I had a delightful visit to Gatorland yesterday morning. Tom M. and Jim B. were also there. I started following Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) years ago and we’ve been web friends for a while. I’m happy I finally got to meet him in person!
Anhinga gathering nest material
The nesting season is going full blast now, and this gives everyone a chance to see and photograph wild birds in breeding colors doing nesting season behaviors. Quite an opportunity!
We saw Anhingas, Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Cormorants, Great Egrets, Common Gallinules, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, and Woodstorks all in various stages of breeding. Little ones in the nest are quite common and some of the baby Great Egrets have grown into “teenagers” already and will be fledging shortly.
Nesting Double-crested Cormorant – Can you tell where this bird gets its name?
I’ll be with you in a moment just as soon as my feathers dry… – This Wood Stork was soaking in the morning sun
Keep an eye out for backlit birds – they can also be beautiful.
Great Glowing Egret
Gatorland is an exceptional place to practice your “birds-in-flight” skills. Patient observation lets you figure out movement patterns and get ready. I waited several minutes with my camera in “BIF” mode (high shutter speed, continuous auto focus) until this Tri-Colored took off. I didn’t expect it to grab a little fish on the way, but I was glad it did!
Breakfast to go – A Tri-colored Heron scoops up a minnow on the fly
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. If you haven’t been to Gatorland yet, go. And if you haven’t checked out Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) yet, go do that too. Then – go make some photos!
Surprisingly, it’s been 2 1/2 years since I’ve been to the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida. Surprising because although it is a longer drive for me, it’s such a wonderful place. Every time I go, I realize again that it’s well worth the time.
Anyway, four of us from the Photography Interest Group woke up very early (me at 4:25 am!) and headed over. Sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some mornings are, but the calm winds made for nice reflections.
Calm morning – Looking west before sunrise
When we had enough light, we all shifted to birding mode and explored. The temperature was just right for walking around. We saw many warblers in the trees and bushes – I think most were Yellow-rumped, but I’m not so good with IDs on smaller birds.
U lookin’ at me? Yellow-rumped Warbler
And the canals were full of wading birds looking for breakfast.
In spots the surface of the water was completely covered with duckweed, but incredibly the birds still managed to grab small minnows.
Snowy Egret and minnow
I saw another egret pounce and come up with a stick, but as I watched it dropped the stick and kept and swallowed the minnow that was also in its beak – amazing skills!
On the way out we parked for a few minutes to meet some famous new arrivals.
Great Horned Owl nest and chicks
It wasn’t hard to find this nest – the tree was roped off, and a volunteer was doing a good job protecting the site and keeping all the photographers in order and back away from the birds! It was nice to see these two little ones, and it was nice that all the people were polite and respected the bird’s space.
Florida Polytechnic is the state’s newest public university (classes opened in August of 2014). It’s in Lakeland along the south side of I-4 where it intersects the Florida Parkway (570). If you’ve driven by recently, you’ve almost certainly noticed their Innovation, Science and Technology building.
IST building at dusk, from the east side
For anyone interested in architectural photography, this place is a special treat. It’s beautiful during the golden hours, but there are also many interesting viewpoints, perspectives, angles, and details you can find at other times of day.
Second floor exterior, on the west side
After sunset, the interior and exterior lighting and colors add even more drama to the scenes.
Polytech University 1 (Photo by Tom Matthews, used with permission)
The building and campus layout were designed by Dr. Santiago Calatrava Valls, A Spanish architect, structural engineer, sculptor, and painter. Besides being beautiful, it’s also very innovative – there are automatic louvers on the roof that adjust to changes in sunlight.
Parking is not difficult as there are paid parking lots available near the building. You probably won’t be allowed inside the building unless you make prior arrangements. But for exterior shots, the campus seems very photographer friendly. You can view their photography guidelines at this link(sorry, no longer available). If you do go, you might consider combining this photo-op with another one that’s close by – theAirstream Ranch. (Sorry, the Airstream Ranch is no longer there!)
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; …”
― John Muir
The first part of my visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Tuesday (2/2/16) was about as foggy as I’ve ever seen. So much so that I was happy to follow a large truck along SR 46 on the way over – better than feeling my way through the low visibility on my own.
For some reason, I’d taken a macro lens with me and I was happy to use it on the following image:
Nature’s necklace – Foggy mornings dew along Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is a 5 frame, hand-held focus stack.
One of my on-line friends (Dorothy) asked me on Flickr how I got the reflections in the dew drops. They were really a gift from nature. I could see lots of dew covered webs from the car, and I watched for one where I could frame the drops standing out against a clear background. When I found this particular one, I had to figure out how to best image them. One part of it was making sure the sensor plane was as close to parallel with the lines of drops as possible. I stopped down to f/8 for increased depth of field. Then I focused on the front string and made a high-speed sequence while I rocked slowly forward. This captured about 17 frames with different parts of the scene in focus. Back at my computer, I picked 5 of the frames and made a focus stack to get as much as possible in sharp focus. The last steps were to do some selective contrast / sharpening on just the drops. I like the way it turned out.
