Our weather here in Central Florida is finally starting to cool off a bit. I could definitely feel a difference when I set out for Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge early last Monday. And the high temperature reached just 81ºF later that day. Our forecast for next weekend predicts highs in the mid 70s – the beginning of a very nice time of year!
Anyway, I came home with a number of photos I really like. This week I’m going to go way over my usual photo quota and share many of them. First, a couple of landscapes
Beneath the bridge at daybreak: This is along side the A. Max Brewer Causeway, looking east into the refuge, about a half hour before sunrise.
Around the shore: Pretty light and calm water along Gator Creek Road, about 15 minutes before sunrise
Next, some visitors. As pleasant as the cooler temperatures are, they also mean it’s time to start looking for some of our winter bird friends and I spotted several on my trip.
Palm Warbler. They can be a little jumpy and hard to photograph. But this one sat still for a moment on an interesting and close perch, in nice light, with a good background. Doesn’t happen very often for me – I’m glad it was briefly cooperative.
Adopt an Area: This Eastern Phoebe has adopted the refuge for a while.
Blue Wing Teal: A few ducks have started to show up too.
Of course we also have many of our normal residents around.
Bottlenose Dolphin: The Dolphins and the Brown Pelicans were chasing plentiful fish in Haulover Canal
The header image is a of a Brown Pelican that just caught a fish in the canal. It’s not that good of a photo, but I kept it because it shows an interesting moment in nature’s circle of life.
Posing Anhiga: Anhigas are very common here but still well worth photographing when they pose against such a nice background in morning light.
Dragonfly: These can be skittish too, but if you see one in pretty light, be patient and still. Often they’ll return to the same perch and you can squeeze your shutter button.
I saw other birds on this trip, including Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Ospreys, Belted Kingfishers (sorry couldn’t get a photo), Pied-billed Grebes, Mourning and Common Ground Doves, and others I’m forgetting. I also used the Merlin bird app a couple of times to listen to bird calls. It ID’d a Black Scoter. Those have been spotted before at MINWR, but I wasn’t able to find it to confirm.
Changing the subject#2 : Halloween is next weekend so here’s one more photo from last Monday that fits with the holiday:
Web and Mangrove
Okay – I think that’s a long enough post for today! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, get out and see some nature. And make some photos!
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’re finally getting cooler weather here in Central Florida. In addition to making it even more pleasant outside, the fall and winter months bring some changes to our area photo opportunities.
Orlando Wetlands Park is one of my favorite places. But if you haven’t been there this year, you’ve missed your chance. It closes on November 15 and doesn’t re-open until January 31st.
Downy Woodpecker at Orlando Wetlands – not a great photo, but it’s my first one of this bird. ISO 800, 1/800 sec, f/8, 600 mm
And Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) is also a favorite. When I went over last week, Black Point Wildlife Drive was closed. The web page says “until mid November”, so it should hopefully be back open soon. Fortunately there are many places to photograph in MINWR – even with BPWD closed, it’s still worth a visit.
Black and White Osprey on Gator Creek Road in MINWR. ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, f/8, 500 mm
Brown Pelican in Flight along Haulover Canal in MINWR. ISO 800, 1/2500 sec, f/8, 600 mm
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:
Happy Holidays! Once again the season has snuck up on us. I hope that all of you, your families, and your friends have a joyful and happy season!
Photographer Jim Goldstein has an annual tradition of organizing a “best photos of the year” listing. I’m very glad he started this, since it’s a good reminder for each of us to take time to review results and contemplate how to improve our photography. And also to put together an annual “Favorite photos of the year” post.
2012 was another good year for me photographically. The 2012 folder on my hard drive takes up about 284 GB of space – almost double 2011. There are 80 folders, and each one represents a separate “photo-op”, with a total of over 6200 photos, so it does look like I’m trying! I had a lot of opportunity to make good images this year, and I’m pleased with the results I achieved. But it doesn’t seem like my ability and skills have grown as much this year as in the past. Perhaps I’ve plateaued. Maybe I don’t know what I don’t know about getting better. Maybe I’m just getting more picky and critical. Regardless, I think I need to make a stronger effort in 2013.
I’m still using the following system to rate my photos. The numbers in parentheses are the counts for 2012.
1 star – The photo is interesting (174)
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others (396)
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) any given photo shoot (68)
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year (1)
5 stars – My favorite photo ever (still none, I’m not finished making photos yet!)
The rest of the photos don’t have stars and are seconds or not so good versions. I usually keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. This system seems to work for me and I’ve reviewed my 2012 photos and selected my favorites. This is a hard process for any photographer. It’s difficult to separate my opinion about a photograph from any emotional connections that I might have with the scene or situation. But making this effort is important and part of the learning process. Still, at the end of the day, I don’t claim to be objective about my photography. These photos are the ones that I like best, so feel free to disagree – but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
You can click on each of these to go to Flickr and see a larger version. Or you can click on this link to go to the complete set on Flickr.
