I hadn’t been to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida since early 2007 and Tom M. had some new gear he wanted to try – so we decided to visit this week. Here’s a few photos I made along with some photo hints.
The River Otter exhibit was fun. If you’re patient and the otter’s in the mood, you can make a nice image of it swimming. Up your ISO to get a fast shutter speed and get close to the glass to block reflections. Then press the button right before “the moment”.
Macaw – Many zoos have these very photogenic birds around. They’re good posers!
Photography at this zoo can be challenging. Many of the animals are behind glass or wire mesh fences, and far away or in bad light. You’ll need to look for situations where you have a clear view of the animals and if you’re patient they’ll often come closer. You can also try the standard techniques i.e. Use wide open apertures to blur the fencing; Hold your lens close to the glass or use your hands to block reflections; etc.
Snake eyes – Albino Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. The “herpetarium” is dark. I didn’t bring a flash, but If I had, I might have tried using it (held out to the side to avoid reflections). The snakes don’t normally move fast – in this case I braced my camera so I could use a slow shutter speed (I also didn’t bring a tripod).
Busy Bee – There are a lot of pretty plantings and flowers at the zoo. I made this photo in the Butterfly Garden area.
And one last photo – we went by the marina in Sanford before going to breakfast and then the zoo. It’s a nice place for sunrise.
I went over to Merritt Island this morning with Kevin K. and Kevin M. It was crisp and clear, so there weren’t many clouds to enhance the sunrise, but we enjoyed watching it and making some photos anyway. This one is from the Titusville Municipal Marina located just north of the Causeway.
Many morning masts at the Municipal Marina
After dawn, we drove through East Gator Creek Road but there wasn’t much to see, so then we headed to Black Point Wildlife Drive. There were a lot of people there and a few unusual birds including a couple of Wilson’s (common) snipes, Lesser Scaups, and a Sora. We also saw a Reddish Egret or two, lots of Coots, Pintails, Norther Shovelers, Osprey, White Pelicans, Hooded Mergansers, Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the distance, some Great Egrets (in breeding colors) and snowy egrets feeding at small pool on back side of the drive and a few other assorted ducks, shorebirds, and gulls. One of the highlights was coming up on a pod of photographers going all paparazzi on this scene:
Great Blue Heron with Banded Water Snake – Fresh snake was on the menu this morning for breakfast (thanks to Karlie Carmen for helping with the snake ID).
Near the end of BPWD we saw a wild hog off in the reeds, but it ambled out of view before I could get my camera up. I really need to practice my quick draw technique.
Kevin M. talked us into stopping by the Visitors Center and it’s good he did. On the way there we sighted a Florida Scrub Jay, a Kestrel, a Red-tailed Hawk – and there were Brown-headed Cowbirds, male and female Painted Buntings, Cardinals, and other birds behind the center. It really did turn into an interesting morning.
I’d seen a few mentions online of Blue Cypress Lake near Vero Beach, Florida. It’s a long drive from Winter Springs – which is why I hadn’t made it down there. But that’s also why I was up at “0 dark thirty” last Saturday. Fortunately, I packed the night before so I was able to sleep in just a bit. I also didn’t want to arrive in the dark on my first time there. So Kevin M. and I met at 5:30 near his house and were off. There was a lot of fog and drizzle on our drive down, although it eventually cleared up and the clouds added some drama to the skies. We turned in to Blue Cypress Lake Road just after 7am, but were delayed by stops for photos of Wild Turkeys in the fields on the west side and three Otters playing in the road up near the lake.
At Middleton’s Fish camp, we first parked near the camp sites, but couldn’t really see much from the shore – although with the right lens a sunrise shot from the bridge over the canal might be very pretty. We decided to rent a small boat to explore out in the water and wow, I’m glad we did! We went north and scouted the trees, shoreline, and birds for about two hours.
The calm water and weathered cypress trees make for some outstanding scenery. We also saw literally hundreds of Ospreys and a good portion of them were carrying or eating fish. There were also plenty of alligators, a few quite large. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were also numerous and they serenaded us the whole morning. We heard an eagle but didn’t see it and although there are supposed to be hawks and barred owls, we didn’t see any of them.
Osprey Family – One of the many nests on Blue Cypress Lake. Many are just a few feet from the water. (Photo courtesy of Kevin McKinney)
Info for Photographers
According to the locals, the best cypress trees are on the west side of the lake (where Middleton’s is) both north and south of the canal. For sunrise shots, you’d probably want to get between the shore and some of the farther out trees. This might be tough, especially in the dark if you don’t know the lake. Be careful of hidden snags / submerged fallen trees that could hang you up! If you’re on the lake later in the day, a safer photo might be an evening sunset from a little farther out with a telephoto lens.
Many cypress trees: The north-west shore of Blue Cypress Lake, Black & White, Infrared
If you have an IR camera or filter, YOU MUST BRING IT to Blue Cypress Lake! I just love the way Cypress trees show up in infrared.
Depending on how much time you have available, there are a couple of other places you could check out in the area. On the way home, we went by Joe Overstreet Road. On the way we saw (and I finally got a photo of) a Swallow-tailed Kite. When we arrived, we saw Eastern Meadowlarks, Sandhill Cranes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a Bobwhite, egrets, herons, and other birds. We hoped to see a Whooping Crane, but no such luck.
Swallow-tailed Kite with snake
I brought mine, but didn’t use it out on the lake. It’s not much use inside the boat. Although many people get out into the water to use theirs, I was a bit leery of doing this. If you do, just be very careful of the depth and your footing and be sure to watch for alligators!
I had a 16 – 35mm on one camera and a 28 – 82 equivalent on the other. I felt the 16 – 35 was a bit too wide for the conditions. Next time I go, I think a 24 – 70 would be ideal for Cypress trees / landscapes. For birds of course, you’ll want a stabilized telephoto lens that you can handhold in a moving boat. Kevin used his 70 – 300VR on his DX crop body for some great shots.
Best time to visit:
If you go in February – April, you’ll be able to see Osprey’s nesting, breeding and raising their young. Some of the nests are quite close to the water so you can get an excellent look. Just be sure you don’t stress the birds.
There will still be many Ospreys around to photograph the rest of the year. Many of them are fishing and carrying their catch back to a convenient tree, so opportunities for flight shots of these magnificent birds with their prey abound.
Of course, the cypress trees are here year round.
Middleton’s Fish Camp offers tours and rents boats, and cabins. If you also fish, they rent fishing tackle and sell bait. If you do want to rent or take a tour, call ahead for availability.