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 Black Point 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 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 a bit from their peak during the nesting season, we found plenty to see 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 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 the photos above to view them on Flickr. I’ve also uploaded several more in this D7000 set on Flickr (sorry, no longer available). Many of them are in high-resolution so that you can better judge the image / camera quality. You can also view more photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands here in this set.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Un-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.
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.
Breeding 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/