I have 1 miscellaneous subject, 1 mammal, 1 bird, 3 people photos, 7 landscapes, 3 sunrises, 0 sunsets, 6 color, 4 Black and White, and 4 Infra-Red photos. Definitely a trend away from wildlife and toward landscapes and infra-red. Here we go…
My number 1 favorite photo of 2012:
Many cypress trees, Blue Cypress Lake, near Vero Beach, Florida, June.
I have a thing for Cypress trees anyway and when I made my first and only visit to Blue Cypress Lake this year, the natural beauty of this place overwhelmed me. I’m planning to return early next year when I can also see many nesting Ospreys and other birds. See this post for more info.
My number 2 favorite photo of 2012:
Pre-dawn Jetty, Jetty Park, Cocoa, Florida, October.
When I saw this scene, I really liked the way the light on the walk drew my eye to the bottom left and then the rail and the jetty lead to the sun rays coming up from below the horizon. So I straddled the rail with my tripod and made this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 3 favorite photo of 2012:
Keb’ Mo’ in concert, Plaza Theatre, Orlando, Florida, February.
I like The Plaza and they often bring in acts that I like too. We were lucky to get seats up front and when the spotlights lit up the smoke, I made this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 4 favorite photo of 2012:
Water Dragon Sunrise, on board the Carnival Paridise in the Gulf of Mexico, April.
I stalked this sunrise for about 45 minutes before this scene developed. I’m happy I waited for it – sometimes patience pays off! See this post for more info.
My number 5 favorite photo of 2012:
Submarine sunrise: The British Trident ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigilant leaving Port Canaveral, Florida just after dawn, October.
This was a bonus photo when the sub turned south after leaving the inlet and posed for us under the rising sun. See this post for more info.
My number 6 favorite photo of 2012:
Cocoa Sunrise, North of the Hubert Humphrey Causeway in Cocoa, Florida, August.
This is an infra-red, fish-eye photo (an “IRFE”). It’s a really good combination to shake up your photography and inspire some creativity.
My number 7 favorite photo of 2012:
Play time at Union Station, Cincinnati, Ohio, December 2011
This photo missed the deadline for last year’s favorites – so I included it here. I usually wait for people to clear out when I’m trying to make a photo. This time I went ahead and made it while these two girls played around the fountain. Since this is a stitched panorama, they show up multiple times, which I think adds to the image. See this post for more info.
My number 8 favorite photo of 2012:
Cruising White Pelican, Black Point Wildlife Drive, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Florida, December.
White Pelicans are winter migrants to our area, so we don’t get to see them very often. This one cruised right in and posed in the middle of my viewfinder. I couldn’t have arranged it better! See this post for more info.
My number 9 favorite photo of 2012:
On the beach, Venice Beach, Florida, September.
We were wandering around exploring the area near the Venice Pier. Since it was close to mid-day, I didn’t expect the light to be good, but I took my IR camera in case something came up. I think the IR characteristics add a lot of interest to the photo. And it makes a great example of how “playing around” can lead to good things. See this post for more info.
My number 10 favorite photo of 2012:
Late night?, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida, May.
This photo was difficult to make since the lighting was challenging and I had to photograph the Gorilla through glass. But it’s a great pose and expression and I was able to clean the image up considerably in post processing. He looks like I’ve felt a few times. See this post for more info.
And here is one last photo that I care a lot about:
The “Senator” – a 3500 year old Bald Cypress tree, Big Tree Park, Longwood, Florida.
I made this image in September of 2011, so it doesn’t officially qualify for a 2012 favorite. The reason I put it in this post is because in January of 2012, the tree caught fire, burned and collapsed. The fire was at first thought to have been caused by lightning, but later was determined to have been started by a woman inside the hollow tree so she could see the illegal drugs she was using. Now no one else will ever make a photo of this, so it became a lot more important to me in 2012. What a crazy, sad event. For more info see this post and this post.
If you’d like to see my favorite photos from earlier years, you can click on these links: 2009, 2010, and 2011.
This is a truly great time of year to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve gone over for the last two weekends. As I mentioned in my previous post, I took Lynn, Mary, and Monette there last Sunday – we had a great time and spotted lots of birds. I told Kevin M. about it and he insisted we go back yesterday with Kevin K.
Why is it so good over there now? I’m glad you asked! The number and types of birds in and around Black Point Wildlife Drive are probably the greatest I’ve ever seen. There are both regular species and winter visitors. Ducks are there in huge numbers, both in the water and flying overhead in vast formations close enough that the sound of their beating wings is quite loud. The larger wading and shorebirds are also there in force. On both days, there were feeding frenzies going on in ponds along BPWD. The water is full of minnows and the birds are feasting on them.
Black Point Wildlife Drive Feeding Frenzy Video
By the way, this situation is an ideal set up to practice your BIF (birds in flight) photography. Here’s a photo I made at this same pond, showing an egret with one of the minnows.
Snowy Egret with minnow
And here’s a close-up of the minnows in the water. No wonder the birds are going crazy!
