Kevin M. saw online posts reporting recent sightings of Razorbills and Common Eiders at Sebastian Inlet. So we decided to twitch down there to see if we could see them. Along the way, we stopped by the Cocoa Beach Pier for Sunrise. Photographers are always looking for interesting foreground for our landscape photos. This time, an obliging gull sat still for me very close to my tripod and added some interest.
The sun, the sea, the gull, and me – The Cocoa Beach Pier at sunrise – My closeness didn’t concern the Ring Billed Gull in the foreground.
After the sun rose, we headed on down A1A and got to Sebastian Inlet around 8:30. It was my first visit to this state park and all the activity impressed me . In addition to the birders and photographers, there were many campers, fishermen, boaters, and people just out enjoying a very nice day. We searched up and down the park for a couple of hours, and talked to the rangers and several other birders but had no luck finding a Razorbill. Just as we were getting ready to leave, word spread that the Common Eider had been sighted, so we all hurried over to the place marked by a pod of photographers and spotted this bird:
Common Eider – iBird says these don’t get much south of New England, so they are rare in Florida. My second life bird of 2013.
I did make a few more photos that morning. Here’s an IR of the beach, sand and glare:
And here’s a Magnificent Frigatebird. These tend to soar far overhead and off shore. This one was a bit closer and lower and this is my best photo of one so far. There were 9 or more in the area that morning.
A Magnificent Frigatebird glides overhead – I don’t often see these on the east coast of Florida. There were several at Sebastian Inlet this weekend.
We didn’t find the Razorbill, but we saw plenty. I’m always amazed by what you can see out in nature if you go look. Give it a try! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Season’sGreetings! The holidays are here once again and many of you are traveling to visit family and friends. Please have a safe journey and enjoy the time with your loved ones.
Well, I think I now have another favorite photo-op! I’d heard many things about Fort De Soto and a couple of my friends had great experiences there, but it’s a ~2.5 hour drive from Winter Springs – so I’d never gone until last week.
Lynn, Mike, Sara, and Mary got me a wonderful birthday present this year – a 1 on 1 photo workshop with Jason Hahn of Outdoor Photo Workshops. I’d been waiting to use it until the weather cooled off a bit and I finally scheduled it for last week. Jason lives in the Tampa area and he’s an expert on Fort De Soto, so it seemed like a great opportunity for me to visit with a local guide and learn more about the place.
Since we were meeting at 6:45am for sunrise, I went over the night before to make sure I knew the way and to try to get a sunset shot. Before I left, I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris app on my phone to do a little virtual scouting and noticed that the setting sun would be in nearly perfect alignment with a section of beach near the Bay pier at De Soto. If you don’t have this app or another like it, get it. It’s extremely useful when planning photo-ops. This setting looked like it would be different from the sunrise and sunset geometry I usually get, so that’s where I ended up on Thursday evening. I was blessed with some very nice clouds and light, and the geometry led to this composition. What do you think?
The end of the day at Fort Desoto – Looking southwest toward Egmont Key from the base of the bay pier. The ferry that travels back and forth to the Key is on the left.
Fort De Soto park is south of St. Petersburg, Florida and is run by Pinellas county. It’s made up of a number of islands (keys) and the location and geography make it very unique, especially from a birding perspective. It lies along the migration routes and is a landing-place for birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico. If the conditions are favorable, a knowledgable birder can see over a hundred different species here in a single spring-time day. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the birding lists and plan to go back next April.
It’s also quite diverse from a landscape photography perspective. The Sunshine Skyway bridge can add to a scene, and the tides cover and uncover shoreline features that can vary the foreground interest in your photos. Storms also come through occasionally and these can cut new channels or shift sand to change the layout of the smaller islands. So it’s possible to see changes on both a daily and seasonal basis. When I arrived there Friday morning, the light wasn’t good for a typical sunrise shot, but I set up anyway and made this photo. I think the reflections from the bridge on the low clouds and water add a lot to the image.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay Florida, before dawn. From the East Beach turnaround at Fort De Soto
Jason showed me around, and was quite knowledgable about the site, the wildlife, and how to photograph all of it. He was also patient and easily dealt with my many questions. It was interesting to hear him talk about the behavior of the animals and how they interact with the terrain and tides and then explain how to use the knowledge to make better photos. It was a greatly enhanced scouting expedition and I only hope I can remember half the things he told me!
The wind was blowing at 10 miles an hour or more, so many of the normal birds were hunkered down out of sight, but we did see Laughing, and Herring Gulls (including one with its breakfast), an American Oystercatcher, a family of Raccoons, Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Ospreys, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons and maybe a few other species.
American Oystercatcher – a very cooperative bird. He strolled right by us, leaving a wake.
There was a pretty interesting scenario with the Herring Gull below. They catch crabs and then fly them up to 40 or 50 feet above rocks or hard sand before they drop them to crack the shells open. This particular gull was going to crack his crab, but another gull came close, so it flew off somewhere else to dine in private.
Herring Gull flies off with crab
On this trip, I met a fellow photographer for the first time, scouted a new place (which definitely made the “must do” list), learned lot in the process, and had a great time. A pretty fine photo-op, in spite of the clouds and wind.
As usual, you can see larger versions of these images on Flickr by clicking on them. And I have a couple more photos from Fort De Soto in this set.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
One thing that’s really wonderful about the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is that it’s such a large and varied area. Even if the main attractions (like Black Point Wildlife Drive) are slow, you can still find plenty to see and photograph in other areas. And the surroundings offer some very scenic Florida landscapes.
I visited once again Saturday morning with fellow Photography Interest Group member Kevin M. We stopped as we normally do at a likely spot on the way for a sunrise photo. This was the scene at Rotary Riverfront Park, just north of highway 50 on US 1. There’s a pier leading to a set of docks that offer many different compositions. It’s a beautiful place and although several people showed up to watch the sun rise, I was the first out on the pier – and felt a little bad when I disturbed a couple that had slept on one of the benches at the end.
Dawn in Titusville, Florida: There were several people enjoying the view from Rotary Riverfront Park, across from the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). I tried my new Hoya ND400 neutral density filter and I like the way it works. If you haven’t used something similar, you should. It’s one way to make your photos stand out.
When we left and headed to Black Point, the clouds you see in the distance turned into rain, which fell off and on in spots for an hour or so. This made for “ISO 2000 light”, which means it was dim for good bird photography. It turns out that didn’t matter too much, since the birds were few and far between. We did see a few of the normal species: Anhingas, Belted Kingfishers, Cormorants, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Redish, Great and Snowy Egrets, Grebes, Moorhens, some unidentified ducks in the distance, and a few shore birds. The water there was very high – maybe the highest I’ve seen it. I wonder if this is related to the bird count or not?
After Black Point, we decided to try a new area and stopped by Hammock Trails. These take off in two directions from the parking area and wander through some hardwood trees as well as typical Florida pines and palms. We were hoping to see a few migrant Warblers, but had no luck. I’m not a very good birder – although I heard a few, I didn’t see a single one along these trails. I did come across this railroad track, which I thought made a good subject:
Leading to separation – Train tracks crossing Hammock Trail in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is a Black & White conversion of a bracketed, Infra Red, Panorama
Our last stop of the day was the Visitor Center. Since our annual pass is expiring, we wanted to renew. We arrived at about 9:30. They don’t open until 10, so we wandered around for a bit.
Carolina Wren – Sighted along the boardwalk at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
There wasn’t any activity at the bird feeder, but we could hear several birds on the boardwalk. We ended up seeing a Carolina Wren, a pair of Cardinals, a Black and White Warbler, and a Red Eyed Vireo, and I’m guessing there were others we didn’t see. The ranger mentioned White Eyed Vireos and we’ve seen them there in the past.
So we watched a nice sunrise, and even though the birds were scarce at a couple of areas, we ended up with some interesting avian sightings, and enjoyed being out. All in all, a very good morning.
Keith H. wanted to try out his 10 stop neutral density filter, so we rode over to Cocoa Beach to make some sunrise photos. It was very clear when we left around 5:30 am, but by the time we parked next to the pier, a few clouds had appeared to make the sunrise more interesting.
A neutral density (ND) filter reduces the amount of light entering your camera. This gives you greater flexibility to adjust aperture and exposure. They’re often used to show motion blur with a slow shutter speed, or reduce the depth of field with a wide aperture. Ideally, ND filters are color neutral – although both Keith and I noticed some color shifts with ours. I was using two stacked 3 stop NDs and this set up worked pretty well to slow the shutter speed and blur the water, especially before sunrise. Keith’s 10 stop was a bit too much before dawn, but would be great after sun rise. Overall, we spent an hour or so working the scene and both came away with photos we like.
A bird flies above a couple making a photograph by a woman walking through the sun.
I stopped by C. S. Lee Park on SR 46 in Geneva yesterday morning with Kevin, Kevin and Lutfi to photograph the sunrise. There weren’t a lot of clouds but it was still pretty – and some obliging fishermen were kind enough to point their wake into the scene for us.
Hurry, the fish are biting! C. S. Lee Park, Geneva, Florida
We were on our way over to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Kevin M. uses the Audubon Birds of North America app, which has links to bird sightings on eBird. With this, you can search for nearby birds, activity at birding hotspots, and even see reports of recent notable and rare bird sightings. Using the app, he discovered that Wilson’s Pharalopes were on Bio-lab road last week, so we decided to try to spot them.
The Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) is a small wading bird and the largest of the phalaropes. Normally it breeds on the North American prairies and in the western US. It is migratory, but according to iBird, isn’t often found in Florida, so this was a rare chance to see it.
Wilson’s Phalarope pair. Bio-lab Road, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
It was fun to see another Wilson bird yesterday: the Wilson’s Plover . These are also waders and breed on both US coasts from the equator northwards. Its common range does include Florida.
Wilson’s Plover. Bio-lab Road, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
I’d seen a Wilson’s Snipe before and now with these sightings I started wondering who this Wilson fellow was. Alexander Wilson was a Scottish-American poet, ornithologist, naturalist, and illustrator. He’s regarded as the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon. Several birds are named after him, including the three I already mentioned and the Wilson’s Storm-petrel, and Wilson’s Warbler. The warbler genus Wilsonia was also named for him. In 1802 Wilson decided to publish a book illustrating all the North American birds. The result was the nine-volume American Ornithology, with 268 species of birds, 26 of which hadn’t been described.
On our trip, we also saw Alligators, Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and many kinds of gulls and shore birds on Bio-lab Road. We drove through Black Point Wildlife Drive too, but there wasn’t as much going on there.
So this trip provided an incentive to clear out some of my birding ignorance and now I know a bit about another great American ornithologist. You can see more MINWR photos here and here, and birds photos here and here. And I have a some more Florida landscape / sunrise photos here.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I realized I hadn’t been to Viera Wetlands since last year, so I went over yesterday morning with Kevin K.
We spent a few minutes with The Photographer’s Ephemeris and found a promising sunrise stop along the way. It’s just north of the first bridge into Cocoa on SR 520. If you don’t have a copy of this software, you should get it. It’s available (for free!) for the Mac, PC, and Linux as well as (paid versions) for Android and iOS. The iPad version is especially helpful. If you have a cell phone signal, you can use it wherever you are to visualize the natural lighting. It shows the sun and moon overlaid on a Google Map for the place and time you enter. Highly recommended.
The sunrise was pretty and there was even a nice bird posing at the end of an old dock for us.
Old pier at sunrise: North of the Hubert Humphrey Causeway in Cocoa, Florida.
When we got to Viera Wetlands, there was more going on than I thought there would be. We saw Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, both White and Glossy Ibis, Moorhens, Coots, Limpkins, and Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, among others. There were even some Roseate Spoonbills there – the first time I’ve ever seen them at Viera Wetlands. A few Moorhen chicks, surprised me too – I didn’t realize they hatched this time of year.
Moorhen and chick near Ibis: “Kid – I told you not to hang out with those Ibis birds. They’re nothing but trouble”.
You can click on the images above to get to larger versions on Flickr. You can also see more of my Viera Wetlands photos here on Flickr. For a slightly different perspective, you can also look at Kevin’s photos in his set on Flickr.
I finally made it over to Cocoa Beach in time for sunrise yesterday morning:
Sunrise by the Cocoa Beach Pier
In this photo, I wanted to use a long shutter speed to blur the water and show wave motion. I set the slowest ISO my camera supports (50), added a 3 stop neutral density filter, and used an aperture of f/22 which gave me a shutter speed of 2 seconds. I would have liked even longer, but this was as slow as I could get it under these conditions. I think the water came out pretty well.
As I made the exposure, I worried about two things: 1) Such a tiny aperture would lead to diffraction and blurring of small details and 2) Such a long shutter speed would add motion blur where I didn’t want any (boats and people). So how could I overcome this?
I was shooting in aperture priority mode and my camera was locked down on a tripod. So I made a second exposure at f/4 and let the camera set a shutter speed of 1/15 second. Normally when you bracket, you’re trying to change the exposure (or sometimes white balance or focus). This time, I was trying to bracket the aperture / shutter speed I was using, but keep the exposure constant. Having a second exposure let me load both images as layers in Photoshop. Then I used a layer mask to show the first exposure for the water in the lower part, and the second exposure for the upper area including the boat and pier. This let me have motion blur where I wanted it and still keep sharpness in areas where I wanted that. I think the technique worked pretty well. What do you think? Have you ever tried this?
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!