Florida cow country: Joe Overstreet Road goes right through several cattle pastures. I imagine they look the same as they did a hundred years ago.
Snail Kite launch. We usually see one at the landing and it may be the same bird each time.
Killdeer in flight. I normally find these on the ground. This is the first time I’ve managed a flight photo of one.
Bird on a wire 4 – American Kestrel. I rarely catch sight of these and was excited to spot several on this trip.
Sandhill Cranes on final approach. There were more Sandhill Cranes (~50+) in the pastures along Joe Overstreet that morning than I’ve ever seen in one place before. I’m guessing the extras were winter migrants in from Wisconsin. Several of the cranes were banded.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Not a great photo, but this is a life bird (first sighting) for me – so I’ll include it. There were two and they stayed quite far away from us.
Osceola County / Joe Overstreet Road is a wonderful place! In addition to the eagles and these birds, we also spotted Purple Gallinules, Ospreys, Eastern Meadowlarks, Loggerhead Shrikes, Palm Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, Savanah Sparrows, our normal wading birds and others. We looked for Bobwhites and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area), but didn’t find any.
On the way, we stopped by Riverfront Park in Cocoa for a sunrise photo. Unfortunately, the sun didn’t cooperate – we didn’t even see it until about a half hour after sunrise! But I thought the fog, boats, and lights were photogenic. The water was very calm – leading to great reflections and very little motion blur even though this is a 13 second exposure due to the dim light.
Foggy morning harbor, Cocoa, Florida, Infrared
After sunrise, we met up with Kevin’s brother Keith. He’s getting into birding and had never been to Viera, so he wanted to join us. When we arrived, we found the road closed to cars because of all the rain we’ve had. We almost always drive and the slower pace and closer view was enjoyable for a change. Walking helped us see many of the warblers hiding in the bushes. I was able to isolate this pretty “butter butt” against a nice non-distracting background:
There were many warblers (mostly Palm Warblers) and Tree Swallows. And just so you know, I think Tree Swallows are one of the hardest birds to photograph. I hardly ever see them sitting still. And they’re so small and fast that photographing them in flight is a very low percentage shot – at least with my equipment. I’ll get a good photo of one someday.
Of course, we also saw many of the usual wading birds and the gators seemed more numerous than normal. I also got to meet one of my Flickr friends (New NewEnglander) who was visiting from up north.
We also drove through the Click Ponds and saw huge numbers of ducks (mostly Green and Blue Winged Teals) and shorebirds, and then headed down the dirt road toward Moccasin Island tract. I’ve been down there a few times before without seeing much. But this time was very interesting and proves that you need to visit someplace over and over to fully appreciate it. We saw what we think was a Merlin fly by, but weren’t quick enough to photograph it. We also spotted several American Kestrels – the first time I’ve seen them in the wild and a real highlight of the trip.
We saw one of the Kestrels engaged with another similar sized bird, but were too far away to make out what going on. It looked like they were actually grappling with each other. Both birds flew away before we got close. Other birds on the road included Sand Hill Cranes and Eastern Phoebes.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is located at 1101 Audubon Way – just off of highway 17 / 92 in Maitland, Florida. They treat injured or orphaned birds of prey (raptors), and release a great many of their former patients back into the wild. The Center also provides environmental education to local students, teachers, and visitors. Many birds that are too injured to be released are given permanent homes at the center.
The educational displays and permanent residents present an outstanding opportunity for the photo enthusiast. A visit here will take an hour or two depending on how thorough you are. Below is a photograph of one of the permanent eagle residents at the Center, which I made during a visit in 2007:
Lenses : Bring a long zoom lens. My 70 – 300 mm on my 1.5 crop body D90 DSLR, gave me frame filling head shots of the bald eagles in the court-yard just inside the main entrance. On the smaller birds (hawks and owls) in this courtyard, you can still get frame filling body shots. Below is a photo of a hawk:
You should also bring a macro lens or attachment if you have one, since there are some very pretty flowers on the grounds of the center.
Tripod / Monopod : I believe that tripods are allowed, although I didn’t use mine and didn’t ask. There aren’t usually any big crowds here and there’s no narrow passages where a tripod would cause a problem. I did bring my monopod and it came in handy, although you can probably get by with an ISO boost or by strategic use of gates and other structures to prop your camera on.
Other : A flash would be handy for photos on the porch where there are smaller birds (kestrels, falcons, and small owls). I didn’t have mine with me and opted to raise the ISO on my D90 to 1600, which worked pretty well. Below is a kestrel photo, made on the porch.
Note that one of the attendants told me that photography “is permitted here as long as you don’t sell the photos.” If you do plan on a commercial use, please talk to someone at the Center about it.
The Audubon Birds of Prey Center is a wonderful place to spend an hour or two with a camera. You can learn a bit about raptors and your $5 entrance fee supports the center’s work. You can also make some very nice photos of Birds of Prey.