It’s one filter effect that is very hard to duplicate in post processing on the computer.

Canal, mangroves, sky (without polarizing filter)

The birds were pretty shy and flew off whenever we tried to get close enough for a good picture. (I just had my 16 – 85mm with me).

Shy bird

All in all, a pretty nice photo excursion, and an unexpected bonus well worth the little time we invested.

I posted these photos and a few more on my web site here .

©2009, Ed Rosack.  All rights reserved.

My Summer Vacation around Central Florida

My summer vacation – Day 1 : A visit to Wekiwa State Park and a solo canoe trip down the Wekiwa river where I attempt to paddle, navigate and make photographs, all at the same time, and where success is measured by returning without once falling overboard, with all the gear I left with, and with all my body parts still attached and undamaged (although somewhat sore).

I’ve been to many of the springs in the Central Florida area, but just never got around to going to Wekiwa, so with a few days off, I thought it was about time. I’ve heard a lot about this park and there is a lot of info on the web. You can find out plenty at their main web page . I had visions of capturing “The Shot”. My vision was this: The camera half in the water as a massive gator swims toward me and I make photos from the safety of my canoe. To prepare, I purchased a WP-DC21 underwater housing to protect my Canon G9. See the results below of my search for “The Shot” (go to the galleries to see higher resolution versions of these photos).

Gator in the grass

What happened you ask? Well, life is a journey, not a destination, and so is photography. I’ll try again for “The Shot” another time. I haven’t been in a canoe for many years – paddling while handling the camera and staying out of the trees is trickier than I thought. And I forgot my raw chicken to lure the gators within camera range. Wekiwa is a great place. Photo tips: Bring an assistant to help paddle. Take sunscreen, you’ll need it. Get there early of course for the best light and also to avoid the crowds. Going on a week day will help avoid crowds too. I didn’t see anyone when I got on the river at 9 on a Monday morning, but by the time I came back around 10 or 10:30 there were quite a few people in canoes and kayaks. You’ll see lots of birds, turtles, gators, fish, and river otters. The river otters move pretty fast so be alert – I almost fell out of the canoe trying to get a photo of them. Here are more of my photos from day 1 .

My summer vacation – Day 2 : Another day break hike through Orlando Wetlands Park

When I made a return visit to this wilderness located 20 miles from downtown Orlando, Florida I was the only human there and once again I felt like I was in a different world far away from everyday concerns. Just what I was looking for. I strolled through a primitive Florida landscape and visited with some varied wildlife including possum, deer, gators, and various birds including herons, hawks, and egrets. It’s close enough to my home so that I can get there by dawn, even in the summer and the sunrise can be very pretty. Here is a link to the first blog post I did about this park. It has some additional information and photos.

The road at dawn

Here are more photos from day 2 .

My summer vacation – Day 3a : A return visit to Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve been to Black Point Wildlife several times, and although spring time seems to be the best time of the year for viewing wildlife, it is still very pretty in the summer time as long as you go early in the day. I was a bit disappointed at first since I didn’t see much, but to make up for it there were no other people there at all. Toward the end of the drive there were a lot of birds including a flock of spoonbills, although they were quite far away. Mike Thomas has a blog entry about this place and he mentions gators big enough to eat a Volvo. That should be enough to motivate you to go over there, even if gas is $4! I haven’t seen those particular gators (although I was driving a pickup truck, not a Volvo), but I have seen their little brothers. Here’s a link to a map of the drive.

Great Blue Heron and reflection

Here are more of my photos from this portion of day 3 .

My summer vacation – Day 3b : A drive down Bio Lab road along Indian River lagoon, where I survive repeated attacks by bloodthirsty monsters!

Mike Thomas also mentions BioLab Road . This is a really pretty drive along the Indian River north of the cape. Lots of birds, gators, and mosquitos here. Make sure you take insect repellent – I didn’t have any and I never even set up my tripod because I couldn’t stay out of my truck long enough. I was swarmed by mosquitos and bitten within a minute or two whenever I got out of the truck. This is a dirt road, but it is pretty well maintained although I did get my truck muddy! Here is a link to a map of the area.

A whole lot of fishing going on

Here are more of my photos from this portion of day three .

©2008, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.