Here are a few photos from a scouting trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday. I wanted to see how it was doing in the wake of Hurricane Irma and my shutter finger was itchy. Some things didn’t fare too well:
Wreck at Markers 1 and 2 – on the northwest side of the Max Brewer Causeway
I drove over on SR 46 from Winter Springs and the road was clear the entire way. Although the water’s very high in some locations (especially near the St. Johns River), it doesn’t reach the road.
I made these next three images standing in the same spot near the Bairs Cove boat ramp on Haulover Canal. It’s amazing how reliable a place this is to see wildlife. I almost always find at least these three species when I go there and I was glad to see them still around after the storm.
They’ve finished the Haulover Canal Bridge repairs so it’s open now. I need to go back there and kayak again. It is going to cool off soon I hope!
There were a few shore birds along the causeway. I couldn’t check out the wildlife in two of my favorite areas (Black Point and Gator Creek) since they’re closed due to hurricane damage. I don’t know when they’ll reopen – you can find out the current status at this webpage: https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147578811
For everyone that ended up on this page after searching for math answers or song intros, I’m sorry about the title. I know it’s bad for Search Engine Optimization, but I couldn’t resist. I only wish I’d found a group of four somethings to photograph too.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
We’ve had a few days of cooler weather here in Central Florida – good news if you’d like to see Manatees in the wild! When temperatures drop, they tend to gather in and around springs where the water is warmer than the rest of the environment.
We were over at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City last week for a wonderful family picnic. One of the highlights of the trip was spotting these large gentle mammals from the boardwalk along the spring run.
Many extra activities are planned for this weekend’s annual Manatee Festival. But if you can’t make it now, try later in the winter. The Manatees are often there through March.
Depending on where they are, you can make photos with just about any camera. Up by the swimming area they get very close. Down nearer the river, you’ll want to have a longer lens to fill the frame from the boardwalk. Bring your polarizing filter to help cut glare / reflections on the water surface.
There’s been a lot of news here recently about all the Manatees at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida – so I decided to go over and look for myself.
Around 20 Manatees in this one photo – There were more than 200 there on the day I went and the count’s been over 330 on some recent days.
Louis Thursby bought Blue Spring in 1856 and ran a steamboat landing. The steamboats shipped people and goods up and down the St. Johns River and stopped at the landing until the 1880s. The area became pretty run down until the state purchased the land in the 1960s and established the park.
There’s lots to do: Plenty of picnic areas; Hiking and nature trails; Cabins and a campground for overnight stays; Canoes and kayaks to rent; And you can even take a River Boat tour right from the park.We’ve been several times in the past but I hadn’t visited in years. It brought back very fond memories of tubing down the run from the spring and of our kids shivering in the 72 degree water, but enjoying it so much they refused to get out. When I used to scuba dive (a very long time ago), I dove to the bottom of the spring. In retrospect, that was at least a little reckless – people have died in there.
Info for Photographers
You can’t go in the water when the Manatees are there. But a lengthy boardwalk running from the St. Johns up to the spring provides many vantage points for photos. The Manatees are all along the run, but many congregate in the swimming area where you can get very close.
You must bring your Polarizer to cut the reflections so you can better see the manatees under the surface. Remember this will block a couple stops of light. And since the water is in shade in many places you may be a little starved for light. A camera / lens with vibration reduction / optical stabilization and good output at higher ISOs (~640) will come in handy.
Take a breath – A manatee surfaces at Blue Springs State Park
Tripod/Monopod: They’re allowed, but crowds could make tripods a problem. I left mine at home.
I used a 24 – 120 f/4 lens and was happy with it. I really didn’t want to switch lenses (and polarizers) so the focal length range on this came in handy. At times I wished for a little more reach but I could usually find another Manatee closer to me. I also wished for a wider aperture (f/2.8?), but the stabilization made this lens my best choice.
