It seems like ages since I’ve been out amongst our natural Florida wonders. So I was eager to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last week for a look ’round. I stopped first by the Indian River before dawn. The geometry of the pier, bridge and sun rays teamed up to form nice leading lines toward the pending sunrise.
A peaceful morning on the pier by the bridge – Veterans Memorial Fishing Pier by the Max Brewer Causeway in Titusville, Florida
East Gator Creek road was closed, so I drove up to Haulover Canal and the Mantee Observation Point – of course there were no manatees visible there! Then I circled back to Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Standing bird – Tri-colored Heron on a bush. It was so still that I had time to zoom in and make a three frame vertical panorama.
We’ve had lots of rain lately and there was plenty of water at Black Point. I saw fish schooling in several spots, although for some reason the birds weren’t interested. I think the highlight of the trip for me was watching two Reddish Egrets dancing over the water.
Running bird – a prancing Reddish Egret seems to walk on water
There were just a couple other people on the drive and I only saw them briefly. It’s a special privilege to have a place like this mostly to yourself – even at this time of the year when it’s so hot and the wildlife is a bit sparse.
Flying bird – a Great Egret glides above the water
What a delightful morning! I have many more MINWR photos here. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go enjoy nature – it’s good for you!
Howell Branch creek starts at Lake Maitland and flows into Lake Waumpi. From there it’s called Howell Creek as it goes through Lake Howell and then wanders east and north to empty into Lake Jessup. It passes within a half mile of our home in Winter Springs.
I’ve driven by this spot below in Maitland many times, but didn’t realize it’s on the same waterway:
Howell Creek – Where it crosses Lake Howell Road. A small dam there creates a lovely little waterfall / rapid. I’ve driven by it for years and finally made a photo.
I never stopped before because there’s no obvious parking nearby. But Lynn volunteered to drive me over, drop me off (and come back and pick me up too!). So off we went…
My plan was to make a few images from down near the water with a wide angle lens, maybe up close to the dam. But several “No Trespassing” signs scuttled that. I stayed up on the bridge by the road and made my images from there. I’m glad I brought my 24 – 200 mm (eq.) lens too – the reach came in handy!
Several people walked by while I was there and mentioned how pretty the view is. They talked about wading birds and the otter family they see there. I didn’t see any otters, but a Great Egret eventually wandered into my frame. I was lucky it stayed still while I made a long exposure to blur the water. When Lynn saw the photo, she thought it needed a dark colored bird – I should’ve waited for an anhinga!
Wind caused some blurring in the leaves and Spanish moss. I was also worried the vibration caused by trucks on the road behind me would shake my tripod and blur things. I made several frames just in case and this one came out pretty well.
Research indicates there was a water powered mill located just up stream from this dam in the mid 1800s. And I found an old article in the Orlando Sentinel, saying that the first dam in this spot was built around 1900. One story says residents blew up the dam during a hurricane and replaced it later. Apparently, a more durable one was built in the 1950s and was replaced by the current dam in 1979 when Orange County widened Howell Branch Road.
It doesn’t seem like I’ve used other photos of Howell Creek in the blog before, so I’ll end this post with two older images from closer to our home in Winter Springs.
Howell Creek infra red (October 2013)
Howell Creek bed and reflections (October 2013)
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – stop somewhere you’ve been passing by and make some photos!
When I go on a photo expedition I come home with many more images than I process, and I post even less. So every once in a while I go through the photos in my Lightroom catalog and look for ones that I passed over, to see if my current self thinks they’re good enough to show or include in a blog post.
Caught in a sunbeam, Gatorland, May 2017
Anyway, I was doing this last week and ended up with the group of images in this post. They made me realize once again how wonderful Central Florida is for bird watching and bird photography.
Handsome Anhinga, Gatorland, May 2016
We have an enormous variety of avian wildlife here (iBird says 366 species in the state of Florida, Wikipedia says 524!).
Spoonbill, Black Point Wildlife Drive, January 2018
At some locations the larger birds are tolerant of people – especially if you stay in your car and / or take care not to stress them. And nesting season provides opportunities that aren’t common elsewhere.
Hungry Herons, Viera Wetlands, March 2018
I’ve added info to the captions on when and where I made these images so you can get an idea of what you’ll see. The best time of year is probably January through May, but you can find opportunities year round – if you’re lucky and do your research.
Belted Kingfisher, Viera Wetlands, March 2018
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Kevin K. and I went over to Black Point Wildlife Drive last Tuesday. The water levels were low and although we saw quite a few birds, many of them were far from the road and hard to photograph. Here are some images from the trip that I like.
Hunter’s Dance – A Reddish Egret stalks fish in the marsh
These Egrets have a distinctive dance they use to scare up fish. It seems to work for them!
Morning minnow meal
Green Herons use a different technique. This one was wading carefully through the mangrove roots on the side of a canal looking for a snack.
Stalking in the Mangroves
And finally, here’s a photo of a Great Egret taking off from a tree beside the trail.
Great Egret Launch
This one was a little slow – normally birds are gone by the time I get my camera ready!
Once in a while, conditions are just right. Low water levels force fish into small pools and birds flock to the spot to feed. When you can get close to a scene like this early in the morning, with soft golden light from the rising sun behind you – count your blessings!
Great Egret in flight
This happened to me at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a week ago (2/9/18). I lucked into seeing a bird feeding frenzy along Black Point Wildlife Drive. It’s always a treat to watch and photograph these. I’ve written about them before (see this post from December of 2012). Here are some observations. / hints that may help you in a similar situation:
The birds all compete for food. Watch for interactions and squabbles – they can lead to great poses and action shots.
Since the birds are very focused on the fish they’re more tolerant of close photographers. Be quiet and move slowly so you don’t stress them.
They’ll be constantly coming and going and moving in the pond. Watch for good compositions as they shift around.
When they fly in, you can often track them as they get closer and land in the pools for some great images. After a while you’ll be able to anticipate their paths.
As the birds land, they’ll be low and close to you – great for eye level BIF photos (BIF = Birds in Flight)!
You’ll need to balance zoom level, composition, background, exposure, focus, etc. And conditions change rapidly. Set up your camera in advance and be nimble. I have a BIF preset programmed so I can quickly shift to it when needed. It shoots at 10 frames / second with continuous focus, large focus area, and higher ISO settings to keep my shutter speed high. You’ll need 1/1000 sec. exposures (or shorter!) to freeze wing motion.
A white bird against a dark background vs. a dark bird against the sky will require exposure compensation adjustments. I have EC mapped to the rear wheel control so I can easily vary it when needed.
Your “keeper” percentage may be lower than you’re used to. But there are so many photo opportunities at a feeding frenzy that you’ll likely come home with images you like. Practice when you can and you’ll get better.
Landing Ibis – I like the composition / background on this one. But my shutter was too slow to freeze the wings and I didn’t get the exposure compensation right either. I’m still practicing!
It’s not all about birds in flight. Interesting groups or poses on the shore or perched on nearby branches are also photogenic.
On the banks of the pond. I like compositions with multiple species in the frame.
That was a wonderful morning. I’m glad I was able to see all the action. Oh, and before the bird activity, I also made a couple of landscape photos:
Dawn at the dock on the Indian River. Olympus Hi-Res mode.
Florida clouds along Black Point Wildlife Drive. Monochrome infrared.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!