As I explored further on Black Point Wildlife Drive, I saw something for the first time – a fogbow:
There’s a new feature in the latest Creative Cloud versions of Lightroom and Camera Raw, and if you stitch together multi-frame panoramas like I tend to, then you should take a close look at it.
It shows up as a new slider called “Boundary Warp” in the “Merge to Panorama” dialog and it’s designed to help fix the empty areas along the edges of some stitched panoramas. You can see an example in the first image below.
An easy way to fix this is to crop out the empty portions of the frame, like this:
But that throws away pixels that you may want to keep. You can also try to fill in the empty areas with content aware fill or the clone stamp, but that often leaves some anomalies that take time to clean up.
Using the new function is easy. It keeps all the pixels in the image and warps the edges to fill in empty areas.
I like the way it works. It’s better than cropping or trying to fill in missing portions with the clone stamp. Try it – I think you’ll like it too.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos and warp some boundaries!
I slept in a bit Friday. Instead of getting up for sunrise, I met Kevin M. at 7am to go to Viera Wetlands. I know, I know – missing dawn is for photo wimps. Well, don’t do as I do – do as I say! Get up for sunrise!
On the way, we stopped by the boat ramp at SR 520 and the St. Johns River for a few minutes. Water Lily photos are a bit cliché, but I like how the tear in the leaf only shows in the reflection.
This is a popular place to launch boats. I caught this one coming back into the ramp and liked the way the wake patterns look.
A boat on the St. Johns River
There were a few herons along the boardwalk and a great many Swallows – which I have trouble photographing. They seem to almost always be in the air and change directions before I can track them. My Tamron 150-600mm lens was also acting up. For some reason, it has an intermittent focusing issue. After I use it a while, the focus seems to slow and then stop. Usually I can turn the camera off and back on and it will work again, but yesterday that didn’t help. I did some research on-line when I got home and many folks are complaining about this. Two of my friends have this lens and theirs sometimes do it too. I cleaned the contacts on the lens and camera – maybe that will fix it. If not, Tamron has a 6 year USA warranty.
When we got to Viera Wetlands, the road was closed (lots of rain lately), so we got to walk the circuit around the nearest ponds. There are very few ducks so far. But there were lots of Wrens, Terns, herons,and egrets. We also had a Black Crowned Night Heron, an Osprey fishing, an American Eagle fly over, a Caracarra, a Harrier, and a Belted Kingfisher – all in the distance. I missed getting a photo of the eagle because I was fooling around with my phone. Again, don’t do as I do – do as I say! Quit messing with your phone!
Forster’s Tern in flight – and example of when my Tamron would focus
Kevin spots things all the time that I don’t notice. He discovered an American Bittern back in the reeds. They have very effective camouflage. It took me several minutes to find it – even with him telling me where it was.
Flower and fly – Another flight shot
The Click ponds have been closed for a while. They’re open now but almost empty of birds. Maybe next time.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Good morning, wonderful readers! I hope you don’t mind a short post today with a few more photos from Death Valley. The place made a big impression on me. I hope to return sometime in the future.
Desert rain water – A different view of the post storm water in Death Valley. Some locations had 5 inches of rain on October 18th. The water here collected in small puddles.
Overbury Building ruins in the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty, Nevada. Black and White Infrared panorama.
Death Valley Sundown – I like the sun rays and reflections from the wet mud below.
Mosaic Canyon Monochrome – Rushing water carved these canyon walls, resulting in a variety of textures to explore.
Monochromatic textures – Zabriskie Point in Death Valley is a wonderful place to photograph. The hills vary in color and with the changing light and clouds, it seems there are always new textures, shadows, and compositions to focus on (pun intended). I wanted to emphasize the textures, so I used Lightroom to convert this one to monochrome. For some reason, this was one of the first photos I made there and one of the last that I finished processing.
We’ve added even more photos from our Death Valley expedition in the albums at these links:
Another Merritt Island Morning – I combined multiple frames to get everything in focus and well exposed. Blended manually in Photoshop.
Why do I like going there so much? Even after so many visits, it’s impossible to see everything it has to offer. I appreciate getting to know a place and watching it change over time. I enjoy seeing the same locations in different light or weather, with different birds around.
Not Birds of a Feather – An interesting group of at least four species
I do know that every time I visit, I see something beautiful – either something new, or something commonplace, but in a new light.
“We do these things not to escape life, but rather so life does not escape us.” From a favorite t-shirt
And yes, sometimes I get back and the photos I made aren’t very good. But I still have a wonderful day. Much better than the owner of this boat had.
Sunken Sailboat – On this one, I also combined multiple frames to ensure everything was sharp and to emphasize the smooth water.
