We had another very nice photo outing last weekend. We stopped first at Jetty Park in Cocoa for sunrise and to check out the shore birds. It was quite cold (for Florida) – about 32 degrees F with a 15 – 20 mph wind – brisk! We saw Brown Pelicans, Northern Gannets, Ruddy Turnstones, Royal Terns, and several types of gulls.
Dawn at Jetty Park: There wasn’t a lot of color in the sky, but I still like how this turned out
Next we went by the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (East Gator Road, Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, Scrub Ridge Trail, and the visitor’s center). MINWR continues to have large numbers and many types of birds. We saw several unusual ones (a Sora, Clapper Rail, Eastern Meadowlark) and many of the regular visitors (Redwing Blackbirds, Norther Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ring Neck Ducks, Blue Wing Teals, Redish Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Tri-color Herons, Little Blue Herons, Little Egrets, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Coots, Morehens, etc.).
Male Northern Pintail
There were disappointments at a few of the normal spots: The Great Horned Owl wasn’t on its nest, the Painted Buntings weren’t at the Visitor Center, and there weren’t any Florida Scrub Jays on Scrub Ridge Trail. But there weren’t any mosquitoes there either!
Jetty Park and MINWR are fantastic places to visit and very active now. If you haven’t been recently, go! You can see more photos I’ve made at these places here, here, and here.
Again in 2011, I’ve been blessed with a huge amount of photo opportunities. The 2011 folder on my hard drive takes up about 178 GB of space. Wow – good thing storage is so cheap now days! I’m still using the following system to rate my photos. The numbers in parentheses are the counts for 2011 .
1 star – The photo is interesting (262)
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others (400)
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) any given photo shoot (81)
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year (1)
5 stars – My favorite photo ever (none, I’m not done making photos yet!)
Photos without stars are seconds or not so good versions of other photos. I usually keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. I’ve been using this system consistently, and it seems to work for me. I’ve reviewed my 2011 photos and selected what I think are my best. Of course, this is all subjective and my opinion only. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
Here we go. I have 3 mammals, 3 birds, 2 landscapes, and 3 miscellaneous subjects …
November: Bobcat in Tree, Circle B Bar Reserve. I’ve seen Bobcats in the wild before, but I’ve never been able to take a good photo of one. We saw this one resting up on a branch and it posed for a while. In this image, I think it was trying to figure out how to get through the crowd of humans at the base of the tree. More info: http://edrosack.com/2011/11/24/landscapes-and-bobcat-at-the-circle-b-bar-reserve/
July: Baby mountain goat, Mt. Evans summit, Colorado. There were several families of mountain goats on the way up and at the summit. This little one posed for me so I could frame him against the out of focus mountains in the background. It’s amazing to watch them scramble from rock to rock and never slip. More info: http://edrosack.com/2011/07/10/mount-evans-redux/
March: Tomb of the unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery. I’d never been to Arlington before this trip. As a US Navy Veteran and a patriot, I have to admit it made a huge impression on me. More info: http://edrosack.com/2011/03/19/washington-dc/
A few of us visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge yesterday for the first time in a while. We wanted to see what’s going on at Blackpoint Wildlife Drive and Scrub Ridge Trail. Since it’s now officially summer time here in Florida, the temperature and humidity is soaring and it’s hard to get motivated for a long hike to see / photograph nature and wildlife. So it’s nice to go out to a place like Blackpoint where you can drive through instead of having to walk.
The water levels were quite low, which I think is typical this time of year. There weren’t a great many birds, but there were enough to make it interesting. We saw a few of the usual Egrets and Herons, as well as a couple of adult and three or four juvenile Reddish Egrets. There were also some Black Neck Stilts, a Willet or two and a wild and very muddy pig.
We decided to go by Scrub Ridge trail on the way home to check out how the Scrub Jays are doing. They’re fine, although somewhat feisty. Several of us were “dive bombed” and one came so close to Kevin M. that he felt the wind from its wings on his head. While at Scrub Ridge trail we also saw a very young Gopher Tortoise and a rabbit.
I’ve included several photos from the trip below, and you can click on these to see larger versions on Flickr.
Florida Scrub Jay watches us – There was a family of Florida Scrub Jays out yesterday. One or two were real posers. And one of those was a “dive bomber”. It flew at our heads a few times trying to discourage us.
Juvenile Reddish Egret
Rabbit – This little guy froze and looked the other way hoping we wouldn’t see him.
You might remember this post from the end of January where I described a visit to Scrub Ridge Trail in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to try to observe the Florida Scrub-jay. We didn’t see any of them on that trip. Two weeks ago, several members of the Photography Interest Group returned and were able to locate one, but I couldn’t go.
This species is Florida’s only endemic bird and the only one that resides permanently in scrub habitat. Development has reduced the amount of scrub land still available. As a result, the Scrub-jay is listed as a threatened species. Despite conservation efforts, it’s still in decline, with perhaps less than 3000 breeding pairs left in the wild.
