I missed out last week on a trip with Kevin K. and Kevin M. to the Circle B Bar Reserve due to some dental work (ouch!). So I was eager to photograph something this week. My schedule was finally clear on Friday, and when I woke up early, I decided to go walk around Orlando Wetlands Park – one of my favorite spots in this area.
Whoops. I suspected something was wrong when I got out of the car and heard engines running. I walked out toward Lake Searcy in the dark and when I saw construction gear and no water in the corner cell, I turned around. Fortunately I’d gotten up way too early, so I still had time to change my “plans” and almost make sunrise over on the coast.
Early morning on the river shore 2. Rotary Riverfront Park, Titusville. That’s the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building in the distance.
After that, I headed to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. There are a lot of winter migrants here now. The birds must’ve known beforehand about this week’s Polar Vortex. In addition to our year round species, I saw American Avocets, Lesser Scaups, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, and fast warblers I couldn’t ID. I also stopped and talked to some folks on Black Point Wildlife Drive who were trying to find a Cinnamon Teal that’s been seen there. I heard later they found it again on Saturday.
Hooded Mergansers. Two males taking turns displaying for the females in the area
Pair of porkers. Part of larger family just inside BPWD.
Spoonbill and reflection. This bird was so still, I had time to zoom in and make a three frame panorama. That really helps with details!
Weathered Red Cedar. I was glad to see that my infrared camera still works after so much neglect!
So my photo adventure started out badly, but turned out well. Those engines I heard were pumps. I checked the OWP web page when I got home – they’re “demucking” Cell 14. And there’s also construction going on in Cell 16. I’ll go back in a while when the ruckus dies down. Don’t be like me – check the web page before you go. Even if you’ve been there many times!
When I go on a photo expedition I come home with many more images than I process, and I post even less. So every once in a while I go through the photos in my Lightroom catalog and look for ones that I passed over, to see if my current self thinks they’re good enough to show or include in a blog post.
Caught in a sunbeam, Gatorland, May 2017
Anyway, I was doing this last week and ended up with the group of images in this post. They made me realize once again how wonderful Central Florida is for bird watching and bird photography.
Handsome Anhinga, Gatorland, May 2016
We have an enormous variety of avian wildlife here (iBird says 366 species in the state of Florida, Wikipedia says 524!).
Spoonbill, Black Point Wildlife Drive, January 2018
At some locations the larger birds are tolerant of people – especially if you stay in your car and / or take care not to stress them. And nesting season provides opportunities that aren’t common elsewhere.
Hungry Herons, Viera Wetlands, March 2018
I’ve added info to the captions on when and where I made these images so you can get an idea of what you’ll see. The best time of year is probably January through May, but you can find opportunities year round – if you’re lucky and do your research.
Belted Kingfisher, Viera Wetlands, March 2018
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I had the place to myself when I arrived that morning. It was fun to wander around and look for compositions even though the sunrise colors weren’t that good. I made this dawn landscape looking North over Lake Searcy. It was dead calm and the water was a perfect mirror.
This back-lit flock landing in the early light was lovely.
I don’t feature Coots in the blog very often, but I enjoyed watching this group. They often race across the surface of the water and squabble over who gets the best spots. These two seemed to be competing.
Front row seats at the Coot race
Spring is a great time of year to get out and explore nature in Central Florida. There’s a lot going on and the variety of birds is especially good. You can see all my posts about Orlando Wetlands at this link: https://edrosack.com/category/orlando-wetlands/
Once in a while, conditions are just right. Low water levels force fish into small pools and birds flock to the spot to feed. When you can get close to a scene like this early in the morning, with soft golden light from the rising sun behind you – count your blessings!
The birds all compete for food. Watch for interactions and squabbles – they can lead to great poses and action shots.
Since the birds are very focused on the fish they’re more tolerant of close photographers. Be quiet and move slowly so you don’t stress them.
They’ll be constantly coming and going and moving in the pond. Watch for good compositions as they shift around.
When they fly in, you can often track them as they get closer and land in the pools for some great images. After a while you’ll be able to anticipate their paths.
As the birds land, they’ll be low and close to you – great for eye level BIF photos (BIF = Birds in Flight)!