Henri Cartier Bresson said that “You just have to live and life will give you pictures.” And I think my t-shirt is right too. Going after photos will give you life.
When you think of the desert in the western US, you might imagine extreme heat and monochromatic scenes of empty barren land. If so you probably haven’t been to Death Valley. There is some empty barren land:
Badlands sunrise – This was my first visit to Death Valley and what I thought it would look like.
And there are sand dunes and wind-blown textures:
Photographing Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – A distant photographer lines up his shot.
But there are so many more things to experience there.
It’s the largest national park in the contiguous US at over 3.4 million acres. The habitats are varied and the elevation ranges from 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America) to more than 11,000 feet at the top of Telescope Peak.
Panorama of Badwater from Dantes View, looking west toward Telescope Peak
Many of the places we wanted to see weren’t accessible while we were there. The good news is that there were more than enough locations we could still get to, and the water created some rare views of the area.
Death Valley Reflections – Some locations had 5 inches of rain. The following morning, we saw large pools of water west of route 190 and north of Furnace Creek. It was a long walk (~1.5 miles from the road) to get close, and at times I wondered whether it was a mirage. I’m guessing it’s rare to see the mountains and clouds reflected in standing water at this spot.
And are there any waterfalls in the desert? You wouldn’t think so, right? We decided to find out one day and after a long drive, hike, and rock scramble through a gorgeous canyon, we arrived at Darwin Falls, which seems like a miracle in the middle of such arid country.
Darwin Falls – This desert waterfall in Death Valley had about a 40 foot drop. It’s spring fed and flows year round, although the rains may have added some water while we were there.
There’s a lot of history in Death Valley too. The Native American Timbisha tribe have lived in the valley for at least 1000 years. Gold and silver mining started in the 1850s and Borax was discovered in the 1880s. There are also several ghost towns to explore in the park and the surrounding areas.
20 Mule Team Wagon Train – Used in 1885 to haul Borax From Death Valley to Mojave. Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California
There’s also a surprising amount of wildlife. While hiking back from the Mesquite Flat Dunes we spotted some motion ahead that turned out to be my first sighting ever of a fox in the wild.
Kit Fox at Mesquite Dunes – We saw it from a distance. At first I thought it was a coyote, but Eric Vanbergen on Flickr suggested it might be a Kit Fox. Judging by the info on Wikipedia, he’s right. I made the photo handheld (with my tripod still attached!) using a 24-120mm lens that I was using for landscapes. This is a small crop from the frame. It was nice of the Fox to stop, stand in the light, and look at the camera for me – but it should have come closer!
We also saw several of these, curiously along or as they crossed the road. They’re large enough (~3 inches across) to spot as you drive by.
Classic Death Valley (Photo by Kevin McKinney – used with permission) – We saw several Tarantulas while we were there.
Here’s one last photo. We’d been searching for a Road Runner all week but hadn’t seen any. On the last afternoon we finally sighted this one as we drove by the visitor’s center. Of course, none of us had our camera gear – thank goodness for iPhones!
“Beep Beep” – A Roadrunner outside the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek. I think this is the one the rangers have nick-named “Robbie”. It’s very tolerant of humans and went about catching and eating bugs while we watched.
You can view many more photos from our trip at these links:
Link to Tom M’s album on Flickr No longer available
This is really more of trip report than a review or guide. With so little time on site, I’m not qualified to give you much specific advice on photographing Death Valley. But here is some info I found very useful:
Kevin McKinney wanted to go by Shingle Creek for a sunrise photo and I’ve wanted to do that too. We went last Saturday – and found out that park doesn’t open until 8am. A little late for sunrise. 🙁
Fortunately we got there early enough for our backup plan to work and we ended up in Kissimmee along the Lake Tohopekaliga shoreline. They have a park there too – and it was open. 🙂
Lake Toho light at dawn
There’s a little lighthouse at the end of the jetty and the protected water makes for some nice reflections.
We saw a few birds hunting the shoreline close by that turned out to be Snail Kites. I’ve only ever seen these before at Viera Wetlands and didn’t get a very good photo. This one perched nicely for a minute or so before flying off.
And this Osprey flew by with its morning meal. I like sushi too, so I went ahead and make a photo of it.
Another Osprey with a “take-out” breakfast
A pleasant morning after all and I’m glad the backup plan worked.
Reminder – it’s that time of year again: The Lake Jesup flowers are getting ready to bloom. I got an email last week from my on-line friend Jeff Stammer. He’s already been out to Marlbed Flats to check on the flowers. He says that while it isn’t as wet as last year, it is quite grown up with tall plants and there aren’t as many cow or horse paths as there have been in the past. So the hiking may be tougher than usual. I skipped going last year and regretted it. I’m going to try hard to get out there this year. When we drove by Friday evening we could already see some yellow color. I think they’ll start to really peak in a week or two.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!