Each breeding pair needs 20 to 40 acres to forage and Scrub-jays have developed some interesting adaptive behaviors due to their restricted habitat. A pair mates for life, and they maintain small family groups that help defend territory and raise young. The younger members of the brood can postpone breeding for several years to help feed babies, keep nests clean, and watch for predators. They’re omnivores and forage on the ground and in mid to low-level vegetation for food.
Anyway, I returned to Scrub Ridge Trail last Saturday. Kevin M. told me that the Scrub-jay they saw was to the left of the parking area. This fits in with another fact about them: They prefer relatively clear scrub and will leave an area after it’s grown up too much. The official Scrub Ridge Trail is to the right of the parking area and is quite a bit more over-grown than the area on the left. I wonder if the Scrub-jays used to live to the right when the trail was originally set out and have moved on since. I did see 5 or 6 Scrub-jays in the less overgrown area to the left, both on the ground and higher up. This one was in a tree, keeping watch on me. Maybe one of the non-breeding members of the family?
The elusive Florida Scrub Jay
I also visited Blackpoint Wildlife Drive where there were some very pretty Spoonbills, and on the way back, I stopped on the causeway just before getting on the new bridge. There was a group of Black Skimmers on a small sand bar just off shore and I had fun getting a few photos of them in flight – the first time I’ve photographed this species too.
A pair of Black Skimmers in flight
I really enjoyed the trip.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog – now go make some photos!
Hello again, readers! I apologize for a somewhat lengthy post, but today I wanted to catch you up on photo related happenings over the last couple of weeks – so there are several topics worth mentioning.
Circle B Bar Reserve
A week ago (Saturday, 22 Jan), I returned to the Circle B Bar over in Lakeland Florida with the Photography Interest Group. The first time I wrote about this place, I said: “I’ve only been to the Circle B once, and need to go several more times to get an idea of how consistent the photo ops there are.” Well, the second visit lived up to the first, starting with a quite pretty dawn:
Dawn at the Circle B Bar Reserve
One of the highlights of this trip was seeing a Barred Owl and getting a relatively good photo of it. The owl was high in a tree and ended up attracting quite a crowd before it got tired of us and flew off. The lighting was a bit tough – I’m glad I had my flash and Better Beamer ready.
Barred Owl watches photographers
We also sighted Ospreys, Red Shouldered Hawks, a Red Bellied Woodpecker, Whistling Ducks, and many other birds. Unfortunately, the beautiful yellow sunflowers that were all over the place last time are no longer there. They are seasonal and to see them you’ll have to return around mid to late November next year. All in all, a very nice trip and the Circle B definitely lived up to its reputation once again. You can look at more of my photos from the Circle B in this set on Flickr.
Blackpoint Wildlife Drive
Yesterday, I visited Blackpoint again. I’m not sure why, but this place seems to be really great for photos with reflections. Quite often the water is extremely calm and you can see scenes like these:
Clear day, calm water
Spoonbill and reflection
There was a lot of activity at Blackpoint. We spotted an otter, Hooded Mergansers, Belted Kingfishers, Hawks, and many other species. We also paused for a while to watch a pair of Ospreys fishing. They were too far away for good photos, and never came closer even though we had fish jumping out of the water right in front of us! You can look at more of my photos from Blackpoint in this set on Flickr.
Scrub Ridge Trail
A couple of weeks ago on Flickr, I saw some very nice photos of Florida Scrub Jays, made by “moonfloweryoli“. I commented on them and she mentioned a trail in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where she saw them. This led us to an add a second expedition to yesterday’s Blackpoint visit. We wanted to try to observe this unique species that only lives here in Florida. To make a long story short, we tried hard, but we never saw any. We’ll have to go back and try again. Kevin K. did make this image to document our search:
“Wilbur” and “Donuts” looking for the hard to find Florida Scrub Jay (image courtesy of Kevin Krause); Your humble author is the one on the left.
Alligator Farm and Gatorland blogs
A quick update for those of you looking for info on the St. Augustine Alligator Farm or Gatorland. I reported back in November that Gatorland was canceling its photographer early entry program. The Gatorland Blog hasn’t been updated since then, so it’s a bit hard to find out what’s going on at that park.
Meanwhile, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm announced they would continue their photographer early entry program. They’ve been running a mailing list on Yahoo where you could find information, and last week they announced that they’ll be discontinuing this and starting a blog of their own. It’s now up and running, check it out.
Sigma 150 – 500
Finally, here’s an equipment update. I’ve been doing much of my bird photography since early last year with a Sigma 150 – 500 OS lens. I’ve been very happy with it and one of my few complaints was that the Optical Stabilization was a bit noisy. Lately, it’s developed a “chatter” where it sounds like the OS motor is vibrating back and forth. While it does this, you can see the image vibrating through the viewfinder. I called Sigma and they said to send it back. So I’ll be without it for a while. I’ll let you know how it turns out.