You’ll need to balance zoom level, composition, background, exposure, focus, etc. And conditions change rapidly. Set up your camera in advance and be nimble. I have a BIF preset programmed so I can quickly shift to it when needed. It shoots at 10 frames / second with continuous focus, large focus area, and higher ISO settings to keep my shutter speed high. You’ll need 1/1000 sec. exposures (or shorter!) to freeze wing motion.
A white bird against a dark background vs. a dark bird against the sky will require exposure compensation adjustments. I have EC mapped to the rear wheel control so I can easily vary it when needed.
Your “keeper” percentage may be lower than you’re used to. But there are so many photo opportunities at a feeding frenzy that you’ll likely come home with images you like. Practice when you can and you’ll get better.
Landing Ibis – I like the composition / background on this one. But my shutter was too slow to freeze the wings and I didn’t get the exposure compensation right either. I’m still practicing!
It’s not all about birds in flight. Interesting groups or poses on the shore or perched on nearby branches are also photogenic.
On the banks of the pond. I like compositions with multiple species in the frame.
That was a wonderful morning. I’m glad I was able to see all the action. Oh, and before the bird activity, I also made a couple of landscape photos:
Dawn at the dock on the Indian River. Olympus Hi-Res mode.
Florida clouds along Black Point Wildlife Drive. Monochrome infrared.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
St. Johns Sunrise – silver lining and sun rays: This is a long exposure (10 second) image I made at the boat ramp on the St. Johns where it meets HW 50. The water is higher than I’ve seen it there before
Pollen covered Bumble Bee on Purple Thistle: These thistles are blooming all over Black Point Wildlife Drive. The pollen on this bee may be an indication of why we’re having such severe allergy problems here in Central Florida.
Spoonbill in the reeds: There were many other birds around too.
Life and death in the Florida wild: The bird (a female Red-breasted Merganser) was looking for fish along a small grass island in the distance. I glanced over when I heard some splashing but couldn’t see anything at first. Then I noticed this alligator with the bird. The struggle was hard to watch, but mercifully brief.
On a related subject, you may have seen news about the recent fish kills we’ve had in the Indian River Lagoon. These are occurring just south of MINWR, nearer Melbourne, Florida. As we were driving around the refuge, I was struck by how natural it looked and by the absence of any dead fish. I’m very thankful that the Refuge has preserved this natural area for us to enjoy.
I worry about the areas where fertilizer runoff and septic tank leakage can lead to pollution, brown tide, lack of oxygen and dead fish and animals. I hope that we can figure out solutions so that people living near our natural resources don’t damage them.
OK, sorry for the commentary. 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:
My friend Tom M. wanted to go out photographing last week. And I was ready – I hadn’t clicked the shutter since last year! When he mentioned that he wasn’t very familiar with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I jumped at the chance to show him around.
Our first stop was along the causeway to watch the gulls and Black Skimmers that often gather there.
Black Skimmer – Along the causeway headed into the Refuge
Then we drove through Gator Creek Road and Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Roseate Spoonbill (BPWD)- This bird was foraging near the shore and ignored me as I crouched down and framed my shot. When it heard the shutter clicking, it stopped and stared right at me for a few seconds and then continued feeding.
River Otter (BPWD) – I stopped the car when I spotted two Otters in the water next to the road. They swam by and kept going as we got out to try to make a photo. We followed for a bit – but they were going quicker than our fast walk. One of them surprised me when it crossed the road and of course I was too slow to get a good photo of that. This is the best image I managed.
We also stopped by the Bairs Cove Boat ramp at Haulover Canal to visit the manatees there and then drove by the Great Horned Owl nest (near 402 and SR 3). Our last stop was the visitor center to see if the painted buntings were around ( no, but they had been).
Whether you’re familiar with the area or not, this would be a very good half day route to see the highlights at MINWR. And this is a wonderful time to go – there’s a lot of birds and other wildlife around, and the weather’s great. Maybe I’ll see you over there!
Next, along Gator Creek Road we found a group of preening Roseate Spoonbills. I liked the contrast between their pink and the blue sky reflected in the water.