Best time to visit: Visit during a wintertime cold snap for the best chance of seeing Manatees. They can draw a crowd and the park is closed early to new arrivals if it fills up. Go on a weekday or get there very early on a weekend to make sure you get in. For other activities, you’ll have to work around their schedule – all water activities are prohibited when there’s a Manatee in the water. For swimming, tubing, snorkeling / diving, and kayaking in the spring run go when they aren’t there (March 15th – November 15th).Other: Manatees are the main attraction in the winter, but there are other animals there too. I’ve seen Alligators, wild pigs, and common Florida birds (e.g. Herons, Egrets, Anhingas, Limpkins, Wood Storks, Red Shouldered Hawks, and Vultures). Other folks have reported some not so common Florida Birds like Florida Scrub Jays and Barred Owls, – so keep your eyes open! And there’s a three-story home built built by the original owners that’s worth a visit.
The Louis P. Thursby House was built in 1872 at Blue Springs State Park
If you search the web for “Haulover Canal” you’ll get many hits on fishing and kayaking there. I haven’t tried the fishing, so I can’t really comment on that, but I see people (and dolphins!) fishing there all the time so it’s probably pretty good. I have kayaked there many times and it’s a wonderful place to paddle and to photograph too.
Haulover Canal is in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and it’s part of the Intracoastal Waterway. It connects Mosquito Lagoon with the Indian River. You can launch your Kayak at the Bairs Cove boat ramp on the south side of the canal, but we use a better spot on the north-west end of the canal. Heading north along the Courtenay Parkway, take the first left after the bridge and follow the dirt road to the end where there’s a sandy bottom put in. There’s a fee to launch from Bairs Cove, but not from the north side.
From the put in, you can paddle west and circle around Mullet Head Island where there are usually quite a few birds. We’ve seen Redish Egrets, Great Egrets, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons, Pelicans, Cormorants, etc. there. It is a protected nesting area, though – so you’re not allowed to get too close.
Handsome Pelican: From my kayak, near Mullet Head Island (Olympus EM5)
We usually paddle east along the canal and stop back in Bairs Cove, where we’ve seen manatees every time we’ve been. They’re very docile and sometimes friendly. You’re not allowed to harass / approach them, but if you sit quietly in your kayak, sometimes they’ll harass you!
Manatee checks out Mary’s kayak (Olympus EM5)
You can paddle further east and go under the bridge to a manatee observation deck along the north shore. However, I’ve never once seen manatees there. Do you think the manatees enjoy the joke?
We frequently see Bottlenose Dolphins too and they’re often feeding. This one was near the launch point and made a fuss chasing fish before swimming off.
Mike & Sara watch a dolphin from their kayak (Olympus TG-2)
There are even a few landscape opportunities, although I haven’t made it over for sunrise or sunset yet. This group of struggling trees caught my eye.
Survivors : On the west side of Haulover Canal. (Olympus TG-2)
You’ll need to watch for boat traffic, but since it’s a no wake zone, it’s fairly safe for kayaks. If you haven’t kayaked before and want to have a little support when you make this trip, A Day Away Kayak Tours is close by and very helpful. They’ll take you on a guided tour or rent you a kayak so you can go on your own, too.
All the photos in this post were made on kayak trips using a variety of cameras. I now have enough experience with our boats that I’m confident in the water and not afraid of tipping, but splashes from paddles and waves are still a worry where camera gear is concerned. A dose of saltwater is not too healthy for most normal cameras. So I’ve been using an Olympus TG-2 and a GoPro Hero3 (both waterproof) on these trips.
Photographing birds near Mullet Head Island (GoPro and EM5)
It’s great not having to worry about water damage, but I do miss some of the higher end photo capabilities (e.g. RAW format, interchangeable and long lenses, etc.). So I’ve taken the higher end gear out once or twice. In the photo above I really photo-geeked and used the GoPro to make a photo of myself making a photo with the Olympus EM5.
Here’s some additional info on Kayaking at Haulover Canal from a couple other sites: