I had a wonderful trip up to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive a week ago. It was a Saturday with a lot of people around, but it was gorgeous and there were more than enough things to see for everyone.
Most folks took Welland Rd. away from the pump house, so I chose to leave there on the Lake Apopka Loop Trail. I’m glad I did – I didn’t see anyone else on that part of the drive. LAWD’s a special place and even more so when you’re out there by yourself.
Along the north shore
I think this spot near the shore looks good in black and white. I like the trees, clouds, reflections, and Cormorants roosting in the branches. Here’s a closer look at one of the birds:
Bald Eagles are always awesome. This one seemed to enjoy the view as much as I did.
A little further along, a hawk flew by screaming at me for daring to point my camera in its direction.
When I first got there, a large alligator was floating close to the main road and seemed to be staring right at me. Watching it made me feel less like a photographer and more like a gator snack. I’ve never actually seen them show any aggression toward humans, and I was a good distance from it. But I was glad to be in the car.
Great Blue Herons are supreme predators too. I’ve spotted several recently with huge fish. This one was in nice morning light.
I meant to get out and make some new photos last week, but that didn’t happen. For today’s post I’ll just show you three recent images that I like and that haven’t been in the blog. I hope you like them too.
These first two were made on the same trip as the ones in this post and this post. Looking back on it now, it seems I came home with more than my fair share of photos on that Merritt Island excursion.
Veterans Memorial Park in Titusville was one of my favorite places for sunrise, but it’s still fenced off waiting for some hurricane damage to be repaired. That morning I moved south a bit (along the shore between the bank and the condo) – to a spot that Jim Boland pointed out to me once. This is a 12 frame exposure bracket panorama that assembled nicely into an 83 megapixel image.
The Titusville marina is another favorite spot. This image is a 3 frame exposure bracket panorama. Sometimes it’s hard to get colors correct there. Lights on the docks can make the water look very orange / brown if you expose and color balance for the dawn sky. In the past, I’ve given up on getting colors I liked and just processed a photo from here in black and white. This time I walked along the dock and found a spot where the lights weren’t as strong.
And last, we’ve seen this Red-shouldered Hawk around our neighborhood recently. I think it’s the same young one that was in this blog post back in March. Lynn and I were eating dinner and I was gazing out the window when I was startled by this bird. It flew right up to our patio, grabbed a lizard off the screen, and kept going. I stopped eating and rushed to get my camera. By the time I got out to the back yard, it was sitting calmly in a tree watching me. The lizard was gone – and the hawk probably didn’t drop it. Red-shoulders are a common sight around Central Florida, but not usually in such great light. I would’ve liked to have gotten a photo with the poor lizard too.
Circle of Life
As usual, you can click on these photos for a better view of them on Flickr.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Hang in there, cherish your friends and loved ones, and take care of each other. And if you can – make some (new) photos!
Big Cypress National Preserve is a 729,000 acre swamp in South Florida adjacent to Everglades National Park. It was originally going to be part of that, but instead was established as a national preserve in 1974.
I’ve wanted to visit for years and finally went down a couple of weeks ago. I stayed at the bungalow Clyde Butcher rents behind his Big Cypress Gallery along Tamiami Trail. This is a “first impressions” blog post, not a guide. I don’t know the area well enough to give you a comprehensive review.
Butcher’s Pond. Next to Clyde Butcher’s gallery on Tamiami Trail
The bungalow was very nice and provided a good base for exploration. I do wish there was cell service or that they provided an internet connection – although I guess you could argue that being cut off is part of the swamp experience!
Big Cypress is huge and there are a lot of places to check out. And even more places if you include Everglades National Park. For me, the southern portion of the Everglades was just too far away from where I stayed so I concentrated on nearby spots including Kirby Storter Park, Fakahatchee Strand, Loop Road, Shark Valley, and a few others. There was a lot I didn’t get to – I need to go back!
Pre-dawn stars and clouds, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
Kirby Storter was only a few minutes away and I hoped to take advantage of dark skies and catch site of the Milky Way from there. I did manage to glimpse it but clouds rolled in towards dawn and I had to make do with a starry pre-dawn photo instead. I can tell you that I felt very alone out there in the middle of the swamp at 5am. It was dark (no moon) and hard to see very far – kinda spooky. But I also felt pretty safe because every time I moved a bit, the crickets went silent. I figured they’d warn me if anything large got close!
Cypress swamp, Kirby Storter Roadside Park
There’s a lovely, short hike along a boardwalk that leads back into the swamp next to some flowing water and ends at a large gator hole.
Red-shouldered Hawk Pair. Fakahatchee Strand State Park
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park was close too. It’s the largest state park in Florida and Janes Memorial Scenic Drive is an eleven mile dirt road leading from the visitor center back into the swamp. There’s only about six miles open right now due to damage from Hurricane Irma. You can drive this yourself like I did, or take a guided tram ride.
I was busy trying to make landscape photos when a lady hawk (the one on the left) started calling in the tree next to me. I thought she was yelling at me for being too close, but it turned out she was calling for her mate. He flew in and they had a “conjugal visit” while I rushed back to the car to get my longer lens. I missed the action, but did get a nice family photo of the pair afterward.
Fakahatchee Strand 4, color
There are a great many views of this lovely swamp along the scenic drive. It took me a long time to go out six miles and back because I stopped so often to photograph.
Loop Road Cypress and Sawgrass
Loop Road is another scenic area. Both ends connect to Tamiami Trail and I explored those, but didn’t travel the whole twenty six mile route. Next time!
On my visit, I mainly focused on landscape images although I did see and photograph some wildlife – mainly in Shark Valley. There were alligators, turtles, and a lot of birds – most were the same ones we see up here in Central Florida although I did sight a yellow crowned night Heron which isn’t very common in my usual spots. There were also a lot of small birds / warblers that I should have spent some time photographing / identifying.
This was a good time of year to visit. It’s considered the “dry season” and in additon to the comfortable temperatures, I got zero bug bites even though I didn’t use any bug spray the whole time.
You could spend a lifetime exploring there. I stayed for three nights and was very tired when I got home but only touched the surface. Things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Corkscrew Swamp, a swamp buggy tour, a swamp walk, an airboat ride, the Indian reservations and many others. Things to look forward to!
Cypress and air plants, IR B&W
Location scouting is a huge part of good landscape photography. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of scouting in advance. You know that an area is special when you can come back from your first visit with photos you really like. Big Cypress is extra special – a Central Florida Photo Ops Must Do!
We should all be grateful that we’ve preserved places like Big Cypress and the Everglades and that we’re working to restore them to their natural state.
Lynn and I were away, visiting our first grandchild – what a wonderful experience that is!!!
Anyway, this blog is about nature photography and I haven’t been able to do much of that recently. So when we got home, I was eager to go back out and ended up at Orlando Wetlands Park last Thursday. I made several photos I like. This one is my favorite from the trip:
At first, the bird was sitting on top of a dead tree facing into the sun – very harsh light:
I have many better images of these hawks on my computer. I’m not even sure what made me raise my camera. Maybe my subconscious was getting ahead of me.
Luckily I did and when the hawk decided to turn around I was ready. I made a continuous series as it used its wings to balance and I really like the one at the top. The wings are nicely spread and one foot is raised as if it’s dancing.
I’m glad I was shooting in RAW mode – it allowed me to compensate for the harsh light in post processing. For reference, here is an unprocessed jpg version:
Processing included using DxO Photo Lab for basic exposure tuning and noise reduction and then tweaking tones, colors, and cropping in Lightroom.
A little luck, a few seconds, and some post-processing can make a huge difference, don’t you think? It helps to practice and know what’s possible in a situation like this. Try it – you might be surprised at the end result. And maybe your subconscious will start helping you too!
This is a very good time of year to visit Orlando Wetlands. I saw lots of Spoonbills, a couple of hawks, herons, egrets, ducks, Osprey, Belted Kingfishers, Ibis, a deer, etc. And it’s cool and pleasant – great for a lovely walk. You can look at more images from there in this album on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157639616792296
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Country Road – Near the Lust Road entrance to the drive
There’s been lots of activity there this summer. Robert and others described feeding frenzies in the ponds by the pump house. Alligators and birds have gorged on fish, creating some great photo opportunities.
And people have seen many interesting birds too including Swallowtail and Mississippi kites, Brown Thrashers, Fulvous Whistling Ducks, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, Purple Martins, and others.
Red Shouldered Hawk with Field Mouse (in right claw). It had just caught the mouse on the road and carried it to this tree.
On our trip, we also saw several kinds of dragon flies:
Halloween Pennant Dragonfly
And many water lilies blooming, some of them in very pretty light:
MINWR can be quiet through the hot part of the year and the times I checked on it this summer, I saw few birds / wildlife. Conditions were poor with little rainfall for long periods followed by some huge fires along Black Point Wildlife Drive.
On the other hand, Lake Apopka’s been a wonderful place to visit this summer. It’s a shame I didn’t go over there more often. Not too long ago, the lake was polluted with farm runoff. Restoration efforts and the opening of the wildlife drive about two years ago have made it a premier nature and wildlife destination in Central Florida.
It’s about the same distance from me as MINWR. I’m going to make a point of visiting more often. If you haven’t been recently – go.
So far, I’m very pleased with the Nikon D7000. I’ve posted a few sample photos on Flickr in this set (sorry, no longer available). They were all uploaded at full resolution and all but this one of a very cooperative Red-Shouldered Hawk are un-cropped.
Red-shouldered Hawk, D7000 at ISO 220
I haven’t had a chance to do any direct comparisons, but the D7000 results seem very good all the way up to ISOs above 1000. With the D90 I’ve been reluctant to use anything above ISO 800.
The photos I’ve posted so far were all made in JPG. I took them in RAW+JPG mode, but so far Adobe Camera Raw and Nikon CaptureNX2 can not process the RAW files. To do a real comparison of the performance at different ISOs, I’d like to use the RAW files without any adjustments. A project for another day.