Later at the Visitor Center, we found a great many butterflies. They seem to like these Buttonbrush plants.
And Green Herons were common too, especially at the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive where we saw several nests and juveniles. This one (also at the Visitors Center) drew my eye as it posed against the silver-like water while it waited to strike an unwary fish.
Green Heron in a silver pond
With the hot weather starting to arrive, there’s not as much activity at Merritt Island as there sometimes is. But there’s still a lot to see and photograph.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
A couple of weeks ago, I met photographer Larry Jordan at Gatorland and he mentioned wanting to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. He hadn’t been in long while, so I offered to go with him. It was a great excuse to get out and show off one of my favorite places and it didn’t disappoint. We met before dawn at Space View park for what turned into a pretty sunrise.
Dock at dawn
After sunup, we entered MINWR in search of wildlife, first to Gator Creek Road where we saw a few birds including black necked stilts. These unusual looking, pink legged birds are only in Florida for the summer breeding season and I’m glad they’re back already. Next we went to Black Point Wildlife Drive to see what was going on there. The initial portion was very quiet, but then the action ramped way up!
Four more black necked stilts were flying all around the first pond on the right. They were very active and noisy in what I think was courtship inspired chasing and calling to each other. We enjoyed watching and photographing them, but decided we’d better move on – we didn’t want to miss out on whatever else was going on. It turns out that was a very good idea.
At the next pond, the first thing I noticed was a flock of White Pelicans. They were pretty, but a bit far off for photos – and just swimming around out there feeding. Then we noticed the Black Skimmers.
I often see these birds along the north shore of the Bennet Causeway leading into MINWR. There, they usually huddle with the gulls and this makes for static looking photos. We didn’t see any there yesterday morning and we found out why at this place. It seems they were all over there and very active. I’ve never seen so much skimming. Long graceful glides over flat water with an uncluttered background, sometimes fairly close to shore. They use their longer, lower bills to slice through the surface searching for fish and write a sharp wake behind them. Wonderful to watch and with such good light, a near perfect opportunity for photographs.
Black Skimmer skimming
There were other birds in the pond feeding and flying around close to shore – great conditions for BIF (Birds-in-Flight) photography practice! Several Roseate Spoonbills flew in (toward the camera for a change!) and posed beautifully at nearly perfect angles. We also enjoyed watching a Redish Egret, a very pretty Tri-colored Heron in breeding colors, and many other birds feeding.
Roseate Spoonbill, landing
After the excitement at BPWD, I didn’t think it could get any better, but I was hoping to show Larry a Florida Scrub Jay since he hadn’t photographed one before. We drove to Scrub Ridge Trail, parked and walked north along the path where I’ve seen them, but they weren’t there. Feeling a little let down, we walked back to the parking area and a very pretty Scrub Jay was waiting there to welcome us. We each got several photos in different poses / locations.
Our last stop was the Visitor Center. I was hoping that the Painted Buntings would still be around, but they seem to have moved on.
By the way, the 50th anniversary of MINWR is coming up on August 28th. If someone ever asks you about benefits from the US space program, you can mention the establishment of this extraordinary refuge. See this article in Florida Today for more details.
I’ve rambled on for too long so here’s one more landscape from the morning to close this out:
I think I’ve confessed here before that I’m just a beginning birder. I enjoy identifying the birds I see, although sometimes it’s tough for me to figure out ones that I don’t see very often. Gulls and Terns seem especially hard.
Anyway, I photographed this bird last weekend at MINWR and it took me a while to sit down and research what it is. I was pretty sure it’s a Tern, but didn’t know which one. The red / orange legs were a big clue, although the lack of a black head cap and the dark bill initially confused me. It turns out (Terns out?) that Forster’s Terns lose their black cap in the winter and their bills turn from orange to grey / black. Mystery solved!
They’re here in Florida only in the winter months – we saw a group of them along BPWD. They were flying above the water and then plunging in to feed on fish.
In looking back through the rest of my photos from last weekend, the trip was quite productive. I’ve a number of images that I’m pleased with. Here’s a couple more:
VAB sunrise. Merritt Island, Florida. A four image panorama at 150mm: not my normal landscape focal length