The reason for the festive gathering (photo by Kevin McKinney)
On these two days, we saw close to 40 different types of wildlife. And I’m sure there were others I either didn’t see, didn’t recognize or forgot. Here’s a partial list:
Alligator, Cows, Deer, Manatee
Ducks: American Wigeon, Blue Wing Teals, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler
Egrets: Cattle, Great, Reddish, and Snowy
Herons: Great Blue, Green, Little blue, and Tri-color
Ibis: Glossy, and White
Pie billed grebe
Red Bellied woodpecker
Ring billed Gull
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Cruising White Pelican – a winter migrant to our area
So two wonderful visits, although we did have some disappointments. We looked for Florida Scrub Jays and didn’t see them in the normal spot. And the sunrise photos on both days were a challenge. Here’s what it looked like yesterday:
Happy New Year! Back to basics with my first post of 2012: A photo-op review.
When I was in the Navy, I was stationed at the Naval Ordinance Test Unit at Cape Canaveral for a while – so I’m familiar with the port and Jetty Park. But I’d never really investigated it as a photo-op. I had some time last week, and decided to visit.
Jetty Park is located on the south side of Port Canaveral in Brevard County. Depending on where you leave from, it’s a little over an hour from Orlando, basically a straight line along the Beachline Expressway (528 toll road). In addition to the jetty and 1200 foot fishing pier, there’s also a 120+ site campground and beach (with lifeguard) at the park.
Info for Photographers
The rocks, pier and seaside vegetation can provide some interesting foreground for sunrise landscapes.
The sun rises every morning…But no one know what it will look like. This was the view before dawn from the beach at Jetty Park.
You can also see a variety of shore birds. I saw Brown Pelicans, Northern Gannets, Ruddy Turnstones, Royal Terns, various Seagulls and others that I haven’t identified yet.
A place like this is also great for practicing your BIF (birds in flight) techniques. Pelicans make especially good subjects, since they tend to glide in a predictable straight line, but other birds are also flying in and around (see the last photo, below).
No restrictions, so bring yours and use it.
This will depend on your subject. I used my tripod mounted Nikon 16 – 35mm f/4 VR Wide angle for landscapes and sunrise. When the light got a little better, I switched to hand holding my Sigma 150 – 500mm f/6.3 for birds. You can get up close to some of the birds, so a shorter telephoto might come in handy too. For example, this Brown Pelican wouldn’t fit in the field of view at 500mm. Since the bird was so still, I made a multi-shot panorama. I like to use this technique when I can since the result can be a higher resolution image (this one is 18.5 Megapixels, un-cropped).
Best time to visit:
Day visitor hours are 7am to dusk. Take this into account if you’re planning to make some sunrise photos. I didn’t and the morning I went, sunrise was at 7:15. I arrived about 6:45 and the gate was still closed, so I drove around a bit to see if there was somewhere else to make a sunrise photo (I didn’t find one). When I returned at about 6:55 they were unlocking it. I had less time than I wanted to find a good spot and setup, but I did manage to get some photos I like.
Winter is probably a good time of year to go. It’ll be less crowded (with people) and more crowded (with birds). Many of the birds could be winter visitors too.
Northern Gannet in flight: This Pelagic species is a winter migrant to the waters off of the Florida coast.
There’s a $10 per day usage / parking fee.
The morning I was there I saw a young man land a large fish from the end of the pier. This might be a good place to combine your interest in fishing, camping and the beach with a photo side excursion.
There’s a lot of shipping activity at the port. Cruise ships and fishing boats enter and leave regularly. I think you can still occasionally see a submarine that’s visiting too.
Jetty park is close to both Viera Wetlands and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. If you have time for a little longer trip, you could combine a visit here with a second stop at one of those places. The morning I went, I also stopped by Viera to see what was going on there.
I added a few birds to my life list and a few photos I really like to my archives. You can too. Check out the other photos I made there in this set on Flickr. Let me know how your visit to the park goes.
You may remember my post from May about Disney’s Animal Kingdom . Disney also has the Animal Kingdom Lodge co-located with the park. It is an African style lodge / hotel with over 700 rooms and several restaurants. Lynn and I enjoyed our visit to Animal Kingdom so much that when we heard about the Lodge, we decided to go to the Boma Restaurant there for brunch on our anniversary in mid June.
Rooms at the Lodge overlook an area modeled after an African savanna, where 30 animal species roam about. There are also several viewing areas where guests can walk a short distance out into the savannas to observe what’s going on. When we were there, we saw Giraffes:
And African Spoonbills:
For this "expedition, I traveled light, took only my Canon G9, and shot hand held. A little more reach would have been welcome. I think you could bring and use a tripod – I didn’t see any signs prohibiting their use. We were there in the heat of the morning – about 11 am. Most of the animals had more sense than us and were out of sight somewhere cool. If you go, take the weather into account, it will certainly affect the animal behavior, as well as your comfort.
The breakfast at the Boma Restaurant was delicious and enjoyable. We also had fun wandering around the grounds afterward.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a unique experience. There is no where else in Central Florida that you can stay in the middle of an African savanna. Is it worth the premium over other hotels in the area? Since we didn’t stay in the Lodge, you will have to decide that on your own.